sales management success tips

Executive Sales Training – The Best Sales Tips Ever

Top 12 Selling ‘Truths’

In my sales coaching and consulting work, I find myself articulating a few key concepts over and over again. Over the past year, I have made a conscious effort to identify those themes that keep rising to the top of the pile as well as those that have the greatest impact, yet seem to require the most ‘reminding.’

In order to keep this post brief, I do not spend a lot of time discussing the ‘why’ behind each of these bits of advice for your continued executive sales training or talking about the techniques in much detail. The recommendations provided below should be quite straightforward even if they seem counter-intuitive in some cases.

Here you go!

1) Never leave a meeting without a commitment to the next scheduled interaction.

This is the sales behavior which, if applied consistently, will have the SINGLE GREATEST IMPACT on your success. At the same time, it is the behavior which, for reasons I cannot comprehend, is the most difficult to instill in sales professionals when working on executive sales training. If the best you can get from a prospect is ‘why don’t you call us next week to follow up’ then either:

a) You didn’t even try to gain commitment to a scheduled next step and you suck at sales.

b) You tried and failed at getting a commitment to a scheduled next step and thus, you suck at sales.

c) Whatever you are talking about is of no real interest, need, and/or priority to the prospect and you need to call this out in the meeting rather than acting like a beggar hoping they give you some time. Bottom line: if a prospect won’t commit their time, they won’t commit their money. Any representation by the client (or you) that ‘They Loved Your Solution.’ is BS. More importantly, prospects that can’t or won’t commit their time to the buying process will never invest the effort necessary to make them a successful customer.

2) Preparation time for a sales meeting should be greater than or equal to the duration of the event itself.

There is a long running joke in executive sales training and coaching circles that goes like this: The trainer asks: ‘How much time do you typically allocate to prepare for an important client meeting?’ The sales executive responds: ‘Well that depends. What floor are they on?’ The implication, of course, is that preparation time is determined by length of the elevator ride up. Sad but true. We have all heard the maxim, ‘failure to plan is planning to fail’, but for me the bottom line is this: If you have not spent at least as much time preparing for a client meeting as you will be meeting with the client, you are improvising.

3) In order to get a buyer to invest, sellers must address BOTH quantification of benefit AND mitigation of risk as separate conversations.

This is a moderately complex concept but incredibly powerful. Sales teams I work with get stuck trying to convince a prospect their solution will both deliver sufficient value if it works AND simultaneously convince them the risk of failure is low (or non-existent). Or worse, they fixate on the proposed benefit and ignore the client’s perceived risk of a solution failing altogether. This is akin to visiting Las Vegas and choosing Roulette over any other game simply because the payout is highest (ignoring the fact that the odds of winning are quite poor). I have personally worked with prospects who are so risk averse that no proposed benefit justified taking a chance. Similarly, I have worked with highly risk tolerant prospects who were quite comfortable taking risks as along as the payoff was high enough. To be successful, you must drive the conversation into two distinct elements.

1) If I could 100% guarantee the success of this project/software/etc., would the certain return meet your criteria for a worthwhile investment?

2) What specific risk factors are associated with this project/software/etc.; how can the risk of failure be mitigated, and finally; does the risk adjusted return justify the proposed investment?

4) Buyers invest based on Need, NOT on Interest, and Interest does not necessarily equate to Need.

I define need as a specific, measurable, and relevant problem or opportunity. One of my mentors put it best, “the investment required to purchase any solution will always be quantifiable. The need had better be as well.” If need is a ‘concept’ rather than a number, then investment becomes a ‘cost’ and the cost is always too high. Because sales is a challenging career filled with rejection, sales professionals can fall into the trap of fixating on buyer interest rather than true need. From the salesperson’s standpoint, interest is very validating (who doesn’t want to interact with a potential buyer that appears interested in your offering?). However, buyer interest represents a ‘false positive’ for lack of a better term. I have closed many large deals with buyers who possessed compelling need but little apparent interest. I have NEVER closed a deal with a buyer whose true need ultimately fell short despite eager and enthusiastic interest displayed throughout the sales cycle.

5) Nobody needs your product or service.

Your product or service is a means to end…period. It has no intrinsic value. The concept of need lives only in the world of the buyer. They may ‘need to increase inventory turns to 3.5’ or ‘need to generate 20% of revenues from services in the next 12 months’, etc. The word ‘need’ should never be used to describe anything you do or provide as a seller. Think about it: if your prospect had the choice to either purchase your solution OR address their specific need through magic, which would they choose? As such, your product or solution should be the last thing you talk about, not the first. I cringe when I hear sales executives say, ‘when prospects see our demo, they know they need it.’ This attitude demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the buying process. Regrettably, the majority of companies out there lead with their product or service and have no idea what the prospect plans to accomplish with it. I run across a startling number of companies where the salespeople don’t even understand the prospect’s core business or what they do to generate revenue. This is embarrassing, so don’t let it happen to you.

6) Proposals don’t sell…you do.

Sadly, the typical ‘sales process’ I see runs as follows: Start by cold calling (or responding to a lead) to schedule a demo. During the demo, spend five minutes asking ‘insightful questions.’ As soon as possible, launch your PowerPoint or live demo. Avoid taking audible breaths or pausing for any reason. Assuming the meeting is scheduled for 45 minutes, wait until minute 46 to ask: ‘do you have any questions?’ Assuming they do not, suggest as a next step that you develop a customized proposal that truly meets their needs. Under no circumstances should you schedule a time to review the proposal. Instead, tell them you’ll touch base sometime next week. Spend the next month trying to reconnect while telling your sales manager you ‘just know they are going to buy’.

Stated simply, a proposal should only be delivered to formally present a solution that has already been agreed to in principal. There should be NOTHING in the proposal – including the price – that the prospect is seeing for the first time and hasn’t already agreed to in principle.

7) It is impossible for prospects to articulate their true (root cause) need by themselves in a single interaction.

Needs (pain or gain) are like emotions. They are comprised of many layers, and the real ones tend to be buried deep. Most prospects spend little (if any) time contemplating what they really need. Usually, decisions are made based on superficial or vague rationale. Often, my initial Discovery with a prospect doesn’t uncover much more than the desire for something ‘better’ or an articulation that ‘what we have today isn’t working’. News flash: these are opinions, not needs. Ultimately, it is not entirely the prospect’s fault; salespeople encourage this behavior. Real discovery takes time, both in duration and quantity of interactions (for more on quantity of interactions see next entry).

8) Multiple shorter interactions spread out over time are better than fewer longer interactions.

This concept specifically relates to the Needs Assessment or ‘Discovery’ phase of the sales process. In most instances, true need is something that develops throughout the sales conversation process. Do you really think your prospects block time during their work calendar or during their personal time to contemplate the situation? In most cases, it takes takes time to develop a full understanding of the problem and, for better or worse, conversations with salespeople represent the primary context in which the prospect can focus on the problem. As such, you are better off having more of them. Instead of one long discovery session, have two 45-minute meetings a week apart. I make it a point to begin the second discovery by asking: what has changed or what have you been thinking about since we spoke last? Try this technique and you’ll be amazed with what you learn.

9) Urgency and momentum are illusions in a sales cycle.

If I had a dollar for every time a prospect said they ‘needed a proposal by Friday so they could make a decision on Monday’, I’d be a wealthy man. Another version of this is the last minute RFP request. I’ll state simply and for the record, I have never personally seen this scenario play out in real life, nor have I ever seen or heard of an actual deal being won under these circumstances. I have been successful when I refused to respond on such a short notice only to be called back and told that the decision committee has rethought their timeline.

10) Maintaining the status quo is your primary competitor.

It is a surprisingly little known fact that the vast majority of deals ends with a ‘no decision’. This means that despite the best efforts of several vendors expending time and money selling to a prospect who also invests resources to evaluate potential solutions, the end result is…nothing. In my experience, I have found that the end result is represented by no decision at least 50% of the time. That said, I have worked with sales organizations that report ‘no decision’ rates of 70% or more. This is a startling and frustrating statistic that should have a profound impact on how you engage with your prospects.

11) A problem (pain) is a far greater motivator than an opportunity (gain).

I am sure I sound like a broken record as I continually remind sales organizations and salespeople in their executive sales training that buyers make decisions based on need rather than on interest. I also frequently remind my clients that real need must be comprised of measurable pain or gain. Sellers also need to keep in mind that a problem (pain) is a far greater motivator than an opportunity (gain). A simple formula I use is that a solution intended to avoid a problem is 10 times more powerful than one that promises access to an opportunity.

12) Begin with a clear and compelling definition of your ideal target.

The key to having successful and profitable customers is identifying the right prospects in the first place. Everyone understands this concept, and the Pareto Principle (80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients) embodies the reality that success comes from knowing which customers to say no to. Instead, salespeople and businesses succumb to the temptation to be all things to all people. I spend a lot of time working with clients to help them vividly define the ‘bull’s eye’ of their target. This does not mean they avoid all others, but merely ensure we know when we are off target and by how much. The best clients not only have a compelling need for your product or service, they also work with you in partnership to accomplish the desired result; they value your services and expertise enough to focus on desired result and not just on price; and they pay up front and on time.

By Townsend Wardlaw

Image: Nina Matthews Photography on