• When Should We Respond to Request for Proposals (RFPs)?

    The RFP from a whale prospect lands in your in-box. What do you do next?

    Most salespeople get excited, tell their boss that all their hard work cosying up to this company’s middle management and procurement team has paid off. They’d spend a day or two reading through the tome that reminds them of War and Peace, written by an 8-year old lawyer. Then they’d get the team together to plan who was going to do what. Much resource would be thrown at meeting the unreasonable deadline set by the “prospect” … but not much actual thought.

    They wouldn’t ask some fundamentally important questions; questions to which answers are imperative to decide what we do next, because  NOT ALL RFPs ARE LEGITIMATE! In fact, most aren’t. Most are an attempt to get free consulting from vendors too scared, excited, lazy or stupid to check if the RFP is even real.

    Consider these questions…

    • How did we make the list for receiving this RFP?
    • How many RFPs were sent?
    • What do we know about the prospect’s history surrounding RFPs?
    • Do they have a preferred supplier list (PSL) and are we on it?
    • If not, do they always give the business to someone on the PSL?
    • If we decide to participate, what happens next?
    • What role, if any, will their incumbent supplier play?
    • Will the low bid be the one that wins?
    • What results is the prospect company hoping to achieve by implementing the contents of the RFP?
    • Why aren’t they doing it in-house?
    • Is the timescale realistic?
    • Do we understand what caused them to go to market with this RFP? DO we understand the different drivers and centres of dissatisfaction?
    • Do we have a sponsor, coach or advocate in the prospect company to whom we can submit a rough draft, have it critiqued to make sure we have identified their priorities and covered all the issues they consider most important?
    • Are they high enough in the company to be able to provide us with the answers we need or just the ones they are willing to give any vendor?
    • Should we involved our senior management?
    • Have we identified to whom the prospect’s decision-making committee already has allegiances by suing our personal networks, trawling through LinkedIn and the internet to see what connections they have to our competitors and the incumbent?
    • What is the likely cost of sale to participate in this bid, win or lose?
    • Is this even legitimate?
    • Can we win it?
    • Are there any conditions that we do not qualify against that will preclude us from winning this e.g not ISO9000 compliant, no sector experience and sector experience is a must have, we don’t have 3-years accounts, they want to use their T&Cs not ours, our non-negotiable payment terms are unacceptable to them?
    • Do we want to win it?
    • What opportunity cost will we incur if we plough time, money and resources into this bid and is there a better way to invest our scarce and valuable resources?
    • Is this RFP going to be profitable if we win it? By when?

    Once you have your questions clear in your mind, are you allowed to speak to someone, not in procurement or a technical buying capacity, at a high enough level to understand the business drivers behind this RFP invitation?

    Given that RFP responses are usually the second highest hidden cost in any selling organisation after wrong hires the killer question you need to answer for yourselves is:

    • What are our chances of winning it?
    • Should we participate in this RFP process?

    Take the emotion out of RFPs and never lift a finger until you have done your research and picked up the phone.

    A simple rule of thumb for management to eliminate wasted effort and falling into the free consulting trap is that selling the opportunity internally should be twice as hard as selling it to the prospect.

    Live by the principle that you should do less but better on purpose.

  • 4 Habits of Successful Professionals

    successful professionalsWhat do successful professionals do that amateurs don’t?

    Certainly there are many that could fall into this category, but right now we’ll focus on four habits that could make the greatest impact on your career.

    1. Study– Professionals are not born, they are made. Some may have a natural gift, but most maximize that talent by studying history, best practices and innovative techniques. There are plenty of talented individuals who never accomplish anything. Professionals often spend hours to years studying before engaging in their profession to ensure their success.
    2. Practice– like David Sandler taught, in his book “You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar,” you can’t learn how to do anything by merely studying. You have to practice. Doctors, athletes and other types of distinguished professionals spend countless hours practicing before they are called upon to perform. How do you get to Carnegie Hall, the Masters, the Olympics or whatever is the top of your profession? Practice, practice, practice.
    3. Invest in themselves–True professionals bet on and invest in themselves. They don’t wait for their parents, employer or anyone else to invest in them. Professionals continue their education beyond the classroom and invest in workshops, seminars, books, coaches and other resources that will advance their learning. They take responsibility for their own education and personal growth.
    4. Follow a system– Finally, professionals don’t just show up and wing it. They have a system that’s repeatable and reproducible – and leads to predictable success. To outsiders, if sometimes looks like superstition or obsessive compulsive disorder, but professionals know that only by following the proven system can they expect consistent success. Amateurs sometimes think it is luck when they win or lose. Successful professionals make their own luck, and they know that fortune favours the prepared.

    Successful professionals know that there is no magic bullet or shortcut to get to the top. They don’t waste their time with such things. They are too busy learning, practicing, refining their system and investing in their own success.
    What do you think are some additional habits of successful people?

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    Lisette Howlett edits the Sandler UK blog. If you have any questions or would like to submit a blog please contact her. Tel: 020 7484 5556 Email: Lisette.howlett@sandler.com

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  • The Key To Success In a Sale: The Agenda

    the agendaYour meeting date and time has been established.  You’re confident your product or service is superior to your competitors.  Your goal for the meeting is to convince the prospect. You’ve planned to be there for 45 minutes.

    The prospect checks their calendar and realizes a few minutes before that, they’ve scheduled a meeting with some salesperson and they’re not sure of the relevance today.  They’re wondering why they agreed to the meeting and plan to make it short.  They’ll ask a few questions, get a brochure or sample and usher the salesperson out the door saying “they’ll get back” to them. Fifteen minutes maximum and they’ll be able to get back to what’s important in their day.

    It’s apparent from the two scenarios that the salesperson and the prospect each have a different agenda.  Can you imagine what the outcome of the meeting will be?  Have you ever found yourself wondering why there are two different agendas for the same meeting?  Did you both agree to the same thing?

    Let’s diagnose where things may have gone wrong.

    1. The appointment was scheduled without a clear intention of what each side was hoping to accomplish.
    2. The amount of time allocated to meet was not established or may have been, however has now changed on the prospect’s side.
    3. The real purpose of the meeting was unclear.
    4. An agreed upon outcome was not discussed prior to the meeting.

    In other words, it’s like showing up at the dentist for a cleaning and he’s ready to perform a root canal.

    The Sandler Selling System refers to the concept of establishing an agenda for every interaction with a prospect as an Up-Front Contract.  It means prior to the meeting knowing what both parties are planning to accomplish in the time they are together.  A mutually agreed outcome is established.

    Following are the components of an agenda:

    1. Establish a mutually agreed purpose for the call or meeting.
    2. Find out what’s important for the prospect.  What are they hoping to achieve in the time you’re together.
    3. Share with the prospect what you as a salesperson would like to accomplish on the phone or in the meeting.
    4. Agree to a specific time you’ll spend together and reconfirm when you arrive at the meeting.
    5. Determine at the beginning of the meeting or telephone conversation what you both mutually agree will happen at the conclusion of your time together.

    Establish on the phone what will happen at the meeting and once at the meeting, reiterate what you both agreed to.  This gives the prospect the opportunity to share any changes that may have to be made such as now only having 30 minutes vs the originally planned 45 minutes.  You can adjust your meeting accordingly or reschedule if desired.

    Just like being in the dentist’s chair, you don’t want any surprises when you are face-to-face with a prospect.  Being disarmingly honest with the prospect and letting them know up-front what is going to happen in the time you’re together will save time, eliminate the prospect from giving you a vague response as to what happens next and it will move the selling process forward or conclude there isn’t a fit for your product or services.  And set another up-front contract at the meeting as to what happens next.

    What will you do prior to your next call or meeting?

    Mutually agreeing to what happens every step of the way ensures that you aren’t surprised at the outcome.

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    Lisette Howlett edits the Sandler UK blog. If you have any questions or would like to submit a blog please contact her. Tel: 020 7484 5556 Email: Lisette.howlett@sandler.com

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  • TARZAN & THE ELEPHANTS

    tarzan  & the elephants23My Mum was a funny lady and during my youth, she was constantly throwing riddles at me.

    Some of her riddles came in pairs and the pairs typically had a point.

    One such pair of riddles has been a huge lesson for me as I have gone through life. Here they are.

    Riddle 1: What did Tarzan say when he saw the elephants coming down the road? “Here come the elephants.”

    Riddle 2: What did the elephants say when they saw Tarzan coming down the road? Nothing, elephants don’t talk.

    Most people fail to get either answer correct. And despite missing the first question, most people are too proud of their intelligence to say “I don’t know” in answer to the second question. My Mom was making two points. First, she wanted me to realize that some questions are simple, I needed to not over-think things. After all what else would Tarzan have said?

    She also wanted me to understand that answering a question with words I just heard can take me way off track. Just because the question asks about talking elephants does not mean elephants can talk.

    As a sales trainer, I spend my days trying to help salespeople and business owners realize that questions you are asked by prospects are rarely straightforward. The questions that prospects ask come from their world and are based around their current situation, and how your sales team handles these questions is the key to selling success.

    Does your sales team know when to say “I don’t know” and when to say “why do you ask?” These are the keys to keeping sales people out of trouble.

    Typically, our clients tell us that learning to handle their prospects questions is the primary driver of their new found sales success. Handling these prospect questions correctly leads professional sales people to bigger, more focus and, best of all, more qualified chances to make sales.

    Are you ready to help your sales team learn the best way to handle the questions your prospects have?

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    Lisette Howlett edits the Sandler UK blog. If you have any questions or would like to submit a blog please contact her. Tel: 020 7484 5556 Email: Lisette.howlett@sandler.com

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  • Weasels

    Two weekends ago, I got to take my youngest daughter to a 4-year-old’s birthday party. I’d forgotten how elaborate some of these parties get, and this was a nice reminder. The parents of this little boy had hired an animal trainer to bring some rabbits and let the kids see them.

    The highlight of the show was a weasel that did tricks. I had never seen a trained weasel and so I asked the trainer how he did it. The story he shared was interesting: “I learned a long time ago that the key to weasel training is simply teaching them what they are not allowed to do first, then helping them figure out what they are supposed to do instead.”

    I asked the trainer about his process. Each weasel trick had two elements, a prop, and a sound. To get the weasel to do a trick, the animal simply has to react to the prop when it hears the sound.

    Too often in sales, our clients show up on our doorstep complaining about their prospects who’ve been weasels. They come in saying: they didn’t do what we expected, they misled us, they ignored us, and they lied to us. In other words, their clients have not reacted to a sales call in the way the salesperson wanted. Typically salespeople spend their time blaming the weasel when they should take some time and look at the trainer instead.

    In the sales world, prospects are tough to engage. They have plenty of distractions and, honestly, most sales pitches bore prospects.

    Your prospects have been trained to ignore most of the sounds you make and they are indifferent to the props. But for your sales team to succeed, prospects have to be a part of the show.

    We spend our time helping our clients understand what buyers are looking for, what sounds they react to, and what props have value. We teach our clients a simple rule: You can’t get mad at a prospect for doing something you didn’t tell them they couldn’t do. And we help our clients understand how to better train their prospects to respond right way.

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    Lisette Howlett edits the Sandler UK blog. If you have any questions or would like to submit a blog please contact her. Tel: 020 7484 5556 Email: Lisette.howlett@sandler.com

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  • Finding That Compelling Reason – Part Two

    Last time we discussed the tension of wanting to rescue a prospect sales process. Now let’s look at the situation between the buyer and seller as objectively as possible:

    What happened in this scenario? According to the salesperson, they recognized a need and felt they could provide a product or service to solve the problem. The challenge is, the prospect doesn’t recognise the need as being great enough to have to fix. Until the prospect realises and admits there is a problem there won’t be any need for your product or service, no matter how much you say or do.

    There isn’t a compelling reason for the prospect to buy.

    How do we help the prospect discover the compelling reason? Following are a few questions that will help you help the prospect discover their compelling reason:

    1. Tell me more about that problem.
    2. Can you be more specific? Give me an example?
    3. How long has that been a problem?
    4. What have you tried to do about that?
    5. How much do you think that has cost you?
    6. How do you feel about that?
    7. Have you given up trying to deal with the problem?

    The easiest way to put this into perspective is to put you into the situation.

    What makes you buy a product or service? Is it the features and benefits that the salesperson so convincingly shares with you or do you have a compelling reason to buy?

    Ask yourself these two questions the next time you’re in front of a prospect to determine if there is a compelling reason for them to buy.

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    Lisette Howlett edits the Sandler UK blog. If you have any questions or would like to submit a blog please contact her. Tel: 020 7484 5556 Email: Lisette.howlett@sandler.com

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  • Finding That Compelling Reason – Part One

    Find that compelling reason 1How do you convince someone to buy your product or service? Think about how you buy a product or service. Even the richest people in the world with “money to burn” do not buy for the sake of buying. Yes they can buy whenever or whatever they choose, however there is a reason that they buy. People love to buy, they just don’t like to be sold.

    Have you ever sat in front of a prospect and tried desperately hard to sell them something? You’ve asked lots of questions and you just know that your product or service will solve their problem but for some reason they just haven’t given you the purchase order, the credit card or even the go ahead to get started.

    If you’re like most business development people, account executives or salespeople, sometimes you just can’t figure out why a prospect doesn’t want to buy. In your eyes, they are very much in need of what you have to offer and you know that you can help them, if they’d only let you. If you haven’t stepped back from the situation and analysed why they aren’t ready to buy, then perhaps now would be a good time to do it.

    Some people like to help or I like to use the term, ‘rescue’ people when we see them struggling. Have you ever stepped back and asked yourself whether the prospect needs or wants to be rescued?

    Sometimes we try so hard to fix a problem that in the prospect’s eyes isn’t big enough, or causing them enough pain so they don’t see the need to spend the money to fix it. Only when a problem has a personal impact on the prospect will they have that compelling reason to buy, not before.

    Step back and debrief your past few sales calls and determine if you were trying to rescue or were you helping the prospect discover that compelling reason. Learn the questions that will help your prospect discover that compelling reason in Part 2.

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    Lisette Howlett edits the Sandler UK blog. If you have any questions or would like to submit a blog please contact her. Tel: 020 7484 5556 Email: Lisette.howlett@sandler.com

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  • Why Do We Accept Lies From Prospect?

    Why do we accept lies from prospectA prospect has agreed to meet with you and indicated they are genuinely interested in your product or service. You arrive at the meeting and spend 40 minutes with the prospect sharing how your product can solve their problems, which they’ve just shared with you. They are very impressed with you and all the features and benefits that you’ve shared…

    They’re happy with the delivery timelines, the after sales service that will be provided and once you send the proposal with the price they’re sure they can get the rest of the committee to agree to move forward.

    After all, you are the number one provider of the product and you are definitely on the top of their list and when they buy, you absolutely stand the best chance of getting the business.What do you think the prospect has actually told you? Let’s break the above scenario down.

    1. They’re impressed with the product’s features and benefits, but they aren’t committing to buy.
    2. Delivery timelines meet their requirements, but they won’t give you an order.
    3. After sales service is a great add-on that pleases them, but that’s not enough for them to give you the cheque.
    4. You’re on the top of their list when they’re ready to buy, they have to check with the committee, their manager or any number of others and you’re not getting the sale.
    5. You stand the best chance of getting the business, but not today.

    If the prospect says all these great things about you, your company and your product or service, why are they unwilling to take that next step and buy from you? This may be a little harsh and you may not like it – prospects are liars. I know you’re saying, “this isn’t so”, however, put yourself in the shoes of the prospect and ask yourself if you’d do the same thing.

    Now as a great salesperson, you’re going to tell me that prospects just don’t have all the information they need to make the decision or they aren’t the final decision maker so you can understand why they’d tell a “little white lie”. Also, they don’t want you to know that they can’t make the decision.

    We would rather accept one of these “little white lies” than hear the prospect tell us the truth. If the prospect likes our company and our product as much as they’ve indicated, they will eventually buy from us. Count the number of proposals or quotes that you had outstanding in 2010 versus the number that you actually closed. Some of you might be surprised as to the results.

    How can we get around these challenges? The following are a few suggestions to solve the problem:

    1. Start by qualifying better prior to the meeting.
    2. Dig deeper to find that compelling reason why the prospect would need your product or service.
    3. Find out how it’s impacting the prospect, their department and their company.
    4. Have the two of you discovered there is a fit between the prospect’s issues and your solutions?
    5. Ask some questions about how decisions get made at the company.
    6. Use a scenario of “let’s pretend we decide it makes sense to do business; how would that happen, are there others involved in the decision, is there money available and where would it come from?”
    7. Setting an agenda for what you want to accomplish in the time you’ve allocated to meet and most importantly – committing to an outcome at the end of this time.

    Planting your feet and setting the ground rules about what is going to happen when you are face-to-face with a prospect will eliminate the opportunity for prospect’s to lie to us. Are you ready to take the challenge and “plant your feet” or are you content hearing the lies your prospects tell you?

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    Lisette Howlett edits the Sandler UK blog. If you have any questions or would like to submit a blog please contact her. Tel: 020 7484 5556 Email: Lisette.howlett@sandler.com

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  • Call Higher or Die Slowly

    In today’s environment, we have to stop acting and looking like beggars with briefcases and begin to recognise that the name of the game is taking business away from our competitors. Let the others wrestle it out at the procurement department and with the low-level influencers.

    In today’s environment, the best salespeople call on the decision makers-presidents and CEOs. Why? Because presidents and CEOs don’t have budgets. They make budgets. To connect a president or CEO of a company, you need to present yourself as having equal business stature. You need to learn to sell the way a CEO sells. You need to read their books and use their techniques. The only way to blot out your competition for good is to be in the ear of the CEO or president and become one of their trusted advisors.

    Now stop and count. Of all of your prospects, how many are you calling on at the highest level possible? If zero, expect to fail or have an excessively long sale process.

    The two most dominating thoughts for a salesperson are:

    • I am the CEO of my business.
      • I absolutely believe my product or service, along with my expertise, can make a difference in your business.
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    Lisette Howlett edits the Sandler UK blog. If you have any questions or would like to submit a blog please contact her. Tel: 020 7484 5556 Email: Lisette.howlett@sandler.com

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  • Why Negative Prospects Are Your Best Prospects and Positive Prospects Are Your Worst

    “Look for buying signals” I was told by most of my bosses in my early sales career. “Look for signs that they’re positive”.  Based on that advice I should have retied in my early 20’s instead of being up to my eyeballs in debt, afraid I was going to get fired every Monday morning as we relayed our forecast to the assembled team and our manager.

    I was a very hard worker, usually first in and last out. I researched my prospects’ companies, their markets, the competition and did a pretty good presentation. I regularly received compliments for the thoroughness of my research, commendations for my insights and ideas, and positive, reassuring statements like, “I’m impressed Marcus. You’ve clearly thought a lot about this. Thank you. You’ve given me some great ideas which I really like. Can you do me a favour and put it all into a proposal?”

    I was chuffed to bits when I heard things like that. I dashed back to the office, reported in to my boss that we’d had a really good meeting and spent the next day or so knocking up a work of genius in the form of a proposal that was tantamount to a blueprint on how they could address their issues using our services. I’d print it off, often multiple copies, bind it up, produce a snazzy cover (very important) and put a protective plastic cover over the top and post it first class. Then I’d wait a couple of days to make sure it had time to get there. I’d follow up with a call to make sure they’d got it. “It looks great. Marcus, give me a few days to read it through and talk it over with my boss” were words that sent me into elation. I hung up, reported to my boss what had just been said, s/he was happy and Monday came, I forecast it as 50% or higher depending on how positive the prospect had been … then I followed up.

    At this point they were usually involved in some kind of kinky act (tied up) or had been abducted by aliens since every effort I made to get feedback was met with a gatekeeper telling me the medium cheese I was chasing was not available. Six, 12, even 20 chaser calls went in until eventually Mr Abductee picked up when i called after Betty had gone home. “Marcus, there was nothing wrong with your proposal. The timing just isn’t right / my boss said no / our current supplier said they could do it cheaper etc” and all my hard work went up in smoke in my mind. I said some pretty rum things about them once I hung up (for which I am truly sorry), I worried I’d be for the axe as I needed that sale to make my target.

    What I find most galling is it took me 17 years to work out that my need for the approval of strangers and my belief that I should do whatever the customer asked me to, to make them happy was utter nonsense and misguided in the extreme.

    Every now and again, I came across a truly terrifying prospect. Usually the MD or CEO. He took no nonsense. He wasn’t interested in my presentation. He gave me a hard time, questioned everything, asked really tough questions and made decisions on the spot without needing a proposal, just an invoice. Many told me “no”, but they did so quickly and without hesitation or prevarication. I was in and out of their office fast with a qualified decision.

    What did it take me 17 years to learn?

    Beware the positive prospect. They usually have no money, no authority and want to know what I know but don’t want to pay me for it. Welcome the negative prospect. They’re negative because they’re busy, don’t want to make a bad decision, have money to spend and make decisions quickly and without playing games or trying to steal what I know.

    Are you a slow learner too?