• 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.

  • Traits of killer sales people

    It’s better not to hire, than to take on the costs and time required to bring someone on who can’t hunt & close the business you need. So, what are the traits of success of a salesperson with a real ‘hunter’ mentality?

    1. Strong “fire in their belly.”

    Successful hunters wake up each day rekindled with an innate natural drive to succeed. They are consistently driven by their ambition to be the best. They usually set high personal goals, have confidence in their abilities, and have a high level of energy in their daily work.

    1. Creating value and demand.

    A-player sales people understand that they are not order takers simply fulfilling demand but must create a demand for a particular product or service. They have the skills to communicate the value of their products or services and deliver solutions that will sort out the unique pain or problem of each prospect.

    1. Taking control of the sales process.

    It’s easy to get caught up in the prospect’s process and not take control of the buyer/seller dance. Taking control requires confidence, assertiveness, and an ability to influence others. Strong and effective sales people set appropriate expectations. They make sure they and the prospects agree on each step so are on the same page throughout the sales process.

    1. Taking action.This one is obvious. Do they act without needing direction? Some salespeople with apparently good track records were order takers, not business hunters. They will sit on their hands waiting for someone else to make a move or that call back.

    Successful hunters do not suffer from “analysis paralysis” or have many reasonable explanations why they don’t have enough on-target appointments, aren’t picking up the phone or going on sales calls. They set their goals and intend to achieve them. They take regular, effective, and consistent action.

    1. Taking responsibility for their results.

    Too often people make excuses like, “I was given the worst territory” or “This economy is just too tough.” But not the hunters; they attack their goal no matter the obstacles. They take responsibility for the things they can take action on.

    1. Adjusting their own behaviour & style.

    Great hunters adapt their style and understand the impact on others. They don’t just force through sales. They figure out what will grow their prospects’ trust in them, and build confidence and rapport. They never blow out deals by coming on too strong, and know how to make sure prospects don’t go quiet and hide behind voicemail.

    Self-motivated driven determined salespeople love to find new business day in and day out.

    When you interview, dig deep so you are certain they’ll be the hunters you need. Hire them and pay them properly. Manage them well.

    Apply these criteria to your existing team. How do they shape up? If you need help in assessing them, call your local Sandler Trainer who can show you an easy way to evaluate the team.

    Do not allow star players to break the rules, ignore your sales process or fail to record progress on the CRM. Reward them well – and invest in their development.

    If you need people on your sales team who truly love the hunt for new clients, it’s essential to structure your team and your recruitment process to discard the order takers or move them into an order taking job, and find and nurture the killer traits for sales success. Look for these 6 traits, and you have the basis for creating a successful sales team.

    Ermine Amies

    Ermine Amies

    Ermine Amies runs Sandler Training in East Anglia with monthly Master Classes in Norwich

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  • Frickin’ Elephants Help Effective Communication

    When it comes to good communication it’s not so much about sending the right message as it is getting the right response. The right message assumes you and the other person will respond in the same way. A person’s understanding shows up before you do, and that is the reality of the message you send. It’s not what you say; it’s what people hear. And, while you might not be able to control what people see or hear, you can do a better job trying to anticipate it.

    I heard a story about a grandpa helping his four-year-old grandson learn to read. The boy pointed to a picture in a zoo book and said, “Look, Grandpa! It’s a frickin’ elephant.” The grandpa took a deep breath and asked, “What did you call it?”

    His grandson repeated himself.

    “It’s a frickin’ elephant, Grandpa! It says so on the picture!”

    And, so it did. When the grandpa looked down at the picture, it read,

    “A F R I C A N Elephant.”

    It’s not what you say; It’s what people hear

    When looking at your marketing materials it’s important to ask serious questions about the message that’s being portrayed to those that will see  them.  Here’s 4 quick pointer questions for you to consider.

    • Does this support or compete with the intended experience for your audience?
    • Does this marketing material help accomplish the desired objective or not?
    • Does it have potential to attract or repel?
    • Does it add to or take away credibility?

    When it comes to your website or marketing material you only have 3 seconds to communicate that right message to your visitors, that’s less time than  it takes to read this sentence.

    What’s your message and how is it being heard?

    Do you think about what you might say will be taken by others and how it might affect them or do you just think about what you have to say and go and do it?

    I wonder what open and candid feedback you might get if you were to show your communications (whether it be your website, newsletters to clients or internal messages) to others before sending them? Would the feedback you get back match that of the desired goal of the communication?

    Is the communication you’re sending actually opening doors rather than closing them?

  • Listen to me!

    After collecting my car from the garage after another very expensive repair I thought it may be about time I bought a car that I could trust would end the journey without the help of a low loader.

    So I went to a local dealer of quality second hand vehicles very excited about the prospect of a new toy.

    The second hand car dealer came up to me he was, smiling (great teeth), had a firm hand shake, and a hint of snake oil fragrance.

    In order to shorten the sales cycle I carefully (I thought) explained that my needs are simple, and in priority order: Automatic, Bluetooth hands free and cruise control ( I can’t afford another speeding fine). Everything else was negotiable.

    He was clearly unshaken by my simple requirements and took me over to the latest (and most expensive) car he had for sale.

    Apparently, it was a thing of beauty, shiny, a head turner, it would look great with me in it and on my drive. I suspected some of that may be correct.

    It was also manual gear change, didn’t have Bluetooth or cruise control.

    I re-explained my needs but clearly my needs didn’t match what he had, so he suggested we go out on a test drive, then I would realise ‘we should be together’ (me and the car, not snake oil boy). So I clambered into the car which exactly addressed all the needs I didn’t have.

    After an hour driving around the country side, feeling the handling, hearing the exhaust and all the other stuff the (sic) salesman thought was important, we arrived back at his premises. I’d missed a call from my wife (no Bluetooth), my dodgy hip was aching from crushing the clutch and I might have broken a speed limit or two (again).

    I didn’t buy the car (see needs above), the salesman was annoyed I’d wasted a quarter of his top selling day. But I got to have fun in a great sports car for an hour which would normally cost a lot of money.

    What happened?

    The car dealer didn’t carefully listen to the prospect, he didn’t question the prospect to confirm the impact of not having their needs met (although not being contactable by my wife did appeal to me) and he gave free consultancy on things that wasn’t needed in addition to wasting a lot of time.

    That’s a lot of bad habits. In the end he thought it was my fault. Stupid prospect.

    There were many basic Sandler rules broken here which culminated in an expensive, non-productive time for the dealer. From the prospects point of view, I learned lots of stuff I didn’t know, had some fun and a great story to tell.

    I guess you haven’t ever wasted time, chasing someone who was never a real prospect and got annoyed about not getting an order for your efforts. But, if you recognise some of this, talk to your local Sandler trainer. They’ll listen and teach you some good habits.

    I’m now going to call the garage as my car is sitting by the side of a road near here quietly steaming, just like our heroic car dealer.

    Roy Johnson

    Roy Johnson

    For twenty seven years Roy Johnson worked globally where he held leadership positions in market leading industrial automation and communications companies. Having left corporate life in 2014 he started his own sales training and management consultancy. Typically, his clients include entrepreneurs, CEOs, start-ups, Sales Directors, MDs, Senior Partners and business owners. These are often people who went into business to follow their passion with a requirement to build a client base to make it successful. They are either looking to put a sales system with coherence and clarity in place and/or take the business to the next level. Roy helps them to develop a successful sales culture so that they can make tough sales decisions based on real data rather than instinct. Mob +44 (0)7867525868 Tel +44 (0)1782 518040

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  • Are you tuned-in?

    Don’t we have some great radio? I often think how fortunate we are here in the UK –  it’s one of the things the BBC does fantastically well, commercial radio would never produce some of the stuff we get.

    On Wednesday evening this week I was driving and absentmindedly tuned in to Radio 4, the subject was the Glasgow Art scene  and the lady being interviewed was very fond of the word ‘conversations’. Art in her world was a conversation. Odd, I initially thought, not a word I would have used.

    Hang on a minute

    Now bear with me here – Mulling this over for a few seconds I converted conversation to communication and the fact that what I’d just heard was her attempt at communicating to others this particular concept. The concept was that ‘Art’ was a conversation –  a means of communicating a view on a particular subject – but one that illustrates the problem of communication – it’s actually fraught with risk –  what the sender is trying to say (en-coding) will not be received in the same way by the receiver (de-coding)

    Conversations are the iterative process that qualifies, refines and restates to improve the quality of the communication.   At least that’s what I took away and that may have been nothing to do with what she was trying to say. That’s the beauty of thought provoking radio!

    What do you hear?

    Communication is at the heart of the modern world.  It’s becoming rapidly more complex – email, social media are adding to the mix, yet communicating well is not a skill we generally spend much time learning about.

    Her comments had set me thinking about just how many opportunities we have to mis-communicate, particularly in business – what are the key elements of communication – how many opportunities are there to get it wrong? In sales it’s a minefield yet its vital to ensure we understand what our prospects are saying and that they understand us. So how can we communicate effectively with the people we do business with ?

    Tune-in

    Well before you even speak you look and listen for clues on your prospect’s preferred communication style.  This gives you a better chance of en-coding your message in a way your prospect will be able to de-code.

    You tailor your communication with respect to that and to further understand how they are going to attempt to understand you.  Too often with salespeople, through either laziness or ego, it’s about their preference not the prospects’.

    Permission to speak

    You will also need to get permission to actually have a conversation. Your prospect is expecting a sales message  – if you don’t do what they expect they are likely to be confused.

    You are aware of the things that often prevent that happening – your prospect may short change you on time so you feel time pressure and end up short-circuiting the sales process. Or you fail to establish at the outset what your respective expectations are for their meeting or to discuss what might be acceptable outcomes.

    Subsequently the conversation becomes a game of trying to guess the others agenda- which more often than not results in both sides failing to clearly understand each other.

    Get permission to deal with those issues before they cause problems.

    Become a Conversationalist

    You continuously develop your sales conversational skills and you change the focus of your conversation. For most people their focus is to demonstrate their credibility or earn the approval of their prospect so they are not listening to understand but to impress, listening for their cue to metaphorically jump onto the stage and earn their prospects applause.

    You could say they are present physically but mentally they are not ‘tuned in’. They gloss over potential issues, fail to allow their prospect to work out their questions, often because they believe they have heard something negative and they are worried that it will jeopardise the outcome they want – a ‘Yes’.

    The failure to communicate effectively results in the seller focusing on painting the picture they want their prospect to see – a ‘Features and Benefits’ pitch. The prospect knows it’s not quite what they are looking for, so they try to spot the flaws. They avoid making decisions, they think up objections, they go into hiding.

    Instead, invite your prospect to have an open and honest conversation about the problem they are trying to solve, the money they might be willing to spend and help them work out if and how it’s something they can decide on.

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney runs Sandler Training in Yorkshire, based in Leeds, helping business owners regain control of sales and achieve significantly improved sales results.

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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?

  • How Sales Professional are like Shrinks

    We don’t ordinarily think of sales as one of the “helping professions,” but maybe we should. People tell their problems to psychologists. They pour out their hearts to their local hairdresser/barber. But they tell their troubles to sales professionals, too, so we should develop our “helping profession” skills.

    I have often noticed, when a sales pitch is going well, how the conversation resembles what I understand a therapeutic session to be like. That is the way it should be, if the salesperson knows what he or she is doing.

    For one thing, there are times when-acting as a counsellor might-it is best to answer a question with a question. It’s even important to pause thoughtfully after a question has been asked, which isn’t easy for salespeople. Many are fast talkers, eager to make their sale as quickly as possible. That’s a mistake.

    It’s important, before answering a question, to know why it’s being asked. The only way to find out is to follow with a question of your own.

    Let’s say you’re selling an ad agency’s services to a restaurant chain, and the potential client asks how much experience you have with restaurants. Too many salespersons, without bothering to find out why the client wants to know, immediately answer by quoting the huge number of restaurant accounts the agency has handled.

    When they are done, the prospect says, “Well, I hope you aren’t planning to present me with recycled ideas.”

    Now the salesperson is cooked. If he had asked why the prospect was asking about his experience, he might have learned how important it is for the restaurant to be seen as unique.

    Answering questions with questions allows you to learn as much as possible about the prospect’s needs so that when you do respond with definitive answers, they are the right ones.

    There’s at least one other reason to take a therapeutic approach to sales calls. They create an atmosphere in which the prospect is likely to talk about the problems their business faces-that is, their pain.

    Once you understand their pain, you can explain how your product or service will remove it.

    Approach your sales calls this way, and you’ll make friends and sales.

    Blog Editor

    Blog Editor

    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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  • Patience Is a Virtue (Of Success)

    You will find that only a few people are willing to be patient.  However, putting off instant gratification until later in order to obtain bigger rewards is essential to achieving true success.

    Patience doesn’t necessarily mean attending to the delays that sometimes occur, which are often an invitation to procrastination. Avoiding commitment is not the way to achieve success but there are distinct differences between “I need more time,” and the notion that achieving lasting results require time.

    To be truly successful, we need to practice patience in all areas of our life, when it comes to business, negotiations, communications goals and even employee relationships.

    If we put off doing a thing and find ourselves going nowhere, we are sabotaging ourselves.  If we put off doing it but find that, with struggle and effort, we are slowly progressing toward the desired goal, we can congratulate ourselves on having demonstrated a true willingness to postpone gratification ― an enormous asset and an indispensable element in self-realisation and success.

    Training and development takes time and just like any other hard-earned discipline, we get better at being patient the more we practice it.

    Rewards are often related to the ability to endure necessary waiting.  Just think, to become a surgeon, lawyer, diplomat, or professional salesperson takes time and dedication. While working toward the goal, little or nothing is earned, and recognition for work done and energy output is minimal.  The rewards come later. This makes the reward that much more meaningful because work has been put in for the greater good of your success.

    Blog Editor

    Blog Editor

    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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  • Will you pick up the hoe and go for the no?

    I’m not green fingered by any stretch of the imagination – but I’ve been guilty in the past of trying to cultivate prospects that were in effect weeds in my veg patch.

    As opposed to wasting time thinking we can nurture these ‘wild plants’ in the hope that they flower into fabulous future clients and customers, why don’t we pull them up by the root, toss them in the recycle bin and turn our attention to crops that have a high yield potential and need our attention?

    We call this ‘going for the no’ – which is completely counter intuitive and goes against everything I’ve been taught to do historically. “Ask open ended questions; get the client to say yes, yes, yes! ……”

    It’s like forcing rhubarb – keep prospects in near darkness and force them to strain to the candlelight until they give in and grow. Unlike rhubarb which will ripen and be ready for eating, forcing prospects to do business leaves a sour taste – and even if they add to your harvest short term, it’s unlikely you’ll reap long term business.

    The thought of disqualifying prospects makes sense intellectually (i.e. wouldn’t my time be better spent growing my current clients and working with those prospects who want, need and are willing to pay for what I have to offer) – but sometimes we’re comforted emotionally by the fact that we have lots of ‘prospects’ in our pipeline. The truth of the matter is that spending time trying to force those who in reality have no need, interest or desire to work with us is like starving our entire garden of nutrients – whilst the weeds will continue to dominate, our precious prospects wither and die.

    Anyway, I’m off into the garden – anyone else picking up their hoe and clearing away those weeds and dead wood?

    Blog Editor

    Blog Editor

    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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  • So whose decision is it, anyway?

    So there you are, talking with this great potential client, right in your “sweet spot”. He has so much aching need for what you can do for him and he is prepared to spend time, money and resources to fix them.  Moreover you have the perfect solution within that budget which will make them pleased to have done business. What could possibly go wrong?

    Have you been there? And then, just as it is all about to happen, once they have details of your proposal, presentation and proof of concept, your potential client casually mentions that they need to review against competing providers, or take time to discuss it at board level; or they will need to get authorisation from the FD.

    I have been there. I am sure you have too. We can blame the prospect all we want or take it all on the chin as inevitable in business, but really it is our fault – Totally our fault. We get so excited about what we can do for the prospect and what that will mean for us, that we just plain slide over a major part of the client acquisition process.

    Before we do anything, before we waste time, hope, money, resources, (more hope), we have to fully qualify our prospect.  Who else is involved in the decision? Who will be affected by it and might put a spanner in the works? What needs to be decided? It could be that a whole raft of things has to happen internally or with us before the decision can be confirmed. When would that be? Are there critical time lines that we are not aware of? Is the timeline they gave us at the outset real? Where geographically or in the organisation will the decision be made? How will that decision be made? According to what criteria: Price? Return on investment? And why is the decision being made at all or at least, why is the decision being made that way?

    What difference would it make if we knew all this before we got excited and emotionally involved? Would it change the way we present our solution? Perhaps we would stop in our tracks right there. We could save hours of everybody’s time if we had the courage to ask for this detail. “Mr Huge Potential Client, will it be OK if I asked you some questions about how you make a decision like this, who tends to be involved, that sort of thing?” How long does it take in the sale interview to ask for this detail? Perhaps as little as four or five minutes. Five minutes versus enormous waste of resources including false hope.

    Do not forget this important disqualification step. If you do forget, you may wish most heartily that you had spent more time with a Sandler trainer to help you with some techniques and even, perhaps, to instil the required courage.

    Paul Glynn

    Paul Glynn

    Paul’s experience spans over twenty years of selling, sales management and training. He has worked in the financial services sector including accountancy and has been responsible for the commercial success of sales departments at director level in advertising. His clients report up to 300% increase in turnover by working with him. He is dedicated to helping businesses grow through assessments, training, coaching and mentoring. Tel: 01784 390623 Mobile: 07866 518848

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