• 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.

  • The Toughest Prospect To Sell

    The Toughest prospect to sellWhen is the toughest prospect to sell the easiest prospect to sell?

    Give up?

    The answer is simple: when you call on him or her.

    Some buyers acquire a reputation for being tough, overbearing, demanding—just plain impossible to deal with. And guess what? Salespeople stop calling on them. Why put themselves through the abuse? Why endure the indignity? Why indeed, you may be thinking.

    Why not? They have to buy products and services from someone. It might as well be you. A prospect may be demanding, discourteous, and disrespectful. However, beneath the gruff exterior, there is a human being capable of listening, evaluating, and making decisions—buying decisions.

    Remember, you too have an exterior—your salesperson persona. When you call on the impossible prospect and he “attacks” you, it’s only your persona he is attacking. So allow your persona to don an invisible suit of armour. When you call on Mr. Crotchety, you’re Sir Lancelot. Nothing he hurls at you can hurt you. You’re protected. Sure, you armour may get dented, but the order in hand will have made it worthwhile.

    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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  • 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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  • 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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  • The number one thing sales people DON’T do

    It has probably taken me nearly all of my 25 years in selling and 5 years training sales people to really understand their number one problem.

    It applies to all of us, almost all of the time. It is both very easy to recognise but very difficult to do anything about.

    The problem is most sales people are completely oblivious to it, and when I mean sales people I mean from the MD downwards.

    Oddly, you do have people who are very good at it in your organisation; they are probably in customer services or perhaps engineers.

    Some of the best I have met are not even in the commercial realm. I have been lucky enough to train groups of nurses on selling and they get this immediately, in fact they are surprised it has to be taught.

    If you haven’t guessed already, it was a key element in the title of Richard Branson’s latest book “The Virgin Way: How to Listen, Learn, Laugh, and Lead”.

    He dedicates a series of chapters to listening.

    Sales people tend to be hired because they are very focused and driven. Nearly universally this drive comes from them wanting to do the best for themselves firstly, the company next and the customers thirdly. Although it is often all about themselves, and this is the root of the problem. You cannot listen at all effectively if there is any of “you” in the conversation.

    Many salespeople are stuck in transmit mode, telling to sell. The better ones start to ask questions, some even ask good questions. Few really listen to the answers or try to understand what is behind what has just been said and ask further questions. That is because they are trying to steer the conversation in a way that suits the sales person, so their brain is focused on the next “great” question and not on absolutely every aspect of what and how the prospect is communicating.

    The very best sales people develop a mindset that I call, curiously sceptical. Being curious is fantastic because you will keep on wanting to find out more, understand why and what is happening in the prospect’s world. Sceptical drives the mind to want to dig deeper to try to figure out why someone may be saying something, perhaps what they are not saying is even more important. In a meeting with several prospects at a time there is lots of non-verbal interaction. It takes real skill to observe and detect everything going on. Again you can’t do this if “you” are in the conversation.

    There is a lot written about non-verbal clues and body language. I am not a fan at all of the “mirror and matching” approach to bonding and rapport. When you are in rapport you can’t help “mirror and match”. Gain that rapport by deep listening.

    And a final tip – we all have a noisy head, a gibbering monkey, distracting us during meetings. It is easy to calm this annoyance. Once you have noticed you are thinking up the next question or wondering what you are having for tea or the weather forecast for the weekend, just pause and become aware of your breath. Don’t try and control it or change it. Just become aware for a couple of moments and refocus that curiously sceptical mind on your prospect.

    I was once told I was the most interesting person an Academic Lawyer had ever met (probably says more about the circles they move in than me). All I had done was truly listen with my curiously sceptical mindset.

    So the next time you are in company with anyone why not practice truly listening? You never know they might think you are the most interesting person they have ever met. Or failing that just decides to buy from you…

    Alan Mackie

    Alan Mackie

    Alan has been in various sales roles for 25 years and works with businesses struggling to grow revenue and profitability to the levels they wish. Often their sales people are using excuses to hide lack of prospecting or perhaps saying everything is down to price when really it’s their ability. Often the business doesn't have a successful sales culture.

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  • Excuses, Lies and other Sales B.S

    We all know the old, well-worn joke

    Q. How do you know when a sales person is lying?

      A. Their lips are moving.nigel

    This joke resonates with many of us as we remember all the times we have been miss-sold, or listened to exaggerated claims made by those over enthusiastic sales people. By that I mean “Those” sales people. Not us or our people. Of course not!

    Yet the real whoppers, the most damaging untruths are not what sales people tell prospects. It is actually what they tell their colleagues, it’s what they tell you-the boss and most insidiously, themselves…Lies and excuses masquerading as reasons.

    Have you ever noticed when a sales person wins a deal it was because of what they said or did? Yet when they fail to close the deal it was always because of something apparently outside of their control?

    Here is what I mean.

    Lies Truth
    1 The target was not realistic I failed to build/action/fine-tune the correct plan to make the mutually agreed plan achievable.
    2 It’s the economy/market I failed to update the old plan that used to work to fit the new reality.
    3 Lost a big account unexpectedly My plan failed to take into account the likelihood of losing a big customer.
    4 Our delivery/quality/service has issues Our plan was based upon false assumptions. I did not adjust it to the reality of the company’s capabilities.
    5 Marketing is not generating enough leads Our prospecting plan and our prospecting skills did not get us in front of enough new opportunities.
    6 Our price is sometimes too high Our prospecting plan and our prospecting skills did not get us in front of enough right opportunities.
    7 Competitors have an unfair advantage We do not have the skills to effectively identify how we need to position ourselves when we face competition.
    8 Lost a key salesperson My plan failed to take into account the loss of a key person.
    9 Customers can’t make timely decisions We don’t have the skills to identify the real decision making process.
    10 It’s just not possible to build and implement a plan that guarantees success My self-fulfilling beliefs provide me with an excuse for inaction.

    So, why do they lie to themselves and us?

    One reason is that it is more comfortable to do so than confront the truth, the other is that we let them.

    We let them and ourselves get away with failing to take responsibility and ownership, we fail to get to the uncomfortable truth. We avoid the difficult conversation and we too choose the lie instead because… It is easier.

    “Truth will set you free”

    Tired of falling victim to these types of lies, excuses and B.S?

    Open to an alternative, no B.S approach to managing sales teams?

    Contact our office or come as our guest to a Business Leaders Sales Masterclass.

    Nigel Dunand

    Nigel Dunand

    Nigel Dunand runs Sandler Training in the Midlands based at the Innovation Centre in Longbridge.

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  • Is it your brain, or your second brain that gets you to the bank?

    I was reading an article from a past edition of Scientific American recently.  What was fascinating is the evidence emerging of the importance of the nervous linkage between our brain and our guts.  We all know about ‘butterflies in our stomach’ before we do something important and how our body feels when we are in stressful situations.  The article goes as far to suggest that our gut can be thought of as our ‘second brain’.

    That set me thinking about how we can behave in meetings with prospective clients.  I am sure that we all know that to become emotionally involved in a sale plays to the prospects system and can lead to appearing needy.  The chances of making a successful sale in those circumstances are significantly reduced.  That’s with our brain, though.  So, what about the gut?  Yes, surprisingly that old saying – trust your gut – does have some truth here.

    Just suppose your prospective client’s office looks as though it could do with a good coat of paint and you are offered coffee in non-matching chipped mugs.  Things are a bit thread-bare generally and XP is still running on the office PCs.  What might you start to feel?  A little uneasy?  Maybe cash is a bit tight?  Could they afford your service?  Just that feeling in your gut ……?

    In Sandler, we say ‘If you feel it, say it.’  Raise what you feel early on in the conversation.  “Mr Jones, my biggest fear is that we will get well into the meeting and you will say that you like my service, but when it comes to talking about the investment required and price, you will tell me that you don’t have the budget for it.  Would that be a fair statement?  Could we talk about that now?”

    If that turns out to be the case, better to find out sooner and have the chance to exit in a friendly manner before wasting your time or the prospect’s.  Move on to the next!  Increase your chances to getting to a prospect who does want to buy quicker and get to the bank sooner!  Take note of your ‘second brain’!

    For more food for thought about how to get to the bank quicker – and some for your ‘second brain’ in the form of coffee and biscuits – come to one of our seminars.  For more information you can find a Sandler training centre here.

    Graham Hudson

    Graham Hudson

    Graham is passionate about helping business owners, manager and professionals to transform the way their businesses grow. He works with business owners, managers and senior professionals in and around Winchester. He works best with those who are open-minded about changing what they do now, prepared to overcome embedded ways of thinking, move outside of their comfort zone and watch their business grow through applying new disciplines. Tel: 01962 217440 Mobile: 07889 546694

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