From Sales

Just Say It

Everything has a price. No, I’m not being dramatic, cynical, or salty after paying too much for my vanilla latte. I’m stating a fact about professional services. They cost. And because most people who provide them have worked very hard to get where they are and care about excellence — instead of being just good enough — I’m quite OK with the cost structure.

Except when people seem embarrassed by it.

I’ve recently had to shop for some professional business services. It’s sensitive stuff, so it’s important that I find an attorney who is not just excellent, but in my comfort zone. I don’t expect to ‘click’ with everyone I meet.

But as a professional who knows her worth, and who knows about selling, it’s hard not to notice when another pro clearly hasn’t thought through the implications of sales in their practice.

Two lawyers I met recently had two things in common:

  1. Neither quoted their fee. They coughed it up when I asked, and attached a roundabout, and drawn out, explanation of why they charge it.
  2. Gender. Sadly, but not surprisingly, they both were women.

As you might guess, I sense a connection between these facts. Many female professionals — too many, I’d argue — engage prospective clients as if they’re hoping money just won’t get talked about.

Argh. Ladies (and gents), just say it: ‘I charge XX per hour/project/session’. Fill in the blanks and lay it out there. Practice in the mirror if that helps. But before the client leaves the first session, say it. It’s your job.

I’d argue that there is one imperative each for the professional and the prospective client regarding The Number. It’s the professional’s responsibility to quote the price without being asked.

The prospective client, if so inclined, can ask for a cost breakdown. The professional has the office, license, practice and status, all earned. When asked, they should respectfully explain the breakdown. But there is no need to justify the price.

And there certainly is no cause for embarrassment. The evasiveness of those two attorneys would not be enough for me to disqualify them on its own. But the professional relationship is based in part on trust. I’m inclined to believe that both women are still fighting with old messaging that drones about the inappropriateness of asking for things, being too focused on money, yada yada. But other prospects might pick up on the money discomfort and interpret it as something more insidious; this undermines trust, which carries far more serious implications that plain old discomfort.

I’m still shopping. I might even choose one of these lawyers after all. But please, folks, don’t give me a five minute explanation (justification) of your prices. Just quote the fee already and leave it at that. If you’re really as good at your work as you say you are, the numbers can speak for themselves.

Call me old school, some deals are best closed in person

Selling is so tough that you can build a real argument for pushing to the finish whenever you have the chance. If you’re making progress, why slow down? Our culture is replete with examples of deals closed during random encounters, sitting on planes, or even on vacation. I applaud them all.

What I don’t like is the telephone: land, cellular, you name it. Unless you’re calling your family. As one of my first sales managers used to say “Great things happen, face to face”. It sounded so cheesy at the time, but now I understand what a simple truth this was. When you are closing someone on a complex concept, nothing beats looking them in the face.

It’s not just because I started in the financial services business as a cold caller. These days, I’m on the receiving end of some pretty serious sales pitches and you know what? When they’re delivered by a voice over a handful of plastic and metal, I cringe.

In one day two very different and very serious professionals rang to sell me on complex financial concepts. Both pulled hard. I’ll rate myself as pretty sophisticated financially, but I lost the thread of their arguments. Or should I say, they lost me, and fast. Within two minutes I knew there was no way in hell they could reel me in.

I’ve been carrying my share of emotional stress over the last year, and for awhile I thought that was why I couldn’t handle these calls. But then I realized: They were pitching services that required a large buy and serious thinking about my future.

So I got emotional? Duh. All big financial decisions are fraught with emotions.

Which is why the phone is so often a loser as a sales medium. There are just too many important signals you miss when you don’t have your eyes trained on the prospect. Especially if you’re following a script and piling on when there’s no response.

Because in most cases, silence doesn’t mean you’re winning. You’ve probably succeeded in overwhelming the prospect with information and either they’re checking out or checking their blood pressure.

So better yet:

Never just keep talking. If the phone is unavoidable, keep your sentences short. If you must delve into specifics, break them up with regular check-ins. A question that puts the burden on your communication skills (‘am I making sense?’) is superior to emphasizing their comprehension (‘do you understand?’).

Stick to easy action. Focus on a few achievable steps and wait until another day to bring the prospect to the close of your sales funnel.

Don’t shy from screen time. It’s the future anyway. Skype, iChat, WebX et. al may still rate lower than an in-person meeting. But, at the least you can read facial expressions and the prospect knows that you aren’t losing at Solitaire or checking your facebook in the background.

Wait until you can meet in person. A professional setting is fine, so long as you’re sure the prospect can relax and feel secure. But wherever you choose, let it be somewhere the humanity of the situation can be respected. Please don’t ask me to discuss my personal finances in a Starbucks. Too close to the blogger at the next table, for my comfort, at least.

Spoken words convey only so much messaging, and often they’re unreliable. Face to face, you can study a prospect’s body language for clues that can tell you to explain more, or less, or just take a break to breathe.

The phone isn’t going away, even if landlines are. You’ll be using yours for awhile. Nothing better for following up on prospects and asking for appointments.

But remember that money evokes opportunity and risk; the combination brings out the best and worst in most of us. Whatever side of the sales game I’m playing, I like to see the whites of their eyes. And not in pixels, if possible.

Connect to the Dream: Theirs, Not Yours (at Least at First)

Magic words. Every salesperson knows an ‘open sesame’ or some equivalent won’t close a deal. But that doesn’t mean we stop wishing it would. How much easier would our lives be if we could rely on a few powerful phrases to at least get people’s attention, if not their commitment?

‘Magic words’ also happens to be the name of a recent ‘This American Life’ podcast. Ira Glass didn’t talk about sales. But while listening to his reporting on caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients, people who struggle daily to communicate with someone who has passed into another place, I made a connection.

For years, the MO for these caregivers was ‘keep them with you’. Remind them what day it is, where they’re living, who will come to visit, and which granddaughter just had a baby. Doesn’t work, though. Alzheimer patients seem to be living vivid lives in other times and places. One interviewee, with a background in comedy improv, made a valid parallel. In comedy or care, she said, the other person is never wrong. You need to follow them, and keep close to their feelings, thoughts, and mental pictures. The patients utter the ‘magic words’, not the caregivers.

Salespeople: please note a parallel!

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True Grit: How to Keep Pushing For Professional Gains, Even When You Think You Can’t

There are cold streaks in sales. Every so often, there’s an ice age.

The pivotal prospect bails without warning. A steady client dumps you. A spouse or child gets sick — very sick — and the impulse to care for them frays your concentration. Important contacts or allies quit, or double-cross, or just stop calling. Sometimes it all happens at once.

How do you persevere through frigid and long days of professional life?

Times like these might come when you’re unknown and trying to break in. Or after massive layoffs leave you without a job. I’ve experienced hardship after each of the three times I transitioned from the security of a stifling yet steady gig to explore my next professional challenge – and the word challenge somehow doesn’t begin to capture how it felt.

Surviving painful circumstances requires grit, sweat, even behavior you probably wouldn’t confess to in mixed company. A colleague from the start of my career used to air-bench press while driving to cold calls. To my astonishment, I mimicked him during a recent bad stretch. It seemed appropriate, so I did it. I felt ridiculous. Afterwards, though, I rode the adrenaline and yet again contacted a prospect I’ve been chasing for three (painful) years.

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When There’s No ‘No’: How to Avoid the Passive Blow-Off

So much of our work in sales consists of separating the good: the good-good from the not-so and not-at-all.

Sometimes we know great clients from the outset. They’re motivated, easy to work with and know the value of our expertise. They say so via respect and prompt payments.

If we always spotted the keepers so easily, there would be a lot more success stories in sales. But we’ve all had clients who needed to be sold — over weeks, months, years! But once sold, the bond held fast.

Sometimes we must train the client in the ways of quid pro quo. By setting a great standard for engagement, you can coax some people to follow your example.

That leaves the rest. Some prospects won’t ever pan out. It would be nice if they formally announced that, but it’s not their job. We in sales must close the circle, whether it turns into a ‘O’ for opportunity or just a big ‘0’, as in zero.

At a recent workshop, a woman stood up to complain generally about long sales cycles and people who ‘put her off’. I boiled it down: ‘You mean, how do you know when enough is enough?’

If you aren’t proactive, you end up reading tea leaves, wasting time and being frustrated, as this woman clearly (and understandably) was.

But you can set some terms at the outset that can help you determine when it’s time to cross a name off your list.

Make them tell you when to follow up. And don’t let them forget it. This means asking those rote questions we often try to avoid. Don’t. Here’s the sequence:

  • When you meet, ask when a good time to follow up is. And get a straight answer. Write the answer down in your planner.
  • Remember the date.
  • Make the call, and preface your discussion by reminding them that the timing was their idea.

Finesse counts, of course. But if you are clear and firm about the commitment, and professional, you make it easier for them to give you straight answers. Done right, you can help a lot of wishy-washy prospects make a commitment, one way or another.

Trust your rejection instincts. Even when you provide clarity, some prospects still struggle with the rejection thing. They’re too nice, or divorced from their true feelings to say no. If you aren’t feeling any heat, probably you’re picking up what they feel but can’t say.

Instincts are honed by experience and confidence. You might not be ready to go with your gut. In which case:

Ask the hard question. If you don’t like this option, remember that you’re doing it for the prospect as well. Who needs this sort of uncertainty?

Go for tact: ‘Do you want to continue this discussion?’ ‘Do you want to move forward?’

Don’t think aggressively. The subtext is, ‘Look, indecision is lousy for everyone. Let’s do each other a favor and say yes or no. No one’s feelings will be hurt, and we may actually respect each other for being honest!’

If they say ‘no’, believe them. No one much enjoys saying it. A non-committed prospect may fear commitment, but far more often, they just dislike saying a word they perceive as mean-spirited.

So when you hear ‘no’ in this situation, let it go. And always remember there are many others out there ready to say yes. Save your energy for finding them.

How Far Have Families Come? As a Breadwinner, I’m Still Selling Myself

I claim the title ‘breadwinner’ with trepidation. Funny, but I don’t know a single man who uses it. That’s because the word teases political sensibilities, and who wants to do that unnecessarily? Not me. But as a woman, I don’t have a choice.

You see, we female breadwinners still have to sell ourselves to the world. Even if you disagree with me there, we certainly have to sell ourselves to ourselves.

Sometimes the choice just seems wrong. When I’ve had a long week, and my husband, the at-home parent, has been home with our kids, I feel envy. And worry. Maybe even some resentment. By rights, a little voice tells me, that role should be mine. Why do I have to be content with 10 hours of face time during the working week? These are my babies!
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Interview: Always Have an Ask

TerriT-InterviewTerri Trespicio is a long-time friend and one of my first bloomCast guests, so when she asked me for an interview for her show— Solopreneur—I was more than happy to oblige. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we were able to kick it casual-style right in the coffee shop and then share it with the world. Click through to the video and learn why you should always have an ask—no matter who you are talking to, and why saying you’re bad at something is a habit you should lose.

$1 For Your Thoughts: How Direct Is Your Ask?

One of the best of many benefits that come with living in New York City is that you can get an education at any time, anywhere and from anyone.

Case in point: Last week I was walking near Grand Central Station and passed two people on the sidewalk, both asking for money. Each let a sign do the talking and kept silent. Both managed to write something I’d never seen, which says a lot for their creativity. Every New Yorker is sure they’ve seen and heard every possible variant on the classic ask: ‘spare some change?’

(And let’s face it, how many others are there, really?)

The first fellow had written: ‘This sign says whatever you need it to say so you will help me.
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When are you best prepared for prospecting? Ask a reluctant runner

I rang in 2015 by joining a running club. OK, so this is not the first time I have ever “resolved” to be healthier at the turn of the New Year, but it is the most serious I have ever been about it. Really. I’m still in it to win it, and since I started literally at zero, my three-mile mark at mid-February is hugely encouraging. But that’s not the story here.

The accomplishment (so far) is even more meaningful to me because I’m not a likely candidate for running six steps, much less a mile. I’ve endured big orthopedic issues in recent years and entire months where just walking required teeth-clenching determination. Proud as I am of my perseverance and willingness to up the game, that’s not the story here either.

The story comes thanks to my running coach, who understands that overcoming resistance usually requires we roll a big stone out of our chosen path. As a runner, my key phrase is, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.”

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Grimes and Smart Sales

OK, I know the world doesn’t need another post-mortem on the elections of 2014. But I did have an interest in a campaign that failed this November, and I think its aftermath contains a few lessons extend past politics and apply to the greater world of smart sales.

I supported the campaign of Alison Lundgren Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic challenger to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Alison is young, whip smart, telegenic, native-born and raised and the state’s attorney general. Everyone knew she was in for a tough fight: McConnell, running for his fifth term, is a savvier campaigner with many built-in fundraising advantages in a conservative state. Still, Grimes was dynamic, and McConnell’s approval ratings had been dropping. This seemed to have all the earmarks of a close race.

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