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1 What a Selling Career Really Is 1
2 What Kind of Salesperson Are You? 23
3 What Stage of the Cycle Is Your Business in Now? (And What to Do About It) 51
4 Going Back to Basics: Where to Begin 68
5 Start by Keeping the Business You Have 87
6 Success Is in Who You Already Know 106
7 How to Quickly Determine If Someone Is an Ideal New Client for You 126
8 Reducing Sales Resistance 148
9 Converting Clients from the Competition 170
10 Closes That Help Clients Overcome Fear 191
11 Methods for Cutting Costs While Continuing to Appear Successful 211
12 Selling Is Service 228
Reference Material 239
The English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “The future is big with every possibility of achievement and of tragedy.” How we handle those possibilities, and, perhaps more important, how we handle the challenges will determine whether we revel in our own achievement or reap our own tragedy.
Whenever you are faced with tough times, it’s time to get busy. The sooner you begin focusing on what’s happening and what actions to take to get past it, instead of bemoaning whatever negative event happened, the sooner you can start moving forward on improving today’s situation.
That may sound like a supersimplified solution and it is, but what good does it do to moan and groan and talk about how bad things are? In fact, the longer we focus on slow sales, a bad rap in the media, losing a big client, or the scary global economy, the more we prolong their effects by our own inaction.
When we continue to talk about the downside of things, we become part of the problem. We’re helping to spread the virus of bad news, just as we’d be spreading any other kind of virus by not washing our hands or covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze. In fact, covering our mouths is the best answer to both mental and physical health when we encounter something that is potentially viral, whether it’s truly a virus or just bad news. We need to think, act, and live in the present moment.
Let’s face it. If you stay in any type of career long enough, you’re bound to run the course of both high cycles and lows. How you handle them depends a lot on what their causes are.
People change. A current and dramatic change in demographics has and will continue to have an enormous impact on the global economy. In the United States one such change is called “the graying of America.” In actuality, it’s the graying of the entire world’s population. If you work in the ever-increasing international market, take note. A vast number of people from the baby boom generation are finding their needs changing. Companies will have to adapt to that approaching tidal wave of change or be swept beneath it.
At the same time, companies need to serve the needs of today’s youth when it comes to technology, financial, and consumer goods. While Grandma might not care or even understand that the next version of MP3 players has a time-travel feature, the grandkids who will soon control much of the world’s wealth do care. And they care very much.
Tough times could get really tough for some companies. Finding, acquiring, and then holding on to good clients will be a major challenge, if not the major challenge, for the foreseeable future. But again, there is a way to meet that challenge.
More than ever before, companies and individual suppliers must focus on building organizations and product/service mixes that meet the specialized needs of an incredible variety of individuals and companies.
The economy will continue to be volatile. “Of course, Tom, when has it not been volatile?” If anyone develops the ability to accurately predict what will happen in the economy, they will rule the world!
In the early days of this century, we saw phenomenal growth in many service industries. For years you couldn’t watch a television news program, read a general-interest magazine, or flip through your local newspaper without reading glowing stories about the real estate boom or the incredible gains in the stock market.
That’s great, but as universal law tells us, every boom is followed by a bust and tough times—or, in kinder, gentler terms, a “correction.” What goes up must come down. Of course, it (whatever “it” is) will most likely go back up again at the proper moment in the economic cycle.
Only smart business people will be in a position to successfully ride the roller coaster through the bottoming out and the inevitable rise back up to the heights. Companies and the individuals who work inside them will have to position themselves as worthy providers through fast action, a proper product/service mix for their market(s), and by providing genuine and personal service.
I don’t care which political party you support or even if you consider yourself apolitical. Please understand this. You are deeply, heavily, and intimately involved in politics—local, state, and federal. There’s no escaping it.
Think not? Think again. Whether you are anti–big government or pro–big government or somewhere in the middle is irrelevant. Government—politics—is a major factor in the success or failure of your business, in the achievement of your goals, and in the process of securing a safe, sound, and happy future.
Many industries have been under intense scrutiny by local, state, and federal regulators and governing bodies. This trend will continue as long as there are unscrupulous and greedy people in both leadership and sales positions.
A key element of what goes on in business involves ethics. Think of the very prominent scandals that have rocked the business world in years past. The Savings & Loan operations of the 1980s. Insider trading. Worldcom. Tyco. ImClone Systems (Martha Stewart). Enron.
Because of the fallout from some of these scandals, people in the highest positions in business are now being held accountable. The bottom line of many of these failures (of businesses and the people who run them) often seems to boil down to greed and/or having poor ethical standards.
To prevent a future mass violation of business practices, every one of us needs to step up and make the term accountability predominant in our mission statements. One of the best books I’ve ever seen on this topic is John G. Miller’s QBQ! The Question Behind the Question. QBQ! is practical, universal, and timeless because personal accountability applies to people and organizations no matter what’s going on. We’ll talk more about your personal ethics and how they will impact your survival rate later in this chapter.
Currently business regulation is intense on all levels. It will only get more complex as the years roll by. Increased regulation and government monitoring will heighten the risk of losing your job, your income, and even your business. Failure to understand and comply with the ever-increasing burden of regulations could be disastrous. The costs of noncompliance, the loss of reputation, the loss of a sound customer base, and the risk of offering poor or poorly targeted products and services could devastate any business.
I have always practiced and promoted sticking to the highest possible standards of business practice. If the typical standards in your industry are low, don’t give in to them. Raise the bar. Adhering to the highest ethical standards will be essential to developing and maintaining customer loyalty—the foundation of all success. Especially during challenging times you must be a shining example of sound moral values. Stay close to your client base and help them through these times, and they’ll stay with you long-term.
The waves of change continue to roll in as new technologies provide better means to offer improved and more personal service at more affordable rates. Yet, as with everything else, implementing technological change has its pluses and minuses. You need to analyze any change you’re considering in how you do business against the end result for your clients.
Why should a potential client trudge downtown or have a salesperson violate the personal space of their home, when in the same amount of time they can shop half a dozen or more organizations online? We know the answer is because salespeople are industry experts, and unless the client is interested in investing the same amount of time you do in learning your business, they’re not likely to make decisions that are truly good for them. But few consumers understand that.
Why does John or Joan Consumer need to dress up, drive the car, fight traffic, and wait in line to make a purchase when they can sit in their home, sipping coffee in their bathrobes, and conclude a purchase with the tapping of their fingers on a keyboard?
The solution can be found in the challenge. Technology can be easy. People can come to believe they don’t need you—the salesperson. If your Web site tells a client everything you would tell them, you can make yourself obsolete—except for the fact that not many Web sites offer personalized service. They can’t do analyses of which product best suits a client’s true needs now while considering that client’s needs for the future.
Technology is great, but only when used as an accessory to genuine personal service targeted to solving each client’s individual challenges.
There have been times, and there will continue to be times, when certain industries suffer. A few that come to mind in my lifetime are the time-share industry, the real estate and mortgage industries, the automotive industry, and credit-related services. They have all taken some pretty hard hits. In some cases they have had to police themselves to cure indiscretions and reinvent themselves to stay strong in providing services that are very much needed and wanted by consumers but not offered the way they were.
If you live along any shoreline in our country, you could very well take on a storm serious enough to shut down business for quite some time. Inlanders face tornado season annually. Certain parts of our country are more prone to wildfires than others. And large snowfalls have been known to bring the world to a halt in other parts of our country.
When Mother Nature gets rolling, we all need to stop, manage the most basic of necessities, and slow down until these things pass and we all recover. Then, we pick up the pieces and move forward, don’t we? We are a resilient lot, and most often we will come back stronger and better. It just may take a little time.
If you don’t watch your competition so you can be ready to counter their moves, you’ll soon find yourself sliding down the list of top companies in your industry. When a young start-up wants to be a new player in the world of established business, they may make some product offers that your company simply cannot beat or even come close to matching.
If you’re not prepared, you’ll be blindsided by—and could find yourself in a very embarrassing situation with—a long-term client who expects you to know the story behind this incredible new offer. If you try to avoid it, or if you hope they won’t bring up the challenge and they do so late in the sales process, your admission of knowledge only after they ask about it will make you appear weak or as trying to hide or sidestep the issue.
Competition can also heat up as clients pit you against others in your industry to get the most for their money and to get the most economical offering available. If you offer a higher-end and higher-quality product that’s not the most economical, you need to be prepared to bring it up and brag about that concern early in your presentations. Timing is everything, and if you’re operating from an offensive position when it comes to a potential concern, the client will see you as well-prepared and knowledgeable.
Many of us have encountered times in our lives when personal situations had a negative impact on our business lives. Some were due to our own mishandling of matters. Others, like a major illness of our own or that of a close family member, take priority over what we do for a living. Being human, we have limitations. There is only so much we can bear, and there will be times when business just has to take a backseat until we get back on our feet. As with any other challenge, we need to handle it as best we can and keep moving forward in the best manner possible.
I’ve listed a lot of challenges that you may face someday or even find yourself facing right now. The goal of this book is not to dwell on those challenges (spreading the negativity virus) but to show you the many ways you can rise above the crowd and not only survive today’s challenges but thrive. As a true sales professional, what you do provides genuine, specific, and highly personalized service to people who have the need and ability to own your product or service. Selling is service.
As an individual or as an organization, you may face incredible pressure to put your product or service, your monthly quota, your company, or even your own personal goals ahead of the needs of your client. That, my friend, is the road to tragedy, not to achievement.
Clients are becoming more sophisticated in their knowledge of products and services, and in the new technologies that continually spring onto the market. More than that, customer needs are continually shifting with changes in demographics, economies (local, regional, national, and global), politics, and technology.
The winners in the future will be those individuals and organizations who take on these multifaceted challenges and turn them into opportunities to build strong and long-lasting relationships with individual clients.
That, my friend, takes selling.
In the following chapters I’ll show you how to sell right now no matter what challenges you’re facing. By that I don’t mean “pitch” or “deal” or “handle” your prospective and existing clients; I mean provide genuine customer service designed to meet individual needs. I’ll show you the steps I’ve learned from real-world, on-the-street, and in-the-trenches experience… the essential steps to Selling in Tough Times. But first, let’s talk about commitment.
A selling career, like a marriage, is a commitment. As with any long-term commitment we agree to take the good with the bad. Of course, when we make the commitment, we’re usually on the good side of things. We have strong hopes for success, satisfaction, and financial reward. We’re excited about a new beginning and what the future holds.
Commitments are made to companies to represent their products. Educational commitments are made—to gain industry knowledge and to develop effective selling skills. Time commitments are made to work the hours clients are available.
We even make commitments to ourselves and to our loved ones that we’ll be able to provide a better lifestyle for everyone involved. Often part of the commitment is never to go back to whatever it was we were doing before—a job we hated for one reason or another. That’s an important point, because sometimes changes we make to get away from something we don’t like can be more powerful than those we make to move toward something new.
Usually, we get into a particular field or industry because it ignites a spark in us. We’re enthusiastic about what the product or service does for those who use it and the potential for new developments and growth within the product line, as well as the potential financial rewards.
Think back to when you made your decision to represent the product you now help people get involved with. Do you remember your excitement? You were excited about the product, about the benefits it provides clients, the size of the market, and your potential for growth in the industry. Perhaps you met others already established in the field who were living the life you desired. Since thoughts create feelings, you should now be feeling that same powerful pull toward achieving success in your industry that you did when you first got involved. Isn’t it grand?
My teachings are founded on the basics of selling. And, going back to your original thoughts and feelings about your current field is critical to the success of what you’ll read in the rest of this book. We are going to reignite your fire and determination to succeed. You may be currently facing challenges of one sort or another, but unless your industry as a whole is disintegrating there’s hope that you’ll come out on top as one of the professionals who survives and thrives whatever today’s challenge might be.
As with anything new, there’s a learning curve. With the refocusing and review we’ll be doing in this book, there’s also a learning curve, but it should be a much shorter one than if you were new to selling because of the level of experience you already have.
One of the greatest aspects of a career in selling is that it’s challenging. Too many people in the world go to work every day to face the same situations, the same people, the same type of work, and the same pay scale. In selling, there are countless opportunities to face new situations, meet new people, market new products, and earn great rewards. As with anything that offers high rewards, it also makes high demands of us. We have to put ourselves out there each and every day with smiles on our faces. We must constantly meet new people and be good at thinking on our feet.
As a salesperson you enjoy advantages and perks people in accounting or manufacturing never see. For starters, you probably have the opportunity to make more money than they do. You might drive a company car or have the company provide your laptop and mobile phone, and pay travel expenses. Unless you work in retail, you may not even have to punch a time clock. Your time commitment may be more flexible than the other employees in your company because you may need to be accessible to clients during nonoffice hours.
Even though I, personally, think selling is the greatest profession in the world and have made it my lifelong career (even today selling ideas to readers), all those wonderful perks must be tempered with some reality. Reality in the world of selling is that business operates in cycles. It’s not unlike the seasons or the lives of human beings and even plant life. We all go through cycles of growth, maturity, and rest.
As the title of this book says, there are bound to be tough times. There may be lean times and even downright miserable times when your industry as a whole takes a hit. Maybe your tough times are happening right now and that’s why you’re reading this book. The best news about that is things will get better. On the other hand, if you’re on a high cycle and wondering how to prepare for a not-so-high trend coming your way, read on.
The biggest challenge most people face when they don’t work with an understanding of the cycles is that they’re never well enough prepared today for what will likely happen tomorrow. In good times, there is so much business that they become workaholics or take on unprecedented personal debt, anticipating that those big checks they’re earning will continue to come in over the next five, ten or thirty years.
When business is up and sales are easy, it’s also easy to get lazy—to get away from sound selling fundamentals. It’s easy to stop doing some of the basics that make for a solid, long-term career. Then, when the cycle spins downward, both your career and personal life can take a hit. That debt you took on during high times is now strangling you and making you work harder on making ends meet than you do on your job.
It’s important that you set realistic expectations for yourself when you are dedicated to selling as a full-time, long-term career. It’s sad but true that many salespeople stick with selling the same product year in and year out because it’s what they know. It’s comfortable to them. They wouldn’t consider making any kind of change unless their industry simply disappeared… like the market for buggy whips did when the automobile industry exploded.
Rather than waiting for change to be forced upon you, whether it’s due to the overall economy, your industry, or your geographical area, you need to make one more of those commitments we talked about earlier. You need to commit to improving your skills, knowledge, and contacts as the years pass. Far too many salespeople who stay average simply repeat their first year’s selling experience every year until they retire. Doing this means that your income will rarely increase faster than the rate of inflation. Is that what you want? I doubt it.
When times get tough do yourself a favor and don’t react… respond instead. What’s the difference? A reaction is action taken toward or against something that impacts us. It can be instantaneous, practically done without thinking or by reflex. In order to respond to something, you have to take two very specific actions: (1) Stop, and (2) Think.
Hopefully, you’ll use this book as a tool to help you do just that. When you feel like things are getting out of control, step back and take a serious look at what’s going on. You will not be able to fix whatever has gone wrong until you figure out exactly what is wrong.
Once you do get a handle on what is happening, you’ll have some choices to make. Do you stay in the industry and ride out the current challenge? Do you change jobs and go with a competing company that’s faring better? Do you leave sales altogether and come back to it when things improve? Do you start your own business without all the overhead of your current employer? Do you go back to school and educate yourself for another career? This can be a tough call—even tougher if you have been riding along on a nice wave of productivity and not preparing yourself for the potential “for worse” part of your commitment to your sales career.
In order to survive any challenge that negatively impacts your selling career, you need to follow the Boy Scout motto of being prepared. So how do you prepare yourself for some unknown event that may pop up on the horizon?
You begin with a commitment to personal growth. Personal growth is a process of increasing your knowledge and effectiveness so you can serve more, earn more, and contribute more to the betterment of yourself, your family, and all of humankind. It demands an investment of time, effort, and money. Keep in mind that if you’re not moving ahead, you’re falling behind.
Surround yourself with winners. Find other like-minded individuals and feed each other strategies for selling in these times, positive news, creative ideas, and business referrals. Be careful not to involve anyone in this process who doesn’t contribute. And don’t you be the one wanting the gain but not giving your own positive input to the others.
To keep yourself moving ahead, I recommend that you allocate 5 percent of your time to personal improvement. If you work a forty-hour week that’s two hours each week. It needn’t be a two-hour block of time, although many of my students find that extremely helpful. You could commit to half an hour each day. (Go ahead and do the math. It does add up to a little more than two hours a week that way, but you do want to achieve long-term greatness, don’t you?)
What do you work on? That depends on you. Rate your skill level in the following areas that are critical to overall success:
• Time management
• Computer skills
• Writing, composition
• Verbal communication skills
• Dress and grooming
• Business etiquette
• Body language—reading and relaying
• Reading skills
• Product knowledge
• Paperwork/entry knowledge
• Handling your personal finances
If you find yourself getting nervous about your current level of expertise in any of these areas, don’t worry. The purpose of investing 5 percent of your time to improving yourself is to waylay those fears through education.
This educational experience need not be expensive or traditional (in case you’re like me and hated school). Many resources can be found at your local library. Forget the ads for credit cards—a library card is the single most powerful card you can carry in your wallet or purse.
Can there be any better investment than in your own personal growth? Think about it. I believe you’ll agree that anything else you might invest in can lose market value, be stolen, or seized for taxes. On the other hand, the time you invest in bettering yourself will remain with you for life, contributing throughout your career to your self-confidence and your ability to defeat whatever life sends against you.
As an addition to the immense volume of educational materials available at your local library, I recommend that you create an educational fund for yourself. Set aside 5 percent of your net earnings into a savings account for education. Then, when an opportunity for education above and beyond what you can find for free comes along, you’ll never have to say, “I can’t afford it.” You want to be able to take advantage of courses at your local community college or university. Some private technical schools offer excellent programs, for a fee, that can help your career immensely. Just like concerts, many excellent teachers bring seminars to your local area on topics specific to your industry or field. Watch for them. Schedule them into your calendar. Go and learn!
Psychotherapist Alan Loy McGinnis addresses this well. He said, “All of us have weaknesses. The trick is to determine which ones are improvable, then get to work on those and forget about the rest.”
In analyzing your strengths and weaknesses in the categories listed above, there are bound to be some things that you find easier than others. Those that you find difficult or uncomfortable will likely make the biggest difference in your career once you educate yourself on them. Initially, you may feel some hesitation to begin work on these areas. That’s quite normal. We hesitate to do that which we fear most. And fear is nothing more than a lack of knowledge.
My personal mentor as a young salesperson was the great sales trainer J. Douglas Edwards. Like 95 percent of the people in the world, I had a tremendous fear of public speaking. When Mr. Edwards learned that I had been asked to speak at a sales conference about how I achieved high levels of success in my field, he told me, “Tom, if you will do what you fear most you will conquer fear.” Hard as it was to accept, I knew he was right. I accepted that offer to speak, then immersed myself in learning how to prepare and deliver a good speech. I will admit that I didn’t do very well my first time out, but I did it. And the doing gave me confidence to do it again… as well as the desire to improve.
Explore every route that takes you higher than you are today. Don’t shrink from what you fear most. Don’t fear admitting your weaknesses. Exalt your strengths in your mind and you’ll gain confidence for conquering those weaknesses.
When you are facing a challenge that could very well negatively impact your income it can create a high degree of fear. Fear is quite common when tough times are upon us. We fear a loss of security. This could include income or even our jobs. We might fear failure—or the appearance of having failed. Those are two of the biggest causes of anxiety in people facing major challenges in business.
When we’re operating from a state of fear, we don’t always think rationally. Irrational thinking and anxiety can cause us to do things we later regret. We may start telling little white lies to our clients, coworkers, or family members. We may take actions that are outside of our normal manner of operating such as omitting important information that might stall a sale. Or selling something to someone who doesn’t really need it. In other words, doing whatever it takes to make the sale whether or not it’s good for the client. Unfortunately, those actions can cause even more challenges than those we originally faced.
Please don’t do that. Don’t accelerate the downward spiral you may find yourself in by taking the low road. Even though it may temporarily relieve some of the stress and pain you’re feeling, it’ll never provide long-term satisfaction. In fact, it may eat at you for the rest of your life. Or it may start a bad pattern for the future.
When having to make choices under stress, we need a strong conscience to fall back on. If you’re someone who has made a habit of telling white lies or rationalizing taking shortcuts in your presentations, you’ll find your “wise decision-making” muscles weak and will tend to make bad choices. Rationalizing poor choices is lying to yourself—and if that’s your foundation, you’ll lie to anyone.
My teachings on the subject of ethics are quite simple:
1. Follow the Golden Rule of treating others as you would want them to treat you. Would I want to be forewarned about potential changes in the community that might negatively impact the value of my home? Yes. Would I want to be told that I should invest in a product now that I don’t use regularly because inventories are running short? Maybe—if I truly needed or wanted the product. Would I want to be told this is the most economical investment for the product if it wasn’t? Definitely not.
2. Set your own personal moral compass and evaluate everything you say and do in business and in life by that compass. For some of my students, it’s an external thing. When confronted with a dilemma they ask themselves, “Would I be proud to have Mom and Dad know that I did this?” Or, “How would I feel if my kids knew this is how I behaved or handled a situation?” For others, it’s broader: “What would happen to me, my career, or my loved ones if my acting on this decision was put on the local or national news?”
Many people hold their compasses within. “How will I feel after doing this or that?” “Will I later regret this decision or action?” “What is the reason behind my desire to do this?” If the reason behind it is anything other than helping others make decisions that are truly good for them or providing a much-needed service to your fellow human being (or company), you may want to consider an alternative plan.
Don’t bring the emotion of guilt upon yourself. If something you’re considering doing or saying will cause you to feel guilty later on, just don’t do it. Guilt is a wasted emotion. You and you alone control how or if it even affects your life.
3. Be honest. If you’re always honest, if you never lie to clients, you won’t ever have to worry about covering your tracks. Even Mark Twain spoke of this. He said, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”
Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that much of the mental anguish faced by people who consult with them is relieved when people learn to be honest about their wrongs and then forgive themselves. Carrying the burden of dishonesty weighs so heavily on you. It affects both your mind and your body.
Part of being human is being fallible. We all make mistakes. Just make a habit of owning up to them, honestly, asking for forgiveness from anyone you hurt along the way, and then forgiving yourself. You’ll walk with a lighter step and find more overall goodness coming into your life.
Never, ever, put your need or desire to make money before your commitment to serve the needs of others. That’s the foundation of a truly successful and extremely rewarding long-term career in selling.
• You understand that selling is a cyclical business and that you need to enjoy the highs, while preparing for the lows.
• Most of what causes changes in the cycles is not something you can control. You must respond to change rather than react to it.
• Selling is a career of providing service to others.
• A true professional makes a commitment to success in a sales career.
• In order to succeed, you need to hold yourself to your own ethical compass.
Excerpted from Selling in Tough Times by Hopkins, Tom Copyright © 2010 by Hopkins, Tom. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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