Sales tips, leadership communication skills insight and more from Steve Giglio, sales training professional for more than 25 years.

Stop Being Nice

Perhaps you were raised with the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” While that is good advice around the dinner table or in the schoolyard, it’s not always true in business. When should you not be nice? When your client’s business future is at stake…and that is more often than you probably realize.

Many times, clients will hide problems from you. They will only give you surface-level information about key issues affecting their business. You will get the filtered version of the challenges they are facing. And why is this? Because you are too nice and don’t ask the tough questions that will get to the heart of the matter.

Deference Is Not Partnership

It’s one thing to respect your clients. It’s another thing to defer to them as the smartest people in the room. So many times, I see people engage with clients as if they are the student at the feet of the teacher. Yes, your client knows their business better than you do. However, you know YOUR business better than they do and that’s why you are in the room in the first place. If you aren’t asserting yourself with that confidence, you will not get what you need from them in order to do better work.

Here’s an example. Recently, I worked with an account director who was charged with renewing a 10-year relationship with a client. I reviewed the probing questions he was going to ask. If questions could be a flavor, these would all be vanilla!

“What can we do for you here?”
“Where would you need help with this?”
“What do you want us to do here?”

So, I said to him, “Where are the questions that ask your client what they are worried about? Where is their competition clobbering them? Where are they vulnerable?” His answer was:
“On no…I couldn’t ask that. That’s too direct and he might not like it.”

In other words, it wouldn’t be nice. But if you aren’t getting information that can get your team working on key issues that affect your client’s future, how can you make recommendations that matter? You can’t, and that’s not good for anyone.

Ask Questions that Matter

So, if you aren’t deferring to your client, how should you act? I tell my clients to act like you are the sole person in charge of increasing their clients’ sales by year’s end. You’re it. You’re the only one. And, your client is the person who has all the information you need in order to help you achieve your goals. Now, if you take this on, do you think you might ask a better question than, “How can I help you?”

Stop being nice, start being commercial. What I mean is that you have to get into the tough business issues that are of great concern to your client, even if your client doesn’t want to reveal them at first. I have worked with a luxury car brand over the past few years. After doing my research on their market, I asked a pointed question that opened my client up and let me know about his greatest concerns. The questions was:

“How worried are you about your aging customer base while the younger generation seems less interested in things versus experiences?”

Wow…did that start us down a different path. In fact, finding 30-somethings who could be convinced to purchase their first luxury car and become a brand loyalist was the issue that kept him awake at night. Did he resent the question, since it pointed to a possible company weakness? No, he didn’t…because it was already on his mind. I just needed to probe to get it out in the open. It was conversations like this, and my recommendations based on them, that has kept this company as a client for many years. Which leads me to…

Discover, Create and Charge

One of the “nice” things many consultants do is either not charge enough for their service or they “over deliver,” providing more service than contracted. Why? Mostly because they fear losing the business and want to demonstrate they are a valued partner. That’s not a strong position and it leads to the expectation of more work, less income.

What I recommend is a three-step process:

  1. First, you must discover what their next problem is before it becomes unfixable. That comes from the probing discussed above. And the problem will always be a commercial one that has a solution.
  2. Next, you must create solutions based on your expertise and that of your team. Remember, that’s what you bring to the table. Use the swagger that you’ve earned by being good at what you do and having gotten prior results for clients so that you can confidently deliver solutions you believe will work. That’s your value.
  3. And lastly, charge them for it! Asking for the contract, the renewal, the money…those are not bad things. If they balk at this stage, it’s not about the money. It’s that you haven’t established their trust and thus, they aren’t realizing what your value is. Figure out where you went wrong, fix it, and ask again.

I’ll leave you with advice from a very unlikely source, the movie “Road House.” In it, the bar manager played by Patrick Swayze advises his staff, “I want you to be nice…until it’s time to not be nice.”

It’s hard for some people to get past being nice. What’s your challenge in this regard? Share it below. – SG

Don’t Let Your Client Get Embarrassed

No matter your role, be it a salesperson, account director, or VP of client relations…you are an extension of your client. You perform a role that is critical to the client’s success. The client is, in essence, your constituent. You have the responsibility to support them, guide them, serve them, and meet their needs by meeting your obligations.

This support means keeping clients informed on any issue and any situation that may need their attention…before it’s too late. Keeping that information from them or, not being aware of it yourself, risks your client being embarrassed in meetings with their teams, superiors, board members, etc. Don’t let that happen!

Avoid Distractions, No Matter How New

Too often, people get distracted with other clients or new opportunities. However, if you can’t keep track of your original client, what is the point of moving on to others? With pressure to “always be closing,” you might think your role is to keep cranking out new business. But business development is only part of it. A critical element to your job is to attract new business by being a worthy steward to your existing client base. So many times I’ve seen people so distracted, they forget this critical role.

Keep Your Client, and Yourself, on Track

It’s your job to stay ahead of your clients’ issues so that they aren’t surprised by anything. You must keep impeccable records of your conversations with them and follow up on all outstanding issues. If they come to you for a status update, you’ve failed them. You have to keep them aware of issues before something that could backfire on them happens. It’s up to you to know when to update your client and give them timely intel that can help them with their job and responsibilities.

Always Look Ahead

You are the eyes and ears of the business relationship. Recently when I noticed a client’s sales team working on autopilot in their presentations, it was up to me to deliver this assessment to my client. He didn’t like hearing it, however, not doing so would have left him vulnerable to lackluster results that he would have had to report to his management team. If you’ve been in that scenario, you know how terribly uncomfortable that can be. I had to think ahead and see the train coming down the track so my client could get out of the way!

These sort of advance warnings avoid ill feelings and embarrassing situations for you and the client. They also establish you as a problem solver, not a problem creator. That’s quite a thing to be for a client! The flip side is that you risk your client being hurt professionally and after that, it can take months or even years for you to regain their trust since “you should have said something.” Always be aware of that and strive to avoid it.

How often do you update your clients? Let me know in the comments below. -sg

Building Effective Teams: Call It Like You See It

More and more often, many of us are selling and consulting with clients as a team versus alone.

In most cases, teamwork makes sense. It is a great way to illustrate the concern your organization has for the client relationship and the diligence you have put towards it.

The concept is easy, succeeding at it is hard. Read more

3 Reasons Why Sales Training Programs Fail

“See that over there,” he said to me as he pointed to a sales training book used as a doorstop. “That’s what happened to the last guy we hired to help our team.”

That was my introduction to a potential new client recently. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me. But his experience was not unique. As I listened to what went wrong, three reasons for why his  program failed came to light. And I could have guessed all three! So, here are the reasons why so many sales training programs fail:

Not Everyone Wants Red

Imagine if you went to a car dealership and the only color they offered was red. Sure, they might sell a lot of cars to people who like red but they would lose so many customers who do not. Sales programs fail because they are not tailored to the needs and wants of those they are training. The “door stop” client even said to me, “All you guys are the same, right?” He’d had far too many red car salespeople in his life.

I first responded by saying that I don’t deliver public seminars where one presentation is supposed to address the needs of everyone in the room. Look…I’m confident in my abilities as a coach and trainer, but I have nowhere near the ego to think that I could create a singular program that applies to all industries, all companies and all people.

I also told him that my work is done on a bespoke basis to each client. Each program is customized based on the client’s industry and current atmosphere. Sales training programs are most successful when they solve a team’s biggest challenge while creating an approach that addresses specific goals.

Lack of Authorship

The second reason sales training programs fail is lack of “authorship.” Trainers that develop a one-size-fits-all program neglect to get “buy in” from their clients’ top-producing associates. By contrast, I interview the “A” players to design the program. In doing so, they become co-authors of their program by informing me of their actual business development dialogue and process. Once they feel some sense of ownership, they are more likely to accept my assistance in improving their skills and the less productive players witness that even the best can get better!

No Follow Up

Perhaps the biggest reason sales training programs fail is that there is no planned follow up that extends the training. So many times, trainers abandon their clients as they move on to the next training. Equally as detrimental is when the executives who hired the trainer do not ensure the lessons are instilled in day-to-day activities of their teams. It’s as if they say, “Ok. You got trained. Go make it happen.” Without any regular check-ins that are based on the training, people will fall back into old habits. It is critical that teams become comfortable with new behaviors. To do this, a system that fosters the growth through more education, observation and training is required. In other words, don’t orphan your teams!

What was your experience like the last time you worked with a sales trainer? Let me know in the comments below. – SG

Top Selling Tips: The Ten Commandments of Selling

I’m often asked what are the essential rules of selling. While there are many, here are my Ten Commandments of Selling based on recommendations I’ve made to clients throughout the years:

I. Google/LinkedIn every decision maker
Far too often, we we’ll run to a prospective client meeting without understanding their professional background and many other points to their CV critical to establishing rapport. Google and LinkedIn (my favorite) are easy, readily available tools that you must use to learn about anyone with whom you are meeting.

II. Write out the probing questions you’ll ask
I’ve written about probing questions quite a bit. So, you’ll know how much importance I put on them. Asking well thought out questions is critical. However, you must know what they are before entering into a conversation. Write them down! Trust me…if you don’t, you’ll forget the best one right when you need it. 

III. Be optimistic, curious and patient
You can’t sell if you’re not optimistic. You can’t illustrate empathy without being curious, and you can’t determine the exact client solution without being patient.

IV. Listen first, sell second
In my book (Beating the Deal Killers), I’ve focused heavily on the importance of remaining patient with clients, having restraint and keeping yourself in check even when you have the burning desire to sell when it is too soon to do so. You’ll get your turn. In the meantime, listen and learn so that you can make even smarter recommendations.

V. Understand and playback your client’s goals and challenges
What will you hear when you listen? You’ll hear your clients goals, frustrations, challenges, and roadblocks. Demonstrate you understand the situation by clearly communicating it back to them. “You said that sales are flat because the team doesn’t communicate the value proposition well enough.”  Once you have agreement that you comprehend the situation, then you can make your recommendations. 

VI. Know and deliver your value proposition in sixty seconds
Following the example above, how well do you know YOUR value proposition? You must be ready to crystallize it in one minute. During your actual meeting certainly you’ll draw out your offering in thorough detail but, you must know it in sixty seconds to recap and close your meetings.

VII. Preempt client questions/objections
Too often, sales people will not spend enough time anticipating, and preemptively answering, client questions and objectives. This severely hurts your image and ability to solve the challenges you’ve uncovered. On-the-fly recommendations come across as just that while anticipated, researched and solidified ones make a bigger impact.

VIII. Determine all decision makers/stakeholders and ask to be introduced to them
Are you talking to the right people? This is mission-critical to succeeding yet sometimes getting the meeting with “anyone” is considered a victory. It is but, if you aren’t speaking to the decision maker(s), then you must ask who they are and for an introduction when appropriate. It’s professional and efficient.

IX. Close the meeting with the appropriate next step, put forth a critical path
Always close the meeting relationally by recapping your client’s goals/challenges and what you and they can/should do next. You must leave every meeting knowing what your deliverables are, what theirs are and the deadlines you have to make. Communicate it so that there is agreement on both sides that these are the next steps.

X. Follow up within 24 hours
Email a recap/thank you note to each decision maker by the close of business that day or, at the very least, within 24 hours. It shows that their business is important and, you want it!

The best of success in all your selling/consulting efforts.

Avoiding Conversation Killers

We’ve all experienced moments when we said something expecting it would lead to an engaged conversation only to get little, or a negative, reaction. For example, asking a friend, “Hey, how is your husband?” only to have the person answer, “We split up last month.” Nowhere positive to go from there. That’s a conversation killer.

In business, this happens, too, but you can avoid a lot of conversation killers if you know what to avoid. Here are my top recommendations.

7 Rules for Avoiding Conversation Killers:

Don’t Flatter Them: Complimenting people seems innocent enough. But most of the time, it is a shallow comment made simply based on appearance. “Your hair looks great today, Mary” or “Nice tan, Jim.” That says you’ve got your mind on their looks, not their business needs. If you want to compliment someone, say something about the business. “The quarterly numbers you sent me were very impressive. Congratulations.”

Never Make a Negative Comment about Clothing: “Hey, that’s some wild tie, Bill.” Are you sure Bill thinks it is? Otherwise, you’ve just said “Who dresses you?” in front of an audience. Bill is embarrassed and you’ve really dug yourself a hole.

Don’t Talk About Yourself: I’m sure you had a fascinating vacation recently, or enjoyed a great meal at a local restaurant, or have a funny story about your Great Uncle Rob. Can it! Your client wants you to talk about them! So, if they mention your vacation, tell them where you went, that you had a great time and that “on my way back, I was thinking about your business.”

Halt When There is No Interest: You might find what you are saying intriguing but, gauge your client. Is she politely paying attention but not reacting? Move on. You’ll find a subject she does care about…like how you are going make her company more successful.

Sports and the Weather Are a Crutch…Be More Creative: Two things people generally have an opinion about are sports and the weather. And so, lots of people will bring either subject up at the beginning of a meeting as a way to break the ice. They use it as a crutch to lean on because they’re nervous about the meeting. But you’re not “lots of people” so come up with something more creative and germaine to your meeting. “Big news about Amazon this week. Incredible how one company can impact markets like that.”

Keep Your Opinions (mostly) to Yourself: Avoid any declaration of anything you have strong opinions about until you have a sense of where your client will come out on that issue. Let them lead by sharing their opinion and then, ask them questions that get them to share deeper-rooted reasoning. Eventually, you can share your thoughts but don’t overdo it. Keep it simple while you guide the conversation to what you really came there to discuss.

Don’t Swear: It’s remarkable that I have to give this advice to adults! But, so many times I hear people curse, thinking they are being colloquial or “one of the boys.” Trust me when I say that even if your client swears like a sailor, if you do it, they think it’s unprofessional at some level. Just don’t do it, for _____’s sake!

When next speaking with a client, see how many of these rules you can follow. You may find it hard at first, but eventually you will see that you are having for more constructive, positive conversations that are alive and well!

Which of these rules will be the most challenging for you? Let me know below. – SG

Effective Presentations: Can You Say It In 10 Seconds?

If you can say it in 10 seconds, it will be remembered.

That’s a tip I want YOU to remember the next time you are preparing a presentation. If you can effectively communicate the main point of your presentation in 10 seconds, you are on your way to creating a talk people will recall long after it’s over.

While coaching an executive for his Fall Kick off Corporate meeting, I realized how essential it is to crystallize a message.

Create a Sound Byte That Will Resonate

We spent a morning videotaping during which I coached him on his delivery style and helped shape his communication. We realized that synthesizing his message down to a transferable sound byte was as important as the content of his entire message. This is an essential activity to perform when you are delivering a vision or sequence of steps your company needs to take over the next six months or longer.

Frame Your Message

Leading off with this 10-second provocative capsule illustrates you understand how to frame your message for your audience and give them a quick understanding of your entire message. When done correctly, the 10-second message becomes viral in that your listeners can relate to the issue and transfer the issue to others.

Multiple Versions for Different Occasions

Once you have refined your 10-second version, create a one-minute and five-minute version.  They will come in handy throughout the business days and weeks you’ve dedicated to putting your recommendations into action.

Practice Makes Perfect

And then, see how your message works.  Videotape yourself.  It will give you a perspective that will allow you to refine your message and delivery style even more. Play the video back and ask yourself: “Am I inspired by the message and the person delivering it?”  For added input, have someone else watch you deliver your message.  That’s one element of what I do for clients, providing immediate, direct input so that they can adjust, refine, practice…and then deliver an effective presentation that will resonate with the audience.

If you need some more tips, try this article from Harvard Business Review, “How to Give Killer Presentations.” Creating the logic arc of events is a great way to plan a client recommendation ,too. The goal, as Anderson says,  is to conceptualize and frame your content.  And as the curator of TED Talks, he should know!

Give this a try and let me know how it goes.

In Over Your Head? Adjusting to a New Job

In my work, I come in contact with many people in new jobs. They’ve recently joined a company, have moved into a new department or have been promoted. And often, the initial reaction these people have to their new situation is, “Wow…I’m in over my head,” followed by a bit of panic.

So, how did it happen and why? And perhaps more importantly, how can you quickly adjust to this new job and it’s responsibilities?

It Might Be Your Fault

Yes, it’s true. You might have gotten yourself into this position. How?

Perhaps you overstated your experience and skills. You were interviewing for the position and were asked about a certain skill needed for the position. While you might have some experience, it didn’t exactly match with what was required so you inflated your background a bit. It happens…a lot. The problem is that once you get the job, you are expected to know what you said you knew. But you’ll worry about that later, right? Well, later is now.

Another scenario, which many won’t admit is their situation, is that you didn’t get along with some of your peers, Instead of letting you go, management moved you into another position, one which you are not as qualified to do. But for them, problem solved!

And finally, maybe you just asked for a new position so many times, they finally relented! Persistence can be a valuable trait, especially as you are advancing your career. But if you don’t fully understand the new position’s responsibilities, well, that’s how you got “in over your head.” You wanted to get promoted without really knowing what the new job was.

It Might Be Their Fault

Creating a balanced team that excels in all the right areas is a constant challenge management teams face. And sometimes, they have to sacrifice one thing in favor of another. And that means putting the wrong person in a position. Why?

One reason is time. So often I have managers say something like, “She wasn’t right for the position but, we need someone in there. I don’t have time to interview a lot of candidates. She’ll do for now.” And so you get promoted into a position that probably isn’t right for you now, or maybe even ever.

Another scenario is that the management team isn’t sure if you are ready for the new position so they “throw you to the wolves” to see how you’ll do. You’ll either grow or wither away. They think this “trial by fire” practice will inform them of your abilities but really it just puts pressure on you which can lead to less-than-stellar results.

Another reason, and you’ll like this one better than the other two, is that you have become so valuable that they don’t want to lose you! Sounds good, right? Well remember, we’re talking about you winding up in over your head so, the outcome isn’t good. But in this scenario, they value the contacts you’ve make, the relationships you have and the institutional knowledge you possess, fearing that you might take all of that to a competitor. “Promote him so we don’t lose him,” is the attitude. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?

Steps to Adjust to the New Job

For whatever reason you wind up in this position, you need to do something about it. You can’t stay stuck like this forever. My advice? Follow these steps so that you take control of the situation and become comfortable your new job’s responsibilities.

Listen

Quickly, you need to find out what is important to the stakeholders around you. They include your management team, your peers, your directs and your customers. The best way to do that is meet with them and…listen. Find out what is motivating their careers, their decisions and what aspects of their positions worry them the most. Understanding this, you can relate to them in a way that shows you understand them and are there to provide help.

Get Into the Field

Don’t manage from behind your desk. Get out there! Experience what your team experiences and see how they operate. Observe, at first, without giving advice. And make sure you have a role in meetings with clients that isn’t the lead but still provides value, helping to ensure your directs know you are there as part of the team and are worthy of your position.

Systematize Your Management

Nothing will make you feel in over your head more than just winging it! And your team will have little or no confidence in you if that’s how you operate. Create a system for feedback, check-ins, formal evaluations and business development status updates. Also, create a method for how you are going to report results up to your management team so that there are no surprises. Which leads me to…

Vetting the Pipeline

Remember when I said that one way you got in over your head was overstating your experience? Well, your team will do that too, especially when giving updates on projects and potential new business. If you’ve done the steps above, you should now have an atmosphere of trust so your team is honest with you. Now you need to vet the pipeline and get to the heart of the matter with each employee and their work. You need a realistic picture so that you can project what results your team will, and will not, achieve. What you don’t want is to report false progress only to have projects or deals fall through when they weren’t real in the first place.

It’s not a comfortable situation when you feel less qualified for a new position. But, you can quickly get more comfortable by following these steps.

Let me know how it goes! -SG

 

Networking Do’s and Don’ts

Your boss says: “Make sure you go to this event tonight, its an important opportunity to network.”

You say, “Ugh, really?”

I say, “Go! You never know what’s going to happen or what it will be like. But only go if you’ll have fun doing it!” Read more

The Are No Easy Answers

Some people assume there’s got to be a secret system to “getting it right” every time—a set of tricks. How else, they reason, can people far less competent consistently be more successful than they are? The temptation is to look for a quick and easy answer. There isn’t one. It’s critical to your success that you realize at the onset that there’s no trick, no secret, no magic bullet. The key is understanding that no situations or clients or employees are the same so, don’t treat them as such!

HEY! Pay Attention!!

My father was a successful surgeon, beloved by his patients and staff. When I was growing up, I used to make hospital rounds with him. It would take all morning. I’ll never forget my dad hovering over a patient and sweetly, with empathy, asking a series of fact-finding questions to discern progress from the day before. Patients would brighten up immediately upon seeing him and answer him thoughtfully and honestly. He was so concentrated on the responses that when I would ask him when we were going to lunch, he wouldn’t hear me. When he was with a patient, a marching band could have trooped down the hall and he wouldn’t have heard it!

This is the sort of interaction that needs to occur whenever you meet with a client or counsel an employee. Pay attention! Not only will they appreciate being heard but, you will be making sure you heard them correctly so that you can make a proper recommendation. We live in a world of distractions. Don’t let them get in the way of your mission.

Treat Clients Well…Just Not the Same

Back to my father. He was a very patient man, always giving people time to explain themselves and what they needed. In other words, he treated everyone well. But, of course, as a surgeon he didn’t treat them the same when it came to his recommendations. He believed no two patients were the same. He used to say, “If you decide to treat one patient the same as the other, you are putting at least one of them at risk.”

It’s the same for you. If you treat two employees or clients the same, ignoring differences like background, experience, personality, goals, etc., then at least one won’t be getting the guidance from you they need. You risk losing one or the other…or both. Can you afford to lose clients? Employees?

I’ve found that you honor others by treating them like no other individual you’ve ever met. This is how you stay fresh, engaged, on target and successful.

Has anyone ever treated you as if they were on autopilot? How? What was your reaction? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks. -sg