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

What the World Needs Now…Is Listening

I’m truly compelled now, with our nation’s recent events, to emphatically recommend to all my clients, readers and friends, to listen more to people than you ever have. Listening affirms someone. It says I care about understanding your issue, challenge, dream or worry, BEFORE I share mine with you.

Listening honors someone. Once they feel this, they in-turn will honor you. The more you listen, the more you forward your relationship with your client. The more you probe and ask questions that organically match their situation the more they will divulge.

That disclosure is precious and not to ever be minimized or dismissed. Rather it is to be cherished for it’s the aperture into which you will speak to establish a side by side relationship with you client.

Empathize with your client. Maybe their team isn’t listening enough to them. Maybe their family isn’t listening to them.  Everyone wants to be heard and they appreciate when they are. You have the opportunity to forge a climate of free disclosure. Clients remember this, they remember you for this.

Here are Four Listening Tips:

  1. Never take your own opinion as gospel
  2. Plan your questions the night before
  3. Play back what you hear, it’s an invitation for a client to disclose more to you
  4. Ask for your client’s opinion of issues, it’s very inviting

For other post where I’ve focused on listening, please check out the following:

Great Leaders Listen…But to Who?

Listen, Learn and Engage

Listen to Yourself First

Find Your Client’s Motivation First, Not Yours

Take time to listen to your clients, your friends and your family now…and make a practice of it. Understanding and compassion for their issues, goals and desires will follow.  And we can all use a bit more of that in these times.

 

The 10 Worst Probing Questions

Questions mark in a circleEvery time I work with an executive or a sales team, I stress the importance of probing questions. They are open-ended questions that get you to a deeper level of understanding of your client’s business. They also give you a subtle opportunity to show that you’ve done your homework by asking well-researched questions. Feedback I get from business leaders is they wish more people would take the time to ask these types of questions since they lead to far more productive questions.

I’ve already written a blog post about probing questions (click on that link to read it!). But, there are good ones and bad ones. The latter is my focus right now since I’ve heard so many of them lately! So, here are the worst ones:

  1. How’s business? You should know this already. At the very least, you should understand industry trends and market conditions affecting your client’s business. You may not know the particulars of their business, but you should be able to have an intelligent conversation about the industry.
  2. What are your goals for this year? If you’ve done your due diligence, including talking to lower-level executives and studying the industry, you should have a pretty good idea about their goals. And don’t most company’s goals boil down to a) grow the business, b) increase sales, and c) reduce expenses? You need to get to why they haven’t achieved those goals yet.
  3. Who is your competition? Now you’re just being lazy. Google the business and the industry. Check out LinkedIn. Find news articles and quotes from company executives. The internet has made all of that information readily available so, find it!
  4. What makes your product good? Again, a basic homework chore. If possible, try the product. Seek out reviews of the company and its service. Study how they present their product or service on their web site and social media. You can easily determine what THEY think their advantage is, whether that’s accurate or not.
  5. Has your product been successful in the past? First, this is a close question easily answer with “yes” or “no.” Second, you need to know this ahead of time. It’s history…look it up! If you can’t find out on your own, find people connected to the industry and ask their opinion. You can use what they say as part of your presentation later on, again demonstrating your tenacity in researching this client.
  6. Who is your customer? “Everybody. Next question!” It is critical that you know who their customer is so that when you are presenting your recommendations, you know you are touching key points that address key needs of their customers. Social media postings are a great source of information and tone regarding how a company interacts with its customers. Use it to find out who they are targeting.
  7. Is there anyone else in the company I need to see? Translated: I want to know if there is someone more important than you I should have met with! There is almost always someone else to see. But you need this first contact to help shepherd you through the process. Better to ask “Who else would be appropriate for me to meet to determine their opinion as we move forward together?”
  8. Would you like this information that I prepared for you? If you didn’t think they needed it, why did you prepare it? Likely, you believed that it was useful so, give it to them. The only time not to is if, in the course of your discussion, you determine that some of the information is off the mark and now doesn’t make your points strongly. In that case, offer to edit the information you prepared and get it to them quickly.
  9. Do you have a sense of the problems your company faces this year? Some might think this a good question. I don’t. Of course they know the problems they are facing…it’s what keeps them up at night! But, if you probe about long-term issues and immediate problems, now you have an opportunity to solve the latter quickly and partner on the former over the long haul.
  10. What do you see as the next step? If they were honest with you, they might say, “Well…probably we will all say goodbye here and then I will walk out to about 100 new problems that have come up since we’ve been talking. It’s unlikely I’ll remember this meeting at the end of the day.” YOU need to know the next steps and strongly present them, letting them know you will be managing the follow up and driving this to a conclusion. Most clients appreciate someone who can take the proverbial ball and run with it.

Avoid these questions and you’ll be a step ahead of your competition (who are likely asking some or all of them!).

Which of these are you going to eliminate from your next client encounter? Let me know by replying below. – SG

Never Underwhelm Again

In speaking with a new client, I found it interesting to hear her lament relative to business development. She spoke about underwhelming a client during a presentation and asked how to avoid this going forward.

I asked, “Did you relate the presentation to what they told you about their business? Did you probe further to find out their real pain points? Did you retrofit those points into your recommendations?” She hadn’t. So, what had happened is she gave a canned presentation that, while very well crafted, had no relevance to the client. In other words….there was no “Wow” factor!

Anticipate…then Retrofit

The presentation you’re about to deliver actually starts weeks before you deliver it. It’s your job at this stage to anticipate a client’s challenges and incorporate them into your presentation. Heck…it’s easy to talk about your offering in a vacuum. You can do that all day. But, your job as a trusted adviser is to craft a compelling reason for your offering that answers a problem/challenge your client has acknowledged.

Once you find their challenge and size it with your client you then must retrofit it into your presentation. That’s the “WOW” factor. The great part of this technique is to say to a client, “As you have shared with me, XYZ has been a challenge, is that right?” Now, they know you have listened, you understand their world and they are as invested in the presentation as you are. That’s a recipe for success right there!

How prepared are you for your next client meeting? What help do you need?  Let me know below. – SG

Time and Money Are Obstacles, Not Objections

A client I was training described the following scenario:

“I want to sell on value, but throughout my presentation my customer kept bugging me about ‘How much is this going to cost?’ and ‘Just give me the bottom line.’ I wanted to get through my presentation before discussing price, but he was so adamant I felt evasive if I didn’t answer him. What could I have done?”

Most objections can be summed up in two phrases:

“I don’t have the time.”
“I don’t have the money.”

And once your client voices either or both objections, it’s one of the most volatile times of the meeting. However, if you keep a positive perspective and treat the objections as simply obstacles, not dead ends, you can then move the conversation towards your end goal.

Let’s deal with each of these separately.

Why Is Time a Factor?

It seems everyone is time strapped these days. So, when a client says they don’t have time, what they are really saying is that they believe they have more important issues/concerns on their mind. What does that tell you?  Well, it tells me that you haven’t done a sufficient job creating an urgency around the solutions you are recommending. Are you having a mission-critical conversation? If so, why don’t they think it is?  Dig into that gap and you’ll find what you have to communicate to create a more important conversation.

In the case of my client, I recommended she say, “Which aspect of the recommendation seems too time-consuming for you? Let’s review your objectives and quantify the time required so can discover if the time investment is greater than or less than the benefit of the solution. Ok?”

They Don’t Have the Money?

Of course your clients have money. But what they are saying here is, “We don’t have the money for you!”

When all a client talks about is money, their real concern is not cost…it’s profit. And what you’re presenting to them has value because it will ultimately make money for them….right? (If not, run out of the room!). Keep them focused on the ultimate profits, not the short-term costs.

When a client goes to price, it means they aren’t seeing the value. You have to demonstrate that value. And how do you do that?  By asking the right probing questions up front so that you know where the value opportunities are for them. If you go at this without knowing their goals, short and long-term, there is really no way, except for dumb luck, that you will offer a solution that they will see as having value. You’d have a better chance of success in Vegas.

So, getting back to my client who was struggling with her presentation, here is what I recommended she say: “Clearly, you are concerned about your budget. What I’m recommending will benefit your bottom line. Once I lay out the proposal you will see how that will occur. By the time I’m done, I am confident you will understand the value. Can I continue?”

Remember that you aren’t the first, nor the last, to be faced with these two common objections. Treat them simply as obstacles and you will be among a smaller group that gets past them.

Have another common client objections? Let me know what it is below. – SG

6-month Business Development Check-in Steps

The month of June is a great time to check in with your Business Development Team. My first sales manager, Nick, once said to me, “By June, you should know your entire year.”

Here are a few things to do now so that you and your team are celebrating success in December!

Reconfirm Your Leadership Ethos

As the business leader, you are responsible for establishing your leadership ethos. This is the spirit of your culture, the guiding beliefs of your team. A few key action steps you can take to achieve this are:

  • Determine a set of adjectives that describes the character of your team in the marketplace. You should poll your team about what they think those are. Additionally, getting feedback from customers on this would be extremely valuable…and possibly eye opening!
  • Work with your team to solidify how clients should feel about meeting with anyone in your organization.

Find Out How They’re Doing

You need to check in on each team member’s year-end sales objectives. You have those set, right?  It’s important to work with them now on challenges so they don’t persist. For those who are seemingly doing well, it will also be important that you discover if they are closing the “right” business. Do their new customers have long-term potential? Is having these new accounts good for your business or will they be a drain on resources? Right now is the time to suss this so that you can create a plan moving forward that will focus on business your company really wants.

What Are Their Top Ten?

Another step is to make sure you know each business development person’s top ten accounts and the respective decision makers they have. Your team needs to understand what your team is saying to each decision maker and if they have traction with the executives. Are they communicating your company’s value proposition effectively and consistently. And if so, is it resonating? Adjustments can be made now that will help avoid negative year-end results later.

Require Face to Face Meetings

As you check in with your team, determine the number of face to face meetings they are having with clients. And set a goal for the next six months so they understand your expectations with this. Meeting someone face to face illustrates a desire to establish a relationship with them. When you probe someone you cannot rely on just a phone interaction, you need to feel their responses to know what is truly important to someone. This affirms the client and let them know that they are important to you.

While talking about client meeting goals, communicate to your team your understand that face to face meetings are difficult….they take time to set up, they are sometimes met with resistance (“Just send me an email with your questions.”), and the border on public speaking, of which some may be fearful. So, remember to acknowledge each person when they accomplish this, its vital to their self-esteem and affirmation that they are being successful.

Standardize Client Meetings

Finally, make sure each business development person’s sales meetings have these ingredients:

  • Agenda to the meeting
  • Ten probing questions
  • A seven to nine-minute presentation that presents your value proposition
  • A clear next step critical path from the meeting

Insuring the above will produce a high performing team that will achieve the goals you’ve set forth for this year.

OK…with less than six months left in the year, if you follow these steps now you will set your team up for great success. Let me know how it goes! -SG

 

Essential Guide to Understanding Client Questions

You’ve prepared a presentation for weeks, doing all your homework, getting insight from your client, researching trends, etc. The day comes and you nail it! But then….they ask questions. And the wheels start coming off the bus. Been there? Most of us have.

As salespeople and communicators we must understand the essence and meaning of questions in business. Simply put…they are NOT picking on you. Questions from clients or prospects are requests for more information, not an attack on your ability or the ability of your company/product/service. Questions asked are not meant to debunk your idea; they are asked so that a better understanding can be gleaned.

Your reaction to client questions is as essential as what you say. Come off as defensive and they may think you have something to hide. Come off as too cocky and, well, no one really likes that. The key is understanding the nature of their questions so that you can answer appropriately, positively and with information that will allow them to make a decision on the next steps.

10 Fundamentals of Client Questions

To help, here are what I consider to be the 10 Fundamentals of Client Questions. Keep these in mind as you prepare for questions prior to your next meeting.

  1. Clients want information. Don’t take their questions personally.
  2. When asked questions, increase your empathy. Engage your client and reinforce that you understand their perspective as you give your answer.
  3. Anticipate client questions before the meeting and resolve them ahead of time. Have a colleague come up questions and see how you do answer them.
  4. Answer all questions…when appropriate. Be honest and forthright, of course. But, a client may try to jump the conversation ahead with a question, forcing you to move past key points that you need to make. Respectfully let them know you have a few points that will help to answer their question.
  5. When you resolve questions, you are teaching.
  6. Clarify general questions to pinpoint your response. It’s OK to answer a question with a question so that you get the heart of their concern/issue.
  7. Use confirming questions to verify that clients understood AND accept your answer. “Can you now see how our service will decrease your costs over time?” If they say no or give a lukewarm answer, probe further. “Our service alleviates X and provides more time for your team to do Y. Are you starting to see how that could lead to higher production and profitability?”
  8. Make your answers concise.
  9. Make eye contact and other physical movements that convey confidence in your answers.
  10. Be in charge of yourself; own your answers. Let them know by your words and actions that nothing is going to throw you off your game today…or ever.

If you want more information or details about any of these points, they are all given full explanation in my book:

Or just drop me an email and I’m happy to give you further insight. Let me know how your next round of client questions goes!

You Can Be My Wingman Anytime

It’s a little cliché but a favorite movie of mine is Top Gun. At the end of movie Iceman says to Maverick, “You can be my wingman anytime.” A wingman is a pilot who supports another pilot in a potentially dangerous flying environment, keeping his aircraft near the wing of the other’s. A key element is trust.

Create a Bond

Coaching an employee is similar. It creates a support bond with a person. To serve someone, it’s essential to be straight with them. They need to trust that you are giving them the straight story, not just what they want to hear.

All of us have choice in our behavior. Coaching is about creating behavioral choice for someone to comport themselves in a way that illicits understanding and follower-ship. You must understand their goals and challenges and forge a climate of discovery and achievement. Often, you live through their challenges with them.

The coaching road can be challenging but having a bond of understanding and belief in someone is core to development. You have to see the possibility in someone. You have to believe in them, often before they believe in themselves.

By adding the right, tailored context to behavior experimentation an executive can learn in real-time how to augment their default behavior into behavior that produces the best result. As this occurs, the joint fulfillment is priceless. You’ve created a trusting relationship and they know you, as their wingman, have their back.

Did you ever have a supervisor that acted as your wingman as you developed your career? Tell us about it with a reply below. Thanks. -SG

Vince Lombardi…with a Little Bit of Mom

My coaching style was once described by a client as “Vince Lombardi…with a little bit of mom in there.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know who Lombardi is (I guess there are people out there who don’t)…a little background. Vince Lombardi was a legendary, Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers coach during the 1960s. He lead that team to win the first two Super Bowls ever. And speaking of the Super Bowl…that tall silver trophy they give out to Super Bowl champions? It’s call the Lombardi Trophy. For more about him, check out Lombardi’s official site.

Growing up, Vince Lombardi was an important figure to me. He and his team stood for integrity, honor and discipline. I practically never missed a game. In reading his biographies throughout the years, I discovered his deep belief in his teams and desire to tirelessly get the most from them when they themselves didn’t think it was possible.

I’ve carried that ethos into my coaching practice, as this video explains…

Strength and Empathy

As I assess an executive at their initial stage of coaching, I’m always excited to go on the journey of transformation with them. As they evolve, so do I. We’re connected. As we meet and achieve mileposts, we celebrate together. With each achievement comes the opportunity to look back and notice the choice you now have in your behavior. You can either go back to the “old” you or remain in the “new” you. It’s now your choice, because you’ve succeeded at both.

It takes discipline to coach. You’ve got to have the desire for someone to grow. But the “mom” part comes in via the empathy required to support someone through their levels of behavior experimentation. The people I coach…their jobs are hard. They are required to deliver strong recommendations, sometimes at a moment’s notice, and be convincing. Far more than selling…it is persuading with purpose. I get that and use empathy to connect so that they trust what I’m telling them will, ultimately, improve their confidence, performance and results. It’s a balance between strong, direct communication and a softer approach that creates a safe atmosphere for development.

How would you describe your professional style? Leave a reply with your answer below. Thanks! -SG

How to Manage a Micromanaging Boss

A client of mine has been lamenting the meddling her boss frequently does. We determined her boss is often deep in the weeds of her business versus touching the weeds as bosses should.

Her peers feel the same way and frequently answer the boss’s questions hoping the boss will get distracted and meddle elsewhere.

Actually, all of the above is wrong.

If you really understand and empathize with your boss, you’ll realize that smart, successful bosses merely want to understand what is going on to contribute to the success of the business. They do not mean to be an overbearing boss. They don’t want to create extra work or move the project onto a tangent.

Rather, bosses will often ask questions that feel like an inquisition but in reality it’s their passion to understand the situation in a short amount of time that drives their “in-your-face” behavior.

So, how do you manage their expectations and continue with your work schedule?

Update Your Boss Well…and Often

Want to get a break from your boss? Preempt their interruptions with a formalized, brief, consistent update system. Don’t hear “burden” when I recommend this; hear “proactive management.”

All you need to do is notice the type of questions your boss is asking over a period of two months to understand what their values are and what concerns them.

Write these issues down, prioritize them and create an update system/agenda that preempts the asking of these questions. Make sure you present the linkage to each issue that concerns your boss. The more you do this, the more your boss will appreciate your pro-activeness and empathy.

Illustrate Your Concern and Judgement

Your boss will also appreciate your concern for them. You also illustrate your commercial judgment by mirroring their concerns and presenting preemptive road maps the team can follow. Even if one of your recommendations are off-base, you still illustrate your desire and will to move the issue forward.

Do you feel under the microscope all the time? How does that affect your work? Let me know in the replies below.  – SG

Notice Fortitude…and Its Absence!

I’ve recently had the opportunity to coach a professional athlete who decided to pursue a career in financial sales. The area he’s chosen is quite daunting in its complexity, yet his commitment to it is profound. As anyone would be when entering into a field with its own lexicon and intricate details, my client was challenged with putting the entire puzzle together in a short amount of time. Throughout his endeavor though, I’ve been struck and inspired by his discipline, positive mental attitude and, most of all, his fortitude.

Dictionary.com defines fortitude  as: mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously

One does not become a pro athlete overnight. It takes, among other things, a tremendous amount of practice, which is a test of fortitude. As such, we spent a good amount of time working on his delivery, focusing on using probing questions to understand a client’s goals and challenges. Several sessions included videotaping his sales presentations/recommendations. Upon seeing himself, he found his delivery to be halting versus conversational, disjointed versus seamless. This athlete realized each short coming and maturely focused on listening to my coaching, experimenting and running the plays I designed for him in a dogged, optimistic fashion. It’s quite inspiring; I never wanted our sessions to end!

There has never been a hint of resignation or frustration from him, only the discipline and fortitude of repetition. From this, he’s now conversational, curious and clear with his recommendations. He’s able to kid with certain clients he’s developed rapport with and close them with a nice level of relational urgency.

As a leader make sure you acknowledge this type of fortitude when you see it. Without acknowledging it, a person could feel the opposite. As this person excels, find ways they can stretch even further. Great achievers enjoy this attention and challenge. It affirms them.

In what area of your business communication could you exhibit more fortitude? Let me know with a reply below. Thanks! – SG