Tag Archives: selling

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Sell Yourself: Interviewing for a Sales Job

When I graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree, I was in for a rude surprise. Nobody was hiring mechanical engineers that year. Within my entire graduating class, only two people had offers, and both of those were with the navy.

Not one to lick my wounds, I decided to look for a job selling to engineering organizations. I answered an ad for something along these lines, which was placed by a professional recruiter. I can’t recall her name, but she taught me something that has stuck with me for decades and I’ve had the privilege to hand off to others with great success.

She taught me a six step process for interviewing. In retrospect, it’s a general sales process that could be used to sell any solution, so it might help in other ways if you’ve already landed that coveted sales job. If not, take note, and let me know how it works for you.

  1. Introduction: Begin the interview with some proven introduction skills; good eye contact, smile, firm handshake, and introduce yourself with your first and last name. You can add some rapport building chit chat, but don’t spend too much time on it.
  2. Candidate Profile: As early as you can in the discussion, and without appearing to forceful, take control by asking the interviewer to describe the characteristics of the ideal candidate. They might say things like self-motivated, easy to coach, high aptitude for learning, or any variety of key sales skills. Take notes.
  3. Sell Yourself: When they’ve completed their profile description, take each attribute identified and begin the process of describing how you have demonstrated those skills in previous situations. The examples don’t have to be sales related situations, especially if you don’t have direct sales experience. They can be from other situations. For instance, if they list leadership as a key requirement, you can describe the leadership skills you brought to your sorority or volunteer group. Give concrete examples of your exhibition of the skill where possible, or at a minimum, on your ability to learn the skill.
  4. Uncover and Address Objections: No matter how good a candidate you are, there are usually some concerns from every interviewer’s perspective. Ask them to share their reservations about you. It might sound something like, “So is there anything about my background or profile that might cause you to think I’m not the ideal candidate?” Your objective is to flush it out and address the objections. For instance, if they answer this question with something like, “well, yes, I’m concerned that you don’t have any experience in our industry”, you should empathize with their observation and then address it. Your response might sound something like, “if I were in your shoes, I’d probably think the same thing, but, I’d like to draw your attention to my SAT score. You’ll notice that I have a high aptitude for learning, and if you’ve ever read the book, “Good to Great”,  the author cites the best leaders are those with a high aptitude for learning, not industry experience.” Addressing objections takes some thinking on your feet. Its likely you can anticipate their objections for common issues like experience, education, and industry tenure. Being prepared for the objection will raise your confidence and gain theirs.
  5. Flip to the Positive: Now that you’ve addressed their objections, you want to move their focus to the positive. Ask them to identify something about you they like. It might sound like this, “so is there anything about me that you think would add positively to this job or the team?” You may hear they like your questions, your education, or your energy, etc… Your objective is to move their brain from the negative (objection) to the positive. This shift in thinking is very important for the success of the next and last step.
  6. Closure: Once you have them on the positive note, the last step is to gain their commitment to you. If they are not the hiring manager, your close may be, “so would you feel comfortable recommending me for this position?” You’re likely to get a positive answer, but if not, flush out the concern and address it as in point four above. If they are the hiring manager, you can get even more pointed in your close, “assuming you have no other candidates as promising as me, can I count on an offer?”  The sharper the close, the more likely a seasoned sales leader will appreciate it.

The first time I used this process was during a two day interview process for a software company with 25 other recent college graduate candidates in the rotation. During day one, I had nine back to back interviews with hiring managers from different sales offices around the U.S.  At the end of the day, I reluctantly informed the HR leader that I couldn’t stay for day two as I had an interview with another company out of state. She whispered to me that it wasn’t a problem since I ended up in first place on all nine hiring manager’s lists. I departed early for the other interview, but ended up accepting my first sales job from this company. The hiring manager I ended up working for later told me that I was the only person that “sold” him. The selling process was apparent in my interview dialog and it wasn’t lost on him.

I’ve shared this process with many people over the years, and every single one of them has reported positive results. Recently, my son graduated from UC Davis. During his second interview with a major software company there were multiple hiring managers on the other end of a web meeting. Halfway through, the lead manager stopped the conversation and informed my son that he had never seen so many heads nodding at the same time during a group interview. He then asked my son if he would was ready to accept a job offer on the spot. I’m happy to report I have a gainfully employed son with a career track in sales.

*** Please “like” this post or forward it to anyone you know looking for a sales job – or any job for that matter.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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Sales Agility: Selling Around I.T.

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Y’all a bunch of coal miners in a gold mine!”

The words stung when they first rolled off of Hank’s tongue. I felt like it was an insult to our sales team, but rather than show my irritation, I asked Hank to clarify what he meant.

Hank was a new board member brought on to help our software company revitalize its lost growth luster. He smiled his approval at my curiosity, and explained. “Every day your sales team comes the work, it’s like they walk through a long dark tunnel to spend the day hacking away at the wall to generate a few hundred dollars’ worth of coal. On their way through the tunnel, they keep tripping over these large yellow rocks, so they kick them out of the way. What they don’t realize is those rocks are made of gold.” His Texas accent only made the analogy more powerful for me.

Hank was explaining that selling to IT was like coal mining. He continued by pointing out our own IT department had a budget equal to 1% of the company’s planned spending, while our sales department had 26% of the overall budget. His point was well made. We were working like dogs to scratch a living out of selling to IT. And they never had a kind word for us in return.

I spent the next nine months leading our sales team to be more agile in selling to the real stakeholders in their accounts. It didn’t happen overnight, but the results were mind blowing. Our largest deal size before Hank spoke up were in the $1M -$3M range. Within a few months we were booking $15m – $20M deals.

Although selling to General Managers and CEOs seems like a no brainer, we had to overcome years of ingrained habits to succeed. Here’s a short list of the challenges we faced in this particular situation:

  • Our messaging was tailored to I.T., not CEO’s.
  • I.T. did not have the mojo to sponsor us to the business side, nor did they want to.
  • Most of the business leaders who would benefit from our solution had no idea who we were.
  • Our sales people lacked the confidence to take on a new stakeholder conversation.

Sound familiar? Almost every technology company I’ve helped since then faced the same set of challenges.

Here’s how we overcame these challenges and became gold miners.

  1. We profiled the problems faced by the executives in our major target verticals. This means capturing their business issues, underlying problems, potential impact of changing in dollars, and the connection to our solution. We drilled this into our sales team, even requiring them to become certified in this type of dialog.
  2. We created new messaging that focused on the business issues, problems and impact that we could deliver to these new stakeholders with stories to illustrate real life examples.
  3. We went through an exercise to calculate how much value we contribute to the world on an annual basis. Without an exception, every sales rep came to the same conclusion. We delivered billions in cost savings and revenue acceleration, yet we were only billing about $200M at the time. We implemented this exercise to build the confidence within our sales people to carry their message to more powerful stakeholders.
  4. We challenged our sales people to take this message to three senior leaders in their accounts. We tracked and measured the initiative. Almost every sales person uncovered an opportunity that over shadowed previous projects. This alone fueled their appetite to prospect even more opportunities outside of IT, and created a workforce of gold miners.

In addition to the deal size growing tremendously, we had several other benefits emerge as well. Our discounting practice dropped by over 30%. Our breadth of products per transaction jumped dramatically, and our services bookings jumped from $2M the year prior to over $98M in less than nine months. This initiative revitalized our growth to the 30% range and took us to the billion dollar revenue mark in a few short years.

Although changing a culture to target business leaders outside of IT seems like a sales challenge, it’s really a leadership challenge. I’ve worked with many technology companies on this challenge, and the one common denominator for success with this level of agility is leadership.

Do your sales managers need to become sales leaders?

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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The Proposal that Sells Itself

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Even the best sales people can’t get to every decision maker. But your proposal can. Do a check up on your proposal format. Does it convince a sign-off authority to sign the purchase requisition and place an order, especially if you can’t be there?

After reviewing literally hundreds of “standard” proposal formats sent out by a large variety of big and small companies, it’s not surprising why so many sales teams have a hockeystick quarter end. From my perspective, most proposals are little more than a price quote.

I’m talking about the “proposal” that has a nice cover letter thanking the prospect for the opportunity and an overview about how this vendor is the leader in their field. This is followed by a price quote and overly generous discount with a time expiration coincidentally connected to the end of the quarter. Then some sort of terms/conditions agreement, license agreement, services SOW, and so forth.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker. You have a list of questions you need to have answered before you sign off on the proposal… maybe something like this:

  •         Why do we need this solution? (What business issues is the customer facing and what are the underlying problems that are not currently being addressed by the existing solution?)
  •         Is this vendor the best alternative? (Can we do it ourselves, or is there another vender with similar capabilities at a lower price? Or, what makes this vendor special?)
  •         Do we need to act now? (Versus other alternative uses of the funds or especially with other more pressing issues?)
  •         What’s the potential savings or reward for making this change? (ROI? Competitive advantage? Lower cost of ownership? Or, what disappointing metric will this help us to overcome? Etc…)
  •         Who will this solution benefit? (Are there other parts of the organization that could chip in? If we broaden the purchase could we save/earn even more?)
  •         Can we trust this vendor? (Will it work? Can they support us? What’s their track record look like? Did you try it out? Do others that we respect us it?)

The question is does your proposal help them answer these questions and make a decision? Worse, the first question they ponder that doesn’t get answered gives them the excuse to push back and ask the sponsor to do their homework.

I know what you might be thinking; these questions should have been answered during the discovery and evaluation process. I’d agree, but often times they are not, and even if they are, that doesn’t guarantee the final decision maker was involved in the transfer of this information. That means the seller would have to depend upon their inside champion to articulate the answers to these questions, but we all know hope is not a strategy! Your next thought might be, “the proposal should be delivered to the decision maker by the seller so all of these questions can be answered directly”. Again, I agree, but unfortunately, not the case most of the time.

If you’re sucking wind through your teeth thinking about your proposal format,  I recommend a set of simple changes.

The easiest and most effective way to address your current proposal format in this light is to structure the cover letter to address these questions. I recommend a format for the letter that includes:

  •         The business issues uncovered during discovery. (A quick review of their latest earnings statement or recent press releases can provide some insight if you missed this step during your discovery process.)
  •         The underlying people, process, or technology challenges that are currently impeding the business issue. Word these with problem oriented adjectives: difficulty with, challenged by, or lacking. i.e., “Difficulty with multiple manual processes that are error prone.”
  •         The impact of not taking action. Sizing the cost of, or lost opportunity for each challenge and the associated business issue. Or, identify the current state of the metric they care about, and the potential. i.e., “The goal is to reduce costs by 15%, but it currently stands at a 5% reduction.”
  •         Connecting your unique capabilities to actual challenges the prospect has acknowledged. The only way they can determine if you are the best alternative is to identify challenges they care about that can’t be solved by others as well as you can solve them.
  •         Identifying the stakeholders you have included in your analysis to allow them to confirm the organizational opportunity.
  •         Specific usage example, citing another similar but respected company with similar business issues, similar challenges, and actual accrued results. (This structure of success story is often shortened to simple name dropping, prompting the buyer to take a small pilot step first.)

As the sales leader, I also recommend that you inspect every proposal for this structure. Your inspection will underscore your commitment to making this a discipline, and if your sales people can supply the information for all of these components, they will have undoubtedly conducted a more thorough discovery process. You kill two birds with one stone.

You should see a decrease in stalled decisions or no decisions, a measurable increase in your win rate, and interestingly, a smoothing of your hockeystick. After all, if the prospect’s decision maker has all of their questions answered, and it’s a compelling proposition, there’s no need to sit on the proposal until the end of quarter.

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.