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Guest: CEO Coaching International’s Bill Whitehead, a successful entrepreneur with over 30 years of expertise in the sales skills that drive top companies. At age 23, Bill founded an award-winning restaurant franchise, ran it as the operating partner, and had a successful exit eight years later. He then switched fields and became one of Canada’s leading financial advisor entrepreneurs and grew his company to over $2 billion in assets.
Episode in a Tweet: Nothing happens in business until something is sold. Top-notch sales skills are essential for BIG growth.
Quick Background: You are what you sell, or at least your business is. If you’re happy with the small sales your mediocre sales team delivers month after month, quarter after quarter, you’re going to stay small … that is, until your competitors blow right past you.
On today’s show, Bill delves into the sales skills that separate top performers from the middle of the pack. Use Bill’s insights to supercharge your lagging sales team, or to identify the habits of high-performing replacements you should be targeting.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
Key Insights on Top Sales Skills
1. Know your product.
Sure. Sounds basic but too many people forget the basics. The product or service your company is selling should be joined at the hip with your vision for the company’s success. You, the CEO, have to set the example here. Your clear vision, your mission, and your BIG goals are going to trickle down to every single person working for you, especially your sales team. If you can’t answer every conceivable question about your core product or service, then your sales skills need a tune-up too. Read up on trends that could shape, or possibly, disrupt your sales. Talk with other entrepreneurs in the same space to see what they’re up to. If you don’t have total mastery of your catalogue, you’ll never be able to drill similar expertise into your salesforce.
2. Hire the right people.
You can teach struggling sales people the ins and outs of your offerings. Character, however, is one sales skill that can’t be taught. Or, as Bill puts it, “You’re not going to change somebody’s character once they’ve developed into an adult.”
Your hiring best practices have to hone in on enthusiastic, confident, charismatic people who are going to present your products or services, and your company, in the best possible way. C-performers who spend their days moping around the office counting down the seconds to 5pm should not be working for you. They certainly aren’t working for top companies, who prize motivated, A-grade workers above all other assets.
3. Fine-tune your pitch for clarity and consistency.
Communication and presentation are sales skills that can be improved through instruction, drilling, and even scripting.
Scripting, in particular, gets a bad rap. And no, your customers “don’t want to listen to someone read monotone words being spoken to them across the phone where there’s no connection to the person speaking to you,” says Bill. “But definitely people want to speak with and engage with people that know what they’re talking about.”
Starting with a script is a great way to get everyone on point. Once the highlights are second nature, your salespeople can diverge to make your company’s catalogue, and its story, more compelling to customers. Scripting isn’t supposed to turn your people into robots, it’s supposed to prepare them to make the best possible pitch, and respond to any variables without sounding tongue-tied. If you have a process that works, write it down, and drill it into everyone who works for you.
4. Objections are not always objections.
It happens to the best of the best, every day: you run through a perfect pitch, hit all the right notes, reach for the paperwork, and then you hear the words every salesperson dreads: “I just want to think about it.”
When dealing with objections to your pitch, Bill says it’s important to “find out whether that objection is going to be a deal breaker in what you’re working on with that prospect, or if it’s even the real objection.” “I just want to think about it” isn’t really an objection. It’s not a specific question or problem you can solve with facts or figures. Weak salespeople hear “I just want to think about it,” worry they’re acting too pushy, and promise to call back in a few days. By then, the sale is already lost.
Instead, Bill coaches salespeople to restate their value proposition, and ask, “You’re saying you still need to think about it. You must have some reason for feeling that way. Do you mind if I ask what it is?” Then, crucially, pause. Don’t say another word. Let the prospect do the talking. “You would be surprised how many times, if you’ll allow a prospect just to verbalize everything themselves and bring it out, that they’ll solve their own problems.”
Letting the prospect talk out their hang-ups, and restating your value proposition, is the best way to turn “I just want to think about it,” into, “You know, you’re right. This product will solve problems for me, and the savings to my production overhead will justify the cost. Where do I sign?” Having confidence to let this scenario play out, instead of pushing too hard or retreating too quickly, is just another essential sales skill in a top performer’s arsenal.
1. Your vision as CEO is part of your sales pitch. If you can’t articulate what you’re selling, no one working for you will be able to either.
2. You can’t teach character. All the meetings and workshops in the world won’t turn a mediocre employee into an enthusiastic, motivated employee. Hire top talent, or your business will go nowhere.
3. Prospects don’t “just want to think about” – they want to verbalize what’s standing between them and what you’re selling. Give them that space, and you’ll be amazed how easily objections disappear…and sales appear.