The fact is, your prospects aren’t judging you on the quality of your web site, or the content of your white papers and case studies, or your social media strategy, or your content marketing. The terrifying truth is: “Your prospects aren’t thinking about you at all!”
Dylis: Hi there this is Dylis Guyan from dylisguyan.com and welcome to our podcast The Inspired Selling Podcast and I’ve got a fantastic guest once again for you today and that is Steve Hall so let me just tell you a little bit about Steve. He has been described as Australia’s leading authority on selling at C Level. and that isn’t an exaggeration he absolutely is a mine of information and I’m thrilled to have him here today.
He is the founder and managing director of Executive Sales Coaching Australia and is an executive sales and corporate storyteller; Steve is a really gifted storyteller, not only verbally but in the written word. I haven’t in fact seen anybody write as well as Steve Hall. He helps his clients create a compelling vision that inspires and attracts customers and prospects. He’s an author, keynote speaker and in his words a devil’s advocate challenging his client’s ideas and approaches to make them more powerful. He’s held senior management positions in sales, marketing, professional services and project management. He’s sold products and services worth more than one hundred million dollars in over thirty countries on six continents.
He’s worked with Fortune 500, FTSE 100 ASX 100 and NASDAQ listed corporations as well as many smaller public and private companies. So I hope I have done you proud there Steve in that introduction.
Steve: You scared me.
Dylis: Did you not recognise yourself for a moment?
Steve: That’s highly impressive.
Dylis: Every word is true and Steve you wrote this fantastic article recently called ‘The Terrifying Truth About Your Prospects’ and I’d really like to take a deeper dive into that because it really was a very well written, spot on article in terms of the climate of sales, particularly in this, the two thousands. So, can you give us a little bit of context around that. Tell us what you’re talking about and then we can look at the ramifications of the situation that you and I both often find, and then tell us how we can really avoid some of these issues.
Steve: Yeah of course I can, the thing that’s scary, the scariest thing about your prospects is their just like you, you and me. The things that we care about ourselves, we care about our own customers, our plans. When we have a sales meeting, we talk about how we get to customers, what our pipelines like, how much we’re going to sell. When we have an executive meeting, we talk about our products, our customers.
We’re wired to talk about ourselves and yet for some reason when we approach potential customers, when we approach prospects, we think they think about us and they don’t think about themselves just like we do. Most people, most sales people…well that’s not fair, a large proportion of sales people when they talk to customers, talk about their products, their company, their office, their position on the Gartner Magic Quadrant, whatever it might be and no one gives a damn. No one cares about you and your products, they care about themselves and their problems and that’s what we should talk about.
Steve: So that’s that the thrust of the article, the terrifying truth is that nobody cares about you they care about themselves and I don’t mean that from a personal perspective. Obviously, we care about our friends, our loved ones; once you’ve built a relationship with someone you care but if you’re a stranger trying to make contact with someone, there’s too many other strangers trying to make contact with you for you to care.
Dylis: So, give us some examples of this then Steve.
Steve: Okay just imagine for a second you’re a sales person, you’re selling an artificial intelligence product that’s got the potential to help your customers to analyse your customers better, analyse your pipeline, analyse your prospects and to basically sell a lot more and you want to find customers that have got that problem that want to sell more, right.
So that’s the sales person, then we take a look at it from the perspective of the person assigned to it and maybe the person you want to approach is the managing director or perhaps the sales director of a large company. From their perspective, they’ve got how many things going on, they’ve got their own problems. Their sales are tanking they’ve got their board meeting coming up, they’ve got an annual report to write.
Their sales director is saying they need more leads, their marketing director is saying well we give you heaps of leads and the sales director is saying yeah they’re crap leads. The marketing director is saying, well your people don’t follow them up, he’s going to measure tape this. Then your financial controller is saying well I don’t care who has the leads but the money is drying up.
He’s got customers complaining he’s got suppliers aren’t supplying as much as they should, has got products that are saying they’ve got problems with products, he’s got employees to manage. There’s a whole heap of stuff he’s got to focus on. At the same time every week he’s getting dozens of sales calls which he never gets through. He’s getting hundreds of sales emails asking for ten minutes of his time or want to have a coffee with him. He’s got a backed-up pile of LinkedIn requests and there are a hundred million pieces of marketing content floating in the ether which he’s got no interest in seeing.
So the question is, if I’m the salesperson and that’s the person I’m trying to get to, how do I break through. How do I get through to get their attention when they’ve got all this stuff happening. Why should they care about me and what makes me as a salesperson different from any one of the other fifty or hundred salespeople trying to get through to them? That’s the world we live in.
Dylis: Absolutely and this is why of course we’re faced very often with businesses or buyers maintaining the status quo and just staying where they are, not making any changes even though they want to achieve objectives and they’re not always achieving those objectives because there’s so much going on around them, they will just stick with what they’ve got.
Steve: Well that’s right I mean the things is, people need help and once upon a time salespeople performed a valuable function, they would give executives information they couldn’t get any other way because they knew about their products, there wasn’t as many of them and they could go and see people and they could provide a scarce resource, information.
Well now we have the opposite problem, there is too much information I mean there’s giga things of information on the web and anyone can get this. How do you tell the fake news from the real news, the fake information from the real information? So, salespeople can still perform a valuable function of getting the relevant information to them but they’ve got to break through the noise of everyone else that’s vying for attention.
Dylis: Yes certainly.
Steve: So the questions are, how do I get the attention of these people, of the people I need to get to when I’m competing with…I’m not just competing with people who sell what I sell, I’m not just competing with people that want to sell anything to that person, I’m competing with their employees, their customers their own internal people. So how do I get their attention and when I do get their attention how do I send them a message that inspires them to at least talk to me?
Steve: If you don’t get to talk to someone how can you influence them, how can you inform and educated them.
Dylis: Yeah and that’s the key isn’t it, it’s getting the relevant message to the right person in terms of, and I love the word that you used, this podcast is called The Inspired Sales Podcast and it’s exactly the same with your message, it’s about that person receiving it and being inspired to then take that next step to say yes I need to know more I would like to see you.
Steve: That’s right and then the word of you used step is a very important one because a lot of us try to do too much too soon. If we happen to communicate with a prospect, a senior prospect we call them and get lucky and they pick up the phone or we send them an e-mail our instinct is to cram as much as we can in as quickly as possible to try and give them everything we know so that we can persuade them. They aren’t wired that way, they haven’t got the attention span…well it’s not that they haven’t got the attention span they haven’t got the reason to pay attention.
Steve: So what we need to do is do a step by step process in the first step is to get their attention nothing else.
Steve: Once you’ve done that then that gives you a little bit of luxury for the second step which is to tell them how you can help them and then a meeting and then you gradually build up. I think of it a little bit like, I’m no sailor but I know if you’re in a boat and you want to throw a line to another boat these big ropes that you’ve got on a yacht, they’re far too heavy to throw. So what you have is a bit of string with a stone and you through across and then they pull the string and they get a bit of rope and then they pull that and then the whole comes in.
Steve: So you need a small steps, you get their attention, get their interest, get a meeting and then you’ve got the leisure to ask a questions, do the challenges selling or SPIN selling whatever you do to really understand their situation. Even then when you get the meeting that’s a lot of…there was a study I saw of I think Forrester I think in 2014 that said senior executives are only happy with about one sales meeting in five and that four out of five are a failure from the senior executive’s perspective.
So when we have that first meeting we need to know what we’re trying to achieve and know what they want. We’re trying to add value, we’re trying to share we’re credible and we’re trying to understand their situation certainly but we also need to give them some insights that can help them.
Steve: So it’s not as if the first meeting is the end meeting it’s still a step in the process.
Dylis: The research… yeah the research of course is so important isn’t it to ensure that your message is relevant.
Steve: Well it’s very important I mean assuming you can get in front of a senior executive in a target account what do you do? I mean gone are the days when you could say, tell me about your business or what keeps you awake at night. I mean those questions basically say I haven’t done my research I know nothing about you and if I’m a senior executive and someone says that to me I say well why should I tell you that? There’s a thousand salesmen out there that want to know about my business and what keeps me awake at night what can you give me?
So you’ve got to be able to go in there and say…sure you’re going to ask questions because asking questions is the way that you engage people it’s the way you steer the conversation to where you inform and change people’s minds but they’ve got to be questions that give something they’ve got to show that you are credible. They’ve got to show that you’ve done research and you must understand a reasonable amount about their company and a lot about the problem you can solve.
Because it all comes down to either solving a problem or helping them with an opportunity and if you don’t know the details and the ramifications and the effects and the impacts of the problems that you’ve solved. If you don’t know the nitty gritty…not of your software or hardware whatever you’re selling but of the business problem you’re solving then you can’t add value.
Dylis: Yes, absolutely.
Steve: So when you get in front of someone you’ve got to build/ask what I call intelligent questions.
Dylis: And thought out questions, you know, be prepared before you go to your meeting with your questions.
Dylis: From the research that you’ve done and your understanding of the client and the world in which they operate and their customer base and their competitors.
Steve: That’s absolutely right let me give you an example. I used to sell ER pieces to publishers and I knew publishing pretty well by the time I had been involved for a couple of years and one of the things in publishing that’s a really big deal is their returns, because books are normally sold on sale or return and so publishers actually have to have to manage the returns and the bookshops they have to give credits they have to reconcile everything it’s a real pain in the backside for them. I mean it would cost them a lot of money and so but they have to do it because that’s how they get the books out there.
Now I do know of a couple of companies went into a publisher and said you know tell us how you returns work and I suppose that’s better than do you do returns because that would be bad right
Steve: I used to go and I said well I know returns is a big issue so tell me if you trade books I guess your returns are what between eighteen and twenty two percent and they’d say yes and academic books your returns would probably be more like are twelve to fifteen percent is that right?
I said and you’ve obviously got returns window and you’ve got conditions about how many books you can return but do you have a situation where this book seller will return…will send you a remittance advice where there’s you know fifty invoices they’re paying but then there’s thirty terms of returns and then the invoices…the remittance advice is for eighty thousand dollars worth of or pounds worth of invoices but after all the terms are giving you a cheque for forty thousand pounds and you’ve got to reconcile it all.
Then you’re going to be in the books back then you’ve got to match…do you have that problem and they say yes we do. Well isn’t that annoying and do you have a situation where the books they sent back aren’t even yours and they’re sitting in the warehouse and by asking those questions you’re getting the information you need but you’re also showing you live in their world.
Steve: You know their problems and you can solve the problems, they are what I call intelligent questions.
Steve: And you need to know the business you’re working in, the problems that you’re solving and the impact of the problems that you’re solving and you have the ability to fix that.
Dylis: So if we take this back a step then because we know how absolutely critically important the research is for your meeting but let’s go back a step to the research to enable you to be able to craft those relevant messages when you are prospecting, when you’re first making that contact.
Steve: Well you need different messages for different stages your first message has only got one objective and nothing else and that objective is simply to get a meeting. What I just said about returns you can’t do that in a phone call, it’s a tiny aspect of the big picture that’s when you’ve got the face to face meeting.
When you’re trying to craft a message to get yourself a meeting it has to be short, it has to be easy to understand, it has to be difficult to misinterpret because we all misinterpret things pretty easily you know. Just to give an example, if I call and get an executive assistance and I want her to pass a message on to…him or her I’m being sexist I apologise you want him or her to pass on that message to the C.E.O. who happens to be a woman.
Steve: Then that message has to be easy for her to understand and easy for her to pass on because if I say, well look I’d like to talk to him about how we use the cloud and the internet to do this that and the other they’re going to say oh some guy called about the internet and they’re going to say well call I.T.
It needs to be short it needs to be easy to understand and needs to be about them. You know if you’re talking about yourself you’ve lost. I can give you some good examples, we had digital a agency come to us, this is six/seven years ago and they said, look we you know we’re really good at talking to C.E.O.’s when we go to meet them, which wasn’t true by the way, but how do we get to meet them?
I said okay cool we can help you, tell me who are your target market and they said well we can help anyone and I said well that’s great but let’s pick someone because that’s the first thing you need to target a relatively small…if you’re doing some focused work to try and get meetings with senior executives you can’t do it for a thousand people you’ve got to do it for a smaller group.
So let’s do it for a small group where there is a common message so I said okay let’s pick one so we know retail is a good…we have some experience in retail. I said okay great what do you do for them? Oh we can do anything and I said okay well that’s not terribly helpful? What problem do retailers have that’s a really big issue for them that you can help them with? So we did some research and back then in Australia there was a lot of publicity about G.S.T. which is our form of a V.A.T on imports because that’s not charged on imports on less than a thousand dollars.
So all the retailers were complaining that all the online retailers have got this big advantage we have to complete and the huge issue in Australia was competing with online retailers. So we said okay create a very very simple value proposition and we called I think it was a hundred retailers in Australia and we said we want to talk to you for half an hour about how you can compete with online retailers. A really simple message, I think we got them about thirty five meetings at senior executive level just by talking about what retailers really cared about at that moment.
So your message has got to be about the about the person you’re speaking to, it’s got to be as personalised as it possibly can, it’s got to be short and simple and you’ve got to find a way to get it to them because one of the big challenges at the moment is how to get messages out. Everyone’s got voicemail, everyone’s got executive assistants that tries to stop you, or that we think tries to stop you, or in real life they can be your greatest ally. You know how do we get the message to them and there are different ways and you use the ones you have to use. The best possible way to get a meeting with someone is a. have the right message but b. you get it there through referral if you can organise a referral.
Steve: People tend to think of referrals in the car sales sense. Oh I’ve just sold you a car who else do you know that needs a car, but in B2B it’s not like that in B2B you target who you want to get to first. There’s the…who’s the…in this company who are the people I want to speak to, okay and I want a referral who do I know that knows them and that’s also willing to give me a referral and is also credible enough to make a difference and LinkedIn is a fabulous help with that. But the big challenge with LinkedIn, as you and I know, it’s fabulous at researching target prospects, its fabulous at seeing who knows who but if you research them they’re going to research you too.
Steve: So if your profile is all over the place or says I’m a wonderful sales marketer I screw my prospects and crush my quota, so if you’re going to…go on.
Dylis: I was just going to say how important having a good profile on LinkedIn not a CV.
Steve: No no no.
Dylis: A profile that again lights the fire of the reader, that inspires them because you’re talking about them and the problems that you can solve and then having some credibility and there in terms of your expertise but that’s the smaller part, its got to be client focused.
Steve: It’s got to talk to the people that you’re selling to or that you’re focused on…if you’re a sales person it’s got to talk to your potential customers and it’s got to be credible I mean you said…you mentioned the word consistency and I’m sure you’ve read about Robert Cialdini’s book ‘Influence’ and his second one “Pre-suasion”.
Steve: One of the things that people really value is consistency and if you call someone and say look I can help you with your problem XYZ and then your profile says something totally different there’s that lack of consistency and it jars.
Steve: So you need to get your ducks in line you need to be consistent in what you, how you get the message to them, what the message says, what you say online and via your profile and one of the things that gets the meetings is just constant repetition of a very simple message via multiple channels.
I mean there’s a sales methodology that we use as a combination of them voicemail, e-mail conversations with executive assistants, conversation with the person you’re trying to get to, perhaps LinkedIn inmails, perhaps alternative methods to get messages to people but the trick is a simple easy to understand message that doesn’t tell too much, you don’t want to…you only want to tell people enough to get the meeting, nothing more.
Dylis: You’ve got a great example in your article in ‘The Terrifying Truth About Your Prospects’ you’ve got a great example of that in there could you share that with us Steve.
Steve: If you can remind me what it is.
Dylis: Alright sorry if I put you on the spot there. It was about rather than seeing we use artificial intelligence in a database, it’s really talking about the outcome, the problem that you’ve solved.
Steve: Oh yes but well you’ve got to talk about the results they get, not how you do it.
Steve: You talk about what you can do for them not how you do it because the second you start talking about artificial intelligence or on the internet…people live in the status quo it’s really easy to do nothing, your biggest competitor is to do nothing. So, the natural instinct of someone when they get a message whether it be via email or via telephone conversation is to find a way to get rid of you and saying we already do that or we got one of those is a really easy way to do that.
You only need to give them/people enough information to make them curious and to think we’ve got that problem maybe I should speak to this person because maybe they can help me. If you give them too much information it’s such an easy jump for them to misinterpret and think no we already do that and it will go away.
So I can’t think of a particular example you’re thinking of but I can give you an example of someone. We did our campaign for one of the three largest software companies in the world who wanted to get into credit unions and second tier banks here and the message we used was really simple it was ‘we want to talk to you to help you sign more home loans, because again that was a big issue for them.
We didn’t say how we did it, we didn’t say it was about customer experience which it was, we didn’t talk about technology it was simply I want to talk to you because we can help you get more we can help you sign more home loans.
Steve: That gives them enough to think well we want to do that so maybe we should talk to these people but if we said by improving the customer experience they’ll say well I’ll speak to customer experience officer or we’ve already got a project in mind; so just enough and no more is the trick for that stage.
Steve: Now once you get in front of them it’s a totally different story.
Dylis: I remember a number of years ago I was wanting to get into a particular pharmaceutical company and I used Google Alerts so that’s google.com/alerts you put the name of the company or individuals in there and you put the name of the company in and a few months later I got an alert telling me that they’d issued the financial report. When I had a look in there the chairman in the executive summary was talking about how they had increased the sales year on year which was a really significant amount but they were being negatively affected to the tune of five percent on currency fluctuation.
Now I couldn’t prevent the currency fluctuation but I could increase the sales revenue to mitigate that five percent loss and so I actually cut and pasted that paragraph that the chairman had written and put that into an e-mail, it was only a short paragraph and I sent it to the decision maker ‘Dear Mark I noticed from your financial report that your chairman said…I work with pharmaceutical companies just like yours helping them to increase sales to mitigate currency fluctuation.’
Now there’s products now that can do that but then there wasn’t or certainly I wasn’t aware of them at that time and I got a meeting…I got a response to that, that morning so I sent it first thing and I got it before lunch because it was very relevant, it was very specific, it was top of mind for them and it wasn’t telling them how to do it, I was just telling them that I could do…I wasn’t giving them the detail of how I do it, I was just telling them what I could do for them.
Steve: Well you achieved your first objective which was the meeting.
Steve: And you needed to do little as possible to achieve the meeting.
Dylis: Yeah and I bang on about this all of the time you know. You’re prospecting is nothing more than to get a meeting.
Steve: That’s right I had a client in the States recently and they sold to hospitals and I was advising them on one of the things about emails and sending it to the CEO’s and one of them was saying you’ve got to talk to them about their issues etc. And this sales guy he was a nice guy, experienced and he sent me an email to have a look at and it was six paragraphs and five of the paragraphs started and ended with the product.
I said look…I said they don’t know the name of your product, they don’t care about your product, they have never heard of it and they’d never care if they do hear about it. The only thing they care about is the fact that they are losing revenue because they’ve got massive patient deaths only talk about that. They said but shouldn’t we do the branding, shouldn’t we be getting our name out there I said no, branding is for Coca-Cola.
Branding’s when you’ve got a billion dollars to spend on advertising. When you’re talking one on one you talk about…to an individual about what they care about, what they care about is themselves and their problems and nothing else.
Steve: Which is why we’re having this conversation.
Dylis: Absolutely yes so the three key things really then is getting the right message out which is relevant to the right person, in the right way.
Dylis: We’ve talked about multiple contacts and really if we break this down even further Steve what we’re seeing is that the letter, the e-mail, the voicemail whatever is to get on the phone with someone to then make an appointment.
Steve: That’s right and that initial appointment can be on the phone.
Steve: I mean a lot of my clients have their first meeting on the phone and there’s advantages and disadvantages. I mean Australia we actually have quite concentrated markets. I mean if you’re working in Sydney it’s quite easy to get to a client.
Steve: But from a perspective of a potential customer it’s actually an easy decision for them to make to speak to you on the phone than to see you face to face. That takes less of their time, it’s less of a commitment, they can put the phone down if they’re not interested. From my perspective I can do two, three, four, five calls on the phone in a day. Compared you know what one maybe two if I’m driving out there.
So there are pros and cons of doing face to face…of doing over the phone in England I mean I know England is a small country but getting on the roads is a pain in the back side.
Steve: If you’re if you’re in Oxford doing a meeting in London it’s your entire day.
Dylis: Yesterday and it took me three hours from leaving the client to getting back home and through my door.
Steve: Exactly what’s that sixty miles?
Dylis: Not even that…yeah about sixty miles yeah. It was it was hideous and of course with the technologies that we’ve got now. I mean look at this, our listeners and viewers will be thinking that we’re neighbours here but in fact you’re in Australia I’m speaking to you right now and your sat in Australia and I’m sat in the U.K. So the technologies are fantastic now in helping us and aiding us to be able to communicate with clients.
Steve: Not only this but this but if we do a meeting the way we’re doing it we can record it and we can look at what we did right, what we did wrong, we can remember what people said etc. I think we’re probably coming to the close but there’s one thing that I do after an initial meeting which I find very very useful. If it’s face to face…if it’s online like this we can record it but if its face to face the only things I take in; three things I take my brain hopefully I take a pen and I take a pad.
Put my phone off, never take a laptop because it’s a temptation to use it and you look like a travelling salesman. And if you write notes, a. it makes you think and listen and b. it helps you to remember and c. it shows that your taking an interest and at the end of the meeting I’ll go back, write up the meeting and I write down what we said, what we agreed. I’ll send it back to the client and to the prospects and say look this is what I think we said, this is what I think we agreed but can you please check this out make sure I’ve got it all right and make sure I haven’t missed anything.
Dylis: I love that Steve.
Steve: What that does that reinforces it in their mind it shows that you listened and really wanted to understand and it’s another reason to continue the dialogue and to build a relationship.
Dylis: Yeah brilliant.
Steve: So that’s a useful tip I think.
Dylis: Brilliant and I really would encourage people to read the article ‘The Terrifying Truth About Your Prospects’ which you can find on your LinkedIn profile @stevehallsydney on LinkedIn
Steve: Its actually @stevehallsydney.
Dylis: @stevehallsydney brilliant and I do encourage people to have a look at that and also if anyone wants to get in touch with you to talk further or to engage your services then they can do that through LinkedIn too.
Steve: Yeah absolutely.
Dylis: Perfect would you like to give out an e-mail or would you rather just communicate through LinkedIn?
Steve: Well my email’s on LinkedIn and I’m happy to communicate through LinkedIn but its firstname.lastname@example.org
Dylis: Brilliant, Steve thank you so much I’ve loved every moment of talking to you and I hope you’ll come back as a guest another time.
Steve: Be very happy to.
Dylis: Brilliant thank you very much Steve, speak to you soon.
Steve: Take care.
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