sales management

How to Sell Without Spending Money

For those of you who sell in an industry where expense accounts and war chests are the norm, and you’ve been led to believe the only way to gain access and/or actually have a sales conversation with your customer/prospect, this will be a breath of fresh air for you.

The reality of the situation is you don’t need money to gain access or have a meaningful sales conversation with your prospects/customer, at least not as much as you and your competitors are currently accustomed to spending.

I can already hear folks in the industrial sales, oilfield service and pharmaceutical sales profession screaming “bullshit” at me for even suggesting such blasphemy.

Just hang in here with me and consider the following . . .

When I started in the pharmaceutical industry, I did so at a time when doctors and pharmaceutical reps were both accustomed to lavish gifts, trips, dinners, lunches, etc. However, I entered the industry the exact month that all came to a screeching halt.

That month, something called "PhRMA code" was past and it eliminated the gift giving, golf games, fishing trips, the infamous "dine-n-dash" and lavish dinners for physicians and their spouses. The only perk left was office lunches and dinner programs lead by a peer speaker. However, I still faced a significant challenge.

The company I just signed on to sell for was a small “entrepreneurial” company. Translation: There would be absolutely no budget for said office lunches and/or dinner programs. That’s right, I was going to be required to actually sell. Sell my way in, sell the doctor on giving me some time, sell the doctor on the fact that I had no budget, and sell the doctor to prescribe a medication he’d never heard of, that was not even on the pharmacy shelf, and that I had no scientific proof that my drug was legit, much less safe.

To put the icing on the cake, I was selling repackaged Benadryl (for the most part) and all I had to work with was my smiling face, a sketchy looking sample, and a two sided marketing piece that was barely up to professional standards.

The result? Well, thanks to the very best sales training and leadership support I’ve ever received (before and sense), and a relentless work ethic fueled by the fear of failure, I took a territory that had never performed well, and transformed it into a top 6 territory that earned the respect of the CEO, upper management, and my colleagues.

I don’t share this to impress you, but to impress upon you that if I can sell repackaged Benadryl to a bunch of highly education, science-minded physicians, without any substantial evidence to support my claims, and without a penny to throw at my efforts, you can do extraordinary things with little to no budget, and the incredible products/services you represent. Here’s how I did it, and how you can too . . .

[By the way, that product I sold and the company I worked for were both first class all the way.  Like I said, they were entrepreneurial, and they chose to approach the market in a very strategic and intentional way. I owe a great deal of my professional and entrepreneurial success to the training and development I received from them. For that I am eternally grateful.]

1.     Invest wisely. If you have any money to spend, spend it on food. It took a while for one of my managers convince me of this, but since she did, I've seen it time and again first hand: faster and stronger bonds are formed when people break bread together.  If you don’t have a budget for meals, spend any time you get with your customer focused on building the relationship. When people feel like they know you as a human being and they connect with you on an emotional level subconsciously, all of a sudden the standard access and time rules don’t apply to you.

2.     Set expectations up front. Once you have broken bread together, or you have invested the initial time together building the relationship, let them know what you can and can not do with regards to your budget. Some will respectfully point you in another direction, but the ones you’ll ultimately be able to move the needle with will respect your limitations.

Be up front, be honest, and don’t be afraid to set those expectations. After all, it is sales professionals who have conditioned the customers to expect what they currently expect. There’s no reason you cannot recondition your customer.

3.     Prioritize your territory. Once you’ve had the conversation and set the expectations with all of your prospects and customers, you’ll then have a pretty good idea who you can influence, who you can’t, and who may take the greatest investment of time. Make a list of all your customers/prospects, and label them A, B and C. Discard any whom you have learned that will be no access due to your lack of funds.

4.     Increase your activity. Decide where you can invest more of your time now that you’ve reprioritized and eliminated. Who do you need to see once a week, bi-weekly, once a month, etc. Invest your time in the following manner: 70% on A targets, 20% on B targets and 10% on your C targets.

5.     Ask for the business. Every single time you’re in front of your customer, above all things, add value. But once you have added value, always ask for the business. The business might not be the sale, per se, but there’s always a next step. Ask for that. Every single time!

Consistently apply these five things to your current sales process and you'll be amazed at the growth in your business in the next 3-6 months.

How to Negotiate as a Sales Professional to Influence a Win-Win Outcome

As a sales professional,  you may be tempted to believe that you have no influence or power when negotiating with a customer. In fact, many sales professionals I work with during my strategic work sessions and seminars don't even realize they are "negotiating" in the first place.

The truth is, you are negotiating every single time you have a conversation with your customer and, more importantly, you have a tremendous amount of power to influence the outcomes of those negotiations. I'll explain . . .

Though the customer does bring the power and influence of the final decision and the checkbook to the table, you and your company bring something to the table that the customer cannot do by herself. Otherwise, you wouldn't be having the conversation in the first place.

You bring an outside perspective, data, research, superior products/services/strategies/ideas and proven strategies to apply your solutions they do not have, that can help them solve their most expensive and pervasive problems. But first, you have to understand what those expensive and pervasive problems are, and you have to prove to them you can solve them.

Here's how to wield your power and influence to facilitate a mutually beneficial outcome for the customer, your company and yourself as a sales professional:

1. Make a Value List. Based on the research you've done, and the conversations you've had with the customer, what is it that you perceive they value, need or want to feel like doing business with you is the right decision? What are 5-10 items you could give to them to add value to them, and help them achieve the outcomes they desire? Likewise, what are 5-10 you could ask for, in return, to be able to achieve the outcomes you and your company desire?

Make an actual list and have it with you during your next conversation with the customer. The purpose of the list is not to give all or ask for all on your list, it's to encourage creative give-and-take, and solution creation between you and the customer.

Enter a "What if?" Conversation. Now, take your list and start a non-committal, hypothetical exchange based on the list in front of you. "Mr. Smith, suppose we were to offer x?", "Would you consider . . .?" "How would you feel if . . ." Basically what you're doing here is testing the waters without raising sales resistance. You're just feeling your customer out to see which of the items on your list may or may not have merit. You're not promising anything, and the customer isn't committing to anything (yet).

2. Ask the Most Important Question. The most significant and important question you can ask your customer, to understand what they truly value, is some version of "what do you want?" How you ask this question is going to depend strongly on the relationship you have. The bottom line here is, you can do all the testing you want in step 1, but until you ask some of this question, you're guessing at what they value, at best. 

The secret to asking the "what do you want question" and getting a sincere and favorable response is to honestly disclose what it is you truly value and want from the business relationship first. When you do this, it lowers the resistance and defensiveness of the customer. They feel safe disclosing their true needs and wants because you did so first.

You can't begin to imagine the catastrophe I've witnessed when one party asks what the other "wants" before they volunteer what they "want." That's a recipe for conflict if ever I've seen one.

4. Partner to Create Viable Options. Many times your products, services, strategies and/or ideas won't appear to have merit with your customer. It won't be clear to you or to them how you can solve their problem. This is where the fun begins but, unfortunately, it's where most sales professionals throw in the towel and admit defeat.

If you've handles steps 1 and 2 properly, you've built adequate trust with your customer and created a problem solving momentum. Now, instead of trying to sell them a solution to their problem, get on the same side of the table as you customer, literallyand figuratively, and team up against the problem. Begin brainstorming ways to overtake the problem based on what you learned and discussed in the first two steps. Offer ideas and encourage them to do the same. When you here some for of "well, that won't work, but what if we try this?" coming from your customer, you've successfully entered the battle together.

5. Fight for Their Win. Now it's time to bring it home by assuring your customer you won't quit until you find a way to help them achieve their outcomes in a way that is fair and comfortable for the both of you. More importantly, make sure they know that you're fighting hard to help them achieve their win.

Consistently applying these steps to the negotiations conversations your having with your customers will help you to understand what it is they truly value. Once you do, you can then partner with them to help them achieve their outcomes. 

Sometimes, however, helping the customer achieve a win for their business may require you to refer them elsewhere for the short term, but it will lock you in as a trusted advisor, and you will be able to serve their business and drive revenue for your company long term.