Can Your Prospect Pay: The Budget Problem In Sales

How many times has this happened to you: you’re talking to a prospect, they’re interested in what you have to offer, you think there could be a good fit here…and then it happens. They ask about price, you give them a rate or a figure or a range…and woah. Hit the brakes. “Oh no, I can’t afford that.” It’s over.

Why does this keep happening? You put in effort, find pain and uncover reasons for them to do business with you, show them what you can do—and then the opportunity evaporates in an instant.

The problem here is one of sales process. If you find yourself disappointed again and again by prospects who are eager to hear what you can do for them, but at that critical moment announce they do not have the means to pay for it, let me suggest that your process steps are out of order. You’ve brought forward your solution too soon. You’ve invested too much energy on this prospect without first finding out their budget.

This common circumstance occurs typically because of two reasons. First, the sales person does not have a formal selling process, and therefore does not have steps or stages in any particular order. Having such a selling process would reduce stress on themselves and systematically increase the odds of a successful outcome. Second, the sales person has been taught (often early in life, perhaps by a parent) that bringing up the subject of money is impolite. While perhaps well-intentioned, this taught premise is a bad one for success in sales.

The budget question has to be raised with the prospect before demonstration of any possible solution. Uncovering the prospect’s budget is not impolite: it is a necessary and important component of the qualification process. Imagine someone walking into an automobile dealership and saying to the first sales person he sees, “I want to buy a car.” Are you already starting to see the problem here? The price of cars ranges considerably. A consultative sales professional can doctor for pain, find out underlying issues, prescribe a solution—and totally miss the prospect’s budget. “Yes, Mister Prospect, I have a lovely Lamborghini that will give you that feeling of youth, vitality and power that you’ve been craving!” “Amazing! That sounds fantastic!” “It’s only $455,000.” “…Uhh…gee. There’s no way I can afford that.”

Prior to working on solutions, bring up the budget question. If you’re nervous or uncomfortable about discussing money, do it like this: at the start of your conversation, say, “Misses Prospect, I have a minor problem I’m hoping you can help me with. You see, I always get a little uncomfortable when it comes time to talk about money. When we get to that point, will you help me? I want to make sure that, if it turns out that I do have a solution to offer you, we’re on the same page with what you can afford. I’d hate to talk with you about something inadequate or too much for your budget. When we get to that point, can you help me talk with you about that?” The prospect will almost always move to rescue you, and say of course. Naturally, if you’re comfortable with the subject of money, you don’t have to do this—just bring the topic up at the right time. And when is that time?

Let’s say you have been doctoring for pain, have some, and are thinking about possible ways you can help the prospect. You have a small, medium and large model for handling the prospect’s problem, with respective prices. Now, before investing the energy in demonstrating the potential solution(s), you can gently bring up the budget question. “Mister Prospect…I don’t suppose you’ve set aside any kind of budget for solving this issue, have you?”

Or: “Miss Prospect, I think I have something for you. However, we offer a range of potential solutions. I’m not sure which one is right for you…I have an idea, though. Would it be okay if I shared with you the investment range of each solution, and you can let me know which you’re most comfortable with?”

If you’re a more direct person, you could even say something like, “John, I have to be frank with you. These items aren’t cheap. Before I explain to you how they’ll solve your problem, could I go ahead and share the rate with you and you can let me know if that works for you?”

Remember, uncovering the budget is nothing more than another solid step in the qualification process. You want to know whether or not the prospect can afford your product or service. If they can’t, why would you want to waste your time?

Now, I’m not suggesting that you be a jerk and roughly steer those who cannot afford your help out the door. While consultative selling professionals do not give out free information as unpaid consulting, in many cases it can be a very good thing to educate people who don’t have it in their budget to retain your services. People tell other people—a few people, it’s true, but they do tell some—about positive experiences. This can directly and swiftly lead to qualified referrals. I’ve recently seen this happen in the field of wedding videography. Prospect A discovers Superstar Videographer’s rates are way out of their league, but because he bothered to spend the time educating them nicely, they quickly referred other people to him—and those new prospects could afford his time. What’s important to keep in mind here, however, is that Superstar Videographer rapidly qualified Prospect A out, and while he did help them, he didn’t get himself all worked up about offering a beautiful and expensive potential solution, investing that time and energy, getting his hopes for a project up, and becoming extremely disappointed when it turned out (as it would have) at the last minute that they couldn’t afford his services.

The time to uncover the prospect’s budget and ability to pay you is after you’ve doctored for pain, and before you show them any kind of solution.

Jason Kanigan, EzineArticles.com Basic Author


The Missing Step In The Salesperson Hiring Process

Most people who conduct interviews figure they’re a pretty good judge of character. Many have, unprompted, shared this opinion with me. Then there’s that old Human Resources notion: past performance determines future potential. Combine these two ideas and you have the foundation of most businesses’ hiring practices.

Problem? Both premises are bad.

The stats have long shown that the majority of people hire because they form a split-second liking for a candidate. The resume got the candidate the interview, but the hiring decision was made because of emotion.

Bringing the wrong candidate on board costs more than rehiring. Employers frequently and unknowingly lead candidates into looking and sounding like a good fit with leading questions (“Tell me about a time when you…”, and of course they do! Great story: you’re starting to like this person already!). So the truth is that most hiring managers are not a good judge of best fit.

Now the second premise: past performance determines future potential. Really? What if the candidate was stuck in a poor situation, with no coaching, bad management and an unsupportive or nonexistent sales process? I have met with insurance salespeople who, thanks to Do Not Call legislation, were forced to prospect by calling receptionists of businesses! Are you going to tell me that doesn’t suck? That failure to perform in that situation means this person can’t sell??

I hope you’re with me now, in the contemplation that perhaps resume and interview are an incomplete set of steps in finding the best fit for hiring salespeople. Resume screening seems to eliminate candidates who shouldn’t be in consideration; interviews can elicit deeper answers to specific questions and demonstrate how candidates will react to certain stimuli. What, then, remains? How are we to determine best fit?

A third step, one between resume and interview, can be taken. This is the Assessment step, where the candidate is asked to complete a questionnaire. Depending on the structure of the test, and the quality of the questions, a great deal of information can be uncovered. First, the three most important questions to answer are:

  • Is this person trainable?
  • Is this person coachable?
  • Will this person actually sell?

Yes, assessments do exist that provide reliable answers to these questions. Good assessments will also uncover data such as:

  • The buying cycle preference of the candidate – if the items to be sold are high-value, with a short cycle, and the individual has a long buying process in which he checks out all the particulars of many vendors, it’s not going to be a fit
  • Is this candidate a hunter (goes after new business) or a farmer (manages an existing set of accounts and gradually expands the business you do with them)
  • The stress level the candidate can handle, ranging from entry level up to top executive.

If an individual is a good farmer but a lousy hunter, and your role calls for a hunter, would this knowledge affect your decision? An effective assessment will tell you whether or not the candidate has the experience, skills and supportive beliefs to match your position. Are these factors things you would like to know before you choose to schedule an interview?

Assessment results also change over time. An individual may learn new skills, get different experience. Their belief system may erode or strengthen. Think of an assessment result as a sort of balance sheet for the candidate: how they are at this moment in time. Again, wouldn’t it be good to have an indication that, while a candidate has performed well in the past, the assessment shows that their belief system is in turmoil at the moment? Wouldn’t that lead you to asking some uncovering questions in the interview?

Resume, assessment and interview. These are the three steps of an effective hiring process. If you’d like more information on how assessments can dramatically improve the quality of your salesperson hiring process, send me a note.

Jason Kanigan, EzineArticles.com Basic Author


Cold Calling As You: How To Prospect Naturally

Like most things, the more prospecting you do, the better you’ll feel about and get at it. Day One is tough. Day Fifteen, on the other hand, is natural. Set specific times to do your cold calling, and put them in your calendar. I recommend cold calling for one to two hours at a time, then taking a break. You can’t cold call all day. It’s important to be in an ‘up’ mood (when you feel like a ’10’, as valuable as any top officer out there, but not full of artificial enthusiasm).

Adjust your script in accordance to the feedback you get. Drop reasons that people do business with you that don’t resonate, and include new ones to replace them. As you do the work, certain key phrases will stand out as getting prospects’ attention. Make use of them. Keep your voice natural.

Let’s look at an example of how I go about a cold call, keeping it natural, following a process and being genuine:

Salesperson (S): John?

Prospect (P): Yes. Who’s this?

S: Hi, John, my name’s Jason Kanigan. Am I calling at a bad time?

P: No. What’s this about?

S: Appreciate the question. Let me tell you why I called, and then you can decide whether we should keep talking or not. Does that sound fair?

P: Sure. Go ahead.

S: All right. I’m with XYZ Training in Mytown. Typically we work with technology firms who are serious about steadily raising their top line revenue, and are:

  • Concerned about trouble prospecting consistently and effectively
  • Upset that they hear price too often as a major objection
  • Frustrated with having to constantly chase prospects, and having to keep ‘following up’.

I don’t know if any of these are issues at your company, though…

P: Well, sort of…I mean, doesn’t everybody have those problems?

S: Maybe. Which of those really stands out for you?

P: I guess the ‘following up’ one. We do a lot of quoting that goes nowhere.

S: Oh, that surprises me. I figured it would be the price issue. Well, tell me about having to follow up. How many quotes a month do you think you do?

P: Around forty…

And it continues from there.

Note the differences from slavishly following a script, and pumping your talk full of false enthusiasm. First, you’re having a real conversation. That means you’ve gotten over some of the trust hurdle. Second, you’re talking about true pain the prospect is experiencing. This isn’t something you’ve pushed in their face: it’s real because they’re saying it. Third, you’re able to find out if what you have to offer is potentially a fit for their problems, because they are telling you facts about their situation. This makes for a much smoother and more likely continuation along the sales process.

Picking up the phone with the goal of having genuine conversations with other people, to try and find out whether what you have to offer is a fit to solve their problems, is the key to natural and low-stress prospecting. Cold calling with a script to guide you and with a natural voice will make you calm and well-received.

If you’d like to talk about your specific cold calling and prospecting issues, send me an email and let’s set up a time to speak.


Don’t Get Fired Up: The Art and Science of Natural Cold Calling

“Here’s your cold calling script—get fired up! Start ‘Dialing for Dollars.’ I want to hear enthusiasm!”

Oh no.

Ever notice how the people who tell you that this is the way to go about cold calling are almost never the people who actually have to do it?

Following a cold calling script to the letter plus injecting blatantly fake enthusiasm are two common things that broadcast the unmistakable message of “Here Comes A Sales Person.”
Prospecting is both art and science. The science part is derived from having a consistent process. This includes knowing several typical reasons why people do business with you. A script is an outline. Know it, have the facts ready, use the process—but don’t rattle it off like a recording.

I’ve discussed how enthusiasm is your enemy in previous articles. Exclaiming the meaningless and overdone “How are you today?!” instantly informs the person on the other end of the line that This Is A Cold Call. A much better way of prospecting is to follow a process, and be yourself. People react to genuineness with authenticity. This is the art part of natural cold calling.

How do you feel when a poorly-trained salesperson enthusiastically tries to shove a solution down your throat? Have they even considered whether this solution is right for you? Your first objective in cold calling is to find out whether your solution is even potentially a suitable fit for this prospect. The art in prospecting is to keep being natural. Being a little unsure, sounding like you, will result in prospects reaching out a bit more, wanting to learn more. You want your cold call to sound like a normal conversation, which is the goal–not a sales pitch.

Let me give you some instruction about what to expect as a result of your calls. First, you cannot control what happens on the other end of the line. Whether they talk to you or not, whether they’re having a bad day or not, if they are truly a potential fit or not, all these things are not up to you. Nothing you can do will change the result.

What you can control is whether you pick up the phone and call.

You can also control how the call sounds, and the manner in which it is carried out.

Some days you’ll make the calls, and everyone will pick up and speak with you. Other days, while you put in the effort, it’ll be a pack of voicemails. You can’t control that. So don’t get stressed out about it. Keep putting in the effort, day in and day out. That you can control.


Beating the Prospecting Blues, Steps Three to Six

Third, repeat after me: “Not wanting to talk with me right now is not Rejection. It just means they don’t want to talk to me right now.”
Write this on a sticky note and thumb it up somewhere you’ll see it every day. Especially while prospecting.

Fourth, do a little research on the company you’re calling. Not too much: I don’t want you getting over-awed by whomever you’re about to call. Remember, Vice Presidents and CEOs put their pants on the same way you do. They may have insulating layers of people between them and you and deal with numbers with more zeros on the end—but (and these are the stats of inside sales pros, not just mine) one out of every four times, the Big Cheese will pick up the phone, completely unprotected by a well-meaning gatekeeper. That goes for everybody from the owner of a 3-person company all the way to the Chairman of IBM.

However, it is important to know something about the organization you’re calling. Corporate or Non-Profit structure? Distribution or Marketing field? Accounting or Information Technology department?

Fifth, and very importantly, Pick Up The Phone.
Yep, this is tough. It’s what you get paid for, remember? If it was so easy, everyone would do it…but just about everyone, from company presidents on down, doesn’t want to. Usually the basic problem is that they’re viewing prospecting as “Dialing for Dollars”, and figuring they have to slavishly follow a script as they do it, worrying that they’re sounding wooden as they do it. Reverse these things. When the call is over, don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Start the next call right away.

Add this to your sticky note: “I am the best at prospecting around here.”

Because you are. Nobody else is reading articles, trying to improve their craft, putting in the effort to become a top salesperson. Prospecting means genuinely reaching out and discovering if there’s a way you can help the person on the other end of the line. If you cannot, it’s not rejection. What it happens to be is Not A Fit. And that’s okay. Knowing this, having the skills and right intention, and the laugh-it-off it’s-no-big-deal calmness to pick up the phone and call the next person is what will drive away those Prospecting Blues.


Beating the Prospecting Blues, Steps One and Two

We’ve all been there. Your boss—or maybe your boss is you, and to eat you’ve got to start—says, “Time to start ‘Dialing for Dollars’. Here’s the script, here’s a list of five hundred people who have never heard of us: get started.” Eww. You mean, I have to cold call complete strangers, rattle off this script word for word, and hope they’ll stay on the line long enough to tell me whether they are interested or not??

First of all, let’s throw out that old saw, “Dialing for Dollars”. That’s a bad intention and not what you’re going to do. Maybe you’ve been doing that, but I want you to stop immediately. The intention of your calls is now to make genuine connections with other people, and find out if you can help them in some way. If you can’t, that’s fine: this is feedback, not rejection.

You must have a consistent sales process. You can’t wing it, not have a plan, not know what the next step is. Applied with the intention of genuinely helping others, this will be your most powerful tool in kicking the Prospecting Blues. Also the first key to sales force transformation.

Second, scripts are good, but you have to develop a way to say those words in your own voice. I can say “I pity the fool…” all I want, but those are Mr. T’s words and will never be mine. You will do much better if you take the script and move it into your own intention and voice.

There will probably be resistance to this… particularly if you’re in a call center. In that situation it’s tough, because some supervisor was told everyone has to use that script, letter for letter. If you’re going to succeed at cold calling, however, you’re going to have to put the words into your own voice.

Let’s look at an example. Say the script reads, “67% of all data entry productivity is derived from the software the data is entered into.” Do you talk like this? If you do, then go ahead and say it that way. Assuming you don’t talk like a technical manual, how else could you accurately express the same idea and yet not have that little voice in your head announce “You sound like a robotic moron” as you say it?

You could say, “You know, when it comes to data entry, two-thirds of the productivity your people experience is a direct result of what software you’re using.”

Or maybe, “It’s a surprising thing, but typing skills don’t matter nearly as much as what software you’re using to record data: the specific software is responsible for sixty-seven percent of your data entry productivity.”

Figure out how you can say the idea naturally. I encourage having a script, and also taking the extra step of personalizing it to your voice. This will considerably help you feel better about prospecting.

Now let me clear something up: a script is merely a framework for discussion. To be a successful cold caller, you must have a consistent sales process, and that will lead you through the call’s stages. The script gives you the confidence of knowing what your message is, what you’re going to say. If it becomes necessary to deviate from the script, or not mention some of the things in it at all, so be it. Following a process and being genuine are far more powerful tools to help with cold calling and for kicking the Prospecting Blues.

Stay tuned for Steps Three to Six…

Jason Kanigan, EzineArticles.com Basic Author


Sales Force Transformation in Information Technology: Part Two

I believe salespeople in the IT field have started to figure it out. Early on, an IT person would sell to an IT person. They’d speak the same language, talk the same terms. Care about the same things, the gigahertz and the MTUs and the whatsits. All smiles. Then came the shift where IT salespeople had to start talking to business leaders: CEOs, accountants, administrators. Not database administrators, either. People who didn’t care about the technical side…but cared very much about steps removed in processes, better access to information, resources freed up. Oh dear. The IT salesperson had to learn a different language. In my opinion, very few got good at it. There’s some talk about ROI (but in some regions I’ve worked, it already wasn’t about ROI any longer…), and “achieving business goals”, but it’s weak. As a business listener, those terms ring hollow when an IT person says them. Sorry, I’m skeptical.

Now IT salespeople at Value-Added Resellers (VARs) work to sell and service accounting/CRM/ERP packages. They’ve got some features-and-benefits-oriented programming sheets from the OEMs. Sure, there’s a sprinkling of ROI and other buzzwords on there. Listening from the buyer perspective, however, I’m just not…uh, buying it.

So here’s where I am certain IT salespeople have started to figure it out: they’re making their calls, and encountering reactions. Resistance. It’s not working out that well. Especially if they’ve been living off prospecting done by the OEMs—which has now been cut out—and have now been forced to jump into the prospecting ‘hot seat’. For many, it’s been a meat grinder. They’ve discovered they need to do their job a very different way from what was working just a couple of years ago, if they want to survive and succeed. Yet they don’t know what that would look like.

What is called for is a sales process that transforms the VAR salesperson from a features-and-benefits product pusher using ROI as one of many sales tools into a trusted advisor welcomed into the prospect’s organization with the relief of “Finally, here is someone who can actually help us.”

If your organization is experiencing these concerns, we should speak.

Jason Kanigan, EzineArticles.com Basic Author


Sales Force Transformation in Information Technology: Part One

I’ve been advised that Microsoft has stopped prospecting on behalf of their partners. Sage, I’m told, has ceased prospecting for their partners, too. The easy leads of the past decades are gone: resellers must now find and qualify prospects on their own. Add to this the economic turbulence of the past few years, the fact that what worked just a short time ago no longer functions, and the result is Panic! The IT Value-Added Reseller (VAR) world is turning upside-down.

Before, a reseller might turn up the dial on cold calling. They might tell their sales staff to lean on happy clients to generate referrals. Yet now all that results is the tippy-toe syndrome: everyone’s standing on their tippy-toes now, and they’re all ready to fall over.

The truth is that most VAR salespeople were pretty content with things just prior to this changing of the rules. No prospecting, if they could get away with it, and pulling in the odd referral. Mostly, though, farming existing clients. Now the game has changed.

What is suddenly necessary in the VAR world to survive and succeed is not simply sales training. Sales force transformation is what is desperately needed over the next year or so: a pep talk and orders to crank up the dials is not going to be enough. Everyone is going to be doing that, so the result is simply going to be increased bombardment of suspects by features-and-benefits-oriented sales callers. Uh oh! How do you think the poor suspects and prospects are going to react to this?

When we talk of “transformation”, we speak of a deep change in the underlying beliefs, concepts, methodology and reason for or pertaining to the sales process. It’s not just a fancy buzz phrase. I am a prospect for a new accounting/CRM/ERP system, and I am not interested in the specific bells and whistles of whatever package you offer, Madam Salesperson. You had better sound different. You had better be truly trying to help me. Or I won’t have time for you at all.

The Information Technology field needs a complete Sales Force Transformation. The alternative is bombardment of prospects with a thousand cries of product features and benefits—which they will quickly become startlingly deaf to. The VAR way of prospecting has to become different. Changed. Transformed. Starting to get the idea?

Jason Kanigan, EzineArticles.com Basic Author


Enthusiastic or Genuine?

Okay, so maybe you agree with me that coating yourself in the oil slick of enthusiasm isn’t the best thing for sales success. What are else are you supposed to do, then?

Let’s say you have a problem. You go to a place where you are pretty sure they can take care of it, and when you go in, you’re invited to sit down and wait to be served. After waiting awhile in an office, the door opens and a small, quiet man comes in. He’s smiling, but not too much, and he starts asking you simple but direct questions to find out what’s bothering you. He examines where you say you have the problem. There’s no pushing of a product or service; he just listens, nods, asks relevant and probing questions. You feel quite comfortable.

After a brief time, the small man has what he needs. He writes a note on a pad, tears it off and gives it to you. Then he informs you what he believes what the cause is of the symptoms you’ve indicated. He explains what he thinks is going on. You feel better almost immediately. Smiling and shaking his hand, you take the note and leave. Who is this man? That’s right, he’s your doctor.

It’s funny: you don’t mind too much about having to wait to see your doctor, do you? And you like that he doesn’t burst into the room with all sorts of noisy and preconceived notions about the solution to your particular problem. He quietly asks simple, probing questions to find out more about what’s going on. Only when he’s sure a specific solution matches the cause of your symptoms does he let you know what he thinks. What is his attitude? Genuinely caring about you and your well-being. Friendly, but not gym sales director-enthusiastic.

What would happen if you approached the sales process like your doctor? What if you were genuinely concerned with your prospect’s well-being, rather than enthusiastic about a specific solution? How different would that be?

Jason Kanigan, EzineArticles.com Basic Author


Enthusiasm Is Your Enemy

Enthusiasm. Bleah. As salespeople, we’re supposed to ooze the stuff: it’s usually a listed requirement for sales positions, and if it’s missing many so-called sales experts get miffed. I remember some feedback from a phone interview not so long ago in which the business owner, who had professed to be familiar with consultative selling methodology, decried my lack of enthusiasm. I chuckled when I read the email. Clearly this individual did not understand consultative sales. Regardless, enthusiasm is gross. It’s the cheap cologne of the unprofessional salesperson. Can you imagine going into an electronics store, and having five sales clerks run towards you: “Can I help you?!” “Can I help you?!”

What’s your natural reaction to that? Right, you cringe. You put up the wall, announce that you’re “just looking”, and back away.

Consultative selling professionals have been known to frown. They sigh a lot ( “I think we have a problem.”) They confront issues honestly and head-on, instead of trying to avoid and gloss over them with false-faced “enthusiasm.”

Enthusiasm sure can get you into trouble. Remember that pumped-up sales guy you worked with who enthusiastically promised potential customers that your product or service could do anything? That someone would make it do that? Without checking, that the production department would be able to hit that super-quick turnaround? How’d that turn out?

Recall that I’m often talking about being scarce, about making your product or service or expertise scarce, because that’s where value and higher prices come from. Enthusiasm (or, “Sure, we can do that, anytime, anywhere, anyhow! Can we give it to you right now? For free?!”) runs you right onto the railroad tracks of the buyer’s method. Get several sources of supply. Make them equal. Tell them they’re all equal. Watch ‘em jump.

No, thanks. Keep your enthusiasm. I’ll keep my scarcity, my desire to uncover the real problem, and my freedom from the price objection.

Jason Kanigan, EzineArticles.com Basic Author