Your Prospects Are Giving You Their Time. What Are You Giving Them in Return?
I read a blog posting recently about what a salesperson could do to increase sales. The title was something catchy like “A Billion and One Tips to Increase Sales.” It was hard to argue with the premise of the post. Everyone in sales can use good advice on increasing sales. There’s always something new to learn.
In this case, the author’s tips were all about creating more sales activity. He asked, What should you do if you have prospects but they aren’t moving forward fast enough? His answers were designed to create such a flurry of sales activity around prospects that they would engage and move forward with the seller.
But is random sales activity the same as selling? And, if a prospect is not yet fully committed to the buying process, is random sales activity the way to get them engaged?
Nothing is sometimes better than something
I once had a salesperson named Arte who had confused activity with selling. He came into my office one day and told me that he had invented his own method of selling that he called SWARM. The acronym stood for Surround With Activity to Regain Momentum. His idea was to envelop his prospects in a constant swarm of sales activities—phone calls, visits, emails, voice messages, invitations to webinars and seminars, and product demonstrations—in the hope that eventually something would stick and the prospect would relent and engage.
How’d that work for Arte? Not so well. But he got high marks for creativity.
Unfortunately, many salespeople fall into the trap of believing that doing something, anything, with a prospect is better than doing nothing. This happens all the time when the prospect has gone radio silent. There are lots of reasons why this occurs, and it is the job of the salesperson to determine why and respond appropriately and with content that has value for the prospect. But rarely is the correct response to bombard the prospect with trivial, time-wasting requests and interactions.
Keep in mind the customer’s objective
In a sales situation, or a buying situation, it is important to keep in mind that the goal of the customer is to gather the information they need to make an informed purchase decision with the least possible investment of time. This is not to say that customers won’t spend the appropriate time to purchase a product or service. This just means that they don’t want to invest a minute more than they have to.
Create and deliver value each time you talk to your prospects and customers
If you are selling, all of your interactions with a customer should have a defined purpose, deliver clear value, and support the customer’s goal. Instead of taking up his or her time with trivial requests, consider the opposite approach: make sure that every interaction you have with a prospect or customer achieves Maximum Impact in the Least Time (MILT) possible. It requires planning and thought to make certain that in each interaction you are providing information that will bring them closer to their goal of making an informed decision. The result is that you will bring value to the customer through your selling. If you want a customer to engage, create value for them through your actions. Wasting their limited time with “sales activities” does the opposite.
Selling has a purpose. It is not the goal of your prospects or customers to spend time with you. In fact, the opposite is true. They want to accomplish their job, which is to buy a product or service, while spending as little time with the salesperson as possible. The winning salesperson will usually be the one who knows how to make that happen.
Key Takeaway: Create value with each interaction. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something.
The Economics of Attention
Shouting louder isn’t the key to being heard
In 1971, Herbert Simon, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University and a future Nobel Prize winner in economics, wrote a prescient description of the upcoming information revolution and the impact that the ready availability of seemingly endless quantities of information would have on our ability to process and use it. Although Simon wasn’t specifically addressing the selling and buying of products and services, the conclusions he drew apply to today’s sales environment.
The following is a quote from a paper Simon published in 1971:
“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” (Simon, H. A. (1971), “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World”, in Martin Greenberger, Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest, Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press,ISBN 0-8018-1135-X. pp 40-41)
What Simon was describing was a situation based on the laws of economics—namely, that the supply of any commodity, in this case the attention span of any consumer of information, is limited, and that market forces will efficiently allocate that scarce resource among the various interests competing for it.
Let’s apply Simon’s lesson to the selling environment. Your prospects and customers are, by definition, consumers of information. They seek information from different sources, such as the Internet, social media, and salespeople, in order to make fully informed decisions about purchasing the right products and services for their needs. However, as Simon pointed out, prospects and customers have a limited supply of attention to divide among the information sources requesting a piece of it. At some point during their buying process, they have to decide how to allocate their attention to vendors, administrative tasks, management responsibilities, meetings, making phone calls, returning emails, updating their Facebook status, and texting with their spouse, kids, and friends.
Your prospects and customers make an economic decision about how to prioritize the allocation of their attention bandwidth. Sellers that provide the greatest return to the prospect on the time invested in them will be given more time to sell the prospect. In other words, sellers that create value for the prospect and customer just by not wasting their time will have the inside track. And sellers that waste the prospect’s time will not get responses to their emails and voice mails.
In my book, Zero-Time Selling, 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales, I discuss how your prospects calculate an economic return on the time they invest in you as a seller. I call this the Return on Time Invested (ROTI.) Your prospects judge every sales interaction they have with you by whether it provides value. If you waste the precious minutes of attention the prospect has allocated to you, then they will make the perfectly rational decision to invest their time with another seller. Again, are you wondering why your prospects aren’t listening to you? Now you know.
How can you effectively cut through the welter of information your prospects confront and become an asset instead of a liability on their attention balance sheet? The key is to Sell with Maximum Impact in the Least Time (MILT)™. Selling with MILT requires you to be responsive. In sales, responsiveness is the combination of information content and speed. Quickly provide all of the information the prospect needs to make an informed purchase decision with the least investment of their attention (otherwise known as “time”) and you will be rewarded with all the time you need to make your case. Help your prospect get their job done more quickly and they will allocate more of their limited attention to you because they have learned that you provide a better value and enhanced return on the investment of their time than your competitors do.
Selling with MILT requires planning. Each interaction with a prospect has to create value for them. Whether it is a phone call, email, text, video chat, or sales call, planning for the next prospect interaction has to answer the question: what information does the prospect need from us today, or what questions do they need answered today, to move to the next step in their buying process?
Increase your prospect’s ROTI by ruthlessly eliminating the time-wasting “check-in” and “touching base” calls from your sales repertoire. e sure to also eliminate the “get backs” from your selling. (“That’s a great question, Mr. Prospect. Unfortunately I don’t know the answer and I’ll have to get back to you with that information.”) Make absolutely certain that the person talking to your prospect can answer whatever question arises.
Use the Economics of Attention to your advantage. And keep in mind that the ROTI is a two-way street. Maximize the prospect’s return on the time they invest with you and you’ll earn the maximum return, in the form of orders, on the time you invest in them.
Key Takeaway: Sell with the Maximum Impact in the Least Time (MILT) to maximize your customer’s ROTI.
Are You Worth Your Prospect’s Time?
Very early in my sales career I made a cold call on the CEO of a large homebuilder in my territory. I was selling accounting systems for what was at the time one of the larger computer companies. I was freshly trained in sales and computers, a newly minted sales rep ready to go out and conquer. Shoes shined and red power-tie straightened, I marched into the lobby and asked the receptionist to see the CEO. I fully expected to be rebuffed. so I was completely taken aback when the CEO, Bill, came into the lobby, shook my hand. and escorted me back to his office.
Bill was very polite and completely old-school, even for that time. Silver hair, nice tan, expensive 3-piece suit. He took me into his office, which was empty except for his massive wooden desk with a phone on it. He motioned for me to sit down opposite him. Bill asked for my business card. I reached over the aircraft carrier-sized surface of the desk and handed him my card. He took it, slowly turning it in his hands, examining it back and front, and laid it on the desk in front of him. “So, young man, what can I do for you?”
I took a deep breath and launched into my pitch. Just as I had been trained to do. Bill let me talk for about a minute or two and then raised his hand for me to stop. He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a stack of business cards bound with a rubber band that was literally two inches high. “These are all the computer salespeople that have been by my office in the last year.” He spread the cards across the top of his desk. There were cards from nearly every sales rep in my company, as well as those of every competitor I could think of. “Tell me, how are you different or better than any of those folks?”
The answer was…that I wasn’t. Yet.
Give your prospect a reason to buy
I learned later that Bill talked to nearly 50 salespeople just like me every year. Outwardly there was no question that his firm would benefit from upgrading its computer and accounting systems. Bill knew that and had simplified the task for every salesperson, giving each one an opportunity to speak to him directly. There were no layers to go through, no BANT qualification to process because they were talking to the ultimate decision-maker. And yet, no seller had ever gotten past the first call with Bill.
Why? Because Bill was waiting for someone to give him a reason to buy. That reason was not going to be a new feature or its associated benefits. He was patiently waiting for a salesperson to create some value for him by providing a simple, cogent reason for him to invest his time and money in a new system. In short, he was waiting for a salesperson to step up and differentiate his products from the rest.
The lesson Bill taught me continues to grow in relevance for salespeople, both new and experienced. Today more than ever, how you sell is as important as what you sell to create value, build trust, and differentiate yourself from your competition. It isn’t enough to show up at a prospect’s office or on a sales call and expect the buyer to fall in love with your product or service solely based on its features and benefits. It also isn’t just about playing the numbers game. You could make a million cold calls, but if you don’t give the prospect something of value, something that provides them with a return on the time they invested in you, then you are never going to earn their business.
Ask yourself a simple question
Before every prospecting call, sales call, or existing account review, ask yourself: What value are you creating for the buyer? What content are you providing that will enable them to move further along in their buying process and perceive that the time invested in you was time well spent?
In the formative years of my career there weren’t as many resources available as there are today for salespeople to research industries, companies, and individuals, and to develop a better understanding of your prospect’s requirements for the products and services you sell. We didn’t have access to an Internet full of white papers, articles, and blogs to help prospects make more informed purchase decisions in a shorter time. (There were no power outlets on the covered wagons and no Wi-Fi on the Oregon Trail.)
The approach I took to creating value on a first call was to tell stories that illustrated how customers were using our products how our products provided the unique value they needed. Simple stories helped my prospects envision how they too would benefit by using our products. By using their time wisely I earned the right to more of their time.
A little over a year and more than 50 salespeople later, I went to see Bill again. I was a bit wiser and more experienced. We started all over again. But this time with a different conclusion.
“Please Don’t Make Me Repeat Myself”
An inescapable fact of selling is the inelasticity of the time available to your prospects and customers to perform their jobs. They are trying to increase their productivity and accomplish more in their business, with the same number of poeple, or fewer, and fewer resources. Just like every company out there.
Of course, the same applies to your company and your business. If you are tasked to sell more with the same resources, then time becomes the most precious commodity you have. Right? If you are given a higher quota and you divide that number by the number in that song from the musical Rent (“five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year…”) it means that you have to sell more dollars per minute this year to meet your objectives. You don’t have time to waste. And your customers don’t have time to waste.
It is important to examine each sales opportunity you are currently working to determine if you are: (a) consuming too much of the prospect’s time; and thereby (b) decreasing your chances of winning their business. These two go hand in hand.
Here is a simple metric you should use to determine if you are frittering away the prospect’s time (and with it any potential order.) Answer this question: How many times has your prospect had to tell you their story? Their story includes their requirements, their budget, their timeframes, their decision-making process, and whatever other background information you need to support them through the buying process.
The more times a prospect is forced to tell you their story, the less likely you are to win their business.
If you make your prospects tell you their story more than once, then it means one or more of the following time-wasting symptoms are present in your selling:
1. You’re not listening to the customer. How can you be responsive to the customer and provide them the information they need if you aren’t listening and documenting what they are telling you?
2. You’re too dependent on others to sell. This means that your salespeople don’t have enough knowledge and expertise about your products or your prospects’ industry. Each new person that is brought into an account invariably wants to hear the customer’s story with their own ears.
3. Your salespeople are too reliant on management to win the sale. It is my experience, both as a salesperson and sales manager, that if you introduce a sales manager into a sales situation the first thing he or she will do is ask the prospect to their story. The manager does this because he or she doesn’t really trust the version provided by the salesperson.
Keep in mind that your prospects want to make informed purchase decisions with the smallest investment of their time possible. Forcing them to repeat their story to multiple people from the same company wastes time that they could be spending on other productive activities and will lead them to conclude that working with your company would not be efficient or wise.
Key Takeaway: Don’t make your customer repeat himself.
One last point. If you are wasting the customer’s time you are also reducing your own sales productivity. Spend too much time with one customer and you’ll have less time to spend with other prospects and customers.