January 13, 2010

How to Stop Derailing Your Deals

By Heather Baldwin

Why is it that some sales reps work incredibly hard yet never seem to achieve real success while others who, on the surface, don’t appear to be putting in an enormous effort produce stellar results? After all, hard work pays off . . . or does it? That’s essentially what David Sandler, founder of Sandler Systems, Inc., set out to discover early in his career. He wondered what it was that separated the truly successful salespeople from those who simply worked hard. His findings ultimately evolved into The Sandler Rules – a collection of behaviors and attitudes that he asserted would, if adopted consistently, lead to “near effortless success” for salespeople. David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Systems, Inc., has compiled those rules in a book, The Sandler Rules: 49 Timeless Selling Principles and How to Apply Them. Here is a look at the first five rules, or what Mattson calls the “core concepts.”

#1: Learn to fail. You can let failure get you down and demotivate you or you can use it as an opportunity to analyze what went wrong and how you can do things differently in the future. “Recognizing failure as a potential positive experience gives you a new freedom – the freedom to try new things, be more creative, and stretch outside your comfort zone,” writes Mattson. That kind of stretching, he adds, is the secret to professional growth.

#2: Don’t spill your candy in the lobby. Imagine you just bought a box of candy at the movie theater. You open it on your way back to your seat – and then you trip on the carpet and spill the contents. If only you had waited to open the box! Sales reps do essentially the same thing every day, says Mattson, only their “box of candy” is their knowledge and expertise, their data and research. Too often, reps go into an initial call and “spill their candy,” telling the prospect all about their products and services. Instead, keep your box sealed up, focusing on the prospect’s situation, taking notes on the problem to be solved or goals to be achieved. “Say as little as possible and get the prospect to talk as much as possible,” says Mattson. “Save your goodies for later.”

#3: No mutual mystification. Do you have “happy ears?” Many sales reps do. They hear what they want to hear, grabbing hold of the positive, deemphasizing the negative, and often misinterpreting what prospects are telling them. For instance, when the CFO of a company that “Bill” had been pursuing for three years called and asked for a quote, Bill was thrilled. The CFO said he was “eager to see” what Bill’s company could do for him and Bill instantly dove into the work of compiling the data to produce a quote, thinking all his work had paid off at last. But had it? Or was the CFO simply looking for competitive quotes he could use as a bargaining chip with his current supplier? Bill’s “happy ears” prevented him from probing to find out. With every interaction, you must determine the prospect’s intentions and expectations, help the prospect be specific and define ambiguous terms, and make sure everyone confirms the same understanding of what was discussed and what happens next.

#4: Give permission for a “No.” How many times have prospects told you they are “very interested” in the information you provided but they need more time to “digest it?” Sound familiar? They’re effectively saying “no,” but either wanting to let you down easily or avoid having to explain their decision to you. Which means you can waste weeks or more sending additional literature, calling to follow up, and pushing them from quarter to quarter. While no one wants to hear a “no,” it is nonetheless preferable to being strung along in the no-man’s land between yes and no. To get that “no” early, prospects need to feel they have your permission to say “no.” Let them know up front that if it’s not a fit, a “no” is okay. “Your objective is to uncover the truth, even if it’s not something you want to hear,” says Mattson.

#5: Don’t answer an unasked question. When you find yourself about to start a sentence with, “You’re probably wondering,” stop yourself. If the prospect had been wondering, they’d have asked. And it’s possible that your volunteered information could derail the sale. “Don,” a sales rep for an IT company was wrapping up a presentation when the prospective client piped up with, “Don, we don’t need to see any more. We’re ready to move ahead. Let’s complete the paperwork.” As Don shut down the presentation, the tech rep on his team, thinking the buyers should have asked about his area of expertise, volunteered that an update to the program was in the works and would be available in about 60 days. The room fell silent. The buyers, confused, decided to hold off and ultimately wound up working with someone else. Bottom line: don’t volunteer extraneous information. Close the sale and head out.

Wondering about the other 44 rules? Visit www.sandler.com.