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Be Prepared

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“Adventure is just bad planning.” ~~Roald Amundsen

Professional athletes know the value of careful planning.  Pilots rely on the thoroughness of checklist actions.  Generals in battle and CEOs of the largest companies in the world all rely on solid plans.  Some teams believe that given enough time to plan—say two weeks in a football season—they can be invincibly prepared for any team.

On a personal level we all know that the more carefully we plan the more likelihood of success in almost any endeavor.

Why, then, do so few sales professionals preplan their sales calls?  Appointments with decision-makers are rare and failure to plan is like planning to fail.  When surveyed, the most common reasons are that they plan on the way to the appointment, relying on experience to guide them through.  Or, they either don’t know they should or don’t know how to preplan a customer contact.

There are three main sales calls you should prepare for.  Specifically, these are:

  • The first call you make.  This is essential under the heading of good first impressions.  Also, if you are lucky (and luck favors the well-prepared) the customer might buy on the very first call.
  • The last call you make.  This is when they buy, when you ask for the order, when you solicit a final decision.  Prepare fully for that one.
  • The next call.  Ultimately, this is the most important opportunity you will have to impact the process.

The bottom line is that you should prepare for every call.  Time invested here can save significantly more time than repairing damage or replacing prospects.

There are many great resources to help you define your pre-call routines.  Here are a few elements to consider:

  • Develop a written sales call objective.  Visualize the desired results all the way to the ticker-tape parade.
  • Take care of the nuts-and-bolts such as who will be there, where will you meet, what is the dress code, how much time will you have, if food is involved what is it, who pays for it, and so on.
  • Do your detective work by reviewing the company’s website, press releases, management team, investor packets (if publicly traded,) industry issues/trends, and current suppliers, to name a few.
  • Design your needs analysis questions.  What are their “hot buttons?”
  • What do you plan to “show” or share?  Do you have all the pieces you need?  Do they work?  Do you know how to repair/replace them?
  • Anticipate concerns and objections.  Strategize your responses.
  • Appreciate the differences between your solution and the competition’s answer.
  • Quantify meaningful benefits to this particular customer by dollarizing the return on investment.
  • Define your closing strategies and clear the path for the next steps.
  • Be prepared to handle surprises.

Military people often say that no plan survives engagement with the enemy.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower noted that, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

I remember doing a software demonstration at a trade show in London.  The whole morning I was able to demonstrate transactions that involved printing a bar code, scanning it in, and updating a database back in the United States.  Everything ran flawlessly.

My time on stage arrived mid-afternoon, though, and by then nothing worked.  The power differences in the UK had fried my little printer.  It was now morning in the USA and heavy intercontinental data traffic made bidirectional transactions impossible.

I had done the process so many times before, though, and successfully pantomimed every step.  The audience followed along and we signed three very important customers before the day was out.

Be flexible as well as prepared.  The decision-maker is not you.  If you wind up in a situation where they are ready to sign in the first sixty seconds, simply shut up and take the order.  Be a boy (or girl) scout and be prepared for your next call.

© 2013 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

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Written by bniguy

February 17, 2013 at 2:43 am

WIIFM

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“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.” ~~Clifford Stoll

One element that cannot be overstated is to understand the difference between features and benefits.  Features are simply facts.  They neither engage nor inspire and do not impel action or deliver an emotional connection.  Features are a list of what that never considers why or, as the title notes, “What is in it for me?”  Your prospect wonders, “Why should I care?”

That is a good question and one you should be able to answer.

Here’s an example of features you might see in the newspaper or on a showroom floor.

“V-6 engine, dual exhaust, front-wheel drive, sunroof…heated seats, heated glass.”

As you can see, this is a list of features you may or may not entirely understand or appreciate.  Now consider these same features from a BENEFITS perspective.

  • The V-6 engine helps you pull out into traffic quickly.
  • Dual exhaust improves fuel efficiency with more power when starting out
  • Dual exhaust also adds a “throaty” sound to the engine.
  • Front-wheel drive gives you more legroom.
  • The sunroof gives you the open road feel of a convertible while still having the added structural security of a hard-body sedan.
  • The sunroof is quieter than a convertible.
  • Heated seats make chilly mornings easier to take.
  • They also add comfort on long trips.
  • Heated glass lets you clear windows in winter without manually scraping them clean.

These benefits put the other person “in the driver’s seat.”  Some of them appealed to you specifically while others did not.  The better you know the product and the better you can assess your prospect’s needs the more connection you will make.

Ideally you want to lead with just a few that matter.  My list was long and is too much for everyone.  Three is a good number.

If it is winter or the person lives in wintry region, lead with the areas about that, such as heated seats and heated glass.  If it is summer then lead with the sunroof, instead.

Some people want fuel efficiency.  You can line the features up with that.

Some want power or to impress their friends.  You can align the features of the very same car for that.

You need to know what you have and, most importantly, what they want.

Also, we are not dealing with other experts.  That is important.  When addressing other colleagues and industry professionals they can live in the world of features and be right at home.  You tell a computer technician that this PC has a 2 Gigahertz processor with 4 Gigabits of RAM and they know what that means.  Everyday people try to translate that to speed and size and the effective computer salesperson knows how to do that.

My rule of thumb is to simplify things so that a twelve-year-old can understand it—at least enough to realize that they like it or not.

Go ahead and highlight the benefits you provide.  Consider some of your favorite customers and remember what problems you solved for them.  A simple (and highly effective) shortcut is to ask them.  You have been meaning to call and say hello anyway.  Here’s a good excuse.

Find out the main reason they chose to spend money with you.  They sought a benefit, not a feature.

After that list all the features of your product or service and identify as many benefits as possible for each one.  You will find yourself speaking in your customer’s language before you know it.

© 2013 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

February 10, 2013 at 5:12 am

Four on the Floor

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“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” ~~Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you break a sale down to its essential components then you will find four parts.  These are:

  1. Receiving a referral and gaining an introduction to a decision-maker.
  2. Setting an appointment with the decision-maker.
  3. Meeting the decision-maker face-to-face.
  4. Making the sale.

If you simply assign one point per activity and make it a daily goal to attain four points or more, you are on the way to success.

A key is to do this every day, rather than bang out twenty points on Monday and coast the rest of the week, or the opposite and cram on Friday.  Steady activity is best.  Try to get three before lunch, too, so you have more time to prepare for the next day’s work.

Do this for three weeks and you may never abandon this simple process.

© 2013 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

February 3, 2013 at 8:29 am

Posted in HowTo, planning, sales

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Set the foundation for success

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“The best teams I’ve encountered have one important thing in common: their team structure and processes cover a full range of distinct competencies necessary for success.” ~~Jesse James Garrett

There is a vast difference between self-employment and business and one of the most comprehensive explanations is the B-I (Business-Investor) Triangle from Robert Kiyosaki.  Here is the illustration.

From Kiyosaki's Guide to Investing

The foundation of business success is a clearly defined mission and we will consider this as the first post of 2012.

Clearly defining your business’ mission statement provides focus and serves as the guiding framework for all the decisions that follow.

There are two main components to a mission statement.  One is more esoteric and the other more practical.  You can think of the first component as spiritual or philosophical.  It is usually unattainable…more of an ideal.  The second part is measurable and specific.  Naturally, both elements are complementary and work in harmony.

The philosophical mission for the company is where the organization focuses on what life-enhancing value can be brought to the marketplace. Henry Ford’s original mission for the Ford Motor Company was simply, “to democratize the automobile,” implying his wish to make automobiles affordable to the masses rather than just the wealthy few.

This was revolutionary in its day.  Many of Ford’s brick-and-mortar decisions were just as revolutionary partly because they emanated from this guiding philosophy.

The concrete mission is more tangible in nature and usually resembles to be the largest player in this space, or to realize revenues of x, or to provide services to x many customers, and so on.

Together, these concepts are foundational and serve as the basis of your business plan.

Your action this week is to get a three-ring binder and list eight tabs that correspond to the topics we will soon cover.  Specifically these are:

  • Mission
  • Team
  • Leadership
  • Cashflow
  • Communication
  • System
  • Legal
  • Product

Populate the Mission section with your philosophical mission and tangible mission.  The tangible mission should include timeframes such as the next ninety days, the next year, the next three years, and the next five years.

© 2012 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

January 8, 2012 at 2:11 am

Posted in business, HowTo, planning

Tagged with ,

How am I doing?

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“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” ~~ Ken Blanchard

The winds of change are always blowing.  Most business owners are too busy delivering products and services to take much notice.  Ignore it long enough, though, and you won’t know what hit you until it is too late.

It is essential to develop a system that solicits and deals with feedback on a regular basis.  There are five main reasons that most small business owners do not engage in this arena.

The biggest reason is a fear of negative feedback.  Humans are wired for approval and have a huge fear of rejection.  It may be hard to believe but all feedback is valuable and constructive.  Often there are side benefits of our service we didn’t expect and do not appreciate without the positive feedback that identifies it.  Once known, we can strengthen and systematize it for greater effect.  The same is true of negative feedback.

Your customers can identify new strategies and products that enhance your current offer, if you ask and listen.  They may have developed workarounds that are unnecessary with training or are worth addressing with redesign.

It is important to listen completely.  You should not ask for comment unless you are willing to accept negative responses.

Another set of reluctance reasons revolve around who to ask, when to ask, how to ask, and so on.  Human resource professionals often employ a 360-degree review that includes supervisors, peers, cross-staff, customers, support personnel, and so on.  As a business owner, consider asking everyone.  That would include customers (of course) as well as vendors, staff, business advisors, and the like.

When to ask is initially tied to touch points in the process.  After initial delivery, for instance, or upon project completion.

It is always advisable to build the feedback loop into your delivery process.  Cleaning companies will often checklist what they accomplished and encourage feedback.  Ideally, the same format is used with every visit.  You can solicit feedback on portions of your process as they occur.  How easy was it to place an order?  How helpful was our sales rep?

One last reservation that holds business owners back is a concern that they do not want to waste anyone’s time.  I submit that this is a cop-out.  If you solicit feedback every time you won’t see 100% response.  Adults will choose to respond or ignore it if they truly are too busy.  Silence is not golden, though, and you should always work for a high response rate.  Simplify the questions, incentivize the response, and value the feedback to raise the rate.

Your action this week is to take three specific actions.  First, examine your sales process and identify feedback points you can use.  Once marked, develop a simple tool (survey, perhaps) and began to gather and track results.  Finally, seek out 360-degree systems in place with your business partners and model their effort as possible.

The underlying key is to incorporate this into daily activity.

© 2011 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

October 16, 2011 at 2:05 am

Be the Message

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“Any general statement is like a check drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.” ~~Ezra Pound

The longer you are in business the more subject matter expertise you gain.  This knowledge can be shared and leveraged if you consider a strategy of doing just that.

There are a number of resources at your disposal.  Many publications, both virtual and physical, rely on quality content and editors are always seeking knowledgeable expertise to share with their readership.

Knowing this and taking action on it are two very different things and this can be a frustrating uphill climb until the first few opportunities appear.  Therefore, select topics where you have both expertise and passion.  At worst, you gain the advantage of sharpening your message while soliciting rejection letters and the passion will carry you through.

Nothing replaces activity for this process, so I will move directly to the action step.

First of all take an assessment of your personal expertise, unique perspective, and passion to share.  Find potential venues that might welcome this information.  Visit their websites and pay particular attention to the section targeting advertisers.  This is who the publication would like to gain traction with.  If your expertise aligns well that is a shortcut.

Second, outline four articles that reflect this expertise and will appeal to your intended forum.  Four is a good number to choose as it is wide enough to provide breadth without diluting the message.

Once you have this arena in mind write a letter of introduction to each perspective editor and pitch your idea.  Have a plan to deal with rejection.  The best bet is to listen for what the editor is looking for and the rejection provides an opportunity to have that conversation.

© 2011 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

September 11, 2011 at 1:53 am

The host with the most

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“The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.” ~~Brian Tracy

Last week we considered the benefits of sponsoring events.  This week we look at the other side of that coin and consider hosting events.

I am not referring to simple get-togethers—although they are also important—but talking about events tied to a purpose or reason.

These fall into two large categories—singular events and regular events.  Singular events happen once and are usually tied to a specific situation.  These may be grand openings, award ceremonies, and so on.  Although you may hold annual (or more frequent) award ceremonies this particular one is special and should be treated as such.  There is usually a theme and purpose.

Regular events are usually more casual social networking designed around a recurring pattern.  The theme is usually tied to food and drink or specific entertainment.

Consider a grand opening.  This is a wonderful time to showcase a new location or new product line or some similar watershed event.  Usually these are invitation only and align with the business.  An example might be a new music shop.  It is great to include musicians and this enhances the celebratory party-like atmosphere.  Another example may be a clothing store which could showcase new fashions on the runway, too.

In these events, consider some of the benefits to the host.  Start with the event itself and consider the purpose and how it aligns with your business goals.  Who will be invited and how will that happen?  Knowing that, who in my network would benefit from meeting these people?  How can this event maximize those introductions?  What kind of expenses can you anticipate?  Who in my network is looking for a way to help me?  What can I offer my sponsors?

Thoughtful preparation is the key to a successful event and some business people are very adept at making this event memorable and productive.  Consider some of the people who would benefit from meeting the guests.  They might be financial planners, estate planning attorneys, or bankers.  A caterer may also benefit and welcome the chance to showcase their ability.  A promotional items professional may engage a photographer in order to further their relationship.  The possibilities are varied.

If you are hosting an event engage sponsors for signage, invitations, and so on.  Commit to review the guest list with your sponsors and make personal introductions to the appropriate parties.

There is a lot of work involved in these singular events and attention to detail helps make them memorable.

One way to leverage the same effort is to host regular events.  They can simply be based around a common interest—such as cheering for a team—or as simple as a midweek wine-tasting.  Golf outings are an excellent venue.  By carving out a regular recurring event you can build relationships and provide a forum for connecting people in a friendly way.  In fact, this is an excellent way to deepen the roots of those significant relationships.

Your action this week is to consider some creative ways you can introduce your network to one another and celebrate an event by hosting a purposeful gathering.

© 2011 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

July 10, 2011 at 1:01 am