“I’m happy with my current provider.”

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

—Pharrell Williams


Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedOf all the sales skill workshops I conduct, by far my favorite is helping salespeople get appointments with prospects and customers over the phone. In addition to giving the learners a number of important guidelines in making effective outbound calls (e.g., never say, “This is Name from Company, how are you today?”), we spend a lot of time helping them through objection handling, the biggest obstacle to the initial goal of getting a conversation started.

One of the toughest objections we all hear is that the prospect is deliriously happy with his current provider. Of course we know this is seldom true. Who on earth is madly in love with his bank for example?  But to hear the prospect tell it, you’d think they were holding hands.

In objection handling, you have to be careful not to sound defensive. In other words, you would never say, “Oh but you don’t know how great our services are!” It’s important to listen and be consultative.  Help the prospect solve his “problem” in the role of a thinking partner.

Do you need your Business Banking sales team to get more appointments?  Do you need your retail bankers to get customers to come into the branch? Do you need your investment sales reps to have more face-to-face appointments? If you’re in health care, do you want your reps to get into that hospital or those doctors’ offices? Of course you do.

So helping them become more effective on the phone is an important priority, and a great deal of their improved effectiveness will come from dealing smoothly with the “I’m happy” objection.  Of course there are other difficult objections which I’ve discussed here before: “Send me something in the mail,” “too difficult to switch,” “too busy to talk to you now,” and a few others.

Off the top of my head I can think of three very strong responses to “I’m happy” that will keep your conversation on track and lead to an appointment. How good are you at doing the same?

Here’s a deal for you.  Send me just one of yours by email and I’ll send you back my three, no charge of course.  Then you’ll have some good techniques to practice and share with your sales team. If this is an important issue for you, write me offline at:  Gregory at actionsystemstraining dot com.

I’d love to help you…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: How to make role play work as a training tool

One of my clients negotiates payments between their insurance company customers and the health care providers who send the bills. My client makes its money by taking a cut on what they save the payer.  I help their sales team with calling skills and their telephone negotiators with negotiation skills.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedIn one of our sales team workshops we discussed a tactical approach to a delicate conversation, and one of the learners raised her hand and said, “Let’s role play it.” Because I seldom hear this from a workshop participant, I was surprised and pleased.  What I have learned over the years is that the more committed and engaged the employees, the more willing they are to do anything they can to improve. Not everybody hates role play.

In my last post here I talked about the down side of role play, when it doesn’t work. But because it is such a powerful learning tool, let’s balance the scales today and share some best practices that will make it more effective.  Here are three ideas to consider in using role play to train your sales team:

Keep them short—Practice short, realistic scenarios.  There is less discomfort, greater concentration and greater likelihood of retention.  For example, at a sales meeting you’re discussing how to open the on-site call. After various ideas have been shared, say to your team, “You are making an on-site call to a good prospect.  After the introductions when everyone is seated, what’s the first thing you should say?  (Name), you go first.”

Provide expert, relevant feedback—Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.  This means that whoever is giving the feedback should have some expertise. If you’re the sales manager or the training facilitator, it’s usually you. In the scenario for opening the call above, it’s good to have other team members share their best practices when it’s their turn, but make sure the feedback is on target and provides specific help.  Say, “It helped when you asked the prospect to comment on the agenda you sent. It was a useful way to get him engaged right away.” Don’t say, “You asked a couple of good questions.” See the difference?

For this same reason, short fishbowl role plays, in which each learner practices before the entire group, are preferable to learners working in pairs where the partner may not be competent to provide useful feedback.

Use a structured feedback model to build confidence—My preference is to seek comments from the learner first about what went well, and have others comment specifically on the same topic, to reinforce positive behavior. Only then do I allow the learner to talk about an opportunity for improvement, which allows for self-discovery and commitment and keeps the learner from being daunted by the negative data dump of what he didn’t do well.  “You didn’t ask enough open-ended questions and you forgot to mention the promotion…” Unless I nip this early, there is a tendency for the other team members to overload.  Once the learner acknowledges a key area for her own development, you’re pretty much done with the feedback.

Keep in mind that role play, along with simulation, is the most powerful of all experiential learning tools, so don’t abandon it. Just work harder to use it well.

If you have tips, ideas or practices that work well for you, please feel free to share them in your feedback.  My wife keeps telling me I don’t know everything and of course she is right.

Think Like Your Customer

How useful is role play as a training tool?

One of the brightest consultants I know is Ned Miller of MZ Bierly Consulting.  Ned has a strong background of experience and skill in training and consulting, and is a gifted writer.  We are connected on LinkedIn and I enjoy his posts.

I mentioned to him that I was intrigued by this comment about him on his LI profile:  “While working with Linda Richardson, he developed an aversion to role plays that continues to this day.”

My thinking was that if Ned has reservations about role play, he must have good reason, and since I use role play a lot in my own training programs, I wanted to be sure I had an objective view of when role play is helpful and when it may go wrong.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedSo let me take Ned’s point of view and point out some danger areas, so that as a sales manager or trainer you yourself don’t simply say, “Oh, let’s just have them role play it,” with no thought to the objectives of learning.  (Admit it, you do this too!)

Safety and comfort—There’s no getting around the fact that many people just don’t like role play. As powerful a learning tool as it can be, it does make some people squirm.  From a trainer’s perspective, remember that you have an obligation to provide a safe, comfortable learning environment. People learn best when they are engaged but also relaxed. Consider that frequent role play, especially fishbowl (which I use often) can be difficult for some learners in your group.

Observer competency—Someone must observe the role play for the purpose of providing feedback, because useful feedback is the key element of the learning.  The role player must have help in seeing what was effective and what needs improvement, or you don’t get the desired benefit. But often the observer is a colleague of the role player with the same knowledge and skills and may a) not know what is effective or not, or b) not know how to phrase the feedback to benefit the role player.  How many times have you heard the observers perform a complete audit of the role player, listing everything they thought the role player “did wrong” or left out? That’s not useful feedback.

Facilitator monitoring—I know I can’t hear everything that’s said in every role play of groups of pairs, and usually I’m the best equipped to provide feedback.  I can’t be everywhere at once.  In a recent session I was working a group through an objection handling model, the first step of which is to make a statement of understanding or empathy after the customer objection. Just about all trainers use such a model.  As an example, we used price as the objection. I asked one participant to role play what he would say to a customer who said, “Your price is too high.” His response:  “I completely understand that you might THINK our price is too high…”  My first thought was that this approach showed no understanding or empathy whatsoever, and would probably lead to an argument.  My second thought was that I was glad I got to hear it. Suppose he did the same thing in isolation with a partner. He would have learned nothing.

Next week I’ll give you some ideas on how to use role play effectively and avoid some of these pitfalls. But until then, go have a look at Ned’s profile on LinkedIn.  He’s a pretty sharp guy.

And of course always remember to…

Think Like Your Customer

Product Knowledge Training? Time for my nap!

Perhaps the worst programs I ever attended when I was in sales were product training. Managers will often lament sales ineffectiveness by saying, “My people need more product training.How can they sell if they don’t understand the product?”  Well, okay, but it’s how the training is designed that matters.

Consider my own tag line, “Think Like Your Customer.”  The difficulty with much product training is that it focuses on the product and its features, rather than the information a top salesperson needs to know in order to sell it.  Strong salespeople think like their customers.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedNext time you have a say in how product training is delivered to your sales team, follow these simple steps. Don’t let product reps come to you with a prepared deck. Instead, direct them to answer your questions, as follows:

Give us an elevator speech on the product. Very briefly, what is it and what does it do? “Rewards points are a customer incentive to encourage the use of debit cards because electronic transactions are cheaper than paper check processing.  They work just like frequent flier miles.” Just a paragraph in layman’s language will do.  Try to focus on facts that you think the audience will not be familiar with.  Good examples are the approximate fee for the service, some recent modification to the product, or a feature no other company has.  In stating the benefits, give us the ones you use when describing the product to a prospect, making sure they are very specific, “you’ll find this service helpful because it will save you the expense of…or the time it now takes you to…”

Who uses it?  Don’t give us, “Anybody who likes to travel,” or “all small business owners.”  We need specific descriptors of the target groups of users or prospects. Describe the market segment of the customer who might use the product, or the most likely candidate.  For example, a target group such as, “mid-life loyal customers who tend to use the Financial Center,” is superior to the first examples.  To answer this question fairly, look at the characteristics of the customers with whom you are currently successful.  Who seems to use this product the most?  Aside from their age, income and number or other demographic information, what are these people worried about?  What are their attitudes and feelings?  These types of descriptors are useful to salespeople.

Give us the best probes.  If you were there to talk to the customer yourself, what are the three to five most important questions you would ask? We’re looking for open probes that obtain information and get engagement.  For example, “How do you pay for everyday purchases?” or “What part does technology play in the way you run your business?” are far more powerful than, “Do you have this kind of product now?”

How does our product differ from our competitors?  We would like more specific information on differentiating features.  We want to know what we have that some competitor doesn’t. “Our turnaround time is only one day; most of our competitors take two or more,” is a good example.  Cite price differences where you know we have an advantage.  If product managers have put together spread sheets showing competitive fee structures, these would be most helpful.

Tell us the objections we will hear and how we deal with them. Having sold this product many times, you probably hear the same objections over and over, and no doubt have learned to deal with them.  Give us some pointers on what we can expect, and what we should say in reply.  If there are objections that you commonly hear from the field that are difficult to counter, it would be useful to hear of those also.

What’s our role in the selling process?  Do we make the sale ourselves, refer it to someone else, make an appointment for someone?   Do you want to coach us and have us follow up?  How deeply do you expect us to go in the sales process?  What works best?  Give us your feelings on this; it will help us to work with you in the most time-efficient manner.

Your salespeople are your customers in this kind of training, so…

Think Like Your Customer!

Don’t Say Anything At All!

What’s the first thing you should do when the customer objects during your sales presentation?

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedWhen we began discussing objections we said that the first step in our model is to make a statement of empathy or understanding, for example, “I can certainly understand your concern.”  But there’s an earlier step you can incorporate after the objection and before you say anything at all, and if you can make yourself do it, you will find it to be incredibly effective.

Simply pause before you speak.  Don’t say anything at all!  This is a short hesitation (“one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three” is about right) and during this time make sure you appear to the customer to be interested and concerned, as opposed to scowling at him or looking flustered or exasperated.

Great communicators know how to use silence effectively and this is one of those occasions.  Let’s look at four helpful reasons why a pause after the objection is a good tactic:

  • When you fail to answer immediately, it gives the customer an opening to continue talking.  If he wants to continue to object, that’s just fine. Let the customer talk.  Remember that when the customer is talking, he is buying.  Allowing a brief pause after the objection gives the customer this great opportunity to continue.  In my own experience this is sometimes enough to quell the objection as customers will often talk themselves right out of it:  “It’s probably not that big a deal; I shouldn’t even have brought it up.”  Your silence allows the customer to self-discover.
  • It demonstrates to the customer that you have taken the objection seriously. It’s a sign of respect and helps maintain rapport. The customer will see that you are not being defensive or combative.
  • The next thing you say will be important, so it gives you additional time to think. Next you are going to make a statement of empathy. Think about how you want to phrase it.
  • The pause also tends to reduce the emotional tension in the conversation, restoring calm, which is just what you need. Objections generally have some emotion attached to them.  You want to restore the quiet, tension-free level that preceded the objection in order to advance your sale.  Some salespeople think it’s important to counter an objection with a snappy comeback, so you look prepared and informed.  Not so.  The risk of the snappy comeback is that you cause the customer to think you are arguing with him.  Be careful.

We have more to discuss on this subject and in a future post I’ll share three words you should never use when responding to an objection.

Meanwhile, remember to…

Think Like Your Customer!

Fable Friday Part I: The New York Times crossword and other stories

The New York Times had a fun clue a few weeks ago, four letter answer:  Be a very fast learner?  The answer was “cram.”

Gregory Solo Medtronic 2010The clue got me thinking about the times I’ve had to cram for a test.  Now I make my living teaching people how to sell things, and although it’s an important skill, you wouldn’t think of it as urgent, something you have to cram for.  But over the years I’ve done a few projects where it was critical that people learned skills very quickly, and I thought you would enjoy two of them, one today and another next Friday.

Long before many of the big banks merged, there was a great commercial bank in Chicago that had about the best suite of treasury services in the country.  Their call center was enormous and fielded thousands of product-specific help calls throughout the day.  The manager of the call center was concerned that he had hundreds of subject matter experts on specific products, but no one who knew them all.  This caused routing and queuing problems and wasted time.

It’s easy to see why.  A customer might wire money and the bank would process the wire through the Fed. Later the customer would call back just to get the Fed wire number to confirm the funds had been remitted. Simple enough, but only the wire people could help. So while wire customers were queued up and waiting for help, other consultants might be idle.  It reminded me of the book “Fahrenheit 451”, where, if you wanted to read “Moby Dick” you had to go to the guy who had memorized it, since all books were banned.

Here’s what the manager wanted us to do.  Direct each of the telephone reps to track their top ten most frequent customer inquiries.  Then during slow periods, teach our company’s consultants how to answer the inquiry.  (“Go into Hogan, click on ‘Wires’, locate customer ID number…”)

We took our lists of inquiries and solution steps back to Dallas and wrote them up in direction step language, accompanied by icons (“Stop”  “Go To” etc.), then brought them back to the subject matter experts to verify they were correct.  “Walk through this inquiry following only our directions and tell us if we left anything out, or if there is an error.” We fixed or enhanced all the directions from their feedback.

Then we took them to a few tele-consultants who had no familiarity with the process and asked them to respond to the inquiry following the completed steps.  When this worked, we taught groups of people how to answer each of these questions in short, two-hour sessions in the late afternoons, using our directions as guides.  The newly trained tele-consultants then took the guides to their work stations and began accepting customer calls for the specific inquiries they had just been trained to handle.

In six months we had trained the entire call center to handle the top ten inquiries for every treasury service, which sped up customer handle time and reduced abandon rates significantly. And as the newly trained tele-consultants got more familiar with the products, inquiries and systems, they learned on their own how to answer additional questions.

It was a huge money-saver for the bank, and I always thought that manager was a genius. He knew how to get his people to cram for the biggest test of all, how to…

Think Like Your Customer

Next Friday we’ll look at how those catalog companies know how to sell you a tie to go along with that shirt you bought over the phone.





Fable Friday: Sight gags and another trainer’s tip

Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers in the classic film “The Pink Panther” is frustrated by his inability to catch “The Phantom” played by David Niven, and his female accomplice, played by Capucine, who is also Clouseau’s own wife.

We see him fuming in his office as he absent-mindedly spins a huge globe.  He says, “We must find that woman!” And with that he puts his hand out to lean against the spinning globe, which causes him to fall to the floor.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedThis type of humor is known as a sight gag.  The joke is in what you see rather than in what you hear. The Pink Panther films, Marx Brothers films, Three Stooges and others were filled with sight gags, and they present a unique and hilarious form of humor. I love them!

So here’s one you can use as a trainer which I employ when I teach negotiation or sales skills. Walk across the training room and deliberately trip or stumble. Make it realistic. Now look behind you to see what it was on the floor to make you stumble like that.

Say to the learners, “What did you see me do just then?  I tripped, then looked behind me to see what I had tripped on.  Why do you think I did that?  There is clearly nothing on the floor that could have caused me to trip.”

After some discussion of this, someone will point out that this is a very common occurrence. When people stumble, they will often look back to see what they tripped on. Perhaps you have done this yourself.

The point here is that we do this to save face. We want those who saw us trip, not to think we are clumsy or awkward. Looking back at the floor or sidewalk is our way of saying to the world, “I don’t usually stumble.  There must have been some bump or something that caused me to trip.”  It’s our way of saving face.

So what does this tell us about conducting a negotiation or a delicate sales conversation?  You cannot succeed if you cause your client to lose face.  Be careful not to use language that backs people in a corner, or makes them feel helpless, uninformed or unintelligent.  Language that includes an “or else” in it and other displays of your power position are very poor technique. Try always to help others save face.

You can create your own sight gags to make a learning point or at least keep your group relaxed, engaged and having fun in your sessions.  Use your imagination.

I saw a fun one the other day while watching my son practice piano. He was playing “The Minute Waltz” and he knew I was watching him.  At one point during the piece he played with only his right hand, and lifted his left wrist to look at his watch, as if to see if the “minute” was up yet, all with a straight face and without missing a note. Victor Borge would have been proud. I know I was.

Here’s to you, my readers, in the hope that you have a wonderful, relaxing holiday with your own family and friends. I’ll be back after the New Year.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: Tea for Two and a trainer’s tip

You’ve all heard the popular song “Tea for Two,” as just about every recording artist has done a version of it, and in today’s Fable Friday I’ll tell you the story of how it was written.  The song first appeared in the musical “No No Nanette” in 1925 with music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Irving Caesar.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedSo it’s the middle of the night and Youmans is tinkering with this melody on the piano and finally he nails it.  Excited about the bouncy tune, he calls his collaborator Irving Caesar and gets him out of bed.

“Irving, I just wrote this song. You’ve got to hear it.”  He plays the melody on the piano into the telephone.  Caesar says to him, “You woke me up at 3 in the morning to play me a song? It’s a fine song, now let me go back to sleep.”

Youmans said, “Irving listen to me. You’ve got to give me the lyrics while I have the song in my head. We’ve got to do this now. This song is going to a terrific. Quick, give me the lyrics. We’ll finish it tonight.”

Exasperated, Caesar gives him the first words that come into his head. He sings into the phone, “’Picture you upon my knee, just tea for two and two for tea. Just me for you and you for me alone.’  Now let me go back to sleep and I’ll write the real lyrics in the morning.”

Well, the morning came and the two met and after fooling with different approaches, decided they couldn’t do any better, and Caesar’s hastily created lyrics remained in this popular song, followed by the even sweeter line:

“Nobody near us to see us or hear us
No friends or relations
On weekend vacations”

I often think of this song during training sessions when we break out into small groups, or “buzz groups” where the learners are asked to come up with as many ideas as they can on a topic. A good trainer’s tip if you ever do such an exercise is to remember that 90% of the good ideas will arise from discussion in the first 4 minutes of the activity.

What this means to you as the trainer is that you should be mindful of the time and the group’s progress to ensure maximum results. Don’t start the exercise and then look at your phone to check your messages. Instead, walk among the groups and listen to their discussions.  When it’s obvious that discussion is waning and no more ideas are forthcoming, stop the exercise.

Of course during the debrief, make sure to get one idea from each group, moving around the room until you get all their ideas.  If you debrief all of each group, then the last group will usually say, “All our ideas have been mentioned,” which diminishes their sense of participation.

In his outstanding book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell provides a great deal of evidence that our first responses, or gut instincts to solve a problem are often proved to be correct.  Trust the judgment and experience of your learners in problem-solving activities such as this. Give them a question and direct them to solve it quickly.  You’ll manage workshop time more effectively and keep the learners engaged. That’s how you…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: The power of words and a boustrophedon trainer’s tip

A few weeks ago I was conducting a training program in Seattle, and after reviewing the program objectives and agenda, I asked the learners to tell me what they wanted to get from the program.  (That’s a good idea if you’re a trainer. Tell them first what the course is about, then give them a chance to add their own needs.  Be “learner-centric.”)

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedWell, it was a big crowd, maybe 70 people sitting in three sections, one in front of me and one on each side. I started with the row of learners in the back and when I got to the end of the row, no one knew who should go next.  I said, “Okay, then let’s do a boustrophedon movement, and you go next,” pointing to the learner sitting directly in front of the last one to speak.

Now boustrophedon is not a word you hear every day, but I had some fun with it in this session because I shared the meaning with the learners. Boustrophedon is a method of writing in which lines are written alternately in opposite direction, from left to right and right to left. It derives from the Greek, literally “ox turning”, which refers to the movement of an ox while plowing a field (“bous” means ox, and “strophe” means turning).  You pass a collection plate in church in a boustrophedon movement. At the end of the row you pass the plate to the person behind you, and so on.

So why is this important in the context of this blog?  My last two posts have focused on the power of words, and their accurate usage.  The more words you have in your vocabulary, or inventory, the greater is your ability to select the perfect word when selling, negotiating, coaching or managing, and as we saw in the last two posts, words have powerful impact on the feelings of those you speak with.

Last week I got an email from a client, whose company negotiates with health care providers in behalf of insurance companies, who are their clients. He wanted to know what to do when the hospital says, “We don’t negotiate!”  Clearly, “negotiate” is a bad word in the mind of the hospital accounts receivable folks.  It’s the word that’s in the way, not rational discussion of the hospital bill.

So to my way of thinking, the right response is, “Okay, then let’s not negotiate it. Instead, let’s spend a few minutes reviewing this bill so I can get some clarity on how it was computed.”  There, now you’ve begun your negotiation!

All my life I’ve loved the magic and power of words.  I hope you get the bug too, because  the more words you know, the more clearly you’ll communicate.  Make an effort to learn a new word each day, and if you’re a trainer, include a fun word into every session as an example.

Here’s a good one.  “I went to pay for my movie tickets and was nonplussed when I found my wallet was missing.”  You were upset, confused, disconcerted.  This word is often misused as “unfazed, nonchalant,” so often that the opposite meaning is now recognized as a secondary definition in dictionaries.  You don’t ever want to misuse a word and then have to back-pedal with “the dictionary also shows this alternate meaning.”

And finally, do you know why autotonsorialists save a lot of money on haircuts? Words are fun, aren’t they?

Think Like Your Customer

Pay no attention to that sales trainer!

I worked this week with a terrific group of learners at a training session in Charlotte, NC, and a topic came up for discussion that I have heard before.  I’ll share it with you here and you can add your own opinions and help all of us learn.

A commercial banker is calling on a top prospect, and since he expects to learn a great deal during the call about the company’s strategy, progress, obstacles, future plans and current financial situation, he naturally intends to take notes.  What is best to do among the following three choices?

A)      Simply take out your notepad and begin to take notes.

B)      Say to the customer, “Because the information you are about to provide me will be important and useful, I’m going to make notes on the key issues.”

C)      Ask the customer if he minds if you take notes

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedYou might think that the prospect assumes you will take notes in an important meeting like this, so that choice A is fine.  Or you might think that while choice A is fine, it is polite to let him know what you are doing. Or, you might argue that no prospect would say no anyway, so why not make a polite request.

When this came up during the session, I stated my own preference for choice B, but when others suggested their reasons for choices A or C, I didn’t argue, as they are perfectly reasonable and I think more a matter of style than anything else.

Here’s another one for you.  I participated in an on-line sales forum in which ideas and best practices are kicked around.  Someone posted that he learned from a sales trainer that when you show up at an on-site call, you should never thank the prospect for taking the time to see you, the reason being that your time is valuable too, and that you expect to add value during this call.

Now is this a good idea or a bad idea?  What’s your style? Should you change your behavior because the sales trainer tells you to?

Here’s my take on discussions like this.  When people attend my programs I would like them to consider whether or not my ideas and suggestions to improve their performance will actually fit with their own personal and professional style, and I accept that not all people come to training to be “sheep dipped” in my methodology.  Generally speaking, people take from a sales training program those ideas they believe will help them, and you cannot force them to act differently.

Where I draw the line is a situation in which the CEO or head of the line of business has stated that he or she wants certain processes done in a certain way, such as call preparation and reporting. Those are non-negotiable and part of the client’s sales process.

So the next time the sales trainer tries to tell you “this is the best way to do it” and you don’t think so, stick your hand in the air and say, “let’s talk about that.”  If the sales trainer is any good, your objection should be very welcome.  But if you hear or sense any defensiveness, you have the wrong person running the program.

By the way, what are your own thoughts on the note taking question, and on thanking your prospect for his or her time?  I’d like to hear, as it will help you to…


Think Like Your Customer