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Saturday, July 19, 2014

(SALES) Yes, There Really Are Stupid Questions


One of our daughters has a boyfriend (Jake) who just passed his insurance exams and is an intern at a big insurance/financial planning company. As a favor to him we agreed to meet with him and his ?training mentor? as prospects. For me, life is one big sales seminar and I love helping new sellers become successful. So to get a glimpse of how this major company trained its sellers was going to be enjoyable, or so I thought.

We were told that because Jake was in training, he was just going to observe the meeting. Then the trainer started the meeting by asking, ?So, what do you do?? Carolyn cringed because she knew what was coming next. ?We teach salespeople to prepare in advance for meetings so they don?t ask silly questions and waste prospects? time,? I said. After some nervous laughter trying to figure out if I was serious, he explained that they usually spend the first 20-30 minutes of a new client meeting getting to know the client. Had the trainer spent just 10 minutes reviewing our website, LinkedIn, Facebook etc., he would have had some focused questions and would have been armed with information that made the start of the meeting far more productive and engaging.

It?s amazing to me that a huge insurance/financial company has a ?mentor? teaching new sellers to ask stupid questions. ?So, what do you do? indicates laziness, lack of preparation, and is a horrible way to start a meeting. Ten years ago, before the existence of LinkedIn, Facebook and the availability of information, maybe it was more acceptable. Today -- inexcusable. Beyond that, Jake set up the appointment and his ?trainer? certainly could have asked Jake what we did for a living. He didn?t even bother to do that.

Purchasing magazine conducted a survey and came up with the ?Top 10 Things Salespeople Do That Buyers Dislike.? 

1. Lack of preparation. (?So what do you do??)
2. Lack of interest or purpose (?Got anything coming down this week?? or ?Just checking in.?)
3. Over aggressiveness and failure to listen.
4. Lack of product knowledge
5. Lack of follow-through
6. Taking the customer for granted
7. Lack of awareness of the customer?s operation (?So what do you do here anyway??)
8. Failure to make and keep appointments
9. Lack of creativity
10. Failure to keep promises

It?s hard to imagine anyone in the profession of selling being guilty of such seemingly easy things to avoid; yet it happens every day. Sadly, I even caught myself using the phrase, ?Just checking in? with a client this week. 

When it comes to preparation, I?ve developed a ?pre-contact? checklist that I?m happy to share with you. Just shoot me an email and I will provide it free.  It?s a list of simple and easy things you can do in advance of calling or meeting with a prospect. You?re probably doing some of these things already. Here are a few of my favorites:

? Review the company website. Generally it will tell you who the important players and decision-makers are in a company. It will also tell you the company?s history, products, and services. It?s a wealth of information and most companies today have websites.
? Review social media sites. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube channels. More and more people are publishing more and more information about themselves on publicly available sites. It?s amazing, bordering on scary, how much information people share.
? Do a Google search. Just a simple Web search of the person or company you?re calling on can generate a lot of information that will be very valuable in the sales process.

I?m going to buy a copy of The Accidental Salesperson for Jake. He didn?t plan on a career in sales. My first experience with the company- provided training is that he will need some help. You might consider re-typing the list of buyer dislikes and hanging them in your office. If we all commit to avoiding the dislikes we can get better. Or, better yet, take the list of dislikes, and turn them into your ?TO DO? list. (This goes back to the basic concept of visualizing what you want to do instead of what you don?t want to do -- instead of the batter telling himself, ?Don?t strike out,? he tells himself, ?Hit a home run.?)

? Prepare
? Show interest and purpose (?The reason I?m calling today is...?)
? Listen
? Know your product/service inside out
? Follow-through
? Say ?Thank you? and appreciate your customers
? Be keenly aware of what your customers? operations are all about
? Make and keep appointments
? Be creative
? Keep all your promises. (Say what you will do, then do what you say.)

The meeting wasn?t a total disaster. It was, after all, a teaching moment. Let?s hope the next meeting has more preparation and more engagement.

In my experience I have learned that people love to buy. I?ve also learned that people love to talk about themselves. When you invest the time before the meeting, not only do you have the ability to create smarter,  more-focused questions, you show the prospect that you care about them enough to work for their business. See if the ?Pre-Contact? checklist might help focus your pre-meeting planning time in a productive fashion. In the space below please share your favorite activity to prepare for a meeting.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach Jeff at

Twitter: @JeffreyASchmidt

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