Category Archives: cold calling

Don’t make this mistake when talking about the competition

When I was in sales, I was almost always in a competitive situation. Whether I was responding to a request for a proposal (RFP) or trying to develop a relationship with a prospect who was using a competitor’s equipment, I became accustomed to not being the “only game in town.”

honor and dishonor by stuart miles

Although competitors can keep us on our toes and might even bring out our “A game”,  managing competitive threats with clients and prospects can also drain us of energy and tempt us to make the common mistake of “bashing competitors”. But taking this “low road” is never a good strategy, and there is some very good research that helps us understand why this is the case.

Let me provide a couple of techniques that you can use to help you when you are talking with prospects and candidates who are evaluating other companies or career opportunities. But first, a brief refresher in psychology.

 Spontaneous trait transference

A study reported in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed a common — yet somehow unconscious psychological phenomenon — called spontaneous trait transference. According to the researchers, spontaneous trait transference plays a major role in how people form impressions of others.

Here’s how it works. When someone says something either positive or negative about someone else, the listener will somehow automatically attribute the same (either positive or negative) trait to the speaker. So the “trait” that the speaker is referring to (about someone else) subconsciously transfers right back to the speaker!

Here’s a concrete example of how this might work in recruiting. Let’s say that during a screening or prospecting call, you find that the other person is actively weighing other opportunities with your key competitors. After learning that you are up against a competitor, you share some information about your competitor that is unfavorable or unflattering — hoping to create fear, uncertainty or doubt in your prospect’s mind about the value your competitor can provide — thus, you hope, tipping the scales in your favor.

According to spontaneous trait transference, however, your candidate or prospect  will likely attribute those same (unfavorable or unflattering) traits right back to you, or to your company, and/or to your career opportunities!

In other words, if you say that your competitor’s work environment is hostile or not open to work-life balance, your prospect will likely believe that your company also has a hostile work environment and is not open to work-life balance.

Try these practical strategies

So what is the best way to try and provide a competitive advantage without falling into the trap of spontaneous trait transference?

First, be sure you have mastered some basic selling skills. Take the time to understand what is important to your prospect and be skillful and targeted in your value proposition.

Be diligent and thorough during the “discovery” phase of your screen or prospecting call. Be crystal clear on the things that are important to the other person when making a career decision. Ensure you have a complete list of the factors that will be used in the decision-making process.

Develop a tailored, unique value proposition — using the decision-making criteria you identified during discovery. Ensure that you completely and truthfully align your solution with what’s important to your prospect. Pay particular attention to confirming that what you are sharing indeed aligns with what is important to the other person. Be careful about making assumptions about interest, and watch out for excessive “selling” or talk time on your part.

Do your homework. Before you engage with prospects and candidates, have a thorough and rich working knowledge of your “product.” Be ready with short (“just like you”) stories that will reinforce how your opportunity can meet/exceed the requirements of your prospect or candidate. Great recruiters — and great sales professionals — know their product very, very well.

Once you have established a firm foundation – using these important selling skills — then you may also want to address your competitor, but be careful. Use positive phrases and make calculated comparisons. For example, you might say something like, “Yes, I know XYZ Company. They are a good company …”  Then bring your prospect back to what you can provide — the unique value you talked about earlier on your call and confirm if there are any concerns or questions that would keep the person from moving forward with your company or opportunity.

Or you might even say something like, “Yes, I am familiar with XYZ Company. They have a good reputation in our marketplace …”  Then you might try something like, “We actually have hired many great teammates who came from XYZ …

Then proceed to once again reinforce how others have found value at your company — but only share this if the value is relevant to what’s important to your prospect. And, of course, be sure to be honest when making your statements.

Again, be very careful to keep the tone positive, truthful and tailored to what is of value to your prospect. When you are tempted to badmouth the competitor, stop yourself. Don’t accidentally leave yourself open to spontaneous trait transference.

I remember when I was young, my mother always said, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything at all.” Guess mother was right!

Image courtesy of stuart miles www.freedigitalphotos.net

Close like a pro!

Of all critical skills in selling, the ability to gain commitment and to “close” prospects is key. But closing can bring images of sleezy characters in plaid jackets forcing decisions on people.

deal check by stuart miles

Today, top sellers know better. They know that closing is more than simply “reeking of commission breath” and pouncing on a “weakened and confused victim.”

If you can close correctly, you will reduce your selling cycles and increase customer satisfaction. But what does it look like to be a “great closer”? What exactly is the skill of closing? Let me offer a perspective that can answer these questions and increase your own closing skills.

First, I want to be transparent about my own bias. Here it is. I believe that although closing involves some very real “moments of truth” that need to happen before a sale is made, I also believe that closing is much more about a process than it is about a specific question – or answer.

More than the old “ABC’s” (always be closing), a great closer knows exactly where a prospect is in the decision-making process and can do two things: (1) ask the right questions, and; (2) test for commitment. Let’s take a look at each component.

Close with the right questions, not the right answers

Before you can assume a sale is made, it’s critical to know how to manage a sales process using powerful questions. What are the “right questions”? The right questions are the ones that map to your prospect’s buying process and help provide clarity and completion — for both you and for your prospect.

For example, before you move too quickly and start talking about your great solution, your awesome company or your unique career opportunity, be sure you have asked complete and detailed questions that help your prospect identify and clarify the needs or problems that your product or position can address. In a way, your first “close” happens when you have successfully identified the key factors that will drive your prospect to decide to make a change or purchase a product.

And don’t be afraid of asking tough questions – questions that may even surface objections. You actually want to identify key concerns or objections as a natural part of your selling/recruiting process. Getting the concerns on the table and addressing them – sooner than later – is a key “closing technique” that will help you ensure you are helping your prospect make an important and informed decision.

Close by testing for commitment

Another key closing skill to master is the ability to test for commitment. Throughout the listeningmeeting or call, great sellers know how to continually check in with prospects. They don’t make assumptions about interest – they are direct and clear in asking.

For example, after making a pitch about how a product or solution might address a prospect’s needs/concerns, great sellers always pause to check in. You can say, “Does that address your concerns?” Or, “What other questions do you have at this point? These types of questions are great “closing techniques”.

In the world of recruiting, it’s also important to test for commitment by asking about other companies or positions the prospect or candidate might be considering. So many recruiters find out too late (“no call, no show”) that the rock star prospect has just accepted a position with the biggest competitor.

Another very simple way to test for commitment is to ask! That’s right — ask for the business! I’m amazed at how many recruiters forget this step – particularly when screening active candidates. They don’t take a moment to close, using the simple question, “Is this a position you’d like to move forward with?” Or, “Based on what you’ve heard so far, would you have any hesitation about taking the next step in the process?”

By checking for commitment to the process, you are using great “closing skills”. You might be worried that you are sounding too “pushy” or “salesy” by testing in this manner. But know that great sellers – and great recruiters – know the importance of ensuring the commitment is there instead of making assumptions about interest.

Closing involves being aware of what is important to both you and your prospect during each encounter. Don’t be afraid to ask questions all throughout the decision-making process and continually test for commitment. Ask for what you want! Be clear, respectful and concise. When you pay attention to these two, key competencies you will enhance your skill as a great closer!

Happy selling!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at www.freedigitalphotos.net/

Recruiters: How to keep from becoming extinct!

I have seen some articles of late that suggest corporate recruiters will soon be unnecessary. They typically tout the power of the internet to attract and screen candidates and imply that “old-fashioned, human-to-human” recruiting has become too much of a cost center, without enough benefit. Destined, perhaps, for extinction.

Dinosaur by domdeen

In my world of sales, I’ve seen articles that also predict the demise of sales people simply because today’s buyers have access to so much information and typically are almost completely through their buying process before even talking with a sales person. Yikes.

Before we get too depressed, I want to offer a suggestion — and a challenge — to help ensure that you, as a recruiting professional, continue to be seen as a critical, value-added piece of the hiring process.  In fact, I believe that recruiters can (and do!) create tremendous value for hiring managers, prospects, candidates and companies.

The biggest problem, though, is that recruiters often don’t effectively rise above the crowd and create more value throughout the entire recruiting (and ‘buying’) process. In other words, they find out (too late) that their competitors have done a better job of understanding their prospects and markets and they don’t know how to gain a key, competitive advantage when it comes to engaging with prospects.

I’d like to propose a simple 3-level taxonomy to make my point. And the question you need to ask yourself is, “What level am I?

Level 1 Recruiters: Pitching jobs and companies

Level 1 recruiters may have excellent knowledge of their companies and/or open positions. But the mistake they make is they spend way too much time simply “pitching” or talking about their “awesome opportunity”. They spend very little, if any, time asking questions about their prospects. It’s all about speed and filling open requisitions.

Nothing special here. Your competitors also know their products very well. In addition, you run the risk of truly alienating prospects — especially your passive prospects. The old-school “pitchman” is a thing of the past.  If you recruit at this level, you will certainly become extinct.

When you think about it, what would distinguish a Level 1 recruiter from an awesome landing page on a well-presented corporate career website? Probably not much. Why would a company invest in someone who simply is a “talking brochure”? Stated another way, what would a prospect learn from you they wouldn’t be able to learn (on their own) from the website?

And what can the Level 1 recruiter do that a highly sophisticated resume key-word search program wouldn’t do when it comes to initial sourcing?

Level 2 Recruiters: Solving problems

In Level 2 recruiting, you identify (through your questioning and listening skills) a solid set of items that are important to your prospect, and you carefully align your job/company to match what’s important to your prospect.

Level 2 sellers are skilled at developing unique value proposition statements and know how to tailor their product or service to address a specific problem or need. A Level 2 recruiter would be able to discover key “pain points” (e.g., desire for career growth, or opportunities to work as part of a high-performing team). Then, the “product pitch” would focus on exactly how this opportunity can “solve” the problem the prospect is experiencing.

If you recruit at Level 2, you are probably providing a very similar experience as your competitors, and you are likely getting decent “sat scores” from hiring managers and candidates. From our experience — spending thousands of hours working with hundreds of recruiters — I would say most recruiters are at Level 2. But that brings me to my point. I am not sure that Level 2 recruiters are really showing key, competitive advantage.

So although Level 2 recruiters certainly can help prospects and candidates solve problems and prove value in opportunities, there’s still one more level that will set you apart from your competition and keep you from becoming extinct.

Level 3 Recruiters: Proactive, strategic partners

I think there’s some evidence that in the sales world the very top performers exhibit some other characteristics that truly set them apart. One of those characteristics is the ability to become a strategic partner with clients — one that helps clients see common business problems in a new light. Level 3 sellers are able to create insight — offering possibilities or a future that even their clients can’t yet see.

Level 3 sellers are very smart. Using high levels of customer, industry, and product knowledge, they put together insights that challenge the status quo and thinking of their customers. They put problems in a new light, and they offer innovative ways that their products and services can solve troubling business problems.

Level 3 sellers are proactive, aggressive and strategic. Using business acumen and product knowledge they position themselves as key, collaborative partners with their clients — not just “peddlers of products”. They have truly earned a spot at the decision-making table.

A Level 3 recruiter, then would be one who comes to each encounter prepared. Level 3 recruiters have done their homework — they not only know their product, but they know their markets, prospects, and trends very well.

Level 3 recruiters know how to ask the right questions at the right time — ones that help prospects see opportunities in new ways. To make the distinction between Level 2 and Level 3 recruiting, let me offer an example.

A Level 2 recruiter would be adept at identifying work-life balance as an important driver and (rightfully) share how the position or company would be able to provide the balance that’s important for the prospect.

A Level 3 recruiter, on the other hand, would ask powerful “implication” questions to help the prospect think through how having work-life balance might affect other aspects of the person’s life. In doing so, the Level 3 recruiter might help clarify or solidify the prospect’s thinking — possibly expanding it — and deepening the value proposition.

The Level 3 recruiter might also help the prospect identify new opportunities or challenges that were not originally identified. In our example of work-life balance, the prospect might begin to think about how much more important it is to have opportunities to volunteer in the community (as a result of better work-life  balance), or give back in some way. And perhaps … this line of conversation might even open up more opportunities to sell value (especially if your company prides itself on having strong community service ties).

And one more piece for thought …. I believe that when it comes to engaging top, passive candidates you must be a Level 3 recruiter. No other level will set you apart. Not Level 2 — and certainly not Level 1! You absolutely need to earn your right “at the decision-making table” as a trusted, strategic partner. And I believe that top, passive candidates expect Level 3 recruiting as the “price of entry”.

You get the point. Level 3 sellers — and recruiters — are not in any danger of becoming extinct. They have done their homework and create value by helping create new ways of thinking and new insight.

What level are you? What level do you think your prospects need? Your hiring managers? What can you do to make 2015 the year you move to a new level?

To your success!

Image courtesy of domdeen/www.freedigitalphotos.net

Recruiters: How to stop scaring your prospects off

In sales, and in recruiting, the ability to gain commitment and move prospects forward is a critical skill. But over the years, I have observed recruiters missing the mark when it comes to moving prospects to the next logical step. They either come on way too strong with the “dreaded pitch” or they make (incorrect) assumptions about interest or readiness.

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Even the most experienced recruiters can fall into bad habits or forget the fundamentals of gaining commitment. And when recruiters lack the skills to effectively move prospects forward, they almost always increase the time it takes to fill critical positions. And, even worse, they may inadvertently move a prospect forward who is not the right fit — resulting in poor quality of hire.

So here are three tips to help you increase your ability to gain important commitment — while not scaring away your prospects.

Tip #1: Listen more; talk less

When I was in sales, I don’t think we had one person in our group who was an introvert. We all had the “gift of gab” and hardly ever let a moment go by without sharing our favorite story or commenting on something that was happening. It was like almost everything needed to be processed out loud, and we delighted in winning more than our share of “air time”.

Of course, being comfortable in almost any social situation and striking up conversations with total strangers can be a key advantage in sales. However, when we confuse selling with non-stop talking, we will quickly scare off prospects.

No one likes to be on the receiving end of someone who won’t stop talking. At best, it is annoying. In sales and recruiting, the non-stop talker runs the very real risk of losing the sale and alienating the prospect. You won’t be effective in moving a prospect forward if you don’t have the skills to ask the right questions and then listen carefully to the answers.

Remember, “he who speaks first loses”. Some recruiters can become very nervous with silence or with listening. Somehow, they think that they are losing control when they are not talking. But it’s quite the opposite. You actually have more control over the call when you ask key, strategic questions and listen carefully (and follow up!) to the responses.

And if you’re one of those folks who is afraid that you might show your lack of expertise or knowledge if you don’t speak, remember the old adage, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” (Mark Twain).

Tip #2: Acknowledge and manage hesitation or objections

Another common problem we’ve heard on recruiting calls is the tendency to “rush the close”. We understand that recruiters are under great pressure to close job requisitions and are often measured on “time to fill”; however, a decision like a career move is an important one, and prospects need to minimized risk and clearly visualize the “desired future”. This decision-making process can take time and needs to be processed on both the logical as well as the emotional level.

Recruiters who dismiss hesitations and/or objections — or who don’t even recognize them — can easily alienate prospects. Hesitation is normal. And objections need to be anticipated (even in some cases, expected). If you start “giving away salary dollars” much too soon or making quick, unnecessary concessions, you might actually make your prospect uncomfortable or anxious.

Don’t always assume that hesitation means the salary might be too low — and “overcompensate” by immediately “overcoming the objection”, negotiating too quickly, or (even worse) talking about all of the “great benefits” of accepting this position or working in this company. If you start giving away too much too soon you can easily lose control of the call and unnecessarily drive up the cost of the hire.

When you rush the close, prospects can easily feel pressured and not heard. As a result, they may balk and indicate they “need more time” to make this decision. What they may really be saying is they already have made the decision (and it’s a ‘no sale’)!

Instead of rushing the close, be patient and listen. Ask questions to understand the needs behind the hesitation or objections. Using your active listening and inquiry skills, be sure to clarify and paraphrase the concerns. Understand the root causes and address them with genuine care and concern.

Tip #3: Have a clear “ask”

It might seem kind of basic, but are you in the habit of asking your prospects and candidates if they would like to move forward? I like to call it a “clear ask”. I am always surprised how few recruiters actually ask the candidate if they would like to move forward in the process at the close of the candidate screen. The recruiter simply assumes interest and starts talking about “next steps in the hiring process“.

You actually can scare the person off — but you may never know it! Not having a clear ask can inadvertently lead to moving prospects forward who are not really committed — or who have objections or concerns that have not been uncovered. And in some cases, this can cause candidates or prospects to become anxious or doubt if this is the right decision.

They may be hesitant to share their true concerns or may simply make their mind up that this is not the right fit — without letting the recruiter know. Here’s where you end up with the “no call, no show” and wonder what happened! Afterall, you thought you had such a great conversation … and the person seemed so interested.

Don’t forget that moving forward in  the hiring process needs to be a commitment on both sides. It needs to be the right fit for the prospect as well as for the recruiter. Be diligent about having a clear ask about interest in moving forward. And be open and ready to address any concerns that may arise.

To your success!

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Want to boost your success? Ask yourself these 3 questions

Much has been written about what it takes to be successful in sales — and in recruiting. Of course, there are many factors that can contribute to success.

keys to success by watiporn

And, while there are no magic methods or non-stop flights to instant success, at least three key attributes have become foundational for sales (and recruiting) success.

Take this short “self-assessment” using the three questions below to help you better understand how you rate on these three, critical attributes.

#1: Am I a learner ‘at heart”?

In her newest book Agile Selling top sales guru, Jill Konrath, tells us that learning agility is key to sales success. With an ever-changing and complex selling environment — as well as more educated and savvy customers — sales professionals must up their game when it comes to continuous learning and improvement.

It’s no different in recruiting. Your prospects and candidates have done their homework – and they expect the same from you. Research has shown that today’s buyers are more than 60% through their buying process before ever contacting a sales person.

How about you? Are you a learner at heart, or are you set in your ways — doing the same things in the same ways (…and expecting better outcomes!)? For example, when was the last time you refreshed your list of questions for your candidate screens? If it’s been a while, try a simple question audit. Get rid of low-impact questions that waste time on calls and replace them with high-impact questions that quickly move prospects and candidates forward.

Develop your selling skills — especially questioning and listening skills — or learn new ones. Successful recruiters are great sellers. And successful sellers spend time learning about their competitors. Why not make time each day to learn more about your competitors so you can be better prepared to successfully sell against them?

Have you thought about learning more about your “customers“? What is important to them (e.g., growth opportunities, company culture, work-life balance)? And be sure you up your game by learning about “your product” — your company and your job openings, so you can develop that powerful, tailored value proposition to close more candidates. Start by learning what problems can you solve for your prospects and candidates and then learning about how your product addresses what’s most important to them.

#2: How quickly to I bounce back from adversity?

In sales – as in recruiting — there are plenty of times when you might be tempted to feel down or discouraged. Days of cold calling or prospecting can leave you feeling depleted at best. But great sales people know that rejection is just part of selling. Top performers know how to get up — it’s the “bounce that counts”.

Daniel Pink, in his great book To Sell is Human: The surprising truth about moving others  says that “…staying afloat in an ocean of rejection… [p.99]” is key to selling success. He calls this attribute “buoyancy”. Buoyancy is not just a matter of being naive and full of false hope or unfounded optimism. It’s about developing the ability to be objective and balanced about each situation. It’s about not taking everything “personally”.

How about you? When you are tempted to feel down or rejected, how do you react? Do you bounce back rather quickly, or do you tend to brood and become self-critical or play the “victim” — taking everything personally?

Great sales professionals learn from each situation and can analyze each and extract the key learnings. They know that adversity and rejection are part of the sales process and can keep afloat. Begin enhancing your own buoyancy by trying to gain some perspective on each situation where you are tempted to despair. Can you ask some good questions that can lead to insight into why a specific situation led to an undesirable outcome for you? What part did you play? What might you do differently next time to change the outcome?

#3: Do I know how to help others buy?

The third, critical attribute is the ability to maintain a sharp customer focus. Great sales people know how their customers make decisions and are adept at facilitating the buying process — rather than pitching solutions. A great selling process is always aligned with how customers make buying decisions.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a “bad sales process” that is “seller-centric”. These sellers make it all about them and their product — leaving us feeling manipulated and coerced. As been said before, we can smell “commission breath” a mile away. And it’s not pleasant.

Top sales professionals — and recruiters — know the best way for them to reach their goals is to help prospects and candidates achieve theirs. The equation does not work the other way around.

How about you? When was the last time you thought about what it takes for a person to make a career move or decision? Try mapping your own “sales/recruiting process” to see how it aligns with your prospects’ decision-making process.

To help people buy, be sure that you are prepared to (a) ask questions that help others identify and clarify their needs; (b) answer questions to help people feel comfortable and avoid unnecessary risk; (c) demonstrate how your company and/or position is in a unique position to provide what’s important to your prospect, and; (d) gain commitment each step of the process.

So there you have it. Check yourself on these three attributes. Be honest. Develop these three, critical attributes and notice how your own success rate is enhanced!

To your success.

Image courtesy of watiporn at freedigitalphotos.net