Category Archives: value proposition

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: 3 tips to maintaining a great pipeline of qualified prospects

Much has been written abfunnel by renjith krishnanout the importance of maintaining a great pipeline of qualified prospects. But pipelining skills are difficult to develop – and often even more difficult to maintain. I’d like to offer three suggestions that can help any recruiter enhance this critical skill. And by developing your pipelining skills, you can more easily achieve (or exceed!) quota.

To make it simple, my three suggestions align with three phases of a “generic” pipeline: (1) top; (2) middle, and; (3) bottom.

Suggestion #1: Top of pipeline

Creating a healthy pipeline begins here, at the top, by ensuring you have identified enough “suspects” and have converted them into “prospects”. Take care to ensure you have developed more than one “plan of attack” when it comes to identifying passive candidates.

For example, only relying on emails or on simply hoping people find you with some keyword searches will not suffice. You have to become aggressive and be sure that you include a schedule of regular cold calling to fill the top of your pipeline.

As a salesperson, I relied on cold calling to help me develop my pipeline of clients. Without excellent cold calling skills, my pipeline would quickly run dry. If it’s been a while since you’ve done any substantial cold calling, start now! And don’t forget to plan what you will say if you get voice mail.

When cold calling, be especially careful not to make the initial call all about your “great opportunity.” Instead, keep in mind the purpose of your first call is to get a second call. To that end, be sure you can develop enough of a “hook” to engage the prospect and generate just enough interest to make the person agree to a follow-up call.

Be sure you are leveraging the power of referrals to increase your network of suspects for the top of your pipeline. Nothing “warms up” a cold call like a referral! In addition, studies have shown that when you mention a mutual contact in your message or initial call, you are much more likely to have a successful call.

Also, keep track of your conversion rates. Do you know how many cold calls result in a second call? Or how many cold calls eventually convert into active prospects/applicants? These are minimum statistics that any great sales person will know. Remember that it’s the top of the pipeline that makes the middle and the bottom possible.

Suggestion #2: Middle of pipeline

Once you’ve had a few conversations with your prospect, how successful are you moving them through the pipeline? If you are experiencing dropouts after engaging them, then consider that you have not done a good job of developing a compelling value proposition.

It’s the value proposition that will keep your prospects engaged. Without enough perceived value, prospects will quickly opt out. A great value proposition begins by knowing exactly what’s important to your prospect. You can’t assume that everyone puts the same value on the same things. For example, a great teaming environment – or perhaps growth opportunities – may be appealing to some, but not to others. Don’t make the “one size fits all” mistake when it comes to value propositions.

A common mistake less experienced sales people – and some recruiters – make is to talk too much about their “great company” or “awesome opportunity”. Savvy prospects won’t respond well to you wanting to “introduce yourself and/or your company”. They don’t have time for that. This isn’t a cocktail party or mixer.

Be sure you have developed great questioning and listening skills to quickly and accurately identify the “buying criteria” of your prospect. Once you understand what is important to them when it comes to making a decision about a new career move, you can develop your “customer-focused” value proposition.

Remember, it’s not about you – it’s about them. Considering the enormous effort you put into cold calling and filling the top of your pipeline, it makes sense to be sure you know how to keep your rock star prospects engaged. Without a customer-focused value proposition, your prospect will be ripe to quickly drop out of your pipeline. And that means no further opportunity; no opportunity means a certain but slow drying up of the pipeline.

Suggestion #3: Bottom of the pipeline

Congratulations! You’ve successfully converted those suspects into prospects and have kept them interested with your great value proposition. But you’re not quite “home free”. Don’t assume that just because your prospect has invested time already, they are an “assumed close”. Quite the opposite.

Although you should be “closing” throughout the pipeline process, the closing skills become even more important at the bottom of the funnel. At this stage, prospects and candidates will have questions – or even objections – that will need to be addressed with skill and care. One misstep here and you will run the risk of losing the opportunity out of your pipeline.

And at this stage, the cost of the lost opportunity is much greater because of the amount of time you have invested throughout the pipeline process. Protect your investment by confirming interest and anticipating and addressing any concerns. Sharpen your ability to navigate objections (especially salary objections) and be especially vigilant in addressing each concern. Leave nothing assumed. Ask, clarify, and confirm.

So there you have it! Three tips – one for each part of your pipeline. Start by developing great cold-calling skills, and don’t forget to track your results. Then be sure you know how to develop value by keeping the focus on your prospect’s needs. Finally, pay specific attention to those great closing skills – including managing salary objections.

With these tips in mind, you will be well on your way to a productive and healthy pipeline!

To your success.

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan/freedigitalphotos.net

Why prospects stall out & what you can do to get them moving

If you’ve ever been frustrated because your “rock star” prospect just won’t make a decision to move forward with what looks like a great career move, you’re not alone. In sales and in recruiting, it can be very difficult to understand why opportunities just stall out.

newtons law stuart miles

And we can beat ourselves up trying to figure out what we did — or didn’t do — that resulted in “cold feet.”

In this post, I’d like to offer the underlying  reason why you might have a hard time getting your prospect to commit, as well as some practical suggestions that might help get things back on track.

Simple physics: A body at rest…

To gain some foundational knowledge about why prospects may have a hard time making a move, let’s start with a quick physics lesson. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.

In other words, it is going to take some amount of outside energy to get something to change it’s current state. Think of your reluctant prospect as the “body that is not in motion”. When we apply Newton’s law of motion to our stalled out prospect, we see that a possible root cause of this reluctance might simply  be there is not enough outside energy to overcome the inertia.

The person might not have reached a point where the status quo has been sufficiently challenged or exposed as a problem. As a result, then, your prospect simply is going to “stay at rest” because no outside force has triggered the motion. Stated another way, “no pain, no change”.

Tips to help you move a body at rest

One thing you need to check is the extent to which you have “built the case for change”. Perhaps you have not developed sufficient levels of dissatisfaction to have enough “outside energy” to overcome the inertia. For example, it’s one thing to simply identify “aspirations and afflictions“, but it might not be compelling enough for a person to make a change. The person might be thinking “so what?

To help in this case, you might want to try some “implication” questions to get your prospect thinking about the consequences of not making a move. For example, if the person is hoping for a shorter commute, ask them if they have thought about the implications of spending less time on the road and more time at home. Perhaps the value of “gaining time” (think: improved quality of life, or work:life balance) will move your prospect closer to the threshold of pain where they believe it’s time to change.

Another area to be aware of is the extent to which you are able to clearly articulate a value proposition that is tailored specifically to each prospect. When prospects don’t perceive enough value — outweighing this risk of change — they can become resistant to making a move.

Sometimes it’s tempting to talk about all of the positive things that your company can offer. Perhaps it is a flexible work environment, or a strong team culture, or great opportunities for growth and advancement. But if your prospect is not interested in any of these things, they won’t move forward. No matter how excited you are about what you can offer, or how compelling the argument, if it’s not of value to your prospect, it won’t matter. The “body will remain at rest…”

Be sure you spend time asking questions that get the person to clearly articulate what’s important when making a career move. And get the clear, complete list of things that are of value before you begin to demonstrate capability. Once you are sure that you have the list and understand what is of value, then carefully align your presentation with each of the points that are of value to your prospect.

And don’t forget to check in frequently with quick questions. For example, after sharing what your opportunity can provide that aligns with what is important to the prospect, be sure to stop and ask a brief confirming question. An easy confirming question might be, “Does this sound like it would address your need for clear growth opportunities?”

You can also use a brief confirming question after having a discussion about a specific objection or concern that has come up on the call. Once you’ve finished, simply ask, “Have I addressed your concern?” Or, “Does that answer your question?” And be sure to isolate the objection or concern by asking the open-ended question, “What other concerns do you have at this point?”

Remember that a big decision, like a career move, can be risky. And if prospects perceive too much risk, they will become resistant to change unless they believe that the benefits of making a move clearly outweigh the comfort of the body “remaining at rest“.

In order to avoid having your prospects stall out or become resistant to change, keep focusing on their needs and concerns, rather than on your “pitch” and “awesome opportunity”. And, finally, don’t forget to ask if there is any reason why they would not be comfortable moving forward in the process. Be sure to listen with attention and care to their concerns. Demonstrate your genuine interest in making the call a true “win-win”.

To your success!

Image courtesy of stuart miles/freedigitalphotos.net