What separates good salespeople from great salespeople? How do you polish and execute on your pitches, so you can rake in commissions? You may not like the answer.
You may not like it because it doesn’t imply action. In fact, the answer we’re proposing here sounds a lot like homework. Another reason some people may not like it is because it requires honest introspection. It requires you to look at your process and admit that yes, there is room for improvement.
So what is this solution that’s going to help you increase your close rate so dramatically?
It’s the humble sales autopsy.
The basic idea is this: Every time you take a prospect from initial contact to close-or rejection-you conduct an analysis afterwards. That’s it. It’s the one tactic that most salespeople forgo, to their detriment.
Let’s talk benefits:
That last one is big. Time is money. By doing a sales autopsy every time you can identify time-wasting activities. Now imagine if you don’t do this analysis. You’ll never identify your time leaks.
That is like throwing money in the trash.
In this guide, you’ll find out what to ask yourself when things go wrong, you’ll learn what to ask a prospect when they decide to go with your competition and you’ll learn three incredibly powerful psychological tactics you can use to earn more sales going forward.
A sales autopsy doesn’t have to overly structured or rigid. Just by asking yourself the questions in this guide you’ll be miles ahead of salespeople who don’t. But we do suggest you create a special folder in EverNote, OneNote or whatever note-taking application you use for this purpose. Keep each autopsy in its own folder and review them periodically.
What to Ask Yourself When Things Go Wrong
In this section, we’ll look at the broad-spectrum questions you can ask yourself to find and plug holes in your sales process. We guarantee that if you ask yourself these questions each and every time, you will find and fix issues that are holding you back.
1) Were you using your ideal customer profile as a guide?
You can’t be all things to all people. Some people will need your product and others won’t. So when analyzing a past sales attempt, ask yourself: did the target fit my ideal customer profile?
The problem with trying to appeal to a broad array of potential customers is that when your prospects are different, your approach will have to be different too. That allows inefficiency to creep into your operation. And that, in turn, allows money to flow down the drain.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple types of buyers, but keep in mind that the more people you try to please, the harder you’ll have to work. And if you’re living on commissions only, efficiency is everything.
Here is a short tune-up for your personas:
Firmographic data: Descriptive attributes of firms that you can use to lump these companies or prospects into meaningful market segments. Examples: industry, location, size, performance, structure.
2) Did you plan your work and work your plan?
The most common mistake in sales is not having a predefined sales process. Not following the plan you’ve put into place is a sure way to fail. Every sales pitch goes a little bit differently, but if you’ve identified your ideal customer profile, you should be able to create a general process to follow.
Below are a few questions to think about as you make your plan.
If you’re weak in any of these areas, you’ll be dragged down by time sinks that can cost you a lot of money in the long run.
The same goes for making calls.
For maximum efficiency, you should make calls deliberately. That means scheduling a chunk of time for calls ahead of time, and it means setting your smartphone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ for the duration.
It means using the latest call technology, so you can build a call list and program the numbers ahead of time. This will prevent you from looking up numbers and dialling them manually as you go. Doing so is extremely inefficient.
The wealthiest salespeople make calls consciously. That means using a method like the Pomodoro timer technique to work in intentional blocks. When you’re in a work block, that’s all you’re doing. You’re not checking your phone, you’re not looking at emails and you’re definitely not on social media.
3) Do you have a well-documented sales process?
If you’re missing sales opportunities, it may be because you’re keeping too much of your process in your mental space.
You need to document your sales process on paper or in digital form. This is especially crucial when it comes time to grow your business. If you want to scale or outsource your operation, you must produce documents that describe your sales process.
You can use an online document service like Google Docs or Dropbox Paper for this. With either of these services, you can create multiple folders and then allow others remote access to them. Then you can work collaboratively with reps without worrying about keeping track of the latest version of a given document.
Collaborating in real time lets you keep up-to-date documentation and it keeps you agile, and agile is good.
4) How efficient are you at identifying best-fit leads?
It’s one thing to have created an ideal buyer profile. But once you have that, you have to match it to someone within an actual company who can pull the trigger on a purchase. Targeting the wrong person can cost you time.
Ideally, you want these people to come to you through inbound marketing. If these leads match your ideal buyer profile, you should prioritize them. But you should also pursue qualified leads through:
Any good CRM-Customer Relationship Management-software should allow you to tag and organize your leads by ‘hotness’ or whatever other metric you choose to use.
5) How efficient are you in researching your leads?
Before you reach out to a lead, do your homework. The time spent here will save you money if you find out that they aren’t really qualified. You’re living on commission; you don’t have time to pitch to people who can’t buy from you. The more efficient you are at qualifying leads, the more sales you will make.
If you’re parsing inbound leads, try to find out what brought them to your website and what content they read. If you can do this, you’ll have a much better idea of what they’re interested in and what brought them to you. This will help you customize your pitch.
If you’re going through a list of not-so-hot leads, put them on the back burner and research them when you have time. But whatever you do, do your research. Create a folder in your documentation system-Google Docs, Dropbox, what have you for these leads.
Here are a few things you can research about them:
You should be able to use those two data points to find conversation starters but remember to prioritize your leads.
Conversation starter: an “in” that lets you strike up a conversation with a prospect in a natural, productive way. Conversation starters help you avoid looking too ‘salesey.’
6) If reaching out by phone, did you use a voice mail script?
You’re calling a hot prospect. You get their voice mail. Did you have a script ready to go, or did you just hang up? Or, worse yet, did you stammer the first thing that came to mind and then hang up?
If you had a script, did you tailor it to that particular prospect and company, or was it generic? You can probably tell where I’m going with this. You should always tailor your script to your prospect as much as possible. This allows you to show respect and to mind the ego of the person you’re talking to. Generic scripts are very obvious.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Mind the ego: While you don’t want to flatter a prospect, you do want to protect their ego. Don’t make things about yourself. Make things about them.
7) When you send email to a new prospect, do you do write the email from scratch or do you use a template?
These days, you’re much more likely to connect with a prospect through email than on the phone. So it makes sense to try that route. It’s tempting to create a template to make your prospecting easier, but this can backfire spectacularly.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use templates at all. You should.
But what you want to do is create a template for your ideal customer profile and then customize it on a case-by-case basis. Never send out emails that start with things like, ‘Dear sir or madam.’ Here are a few more things to ask yourself when using templates.
One final tip on email templates before we move on: your template should be an evolving document.
Your email marketing platform should allow you to see your open and click rates. So some of your emails should contain new, experimental material. If you notice that a certain turn of phrase or call-to-action gets a high open or click rate, consider incorporating it into your main template.
Always be willing to experiment. Some of your best material will come from off-the-wall or on a whim experimentation. But you’ll never find it if you stick too rigidly to a template.
8) Are you losing track of warm prospects?
You should have a system in place that makes it easy for you to follow up with warm prospects. Typically, this is handled by your CRM software. Your CRM or task management software should help you:
In a bind, you can send emails to yourself. But a CRM is far superior. A good CRM will allow you to make notes per client and is in general much better organized than any system you’ll clobber together yourself. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Make sales instead.
The point is to have a system in place so you’ll be able to track your prospects and so you can create to-dos based on each individual lead.
9) Have you created your sequence material?
You should have, at a minimum, five email templates and voice mail scripts that you can use in sequence. Prospects are busy. Your first message to them might not land. So you should be able to break your entire message into sequenced messages. By doing this, you create more surface area, so to speak. You increase the odds that your message will resonate.
So if you lost the sale, ask yourself whether your message was too simplistic, too blunt or, to borrow a term from screenwriting, too on the nose.
Voicemail is pretty straightforward. But for email, whatever system you use must allow you to mark a prospect as ‘responded’ or similar. This is important because you don’t want to send them, say, email #3 if they already responded to email #2.
If this happens, you may end up in the prospect’s spam folder.
Finally, if you’re going after a whale, pack more than one spear gun. That is to say, if you must land this client, go the extra mile when coming up with creative ways to connect.
10) Are you unable to secure a commitment from the client for a phone call or meeting even after several back and forth emails?
If so, there are two possible causes: either you’re not using a system that lets your prospect check your availability at their convenience, or your emails just aren’t effective.
If you’re in email hell, going back and forth about whether they’ll be busy on any given day, you’ve already lost. If you get into the scheduling dance, your prospect is likely to give you a date well in the future just to placate you up.
Cut through this hype by using a system that allows your prospect to see your availability by clicking a link. Then embed that in your prospecting email. This way, your prospect can easily see when you’re free. If they’re really a warm prospect, they’ll make time for you. You do less work and get more meetings.
This has the added bonus of making you appear more confident. If you’re always pestering your prospect, you’re putting yourself into a position of weakness.
If it’s not a scheduling issue-if you’re simply not able to get the commitment from them, you need to review your emails and or template and see where you might be falling off the horse.
Another possibility is that your scheduling process is inefficient. If you’re spending time searching through your inbox or calendar to see when you last had contact with a prospect, then you have an inefficient system. You should be using a CRM for that, not email. If you spend any time looking for correspondence, you’re wasting time and burning money.
Your CRM should help you make notes on every prospect. Then it’s simply a matter of clicking on the prospect and reading your notes. Boom, done. If you’re holding off on getting a CRM because of the upfront cost, get over it. The time you save will more than makeup for it.
Your system should make it quick and easy to log:
11) Are you taking handwritten notes during phone calls?
In face-to-face meetings, the tried-and-true method of putting pen to paper works well. It allows you to highlight important points while keeping most of your attention on the prospect.
But over the phone, taking handwritten notes can be a big mistake. For one thing, since the prospect isn’t right in front of you, your eyes-and your mind-will be on other things. By taking handwritten notes, you’re dividing your attention.
The best solution is to get permission to record phone calls. That way, you can listen to the call again at your leisure, and you can give your contact the attention they deserve. If you have reps, this policy will allow you to review their calls and look for information they may have missed.
If you’re set on taking notes while on the phone, consider using an app like One Note or Evernote. This way, you can keep your notes organized.
12) Do your sales get lost in the shuffle?
Do you have an easy way to see where a prospect is in your sales process? You should use your CRM software or some other simple, organized system to keep track of estimated close date and close likelihood. You don’t want to keep these details in your head. It’s far too easy to confuse one person with another.
What to Ask a Lost Prospect
You get word from your prospect that they’ve decided to go with your competition. That’s life. It happens. You can get mad or you can learn from the experience. This is an important step in your sales autopsy. Many salespeople don’t do this, and that’s why many salespeople don’t make a lot of money.
You might get feedback that stings. You might find that you’re too ‘aggressive’ or that you failed to demonstrate why your solution is better. These are good things to figure out. You should be grateful if you get feedback like this because it will help you polish your pitch.
You may be thinking it’s unlikely that someone who went with your competitor will want to spend more time with you, but you would probably be surprised. People generally enjoy being helpful, so if you mention that their feedback would be valuable, they’re pretty likely to give it.
Here, briefly, is what you want to ask when you lose:
You may not get a reply, but it never hurts to ask. Here are more questions you should ask.
Naturally, you may need to tune the wording to your specific circumstance. If you have reps, you can probably use these as-is. If you work alone, you’ll need to tweak them a bit.
- How did you become aware of our company?
- Do you feel as though you were given a clear understanding of our company, what we do and how we do it?
- What did you like most about our company at first glance? What made a good impression?
- What is your vendor sourcing process like?
- What was the most important reason you decided not to buy from us?
- What did we do right in our initial approach that made you want to continue?
- What was your first interaction with our sales rep like?
- Did the salesperson articulate our value proposition clearly?
- Was the overall sales experience in line with your expectations?
- If we communicated to you via email, was the copy clear, concise and free of typos and grammatical errors?
- If you talked over the phone, did the salesperson seem like they were prepped for the call? Did they seem distracted?
- Did the salesperson ask questions that made you feel as if they had a good grasp on your specific needs?
- Did you feel that the salesperson’s product recommendation would have adequately met your needs? Why or why not?
- Did the salesperson offer you any testimonials or references?
- At the end of each interaction, did the salesperson ask about which next steps you would like to take? If not, what did he or she do instead?
- What did our competitor offer that we didn’t? Or, what did they do differently that compelled you to lean in their direction?
Once you have their answers, put the document away for at least two weeks, especially if you were the salesperson in question.
Understand Sales Psychology to Get More Sales
Now that you know what to ask yourself at the end of each sale, let’s spend on a few important tenets of sales psychology.
For our purposes, a psychological trigger is a stimulus that gets your prospect to take a specific action.
Think back to your last impulse buy. What moved you to make the purchase? Boredom? Slick advertising? A genuine need? While most of your prospects won’t buy from you on a whim, what matters is that you can use psychological triggers to help them along.
Keep these psychological tactics in mind so you can apply them going forward.
Understand How the Brain Works and Cut Through the Noise
When the brain receives stimulus over and over that doesn’t represent an immediate threat to survival, it begins to filter that stimulus out. This is why, for instance, Internet advertising isn’t as effective as it once was. Folks who don’t use ad blockers are becoming rare, and most of them automatically filter the ads without even realizing they’re doing it. They’ve become ad blind.
Another oft-used example is the apartment dweller who lives right beside a busy L-train track. The train comes by every night and they hardly notice it. But a squeak in a kitchen floor will pull them out of a dead sleep with the force of a whirlwind. Why?
They live alone, so a creaking floor is an unusual stimulus.
You need to understand your competition, so you can improve on their processes and thereby differentiate yourself.
Understand Fear of Loss
When you make a pitch, focus on what your prospect stands to lose more than what they stand to gain by working with you. Why? Because fear of loss has an incredible impact.
You can use the acronym FOMO to keep this principle close to mind: fear of missing out.
No one wants to be left out in the cold. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. What does your prospect stand to lose by going with your competition instead of with you?
Naturally, you still want to communicate what your prospect stands to gain from buying from you in a clear, concise way. But the scarcity principle can be a potent tool in your quest to get more sales.
The ability to take consistent action is an attractive trait. You should always strive to demonstrate this ability in everything you do. Why? Because it has a cumulative and subtle psychological effect on your prospects.
If you have a blog, publish to it often. If you put out a podcast, do so consistently. If you produce webinars, keep a regular schedule. Demonstrate your ability to commit.
Putting out consistent content and building an audience keeps you in front of prospects. You never know when someone will need your product or service.
We hope this guide has helped you analyze your recent sales attempts. More importantly, we hope that the information contained in this guide will help you tackle your next sales pitches with more strategy and precision than ever before.
Remember, losing a sale doesn’t make you a loser, but a mistake is doubly devastating if you don’t learn from it.