Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your best sales advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here?
Mike: Absolutely. Thanks for taking the time to interview me.
I’m a lifer in the sales performance world. My first job after college was at a sales performance and strategy consulting firm. After a stint there, I took over a division at a consulting firm and oversaw 30 reps. In 2002, my business partner, John Doerr, and I started RAIN Group, a global sales training and performance improvement company. We’ve evolved quite a bit in the last 16 years, with headquarters in the Boston area and offices in Geneva, London, Mumbai, Sydney, Johannesburg, Toronto, Bogota, and now Seoul.
I’m also the Director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, where a team of analysts and I study buying and selling relentlessly. We’ve written books, white papers, and hundreds of articles on the research findings and sales topics.
Adam: What is the single biggest sales mistake you have ever made and what did you learn from it?
Mike: Well, this is a big one.
I think I’d go back to about the 5th grade through high school and be a lot nicer to other kids. Trying to make up for that every day and teach my kids the value of kindness.
Adam: In your experience, what are the key pitfalls to succeeding in sales and how can you overcome them?
- Devote time every day to learn something new. Those who don’t get stale and fail.
- Think buying first, selling second. Figure out how you can drive buyer value. Sellers are doomed to underperform until they can figure out how to unleash success for others. Then selling is easy.
- Carve out time to drive big success proactively. Too many sellers get caught up in their email and responding to people. Next thing they know, 10 years pass, and they don’t do anything big.
- Figure out what 20% of your pipeline will produce 80% of your results. Then focus your time on driving big wins there. Do that and you’ll outsell your competition.
Adam: What are your three best tips when it comes to selling?
- Identify your Greatest Impact Activities (GIAs) for every week, set a plan to tackle them every week, send your plan to a friend, and let them know at the end of the week if you tackled them and how it went. You’ll drive your accountability way up.
- Collaborate with buyers. Buyers want sellers who understand their business and their challenges. They want to work together to solve problems and craft solutions. Bring your expertise to the table and also seek to work with the buyer to craft something special for them.
- Learn to tell stories. Stories bring buyers on emotional journeys, inspire them to change, and drive them to take action.
Adam: Describe your sales methodology. Have you found that different types of prospects are responsive to different types of styles, and if so, do you adapt your style to the type customer you are selling to?
Mike: RAIN SellingSM is our consultative selling methodology popularized in our book, Rainmaking Conversations. The acronym stands for: Rapport, Aspirations and Afflictions, Impact, and New Reality. It’s a blueprint that helps sellers lead masterful sales conversations, run effective sales processes, and create and win sales opportunities.
RAIN SellingSM uses questioning techniques to uncover the full set of buyer needs and desires. Sellers focus on value by bringing new ideas and perspectives to buyers and crafting compelling solutions.
Once you master RAIN Selling, move on to learn how to inspire buyers with ideas, and shape their agendas for action. We call this Insight Selling. RAIN is core consultative selling, Insight Selling is advanced consultative selling. They work together.
Adam: What sets your approach apart from others in your industry? Describe your industry and your best tips specific to selling within it.
Mike: One of our biggest differentiators is that our programs are backed by extensive research. We don’t just offer sales training programs we “think” will work because of what’s worked in the past. We’re constantly studying buying and selling—from both the buyer and seller perspective—to make sure what we’re teaching is relevant to what’s happening in sales today.
In our research, we found sales winners consistently exhibit behaviors on three levels: they connect, convince, and collaborate. They connect with people and connect the dots between buyers’ needs and solutions they offer. They convince buyers they’ll achieve results and are the best choice. They collaborate with buyers and educate them with new ideas and perspectives.
Finally, we’ve learned over the years the greatest successes come when sellers learn how to sell, but then implement day in and day out with discipline. Our research recently focused on execution. The sellers who are most successful combine their selling skill with Extreme Productivity. Skill plus consistent, focused action drives the best success.
It’s the execution and focused action we teach sellers, and teach sales managers to apply to their teams, that help sellers unleash their potential.
Adam: What do you believe is the hardest step in the sales process and how can it best be navigated?
Mike: Prospecting—hands down. Sellers need to fill their pipelines. They can’t just rely on existing clients, they also need to bring in new business. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths going around the sales world about prospecting.
Buyers don’t want to talk to sellers early in the buying process.
Buyers don’t use the phone. Cold calling is dead.
We recently surveyed 489 sellers and 488 B2B buyers on what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to prospecting. The results debunked many of these myths. Buyers actually want to talk to sellers in the early stage when they’re looking for new ideas. And, buyers actually DO take calls. According to buyers polled, 70 percent of sellers attempt to connect with them and generate meetings using the phone. Cold calling is far from dead.
Encourage your sales team to reach out to buyers early and leverage the phone as a part of an integrated outreach approach.
Many sellers actually know how to prospect, then don’t. Help them stay accountable to actually prospect through Extreme Productivity techniques.
Adam: What are your best tips for improving your close rate?
Mike: Have a consistent process to plan to win big sales. There is no one big thing, but discipline on the whole picture is the key. Focus on the right buyers. Know their buying process. Know the value case to win. Anticipate their objections. Make your value case exceptionally strong. Take coordinated, specific actions to set yourself apart and outsell the competition.
We call this process Win Labbing. Sellers who are disciplined about how to win their most important opportunities have much stronger win rates than those who wing it.
Adam: What is your best advice around making the ask?
Mike: Don’t make it too soon. A proposal should be a summary of what you’ve already agreed to. If you haven’t agreed to the solution or talked pricing, you’re asking too soon.
Then, when it’s time to ask, just ask. Don’t use some silly technique. Be clear about the action you want a buyer to take, lay it out for them, and ask them to take it.
Adam: Language is obviously very important throughout the sales process. What are key phrases or words you have found have helped or hurt your chances of success?
Mike: Just talk like a regular person. Avoid jargon. Buyer’s don’t need to hear from another seller who brings a “unique blend of people, processes, and technology.”
If you have something to say, say it. Long preambles and silly sentence openings like, “In order to drive maximum value” make most buyers want to barf. Decrease your barf quotient with what you say, and you’ll be better than most sellers.
Adam: On a scale of 1-10, how important are ethics to succeeding in sales? Explain.
Mike: An 11. Sales is based on trust. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have anything.
Adam: What is your best advice on how to best manage and stay on top of leads?
Mike: In your conversations always end with a clear next step. Don’t leave anything squishy. Book a next call at the end of your current call. This will help you to move sales along and stay on top of them.
Prune your pipeline mercilessly. If you have fewer deals, but the ones you do have are important, you’ll have more time to focus on them.
Also, be sure to log everything in your CRM (including your next step) and to review your pipeline often so no leads fall through the cracks.
Boring advice, but if you stay methodical, you’ll stay on top of things.
Adam: What is the single best piece of sales advice you have ever received?
Mike: Ready, Aim, Fire.
Many sellers fire before aiming. They ‘make a ton of calls’ but they’re scattered.
Many sellers Aim and Fire, but aren’t Ready. They don’t know their buyers or offerings well enough. They don’t know how to sell. They say the wrong things. Buyers dismiss them as incompetent.
And some are Ready and Aim, but don’t take enough action. Get your plan together, make it a good one, then get in the game and get to work.
Adam: What sale are you proudest of? Walk through how you made it happen and its significance.
Mike: After years of research we started blending sales skills with sales execution, the Extreme Productivity processes noted earlier. A few years ago, we made our first sales of that, and I’m proud of it because we invented it!
But the thing that made me most proud is that our client drove $100,000,000 in pipeline over and above what they drove the quarter before because it worked so well. It drove a ton of client value. When you invent something, sell it, and it makes hundreds of people more successful, it’s a really nice feeling.
Adam: What is one thing everyone can do tomorrow to become better at selling?
Mike: Identify your GIA (Greatest Impact Activity) every day and focus on that first.
Your GIA is the one activity that, should you do it consistently at high quality, will get you the greatest eventual return on your time investment. It could be prospecting, brainstorming ideas for existing accounts, implementing a big play strategy to win a large deal, etc.
It might not be easy, and other tasks will have to wait, but if you do it, you’re much more likely to be productive and successful.