You can’t sell if you don’t start: A Long Virtual Coffee™ with Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter”

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I met Mark Hunter on my very first trip to the United States. I was speaking at the National Speakers Association University on how to build a personal brand. Our conversations between sessions over several days would influence how I thought about sales and the business of keynote speaking.

Mark’s gone on to build a powerful personal brand of his own as “The Sales Hunter” and now speaks and consults all over the world. So I was deeply interested when he announced the release of High-Profit Prospecting.

In his new book, Mark talks candidly about the need for sales teams to get out from behind their social media accounts and engage directly with prospects. High-Profit Prospecting is packed with tips, tricks and stories on how to do this. It’s certainly struck a chord. With a hugely successful launch now completed and his book riding high on the Amazon best seller lists, I took the opportunity to find out more about prospecting from a man I’ve always admired as an evangelist for, and a practitioner of, effective sales.

Mark Di S: I loved the point that Jeb Blount makes right from the get-go in the prelude to your book that we have never been more connected online, and yet prospecting has become something of a rare art. Why are people so afraid to sell?

Mark Hunter: The hesitation comes from people not being willing to engage in a conversation for fear of being rejected. People today opt for social media, email and other forms of communication that actively avoid the immediacy of hearing a person saying “no.” But if sales professionals are not willing to prospect, then how will they ever be able to sell?  I can’t sell anything unless I first have a prospect I can sell to.

Mark Di S: If there’s been a lot of talk about the fact that prospecting is dead, there’s been even more hailing the death of the sales funnel. In a world where everyone wants to be an individual buyer, is there still room for a sales formula?

Mark Hunter: Absolutely. In fact, the sales funnel is more important today than ever because the customer is more knowledgeable than ever. Problem is, we in sales haven’t been fast enough to change our funnel. In that sense, we’re out of sync with our customers and the modern selling environment. Today we can’t operate with one funnel – rather we have to have multiple funnels, with each one tailored to the type of prospect we’re working with.

Mark Di S: Some time back, I read this quote: “Today everyone’s a marketer.” The point the writer was  making was that if you weren’t prepared to market what you did, it would fail to make an impact. Let me redirect the question in the light of your book. Can anyone sell? Should everyone sell?

Mark Hunter: Everyone is in sales.  From the moment we’re born we’re selling. The cries of a newborn baby are nothing more than a sales call, as the baby cries out for attention. Flip this around and think about that for a moment: Just as the baby is selling, they’re also buying the attention of their parent.

It’s no different in business. Marketing is creating the attention, building the need, educating the prospect – which is no different than what the crying baby is doing. The top performing salesperson realises this and knows they have to be continually playing both roles if they want to be successful. They need to recognise what marketing is doing and, at the same time, they need to gain and retain the attention of their customers. Marketing without sales educates but doesn’t fulfill. Sales without marketing means trying to sell in an environment where need has not been established.

Mark Di S: You talk about the world of sales being filled with myths, particularly around prospecting. What causes us to mythologise what we do?

Mark Hunter: We fall for myths because we’re looking for easy excuses to validate why we shouldn’t have to do something. A huge myth around prospecting is it does not work and the only way to build the business is by providing great service to your existing customers. Sure that’s great and we all need to be doing that, but to rely on existing customers to grow our business is simply stupid.

Mark Di S: I smiled when I read that CRMs don’t convert, people convert. Which is more important in your view for a person to succeed in sales – motivation or technique?

Mark Hunter: Motivation always trumps technique. Give me a person with a great attitude and they’ll find a way to overcome a bad technique. When I see an organisation using bad prospecting techniques, I don’t actually blame the salesperson. I blame the sales manager. The number one role of a sales manager is to create an environment for their sales team to motivate themselves, and that means helping them develop sales prospecting techniques  that work.

Mark Di S: I was much taken with your point about saying enough in your communications to motivate people to call you to find out more. In fact, you say “Never provide the prospect with enough information to make a decision without you.” As a copywriter, I was trained to sell, but what you seem to be saying is – don’t oversell to the point where there is nothing left to ask. Has content marketing made too much of what we know too available in your view?

Today’s salesperson can’t be bringing to the customer the same information they can find on the Internet.

Mark Hunter: Certainly content marketing is all about putting information out for people to learn on their own, but at the same time great content will also create more options, more questions, more ideas. This is where the salesperson comes in. Today’s salesperson can’t be bringing to the customer the same information they can find on the Internet. They must be bringing questions, ideas, solutions, and outcomes unique to the customer and that go far beyond what might be found on the Internet.

Mark Di S: It was great that you identified the seven roles that people play inside corporates. It reminded me of a great point made by Philip Kotler that the difference between selling directly to consumers and selling business to business is the number of people who get to make or influence the decision. With a consumer, it’s probably one. With a corporate, it’s probably dozens. What does that do to how you prospect?

Mark Hunter: It changes everything. In B2B prospecting we have to uncover the names and roles of all the players before we get into presentation mode and especially before any negotiating occurs. If you don’t uncover all of the potential players before you begin negotiating, how will you ever know if you’re negotiating with the right people?

I’ve found the more information I uncover in the prospecting phase, the more successful I’ll be in closing the deal. The reason is simple. During the prospecting phase, people are relaxed and more willing to share. Once a customer knows they’re in the closing or negotiating phase of a deal, it’s amazing how they will hold back information and begin to play poker.

Mark Di S: Everyone talks about the need to move further up the value chain, as if doing so is an automatic panacea. In your book, you say – not so fast. In fact, you give five criteria for selling to the C-suite. What qualities do you need as a salesperson in order to do that effectively?

Selling to the C-suite requires three things: Trust, integrity and respect for time

Mark Hunter: I’m all in favour of selling to the C-suite. You just have to make sure they will see value in the solution you provide. If, however, what you sell is routine and has little value to the C-suite, then don’t waste your time trying to get into it. Selling to the C-suite requires three things: Trust, integrity and respect for time.  If you don’t measure up on all three, you have zero reason to think anyone in the C-suite is going to give you any of their precious time at all.

Mark Di S: Towards the end of the book, you tackle the topic that I think all of us have confronted at some point in our business lives – when to continue investing time and effort and when not to. Give me some quick tips please that will help all of us judge whether any given situation is one we should persist with or one we should insist on leaving.

Mark Hunter: This is as much a judgement call as anything, but the criteria I use are:

  • What is the immediate value of the customer and what would the lifetime value of the customer be? Are these numbers large enough to warrant my time or is my time better spent going after smaller opportunities I can close faster?
  • Is the time necessary to move this prospect to a sale a good use of my time or would my time be better off with other prospects?
  • Has the prospect provided me with enough information to believe a deal could occur? What is the information and is it factual?
  • Will the time I spend this fiscal year with this prospect create a pay-out this fiscal year? A simple rule I follow is to use the 1st quarter of the year prospecting large opportunities that will take a year to close. The reason is simple. I want my work this year to have a pay-out this year. As the year progresses I focus more of my time going after prospects I can close in a shorter timeframe.

Mark Di S: Final question. As an author, you’ve had to sell what you write to others. Which of your prospecting techniques did you use when selling this book?

Mark Hunter: I challenged the publisher on titles they had in their system and got them to see a void that existed around the topic of sales prospecting. To push the element of time I created a need they could fulfil but only if they could deliver the book in a specific timeframe – September, 2016. Finally, to help secure the optimal deal, I was not prospecting with one publisher but several, with the idea being to play each one off of the others.

Did the strategy work?  Yes. We didn’t sign the book contract until the middle of January 2016. Less than nine months later, I had a finished book out in the market in 3 different forms: Paperback, electronic, and audio.

About Mark Hunter

Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter,” is a recognised thought leader on sales and sales leadership and a sought-after keynote speaker who has earned the rare distinction of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) status, one of only 610 people globally to have received this recognition. His clients include global giants Salesforce, Lenovo, Coca-Cola, Kawasaki, Sara Lee, Mattel, and Unilever. Mark’s previous book was the national bestseller, High-Profit Selling: How to Win the Sale Without Discounting Your Price. His new book, High-Profit Prospecting: Powerful Strategies to Find the Best Leads and Drive Breakthrough Sales Results is available here [no affiliate link]

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