Friday, July 31, 2009

This Blog Has Moved!

Thank you for visiting Dave Brock's Blog, Making A Difference. This blog has moved and all new posts and comments are now at:



Please update your readers, RSS Feeds, and bookmarks. We don't want to lose you so please visit us at our new home.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Let's Celebrate: 200th Post!! Also, It's Moving Day!


Taking a page from some of my blogging colleagues, I wanted to celebrate and thank all my readers. This is my 200th blog post.

Before I go on, part of the celebration is to announce that we're moving. The new location and link for our blog is:

Making A Difference.

For those of you that want to see it "spelled out," the new location is:
http://partnersinexcellenceblog.com

Please update your feeds, readers, or links. I want to make sure you can continue to follow us. After this post, all my future updates will be at the new site. The new site, also has the complete archive of past posts and comments.

Reflections On Blogging:

I started actively blogging about September of 2008 and really kicked it into a higher gear in January. At the time, I was really worried that I could write anything -- at least on a regular basis -- that people would find interesting or valuable. I still am amazed when I get great comments from people who have read a post and are motivated to express their views and opinions. It is both flattering and ego building to see some of the fantastic responses.

One of the things that I have learned about blogging, is that I probably get more out of this process than you, the reader. There is so much that I get out of blogging:

    • Blogging is a terrific stress reliever. Some months ago, I was being interviewed
      and was asked, "When do you blog?" I think the reporter was looking for what
      time of day. My response was, "When I get pissed off!" I blog at other times, as
      well, but sometimes when I see something that doesn't make sense, getting it off
      my chest by writing an article is really helpful. Blogging is certainly cheaper
      than a shrink!
    • Blogging enables me to use a wide audience as a sounding
      board for new ideas that I am considering. I get such wonderful feedback---both
      positive and negative---that really helps me clarify my thinking, so that I can
      continue to build my value to you and to our clients. I can think of no other
      way to get the quality of feedback, as quickly, than through the blog.
    • Blogging has caused me to expand my horizons, in preparing new articles, I
      am really influenced by the great articles many of you write. They help me think
      about issues differently, even shifting my positions on a number of issues (God
      forbid I admit that my position may not have been an astute position.)
    • Blogging/Social Media has enabled me to "meet" such interesting people. I
      have gotten to meet, exchange ideas, and build business with people I might
      never have reached in the past. It has helped to open a whole new world of
      relationships.
    • Blogging builds and drives business, this shouldn't be a surprised, but people get to know me before contacting us. It makes it easier
      for us to build a great business relationship.


Thanks to all of you for your contributions and support!

Join me in our new home, keep engaging in the discussion. Remember, adjust your feeds, readers, bookmarks to our new location:

Making A Difference.

Again, here it is all "spelled out,"
http://partnersinexcellenceblog.com

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Interesting Strategy: "We inspire sales people...." Didn't Inspire Me!

Yesterday, I got an intriguing tweet. It was from an individual and simply stated, "We inspire sales people. If interested let's connect." I have to admit, the pitch caught my interest. I looked at his twitter profile and saw roughly 95% of his 374 updates had one of 3 variants of the same pitch.

It got me to thinking, aren't many of our initial introductions and value propositions to prospects very similar? Too often, don't we hear: "Hi, I'm Debbie Smith from XYZ Company. We make the best widgets in the world, if you are interested let's connect."

These introductions may be true, but they are ineffective for a number of reasons. Some of these are:

1. Who is the person calling and are they credible? Why should I listen to their opinion? Sometimes, our company name is enough to get someone to listen. In the case of the guy who tweeted me, I may have been interested if I saw a number of insightful tweets, inspirational to sales. Instead, I saw 100's of the same query---with very few responses/uptakes. I have established many new relationships on Twitter with people who do provide inspirational advice on sales, leadership and business. While I haven't met them, based on what I have seen, they are credible to me.

2. These generic introductions make me feel like "To Current resident or Occupant." Particularly when I see I am one of several 100 getting the same message. Take the time to personalize the introduction if you want to produce results. If the guy had said: I liked Sales The Thinking Person's Profession and would like to share ideas. Would you be interested? (103 characters) The personalized approach and interest in me would have made me very receptive to a discussion. With very little effort, a slightly different approach would have produced profoundly different results. When we meet or call a prospect, are we saying something that personalizes the conversation, demonstrating our interest in them?

3. Tell me a little about yourself and why I should be interested in you. This is somewhat related to the credibility issue, but people buy from people. I like to know a little about the person I'm dealing with. That's part of the step we call "establishing rapport." It may be a few second, or it may be part of your twitter profile, but I respond to people.

Would you add anything more? I know I've just scratched the surface of this issue.

This tweet was a great example of what too many sales people do in introducing themselves to prospects. It doesn't take much to change our approach, but the slightest changes can produce profoundly different results.

Salespeople, Please Stop Your Pitch Long Enough For My Questions, You Might Close A Deal!

You know this story, I'm sitting at my desk, the phone rings, I answer, and an enthusiastic voice: "Good morning Dave!, I'm Roger from XXX....." The pitch begins.

This guy was selling a Sales 2.0 tool, which I actually had some interest in. I barely had the words, "tell me what you do" out of my mouth when the script started.


"Excuse me, may I ask a question," I tried to inject, but the pitch went on.

"Would you please let me ask you a question," he paused, I continue "you know if you give people a chance to ask a question, you might actually sell something."

I ask my question, the pitch started again......

"Excuse me, may I ask a question......." the pitch continued.....

"Have you ever considered listening to your customer and responding to their questions, it tends to work, I have a question, may I please ask it?" I say, a little indignantly. He pauses.... I ask my question...

The "recording" resumes.....

Once again, I say, "Please, are you hearing anything that I am saying? Would you please listen and answer my questions, I may want to buy!" I ask my question.....

You know what happened. The only way I could make it stop was to hang up.

In reflecting on the call, I struggled to ask about 4 or 5 questions. Each time I had to interrupt him---and I had to be aggressive about the interruption.

He only asked 2 questions.... I guess, "How are you today?" counts as a question.

I provided him valuable coaching advice 3 times during the call---normally I charge people for this, but I was feeling generous, plus I really wanted to learn about the product. I am serious about buying one of these tools.

Now where's the number of his competitor?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sales -- The Thinking Person's Profession!


I love being in sales, I love talking to great sales professional. I think a large part of it is that success in sales requires you to really think.

Many people make a mistake when they think about sales. Some think it is all about the product--success comes from good product knowledge and a great pitch. Good product knowledge is important, but that's not what sales is about. And the pitch really has nothing to do with it, unless you are in the infomercial business.

Many think it is about the relationship. The image of the glad handing, back slapping peddler, whose motto is "when the going gets tough, the tough go to lunch." Deep, trust and integrity based relationships are important, but that is not sufficient.

The best sales people I have met are really great thinkers. They are constantly questioning, exploring, learning, evaluating. They are insatiably curious--about everything.

Consider:

Great sales people know their customers' businesses---often, it seems better than their customers. They understand their customers' markets, competition, business drivers, business strategies, financial performance, operational strengths and weaknesses. They constantly look at what's happening with their customers and how they can help customers improve.

Great sales people know (and care about) people. They study the people they work with, customers, peers, others in the organization. They understand what drives each person, their aspirations, dreams, what keeps them up at night. They think about how they can help them achieve their goals and dreams.

Great sales people are fantastic strategists. They think with the end in sight. They analyze people and situations. They assess competition. They assess their own positions, strengths and weaknesses. They weave together all kinds of information and develop an action plan, enabling them to achieve their goals. They constantly reassess and adjust the plan based on things that change. They constantly evaluate alternatives.

Great sales people are problem solvers. They know how to take an incredible number of factors, analyze and synthesize them, and develop a solutions. Whether it is solving the customer's problem or developing a sales strategy. They are change enablers. They know how uncomfortable change is for people and organizations, and help people understand and embrace the change to better achieve their goals.

Great sales people think about themselves. They are very introspective. They have a realistic view of their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. The best are constantly learning--they read incessantly, they train themselves constantly, they watch others and learn from them. The status quo is never enough, they constantly seek to improve themselves and to get an edge.

Sales is exciting, the intellectual challenge, the ability to deal with disparate pieces of information, abstract ideas, constant change and to see your way to achieving goals--for your customer, your company, and yourself is such an adrenaline rush!

Great professional selling is only for thinking people. The other thing about great professional selling is taking that thinking and translating it into action and execution.

Can you imagine anything more exciting?

Sales Performance Management -- Two Key Levers

It's approaching that time of year. I'm getting calls from clients: "Dave, we will be starting our planning process in September. We will have to commit to 2010's numbers and budget, we will have to develop a commission plan that motivates our sales people to hit the goals..... We're going to need your help."
These conversations got me to thinking about a mistake I think many organizations make in thinking about sales performance management. Too often, people make the mistake of thinking the cornerstone to sales performance management is the commission/incentive plan. "If we get the sale incentive plan right, then we will get the right behaviors, actions, and we will hit the numbers. Performance management is all about getting the right compensation plan in place."
The incentive plan is an important element to help drive sales performance, but it is just one of the levers the organization has. The incentive/compensation plan is somewhat limited in driving performance. It basically focuses on the issue, "here is how you will be paid for what you sell." To the degree that people are money motivated, it is a powerful element to sales performance management.
The more important lever, is the Performance Plan.
Unfortunately, performance planning is not taken as seriously, both as a tool to drive performance and a tool to drive individual development. It is a powerful and underutilized tool that every sales manager should leverage to drive performance.
The performance plan should set the expectations of sales people in a number of areas. The performance plan sets baseline expectations and behaviors that I sometime call "conditions of employment," for example showing up for work is one of them, perhaps keeping the CRM system might be another (I'm not trying to provoke a CRM discussion, just some examples that I've seen.).
But the performance plan can go far beyond that, it should set expectations about how we want to see people sell, the types of relationships we want them to establish, it can talk about how we want sales people to collaborate with their peers and others in the company.
The performance plan is where management has the opportunity to establish the ideal behaviors and best practices for selling, establish goals and metrics (both hard and soft) to drive the highest levels of performance. It becomes the road map to the sales person for outstanding sales performance.
Too many sales managers don't understand the power of the performance plan as a tool for developing their people and driving performance. Most tend to look at it as "one of those tasks HR forces us to do."
Properly utilized, good performance plans, coupled with well designed incentive/commission plans can be two of the most powerful tools for sales managers in driving, measuring and evaluating performance.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Future Of Selling -- Consultative, Solutions and Customer Focused? Deja Vu All Over Again?

I'm frustrated and a little impatient. As a profession, we seem to be doing the same thing over and over, making little progress. Sometimes, I feel like I'm Bill Murray waking up every morning in "Ground Hog Day."

All sorts of sales consultants, guru's, and other self proclaimed experts (probably including me, if I'm honest) make a lot about being consultative, solutions and customer focused, value driven and even provocative in selling. These topics have been fodder for 100's of books, 1000's of articles and $ billions in sales training and other services.

Virtually every self respecting sales professional talks about being solutions, consultative, customer focused, or even provocative.

Buyers are saying the same thing, they want sales people to focus on their (the buyer's) business and problems, presenting business justified solutions.
I'm convinced --- and I think the leading thinkers and practitioners in selling are also convinced that this customer and value creation focus is critical for success in sales.

So why am I frustrated? This afternoon, I blew the dust off a well worn book on my bookshelf: Consultative Selling, 4th Edition, by Mack Hanan, published in 1990. The description on the fly leaf:

"What does a customer want more than anything else? Profits. If you, as a salesperson can shoe your customers how your product or service will improve their profits....you can be sure they will keep coming back for more...."

" This new approach comes directly from market demands, 'Customers in major markets are setting the new ground rules for selling.'"

"Would you like your customer to value you as a friend who can help make their business grow?"


That was in the 1990 edition, I'm sure similar thoughts were expressed in the original 1970 edition. Yet those are the same words we talk about, today, as the "new selling."

My copy of Miller Heiman's Strategic Selling was published in 1987, my copy of Bosworth's Solution Selling was published in 1995, Peter Drucker lectured on these concepts in the 1950-60's. I could go on citing book after book.

So I'm frustrated, why can't we make progress? For decades, we have been talking about this, but we seem to make little progress in execution. Why are our customers letting us get away with the same old thing?

When will we stop talking about solution selling, customer focused selling, and value based selling because it's the norm of practice by sales professionals? When will we move on to talk about the next thing---what is the next thing?

I don't have any answers and would love to get your thoughts. What's holding us back? How do we move on and look at the next new things we should be doing as sales professionals?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stupid Twitter (and Social Media) Tricks

Many of you know I'm very enthusiastic about Twitter. I believe it has potential to be a very powerful tool for business professionals. Right now, we are just scratching the surface of potential applications.

I'm seeing people use it in very clever ways for competitive and market insight. I read stories of amazing customer service (though one wonders why people had to resort to Twitter to get action and why the normal channels of customer service do not work). Through Twitter, I've met people I would never have had the opportunity to reach before. Our twitter relationships have expanded and we have great telephone conversations, and yes---even drive new business.

While the business I've developed is not yet large, it has covered the investment I have made in tweeting. And this does not even begin to count the value of the new relationships I am developing.

However, any easy tool like Twitter, with virtually no barriers to entry from a cost point of view, stimulates some of the most bizarre behaviors and results.

The thing that has set me off now is this whole debate on Followers and Following. I just was followed by someone. I went to this individual's profile: This person is following 1473 and being followed by 1213. This individual has the grand total of 1 tweet.

Are people following this person because of the tremendous content they are providing? Is this person being followed by the quality of the pithy comments and observations? Is the person being followed by interest in the profile provided?

Undoubtedly, not, it is the Twitter practice of "auto-follow." So what result does this produce --- this individual can brag about their 1000 + followers (Maybe I'm displaying a little bit of follower envy---for months I have been organically building my following of 492 as of this writing.) But is this an audience the person really wants to reach, will relationships be initiated and built? Will business result?

What about the followers, what do they get out of it? Are they now the proud recipients of the electronic analog of : Dear Occupant??? I always try to focus my followership to people who provide interesting commentary that I can use (either professionally or personally). I have this strange quirk, I don't like junk mail, spam, or wasting my time --- maybe I'm different from the rest of the community.

One of the problems with Twitter and many of the other Social Media communications vehicles is the relatively low cost of entry (discounting the person's time), creates a vast wasteland of meaningless, self promotional drivel. The problem is, it makes it difficult for all of us to find meaningful content. We waste more time, leverage more tools (this is great for tools developers, tools filtering through the junk). It makes it harder for me to use these channels--both for marketing and for insight.

I'm not sure there is any resolution to this. But I certainly understand when I talk to business clients and they have trouble seeing the value of many of these new channels. I understand their reluctance to invest in it, because at the same time, they have to invest in navigating through the mountains of crap.

Anyway, I'm done with whining. For a more substantive set of tips on the use of Twitter (whine free), visit my friend
Niall Devitt's blog. He has done a couple of thoughtful commentaries on his use of Twitter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Would You Fire Your Top Sales Person?

A good friend (and top sales executive) and I were having an interesting conversation this morning. One of his regional VP's was having great difficulty with one of the organization's top sales people. We were talking about what to do about the sales person.

The issue was that the sales person was refusing to have anything to do with the company's CRM system. Despite constant reminders (accompanied with training, etc.) the sales person would not update the CRM system. The sales person would do some nominal updates, but not provide the information expected of each sales person in managing the CRM system. In conversations with the RVP, the sales person would always say, I'm one of your top producers, why don't you just leave me alone and let me sell. The CRM system is a waste of my time.

My friend and I were discussing how the issue should be handled. While it might sound crazy, I suggested the sales person's manager have a serious discussion, put him on a 90 day plan to get the sales person into compliance, provide coaching and training to help the sales person meet the standards management had set for performance. If at the end of the 90 day period, the sales person was still not meeting expectations, the sales person should be terminated.

Many managers face this issue, it may not be about the CRM system, it can be any other issue, but if your top revenue producers fail to meet performance expectations, they should be terminated --- like any other sales person who does not meet performance expectations.

I'm a bit hard nosed about this, but great performance with sales people is not just revenue production. We have other expectations for performance from sales people: Expense management, team work with others in the organization, customer satisfaction, price/margin management, and, yes, paperwork and administration.

Management should define performance expectations in a way that focus on building the business and has eliminated all non value add elements. These expectations are built on executing the strategies and priorities of the organization. They are based on the culture and expected behaviors of the organization. And, inevitably, Hopefully, these expectations truly define what management expects of performance and behavior of all people in the organization.

If the performance management system/process does not reflect management's expectations of performance and behavior, then they system needs to be fixed. When people don't meet performance expectations, it is the manager's responsibility to identify the performance deficiencies and to coach the person in meeting expectations. However, if the person fails to meet performance expectations, despite all coaching and training, the person needs to be terminated.

If we don't hold our people accountable for meeting performance expectations, then we have no performance management system in place. No one is excepted from this---including the top revenue producers. Great sales performance is never one dimensional, we need to make sure our sales people are performing on all dimensions.

I went further in my discussion with my friend. I suggested if his RVP was not holding his people accountable for meeting performance expectations, then his RVP was failing in his performance. Perhaps it was time to coach the RVP on managing performance.

Am I being too hard nosed in my views?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Are You Still Relevant To Your Customers?

Over the past week, I have had several conversations and a common theme kept coming up: "How do we stay relevant to our customers?" Since the crash of the economy, the projects we were working on, the things we were doing are no longer important to many of our customers. Our customers no longer want to talk to us.

I have to admit I've struggled a little with this notion -- how did we become irrelevant? In a conversation with a great sales executive this morning, it all became crystal clear: We become irrelevant to our customers when we stop focusing on their business and their needs. We are irrelevant when we spend our time pitching our products, not talking about growing their businesses.

The job of the sales professional is to help their clients improve their businesses, whether it is helping them become more efficient through reducing costs and improving productivity; or helping them grow their revenues by providing them new capabilities or addressing new opportunities. Our job is to demonstrate how our offerings help them.

This is not new, it has always been a core element of developing, communicating, and delivering value---but prior to the downturn, both we and our customers may been lulled into a complacency where value was presumed, not proven. If anything, one of the greatest lessons we can learn from the crises created by the economy is not to be lulled into a false sense of security. Everything we do with our customers must create value--each meeting and every solution. If we cannot create value, we waste both their time and resources.

What customers value changes over time. If we do not keep in step with our customers, then we become irrelevant. Keeping in step means continually improving our products and services. It means continual attention to the conversations we have with customers--focusing on their needs and priorities today and those they may have tomorrow.

Value is dynamic, not static. Companies and sales people that don't help in moving their customers forward are holding their customers back.

It's a big question, what are your thoughts? How do we stay relevant to our customers?


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Do You Know Your Customer's Value Proposition? What Are You Doing To Help Them Deliver It?

We know that a clear differentiated value proposition is critical to sales success. Over the past month, I have been writing about various aspects of developing communicating and delivering differentiated value to your customers. I'll stay on the same theme, but take a slightly different direction.

How many sales professionals understand the core value propositions of their customers? Do we know how our customers present their value to their customers and differentiate themselves from their competitors? Most good sales people have a pretty good idea of this.

Now, here's the twist---what do you do to help your customers deliver on their value propositions to their customers? Do you know---more importantly does your customer know and do they see it as an important contribution to their value proposition?

Now you are probably thinking, "Dave, I've bought your stuff up until know, but you are getting pretty far out there. We are just a small component of what our customers do."

Try thinking about it in these ways:

1. Remember the old story, "for the lack of a horseshoe, a kingdom was lost." Think of the value delivery chain--start with your customer's value proposition, work backwards through the value delivery chain and see where you fit in and how you can contribute. I've found if very useful to engage the customer in doing this--often they don't know where they fit in. Mapping it out on a whiteboard can be a very interesting and enlightening discussion for both you and your customer.

2. Take the classic quality and process analysis approach. There are internal and external customers. Think about your direct customer, who are their customers? They may be internal or external. What is your direct customer's value proposition to their customers, internal or external? How do you contribute to that value proposition? Does your direct customer see how critical you are in helping them deliver their value proposition?

Your customers are worried about defining, communicating and delivering value to their customers. Show them how you help them in delivering differentiated value, make your offerings an integrated part of their value delivery process. You become indispensable in their offerings.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Create Value In Every Meeting

A few days ago, a reader contacted me with a great question: "Dave, you always talk about creating value in every meeting with the customer. What do you mean? Is it realistic? How do I get what I need accomplished?" Thanks, for the question and keeping me from being glib.

Let me back up a minute. One of the most common issues that comes up when I speak with sales people is, "we can't get meetings with customers, how can we sell if we can't get in front of customers?" I see the same issue, sometimes I have difficulty getting customers to meet, what's up?

In truth, we have done it to ourselves. Customers don't want to see us because too often we waste their time --- and they are so time pressured that one more sales person wasting their time is unacceptable. We spend our time pitching our products without understanding what they are trying to do.

How to we create value in every meeting?

It starts with planning and preparation. Shooting from the lip doesn't work. If we aren't prepared, we are wasting the customer's time and our time. The best sales professionals prepare for every meeting.

In planning the meeting, a key question we have to ask ourselves is "What's in it for the customer to participate in the meeting?" We always know what's in it for us---we're trying to advance our position through the selling process, but until we can answer the question about what's in it for them, we will waste their time.

If we can't define what's in it for the customer, then we should cancel the meeting -- we aren't ready for it.

Now, let's talk about this concept of "what's in it for the customer?" We aren't talking about solving world hunger, we are talking about using the customer's time well. At the end of the meeting, the customer should have the reaction, "That was a good use of my time, I'm glad we had the meeting."

Think about it, if we pass that test for every meeting, customers will no longer avoid us, we will have less trouble getting meetings with them, customers may even start to look forward to meetings.

But if we are so focused on creating value for our customer, how do we achieve our goals? Frankly, the two are in separable. Early in the customer's buying process, we want to understand their goals, problems, challenges. We want to understand what is standing in the way of them achieving their goals. Here, the customer is focusing on themselves, they are describing what it important to them.

We might, during these early meetings help the customer in other ways. We might help them clarify their thinking about the issues and priorities. We might help them to look at their business in different ways. We might help them understand what they should be considering in seeking solutions to their problem.

Later in the buying process, we are helping the customer understand potential solutions to their problems. We are showing them the results they should expect. We are showing them how to manage the risk and achieve results.

Through this process, we are a partner to the customer in defining and solving their problems. Sales people only pitching their products, features and functions leave the task of solving the problem on the customer.

So how do we create value in every meeting or interchange with the customer:

1. We plan and prepare. Until we can answer the question, what's in it for the customer, we don't have the meeting.
2. After the meeting, we want to make sure the customer says, that meeting was a good use of my time.

For some tactics and tips on doing this, send me a note to ask for our Call Planning Checklist. It is a pragmatic guide to creating value in every meeting.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Three Questions

Last week, I published a post: First, Let Your Customer Finish Their Sentence, Then Ask Three Questions. In it, I addressed an issue that very experienced sales professionals often have---that is, being so "prepared" to provide solutions that they never give their customers a chance to tell their story.

Not only is interrupting offensive to customers, but it presents the opportunity to miss a lot in really understanding what they want and need. I suggested sales people would be better off, letting customer complete their sentences and tell their stories. I also suggested that sales people follow up with three questions.

I taunted my readers with guessing what those questions might be, asking you to email me if you wanted my version of the three questions. Since then, I have been inundated with ideas and emails. There have been some exciting offline conversations. To some degree, I am sorry to have taken such an interesting conversation off line and intend to fix that in this post.

So what are the "three questions?" I'm not sure there is a right answer to this. Also, these three questions will be just the beginning of a conversation in which you will want to engage your customers---hopefully you will ask many more as you probe.

When a customer has described a situation, issue, or problem, generally, the 3 key questions I tent to think of are:

1. What is the impact of this issue on you and on the business? It is important to explore the impact both from a personal and business point of view. Try to quantify this impact because it becomes a key element of your value proposition. Drill down and make sure you really understand the impact of this issue.

2. If this issue were to be resolved, what would the impact be on you and the business? This may sound a little redundant to the first question, but here you are trying to explore new opportunities or things they can do if the problem is eliminated. Generally, people are so focused on problems, they become blinded to what the problems are keeping them from doing. This is an area of tremendous opportunity for the customer and asking this question gives you the chance to explore these opportunities. Again, try to quantify so that, because this is part of your value proposition.

3. In terms of all the things that you are working on, where is this in your priorities? If it isn’t in their top 3-5 priorities, it will never get done. As sales people, we tend to leap on issues that we can address. Customers tend to let us continue to discuss those issues, even if they are a low priority. For us to make a sale, generally, we have to be in the top priority of issues they are addressing.

For those of you that have had any type of "SPIN Training," you will recognize these questions as a variant of the SPIN approach.

Does this make sense? Would you take a different tact?

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Dave Brock is President and CEO of Partners In EXCELLENCE, a global consulting company focused on performance improvement in sales, marketing and business strategy. Partners In EXCELLENCE has trained over 100,000 sales professionals, globally, in how to outsell and outperform their competition. Dave is a trusted advisor to executives in the high technology, industrial products, and professional services, and has worked with the largest organizations in those sectors as well as start-ups. Brock blogs at Making A Difference, his website is Partners In EXCELLENCE.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

First, Let Your Customer Finish Their Sentence, Then Ask Three Questions

Yesterday, I had a discussion with "Mark." Mark is one of the best sales/business development professionals I have ever met. In the market segments in which he sells, he is truly an expert. He's spent many years in understanding the industry, the players, the key issues facing everyone in the value delivery chain. Customers seek and respect Mark's opinion. He's helped customers achieve great things with his company's solutions.

Coupled with that, Mark has a very high level of enthusiasm and energy---it's infectious. Meeting with Mark, or seeing customers with him is always interesting. It's often hard to keep up with the ideas.

Imagine my surprise when Mark asked me for some advice today. While he is the highest performer in his company, he was having some challenges with closing deals. He said he was getting sales to a certain point and then they seem to stall. We were talking about what was going wrong.

Fortunately, I had been on some calls with Mark. I've seen how he interacted with customers. I've also seen Mark in conversations with his peers in his company and we had had many conversations between ourselves.

Mark has a problem---it's a problem I've seen many bright, high energy, and high performing sales professionals have. I noticed that Mark rarely lets anyone complete their thoughts. Mark's mind is racing ahead of the conversation. Before the customer has had a chance to state their issues, Mark knows the answer and is presenting a solution. He's eager to solve the issue, his enthusiasm and energy causes him to interrupt and to start presenting a solution.

Since Mark is truly an expert in the industry, more often than not, he is focusing on the right issue and presenting a powerful solution. However, this creates a real problem -- one the Mark is totally unconscious about.

The customer never gets to tell their story, the customer never really feels that she is being heard. Mark has not given them the chance to explain their issues.

The problem gets worse. A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with Mark and one of his customers. A few sentences into the discussion, Mark could read where things were going and jumped in to talk about the issues, their impact on the customer and their customers and potential solutions to resolve the issues. He wasn't pitching, but speaking from his expertise and experience --- an in many senses was very credible.

The problem, however, was that wasn't the issue that was bothering the customer. By interrupting the customer, Mark had cut off the chance to hear the real issues that were bothering the customer and address those. While Mark eventually discovered this and corrected it, it took some time. Fortunately the customer was generous and forgiving, giving Mark the opportunity to explore the real issues.

I see the same scenario too many times, with some of the best, most knowledgeable and experienced sales people.

Going back to Mark's and my discussion. He asked me what to do. I started to tell him, then he jumped in......

After I stopped the discussion, I said: "Mark, here is your new mantra: 'Let the customer complete their sentence or thought. Never, never, under any circumstances interrupt her. Then, before you respond to the customer, ask her three questions. If you do this, you will see profound changes in your effectiveness.'"

Mark paused and thought about it. He made a few comments, stopped himself and said he was being defensive. We started discussing it. Somethings we concluded:

    • Everyone wants to be heard--they want the chance to express their views and know
      they are being listened to. They want the chance to tell their story---and they
      need to tell their story to someone who is listening.

    • As smart as we are, until we have heard the customer's view, until it comes from their mouths, we are just assuming---and we know what assumptions make us.
      If we give the customer a chance to complete their thoughts, we will learn something new.

    • If we ask the customer three questions before responding, the quality of both our listening and our knowledge increases exponentially. We can then respond more
      appropriately and have an engaged customer.
I could tell Mark took it to heart. He wrote it down on the front cover of his notebook. He wanted to see it before each call with a customer.

Before we concluded, Mark asked me, "What are the three questions I should ask?" I have a specific answer for this, but I'd like your ideas and views---so please comment.

For any of you who are very curious---email me, I'll give you the three key questions you might ask in these situations. Just send a request to me at dabrock@excellenc.com.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Table Stakes Are Changing -- How Do We Up The Ante?


I just finished a conversation with a client. He is the EVP of Sales for a high performing sales organization. We were talking about the challenge of setting his company's offerings apart from the competition---continuing to differentiate their solutions.

For a few moments, we spoke about the "good old days." We reflected on how things had changed, what used to set them apart is now a common expectation---all the competitors deliver the same capability or experience, the customers now have new expectations -- the table stakes have changed!

Table stakes are constantly changing, the ante is continually increasing. If we aren't changing--in fact driving the change, we will not win. Thinking about the good old days doesn't close sales.

The new reality of competing in sales, the new (or at least today's) table stakes are:

  • Customers are better informed than ever before and will continue to be well
    informed. Before you have ever met with the customer, they have "pre-screened"
    you through Internet research--you won't get in the door unless your company has
    represented itself well in the electronic-Sale 2.0 world.

  • Your product/service doesn't count. By the time you are meeting with your customer,
    probably any of the alternatives they have "short listed" will meet their need.
    Focusing on pitching features, functions, feeds and speeds just wastes their and
    your time.

  • Some of the other things we relied about in the past like quality, delivery, logistics may not be the differentiators they once were.

When you are invited to the table, all of these are already on the table and roughly equal for all participants, how do you up the ante? Some thoughts:

  • The biggest: What do you do for the customer---both the enterprise and the individuals involved in the decision? How do you help increase profits, grow their business, increase the loyalty of their customers? Frankly, the customers don't care about you, your products and company, they care about what you can do for them.

  • How do you create a compelling customer buying experience? Customer experience is the rage in product development and design. As sales professionals we need to start thinking about the customer experience in the buying process. How do we become facilitators in the buying process? How do we create a hassle free experience---both in the buying and the implementation processes?

  • How do we, as sales professionals, become the differentiator that causes our companies to win?

Table stakes have changed, if we aren't constantly thinking about how we can up the ante, we will have to fold our hands, we may not even be dealt in. What ideas to you have to raise the ante?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sales Is Changing, Are You Maximizing Your Impact?

Webinar: Driving Demand in a Demanding Market

July 15 11 AM PST / 2 PM EST

As a sales executive, you know how difficult it is to increase revenue while decreasing costs in today's selling environment. You’re under pressure to produce sales. Missed deals are costing you money. You need new ways to get smarter and more productive quickly – not more of the same. But which new sales strategies will help you uncover hidden demand and maximize revenue potential without breaking the bank?Tune in to our live webcast to hear a panel of experts discuss strategies on how to boost sales and cut costs to impact your bottom line right now.Join our panel of specialists to discover:

Tips to get your sales team smarter and more productive
How to identify the right deals and avoid wasting time on dead ends
Tools that help manage and measure critical sales performance metrics
The role Technology can play in making an impact on your bottom line

Brent Leary is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger. He is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm offering tools and strategies for improving business relationships, with a client list including RIM, Sage, Microsoft, Intuit, and Cisco. Recognized by InsideCRM as one of 2007's 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary is also a past recipient of CRM Magazine's Most Influential Leader Award. Leary blogs at http://brentleary.com/.


Dave Brock is President and CEO of Partners In EXCELLENCE, a global consulting company focused on performance improvement in sales, marketing and business strategy. Partners In EXCELLENCE has trained over 100,000 sales professionals, globally, in how to outsell and outperform their competition. Dave is a trusted advisor to executives in the high technology, industrial products, and professional services, and has worked with the largest organizations in those sectors as well as start-ups. Brock blogs at http://partnersinexcellence.blogspot.com/, Partners In EXCELLENCE website is http://www.excellenc.com/.


David Bonnette is Group Vice President of Oracle's North American CRM sales organization, overseeing Oracle’s market-leading CRM portfolio for North American commercial markets. He leads a team of nearly 150 people and has built his organization around industry, segment, and product specialization. In transforming the culture to emphasize Innovation, Collaboration, his team is acutely focused on developing communities that create sustainable, material value for Oracle’s customers.

To register for this Webinar, click on this link: The Sales Game Has Changed, Are You Playing To Win?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Delivering Value Through Channel Partners

To many sales and business executives, developing channels, reseller relationships, or other similar partnerships is driven by finding cost effective means to covering markets or geographies. While this is compelling, I'd like to suggest a more effective strategy for developing and implementing your channel and partner strategies---if well executed, it will also be a cost effective way of reaching your customers.

Partners can be a key differentiator in developing, communicating, and delivering value to your customers. Today, no organization can deliver everything the customers need. Partners and resellers can be effective in adding to your total value proposition, better addressing your customer's needs and further differentiating your total offering from the competition. They can help fill holes in your value proposition, extending the strength of the total offering to your target customers.

In designing a value based channel,you should start with your target customer segments and work backwards. Make sure the value delivery chain you put in place adds to the value your offerings. Each partner should add value that complements yours and creates a greater value for the total offering to your customers. The picture below shows an example.



If your partners are not adding value and improving the total value proposition to the customers, they are adding cost --- detracting from your value proposition and competitiveness.

There are many ways partners might add value: relationships with customers is one area. Skills and capabilities that complement yours--for example implementation, installation of your products, local support, the ability to integrate complementary products for a richer solution, and others all represent potential value they might provide.

When building a channel that complements and enhances the total value of your offerings, make sure you understand one other element of value. What is the value that you provide your partners? If you are not providing them value, it is very unlikely the relationship will produce results. A way to think about this is illustrated below.



The decision to use partners should be driven primarily by filling gaps in your value proposition. If your partners add value in reaching your customers, and you add value to them, you will probably have an effective, efficient and high performing channel--creating great results for your mutual customers as well as for each other.

Partners In EXCELLENCE is the recognized leader in helping organizations develop and communicate differentiated value propositions. We are also recognized for our expertise in developing and implementing high impact partnering and channel strategies.

If you need to sharpen your tools, processes, thinking, and skills in value propositions, look at our Value Proposition Solutions, follow the link. For a copy of our free Value Proposition eBook, follow the link.

For our eBook, Partnering for Profitability, follow the linkg

For any other information about how Partners In EXCELLENCE can improve your organization’s capabilities in understanding, developing, communicating and delivering differentiated value, or i ndeveloping and implementing your channel strategies, please contact us at +1-949-305-7146 or dabrock@excellenc.com

Friday, June 12, 2009

People Don't Like To Be Sold---But They Do Like To Buy!

This is the quandary of the traditional sales person---they sell, but we all know people don't like to be sold! What we forget about this concept is that while people don't like to be sold, they really do like buying!

I'll say it again--people like to buy. People need to buy to achieve their goals. A problem is that people don't necessarily know how to buy! Solving this problem for customers is the real opportunity for sales professionals, it's the opportunity for sales to add value to the customer's buying process.

The role of the sales professional is to facilitate the customer's buying process. We can do this in many ways. Traditionally, a critical role of the sales person is to educate and inform the customer. Today's customers are much better informed---thanks to the Internet and all the resources available, but there is still a "last mile" challenge with many things so the role of educating and informing the customer is a critical function of the sales professional, the bar is just higher.

For the B2B sales professional there is a tremendous opportunity to create value for the customer by helping to facilitate their buying process. Think about it for a moment. As an example, how many times in a CIO's or CFO's career do they purchase and implement an ERP or Financial System? For most complex systems solutions, the buyers may only purchase a handful of times -- and each buying decision is separated (hopefully) by many years.

On the other hand, the sales person goes through this cycle many times a year. In the course of the year, sales people go through this process more times than most people go through in a lifetime, we are experts in the process. We know what organizations should be looking for in a solution, we know the errors organizations can make in selecting and implementing a solution. While our view is naturally biased, we can create great value in facilitating the customer's buying process.

How do we facilitate the customer's buying process? It's a few simple things, but that can have great meaning to the customer---again much is focused on educating and informing. Things like: What are the questions they should be asking---of you and of your competitors? What should their expectations of a solution be? Are they realistic, unrealistic? What are the pitfalls involved in selecting a solution? What are the things they should be considering, but not thinking about? How can they sell their management on the solution and providing budgets for it? The list can go on.

It's pretty easy once you start thinking about it. Just get out of your "sales" role and put yourself in the customer's shoes. If you were buying a solution, how would you go about it? What would you do? Share this with your customers and help guide them through the process as they execute it.

Another thing every sales professional can do is to make the process "easy" for the customer. Often, I meet with sales teams with convoluted, complex strategies to "sell" to the customer. We over think and over complicate the process--primarily because we are thinking about our competitors and not about our customers. If we just focus on making our solutions easy to buy, we will help our customers tremendously.

The role of the sales professional is to facilitate the customer's buying process. Customers love to buy, we just have to make it easy and productive for them to do this!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Creating Value---Business And Personal

I've been writing about creating differentiated value for your customers. Let me focus on a couple of elements of value---in this you will discover why "generic" value propositions miss the mark.

Value has many dimensions. As business and sales professionals, we tend to focus on the business elements of value--how much we can reduce costs, how much we can improve revenues, how much we can improve quality, and so forth. Business value, particularly when quantified is critical in sales.

There is another dimension of value that we often miss, but which can be the most important and differentiating element of your value proposition. It's personal value--what you bring to each customer you work with.

My friend, Charles Green, wrote a post on
Two Questions. It's an outstanding post and part of it talks about personal value. He talks about asking the question: "How are you doing?"

Personal value is all about the individual, asking "How are you doing" helps you discover what your customer values and how you can help hat person. By exploring this aspect of value you learn about your customer's goals, dreams, and aspirations. You learn about their frustrations, problems and needs. You develop a relationship with the customer, showing that you are really interested and that you care about them---as individuals.

Elements of personal value can be very simple, but have a profound impact on your customer. It could be as simple as "get my boss off my back," "let me get home at a reasonable hour so I can spend more time with my family." It may be, "get me a promotion," or "get me a bonus." Until, you explore the personal side of value with each individual involved in the decision making process, you don't know how you can make a difference for each of them.

We talk about sales being about relationships, but without exploring the personal element of value, it is impossible to develop deep relationships with your customers.

Personal value is an important part of your value proposition. We have seen, many times, that the business aspects of our value proposition are roughly equal to those of the competition. From a business point of view, our value proposition is not differentiated. However, customers make the decision for us because of the personal element of the value proposition--they know we really care.

Before concluding, let me add a warning note. Developing and delivering personal value requires commitment on your part. It must be genuine, it must endure beyond the "deal." If you don't care, if you aren't committed to developing deep, genuine relationships with your customers, you are being manipulative. Customers will see through this quickly and you will never achieve your goals.

As you build your value proposition, think of your real differentiator--it is the deep relationships and trust you build with your customers. It is how you make a difference in their lives. This is the most sustainable and differentiated element of value anyone can create.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Setting Yourself Apart, Developing and Communicating Differentiated Value

A compelling and differentiated value proposition is critical in selling—we all know this, yet this remains one of the biggest challenges facing sales professionals.

This post examines 5 critical elements about developing and communicating differentiated value propositions.

1. Numbers count, quantifying your value is critical. We know the structure of value proposition, it states a problem area or issue your customer has, addresses what you can do about it, and ideally provides quantification of the result.

For example, in working with sales executives, I often say: "We can reduce the number of calls your people have to make on each deal by 30-40%, dramatically improving productivity." Sales productivity and the effective use of time is usually a high priority for sales people and executives, and a 30-40% call reduction is usually compelling to the executive, they usually want to hear what we say.

While most sales people know the structure of a value proposition, very often, we don’t see sales people quantifying the magnitude of improvement or result the customer might expect to achieve. They present the product feature and generalized benefits, but leave it to the customer to guess at what improvement will result. The best sales people make this result very obvious as a part of their value proposition.

2. If your value proposition isn’t differentiated, the only differentiation apparent to customers is price. Product based value propositions are undifferentiated. Today, differences between competitive offerings are often very small. Too often, I see sales people developing value propositions based on the features, functions, and benefit of their products -- but they look similar to the competition’s.

Do this test: Look at a product in your company’s web site and how its value is presented. Go to your top 3 competitors and look at their value propositions---are they almost exactly the same as yours?

To differentiate yourself, you have to take a broader look at your offering. Elements that drive differentiation include company reputation, ease of doing business, the total customer experience through the buying and implementation process, your personal relationship with the customer, and many other issues.

3. The value proposition must change as you progress through the customer buying cycle. Early in the cycle, a relatively generic or undifferentiated value proposition is perfectly sufficient. All you are trying to do is to get the customer interested in you and to commit to consider your offering, along with competition.

Too often, though, sales people stick with these generic value propositions. To win, the value proposition must change. As you discover the customers’ most critical issues, problems and priorities, you must adjust your value proposition to address those specific issues, in the customer terms.

For example in my sales productivity above, as I work with the customer, I might change my value proposition to: "Based on our discussions with you, we have found your people are spending too much time pursuing unqualified or bad deals. We believe by helping your people better disqualify bad opportunities, we can improve your win rates by as much as 15%, and improve resource utilization by 22%."

In the beginning of the deal, the general sales productivity improvement was interesting enough for the customer to consider us. As we understood the customer‘s challenges, we focused on a specific issue impacting their performance and our value proposition focused on the results in addressing their specific issues.

4. You have to address the customers’ top priorities and issues. We tend to treat the customer as the enterprise or company. People make decisions, not enterprises. To be effective, our value propositions must address the priorities and needs for each person involved in the decision making process---in their terms. While they may have some common priorities, there will always be differences.

Using my value proposition example, the sales executive is most concerned with win rates, resource utilization, and cost of selling. A regional sales manager might be concerned with win rates, and improving the quality of the funnel. A training manager will be more concerned with the delivery of the program, the coaching and sustainability, and the learning pedagogy.

To be effective as a sales person you have to focus on each person involved on the decision and address their top priorities and requirements. The one individual you have not satisfied may be enough to cause you not to win a deal.

5. You win by focusing on each customer’s top 5 priorities. I talk to people who have generated long laundry lists of issues they have to address. While you can’t ignore all the issues, generally addressing the top 5 priorities for each customer and setting yourself apart in those areas will be what causes you to win. Make sure you have compelling and differentiated value propositions for those and make sure your customer acknowledges them. Addressing their 20th issue is not likely going to be what causes you to win or lose the deal.

However, be careful to re-validate the customer priorities through their buying cycle, their priorities may change and you will have to change your focus to stay aligned.

6. Bonus---I couldn’t resist giving you a bonus tip: None of this counts until the customer acknowledges the value, confirms that it is differentiated and agrees it addresses their most critical needs. However differentiated and valuable you think you are, until it comes from the customer’s mouth, you are just guessing.

Partners In EXCELLENCE is the recognized leader in helping organizations develop and communicate differentiated value propositions. If you need to sharpen your tools, processes, thinking, and skills in this area, look at our
Value Proposition Solutions, follow the link. For a copy of our free Value Proposition eBook, follow the link.

For any other information about how Partners In EXCELLENCE can improve your organization’s capabilities in understanding, developing, communicating and delivering differentiated value, please contact us at +1-949-305-7146 or valueprop@excellenc.com

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Sales Game Has Changed, Are You Playing To Win?

Webinar: Driving Demand in a Demanding Market
July 15 11 AM PST / 2 PM EST

As a sales executive, you know how difficult it is to increase revenue while decreasing costs in today's selling environment. You’re under pressure to produce sales. Missed deals are costing you money. You need new ways to get smarter and more productive quickly – not more of the same. But which new sales strategies will help you uncover hidden demand and maximize revenue potential without breaking the bank?

Tune in to our live webcast to hear a panel of experts discuss strategies on how to boost sales and cut costs to impact your bottom line right now.

Join our panel of specialists to discover:

  • Tips to get your sales team smarter and more productive
  • How to identify the right deals and avoid wasting time on dead ends
  • Tools that help manage and measure critical sales performance metrics
  • The role Technology can play in making an impact on your bottom line

Brent Leary is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger. He is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm offering tools and strategies for improving business relationships, with a client list including RIM, Sage, Microsoft, Intuit, and Cisco. Recognized by InsideCRM as one of 2007's 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary is also a past recipient of CRM Magazine's Most Influential Leader Award. Leary blogs at http://brentleary.com/.



Dave Brock is President and CEO of Partners In EXCELLENCE, a global consulting company focused on performance improvement in sales, marketing and business strategy. Partners In EXCELLENCE has trained over 100,000 sales professionals, globally, in how to outsell and outperform their competition. Dave is a trusted advisor to executives in the high technology, industrial products, and professional services, and has worked with the largest organizations in those sectors as well as start-ups. Brock blogs at http://partnersinexcellence.blogspot.com, Partners In EXCELLENCE website is www.excellenc.com.


David Bonnette is Group Vice President of Oracle's North American CRM sales organization, overseeing Oracle’s market-leading CRM portfolio for North American commercial markets. He leads a team of nearly 150 people and has built his organization around industry, segment, and product specialization. In transforming the culture to emphasize Innovation, Collaboration, his team is acutely focused on developing communities that create sustainable, material value for Oracle’s
customers.
To register for this Webinar, click on this link: The Sales Game Has Changed, Are You Playing To Win?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Fixing Sales Training, Chicken Or Egg?



I've been quietly following my friend Dave Stein's posts, tweets, and rants about the state of sales training this week. I guess the ASTD conference set him off, but I've been quietly cheering him along.

Sales training seems to be one of those things people constantly complain about --- management, sales people, training people --- yet somehow we are content in not doing anything about it. Billions of dollars/euros/yuan are spent, with little impact; but those dollars will be spent next year (maybe a little less) and the same complaints will persist.

Where does the fault lie? I'm not sure, I'm not sure I care. Training is blamed a lot of the time, often justifiably, but often their hands are tied. Management is not engaged as they should be, but given their time pressures, finding time may be difficult.

I want to focus more on solutions, how do we break this conundrum. Some thoughts:

1. Nothing will be changed until sales management recognizes the biggest leverage to improving sales effectiveness and productivity is to make the development of their people their number 1 priority.

I've written a lot about management's role in coaching and developing people. I continue to believe the highest impact management activity is actively engaging their sales people, individually and as teams, in developing their people.

Management --- sales leadership is not about administration. It is an aspect of the job, but it is a cost driver not an enhancement of the sales function. There are increasing numbers of very powerful tools that can help managers do the administration. Sales executives must focus on business process simplification to reduce the time managers have to spend on administration.

Management ---- sales leadership is not about being a Super Salesperson. Sales managers have to be strong sales people, but their job isn't to drive deals or to swoop into save the day. If they were super salespeople as individual contributors, they probably were fully consumed time-wise. Giving them broader responsibility managing more people, a larger territory, provides no leverage on their time so expecting them to do more is unrealistic.
Management --- sales leadership is about getting things done through people. Yet many managers don't know this is their job, they don't have the skills to do it, their performance is not measured on people development, and they may be afraid. Sales executives must realize their most leveraged activity is to set the a standard for people development, to hold their people accountable for it, to measure it, and to do it themselves---coaching and developing their own management team.

The bottom line here is: It's simple, there is no more important or highly leveraged activity to driving sales results and effectiveness than developing and coaching your people--managers and individual contributors -- to reach the highest levels of performance.

2. Sales training is too important to be left to the sales trainers. I'm not criticizing people in the training organization (well maybe a little), but we are asking them to step up to something that is beyond their experience base---and this is a management problem.

Years ago, when I was at IBM, high potential leaders always spent some part of their careers in training and development. Every sales training class I went to was led by someone who had been a sales person, the value of "been there, done that" is so important in driving relevance into training.

Moving high potential sales leaders into a training function also improves their ability as managers and leaders. To be effective in training, they have to learn how to be effective in coaching and development. They spend time in developing their skills on what will be the most important thing they can do in the future as managers and sales leaders.

We see many large companies doing this as part of their OJT management development and in providing relevant training to sales. Organizations that staff their sales training organizations with training professionals are disadvantaged -- and it's not the trainer's fault. I think professional trainers are very good and make great contributions, but I think the contribution is improved my mixing the training organization with high potential sales practitioners.

Small and medium companies may not have this luxury, they may not even have a training department. This mandates that sales managers and executives take an active role in developing and executing the training programs. They must set objectives, they must evaluate alternatives, and they must make sure the training is integrated into their overall business management process. The process of doing this will both improve the results of training and will help managers develop their own capabilities.

Bottom line: Sales management has to own and engage in setting the training strategy and even in training delivery. It is a fast way for them to develop their own skills.

3. Training needs to stand up to sales management. Often, I see well meaning training professionals wanting to do the right job, but not feeling empowered to do this. Recently, I was involved (unsuccessfully) with the training organization of a large company. They had an impossible task.

Sales management had mandated some innovative training programs and dumped it in the laps of the training organization. The training department had real concerns about the programs. There were some budgetary concerns, but those weren't central. The training organization had seen millions invested in training on these specific skills in the past, with no result. They were concerned about replicating the same thing. One of their tasks was to develop management coaching training. Yet, managers were not held accountable and many did not believe that coaching was part of their responsibility.

Bottom line: It takes courage, but training needs to stand up to management, forcing them to do the right thing, and to be engaged. Frankly, this is a matter of self preservation for training. If they don't this death spiral discussion will continue.

4. Be careful how you are being sold---manage your vendors. My friend Niall Devitt has been having a very active discussion about selling sales training. Go to that discussion and learn from it. There are a lot of quality suppliers of sales training, but there are even more hucksters.
If you call a vendor in and ask them for training and the price, not letting them engage you, you deserve what you get.

Be careful of people talking about the silver bullet or focusing on the 10 clever techniques of doing something. If the vendor isn't asking you a lot of questions about your markets, your sales processes, your people, the challenges, performance expectations, and so on--then they aren't concerned about making a difference, they just want to separate you from your money.

Watch how you are being sold. Many years ago, I was EVP of sales for a large organization. I went through the final interviews of sales training vendors. They were basically selling the same thing-- a process based, customer/consultative focus managing the complex sales process. At a surface level, it was hard to distinguish between vendors.

What I inspected was how they were selling me and how they had sold my people. Interestingly, of 4 major firms (big name companies) we considered, only one of the sales people was using their process in selling us. It caused me to think, "If their process wasn't good enough for them to use, then why was it good enough for me?" I chose the one vendor who was using their own process in selling us. In working with our clients, a number of people have commented on the same---we use our process in working with them, many other don't.

Bottom line: Be aware you are being sold -- and sales people are susceptible to being sold. Perhaps paraphrasing the golden rule: "They should sell unto you, as you would like to sell unto your customers." Hmmm-not sure that works, but you get it.

I'll stop here, you know I can get into long winded discussions. What suggestions would you add so that we can break this death spiral on the effectiveness of sales training?