Friday, February 27, 2009

Seven Lessons For Leading In A Crisis

Bill George wrote a great article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago: Seven Lessons For Leading In A Crisis. Without going into detail (read the article), the lessons are:

Lesson #1: "Leaders must face reality." My views on this are: The key issue here is to be willing to look at and tell the whole truth, including how leaders have failed. Until you face reality, your strategies are wishful thinking based on a fictional view of the organization. You won't solve your problems until you acknowledge what the real problems are.

Lesson #2: "No matter how bad things are, they will get worse." My views on this are: This is related to Lesson 1. Often, leaders can't believe things are really that bad. They tend to shoot the messenger or down play the seriousness of the issues. In doing this they never address the real issues or develop the right corrective strategies.

Lesson #3: "Build a mountain of cash, and get to the highest hill." Undoubtedly, cash is king in troubled times. At the same time, I may differ a little, I believe companies need to invest in building their future in tough times. Investments in improving efficiency and effectiveness are critical. Investments that improve your positioning and maximize the value you bring to your customers are critical. I would say: Cash and liquidity is important, but don't hoard it unnecessarily, realize that you must continue to make investments in building and improving your business.

Lesson #4: "Get the world off your shoulders." As Bill highlights in the article, I see executives tending to go into isolation, focusing superhuman efforts on rescuing the organization. Despite what we think, none of us have bid "S's" painted on our chest. The most effective path to recovery is to engage the creativity, energy, and skills of the whole team in developing and executing solutions to the organization's challenges.

Lesson #5: "Before asking others to sacrifice, first volunteer yourself." Haven't we seen enough of executives protecting themselves, at the expense of everything and everyone else in the organization? Leadership is about setting personal examples. We cannot expect people make sacrifices until they see us sacrificing as well.

Lesson #6: "Never waste a good crisis." This is great! Crisis can be an important rallying point for driving great change. When things are going well, people tend to be very resistant to change---perpetuating bad processes, practices, products, behaviors. In crisis, people recognize the need to change and rally behind it. Leverage this as an opportunity to improve.

Lesson #7: "Be aggressive in the marketplace." Organizations tend to do exactly the opposite. Companies tend to retract, they tend to be very cautious and conservative. This is the time to make aggressive moves, reset the rules of competition, re position and better serve your customers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What If We Stopped Using The Economy As An Excuse?

Yesterday, I was speaking to a colleague. He had a though provoking observation. One of the companies he is working with has adopted an interesting policy. They refuse to let their sales people use the economy as an excuse---their sales are up 10%.

I started thinking about other conversations and reviews I have been involved in and how so many are using the economy as an excuse for not performing. It's true, the economy may be making things tougher---we may finally have to work for a living.

However, the need for solutions to help most of our customers has never been greater! Over the past couple of weeks, I have written about secrets to success---making your customers money and saving them money. These needs have never been more obvious or more compelling. Many organizations have no choice, they have to do something--but many don't know what to do.

This is an opportunity for sales professionals to provide real leadership! It's an opportunity for us to demonstrate our value to our customers. It's an opportunity for us to really help them in ways that are meaningful--potentially their survival.

I fully realize this is not easy, but isn't this the time for real professionals to step up their performance and prove what they are made of.

I'm going to start challenging all of may clients not to use the economy as an excuse for non performance. Every business and sales executive should be doing the same. Imagine what might happen!

What are your suggestions on how we can overcome this excuse and move back into producing results?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Do Great Sales People Make Good Sales Managers?

There was an interesting thought posed in LinkedIn today: “Good sales people make good sales managers.” It went on to ask the characteristics of good sales managers. The question struck a chord, a dissonant one, provoking me to respond. I’m sure I have missed a lot of characteristics of great sales managers, and would ask for your addition, deletions, edits. Here’s my response and the list I started with:

Great sales people are sometimes the worst sales managers. Likewise, some mediocre sales people end up being stellar sales managers.

There is a long list of leadership skills/traits that are important for managers. I will stay away from repeating these.

Some specific areas that I think are often overlooked for sales managers:

1. Very process oriented. Today's sales manager cannot be involved in every deal, issue or transaction. They have to have a strong process in place, make certain their people understand and are executing the process. The sales manager has to continually monitor the process, taking deep dives in problem areas to help their people address them.

2. Disciplined and performance oriented. Closely tied to the previous point, the sales manager must have a strong focus on performance and performance improvement. This requires having the right metrics in place, making sure people understand what they are accountable for, giving them the opportunity to perform, being there to coach them when they have problems, and being prepared to take the appropriate actions if performance problems are not resolved.

3. Loyalty to the organization and their people. The sales manager is often caught between a rock and a hard place---the objectives of the organization sometimes come into conflict with what is best for the team. Effective sales managers are actively involved in setting organizational strategies and priorities (at least in terms of sales) and engage the sales people in executing them--though they may resist---which requires strong engagement and coaching. At the same time, sometimes the "organization" is insensitive to the sales people. The sales manager needs to defend the sales people to the organization, making sure they are heard.

3. Strong business orientation and focus. Make the right business decisions—both for the customer, for the sales organization, and for the business. Understanding how businesses work and what drives them.

4. Incessantly customer focused. If I have to say more, then we really don’t understand the point of professional selling.

5. Incessantly curious---driven to learn and improve. Incessantly curious about solving customer problems. Incessantly curious about the art and science of professional selling—driven to improve the performance of each individual in the organization, the organization as a whole, his own personal performance, and the business. This means they probably spend much more time asking questions and listening then they do talking.

6. Appropriately compassionate. Understand what drives people—customers, sales people, support people, others in the organization. Able to understand their points of view and what drives them. Able to communicate and work with them in a matter that demonstrates respect and trust. At the same time, able to make tough decisions—but with compassion based on the impact on individuals.

7. Able to sublimate their egos. Sales management is about leadership, growing and developing people, growing and developing the organization, growing and developing the business. It is not about how great you are and your past victories. It requires admitting you are wrong when you are. It requires being able to change your point of view.

8. Problem solvers. Driven by solving problems, finding ways to overcome obstacles, not being wed to the past. Creative and innovative in adapting new approaches to address issues and improve the business.

9. High energy. Constantly moving forward, setting strong examples for everyone around. Note, I am not saying high activity, high meeting orientation. High energy is different than meaningless activities.

10. Value, principle driven. Without a strong value system, a manager has no context in which to make decisions and drive the organization. Without sticking to the values and principles, the organization will wander and not produce results.

11. Thoughtful, reflective, good sense of humor. Self explanatory.

12. Able to leap tall buildings without tripping. Sales managers don’t need to have a big “S” on their chests, but they need to inspire and motivate others.

I’m sure I’ve missed some and could go into much more detail on each item. But I look for all of these in hiring great sales managers!

What would you add? Are there any you would eliminate?

Ever Wonder About Change?

There have been a few versions of this around. I think this is one of the latest updates. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Secret To Success Part 2---Make Customers Money!

A few days ago, I wrote about the secret to sales success---saving customers money. Well there's another secret, that may be more powerful than saving money---help your customers make money! Show them how you can help them increase sales and revenue.

Depending on the solutions you sell, it may require doing some real homework. So much of the time we focus on the expense side of the income statement, but we forget that our solutions can contribute to the revenue side.

Consider areas we overlook. Does your solution make your customer more responsive to their customers? For example, many IT systems solutions, while improving productivity and reducing costs, also improve the ability of your customer to respond to their customers. Improving responsiveness can help them improve their ability to win new deals.

Likewise, if your solution helps improve customer satisfaction, it can improve customer retention and drive increases in revenue.

With a little creative thought, you can discover many areas to help customers increase their revenues. Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to talk to different people in your customer. Typically, you may deal with operations, IT, finance, procurement or administrative operations. Try meeting with the sales, marketing and strategy people in your customers. You will discover all sorts of opportunities.

Recently, I completed a project with a large client. Their products typically helped their customers run very large telecommunications networks more efficiently and with higher availability. Usually, they justified their solutions on efficiency, reliability and cost reduction. As an experiment, we spoke to the VP's of sales and marketing for their customers.

We discovered a whole new range of benefits and capabilities my client's products already provided, but were not being exploited by their customers in driving revenue services. Their customers started offering new services---enabled by my clients' products. These services drove incremental revenues from their current customers and allowed them to attract new customers who wanted those services. We discovered a whole range of things that our client had taken for granted, or their customers did not understand that directly increased the revenues their clients could achieve.

In the current economy, everyone is searching for ways for growing their sales. The easiest way to grow yours is to show your customers how you help them grow theirs!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Secret To Success---Save Customers Money!

Today's New York Times had an article: The Secret to Start-Up Success: Save Customers Money. My knee jerk reaction was D-uuuhhh.

Then I paused to think, while this is so obvious, how many sales people really demonstrate how they can save their customers money? I thought I would pose a few questions, I'd love your responses:

  • Do you, in every proposal, present a written and compelling business case about how your solution will save the customer money?
  • Do you review this with your customers and get their buy in?
  • Are your customers demanding this business case? Do you provide it even if they don't ask?
In one of my companies, we are evaluating some new software tools. We are reviewing proposals from a number of suppliers---some very large companies. I saw the first proposals a couple of days ago. While all of the "boilerplate" in these proposals talks to increase in productivity, areas where we can realize savings, and other benefits, none of the vendors provided a business justification and analysis. In the presentations, the sales people are giving lip service to productivity and value, but focus mostly on the neat features and capabilities. Part of the fault is with my team, they did not ask for a detailed business justification. However, shouldn't the sales person be providing this as part of the value proposition and in demonstrating why we should be buying their solution?

This caused me to reflect on other situations where we have made major purchases. It caused me to think to some the reviews we do for our clients. While everyone presents good analysis of the costs of procuring a solution, and they provide comprehensive financing alternatives, very few of the deals included a comprehensive business case, justifying the solution.

The secret to success is demonstrating visibly, using your customers' financial criteria, how you can save them money. Perhaps it's too obvious and simple. What are your thoughts?

A Resource No Sales Professional Should Be Without!!

Welcome To Top Sales Experts 2.0 (TSE 2.0)!

Today, we opened the doors on Phase Two of the Top Sales Experts project, and we added a number of new resources, which we have in fact been working on for a number of months. We very much hope that you will want to be part of this forward thinking initiative and join us as we aim to create the most significant online sales orientated location available.

Please allow me to provide you with all the details:

First of all, what is TSE?

TSE stands for Top Sales Experts, a collective of just 60 globally recognised sales gurus.

It sounds like a large number, but when you remember that there are 14 million salespeople in North America alone, it does not sound so big and we are serving front-line sales professionals and sales leaders all around the world.

Because you are associated with one of the Experts on the TSE team, you are invited to become a founding member for just $25.

Here’s what you’ll receive:

TSE “Ask the Experts” … a safe place to submit sales-related questions that you need answering…and to receive real, practical, easy-to-implement solutions from 60 of the world’s Top Experts.

TSE Forums…. An opportunity to connect with sales professionals and sales leaders around the world from a multitude of industries

TSE Webinars - hundreds of topics addressed by dozens of top sales experts, delivered to you via downloadable Webinars.(When these are opened to the public they will pay $69.50 per session – but you access them FREE with your membership)

TSE Roundtables On February 24th, we are going to do something completely different. Four of the world’s top sales gurus, will gather together to present timely, relevant, and specific advice, all in one 90-minute online-show. Each TSE Roundtable addresses issues being faced by sales professionals everywhere. As we face up to the severest economic downturn ever, we plan to run one Roundtable every month. (Your colleagues may join us for a cost of $69.50 per roundtable, yet this is an exclusive, FREE privilege with your membership).

TSE “Article Vault” … where the best thoughts of each expert are catalogued by subject…so you have access to valuable information and solutions having to do with specific topics, at the click of a mouse …a sales library at your finger tips, saving you considerable time and money!

TSE “Library of How to Guides” … important online guides that address every conceivable aspect of selling including (but not limited to!) … nuances of negotiation … subtleties of sales presentations … powerful closing tips and much more.

TSE “Interactive Assessments” ... interactive tools that you can take online. These are set up to score your results behind the scenes and to provide your results instantly … allowing you to quickly identify your strengths and capitalize on them immediately! ( yet another exclusive FREE service to TSE members)

“TSE Daily Audio”… every day, Monday through Friday check your Inbox daily for your special link to 10-15 minutes of expert sales instruction provided in MP3 format … use it for repeated listening throughout the day … turn your drive time, train time, workouts at the gym, into your private mini-sales-university! (Normally $99 month to those on the outside)

TSE “E-book Corner” ... a huge selection of ebooks written by experts as they drill-down on topics.(These sell for $19 per ebook except to members who get them FREE )

TSE “Quarterly TSE Ebook” ... a remarkable, well-organized, rich-in-content ebook where our experts each contribute one new article – fresh material that you see before anyone else. (An impressive ebook that sets a new standard $99 value but for members of TSE these volumes are FREE )

TSE “Podcasts” Within this section, we will be offering you a wide selection of Podcasts that have been recorded by the Top Sales Experts team($29 value once again yours for FREE when you join TSE)

AND Special “Members Only” 25% DISCOUNTS ON:

Annual Hardback of Quarterly ebooks
TSE Store
TSE Sales Team Assessments

Finally: When you enroll you also get … a big bundle of free gifts … that’s more than $2,000 of free gifts from the TSE experts for you!

I do, very much hope you will join us – you can sign-up here.

TSE Membership banner

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Is There Real Value In Your Value Proposition?

Everyone is talking about value propositions. Google the term and you get 11.3 millions hits. Look at the marketing materials for any company and you will see them extolling their value propositions.

Read your company’s “value propositions” and those of your competition. Don’t they sound the same? Can you really differentiate between yours and those of your competitors? If you can’t articulate a meaningful and differentiated value proposition, then why should the customer choose your offering?

In defining and communicating your value proposition, you must focus on several issues.

  • First, the customer must have a real need or a business problem. This seems obvious, but too often, we see sales people pursuing opportunities in which the customer has no need to buy.
  • Value is determined by the customer. If you do not know what the customer values,
    then you cannot present meaningful value proposition.

  • To win, the customer must perceive that your value proposition must be superior to every alternative being considered. This includes competitors, or the possibility of the customer doing nothing. It is your responsibility to differentiate your solution, producing a superior value proposition.

Developing your value proposition is not rocket science. Here are some tips, based on our experience:

  • To have a differentiated value proposition, you must discover what customers’ value. The most important phase of the sales process is the “Discovery Phase.” This is where you spend time understanding the customer needs, business drivers, key issues, priorities, hopes and dreams. Until you understand these, you don’t know what the customer values.

  • The greatest value often lies outside the specific capabilities of the product
    you are selling. Don’t ignore the non-product aspects of what you deliver
    and how these might help differentiate your offering.

  • Elements of value may be business or personally oriented. When trying to discover what customers’ value, look for both the business and personal elements of value and try to respond to each in presenting your offer.

  • When I refer to developing unique value propositions for each customer, I mean each person involved in making or influencing the decision in the customer organization. To be successful, sales professionals need to present the value of the offer that means the most to each individual at the time the decision is being made.

  • There are no silver bullets! When the Lone Ranger died, all the silver bullets went away. Developing, communicating, and delivering value requires real understanding of what your customer seeks to accomplish, the roadblocks they face, and what is important to them.

  • A way to start you thinking about your value proposition is to think about your customer's business and their priorities. For example, the answers to the following questions. Once you have the answers, drill down, quantify, and prioritize.

  • What do we do in helping our customers increase their revenue?
  • What do we do in helping our customers decrease their costs?
  • What do we do in helping our customer increase their profitability?
  • What do we do to help our customers better respond to the needs of their
  • What do we do to help our customers improve their productivity?
  • What do we do to help our customers improve their cycle time/speed?
  • What do we do to help our customers improve the satisfaction, retention, and
    growth of their customers?
  • What do we do to help our customers improve their quality?
  • What do we do to help our customers improve the satisfaction of their employees?
  • How can we help them in this economic downturn?

  • Remember your competition is trying to develop and communicate their value proposition. To be successful your value proposition must be differentiated and superior to all others. Never lose sight of your differentiation. Confirm and reconfirm your value with your customer.
  • Finally, make sure you are delivering real value! Failing to deliver on the value the customer thought they were buying will destroy the relationship over time.

Developing and communicating a differentiated value proposition in each sales situation is critical to success. There is a lot of hype about value propositions. Focusing on the elements listed above will help guide you to greater success with your customers.

(For a more comprehensive set of white papers on developing and communicating unique value, send an email to me,, I'll be glad to forward them to you.)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Twitterers, Please Help: Why Does Guy Kawasaki Think It’s Important For Me To Know About A Slideshow For Bacon Lovers?

First an apology to Guy, I’m a great fan of yours. I’ve read many of your books, follow your blog(s), read and read your articles. I do this because, more often than not, you have interesting insights and something meaningful to say.

Please excuse me for using you as an example about my struggle and confusion with Twitter (also, while we haven’t met, I sense you have a sense of humor).

I’m a newbie to Twitter, and a relative newbie to Social Networking. I believe these tools can have a tremendous impact, so I am trying to understand them. I respect Guy’s leadership and view on these topics, so I am “hanging on every tweet” trying to understand their inner meaning. As I write this article, Guy has been communicating with me (pardon my ego, I tend to think of him reaching out to me –and 59,420 others). I’m learning that Guy is very talkative but he really is sending a lot:

Guy’s a smart guy (sorry, I couldn’t help it), so clearly there has to be something significant about bacon---he reached out to me 18 minutes ago. 22 minutes ago, he knew that I wanted to know about bad Valentine’s Day gifts, and 2 minutes ago, he thought I would be interested in beautiful navigation menus.

Guy is all about creating meaning….so I’m trying to figure this out and really struggling.

If it weren’t him, I would tend to think of this as TWAM (SPAM for tweets?) --- though I did “opt-in.”

Can someone help me? What am I not getting?

Guy, if by some chance you read this, thanks for a sense of humor. There are lot’s of people I am following—or dropping in on. I am really trying to figure this out.

Social Networking---Lot’s of Friends, No One Wants To Know Me

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I am a relative newbie in Social Networking. I’ve belonged to LinkedIn for years, but really haven’t paid attention to it until the past 6 months.

About 18 months ago, at Jeff Pulver’s suggestion, I joined Facebook, I’m still trying to figure out how to use it, though it has enriched my relationships with my nieces and nephews—somehow they think I am marginally cooler. I know what a wall, is, I’m still struggling with pokes. Someone poked me for the first time the other day, I didn’t know whether to say “Ouch,” jump, poke back or what.

I’m a late adopter, I’ve just gotten into Twitter, joining about 2 weeks ago. So far, I’ve only sent 3 tweets, I think I’m concerned about dropping my phone into the urinal?????? In any case, I’m still struggling with Twitter.

Every week, I get invited to join at least one other social networking tool—I used to accept, but now turn all those down---I don’t know how to keep all those social networks current. I’ve decided to focus everything on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

The most confusing phenomenon is that I get lots of requests to be “friends.” These really confuse me. The one’s from people I know who are just finding me are great. But 80% of the requests come from people who I don’t know. I have no idea how they found me and when I look at their profiles, I don’t know why they would ever want to friend me or follow me. It’s great for my ego---imagine someone wants to follow my every tweet or wants to have someone like me in their network. I never knew I could have so many friends!

People have already told me I’m strange---I’ve accepted this, but I have this “unusual practice” with these friend requests. Before I accept a request from people I don’t know, I ask to spend a few minutes on the phone with them. I want to learn a little about them, what they do, what they want to achieve and how I might help them. I want them to know the same about me.

I take networking seriously. My Rolodex (I wonder what term will take the place of Rolodex as that concept goes into decline) is large with very deep, quality relationships. Colleagues call out my networking capabilities and my ability to make quality connections with people. I value my network deeply and guard the relationships carefully.

I extend this practice into the world of social media and networking. That’s why I ask my potential “new friends “ for a phone conversation. The reactions to these requests is what really interests me.

About 10% of the people respond and we have a great phone call, they become my friends. I’ve actually been able to leverage a few of these relationship to mutual benefit, for example introducing a talented new friend to someone I know is looking for their services.

Many of my new friends are “surprised” by the request, but want to adopt it as a best practice.

The most distressing thing is that 90% of my requests go unanswered. It’s ego shattering! What’s happening to my potentially new friends? We haven’t gotten to know each other and already they are abandoning me! Why did they ask me in the first place, didn’t they really want to be friends after all?

Also, I’ve been unfriended once—but the individual sent me a nice note, saying he wanted to focus his Facebook relationships on personal relationships. We transferred our relationship to LinkedIn. But I’m worried, are my expectations going to start having my current friends abandon me? Should I take it personally?

I don’t understand, can anyone help me? As a newbie, it's a real struggle!

Top Sales Experts Launches New Resource For Sales Professionals!!

I've mentioned my affiliation withTop Sales Experts (TSE). It's a fantastic group of people, whose opinions I value. It's been an honor to be associated with them as a "Top Sales Expert."

I am delighted to report that Tuesday, February 10 is the Launch date for TSE 2.0. Mark it on your calendar! What is the TSE 2.0 Launch all about?

Well, I am not at liberty to reveal details just yet. The final pieces are clicking into place – literally—as I write this post. However, I can tell you it will be a valuable resource for sales professionals and leaders.

But … I can tell you that my TSE colleagues – sales experts from around the world – have have created a whopping $1,000 worth offree gifts – extraordinary ”freemiums” –with answers to your most pressing business questions and answers to questions you haven’t yet asked!

Now, if you want to take a sneak peek and watch the count down with me you can. Follow along here when you copy and paste this link into your browser or click it!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Focus On Your Customer's Need To Buy, Not Your Need To Sell!

All sales people, today, sell solutions. At least that’s what most sales people say they are doing. If sales people are really acting consultatively, selling solutions, why are so many customers sick of sales pitches? We hear customers saying:

    • "They (the sales people) always come in here pitching their latest products and
      technologies without telling me how it solves our problems."
    • "They say they have solutions before they even know my problems."
    • "The sales person doesn’t understand my business."
    • "They tell me about the products, I have to figure out whether it will solve my problems!"
    • "They just want to push their products without understanding our needs!"

Most sales people focus on their need to sell, not their customer’s need to buy. Putting the customer first in the selling process is simple, yet enables sales people to achieve real success. It enhances the sales person’s relationships with their customer. It enables them to clearly demonstrate their value. Finally, it is key to competitive success!

What is the Sales Person’s Need To Sell?

Sales people have a need to sell. We focus on sales targets and commissions. We love our products and "gee-whiz" technologies. We want our customers to be as excited about the latest widget our company has introduced as we are. We want to please our managers and gain the approval of our peers. It could be the latest in semiconductor, computer, software or communications technology, or the hottest new fashions, or the best new consumer products, or the great new financial services products.

How many times have we gone to our customers to present them our hot new products, only to find them not as excited as we are? How can that be? Why won’t they buy? Don’t they really understand what these products can do? Don’t they understand we have quotas to meet and commission to earn!

What about the mid-year push for orders? Why don’t customers take advantage of our fantastic deals?

What about the retailer who won’t give us that end-cap for our latest merchandising scheme? Doesn’t she know that our hot new advertising programs will have the products flying off the shelves!

The answer to all these issues is simple. Customers don’t care about our need to sell; they are only worried about solving their business problems! Focusing on the customer need to buy is critical understanding how we can help solve our customers’ business problems.

What is the Customer Need To Buy?

All customers have goals and objectives. The customer need to buy is the result of business problems, opportunities or "pain" influencing their ability to achieve their goals or objectives. In any situation, these needs may be business oriented like:

    • Achieve X% revenue growth in the next 12 months.
    • Increase market share to establish leadership within their market segments.
    • Decrease costs by Y% in the next 12 months.
    • Increase profitability in the next quarter.
    • Improve the R-acronyms: ROI, ROA, ROE, ROS, ROCA.
    • Decrease "design" cycle time - or whatever cycle time they care about.
    • Improve quality or customer service or satisfaction.
    • Overcome a competitive threat.
    • …and the list can go on!

The need to buy can be personally oriented like:

    • Assure success of a project in which the individual has committed a lot of
      personal time and energy.
    • Achieve success on this project to get that next promotion.
    • Reduce workload, hassle or stress on the job.
    • Accomplish certain objectives so that I can maximize my bonus or get a salary increase.
    • Achieve goals to get a good performance review.
    • …and, likewise, this list can go on!

Whatever the business or personal goals, these establish the customer need to buy. Concentrating on these needs will shorten your selling cycle and maximize your odds of success.

Determining The Customer Need To Buy
Let’s take the mystery out of using these to determine the customer need to buy. Following a few simple steps will help you improve your ability to be customer focused:

Do your homework. Become a student on your customer’s industry and markets. Learn what their customers are asking of them. Learn what their competitors are doing. Understand important trends and directions driving the industry. Understand their key measures of success. Try to anticipate the problems, challenges, and opportunities they face. Consider the following:

    • Read the customer’s annual and quarterly reports, 10K’s, 10Q’s and proxy
    • Read their press releases. Read their product brochures and
      sales literature. Read the speeches the CEO and other executives are making.
    • Surf the Internet to find their web site and those of their competitors. See
      how they present themselves to the world. Leverage LinkedIn, Blogs and others sources on the web to become knowledgeable about the customer.
    • Read the trade magazines and press representing their industries.
    • Read the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune and other general business publications to "scan the environment."
    • Do the same with their competitors.
    • Use this knowledge to prepare your meetings with the customer.

Determine the need to buy very early in the selling cycle. In qualifying an opportunity, one of the first things you need to understand is if the customer has a real problem. If the customer doesn’t have a real problem---one that you can solve---you’re wasting your time! No need to buy equals no sale!

How do we determine the need to buy: Ask the customer, shut up, listen, then probe. Consider some of the following areas:

    • Determine the customer’s overall business goals, strategies and their customer
      and competitive environment. In addition to understanding the business, try to
      understand how these impact the customer personally.
    • Understand the problems, opportunities and challenges your customer faces in achieving the business goals. Seek to quantify these to understand the magnitude of the impact on the customer.
    • Learn how the business problems affect the customer’s job performance. Ask your customer how management will measure their performance. Attempt to understand the personal stake the customer has in solving the problem.
    • Prioritize and quantify each of the needs the customer has identified. Understand those that are most important and separate those from those that represent annoyances.

Write down the customer need to buy, validate it with the customer. Develop a simple description of the problem or opportunity:

    • Write their need to buy in clear sentences. Typically, they have multiple needs.
      If you have done the right job, you can define these needs in a few short
      sentences. Make sure that you have quantified the impact of each need.
    • Beware of describing the problem in terms of your need to sell! Customer
      needs to buy are rarely described in terms of your product and services. If you
      are describing the need to buy in these terms, you are more likely describing
      your need to sell.
    • Verify what you have written down with the customer to make sure you have understood and prioritized the needs to buy appropriately. Gain the customer’s agreement on the problem.
    • Gain their agreement that if you can present the solution providing the greatest value in solving the problem, they will buy your solution.
    • Before spending any more time on the opportunity, make sure you have a solution that addresses their need to buy.

Focus your sales strategy on demonstrating how your solution provides the greatest value in solving their problems. Clearly understanding the customer need to buy enables you to concentrate your efforts. You won’t be sidetracked, you won’t waste time. You can clearly and directly present your solution to their problems in terms that are meaningful to them.

Understanding your customer’s need to buy is the shortest path to satisfying your need to sell!

Surviving Through Tough Times, Things We've Learned

A client called my attention to an article that I wrote during the last downturn, the Internet Bubble. As I re-read it, it is still applicable.

The past year has created new professional and personal challenges. Almost every business faces tough new realities. Focusing their strategies and sharpening execution are the top priorities of most of the executives we work with.

I thought it useful share a few of the things we have learned with our clients or observed in the performances of other companies over the past year:

Down markets bring all past “sins” to the forefront. The robust economy of the past few years masked many poor strategies, bad decisions, and weak execution. In some cases, the companies seemed to grow almost in spite of their strategies. A bad economy and down markets immediately show the impact of bad decisions and poor execution. This economy does not forgive bad strategies. It is less important to assess blame for these failures than it is to quickly understand and correct the situation.

Time to face reality. Wishful thinking or denial are the fastest routes to failure. It’s critical to face the facts, regardless of how bad they are. Sound decision-making requires us to have the real facts and data, using them as the basis for decision-making and recovery. Get the data, understand it, and face the music.

Stopping things is more important than starting new recovery initiatives. Stopping programs that do not directly contribute to the organization’s goals is critical, but it is one of the most difficult things to do. In developing “recovery strategies,” many implement program after program, desperately seeking anything that works. Churning through programs and initiatives merely waste resources and time. In many cases, organizations have cut many people, but try to continue the work done before the cutbacks. This is impossible. The most effective strategy is to do less, stopping all but the few critical programs that produce proven results.

Focus, focus, focus. In tough times, doing the right things with the right customers at the right time is the only way to survive. Focus on the markets and customers where you produce the greatest value and return. Real value must be produced in order to motivate customers to buy. Anything that diverts the organization from its principle focus must be stopped. Remember, too, that most organizations can only effectively address a few things. Stop everything beyond the core 2-3 initiatives.

Keep it simple, go back to the basics. In implementing sales, marketing, and customer service strategies, go back to the fundamentals, execute them with perfection. For marketers: What are we offering? To whom? What distinctive value does it create? How do we communicate that simply, clearly, and in a compelling manner? For sales professionals: Are sales activity levels sufficient to produce the results we need? Do we have the most effective and efficient channels to reach the customers? Are we calling on customers that have a real need to buy and are funded? Are we making it easy for them to do business with us and buy from us? For customer service: Are we responding quickly and accurately to our customers? Are we helping them solve their problems? Are we making it easy for them to do business with us?

Give things a chance. Too often, we see organizations thrashing, making change after change, seeking the quick turnaround and the magical results. The reality is that things won’t turnaround quickly. Develop a plan, commit to it, make it work, and give it a chance. Make sure your plan provides early indicators to make sure it is on track, and make sure you correct the plan when it starts going off target. However, don’t abandon the plan before you have really given it a chance to work.

Speed counts. This sounds contradictory to some of the points made earlier, but moving quickly is critical. We have to clearly assess the situation that confronts us, develop clear and simple strategies to address the situation, execute them, measure them, and correct them. All this needs to be done at warp speed.

Leaders emerge in down times. It’s easy to manage when times are good. People get caught up in the momentum of growth and success. They are more willing to tolerate bad management. Tough times bring out the real leaders; those that inspire others even though things look bad; those that will step up to the tough decision, but do so with fairness and compassion; those that “stick it out,” not just looking for the “quick payoff.” The key is to watch who emerges as a leader, regardless of where they sit in the organization and engage them in leading the recovery.

Leadership is critical. People want strong leadership, not cheerleading. We are constantly amazed by the resilience of people facing tough circumstances. This comes only when they trust their leaders and feel the communication is honest, direct and open. Strong leaders have the confidence to communicate good and bad news to the people in the organization. They have the confidence they can develop and implement the strategies that will lead to success. They have the confidence to engage the organization in solving the problems and moving forward. They spend no time assessing blame, focusing only on solving the problem.

Cut once and cut deep. Cut very deep when you must, but do it once. Don’t get caught in incremental destructionism with round after round of reductions. This death spiral demoralizes everyone, diverts focus, resources and energy. It slows the recovery process. Jack Welch observes in his latest book: “I have never seen an organization fail because they cut too deeply.” Cutting deeply also forces the organization to re-examine everything they do, focusing on those things that can be accomplished with the resources available, rather than trying to continue everything, but with fewer people.

The light at the end of the tunnel. Leaders must have an absolute determination to do what needs to be done to achieve the objectives the company has set. Tough decisions need to be made in the face of tremendous uncertainty. There can be no wavering in their determination to survive and grow. This cannot be a blind confidence, but rather a ferocious focus on reality and commitment to guiding the organization through recovery.

Managing through tough times is difficult work. Those organizations that handle the adversity of tough times well, not only will survive, but are also laying the groundwork for strong recovery when markets and the economy grow again.

Download a PDF of this article at
Surviving Through Tough Times, Things We've Learned.