Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
A few weeks ago in Moving Beyond Selling To Building Collaborative Relationships, I cited a PWC CEO Survey in which 71% of CEO's believed collaborative business relationships were critical with customers, yet only 40% felt these relationships were important for their suppliers?
Talk to any sales person and you will find they are being hammered in their negotiations. Talk to any business professional and they will complain about extended payment terms, returns, defaults, other things.
We're always able to talk about the great difficulty and challenges business face in working with customers, closing business, and developing true value based relationships. We seek understanding, trust and openness with our customers, so that we can sell them more stuff (I'm only being slightly sarcastic).
Yet, look at the other side of the organization, and we are treating our suppliers in the same manner. We are hammering them, making marginally tenable business deals. To respond, they are reducing service levels, may be reducing quality, reducing delivery commitments, doing everything they can to reduce their costs.
I am all for very tough negotiations and for seeking the most effectiveness and efficiency in the supply chain. But we have to recognize, if it's a bad (or even marginal) deal for our suppliers, ultimately, it will be a bad deal for us!
As a sales executive, this notion terrifies me---there goes much of the value and differentiation I provide my customers! My ability to compete plummets. As a business executive, this terrifies me, if we aren't able to design, develop, and build quality product and services, because our suppliers are reducing their service levels and commitments to us, how do we grow the business?
I am distressed by the lack of leadership and insight demonstrated by the respondents in the PWC CEO Survey/ Over 30% of the CEO's don't value their suppliers -- at least in terms of establishing close relationships! If they don't value this in the supply chain, how can they expect to develop these with their customers?
I think this is an area in which sales executives can provide some leadership within their own organization. The strength of your supply chain relationships is critical to your own growth and success.
Maybe I should end: "Do Unto Your Suppliers As You Would Have Your Customers Do Unto You."
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The debates are carried out in the "blogosphere," which, I think, is one of the newer school vehicles. They seem to be carried out by individuals that are actively engaged in using or experimenting with the new tools. Everyone trying to learn about how to leverage these tools to displace old tools or complement them (I won't get into that debate right now).
The odd thing is these discussions/arguments are among people who have already "drunk the Kool Aid," and are asking for second helpings.
The more odd thing is the people that should be really hearing/listening to these debates will never hear them, because they aren't here.
Many of my customers are still learning how to spell www (OK, I'm exaggerating a little). When I talk to them, very few are reading blogs. Very few are leveraging tools like LinkedIn--except when they lose their jobs then try to expand their networks, not really leveraging LinkedIn for what it can do. They are not driving business strategies that embrace and exploit the power of these tools.
Those are the people we need to be talking to, and we need to reach them where they are at --- and it's not here.
We can't afford to ignore them, they represent the bulk of the business community.
So these debates in the "blogosphere" about who gets it and who doesn't always strike me as odd. Clearly, we all get it, but may have differing positions. Wouldn't we all be better served by spending our time trying to figure out how to reach out to the people who aren't here and get them here and engaged?
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
A number of years ago, several companies having commoditized products managed to overlook my arrogance and asked me to help improve their sales processes. I think may have gotten more from them than they may have gotten from me.
For so many years, we systems guys relied on great products. We would go to great pains to differentiate the features, GUI’s, and whatever product capabilities we had to win deals. Imagine the plight of the sales professional who sells a commoditized product. One tank of chemicals from one company is pretty much the same as another tank of the same chemical from another company, isn’t it? One electronic component is pretty much the same across suppliers, right?
How do you differentiate yourself when the product is not differentiated? I’ve written a lot about needing to look outside the product---people who sell commoditized products know this as second nature. They look at how the customer uses the product, their processes, the logistics management systems, different packaging alternatives and many other things.
They look at the process of acquiring and using the product, finding ways to make this easier, more efficient and more cost effective for the customer.
They engage their customers in different conversations. They talk about partnerships in different ways. In working with basic materials companies, many of the sales people work with their customers in looking at “special formulations” that address the end customer in different ways.
For instance with a detergent company, the proposition might be, “can we work with you to develop unique formulation of your product to make ‘whites white, colors brighter?’” I worked with a client on this problem, they established great value with their customer by helping them use the “chemicals” more effectively, producing a better detergent product.
In the electronics components business, companies are taking more responsibility for design, development, along the way adding to the product content they sell to a customer and creating much greater value than the sum of the components they supply.
In this world, you can’t get past the price competition, it’s a given, you compete on milli-$’s in price difference. The great sales people I have met who sell commoditized products are creative in doing very sophisticated business analysis—note I didn’t say price analysis. They know their customers processes and the costs of using the commodities, they know how they can reduce customer costs, without reducing their price. They are very sophisticated in leveraging strong financial analysis as part of their negotiation process.
Customers buy value! Too many of us have focused just on the value of our products, not on other elements of value that are important to our customers. Those of us who have sold complex systems products can learn a lot from our peers that sell commoditized products. It helps you be even more competitive and differentiated.
As a side note to those who sell commoditized products, the reverse is true. There are great lessons you can learn from the “systems cowboys.” I’ll write later on this.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I thought it time to resurface a variant of that theme: SBWA, Selling By Wandering Around. I'm constantly amazed by how little sales professionals to this.
Too many sales people call on the same people, asking the same question, "Can I sell you anything today?" The more solutions oriented sales people will question needs and priorities, but make the same mistake of calling on the same people in the same accounts.
It's time for sales people to start wandering around in their accounts. I often tell people, if you normally turn right when you walk in the front door, next time turn left. You will discover entirely new things about your account and their needs.
Recently, I wrote about the "Big Idea." The example I cited there was an example of how a client discovered entirely new needs and applications for their products by talking to different people in the organization.
We decided to ignore this and went to talk to manufacturing people to learn what they did. Making a long story short, this client ultimately found their biggest market opportunity was not in engineering, but in manufacturing, helping to test products in the production process and at the end of the line. Unless we, and a few brave sales people, hadn't turned left instead of normally turning right, we never would have discovered this opportunity.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The folks at The Customer Collective are holding a terrific event. I encourage anyone who follows this blog to register and learn.
The announcement is below, as well as a link to register. Take the time to learn and upgrade your skills!
Social Selling: Live Q&A on Selling with Web 2.0
11 a.m. PST / 2 p.m. EST March 31, 2009
How do you take the proven fundamentals of good selling and apply them to social networking? What Web 2.0 tools should you as a sales professional be utilizing to find new prospects and keep the customers you have loyal?
Sales executives are quickly discovering there is real business value in online connections. The Customer Collective, the online community for sales and marketing professionals, presents this free webcast to provide sales and marketing professionals with the knowledge they need to use social media to find and sell to new customers, as well as keep the ones they currently have close to home. Our expert panel will help you identify the new techniques and tools available to help you develop a Web 2.0 enabled sales strategy for 2009 and beyond.
Tune in to a live interactive discussion with a panel of sales experts, and get your questions answered. Don't miss your chance to hear from:
Christopher Carfi,Cerado Inc.
Anneke Seley,Phone Works
If you're looking for ways to measurably increase your sales team's effectiveness, don't wait. Register now and:
Learn how social networks and Web 2.0 help sales professionals be more effective.
Become the trusted advisor your clients are looking for who ultimately wins the deal.
Discuss effective low cost/no cost methods you can put in place now.
See the results of our TCC survey, and learn how Web 2.0 enables salespeople to easily communicate with prospects, collaborate with other sales professionals, and garner relevant content.
The first 50 people to register for this webcast will receive a free copy of Anneke Seley's "Sales 2.0" as a gift from us.
Register now while supplies last!Brought to you by The Customer Collective and Oracle CRM.Welcome to the conversation.
Social Selling: Live Q&A on Selling with Web 2.0
Monday, March 16, 2009
It is a provocative article-perhaps that was its intended purpose. Every sales professional should read it, study it and absorb it’s many good ideas. The most challenging notion in the article is moving from thinking about “What keeps our customers awake at night,” to “What should keep our customers awake at night.”
I think it is an important—natural question every sales professional should be constantly be challenging themselves and their customers with. Great sales professionals challenge their customers to think about their businesses differently. They not only solve their customers problems, but they find new opportunities for their customers to expand and grow their businesses. They bring their customers new ideas and possibilities---possibly provocative ideas.
These ideas engage the customer in a different type of conversation with the customer. We move from how they solve today’s problems, but what they can do and where they go tomorrow. The interesting thing is that you don’t have to have the “right idea,” the mere act of engaging the customer in a different conversation changes your relationship profoundly.
Years ago, I was prospecting to a potentially new client. I had done a detailed analysis and in my prospecting letter to the CEO, I sent a provocative letter, outlining some challenges they may be facing with their company, but did not appear to be addressing (yes, I am that presumptuous in prospecting letters).
She called me, with an interesting response. She said the issues I had identified were things they were aware of and working on. She went on to say, it would have been impossible for anyone not part of the executive management team to know what they were doing. Finally, she asked me to come meet with her and her team on a completely different set of issues.
I couldn’t contain my surprise, I responded that I would be glad to meet with them, but was embarrassed about having been off base on the issues. This is where the learning opportunity for me came: She responded: “You couldn’t have known, but what your letter demonstrated was the quality of your thinking and your ability to help us think differently. That is the kind of help I am looking for! I just need it in a different area and know you can contribute.”
In a profession that has too many buzz words, we don’t need another set. The basic principle of engaging your customer in a different conversation, caring about their business, and continually giving them ideas, solutions, and help in achieving their goals is what is most valued by customers! It should be part of what every sales professional does, every day.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I started thinking about this a few weeks ago, when I first read the HBR article about Provocative Selling. I read it, thinking I would learn something new. There were some interesting ideas, but fundamentally it reiterated what professional selling is really about (I will write later, more seriously about it).
But it got me to thinking, will there never be an end to these new names?
I started going through all the different names I have encountered in my sales career. Fundamentally, things we consultants and sales trainers do to say the same thing. I first learned to sell in IBM in the late 70's. Then we called it FABs--Features, Advantages, Benefits.
I have gone through the litany: Solution Selling, PowerBased Selling, CustomerCentric Selling, Consultative Selling, Question Based Selling, ROI Based Selling, Selling To Vito, Value Based Selling, and yes, now Provocative Selling. Our firm even has it's own "Dimensions Of EXCELLENCE." (With apologies to all the developers of these programs, I have really gotten great value from each, and respect the quality of thinking from the developers--I just am having a little fun at all our expense)
My goal in this post, with the help of the readers is to come up with the penultimate, winner take all term for selling. Let's settle the name game here and now.
I am staking my claim for the following as the ultimate in consultative sales process names:
1. "Silver Bullet Selling" --- because we are always looking for them, so let's be upfront about our intentions.
2. "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Selling" --- harkens back to a kinder and gentler time, plus you can test sales people on the spelling, so you can see if they learned something.
3. "Twelling Twolutions" --- selling in 140 characters or less, or if you are a fan of Elmer Fudd.
4. "Selling to infinity and beyond" --- it's hard to top this one, how can you go beyond infinity? Also, if you are a Buzz Lightyear fan.
I've staked out my votes. What are yours? (By the way, I will split the royalties on all the names you supply 50-50.)
By the way to some of my consulting friends out there --- you know who you are --- no voting for your own ;-)
I haven't asked him, but maybe I can get my friend Dave Stein, as an impartial observer, to make a final call when we wrap this up.
Chime in, have fun, suggest names you think will be the ultimate! Get it out of your system.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I’m not certain I buy into more consultant speak about a more advanced form of selling, but I think the underlying idea is interesting. I think the great challenge to sales professionals in helping their customers is to help them solve bigger problems---or even their BIG problems. This requires shaking up how we think and sell, as well as maybe shaking our customers up a little. Let’s look at a couple of ideas:
1. I think we and our customers tend to fall into a comfortable complacency with each other. We know our products/solutions well, as do many of our customers. We may fall into the trap of thinking “we solve these problems,” or our customers pigeon-hole us into a certain space of solutions and we don’t look further --- I’ll talk more about this later.
2. I think our customers may not be seeing the BIG problems, either because it is out of their experience base, or because they are so busy fighting the alligators they forget to drain the swamp. This is where true sales professionals can really make a difference for their customers.
Moving ourselves and our buyers out of our comfort/complacent zone, going after bigger problems/opportunities:
Recently, I worked with a very large successful client. They had achieved large share in the industry and were looking at how to grow—both with new customers and within their major accounts. They had great and deep relationships with the buyers of their products and services, but were struggling with how to sell more.
We created an initiative, the Big Idea! The objective of this was to discover new needs, problems and requirements that my customer could solve. Initially, we thought much of this would drive new product development, but we learned something new. We found problems we could solve, that the customer didn’t know we could solve! With no or little change to the solutions, we found new sets of problems we could solve for our customers.
How did we do this? It seems so obvious, but even the best professionals tend to forget. This client’s buyers were on the operations side of the organization. We started talking to their customers---VP’s of Sales, Strategy, Product Management, Business Development. We asked them, “What problems do your customers have that you cannot currently solve?” We got way too many ideas, but it now gave our client the chance to start solving more and bigger problems for their customer—the operations guys. Problems---opportunities they were not aware of. (I would note, you have to be cautious in how you do this---remember they are already busy fighting alligators—I’ll save this for another post).
This simple initiative had a number of derivative impacts for this client:
1. The sales people did the work themselves! We just guided them, but they engaged new people in new conversations about new issues. They developed far deeper and richer relationships with their large customers, and met new people in prospective customers.
2. They discovered problems they didn’t know their customer had---and to some degree didn’t know they could solve. This created opportunities to expand the relationship and value they brought to the customer.
3. The customers started to think about them in entirely new ways. First, my client was able to reposition themselves from the way the customer had traditionally viewed them (and their competition) into a new role—with far broader solutions. Second they engaged their customers in non-traditional conversations—conversations that pushed both the customer and my client out of their comfort zones but looking at new things---things that were important to the customer!
4. They discovered new ideas about products and services they could get into their product plans. Product management saw new opportunities and started engaging with the sales people and customers in looking at these longer term opportunities.
5. The client found new opportunities to sell stuff! They created new revenue opportunities they and their customers had been blind to in the past.
What about the BIG problem?
Sometimes we try to focus on the BIG problem, the grand slam home run. Geoffrey Moore (et. al.) seem to allude to this in their HBR article, Provoke Your Customer. I like their idea about going beyond “what keeps your customer awake at night,” to “what should be keeping your customer awake at night.” But, I think they miss the real opportunity in their discussion. I’ll talk about this in a separate post.
The BIG problem is not the customer equivalent of “solving world hunger.” We all become prisoners of our own experience. It creates blinders for both our customers and ourselves. Solving the BIG problem is about removing those blinders, looking at things differently.
Becoming aware of the BIG problem is easy—I won’t be pretentious claim solving it is easy, the answer to that is, it depends. The BIG problem always starts with a customer—someone’s customer. The best sales people look not only at their customer’s problems, but they look for problems and opportunities in their customer’s customer. If we want to help our customers, we need to help them help their customers. Restricting our view to our customers—the buyers we deal with narrows our focus and abilities too much.
There’s another way to identify BIG problems, look in a different industry. Too often, we look at our competitors and try to one up them. Frankly, I’m too lazy to do that. It’s nice, every once in a while to look at a completely different industry to see the problems they have and how they have solved them.
Many years ago, the EVP of sales for one of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods company taught me this. I screwed up the courage to ask him, “Jerry, why did you hire us, we had no experience in CPG?” His response taught me a lesson, I have never forgotten, “Dave, we hired the best CPG consultants in the world, they didn’t bring us new ideas. Your experience in the High Tech world gave us a fresh perspective and ideas we never would have seen. These ideas give us fresh ways of working with our customers and bringing them new solutions.
Jerry’s observation is something all of us can learn from. Other people may have solved our customers’ BIG problems, but our customers never see them, because like us, they are looking within their industry. By looking outside, we can stop being prisoners of our own experience and get fresh ideas for things that we can solve for our customers.
Friday, March 13, 2009
While every sales person is driven by accomplishing their goals, making the number, we can only achieve success by focusing on our customer. Only when we truly ask the question "What's In It For Them" can we know what the customer values and how we can fulfill their requirements.
I think WIIFM is important, to be honest, it drives all our behavior. However, it is only meaningful when we have answered WIIFT. Without this we don't achieve our goals---more importantly our customers don't achieve theirs, or they achieve them with someone else.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Akamai is engaging it's customers in these new conversations. Sagan "want his sales team to spend more time with customers." They are continuing to be aggressive in finding new business, but the have also "upped the expectation for how often we're going to touch the customer and talk to them.....understand what's going on in their business, what's their pain point and can we help with it."
In a time when many organizations are cutting back and reducing customer contact, Akamai is doing exactly the opposite--and guess what, they'll win. Don't use cutbacks and layoffs as an excuse to abandon customers. Keep the dialog going, learn what they are doing, be creative with them in finding ways you might solve their problems. Even if they are not buying now, they will be. If you aren't talking to them frequently, you won't be there when they do buy.
I'm reading Price Waterhouse Coopers 12th Annual Global CEO Survey. It has a lot of good information and I encourage you to read it. One issue that leaped out was the importance in the CEO's minds about the importance of building more collaborative strategies.
Some interesting data points:
- 57% of the CEO's agree or agreed strongly that collaborative business networks would be a defining organizational principle for business.
- 71% believed collaborative relationships are critical with customers and clients.
- About 40% believed collaborative relationships with supply chain partners was critical. (This is a disconcerting issue I will talk about later.)
We've always felt that developing close, collaborative relationships is critical to sales. However, to be successful in doing this requires a profound shift in the way we interact with our customers. Traditional approaches to selling will no longer be sufficient. Collaboration means a higher degree of interdependence between organizations. In partnering with our customers, we become important to each other's success and we can only be successful by working together. Partnering and collaboration demand loyalty, relationship integrity, and trust between partners.
Today, the term "partnering" is tossed around too casually by sales people and buyers alike. Rather than simply buying and selling, we talk about "partnering." Too much of the time, the focus, both by sales and buyers, is on "What's in it for me." The seller simply wants to close the deal and move on, the buyer simply wants to close the deal at the best price and move on.
Until we start looking at "What's in it for our partner," we will never be able to create real value in the partnership, and will have great difficulty in sustaining long term, loyal relationships.
I believe sales can offer a tremendous leadership in developing collaborative relationships with customers. It's interesting in the PWC survey to note CEO's have greater focus on these relationships with customers than they have with suppliers. Consequently, if we are going to develop these relationships, sales must take the initiatives.
True partnering demands a different mentality and different set of skills from sales people. I won't go into it in this post--it will be too long. I'll be glad to send you white papers, additionally, some of the thoughts are in a Selling Power article (July//August 2009) in which I am interviewed. However a good way to start thinking about developing successful collaborative relationships is to start thinking the following equation (sorry, I'm a physicist by training):
Translated, effective partnerships are a combination of : Shared Resources + Shared Risk + Shared Rewards + Shared Vision + Shared Values. Without a healthy balance of these factors, the relationship has a high risk of failing.
Collaboration and partnering---true partnering will become increasingly critical to sales. The CEO's have spoken, buyers will not drive this, so it is up to sales professionals to drive the development of these relationships.
Moving from traditional selling to true partnering requires new attitudes, skills, processes, and metrics. Sales professionals need to begin to understand these and develop the capabilities.
(For any of the materials I have referred to, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call at +1-949-305-7146.)
Friday, March 06, 2009
So we've completed all the layoff's, we've re adjusted our strategies to recognize the new realities of the global economy, and we are rushing forward at 200 mph to drive business. All of a sudden, confusion, crises, and miscommunication dominates our waking moments. Who does what, to whom? What are our priorities? What about the things that Jill used to do, but she's gone? I thought this was my job, but now you're telling me something different? You're asking me to do the work of all the people you just laid off---I can't cope!
Too often, we are seeing this with our clients and other organizations struggling to adapt with the rapid changes and adaptations the new economy creates. Executives are moving fast, sometimes too fast, and the organizations are left behind. Most often, we see reductions and layoffs, but no change in priorities and workloads. Too few, already overburdened people are forced to pick up the workloads of those that are left. Or, executives have shifted the priorities and strategies, but these changes have been accompanies with clear expectations of what it means to each person in the organization and their job responsibilities.
- Changes that were hoped for are not implemented.
- People are more confused, more overworked, and demoralized.
- Customers are confused, they don't know who to work with, what to do.
- Things that were supposed to speed things up, making the organization more efficient are actually bogging things down.
- Organizations are not producing the results management expected, so now
management starts looking at further reductions---the death spiral continues.
Organizations are going through massive changes. Leaders need to help their people understand those changes and their role in executing the changes. Leaders must assure everyone is in the same boat, rowing in the same direction, and that everyone is in stroke! Organizational Effectiveness in executing the changes should be the focus of management.
In implementing these shifts, leaders should:
- Stop and make sure they and everyone in the organization knows, understands, and has internalized the changes and their roles in implementing them.
that now must be stopped. What you stop at this time is more important than what you continue doing.
Alignment is critical to every organization. When making changes that many organizations are doing, making sure everyone in the organization, your customers and suppliers are in the same boat, going in the same direction ---- aligned----is critical to success. One of the best tools we have seen to help organizations do this quickly and effectively is the Organizational Effectiveness Profile (OEP).
Organizations are going through massive changes. Speed is critical, but only if everyone is aligned, focused and working together as effectively as possible. Make sure you take the time to get everyone in the boat!
Monday, March 02, 2009
I thought I'd throw this issue out there for your ideas and thoughts. I'll provide a few of mine as a starting point (but by no means complete):
1. I fundamentally don't believe, "everything is equal," this is the ultimate point of commoditization. Even in commodity areas, there are differentiators, but they may not be based on product differentiators. I think the problem here is sales people tend to focus too much on the product, and not the total offering or capabilities of a company. When one considers the total offering, the product, the capabilities of the company, the services, etc, things are seldom equal.
2. Often, this view is the result of an inward-out orientation. That is, we present the product features, functions, feeds, speeds to the customer. The "sophisticated" sales person may add some company capabilities. But we dump these facts in the customer's lap, and let them make the assessment. First, that's not their job and if we force them into that, then we aren't doing our job. We need to start with the customer, understanding their business needs, drivers, goals, priorities and challenges. We need to drill deeply into their business issues and prioritize each one -- for each person involved in the decision making process. Only when we understand it is it possible to position our offerings in a context that has real meaning and impact to the customer. Done properly--customer by customer, in my experience, it is virtually impossible for everything to be equal.
3. The previous point addresses the customer business drivers. We cannot forget the personal drivers --- things that concern each person involved in the decision process, but which we often overlook. People make don't make rationale business decisions. Often they rationalize deeply personal decisions with a business argument. We need to understand their personal drivers. It may be getting a boss off their back, getting home on time, getting a promotion or bonus, keeping their job. Like the previous point, only when we have understood the personal drivers of each person involved in the decision process and position our offering in the context of "What's in it for them --- personally," can we differentiate ourselves. Again, from this point of view, it is virtually impossible for everything to be equal.
4. Finally, at least for my comments, I think we under estimate the value we bring to customers in facilitating the customer's buying process. A strong, consultative sales professional adds tremendous value to the customer as they execute their buying process. My personal experience is this is often the strongest differentiator. Many people have bought from me, simply because I cared about them and their companies. They wanted to invest in a partner who was committed to their success. Maybe it's my ego, but I am never equal to anyone else!
Enough of my ramblings, what are your thoughts? Can everything else be equal --- is our world becoming increasingly commoditized, where the only means of differentiation is price? Please join the discussion.