Sunday, May 31, 2009

Features, Advantages, Benefits----Change Your Point Of View To Succeed!

The other day, Niall Devitt and I were having a conversation about the challenges of selling in the present economy. Ultimately, we determined that sales people need to change their perspectives--perhaps dramatically to be successful. Customers' problems have changed, decisionmaking has changed. Sales people must change their point of view to successfully meet these changes.

When I first was trained in selling, I learned an early form of solutions sell ling. I was taught to present FAB's--Features, Advantages, Benefits. It's still an approach sales people take today. We have our products, we present the FAB's in terms of addressing the customer's needs and requirements, hoping to present superior value to the customer. It's a model familiar to all sales people and one in which we have well trained our customers to understand.

Things have changed. Imagine, a customer--let's say she's a CIO and is looking for a new software solution. We're there, presenting our FAB's and she selects us--sounds familiar. The challenge is, that while this project is very important to our CIO, she has to sell or resell her management on allocating funds for this project---it was in the budget, but those budget dollars have a tendency to be cut.

As a sales professional, you've done your job. You've developed a great business case, with a compelling ROI and Payback. She takes that to the executive management team and guess what, they decide to invest their money in a project the manufacturing VP has presented, or they want to do a stock repurchase, or some other higher priority project takes those funds---we won the sale, we (and our CIO) didn't get the order.

Or imagine another case. The CIO's project is at the top of the management team's hit parade. They want to go forward, but they don't have the money--they can't pay for it.

Our job as sales professionals has changed, it is no longer sufficient (and hasn't been for a long time) to present our product FAB's and win. We have to take a broader view of things--we have to take a business point of view in determining our FAB's and presenting the FAB's of our business solution.

For example, our competition has changed. We no longer have to compete against our product competitors, we have do compete against using those funds for other things, other projects, or doing nothing at all. We have to look beyond our product, beyond our "decisionmaker" to the overall business. Today, I find, if a project isn't in the top 3 of the executive team's hit parade, there is great risk, regardless of the business analysis you have done for your decisionmaker, to getting the deal. As sales professionals, we have to look at the overall business, developing compelling FAB's not just for our product but how this project is compelling for the business as a whole---and we have to help our customers sell it!

Let's take another example. There are lots of customers who urgently want to buy your product, but they don't have the money to pay for your product. Any company that does not have some sort of alternatives---features---to their financing their offerings will be outsold by competitors that do. We need to have an expanded view of our offerings and the FAB's we associate with them. It's not just the FAB's for the product, but it may include financing offerings, different payment terms, or ideas that help the customer pay for the product they want to buy.

While we're on the topic, we need to look at the FAB's of our business solutions, not our products. Those FAB's may include financing offerings. They include the reputation and confidence customers have in our company. They include being easy to do business with, being customer service oriented and customer focused. They include our personal reputations, the relationships we form, and the trust our customers have in as as trusted advisers. They include the value we bring in presenting the FAB's for business solutions to their highest priority business problems.

If you are still presenting FAB's to your products --- and too much of our product materials focus only on this --- then you aren't positioning yourself to win. Change your point of view to align with the customer's and solve their problems.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Want To Buy, I Just Don't Want To Pay

This is a funny, but sometimes all too true video.

Next Tuesday, June 2, at 1:00 PM EDT, Niall Devitt and I are presenting a webinar sponsored by Top Sales Experts: The Good News, Customers Want To Buy; The Bad News, They Can't Find The Funding. We address the very issue raised in this video and provide a foundation to help you find solutions to this issue. Make sure you sign up and participate.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Just Don't Have Time To Coach! A Crisis In People Development.

It's a familiar complaint. We're all time poor, as a result of cutbacks, expansion in spans of control, expansion of job responsibilities, and the list never ends. Every year I talk to 100's of sales managers and executives. They know they need to spend more time coaching and developing their people, but they just can't find the time to do it.

This problem is more serious than many might think. Two years ago, we conducted a survey of sales managers. In one question, we asked them how frequently they had coaching/mentoring meetings with their people. For companies having revenue of $100 million or more, we found 5% of managers had weekly coaching/mentoring sessions with their people, 27% had monthly meetings, 38% had quarterly coaching/mentoring meetings, and the remainder were either annual meetings or not done with any regularity. Smaller companies were slightly better with 46% of the managers having weekly or monthly meetings.

Coaching is one of the most critical activities a manager can undertake in improving the performance of their people and producing real results. Unfortunately, I think people have a misunderstanding of what coaching is, when, and how to do it. People tend to think of a formal "coaching," meeting, often confusing coaching with performance reviews. While the outcome of coaching and performance reviews is similar, coaching needs to be conducted differently and more frequently than performance reviews.

What Is Coaching:

Coaching usually focuses on the development of specific skills or behaviors. Making sales calls that have higher impact. Developing and implementing territory plans that maximize growth within the territory. Developing deal strategies that have higher probabilities of winning. Working more effectively with team members. Managing time more effectively.

When Do You Coach:

Coaching needs to be integrated with the manager's daily process and routine. It doesn't need to be a separate session, but part of the daily conversations managers have with their people. For example, after every customer call, managers should take the time to debrief the people on the call, looking for opportunities to improve both the overall sales strategy and the results their people produce with calls. In doing account reviews, opportunity reviews, pipeline reviews, manager should look for the opportunity to coach. An account review is the perfect time to develop a person's skills in developing and executing their account plan---not a separate meeting a month later when everyone has forgotten what went on.

"Strike while the iron is hot!" This works perfectly for coaching---managers have the greatest impact in developing their people when there is an immediacy to observing both good and bad practice and discussing it with people. The more time that lapses, the less the impact.

Incorporating coaching into your daily interaction with sales people, the whole process becomes less cumbersome for both the manager and the people she is coaching. It becomes a natural part of the way people work together.

How Do You Coach:

Much of our business culture seems oriented around "telling." We tend to tell people what they did right, we tell them what they did wrong, we tell them what they should do differently.

"Telling" is very ineffective for coaching. We want our people to be thoughtful about what they do, we want them to own the responsibility for their performance and development. We can't achieve this by telling, we can only do this by engaging our people in a conversation or dialogue about their performance in a certain area. The only way we engage our people in this discovery process is by asking questions. Effective coaching is about asking and engaging the person in thinking about what they do and how to improve.

Coaching is critical to maximizing the performance of everyone on your team. It is critical in developing people to reach their full potential. Coaching is easy when you incorporate it into your daily interactions with your people, engaging them in thoughtful discussions.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

How We Express Ourselves, Our Words Count!

Any of you who have followed me know that one of my soapboxes is raising the level of professionalism with sales people. Too often, it seems we take one step forward and too giant steps backwards.

I hate to criticize other bloggers, but I just saw something at BNET that has caused me to comment. The title is "Five Ways To Lure Recession Battered Customers." The article has some good concepts, but I do get concerned about some of the words used both in the title and in the article. This article is a great example of what all of us sometimes do, probably unintentionally, sometimes to attract readers. I fall victim to this myself---but then I remember what my father says: Don't do as I do, do as I say.

If we want customers to stop thinking of sales people as manipulative, we have to eliminate the use of manipulative words on our communications. My first reaction to the concept of "luring customers" is one of manipulation. The picture of luring, hooking and reeling in a customer is not a great image. The only thing left is gutting and filleting them---I would imagine sales is not into catch and release. I'm certain that is not what the author intended, but the words used and the way customers were described as being lured and reeled in don't convey what trusted advisors are trying to achieve with their customers. These words, when read by sales people, reinforce bad practice by sales professionals and lack of trust by customers.

Our words are important--both when we communicate with our customers and when we communicate in our community. If we want to establish trust, value, and confidence, we have to use words that reinforce that. We have to eliminate words that reinforce manipulation, trickery, deception and all the bad attributes we are accused of (justly or unjustly).

Words, as are actions, are important. We need to be careful with how we use them.

Leadership and Narcissism

Narcissistic Leaders, we've seen too many of them. In good times, their visions can be compelling. They can be charismatic, inspiring followers. Those positive characteristics are overshadowed by their terrible weaknesses---and these challenging times are likely to accentuate these weaknesses.

Ben Dattner, of
Dattner Consulting, has an outstanding summary of characteristics of narcissistic managers. These include:

1. Grandiose sense of self importance, tend to exaggerate achievements and talents, expect to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements.
2. Preoccupied with fantasize of unlimited success, power, brilliance.
3. Believes he/she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by or associate with other special or high status people.
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement or unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
6. Is inter-personally exploitative, takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
7. Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others.
8. If often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him/her.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

We know how to recognize them---they focus only on themselves. Their primary goals are what makes them look good, what gets them ahead, and how they can use others to get them what they want.

Narcissistic managers can't be wrong. It may be difficult for them to be accountable, errors are usually someone else's fault. They become blind to the real issues around them. They don't listen well, so they may not understand what's going on in the organization. This can cause the manager and the organization to be dysfunctional or desperately out of touch.

Because they exaggerate their own importance, downplaying the contribution of others, they need to be at the center of things, seeking constant attention and positive reinforcement of others. They may be threatened with any disagreement or when they perceive they are being kept out of things or not getting the credit.

When things go wrong, they tend to go into denial or to start rationalizing. They tend to over-react to criticism, becoming angry and lashing out. At worst they can act without integrity and compromise ethics--they tend to believe they are above the rules.

Their lack of empathy and extreme Independence make it difficult for them to mentor or be mentored. As Michael Macoby in his classic HBR Article:
Narcissistic Leaders, The Incredible Pros, The Inevitable Cons, says, if they provide mentoring at all, they tend to instruct rather than coach.

Recognize anyone? We've seen too many of them making headlines in recent months. We see them in our organizations, at all levels. All of us have egos--even some level of narcissism, but the narcissistic manager can be challenging to work with.

Macoby offers some suggestions:

1. Always empathize with the narcissistic manager's feelings, but don't expect anything in return.
2. Be careful if asked for your honest evaluation. They want information that will help solve problems with their image. They will resent anything that threatens their inflated self image and are likely to retaliate.
3. Give them ideas, but let them take credit for them. If you think your manager is wrong, show an approach that is in the manager's best interest and how they will benefit.
4. Use your time management skills, your manager may give you more than you can execute. Forget those that don't makes sense, he probably will.
5. Narcissistic leaders will call you when they need you, anytime day or night. Make yourself available, be sure to fit their schedule.
6. If your narcissistic manager becomes too difficult to deal with, be prepared to look for another job.

All leaders have egos--some very large. But extremely narcissism and true leadership do not go together.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Can Someone Help Me Diagnose This Sales Call? I Don't Get It.

It's 7:00am, I'm busy disposing of email and getting my day started. I'm already on my second cup of coffee, the phone rings.....

Most of my clients and colleagues know I start my day in the "office" at 5:00am, so I am anticipating it is one of them.

Dave: Hello, this is Dave Brock.
Other Party (OP): May I speak to your office manager?
Dave: Well, my name is Dave Brock, I own the company so I guess I'm the office manager, how can I help you?
OP: I'm John Doe from XYZ company and I'd like to know when your office hours start.
Dave, slightly confused: Excuse me, who are you and what are you asking?
OP: I'm John Doe from XYZ company and I'd like to know when your office hours start.
Dave, still confused: Well, since we are speaking on the phone right now, clearly they have already started.
OP (I guess I should start calling him John Doe): OK, thank you. Good bye.
Dave, very confused: Wait a minute, can I ask you why you want that information?
OP (John): Well we are an IT services company...... I wanted to see if I could set an appointment to talk to you about your IT needs.......
Dave, no longer confused but now perplexed: Well, why didn't you ask?
OP (John): Well......... What's your name?
Dave: That's OK, thank you for calling, I'm not interested in your services.

I think that was supposed to be a prospecting call???? I've done thousands in my career and have seen lots of sales people doing them.

But I'm not really sure. John had reached me, I clearly identified myself as the person he probably wanted to talk to, but clearly he wasn't prepared to execute his prospecting call. Why did he make the call? What was he trying to accomplish? Is he aware of the impression he made? Is he being paid to do this?

Some things I think went wrong:

1. He didn't know anything about the company. Before I make calls, I use this new thing called Google.....(you know what I'm going to say).
2. When he reached me, he didn't clearly introduce himself and his reason for calling.
3. I'm not clear that he had a script, but he really wanted to know when we started work. Even if that is in the script, it seems that when he heard he had the right person on the phone he might launch into the reason for calling and asked for an appointment, but I had to pull it out of him.
4. I raised an objection (Why didn't you ask?)and didn't even try to respond.
5. He wasn't listening, I told him my name twice, but at the end of the call, he still was asking for my name.

Yes, I still make prospecting calls myself. I do my homework before I make the call, so I know a lot about the company, their situation, and, if possible, about the individual I call. So often, when I call, I reach voicemail--I'm prepared for handling that. Sometimes, I reach an assistant--I'm prepared for talking to assistants, and every once and a while, I actually reach the person I want to talk to---I leap on those opportunities. I want to capitalize on those few seconds I might actually be talking to a prospect, I want to use their time well, make a great impression, and make the first step in achieving my objective.

Do I have it wrong? Am I missing something? Am I being too critical.

Unfortunately, these days, I get too many calls like the one from John Doe---no wonder "cold calls" don't work.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Should Sales Professionals Be Certified?

First let's agree that many sales professionals (and others) are certifiable. My wife reminds me of this with every crazy idea I come up with. But that's not what I mean. I'm talking about whether there should be a certification process for sales professionals.

Over the past week, I've raised a lot of debate with my Posts On Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession:

Over at The Customer Collective, Donal Daly of the TAS Group, suggested we look at developing a Sales Certification platform to start doing something about the level of professionalism in sales. He has been generous in offering TAS Group resources in developing something. Others, Christian Maurer, Niall Devitt, Neil Warren, Dave Stein, Paul McCord, and others have weighed in on the topic.

It may be time to look at sales certification and how we might improve our practice---if only to save ourselves from ourselves.

Many professions are required certification/licensing to practice their professions. Doctors, Pharmacists, Lawyers, Accountants, even certain categories of Engineers are required to pass rigorous studies, testing, and proof of experience in order to practice. These requirements for certification are mandated legally and have central "certifying" bodies that set the standards and administer the certification process.

There are other types of certification that act like "Good Housekeeping Seals Of Approval," and indicate some level of training and experience "certified" by a sponsoring organization. In the IT world, Microsoft and Cisco certified people are highly sought after.

Many other professions offer "certifications," though I, somewhat cynically, think they are more oriented to maintaining membership (while they do have certain knowledge and ethics requirements).

For example, there are "Certified Management Consultant" and "Certified Professional Speaker" certifications. I've actually considered both, but when I start talking to current and professional customers about it, their responses were: "Say what?????" or "Who are they to tell me whether you are any good or not?" of "Never heard of it, who cares!"

There are actually several organizations that offer some kind of sales certification, but I have to admit that I've never asked any of the thousands of sales people I work with every year whether they are certified.

Recently, after all the corporate scandals, there have been people in the government and august organizations like Harvard, proposing some types of certification for executives.

With all this as background, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about "certification" --whether legally mandated or industry driven. I'm one who believes the tag line of an old joke "What do you call 200 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean.....A good start!" We've seen lots of "questionable" practices by lawyers, accountants, doctors and others. Sometimes it means you jumped a series of hurdles, but it doesn't necessarily make you any better as a professional, more trustworthy, or more ethical.

Others--like the Microsoft and Cisco certifications sometimes seem to have greater value in enhancing a resume and getting a job. There is a level of knowledge, but there are equally knowledgeable, sometimes better people who have not gotten the certification.

And, in my own case, no one has ever asked me whether I am a Certified Management Consultant or Professional Speaker---though a frustrated customer did call me certifiable (reconfirming my wife's claims).

I do think we need to raise the level of professionalism in the practice of selling. I hear this from everyone I talk to--both on the sales side and customer side. While I'm not certain certification is the answer, I don't have any better ideas.

Perhaps we can start another discussion. What do you think? I'd love your comments. Even better, I put up a quick survey to collect opinions and ideas. It will take you no more than 5 minutes to complete. The survey has two tracks: What do we as sales professionals think? What do our customers think? Go take the survey, encourage your peers to take it, ask your customers to take it. I'll report the results in a few weeks.

Here's the link for the survey: Should Sales Professionals Be Certified?

Thanks both for your comments and for participating in the survey!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Strategic Partners---How Important Are They To Your Sales Strategies -- A Survey

Over the past 2 months, we have written a lot about Strategic Parnerships and Alliances as part of your sales strategies. Two of the posts are:

Sometimes All We Want Is Good Customers, Sometimes All Customrs Want Is Good Suppliers
If Your Suppliers Are In Trouble, Then You Are In Bigger Trouble

We've gotten a lot of queries and comments from people who have seen these articles. Many share our views that strong supply chain relationships are critical to successful implementation of their sales strategies. As a result of these conversations, we have decided to research this issue more deeply. We are looking at several issues that seem to have resonated with people:
    • The importance of partnering and alliances as a part of their sales strategies.

    • The importance of partnering as part of the vendor management strategies.

    • The interrelationship of these issues in overall success of the
To help us gather information about these critical issues. I'd like to invite you to participate in a short survey,
Survey On Customer Partnering And Supply Chain Relationships. The survey should take less than 15 minutes to complete. Everyone completing the survey and requesting a copy of the results will get a copy of the report at no charge. We will be offering the results to others for $49.95.

Please take the time to complete this survey. All results are completely anonymous. Follow the link:
Survey On Customer Partnering And Supply Chain Relationships.

Thanks for your help with this survey. It is open for anyone to take, please forward this mail to colleagues, customers, and suppliers who may be interested in this issue. We will close the survey roughly at the end of May and will publish the report in mid June.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession, Part 3 of 3 – What Do We Do?

If you’ve made it this far through the series of articles, you probably want to quit your sales job and become a hermit in the mountains. I’ve certainly created a bleak picture. Thank you for your patience and dligence in hanging in with me!

However, I am tremendously excited about being a sales professional and for the future of sales professionals. I think the dismal picture I’ve portrayed, also provides an opportunity for real progress and growth for sales professionals.

Note---I’m focused on a small audience—people who are or who are committed to becoming the highest levels of performance in sales. I’m not talking about people that sell. I am neither na├»ve enough, ambitious enough, now willing to waste my time on changing sales. As with every function, there will be a tremendous number of “schlock” peddlers (call a New Yorker for translation). There will also be a large number of people who are in the middle---I see great hope for them, but led by inspired sales professionals.

I think the problems and challenges provide the opportunity for true professionals and those that aspire to be professionals to separate themselves from the rest of people who peddle.

How do we improve, how do we focus on becoming truly effective and high performers? Where does the leadership responsibility lie? I believe each of us can take ownership in driving change.

First, we can't be naive, a lot of the structural and systemic issues I identified in Part 2 can't be fixed --- will take more people working together (within and organization or across organizations. But, we don't have to let these constrain us, we can still get a lot accomplished and drive a lot of change that will improve our effectiveness --- as groups, teams, or individuals. We can't let these constraints become excuses for non performance.

To be honest---at least from an organizational point of view, I am tempted to point the finger at management—not just sales management, but corporate management. I do believe that poor leadership or no leadership is one of the key reasons sales (and organizations) perform at a far lower level than they could. I think leaders must set better personal examples, invest in getting things done through their people---which means coaching and developing them. I believe they must fight the systemic issues that block them from driving sustained performance improvement.

At the same time, only the top executives will be able to have any significant impact on the systemic issues. What does this mean for most of sales management? If I got my wish, I would hope that sales managers focus on three things: Doing their jobs as leader/coaches. There are coaching opportunities in every meeting—just the questions you ask have a tremendous impact your team.

Second, rather than reacting, changing priorities and strategies on a daily basis; stick to your principles, processes, and tools. Use them, presumably you implemented them because you believed in the results they could produce, give them a chance to work, monitor, adjust, modify. Follow through on them, diagnose what’s working and what’s not working. There are a lot of good processes, tools, and programs out there. Choose those that work best for you and use them. Don’t become victim of the program du hour mentality.

Finally, execute your processes and lead with passion and excitement. Inspire your people, your peers, your management to follow your example.

Individual contributors have a responsibility as well. Seek to become the best in your profession. Constantly learn, seek out the best professionals you can find, network with them, and learn from them. Develop your own processes, or internalize your company’s selling processes—adapting them for your use. The processes and tools work! They produce tremendous results, learn how to leverage those results for yourself. Invest in planning and thinking. It will get you to your end goal more effectively and efficiently then by reacting to your competition, customer demands, or your management. Set an example in your own performance for your peers.

Whether you are a leader or individual contributor, becoming disciplined and process focused, committing to follow through on these, exploiting the tools produce results. Leverage these processes and tools, not because your management tells you to, but because they help you become more effective.

I don’t believe change only comes from the top. I believe change comes from committed, passionate people at all levels of the organization.

Thanks for your patience in working your way through my diatribe. I have not hit all the issues, I think I may have a bit of a warped view on many issues. My greatest hope is not that you agree with my ideas, but that it stimulates a healthy discussion. Your discussion and comments will be better than my rambling posts! If I'm off base, please correct me.

In case you started at the end and want to go back to the beginning, here are the two previous posts.

Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession, Part 2 of 3 -- Not Just A Sales Problem

In the first part of this post, I focused primarily on the sales function and challenges we have created for ourselves. However, what we face is not just a sales problem.

There are some things that keep us from being as effective as possible that are not just the “fault” of sales people, but which do contribute to our inability to sustain high levels of effective performance. Some of it is “business culture”—in general, some of it is “regional culture”---that is North American, European, Asian, and so forth. Some of it is “industry culture.”

These represent attitudes, behaviors, practices, expectations by all business professionals, but which applied to selling, adversely impact our performance and effectiveness. I can’t review all of these, but will highlight a few of the issues that impact sales effectiveness.

The focus on the short term is one of the biggest issues impacting organizations, in general, and sales specifically. CEO’s and Boards are concerned about today’s stock performance. Decisions are biased to what impacts our stock now—not what will increase our market cap in 2-5 years. If the strategies, tactics, and actions we have adopted don’t impact stock price today, then tomorrow we will change them.

This has a terrible impact on all parts of the organization, but perhaps the biggest on sales. Strategies, tactics and actions are oriented around booking the order today. If we aren’t tracking at or above plan, then we will change our strategies and tactics. We confuse the sales people, we confuse our customers, and we don’t produce results. We push our customers to meet our schedule for booking orders rather than their schedule of producing results. In this environment, the “program du jour” rules---at least for today, who knows about tomorrow?

Sales people become numb to this, they often ignore everything and just keep doing what they have been doing in the past. They keep their heads down and stay out of trouble.

Speed of execution is favored over planning. We are too busy doing activities, to focus on doing things right. We always have time to do things over (after all, our programs and priorities will change tomorrow, anyway). Taking the time to plan, takes away from time we can spend doing stuff—regardless of whether it moves us forward. We have studies, as do others, which show tremendous improvements in productivity, results, and effectiveness by investing time in planning. Clearly, we can’t go overboard, but there is a mentality/culture in most of the business world that favors activity and speed---any motion/activity is good motion/activity over doing the right thing at the right time with the right people.

We live in a disposable society: Rather than fixing something, repairing it, tuning it, we get rid of it, replacing it with something new. As consumers, when something breaks, we throw it out and replace it with something new. As business people, when something “breaks,” we throw it out and replace it with something new. When our people don’t perform to our expectations, we replace them with someone new. When our managers don’t accomplish what we want, we replace them with something new. When our CRM system, Sales 2.0 tools, sales training don’t produce what we want, we get something new. We don’t look coach or develop people for improvement, we don’t look at processes and analyze what is wrong, correcting that, we don’t learn from our problems and look at how we can repair, tune, or fix them---even though the path to good results by doing this is probably faster and cheaper than a replacement strategy. We deal with symptoms and don’t address root problems. Fixing the symptom doesn’t eliminate the problem.

We forget the Lone Ranger really didn’t exist. We look for the silver bullet, we believe in the magic solution—whether it is weight loss, or the 10 techniques to get anybody to buy anything. We are susceptible to fads and move from fad to fad. There are no silver bullets. Business and sales is hard work. It requires passion, creativity, discipline, follow through, and learning from our mistakes. There are no shortcuts.

All that counts is results. I’m all for results—they represent the ultimate scorecard. But results are produced from strong processes, disciplined execution, and focused action. Just demanding results without looking at the root issues that impact the ability to deliver results doesn’t produce sustained improvement.

Managers aren’t leading. In all functions, managers are spending more time administering than leading. Managers get things done through their people. Their responsibility is to remove barriers to their people’s performance, coach and develop people to perform at the highest levels, developing and managing the process. Unfortunately, few managers—from the CEO down do a consistent job at doing this. Many don’t know it’s their job, many don’t have the skills to do their job. Without leadership, without management setting the expectations and the example, how can we expect sales people to raise their standard of performance. As my colleague, Christian Maurer, likes to say, the fish rots from the head.

It’s better to look good than do good. We seem to honor image more than true accomplishment. What better example than the cult of personalities led by people like Paris Hilton who have contributed nothing. By contrast, a person like Greg Mortenson is relatively unknown, yet he has had a deep impact on dozens of communities and thousands of people. This translates into our business world. Executives spend more time cultivating their personal image/brand—often hiring personal media consultant, than letting their work speak for itself. A fantastic presentation or elevator pitch, a great PowerPoint is more recognized than a simple whiteboard discussion with a customer.

We are time poor. Nobody is “fat” in business these days. To be competitive and to survive, companies must be lean (remember lean is different depending on where you are). In a world of cutbacks and layoffs, the funds and number of people available to do the work have been reduced significantly. Too few people, too few dollars, and 7/24 availability --- thanks to our Blackberry’s, have given us no time to think, plan, organize. We can only react.

There have been too many breaches of Trust. All the items above, and others I haven’t suggested have created very low levels of trust---within the organization, and even lower levels of trust across different organization. We’ve heard and seen too much focus on your personal brand. We’ve seen too many commitments broken. We’ve seen too many of the top executives rewarded for destroying the organizations they were supposed to lead.

These are problems that pervade business. They are not just sales problems, we see these issues in virtually every part of every organization. They impact how we, as sales professionals, act within our organizations and with our customers. They impact how we are perceived by our own organizations and by our customers.

Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession, Part 1 of 3 (in case you came in on the middle of the story)

Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession, Part 3 of 3 – What Do We Do?

Sales Force Ineffectiveness, Conjecture On The Future Of The Profession, Part 1 of 3

Let me start with an apology, I will probably gore everyone’s ox in this post. My intention is not to pick on any group of sales professionals, but to start a discussion about the state of the profession and to stimulate ideas on how each of use—as individuals, leaders, influencers might improve the practice of the profession. I’ve actually split this post into two, Part 1 addresses issues that are primarily driven by sales. Part 2 looks at systemic business issues, beyond sales, that impact how we perform. Part 3 focuses on what we can do about these issues, both as organizations and individuals.

I hope you take the time to read and comment on all three. I may just have gone off the deep end and be mumbling nonsense, I hope you correct me (I know you will ;-)

Over the past week, there have been a number of blog posts, comments, and discussions by people like Dave Stein, Niall Devitt, Christian Maurer, Paul McCord and others touching on various aspects of professional selling and why we as a profession are not improving our effectiveness.

Dave Stein lays the groundwork, with a lot of great data on sales training programs, books, blogs, and surveys on sales effectiveness in his post
How Do You Fix Sales Ineffectiveness? If you haven’t read it, you should.

Billions of dollars/euros/yuan/yen are spent by companies in sales training, tools, conferences, seminars and other things to improve the effectiveness of their sales people. As both Dave and Paul point out in their posts, everyday some new book, blog, podcast or other offering promises the “silver bullet” to improving sales performance and effectiveness.

Yet, on the other hand, several months ago, one of my posts,
Why Do Sales People Have Such A Bad Reputation, stirred up a huge amount of controversy and discussion with some people claiming there was little future for sales people, that customers buying processes were changing and the need or contribution of sales people was being minimized.

So where are we, what does this mean, where are we (sales professionals going), where does “fault” lie—if you want to lay blame. Some thoughts, observations:

Sales people have been the butt of jokes, complaints, and stories since through history. (I think this is a vicious conspiracy fostered by lawyers to take the heat off them.) We always will be, so why waste time on this?

The buzz words for professional sales today is “consultative,” “customer focused,” “solutions focused,” “value-based.” If only we became more consultative and customer focused, we would make the buying/selling experience more acceptable and make customer enthusiastic to see us. When I first started selling, in the late 70’s, the buzz words were “consultative,” “customer focused,”……. Nothing’s changed, so clearly we aren’t executing the practices that enable us to be customer focused.

It always intrigues me that we have continued to have this discussion about the importance of being consultative, but we have made no substantive progress in this area. It is not for lack of training programs, books, articles, testimonials. On the one hand, if we are selling and producing results without it, why bother? To those that claim this, I tend to claim you are underperforming your potential. You can sell more---more effectively, increase customer retention and grow your share of customer with consultative approaches---there is plenty of data to support this.

Consultative selling is difficult—it is disciplined, process based, and requires commitment and follow through on a sustained basis. Our focus on now (at all levels) makes this difficult. I think the issue about consultative selling is more about committed leadership than about skills development. Getting sales management to commit to integrating this into their day to day leadership style is the only way we will make substantive progress. Without this, we are wasting time and money.

Sales, by its nature, is about change. We are trying, for good or bad reasons, to get people and organizations to change. Most people are resistant to, or at least uncomfortable with change—they will tend to be resistant to the agents of change, as well. We have to live with this---maybe even revel in it. As a profession, I don’t think we talk about change management or change leadership enough. If I had to make recommendations for skills development, I would recommend something around leading change initiatives.

For too long, we have treated sales as a “black art.” We have let others wrap sales in a “mystique.” Part of this is the act of selling is usually done at a distance from the rest of the organization---it is done at our customers (Duuuuhh!). So people in the organization don’t see what we are doing. With other functions, you see people every day. You see the factories and talk to manufacturing people, you see materials going in one end and products coming out the back. It may or may not be a good process, but at least you can see something going on. You can say this about most other functions.

We as sales people have reinforced this, keeping people out of our accounts (or shepherding them in carefully orchestrated visits). We have also reinforced mystique by being less accountable for forecast accuracy and other things. “Just trust me, we’ll get a purchase order.”

Related to the previous point, we resist treating sales as a disciplined process. Recently, I have been involved in coaching a new Business Development VP. He did not have a sales background, but he was the best candidate for the job. He had a very rich and successful project management background. As you might expect, he was very concerned with his success in this role. I counseled him to think of sales as a specialized application of project management: You establish goals and objectives, you identify the critical activities to meet the goals, you set milestones and schedules to make sure you are making progress. Five months into his new role, he is well on the way to creating one of the most effective sales organizations I have encountered---all because he is applying the discipline, focus, and process orientation from his project management background to the sales organization. He has had to pick up some new terminology, some new skills (prospecting was his biggest worry, but he is doing fantastic).

While this is not new, I think we need to upgrade our thinking and skills around basic project management, process design/management, and systems thinking. All of what we do is a specialized application of those disciplines.

On a related point, much of what has been done and many of the tools in the quality movement, whether it is TQM, Six Sigma, Kaizen, or something else. These offer tremendous capability to improve performance and put discipline to what we execute.

Customers can be more informed and less knowledgeable: The internet, Web 2.0, Sales 2.0 provide the potential for customers/prospects to do much more research and to be both more knowledgeable on your products, competition and alternatives. At the same time, these tools have eliminated market entry barriers for everyone so there is a lot of crap available as well. Immediately, anybody posting a comment, writing a blog, sending a tweet, knowing how to spell www, becomes an authority.

The noise level---the stuff everyone has to sift through is skyrocketing. Will your customers take the time to sift through the pages of garbage and find good information from credible sources? Are we providing good information that is easy for the customers to find and absorb? The answer to both questions is probably not. This creates great opportunity and challenge to all sales people. The bar for performance is being raised by the sheer availability of information. The challenge to correct mis- or bad impressions is even greater. Sales people are going to have to be much more nimble in understanding and leveraging these tools, as well as making sure customers are truly, accurately, and well informed.

We have done too good a job in training our customers to have a low expectation of sales. Over the years, through our performance---pitching products rather than solving problems, focusing on the deal rather than producing value, getting the transaction done rather than building relationships---our customers have become conditioned to a lower level of buying behavior. I’ve been involved in situations where the customer just doesn’t have the time for a “value based” buying/selling process. Combine this conditioning, their natural wariness of sales people, and the fact they are time poor and pressured themselves, it creates great challenges in responding to the customer needs in a value added manner.

Let me stop here. In the next section addresses systemic business issues that overlay these issues, making the job of a sales professional even more difficult.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tips For Selling To Manufacturers

Thanks to the folks at TheCustomerCollective and Oracle for sponsoring a terrific eBook, Selling Through A Slump. It's a great resource for every sales professional. You really should download the eBook and use it as your playbook to help you in growing your sales within different market segments.

I was asked to write the section: Selling To Manufacturers. To tantalize you to read more in the eBook, I've published the tips I recommended below:

Selling to Manufacturers

Yes, we know the story, the manufacturing sector is had hit. Plants are closing, companies are looking to get rid of excess capacity, and no one seems to be buying. Yet manufacturers are our customers, how do we sell to them, how do we find ways of creating revenue in this sector.Let’s look at Dave’s Top 10 Tips For Selling Within The Manufacturing Sector. Actually, there are a couple of ways we can look at it---you may sell products, services, or solutions to help manufacturers design, develop, manufacture and support the products they develop. You may sell components, parts, or subassemblies that are embedded into the products the manufacturer builds. I’ll try to look at both aspects of this challenge:

1. If you normally turn right when walking in your customer’s front door, on your next visit turn left. Too often we call on the same old people all the time. Explore your customer, call on new people, new functions, new divisions. If you sold to the manufacturing/production lines, go to development/engineering, meet them and see if you can help them solve problems. If you normally dealt with a certain engineering group, call on the engineers one cubicle over, you may find new opportunities.

2. Look upstream and downstream in the process flow. If you supply products or services to support the manufacturing (or engineering design/development) processes, look at how you fit into the process. Can you extend your reach upstream or downstream to make the process more efficient and better integrated. If you supply component parts, look at the parts you connect to (Think the hip bone connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone connected to ……) Can you supply those components or even a subassembly? Can you increase your part count in each product?

3. Look at key/hot issues the industry faces and present how your products/services help the customer address those issues. For example, if you can help make peanut products safe, you are gold! Are there safety issues, environmental, regulatory, compliance issues your customer must address that you can solve? Can you help them with sustainability/energy issues?

4. Leverage plant consolidation and downsizing to your advantage---and to help the customer. In shutting down plants, they have to consolidate operations into fewer facilities. This creates a whole raft of nightmarish problems for the manufacturer. How do they handle the logistics? How do they make their lines more flexible? How do they transition products? How do they do better planning/forecasting for the combined workloads? How do they better manage productivity, quality and efficiency in a smaller number of plants that are doing more. This is a terrific opportunity if you can solve those problems.

5. Make sure they are using your products and services as efficiently and effectively as possible. Are they getting the most bang for the buck/euro/yuan? Audit the use of your products/services to see they are operating and top efficiency. Look at the parts you supply, can you suggest other parts that would be more effective/efficient? This is also a terrific opportunity to look at additional services you might provide (and charge for). It’s also a terrific opportunity to educate your customers about how get the most out of your products/services making them more knowledgeable, productive, and comfortable with your offerings. In the very least, when they start buying again, they will tend to buy what they know and trust.

6. Focus on supply chain efficiency, can you wring out costs in the supply chain/procurement processes? If you supply parts, can you take over more of the logistics management headaches? They probably have gotten very lean and supply chain management may be a big problem. If you supply equipment/systems/services sometimes common tools used by suppliers help dramatically reduce costs and improve efficiency through the whole value delivery chain.

7. Ask your best customers to introduce you to their most important suppliers. If you have created great value and efficiency for your customer, it only serves them to have suppliers that that are achieving the same value and efficiency in their operations---it can reduce your customer’s costs.

8. Look at what is happening to your customers’ customers. Can you identify things that are happening there that present opportunities for your customer to grow their business---which may drive demand for your offerings? Helping your customer grow their business is the surest way to grow yours.

9. Become best friends with the finance/controller functions in your customer. Make certain you understand how they evaluate investments. Make certain you understand ROI/Payback hurdles they apply in their analysis. Look at where they are trying to take cost out of operations or how they are trying to improve the financial position of the company. Make certain you are conversant in their language and lingo.

10. Focus on rich collaboration with your customer. Become an integrated part of their team. If you sell parts, become part of their engineering and design teams to help design better products, reducing their design time and costs. If you sell equipment/systems services, look at how you establish a deeper relationship with the customer.

I’m giving you 11 instead of 10 for two reasons: First, I always try to give my customers more than they ask for. Second, prime numbers have a certain elegance—so I had to end this list on a prime number.

11. Ask your customer how you can help and listen to what they say. Sometimes, that’s all the help they need, but no one ever paid attention.

I believe opportunities abound in the manufacturing segment. Those that take advantage and dig deep will find those opportunities and succeed!
There is a lot more good stuff in this eBook, download it now: Selling Through The Slump

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What's It Take To Be A Major Account Rep?

The other day, a sales person I had coached a few years ago called me up. He was getting a big promotion to handle one of his company's largest customers. He called to ask me what it took to be an outstanding major accounts rep. The guy was already a great customer focused sales person, so we didn't spend much time on those areas.

I reeled a number of thoughts off the top of my head. I know I've missed some, it would be great to have your ideas. The non-prioritized thoughts were:

    1. The major account rep has to understand the customer's business better than the customer does themselves. He has to understand the customer's markets, their customer's problem/issues, the customer's competition, and other opportunities for the customer to grow and improve their business.
    2. The major account rep understands how the customer's business works, including: the culture and value system of the customer, how they get things done, the formal and informal organizational structure, the strengths and weaknesses, how they measure and manage performance.
    3. The major account rep consistently brings the customer ideas and opportunities to improve their business, growing top and bottom lines, growing their share and presence in the market, and ways for them to achieve their top goals and priorities.
    4. The major account rep effectively brings together people within the account, serving as a bridge for people in the account to communicate with each other. Often the major account rep will know more about what's happening than the people in the account.
    5. The major account rep will consistently seek to expand the breadth and depth of their relationships within the account. She will not only build relationships with executives, but also build relationships at all levels of the account.
    6. The major account rep will serve as an advocate for the customer within her own company. She will make certain any customer's issues are well handled. She will make sure the account's interests are represented as the company builds its strategies, policies and solutions/products.
    7. The major account rep will leverage the resources of his own company to help grow the relationships between the two companies. This includes developing peer relationships between executives in the two companies, and building relationships across all levels of the organization.
    8. The major account rep consistently brings her customer business justified solutions, not only to help the customer meet their goals, but to assure the rep achieves her goals for
      her own company in growing the business. These goals include revenue, satisfaction, margin, strategic projects/initiatives, etc.
    9. The major account rep is a business manager, helping both the account and his own company achieve mutually beneficial business goals.
    10. The major account rep does not waste her customer's time, or the time of the people in her own company. She creates value in every interchange. The rep knows they have achieved this when the customer thinks of the rep as "one of them," and the rep's own company thinks of the rep as "one of them."
    11. The major account rep leaps over tall buildings with a single bound (running starts are OK).

I know I have missed some important things, what would you add?