Sales excellence and the comfort zone freeze

sales reps and comfort zoneSometimes great short-term sales success can be a bad predictive of future sales excellence.  Let’s take a look at why that might be and examine the consequences.

There are a number of market and company specific reasons why this troubling dilemma tends to materialize at various times.  In most cases when these factors are the source of the problem, sales reps has very limited ability to manage and correct the problem.  However, there is an alternative source of the problem that is directly related to the sales rep – is one they can manage and correct.  It’s all about the phenomenon of  “comfort zone freeze.”

Some sales reps achieve success and avoid failure by sticking to “the tried and true.” They stay in their comfort zone. They don’t, for example, sell the innovative solution because it requires work to get smart about the particulars or because it is risky due to potential “hiccups” in implementation that can’t immediately be solved.

Another permutation of the “comfort zone freeze” is the sales rep that assumes a cautious attitude simply because it’s safer from a financial perspective – “I’d rather go for a sure thing with a lower commission rather than going for a big hit and losing it all.”

What’s wrong with “tried and true” or a too cautious attitude?  Isn’t there a lot to be said for the old axiom – “better safe than sorry?”  But Sales in 2016 is going to be about disruption – which has implications for staying within one’s comfort zone.  Let’s look at two specifics:

  • Markets. Today markets are going through transformational changes. The healthcare and technology industries are classic examples. Buyers are changing what they buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it.  And in the future the dust is unlikely to settle and a new steady state is unlikely to emerge.  Instead the new constant is a constant state of change. In such a market environments there is limited room for the “tried and true.”  Doing the same old, same old is not going to carry the day.  If buyers change how they buy, sellers need to change how they sell.
  • New Products.   Due to market demands and advances in manufacturing technologies, companies will likely double their rate of introducing new products in the next several years compared to their recent past.  New products require sales teams to adjust and adapt their selling skills. The more innovative the product the greater is the need for upgrading.  In some cases it will not be a matter of doing a better job doing what you are dong.  It will require a “horse of a different color.”  It will be about doing something different.

What are the consequences?  Some will say there are none because this characterization of the future as a world of constant change is a story heard many times before that has never produced the projected dire results.  Possible … but the suggested market disruptions look like the real deal.  So if they are, what are the likely consequences of staying with the “tried and true?”

  • Sales Rep. Sales reps that don’t test the limits, that don’t adapt to changes in the buying environment, that simply limit their aspirations to doing a better job doing what they are doing are likely to leave “money on the table” and limit their long-term performance skill development. They will survive but are unlikely to prosper because they are continuing to repeat the same sales behavior while the buying world around them is changing.
  • Companies.  A new set of winners and losers tend to emerge during times of disruptive change.  Just because you are a market leader does not guarantee you will remain one. Such times provide great opportunities for small and nimble companies to make significant competitive gains. The problem for many big companies is doing too little, too late.

Buyers are changing the expectations they have about the people on the other side of the table today. They want sales reps who are trusted advisors not product facilitators.  Sales reps or companies that adopt the “let’s just stay the course” approach are likely to continuously erode their competitive advantage.  “Tried and true” is likely to reemerge as “Sorry and Sad.”

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2016 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

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Sales management coaching – the power of the positive

Sales coaching

Sales coaching

Good sales coaching is a balance – a mix of feedback on things that go right, as well as, things that don’t.  The problem is we tend to get out of balance.  It is easier to see the ineffective – faults and mistakes than to detect and analyze skillful performance.  Inevitably, this colors the feedback we give. It is much easier to focus on the negatives than the positives.

As a correction a common how-to instruction for giving feedback suggests – start by saying something encouraging, and then move on to the behavior that needs to be improved and close with something positive.

A second and more effective approach is don’t wait to give positive feedback on good performance until it’s time to correct a mistake. Reason: under the first idea the praise part of the feedback can come across as patronizing and insincere.  Instead, be on the lookout for good sales performance and immediately provide some positive feedback – if you are the one on the other side of the table the difference is absolutely dramatic.

Let’s take the example where a sales rep has successfully closed a deal.  One of the unique aspects of this situation, of course, is the inherent positive feedback a salesperson gets from closing a deal. After all, closing a deal is great! And for large opportunities the win often is celebrated inside the sales team – again automatic positive feedback.

Yet, positive feedback often stops there.  All too often sales managers do not sit down with a salesperson who has closed a winning deal and leverage the win as an opportunity to have a second-level feedback discussion with the sales rep.  Two best practices for conducting such sessions are worth highlighting:

  • Analyze the win.  Particularly in complex accounts it can be difficult for sales reps to analyze the critical activities that lead to winning the accounts.  So in the feedback session the sales manager cannot only congratulate the sales rep for the achievement but also help the sales rep to better understand why the win was achieved.
  • Leverage the win.  Helping salespeople to understand how what they did well in winning one account can be leveraged for handling difficult situations in other accounts.  If someone is good at something, helping them to parlay that something in as many ways as possible is not only positive feedback it’s smart business.  It is also possible for the sales manager to blueprint how the win was achieved into a set of best practices that can be shared with others members of the team.

Positive feedback tends to be under utilized and its power under estimated.  Doing a better job in determining when to provide positive feedback and how to provide it can be another step towards improving sales coaching.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2016 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales training for meeting buyers’ expectations in 2016

sales trainingRecent years have seen a tremendous disruption in how customers buy. And if buyers change how they buy – salespeople need to change how they sell.

Customers want fresh ideas and creative insights for addressing a set of needs and opportunities that are both new and challenging. They expect sales reps to be knowledgeable about their industry, company, and issues at a higher level of proficiency than ever before.  They expect insights not product pitches. They want trusted advisors not product facilitators.

This buyer expectation requires that the sale rep have the information and skill sets to have compelling strategic business conversations.

Performance development challenge.  Developing the capacity to have strategic business conservations is a significant skill development challenge.  Most sales reps will not, on their own, make the shift from conducting product-centric sales interactions to conducting strategic business discussions.  There is no simple set of tips and tricks for helping reps make this transition.  A behavior change integrating a set of best practices is required.  With that thought in mind, the sales training initiative should be viewed as a process not a single event. 

Sales training design.  Although the specifics will vary depending on the unique needs of each company attempting to meet this challenge, it is possible to describe an initial training design.

  • Stepping-stone approach.  This approach involves a series of events each of which builds on the preceding event.  Therefore, it is important to construct at least an outline of all the events before executing the first one.  In addition, as much care must be given to what happens before and after each event, as to the event itself.  The later point is simply the recognition that both how one positions a training activity and how one reinforces and builds on a training activity are keys to success.
  • Front-line sales management engagement.  Front-line sales managers are the pivotal job for driving sales success.  It is, therefore, critical that the instructional design for each event and the pre- and post- activity actively engage the front-line sales managers.  For example, although there are numerous ways to reinforce any training activity, sales management coaching is clearly the high impact strategy; therefore it should always be the first method of choice.
  • Customization.  In general it makes sense to customize sales training to specific markets and the sales challenges the company is facing at that moment in time, as opposed to, implementing generic programs. In the customization, attention needs to be given to the fact that, although the challenges may be the same, in many companies the sales reps are divided into operating groups that sell to different segments of the market. The key point is the sales training must be perceived as relevant and realistic – which means you must drag the real world into the classroom.
  • High-engagement level.  Using a lone instructor in front of the room with a 50-slide PowerPoint deck is not a viable approach for a high-impact training event for an experienced sales team attempting to learn an advanced skill set.  It is suggested that each sales training event in the stepping-stone approach must based on a design that maximizes discussion, practice, and feedback.
  • Team-based.  Correlated with the previous point, it is suggested that the participants be divided into teams for the sales training.  Teams maximize the opportunity for discussion, practice, and feedback.  Consideration should be given to the composition of teams.  In many markets the day of the lone wolf sales person is coming to an end.  The game is now a team sport.  The sales rep may engage engineering, service or consulting personnel at various phases of the sales cycle.  If you are going to sell as a team, you need to train as a team.

Last, if results are to be optimized the sales leadership needs to come to the party.  Everyone from the sales leadership team needs to be committed to the idea that “behavior change requires a process not a single event.”  Plus coming to the party also requires coming to the key events in the training.  Attending the training provides the leadership an excellent opportunity to diagnose the additional actions required to achieve excellence.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2016 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

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Beating the competition in an undifferentiated market

competitive advantage 3When is selling the most fun?   Certainly when you have a superior product. Perhaps it’s even a “killer product”, like the Xerox copier vs. the mimeo machine.

Unfortunately with global competition and advanced manufacturing technologies, those days are rare and if they do occur they are difficult to sustain. Today even when you have a superior product a competitor is likely come out with one that is just as good or better than yours in half the time of yesteryear.  Or you come face-to-face with the dreadful “it’s good enough” response.

So let’s take the worse possible case.  You are selling in a market where the competition either has products that are just as good as yours or they have products that are perceived by the customers to be “good enough” compared to yours.  How do you adapt your selling strategy to these market scenarios?

Here are two strategies:

  • Better understand the competition as viewed by the customer.
  • Adjust your sales strategy to the undifferentiated market reality – you have to do some things differently.

Let’s take at look at both strategies starting with developing a better understanding the competition.

Managing the competition.  As the old saying goes – “you have to keep your eye on the ball” and the ball is the customer. Particularly in an undifferentiated market, keeping an eye on the customer is key when it comes to executing an effective sales strategy for beating the competition. It is easy to take your eye off the ball and fall prey to the trap of getting in a defensive mode by reacting to the competition. It is critical to stay focused on the customer’s needs, challenges and concerns. Top sales performers focus on the customer and manage the competition.

If you focus on the customer and can answer these four questions (CAPS) about the competitor you have a better chance of executing a sales strategy where you win and they come in second:

  • Capacity. What is the customer’s perception of the competitor’s major capabilities and limitations?
  • Assessment. Why is the customer considering the competitor for the present opportunity?
  • Performance. If the competitor is presently in the account what are they doing exceptionally well and poorly and why?
  • Strategy. What is their sales strategy for the present opportunity?

Adjusting your sales strategy.  How can salespeople differentiate themselves from their competitors in an undifferentiated market?  Over the years we have asked that question to sales managers. Here is what they said:

  • Sell a total solution To differentiate, sales reps must move beyond the product and identify the value-adds that will help the customer achieve their business outcomes.
  • Understand all aspects of the competition. The competition isn’t just the other company or its products – it’s also the company’s sales reps. So know the competitor’s sales reps, their histories with the account, and their relationships with the customer.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of relationships Although effective B2B selling is not just about building relationships, selling is still a personal business. People buy from people they know and like – so get to know all the people that are engaged in the buyer’s decision journey and understand what value means from their individual perspectives.
  • Be an effective communicator.  Do what you say you are going to do, if you don’t know don’t pretend, if you make a mistake admit it, correct it, and make sure you don’t repeat it, have unbridled enthusiasm, and convey a compelling belief in your company.
  • Create an accurate picture of the competitive landscape.  Learn your natural supporters and adversaries and spend time developing willing and able internal champions.  Determine how much impact the various players have on the buying decision and have an accurate picture of the competition’s perceived position from the customer’s view.
  • Look at the big picture. Understand the external issues facing the company – e.g., economic shifts, regulatory changes, and industry trends.
  • Leverage your experience Bring breadth to the sales environment by helping the customer see how other companies have tackled similar issues – have the stories available to bring that experience to life.
  • Be aware of passive competitors.  Passive competitors are products or services that aren’t direct competitors in that they don’t do what your product or service does – but they are competing for the same bucket of money.  This happens more often than one might think – a medical device, for example, not being adopted by a hospital because resources will be dedicated to buying capital equipment.
  • Helping the customer understand the consequences of inaction. It’s very common to go through a sales cycle and find out at the end that the customer decides that doing nothing is preferred course of action.  Sometimes this happens for good reasons – like the customer decides they are not ready to make a purchase or the resources required aren’t available. In other cases, they don’t want to deal with the disruption that the purchase might bring.  Here you can sometimes beat the competition by helping the customer see the consequences of inaction.

In the end, if you are going to beat the completion in an undifferentiated market you must distinguish yourself by how you sell, not just by want you sell.  You have to be the competitive advantage.

 

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2016 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

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Happy New Year!

Happy-New-Year-2016-WallapapersWishing you a successful sales year.  Keep an eye on the Sales Training Connection for new ideas that may help you improve your sales performance.

To a smashing 2016,

Janet and Richard

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Happy Holidays

seasons_greetings51Thank you for reading the Sales Training Connection. We wish you a happy holiday season,

Janet and Richard

 

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Sales training – too important to be owned exclusively by training

Sales reps need to know more and their knowledge must be at a higher level of proficiency today than ever before.  To be among the emerging winners, sales reps must not only be able to sell a competitive advantage; they must be a competitive advantage.  They must bring value to the customer by the way they “sell” as well as by what they sell.

All this means that sales training has moved closer to center stage and the spotlight is a little bit brighter than in yesteryear.

sales trainingGiven these trends, we sat down the other day to analyze the sales training we have conducted over the last 25 years.  We asked ourselves: What has been common among those sales training engagements that produced significant and lasting performance improvement?  What is that necessary ingredient that is required for superior success?

First a couple of givens.  The instructional designs must be engaging and the content must be solid.  In that regard, sales simulations work better than lecture-based PowerPoint driven programs and tips and tricks need to be replaced with best practices.  These requirements are foundational.  However, they are not sufficient.

The additional ingredient is “co-ownership.” Sales Training departments cannot produce superior results if they alone are viewed as owners of the training effort.  The Sales business unit must come to the party.  Sales leadership must be engaged in helping to define the “why’s” and “what’s” of the training effort.  They must co-own the sales training initative.

McKinsey & Co conducted a survey of 1,400 executives worldwide to answer the question: Do your training efforts drive performance?

McKinsey reported the more cooperation that exists between the training function and the business unit, the more likely the sales training will have an impact on business results. Bottom line lesson – “Co-ownership” leads to success.

As reported, “co-ownership improves a program’s credibility and effectiveness thereby encouraging additional investment. When senior leaders become more confident about a program’s contribution to business performance, they start thinking about potential capability gaps and become better able to estimate the potential value of filling them.”

If you are a VP of Sales and if believe your sales team needs to improve their sales performance and sales training is a part of the answer, don’t just send your Training Department an e-mail to “do some sales training.”  Get engaged – co-own the initiative – the impact on performance change and revenue gain will be strikingly different.  As an additional note, it would be great to get the folks in Marketing to be engaged in the training effort, too.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

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Bridging the abyss – From sales rep to sales manager

Transition from Sales Rep to Sales Manager

Transition from Sales Rep to Sales Manager

Congratulations! You were a top salesperson.  Now, you’re a newly appointed sales manager. The good news is you have the pivotal job for improving the sales effectiveness of your organization. The bad news – many perils and pitfalls are lurking in the shadows.

Let’s take a look at 7 best practices for making the transition from sales rep to sales manager a little bit easier.

  • Don’t assume what worked for you will work for your sales team. An important first step is to develop an understanding of the performance profile of your sales team.  Coaching them to be better at what they do is more about their strengths and weakness then it is about what you do well.
  • Protect your team from “administrivia.” Be a filter, not a funnel for your sales team.  Although this is particularly tough when you are a new sales manager, it’s a big deal.  If you can provide your sales team more time working with customers not on “paperwork” you can make a big difference quickly.
  • Remember, you are now a sales manager. One of the most frequent comments we hear from sales reps about new sales managers is they adopt the role of super-salesperson.  Selling is what your sales team does; you need to manage your sales team – it is more than a full time job.  Don’t hold on to your old accounts – transition them to your sales reps. From a selling perspective, go on sales calls only when a management presence is needed and when you can help build the credibility of your sales reps. Or, go on sales calls when the purpose is sales coaching. And speaking of sales coaching, try to maximize coaching time.
  • Be careful with off-the-cuff comments. As a sales manager off-the-cuff comments have a different impact than when you make them as a sales rep.  You are now part of management and what you say takes on added weight and importance.
  • It is more about strategy than tactics. As a sales rep, you knew “everything” about your accounts. As a sales manager, you’ll be working with your sales team on accounts where you won’t know “everything.”  As a sales manager you need to leverage your experience, ask the right questions, and help them anticipate the unexpected and to assess the alternatives and options.  It’s about strategy.
  • Don’t forget motivation is now part of the job. When you were a sales rep, motivation was primarily about knowing yourself – that is no longer the case.  You need to know the art and science of motivation – are there age cohort and gender differences, what is the role of nonfinancial rewards, how do you motivate the high performer versus the underachiever?  Fortunately this is all written down and there are others you can go to for help.
  • Understand and leverage institutional resources.  In complex B2B sales the sales team cannot do it alone – they need to leverage other institutional resources.  Your job is to develop the relationships and political awareness to make that happen.
  • Become an advocate for personal development.  Today, sales reps need to know more at a higher level of proficiency than ever before.  That can’t happen without a serious commitment and investment by the leadership in training and development.  Sales managers need to help define what that training looks like and be an advocate for making it happen.

Being a sales manager is a challenging job with high expectations. So invest the time to get the right start.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

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Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving holiday … and for many a long weekend filled with fun, football, and perhaps some shopping, too.

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Sales Coaching: Lessons from the Mets’ Psychologist

Sales Coaching

Sales Coaching

While hardly a new idea, professional sport teams increasingly are hiring psychologists to work with their players.  Individual athletes, like golfers and tennis players, are too.  In all cases the goal is the same: Gaining an edge and lifting performance to the next level.

Since I happen to be a psychologist by education, I wondered what type of advice my professional colleagues are providing and whether it might be helpful to Sales?  I came across an article in the NY Times by Tim Rohan sharing how the Mets are using a sport psychologist.  Since Mets did make it to the World Series, it seemed like a good case study.

While specific advice differs for each athlete, several Mets players have reported that the Mets’ psychologist Jonathan Fader’s advice has been particularly helpful reference how to handle those critical moments where stress is off the scale.

The Mets coach, Terry Collins summarizes Fader’s overarching message for handling those high stress moments as follows: “Slow down – instead of rushing, take a second, take a breath, assess where you’re going.”

With that little nugget in hand, a couple of points in regard sales coaching came to mind.  First, like sports there are those high stress moments that occur from time to time. So the fundamental mental challenge exists in both professions.

Second, from our observation of salespeople, a frequent response to those stressful moments is the exact opposite of “slow down.”  Often the sales rep speeds up – talking more, talking faster, and providing yet another feature of the product.

So the simple advice from Dr. Fader about “slowing down” may not be all bad.  We would add a good idea would be: “Stop talking and start asking.”  Asking a question provides a way to slow down, to listen and gain some time to figure out where to go next.

As the rookie Mets starter Noah Syndergaard noted: “It doesn’t matter how physically talented you are; if you’re not able to conquer your own mind, you can’t really do much.”

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

 

 

 

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