Salespeople – lesson from entrepreneurs – An STC Classic

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

“Our sales teams just don’t do a good job managing their pipeline.”  There are many variations of this complaint – a popular one is how long opportunities languish in the pipeline.

As one frustrated sales manager shared: “For some of my sales reps, accounts literally take up permanent residence at Stage 3″.  I hear a thousand reasons why hope is just around the corner.  If it was just an isolated case or two, it would be one thing – but it isn’t.”

Our frustrated sales manager’s concern is clearly legitimate.  Time is something no sales rep has in oversupply.  If accounts are languishing at a stage in the pipeline, we either need a news set of ideas for moving forward or the accounts need to be purged from the pipeline.

Taking this challenge seriously was reinforced in an article about successful technology entrepreneurs and a concept called – Pivoting.

As the author noted: “Technology entrepreneurs of past eras took years to build a product, hire a staff and figure out whether there was a real market.”  Today that luxury does not exist; it is about months not years.

Enter the idea of pivoting – starting something, quickly determining whether it is working or it isn’t and leveraging the ideas learned to develop alternative approaches.

While the worlds of a salesperson and a technology entrepreneur may be far apart, it’s always a good idea to look around for ideas that one might adapt to their business situation.  While not seeking venture capital, time capital is sometime sales reps must manage to be effective.

As sales managers have told us – many salespeople don’t want to cut an opportunity loose.  We would suggest adopting a “pivoting” mentality might lead to more effective and efficient pipeline management.

Imagine a sales manager in a strategic review discussion around an account at Stage 3.  The sales manager would be asking the sales rep what’s been tried to move the account forward – what worked and what didn’t – what was learned that would help determine alternative next steps.  And, if adequate answers were not forthcoming then the decision would be made to remove the account from the pipeline.  If viable ideas were surfaced then the discussion would turn to how to immediately try those ideas out.

There is nothing new about the fundamentals behind the idea of pivoting.  It does, however, represent a banner under which one might rally support for the importance of not ill-investing time capital on accounts that hold little promise.

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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Sales managers – a new pathway to leadership

Sales Leaders

Sales Leaders

Herminia Ibaraan, an INSEAD professor, recently published a provocative book arguing that in today’s market if you desire to assume a leadership position you must get outside your comfort zone.  Being stuck in outdated mindsets or ways of doing things will not lead to success.  Would-be leaders must learn to pivot – it is more about doing something different rather than just the same thing better.

Although Ibaraan was writing about business in general, we thought her message held particular insight for the world of sales.  In industry after industry companies are going through disruptive changes.  This has lead to dramatic shifts in what companies buy, how the buy, and what they are willing to pay for it.  If buyers change how they buy, sellers need to change how they sell and sales leaders need to bring the insight to make that happen.

Simply put, Ibaraan’s central message is:  “In an age of constant disruption, you better redefine yourself before the rapidly shifting sands of corporate America and technology redefine you. You have to act like a leader before you’re appointed to a leadership position, and you have to manage your own leadership path … only be exiting your comfort zone can you develop “outsight”— the term she coins to describe the valuable perspective gained through actions.”

So let’s translate this message to sales management.  Imagine a senior sales manager who desires to move up the sales leadership ladder – say a Regional Sales Director.  What could our sales manager do to action Ibaraarn’s message?

Increase the time you spend with prospects, new customers and lost customers.   If you are going to get unstuck and develop a new mindset there is no better way to get started then getting on the other side of the table – update your perspective of the customer.  When conducting this exploration be mindful of the following traps.

  • Assume the future looks like the past. We 
live and sell in a time of “compressed history.”
 Changes driven by the global market and
 advances in manufacturing technologies make
 the past a bad predictor of the future. As a result, 
competitive advantages that once lasted a long 
time now disappear quickly. In major accounts, if 
you want to prosper, assuming what worked in the past will work in the present is a risky assumption.
  • Know a lot about the problems and not so much about the successes.  If you don’t understand your customers’ problems you can’t provide viable solutions.  This of course all makes great sense and is a story that needs to be told many times.

But there is another chapter to the story.  If new insight is to be achieved, it is also necessary to understand the customer’s successes.  What are they doing, when they are doing something great?  What are the pieces of the puzzle that contribute to their greatest successes?  What will be expected from their customers in the future as a given that is now considered exceptional?  Which of their competitive advantages will be most difficult to maintain as the future unfolds?

  • Learn more about more of your company.  If you are going to be in the position to manage a sales team that can deliver an updated value message to your customers, it will be necessary to understand and marshal the resources of your entire company.  Customers are looking for salespeople that are more than product facilitators – they want trusted advisors.

Developing a sales team capable of meeting that expectation requires creating a sales culture – everyone in the organization needs to come to the party.  It is difficult to provide the leadership to make that happen if you have not developed the understanding of the other functions’ potential contributions and the relationships to leverage that potential.

  • Be the canary in the coal mine.  You can’t create new ideas and try out new ways of getting things done without some risk.  The caveat is – manage the risk.  For example, when trying out a new strategy for capturing business use a skunk-works approach – a small account with just one of your salespeople.  Blueprint what works and what doesn’t and then try again. Bold and disciplined are not opposite ends of the same continuum, you can and must be both in order to be innovative.
  • Don’t wait for training – go get it.  Here there is a limitless amount of good news. Whether it is your preferred blogger or your favorite online university, the sources for getting smarter are now at your fingertips.  Training is easily accessed and affordable so don’t wait for the national sales meeting – create your own pathway for getting smarter. 

In summary … Inertia pulls potential leaders towards a more traditional path. There are powerful incentives and protocols pushing everyone to do what they do well. But Ibaraan warns, “When we allocate more time to what we do best, we devote less time to learning other things that are also important.” The result often can be failure when the business environment changes.

Ibaraan goes on to note that her advice is difficult to adopt in many corporate cultures.  But that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try.  Try carving out a small percentage of a day or week for exploring new ideas – whether a new kind of presentation, a client call with people you don’t usually meet with or a new strategy for capturing new business.   It’s all part of the puzzle for a pathway to leadership when you are in a disruptive business environment.

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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Sales reps – how to bring value by saying “no”

saying noAt dinner last night, a friend who had the good fortune of being at Woodstock relayed a story shared by Arlo Guthrie.  Guthrie was at Woodstock and was asked to play a day before he was scheduled to appear. While uncomfortable with the request for a number of reasons one might guess, he went on to play at the earlier time.  A couple of years later in an interview he shared that he could of and should of just should said, “No – I’m scheduled to perform tomorrow.”

This story led us to talking about “no” and how uncomfortable people are saying “no.”  For many, “no” is one of the most difficult words to include in a conversation or business discussion.

We’re afraid if we say “no” we’re going to ruin a relationship,” says William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and author of Getting to Yes with Yourself and Other Worthy Opponents.  So, how can saying “no” or disagreeing with a customer become a positive?

Although the context for Ury’s article was business conversations in general, we thought the points were particularly useful for salespeople.  So we translated the ideas to the world of Sales and added a few of our own.  Let’s take a look at when and how to say “no”:

  • It brings value to the customer.  Don’t be afraid to say “no” or disagree. Sometimes not giving into a customer’s demands or accepting their point of view can reflect that you’re interested in what’s best for them, as well as, being in your self-interest.  It becomes a launching platform for sharing expertise that brings value to the customer.  Let’s explore a couple of specific sales scenarios as cases in point.

The customer often has a history with you and therefore they know a lot about your capabilities. But anyone making a judgment about a particular capability may have less than a complete assessment. It is important to find out the customer’s view of your competence on that capability. If that view is not objectively accurate, then finding a way to correct the misperception is both important for the customer and for you.

A second example is when a customer has deemed a particular specification for comparing competitive options to be extremely important and in your experience that priority is misplaced.  If a customer would end up making a better decision if the predetermined importance was different, then helping them to change their point of view brings value to the customer and that is appropriate. Obviously, it is not appropriate if the viewpoint shift is strictly in your self-interest.

  • Say “no” but don’t close the door.  This means that while you’re saying “no” to one request, you don’t close the door on continuing the relationship.  Ury notes: “There’s a no that’s matter of fact, respectful, and that can lead to a yes on the other side.”

For example, during a scope of work discussion, a salesperson might say – “No, getting the deliverable finished a month sooner is not within the scope of the present project but if we had the following resources that could be achieved – do you think that is a viable trade-off for you?” or “No, although we were both pleased with the results of the training project we did, we do not have the expertise to install a new CRM system, but I could recommend someone that we feel would meet your requirements.”

  • Don’t play games with “no”.  Some say no to a customer request to appear more desirable to the customer or to justify a higher cost – “We are just so busy right now we couldn’t start the project for at least another month.”  Even if you win in the short run, the gaming idea is not a good long-term strategy.
  • Remember it is a skill.  Saying “no” is a skill, so practice. You just can’t say “yes” and agree to everything – you will run out of “time and tape.”  If you’re not comfortable saying “no”, then raise your comfort level by practicing. It’s the only way to get better at any skill.

While saying “no” isn’t easy for most people – and certainly difficult for salespeople when working with their customers, it can form the basis of better business relationships – leading to better solutions for you and for the customer … and ultimately leading to you and the customer finding opportunities to say “yes”.

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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Managing your time – a key to sales success

Time Management

Time Management

A new medical device salesperson emailed us last week interested in one-on-one coaching.  We talked and learned that he wasn’t interested in working on sales skills, sales strategy, or even sales presentations. Fortunately, the salesperson had a sales manager who was helping in those areas.

What the salesperson was interested in was: How can I do a better job managing my time?  With conducting research on prospects and clients before sales calls and documenting what was going on in his accounts (the company did not have a CRM system and he was using his own Excel spreadsheet) the salesperson was running out of “time and tape.”  This was a declared problem from a sales effectiveness, as well as, work-life balance perspective.

In our view this young medical device sales rep was voicing a concern that is becoming an increasingly important problem.   Time management has moved to the front of the class as an issue that desires more attention.  In too many companies sales reps spend too little time selling and the time they do spend is not well managed. 

One framing of the answer to this dilemma is – better technology, better marketing and better training. 

1. Better technology.  Here there is an abundance of good news.  The number of great apps and software systems has grown exponentially in the last several years.  Apps like Charlie and SweetSpot are great aids for helping sales reps prepare and plan for sales calls and new CRM systems like Pipeliner CRM are light years ahead of the systems of yesteryear when it comes to reducing the time it takes to produce reports and organize account information.

2. Better marketing.  In today’s market salespeople are expected to know more about a customer’s industry, company, business needs and markets than ever before.  And, the need for the information is different at different phases of the sales cycle both in terms of what the sales reps need to understand the account and what they need to educate the customer.  No salesperson can do this even with great technology unless they get help from marketing.  This shift in the amount and quality of information required means the age of content marketing is here to stay.

3. Better training.   As the customer’s expectations about the role of the salesperson shifts from being a product facilitator to a trusted advisor there is a demand for sales training programs to integrate new content.  Two areas stand out.

First is second-level product knowledge which goes beyond features and functions and is all about the capacity to relate how your products can solve the customer’s business problems – for example: reduce risk, generate revenue and reduce cost.  The second area relates to skill sets that are associated with consulting such as: business acumen, adaptive thinking, and data retrieval and interpretation skills.

In addition to the need for developing new skill sets there is also a need to develop a new mindset.  In that regard we recently came across an interesting Forbes article about best practices for corporate leaders to “get things done faster.”  We think the ideas also hold great merit for helping sales reps handle the time management problem.

  • Be innovative. The way you are currently doing things may not be the most efficient. Take the time to see if the answer is more about doing something different rather than simply improving what you are doing.
  • Be bold. Don’t waste your time worrying or mulling endlessly over choices. Think through your alternatives carefully, then make your decisions quickly and stand by them.
  • Go the extra mile. Every salesperson often finds their new comp plan contains stretch goals – focus on making them … it’s likely that you can accomplish more than you thought you could.
  • Leverage resources.  Given the expectations of customers team selling is increasingly more prevalent in B2B sales. There’s no doubt that salespeople can be more effective and efficient at meeting changing expectations if they leverage the expertise of technical specialists and other support personnel.
  • Understand the customer’s alternatives.  Be aware of your competition and understand how their products and services compare from the customer’s perspective. With this knowledge, your sales strategy will be more “spot on” and you are more likely to get things right the first time.
  • Be diligent. Salespeople who are take the initiative end up getting more done in a shorter period of time.

If just for a moment you want to get a sense about the sensations associated with being overwhelmed, imagine this: You are 24 year-old who just recently graduated from college and took your very first real job – a sales rep. You have completed your first round of sales training.  You just walked out of your initial meeting with your sales manager where you learned about what you need to do in the coming months.

Now imagine what is going through your mind as that new sales rep.  Managing time is critical for new sales reps if they are to be successful. But, they’re not alone – doing a better job of effectively managing time is critical to every salesperson’s success.

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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Sales management coaching – don’t forget those in their 40s and 50s

Sales coaching

Sales coaching

Coaching Millennials – lately much has been written about how to get it right.  What works and what doesn’t?  What best practices are particularly important to keep in mind when coaching the Millennials on your sales team?

This of course is all good stuff.  But a Forbes article about people in their 40s and 50s recently caught our eye.  For this blog we borrowed a couple of ideas from the author and added a few of our own to make the point that experienced salespeople in their 40s and 50s also need and want coaching.

So let’s take a look at some ideas that are particularly important for coaching more experienced salespeople in their 40s and 50s.

  • Remember praise.  According to the Forbes author, people in their 40s and 50s receive much less praise than they did in their 30s but lack of praise is missed by this age group just as much as by younger, less experienced people.  Because they receive less praise it is a particularly good idea to start any sales coaching session with 40s and 50s cohort members with something positive.
  • Letting go.  The business environment is changing rapidly so although a salesperson may have been selling for 20 or 30 years, it’s likely they’re facing new sales challenges – changing customer expectations, new competitors, new call points, and new technologies. This means they will need to let go of some sales practices that worked for them in the past – and adopt some new ones  And, changing behavior is difficult when one is used to doing something one-way.
  • Help vs. tell.  A traditional model for sales coaching sounds something like the following: “I’m the expert – I’ll diagnose what’s wrong and suggest what you should learn.  Your job is to practice what I recommend.”  An alternative model that works better in general and is preferred for more experienced sales reps sounds more like: “You are the one responsible for the learning.  I’m responsible for helping you become more aware of your performance and expand your learning choices.”
  • Leveraging success.  One of the advantages of being in ones 40s and 50s is you have learned how to do some things well.  One of classic traps of sales coaching is to focus strictly on deficiencies – that is what is the salesperson doing wrong.  But given that someone in this older cohort has developed some great ideas, the coach needs to help the salesperson find new ways to leverage those strengths, as well as, to correct deficiencies.

One of the more fundamental good ideas in sales coaching is one-size-does-not-fit-all.  How one coaches needs to be fine-tuned to a number of different parameters including age.  Most importantly, every salesperson needs sales coaching.

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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Get your elevator speech right – it matters!

Elevator Speech

Elevator Speech

After years of wondering around customer sites we have overheard a lot of elevator speeches.  Some were pretty good – most, not so much.

Elevator speeches are short, usually a minute or two, and occur in a casual setting like a hallway or corporate cafeteria or a social event or as the name would suggest – an elevator.  Regardless of the setting, it’s clear that more often than not, elevator speeches are impromptu. Someone notices your nametag and asks, perhaps – “What do you do?” “What new things are you doing at Acme?” or “Lee, what are you working on with us ?”

One foundational point is particularly worth keeping in mind for delivering an effective elevator speech versus experiencing an awkward moment or missing an important opportunity to introduce yourself and share your story: Just because elevator speeches are impromptu does not mean they cannot be planned.  Preparation will significantly improve your likelihood of being effective.  First, there are not an infinite number of questions that you are likely to be asked so plan short answers for two or three key questions you might hear before visiting a customer’s site.  It takes only a few minutes.  Second, do a little more background preparation about the company.  This is useful not only for any elevator speech but also for your sales call.

A second consideration is what does an effective elevator speech sound like?

  • Point 1.  Start off by putting yourself in the right mindset regarding the purpose of the elevator speech.  As Geoffrey James shares, an elevator speech and a sales presentation are not the same thing.  They are, in fact, entirely different.  Sales presentations, where you are positioning your solution are obviously more formal and longer and delivered after a significant amount of work in understanding the challenges faced by the customer.  An elevator speech is a short, casual conversation that you hope earns you the right for setting up a subsequent meeting with the customer.
  • Point 2.  Incorporate a generalized customer-focus message into your elevator speech.  For example, suppose you are a sales rep for a sales CRM software company.  While onsite a marketing person you don’t know says – “So I see you are with a CRM company, what are you doing that’s new?”  You could say – “Because of the feedback we are getting from customers about easy-of-use, we have redesigned all the displays and reports around a new graphic interface.”  The point being that you have linked what you are doing to a customer need that many companies face versus simply noting a new feature of your product.   If you are having a good day, your unknown new friend just might have that same need.
  • Point 3.  An additional point James makes is the importance of incorporating a short but memorable phrase that differentiates you from the competition.  Back to our CRM example, you could incorporate something like:  “Since we have a cadre of content expert partners we can provide added-value sales effectiveness help that will …” or “Since we have a technical support system like the Apple Joint Venture program we can …” or perhaps – “Because of our bottom-up architecture sales rep adoption is easier and …”
  • Point 4.  At the end, use a phrase that will help transition the elevator speech from a monologue to a dialogue.  Continuing with our CRM example – “So where are you with your search for a new pipeline system?” or “What type of feedback are you receiving from your sales reps about report generation time?” or “So how have you handled the fact that you have an entirely different sales process for your national account group?”

Some may think the elevator speech is such a small part of the interaction with the customer that it is simply not worth considering best practices.  Of course a lot of people also use to think the key to sales success was a delivering a great features pitch.  As James so appropriately notes – elevator speeches don’t end up closing a sale.  But they are opportunities to advance the sale – seeking an appointment for the following week, asking the best way to get on the potential prospect’s calendar, or even finding out to whom else you should speak during the sales cycle.

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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Sales training – what’s the biggest challenge?

sales trainingGiven the substantial amount of money that companies commit to training every year, the notion of learning more about how to get it right is a question of interest.  With that in mind, McKinsey & Co conducted a survey of 1,400 executives worldwide to explore the question.

Major Finding.  When asked about their companies’ biggest challenge with training programs, the respondents reported that the one growing most in concern was the lack of metrics.

Although the survey respondents felt applying metrics to training was important, only about 20% bother to measure the impact of training programs at all – and only 13% tried to compute a financial return on their training investment.  This means that developing and applying metrics to training effort is indeed a business challenge.

As the study goes on to note: “Such low figures might be understandable in the context of general-purpose training without any business objectives. But let’s imagine a bank that knows its sales performance could improve if call-center employees were better at identifying unmet customer needs. A range of skills might be relevant to achieve this objective. Assessing which skills really affect sales performance and applying metrics that show how well employees deploy them are critical for allocating training resources effectively and for actually boosting sales.”

What’s important for making training work?  Here the McKinsey study noted:  “the more cooperation that exists between the training function and the business units, the more likely that learning will have an impact on business results. Co-owning leads to success. Sharing responsibilities—with HR guiding the ‘how’ and the businesses the ‘what’—has a number of practical advantages, starting with the greater relevance of the resulting programs to the actual work of employees.”

Implications for sales training.  Although the McKinsey report was about corporate training in general, the results have implications for the world of sales training.

First, we particularly need to do a better job in applying metrics — both to assess how to improve the programs, as well as, how to measure the results relative to performance improvement.  Sales training is a social not a physical science so classic control group pre-post test designs are difficult to execute; however, there is vast room for improvement using other summative and formative evaluation designs.

Due to the disruptive changes in the buying environment there is more of a need for sales training than ever.  However, it is difficult to obtain a commitment of greater resources without metrics to establish the merit of the investment and the guidance for crafting the programs in the first place.

The second important finding from the survey was highlighting the importance of  “co-ownership” of the program with Training and the business unit – in this case Sales.  One aspect of this ownership relates to what is done before the program.  Here are three best practices:

  • Senior sales leadership needs to communicate to the entire sales team why the organization is committing to the training.  Specifically the communication should help the sales organization understand how the sales training helps the sales team achieve the company’s strategic sales initiative.  There should be no doubt that the senior leadership has and will be actively engaged.

Everyone needs to bring the mind-set that the sales training is being conducted so the company can achieve its strategic goals.  It’s not just a sales training exercise. To achieve that goal the leadership message needs to be clear and compelling and must be repeated and reinforced by all front-line sales managers.

  • Members of the sales team need be engaged with training in crafting the program.  If you are implementing a sales training program, it is always a good idea to keep your eye on the ball – the ball in this case is the sales team. Although it is important to be mindful of time out of the field, there are a number of ways for achieving involvement.

For example, since most sales training is customized, select a small group (4-5) of top sales performers to provide the information to customize the program exercises and case studies and to provide best practices for the feedback sessions for the role-plays.  These top sales performers should become “ambassadors” for the sales training program.

  • Sales training managers must reinforce the message from the sales leadership and communicate how the program fits with past and future sales training efforts.  The communication needs to be clear as to “what the sales training program is about” and “why it is being implemented.”

The sales training manager must ensure the sales training program is conducted in way that demonstrates institutional commitment.  For example, front-line sales managers can be invited to serve as table leaders to relate the learning to the real world and orchestrate feedback – Marketing can be invited to serve as participants to provide and gain insights.

Every salesperson walking into a sales training program needs to be crystal clear that the company and the leadership are totally committed to the sales training before the day even begins and they need to understand it will help them do what they need to do to increase their sales performance.

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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10 questions to help sales managers assess their performance and adapt! – An STC Classic

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

As the first quarter comes to an end, it’s a good time for salespeople to take a look at their performance to date – and looking towards the end of the year. The same is true of sales managers.

If you believe front-line sales managers are the key to a team’s sales success – and we do – the end of Q1 is a good time to look at what’s working, what isn’t working and why.

As mentioned in a HBR blog,  “All of us fall into unproductive habits, sometimes unconsciously. Good managers are always asking themselves and others about what they could do better or differently. Finding the right time and approach for asking these questions in a way that invites constructive and candid responses is critical.”

Applying to sales … it’s important for sales managers to take an assessment of their performance and consider what worked, what didn’t and what they will do differently. This can be done anytime, but it is especially pertinent during Q1. Yet, under the banner of getting off to a quick start, action often takes precedents over a few moments of self-assessment.

This is short-sighted. Sales managers should take a few moments to assess how they will manage their sales teams during the year  beginning with how well it’s going so far. A good starting point is to reflect on their performance as a sales manager.  In addition sales managers need to realistically assess the composition and capacity of their sales team.

Here’s a starter list of 10 questions to get started on that self-assessment of the sales team.

  1. With whom on my sales team should I be spending the most time coaching? least time?
  2. What skill sets does my sales team as a whole need to develop further in order to succeed this year?
  3. How can I conduct sales strategy review sessions more efficiently – more effective than the ones held last year?
  4. How can I improve the quality of feedback I share with my sales team?
  5. How can I help my sales team leverage institutional resources?
  6. Under what conditions should I participant in sales calls – how does that differ by the individual team member?
  7. What can I do specifically for top performers?  Low performers?
  8. How can I increase the percentage of time my team spends selling to customers?  What is the major time sink?
  9. What can I do to increase the over all excitement and motivation of the team?
  10. What is one innovative idea I should try to increase the sales productivity of the team?

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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Selling value – no longer new news!

Selling Value

Selling Value

When I started in the sales training industry about 25 years ago, I had the good fortune to start with a great company and work with a really smart guy.  At the time we were selling sales training programs that helped our clients do a better job selling value in major accounts.

The programs were well received worldwide because not only did we highlight the notion of selling value, we taught the skills necessary to do it. But that was only half of the success story. The other half was attributable to the fact that most of the competition was still talking about other topics such as: 101 ways to close the sale, how to craft and deliver an effective product pitch, or why objections were really buying signals.

Well, that was then – this is now.  Those other topics are now just old tales heard around the campfire.  Everyone agrees that selling value is the key to success in major account selling.

However, with that agreement comes a downside – since everyone is doing it is no longer a differentiator.  Simply being good at selling value won’t get the job done.  You have to move from being good to being great.  And, as Jim Collins noted in his best seller Good to Great – “Greatness requires being multiples better over a sustained period of time.”  And when it comes to selling value that “multiple times better” criterion is not so easy satisfied.

So, let’s explore three barriers that need to be overcome if you are going to move from being good to great at selling value

  • Knowing a lot about the problems and not so much about the successes. In the sales value literature a great deal of time is spent on discussing how to uncover and clarify customer problems.  If you don’t understand the problems you can’t provide a viable solution.  This of course all makes great sense and is a story that needs to be told many times.

But there is another chapter to the story.  If differentiation is to be achieved, it is also necessary to understand the customer’s successes.  What are they doing, when they are doing something great?  What are the pieces of the puzzle that contribute to their greatest successes?  And, how can those successes be leveraged? If in addition to understanding the problems, the customer’s success story is known, you can position a solution that separates you from those who only know half the tale.

  • Know a lot about the past and present and not so much about the future.  Over the years we have had the opportunity to do ride-alongs with sales people across a wide spectrum of companies.  During one period we kept track of the amount of time sales reps focused on understanding the past and present versus the future.  Observation – a majority of the sales reps spent of majority of the time asking questions about the status quo versus what will be.

Understanding the status quo enables a sales rep to present a viable value proposition to the customer but a status quo perspective means the solution will probably look and sound a whole lot like what everybody else is positioning.

If differentiation is to be achieved then a clearer picture of the future needs to be developed.  Some questions used by sales reps that develop this perspective are:

    • How will the set of players who are making the key decisions change in the next several years?
    • What will be expected from your customers in the future as a given that is now considered exceptional?
    • Which of your competitive advantages will be most difficult to maintain as the future unfolds?
  • Knowing a lot about one thing in depth and not so much about a lot of things in breadth. The first thing noticeable about developing value in a major sale is a lot of things going on and a lot of players are involved.  One of the consequences of this fact is the lack of time to find out everything about everything all at once.

In major account selling – breadth comes before depth. It is important to get a broad information base early in the sales cycle.  This provides the base for formulating an initial strategy for where you need to go to get in-depth information and what you should do when you get there.

When it comes to selling value the trap is getting a lot of information about the wrong things from the wrong people.

If you are going to excel in major account selling, getting really good at selling value is a must do.  But being really good requires more than asking a few questions and uncovering a few problems – you have to be great at doing things the competition hasn’t even thought about doing.

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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Selling mistakes: don’t panic – acknowledge

Avoid sales mistakes

Avoid sales mistakes

Like most rational people sales reps, I dread dealing with mistakes.  What’s to like?  At best they get you off track … at worse they lose you the sale.

Mistakes run the gamut from corporate issues like defective products or billing issues to mistakes generated by the sales rep themselves – like sharing faulty information or missing a key player involved in making the buying decision.  Some mistakes are just annoying; some are really difficult to handle, and some are potential deal breakers.  But regardless one’s skill or luck, mistakes happen.

No matter how much value you have previously brought to your customer, it can easily forgotten when bad mistakes emerge.  Furthermore, if not handled properly or if the mistake repeats itself, it’s not uncommon for the sales rep or their company to be “branded” as risky to work with or non-responsive, or unpredictable.

There is no way to avoid mistakes completely so learning how to handle them is critical to sales success. The bottom line for handling sales mistakes is when something goes wrong – take responsibility for it – and do it quickly.

By owning up, you’re telling the customer you “acknowledge” the mistake.  You must also simultaneously convey that you are going to do something about making things right.  While the customer still faces the problem, they now have an acknowledged partner working with them to solve it. Having this type of conversation in a compelling manner is a highly skilled interaction.  It is not something one just “picks up.”  It requires training and practice. Five tips for getting it right:

  • Analyze the mistake from the customer’s perspective. The first step is to get on the other side of the table.  From your side the mistake may not appear to be a big deal – you may have seen the mistake many times before.  Not necessarily so for the customer.  This impacts how you handle the mistake both in tone and in substance.
  • Act professionally. As you begin to tackle the mistake, start with your attitude. Customers should believe you understand that a mistake has occurred, you take it seriously, and you will handle it professionally.
  • Remember bad news documents itself. It is rather uncanny that one has to go to great lengths to promote and publicize good news.  On the other hand,  bad news documents itself and does so quickly throughout the customer organization – think “wildfire.”  So handling things immediately is a basic requirement.  Second, check to determine if the fire has spread and you need to take some additional action.
  • Explain how the mistake happened, but be thoughtful about your explanation. While people generally like to know why something happened, they don’t want to hear a saga involving a litany of accuses – especially when the storyline places blame everywhere but where it belongs.
  • Don’t forget prevention is better than cure. When a mistake happens and customers give you the opportunity to rectify it, take the time to analyze how you will prevent it from reoccurring.  Make sure you communicate to the customer what you will do in the future to minimize the risk of reoccurrence.

In many cases, executing these tips will provide a second chance with a customer. Customers understand the complex environments on both sides of the table so you have a good shot at “understanding” if the mistake is handled skillfully.

By managing the mistake professionally, it’s also possible you can win the customer’s respect.  Best case, of course, is you impress the customer so much on how well you handle the mistake … it becomes a plus rather than a negative!  The latter result requires skill, a bit of luck and a certain type of customer.

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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