Sales success in an age of disruptive change

Sales Success

Sales Success

Constant change has always characterized the business world.  Looking in the rear view mirror has never been a recommended strategy for determining future direction.  However, from time to time the nature of the change takes on a different look.  The scale and speed of the changes during these periods can truly be labeled disruptive.  In the early 19th century the Industrial Revolution changed everything.

Let’s fast forward to the present and ask the question – are we now entering such a period?  Or are the changes we have experienced in the last several years mainly driven by the economic collapse of 2008 and things are likely to shortly return to a new steady state?  If you are a VP of Sales, a sales manager or a salesperson, where you come down on this question will dramatically impact what you do as the future unfolds.

Recently we came across an article by the folks at McKinsey that is an excerpt from their new book – No Ordinary Disruption.  The article attempts to answer our question.

The authors summarize their answer as follows:  “Today our world is undergoing a dramatic transition due to the confluence of four fundamental disruptive forces—any of which would rank among the greatest changes the global economy has ever seen. Compared with the Industrial Revolution, we estimate that this change is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale, or roughly 3,000 times the impact.  Although we all know these disruptions are happening, most of us fail to comprehend their full magnitude and the second- and third-order effects that will result.”

Obviously this is only “one man’s” answer but we found their narrative to be compelling.  As an aside, the four disruptive forces that are examined in depth in the book are: emerging markets and urbanization, technology, aging populations and global connectivity.

For the moment let’s suspend disbelief and assume that we are experiencing and will continue to experience a period of unprecedented change – a change that is truly transformational.  What does this mean for the Sales?

One consequence is a new set of winners and losers will emerge.  New companies doing new things will arrive on the scene, existing companies will enter new markets using different technologies and innovative strategies and some marketing-leading companies will lose their seat at the head of the table.  So will be the case at the individual level – some salespeople that made Presidents Club ever year may not even be on the short list in the years ahead.

So what to do about this?  Obviously there is no simple cookie-cutter answer.  However, it is possible to start the discussion.  Let’s start by addressing what to do from an individual perspective.  If all this is true what should a salesperson do to remain among the standing?  Let’s explore some initial ideas.

  • Refresh your knowledge of your customers.  For salespeople a good first step for dealing with a future characterized by constant and significant change is to redouble your efforts to understand how your customers are changing to deal with their futures.  If customers change how they buy, you need to change how you sell.  This renewed effort involves learning more about a customer’ industry, company and markets so you can function as a trusted advisor.
  • Understand the nature of the change.   In times of normal change the changes are incremental and fairly predictable – not so in a period where the changes are transformational.  If you end up making decisions based on your experiences from the past you are likely to miss the mark.  If ever wanted to explore “outside of the box” thinking, this would be a great time to try that out.
  • Take personal responsibility.  Take charge of finding out what needs to done and go do it.  For example, it is likely that you will need to upgrade your skills if you elect to stay in Sales.   Don’t wait for training at the company’s national sales meeting – go out and get it.  The goods news is today there are lots of sources to tap into from online universities to your favorite sales consultant who writes a blog three times a week to white papers published by consulting firms like Booz Allen, Bain and McKinsey.  The really good news is these sources are either free or very affordable.
  • Be on the lookout for opportunities.  Although transformational changes can cast some dark shadows, there is a sunny side of the street. The changes that will occur will produce unparalleled opportunities.  For the people who develop the awareness, acquire the skills and learn to manage the risks, times of transformational change have a renaissance like quality.
  • Maintain a work/life balance. This, of course, is always a good idea.  But in times of disruptive change it becomes both harder and more important to get it right.
  • Leverage the technology.  Technology is part of the reason for the nature of the change and also part of the answer.  As the McKinsey authors note – “more and more people will enjoy a golden age of gadgetry, of instant communication and boundless information … technology will allow individuals to start businesses and gain scale at stunning speed while using little capital.”    

Whether you are a VP of Sales responsible for providing direction to an entire sales team, a sales manager, or a sales rep trying to figure out their next career move, a future characterized by disruptive change provides both challenges and opportunities.  There will be new winners and losers.  Being among the former will require more than simply extrapolating from past successes.

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 success – reducing risk is as important as selling value

Reduce risk - Sell value

Reduce risk – Sell value

Major account sales occur in a dynamic business environment with multiple players, long buying processes, and complex solutions.  In this market everybody gets it.  You can’t win by just pitching products; you have to sell value.

Selling value is about helping the customer understand how you can help them achieve their business goals.  It all starts with developing an in-depth understanding of the customer’s needs, issues, and challenges and then making the connection between your solution and customer’s desired outcomes.

This of course is a great story and one that should be told many times.  Having the skill sets to sell value rather than just pitching products is clearly a cornerstone for success in today’s market.  However this is one of those necessary but not sufficient situations.

We have observed many sales reps do a decent job selling value yet fail to win the business.  Why? There are other pieces to the puzzle.  One often underemphasized is the ability to help the customer deal with the perceived risks of moving ahead with the purchasing decision.

So, how can you reduce the risk and make it easy for a decision maker to say “yes?”

The simple starting point is don’t avoid the conversation.  The perceived risks don’t disappear because salespeople pretend they don’t exists.  Spend time and effort to understand the perceived risks and to help the customer “connect the dots” so they see how your solution deals with their perceived risks.

These conversations also can help salespeople understand what drives the perceived risks … and that the drivers aren’t the same at each level of decision maker.  Recently we came across an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review by Paul Weinstein, a Silicon Valley consultant that addressed this idea about drivers.

Weinstein’s article addressed a general business audience so we borrowed some of the ideas and added a few of our own to translate the ideas to the world of Sales.  Let’s take a look at three different levels of decision makers:

  • CEO, President, COO.  As Weinstein points out, “these highest order decision makers are into the big picture. They care about pleasing boards and shareholders. Public perception and legacy are what is important to them.”
  • C-level. The C-level includes the members of the senior leadership team, like the CIO or CFO, that manage entire departments. They bring a strategic perspective to the party. They view the world from a long-term perspective and are concerned about new ways to frame challenges and innovative insights for solving them. These are the people who have been hired to make sure things don’t go wrong. In general, they tend to be the most conservative decision makers and are apt to say “no” to deals.

When it comes to selling, reducing risk at this level is best achieved by having the research and information that documents the strategic upsides, demonstrates how the downsides are minimized and points out the long-term consequences of inaction.

  • Functional Business Managers (Marketing, Sales, Technology). These decision makers are directly involved in generating revenue and they are judged based on the numbers.

Weinstein provides an excellent description of the risk narrative for this population: “Most business managers have P&L goals that were established in the prior year — and anything that puts those projections at risk is a tough sell. If things are going well for the business manager, then they may be inclined to take a risk. Sometimes they need to do a deal in order to make their year look better, other times they are out scouting for a new venture to help them start their new fiscal year off right.”

A best practice for achieving success in today’s market is to think in terms of Economic Value. To determine the Economic Value of your solution your customer (1) assesses the degree to which your solution has a positive impact on those business outcomes that matter to the customer, (2) then  “deducts” the perceived risk, and finally (3) “deducts” for the purchase price. Everyone spends a lot of time on the first and third factors but less on the second – risk.  Reducing the perceived risks directly impacts the Economic Value of our solution and therefore deserves equal attention.

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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An age of disruption – salespeople need to change now and change fast

Sellers need to change now

Sellers need to change now

Are you ready? According to Bain & Company, B2B sales executives have seen tremendous disruption in recent years – and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue.

Today buyers are often well into their buying process before they even initiate conversations with sellers.  Companies have researched the competitive options, eliminated a few and have become informed about the products and services of the remaining alternatives.

If buyers change how they buy – salespeople need to change how they sell.  As a foundational point, it is important to emphasize that it is not just the sales team that needs to adjust and adapt.  In B2B markets success is achieved when everyone comes to the party.  So if the sales team needs to change so do all the other players such as marketing and technical support.

How well are companies meeting the challenge?  The folks at Bain surveyed 550 B2B sales executives.  The overarching finding was – “few companies are completely prepared for the structural changes taking place.”  Let’s look at some of the specific findings from the survey:

  • Sixty percent of the executives said their companies do not consistently do a good job of aligning offers to target customer segments.
  • Only 40% said their sales reps have a strong understanding of their company’s differentiation.
  • Only 35% said their marketing and sales organizations have strong operational alignment.
  • Almost one-third said the majority of their reps do not have the requisite skills.
  • Three-quarters have made significant investments in technology—but less than a third have realized marked improvements in sales effectiveness from those investments.

In conclusion, Bain argues that companies must take a fundamentally new approach to sales – and quickly.

So what is to be done?  We borrow some of the ideas of the Bain authors and added a few of our own to come up with a starter list.  Let’s look at a set of questions that companies should ask and answer as a way to adjust to the age of disruption:

  • Sales Training. Have we provided the sales training and sales coaching for our sales reps to make the shift from being product facilitators to trusted advisors?
  • Marketing. Has Marketing and Sales collaborated to provide Sales the information needed to be better informed about the customer’s industry, company and market and the information needed to educate the customer at each phase of the buying process?
  • Sales Management. Have we developed a new seriousness about the role of the sales manager and provided the needed training for them to be effective leaders and coaches?
  • Buying Process. Do we know the steps in the customer’s buying process and the key players and the roles they will play?
  • Target Marketing. Do we know what constitutes bad business and good business?
  • Sales Process. Do we know the most effective and economic approaches for reaching the customer at each phase of the buying cycle?

The discussion about the need for change is one that occurs on a continuous basis.  However from time to time the scale and speed at which the change is occurring tends to up the importance of getting it right – this is one of those times.

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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Who to sell to is changing – what are you doing about that?

Buying process

Buying process

In a recent survey Bain found that “nearly 1/3 of the technology purchasing power has moved to executives outside of IT.”

Traditionally technology salespeople called on CIOs because they controlled the purchasing decisions.  But technology spending is moving from IT to general managers and heads of functions like: marketing, finance, human resources, sales and customer service.

The shift is a good news – bad news story.  On the bad news front it introduces complexity to the sales environment.  It means technology salespeople have to sell to a new set of buyers with a new and different set of needs and expectations.  This is not a matter of doing the same thing with a different set of people – it is about doing something different and the difference is significant.

On the sunny side of the street it means substantial new opportunities. But as Bain authors Brinda and Heric note, most sales reps are not in a position to leverage the upside.  They need help to adjust and adapt their approach to selling to these new buyers.

Now what is particularly interesting about this shift is – it is not unique to the tech world.  Over the last several years we have focused on medical sales training. There is no question that hospitals are changing what they buy and who is engaged in the buying process.

From the provider’s side, successful MedTech salespeople are comfortable calling on the medical side of the house – whether doctors, nurses, or technicians. But in many cases they must now move to the “carpeted” area of the hospital and engage administrators in business and economic discussions – a different sales interaction where the comfort level is significantly reduced.

So regardless of whether it is the technology or medical sales or some other market, what is to be done about this?  What should companies do to help their sales reps develop what it takes to adjust to selling to a new set of buyers?

We reviewed the Bain article and looked back on our own experiences to collect together three ideas for getting started:

  • Define the new reality.  The first step is to clearly understand what the new reality looks like – which buyers are important for pursuing the future growth opportunities and what is important to them. In times of significant change a new set of provider winners and losers will emerge.  The losers are those that wait too long and do too little about the changing reality.
  • Provide help – now.  On their own, some salespeople will not be able to make the required adjustments and many others will take too long.  Companies need to make the commitment to provide the needed sales training and sales coaching to help salespeople make the transitions.  Here it is important to recognize that in most cases one is dealing with experienced, successful sales reps. They do not need to be taught how to sell one more time.  They need to learn how to apply their existing sales skills to a new buying environment and that updating requires a different type of sales training and coaching than basic skill development.
  • Revisit institutional support.  In every complex B2B sale everyone has to come to the party.  So if the sales team needs to make some adjustments, it is likely that adjustments will also be needed in other areas such as marketing and technical support.  Fundamental questions like: “do we have the right pricing models?” and “are our product offerings configured so that the new buyers find them compelling?” need to asked and answered.

When who is buying changes so does what they buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it.  When buyers change how they buy – sellers need to change how they sell.  Some will and some won’t – and some will win and some will lose.

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 success – a different take on winners and losers

Sales rep winners and losers

Sales rep winners and losers

Whether in sports, politics, business or sales, this question is always on the table – What is the difference between winners and losers?  Many people spend lots of time and effort trying to determine what the difference is between those people who win and those who lose.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter addressed just this topic in Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Being and End.  She  argues:  “the difference between winners and losers is how they handle losing and the key to handling losing is resilience.” 

Dr. Kanter goes on to define resilience as “the ability to recover from stumbles, mistakes and failures and then bounce back.” Although Dr. Kanter was writing for a wide business audience, we could think of no profession for which her message was more relevant than Sales.

Every day thousands and thousands of salespeople must recover from some type of fumble or failure.  Some stumbles are brought about by the salesperson themselves because of complacency or lack of skill. Others are due to circumstances outside their control.  Regardless it is the salesperson that has to deal with it.  They have to get up the next morning and correct the mistake in question and press on to other accounts without missing a beat.  That we would say is a pretty good example of resilience in action.

Now, there are numerous factors that can contribute to understanding the difference between winners and losers.  We would suggest that resilience is one of these factors and more importantly it is one that has been traditionally overlooked and underemphasized.

With that thought in mind, let’s explore what it would take to get a salesperson better at this capability we are calling resilience.  Suppose you are a sales manager – what could you do

  • Define resilience as a skill.   A good first step is to stop considering resilience as some nebulous attribute that one either has or they don’t.  Instead consider resilience as a skill that can be defined and for which best practices can be codified and shared.
  • Coach it.  If resilience is a skill, then it can and should be learned and coached like any other sales skill.  In most sales forces it is the rare sales manager that would raise their hand if the question were asked about whether they had help a member of their team to get better at resilience.
  • Reward and celebrate.  Sales managers are particularly good at rewarding and celebrating winning and the factors that drive it.  So why not include resilience in the mix? If someone bounces back after a bad stumble, give a “tip of the hat” just like one might for any other success.
  • Consider in selection.  If you believe the resilience story, ask yourself the question as to whether it should be explored when hiring members of your sales team.  To answer the question, take a fresh look at the records of recently hired Millennials – who made it, who didn’t and why – who’s off to quick start – who bounced back quickly after initial stumbles?
  • Lobby to incorporate in sales training.  If resilience is part of the key to success and it can be defined as a skill, then why not incorporate improving it into the organization’s sales training curriculum.

Dr. Kanter notes, “resilience draws from strength of character, from a core set of values that motivate efforts to overcome the setback and resume walking the path to success. It involves self-control and willingness to acknowledge one’s own role in defeat.”

Today’s market is more competitive than ever.  Winning requires a highly skilled sales team.  Market leading companies are constantly examining what skills can make a difference – perhaps resilience is an underemphasized piece of the puzzle.

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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50 sales tips curated by Docurated

50 Sales Tips

50 Sales Tips

Sales strategy tips – today’s blog takes a bit of a different twist. Earlier this week Docurated published a list of 50 Sales Strategy Tips from a variety of sales “experts”. The sales strategy tips fall into 5 categories:

  • Building relationships and winning customers
  • Goal setting
  • Sales strategy planning
  • Customer retention
  • Sales team training and motivation

Oh – and you can find one of the tips was picked up from our blog – Don’t coach sales strategy independent of sales skills.

Take a read at all 50 sales strategy tips  …

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Sales managers and the story of the “super salesperson syndrome”

Sales Manager

Sales Manager

How can we diagnose someone with “super salesperson syndrome”(S3)? Well, a sales manager with the “super salesperson syndrome ” will probably exhibited some of these 6 characteristics:

  • Sell rather than coach.  When push comes to shove, S3 sales managers will spend their time selling rather than sales coaching.  They’ll look for reasons why they should be engaged at various times during the sales cycle and personally make sales calls in sales reps’ accounts.
  • Retain personal accounts.  In order to make sure they get what they think is the desired amount of selling time, they will retain a limited number of personal accounts. This is particularly frequent and easy to execute when our S3 sales manager is a recently promoted sales rep from the same territory.
  • Portray the notion that selling hasn’t changed much.  They can be heard telling stories about the fact that “selling is selling” – nothing much has changed.  Buyers still buy like they always did.  Sales success is all about having been there and done that – it’s experience and relationships that you either have or you don’t.
  • Downplay the importance of sales training.  Since sales excellence is something that one mainly just picks up over time, our S3 sales manager is not overly supportive of time out of the field for sales training.  It’s much easier to just watch how they do it.
  • Take over sales calls.  When they do go on sales coaching calls with their salespeople, they will tend to jump in and take over the call.  After the sales call they will talk about why they had to jump in and then explain how the sales person should do what they just did on future sales calls.
  • Demonstrate limited interest in personal coaching and leadership training.  Since they would rather spend time selling, there’s not much use in getting better at something they consider a secondary priority.

While our description of our S3 sales manager was meant to be somewhat humorous, we suspect that a fair number of sales reps, at one time or another, had a sales manager that somewhat resembled our exaggerated characterization.

If you are a sales manager have noticed that lately you might be slipping into the “super sales syndrome” what can you do?  Well, try starting by asking yourself these questions:

  • If  I’m going out on a sales call in a sales rep’s account to help sell, can I make a unique contribution?  For example, this often happens when the call involves more senior management on the customer’s side of the table or when the call requires marshaling resources from various departments in your organization.
  • Have I developed a coaching profile of my sales team?  To optimize sales coaching effectiveness it’s important to know how you should prioritize your coaching time: Who should you coach first and what are the skill sets that deserve focus for each person to be coached?
  • Have I figured out how to maximize the time my sales team spends selling?  Today many salespeople spend less than 50% of their time actually selling due to tasks that in many cases are nothing more than distractions.  Great manages make these distractions disappear.
  • Has I invested time in learning how to coach?  Sales coaching is key for developing a superior sales team.  But just because you know how to sell does not necessarily mean you can be an effective coach.  Sales coaching is a unique, very high-level skill that requires training and practice.
  • Have I developed the knowledge required to leverage the available institutional resources to help my sales team?  Due to changing customer expectations sales reps cannot do it alone – they need help.  They need to be able leverage support from other organizational groups like Marketing, Engineering and Technical Support.  Sales managers need to have the internal relationships and political skills to make that possible.
  • Have I started to develop the skills to help the sales team to think and act strategically?  Sales managers must have the skills to think and act strategically and the skills to coach their reps to do the same.  Without solid strategies for their accounts sales people are likely to do a good job coming in second in today’s competitive market.

Sales managers are the pivotal job for developing a superior sales force.  So there is clear and urgent need for sales managers to be sales managers providing their sales teams the coaching and leadership required for 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 – start with receptivity

 

Sales Coaching

Sales Coaching

Sales coaching can make a difference and it should be a priority. In fact, pros agree that sales coaching is a critical piece of the puzzle in developing a world-class sales team.

Yet, when it comes to giving coaching feedback – most managers don’t do it enough, many times it is water off a duck’s back, and sometimes it makes matters worse.

There are many reasons why giving feedback often fails to make a difference.  Some relate to the mind-set and attitude of the sales rep receiving the coaching while others pertain to how the feedback is provided.

Let’s look at the salesperson being coached first.  One of the underlying reasons why feedback often doesn’t work, stems from the fact that most people struggle when  self-assessing their strengths and weaknesses.  What most people end up doing is seeking out evidence that confirms their positive opinions about themselves and ignore contrary evidence. When this happens, many salespeople hold onto a positive self-assessment even after their sales manager has shared contradictory feedback. So, receptivity is an issue.

A part of the receptivity issue also relates to the content of the feedback.  Another, and equally important part, is how the feedback is provided.  A partial answer for the latter part is giving more attention to the details of the language used – specifically the pronouns.

If receptivity is to be improved, it is important to distinguish between situations where sales managers are providing feedback about things they do positively vs. a negative behavior or action.  The positive part is usually a non-problem.  On the other hand, the negative part can be much more difficult to handle effectively.  So, let’s compare two different approaches for handling feedback about a negative.

  • Approach 1. “Lee, in the call yesterday the way you handle the objections didn’t go very well – that is something you need to work on.”
  • Approach 2. “Lee, in the call yesterday I couldn’t track the way you handle the objections – that is something we need to work on.

When comparing the two approaches, the key is which question is likely to create greater receptivity? We would suggest the sec on approach does a better job because it conveys the notion that the sales manager and sales rep are in this coaching effort together.

Now, if a sales manager provides a sales rep with feedback only once every two months or so, than this subtlety of language will probably not make a difference.  But for sales reps who provide more frequent sales coaching feedback – words matters – they can influence receptivity.

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 new products – a clarion call for marketing and sales integration

Launch new products

Launch new products

Today customers know a lot about the competitive companies and products before they even contact sellers.  Therefore Marketing needs to work with Sales to provide the information necessary to educate the customer before the sales process begins, as well as, throughout the various buying stages as sales progress.  And, they need to provide their sales teams the information necessary to become informed about the buyer’s company, industry and market.

To say the least, the process for educating the customer and informing the sales team is an entirely different story then simply producing product brochures and feature specification handouts.

Sales.  New product launches often fail to deliver expected results because the sales force isn’t able to sell the new product.  Money and time is spent on R&D, manufacturing, packaging, and marketing but the investment in improving the skills of the sales team to sell the new product is simply not commensurate with the overall effort. Specifically:

  • Companies don’t focus on developing the sales skills, don’t train the sales force in applying the product and competitive knowledge in the sales setting, nor do they do a good job of reinforcing the training that is received by the sales force – so very little of the new product training “sticks.”
  • Sales managers don’t properly coach sales reps to sell the new product. Some lack the skills to coach their sales teams while others don’t know the best practices for selling the new product any better than the sales team.

The result?  Sales reps have difficulty selling the new product so they just go back to selling what they know. When the results are compounded – the dreams for the new product success never materialize.

How might a company turn this result around? Train your sales force then launch the thumbnail-do-not-leave-your-sales-team-behind-new-product-launch-infographic-100-300product rather than launch the product then train your sales force.  For some specific best practices take a look at this infographic.

For more information about launching new products download our whitepaper –  Don’t Let Your Next Product Launch Fail.

Don't Let Your Next Product Launch Fail

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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