Today, It’s Not Who You Know, But How Many You Know …

In practice, we can divide people who attempt to build networking relationships into four distinct types: the Loner (little or no networking), the Socializer, the User, and the Relationship Builder. Although a salesperson’s aim is to become the fourth option, the “Relationship Builder,” let’s briefly look at each of these types in turn.

Loners like to do most things by themselves. They may feel that they can do it faster or better, or perhaps they don’t want to bother or worry other people. They feel that their knowledge and skills are often superior to most people, and they ask for help only as a last resort (and when it may be too late). The Loner is an easily recognizable type, because there are times when we all believe that we will do better ourselves than if we ask others for help. The Loner will not usually want to bother anyone else, or necessarily see much point in doing so, believing that others will be slower and will set lower standards.

Unfortunately, the Loner attitude is a major obstacle to effective networking. We need to shift our thinking greatly in this area. We should be more willing to let others assist, and we should even ask for help more often.

Socializers try to make a friend of everyone they meet. They tend to know people’s names and faces, but not what they do. Socializers are not usually systematic or ordered about following up on a sales lead -– contact is random. Such a person may not listen too deeply and is quick to move on. Although the Socializer may have a wide circle of friends and contacts, he or she knows little of substance about personal skills and resources. As a result, Socializers do not often share their skills. The Socializer is also a random networker, following little or no formal contact system.

Users are likely to collect business cards, LinkedIn connections or Twitter followers without really connecting with people. They try to make “sales” or “pitches” on the first encounter. They talk about and focus on their own agenda rather than information about mutual needs. They often have superficial interactions, and keep score when giving favors. People of this type do network widely, but in a way that creates little benefit for themselves or others. Even worse, this kind of networker tends to create a bad impression, and therefore can give networking an image of being about selling, taking, bargaining and keeping score.

Relationship Builders have a “giving” disposition or abundance mentality. They are generally happy to ask others for help or guidance, and listen and learn about people carefully. Builders are regularly on the lookout for useful information for which others can also benefit. They have a well-ordered and organized networking system. This type of networker is what this post is all about -– an individual who takes a long-term perspective on relationships with others and thinks more about what he or she can give or offer than about the return. This type is out there for others, or on call to offer help whenever it is needed. If they cannot help in person, they usually know someone else who can.

So What Exactly Makes a Great Sales Coach?

For managers, developing others’ abilities is critical indeed, it’s the emotional competence most frequently found among those at the top of the field. This is a person-to-person art, and the effectiveness of counselling hinges on empathy and the ability to focus on our own feelings and share them.

Research suggests the best ‘coaches’ show a genuine personal interest in those they guide, and have empathy for and an understanding of their employees. Trust is crucial – when there is little trust in the coach, advice goes unheeded. This also happens when the coach is impersonal and cold, or the relationship seems too one-sided or self-serving. Coaches who show respect, trustworthiness, and empathy are the best.

One way to encourage people to perform better is to let others take the lead in setting their own goals rather than dictating the terms and manner of their development. This communicates the belief that employees have the capacity to be the pilot of their own destiny.

Another technique is to point to the problems without offering a solution: this implies the employees can find the solution themselves. And people hunger for feedback, yet too many managers, supervisors and executives are inept at giving it or are simply disinclined to provide any. Virtually everyone who has a superior is part of at least one vertical ‘couple’ in the workplace; every boss forms such a bond with each subordinate. Such vertical couples are a basic unit of organisational life.

Therein lays the blessing or the curse: This interdependence ties a subordinate and superior together in a way that can become highly charged. If both do well emotionally – if they form a relationship of trust and rapport, understanding and inspired effort – their performance will shine. But if things go emotionally awry, the relationship can become a nightmare and their performance a series of minor and major disasters. While vertical couples have the entire emotional overlay that power and compliance bring to a relationship, peer couples – our relationships with co-workers – have a parallel emotional component, something akin to the pleasures, jealousies and rivalries of siblings.

If there is anywhere emotional intelligence needs to enter an organization, it is at this most basic level. Building collaborative and fruitful relationships begins with the couples we are a part of at work.

Bringing emotional intelligence to a working relationship can pitch it towards the evolving, creative, mutually engaging end of the continuum; failing to do so heightens the risk of a downward drift towards rigidity, stalemate, and failure.

Setting Objectives to Win

At the end of a recent keynote speech during which I was discussing the value of strategic planning in order to consolidate existing client relationships, I was asked what we at JFA do to lock-in our most important clients. This is an extract of my response.

For a long time the only objectives I used for Major Accounts were very specific business objectives – “We will increase turnover by X%” or “We will introduce two new programs and increase our profitability by Y%.” Then I began to understand that these business objectives were not enough.

Multi-level objectives have proved very powerful in winning and keeping business. There are four levels of objectives, which together excite and motivate the team and at the same time are also very practical.

First we set visionary objectives – we picture what the result could be if everything went well. We discipline ourselves not to be limited by history or today’s issues. The outcome is a very strong vision of what the account could be like in 1/3/5 years.

Secondly we set relationship objectives – everyone in the account team needs to know what we want the relationship to feel like. Imagine you could hear your customer talking about you in two year’s time – what would you want to hear them saying? It might be statements like “We trust them completely” or “They always give us new ideas” and “Things do not go wrong often. But when they do, they always make things right quickly”

We have found that these relationship objectives help us do everything in the way we should and in the way the customer wants. In the past, it was more difficult to be consistent and customer-centered.

So far we have talked about quite “soft” objectives – how we want things to feel. The first two objectives are about emotion and imagination, but we also need some “hard” objectives as well.

The third level is the level of business objectives. These objectives are specific and very clear – “By the end of this year we will have increased sales of product A by 25% on the last year’s volumes and maintained our profit margins.” They are also measurable (if we cannot measure them how will we know we are progressing?) They must be agreed within the account team and maybe even agreed with the customer. They must be realistic – after all, other people will be depending on our forecasts. Finally, they must have a time-scale. Those business objectives provide the strong disciplines that we need to know in order to understand whether or not we are succeeding.

The final level of objectives is the level of stage goals. We may say that we will achieve a result of X by the end of year 2 within the key account. If this is to happen, we need to be planning where we should be at important stages.

If the objective is to be selling five products to the customer by the end of next year and we’re selling two today, we probably need to plan to have three in place by this October, four in place by next March and five by next September. The stage goals make sure we are on target and allow us to solve problems before they become impossible to solve.

We have found that using these multi-level objectives helps to motivate each account team member, but can also help us significantly increase the amount and quality of business being done within these key accounts.

Next time: Strategies, short-term plans and “traffic lights”

Have Our Customers and Clients Become Irreversibly Promiscuous?

I suppose another way of framing that question is to ask you if you think customers and clients still value long-term relationships?

Let’s look at what we know: All of our customers and clients are more informed than ever and typically enter the sales/buying cycle much later than they used to – you must be sick of hearing that, but it’s true.

We also know that customer service levels are at an all-time low, as companies of all sizes indulge themselves in a frenetic and sometimes indecent chase for new clients, leaving their existing ones to fend for themselves. (Lots of foreplay until the initial conquest, and then a combination of coldness, indifference and arrogance)

This in turn breeds mistrust, which inevitably results in an initial reluctance to engage – or commit to a longer-term relationship – for fear of being hurt.

However, the reality is that there are enormous benefits to be gained by both parties from a secure and mutually rewarding marriage: For a vendor, the opportunity to forecast regular and reliable income, keeps the grey men in the finance department happy. Equally, the customer, once convinced of our integrity, is able to enjoy consistent and continuous levels of customer service – well that’s the theory.

So how does that work?

You see, since the key to differentiation is in forging closer links with clients, the role of the long-term ally is a crucial one. Once the salesperson has earned the right, it is important to develop and maintain the relationship.

As the term suggests, acting as a long-term ally involves maintaining contact with the client even when there is no immediate prospect for a sale. It also suggests that the salesperson needs to be committed to the long-term development of the relationship.

I believe that top salespeople demonstrate this commitment by continuously looking for ways to:

Build interpersonal trust

Create and maintain a positive image of the sales organization

Inspire respect for their company

Show genuine concern for their customers’€™ short and long-term interest

Identify ways to strengthen the quality of their business relationship

Help the customer meet needs within his or her organization

Deal with issues openly and honestly

Deliver on promises

It is also crucial for the salesperson to ensure that the relationship between the organizations is mutually beneficial. In other words, it is essential to build and honor the expectation that reaching agreements will mean good business for both parties.

At the end of the day, taking a long-term approach proves more profitable since the customer will recognize that the salesperson is taking a committed interest and in so doing is giving honest and open advice. This inevitably encourages the customer to trust the salesperson and to view him or her as a colleague rather than an opponent.

In Summary: Long Term Allies and Mutually Beneficial Agreements.

For relationships to grow and prosper, supplier organizations must be willing to …

Elicit feedback from customers regarding overall satisfaction with the products / services delivered.

Maintain regular contact with current and prospective customers

Alert customers to new developments in own organization

Review the business relationship underlying each account on a regular basis

But reciprocation has to be forthcoming and buyer organizations must be willing to ….

Keep suppliers “in the loop” regarding the company’s strategic direction and needs

Value the record of service provided by supplier organizations above lower cost competitors

Grant access and information about their customers to the supplier organizations

Sometimes I find myself repeating a statement so often that I worry it is becoming a cliché, but I can only re-iterate: “It now costs fifteen times more to first locate, then qualify, then sell to a new customer as it does to an existing one”  FACT.

Whatever Happened to the Lone Ranger?

 The Lone Ranger is dead. Instead of the individual problem-solver, we have a new model for creative achievement. People like Steve Jobs or Walt Disney headed groups and found their own greatness in them. 

Professor Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, Marshall School of Business, USC, provides a blueprint for the new model leader:

He or she is a pragmatic dreamer, a person with an original but attainable vision. Inevitably, the leader has to invent a style that suits the group. The standard models, especially command and control, simply don’t work. The heads of groups have to act decisively, but never arbitrarily. They have to make decisions without limiting the perceived autonomy of the other participants. Devising an atmosphere in which others can put a dent in the universe is the leader’s creative act”

However, the role of the new model leader is ridden with contradictions. Paradox and uncertainty are increasingly at the heart of leading organisations. A lot of leaders don’t like ambiguity so they try to shape the environment to resolve the ambiguity.

This might involve collecting more data or narrowing things down. These may not be the best things to do. The most effective leaders are flexible, responsive to new situations. If they are adept at hard skills, they surround themselves with people who are proficient with soft skills. They strike a balance.

While flexibility is important in this new leadership model, it should not be interpreted as weakness. The two most lauded corporate chiefs of the past decade, Percy Barnevik of Asea Brown Boveri, and Jack Welch of General Electric, dismantled bureaucratic structures using both soft and hard skills. They coach and cajole as well as command and control. The “leader as coach” is yet another phrase more often seen in business books than in the real world.

Acting as a coach to a colleague is not something that comes easily to many executives. It is increasingly common for executives to need mentoring. They need to talk through decisions and to think through the impact of their behaviour on others in the organization.

In the macho era, support was for failures, but now there is a growing realization that leaders are human after all, and that leadership is as much a human art as a rational science.

Today’s leaders don’t follow rigid role models but prefer to nurture their own leadership style.

They do not do people’s jobs for them or put their faith in developing a personality cult.

They regard leadership as drawing people and disparate parts of the organisation together in ways that makes individuals and the organization more effective.

The Lone Ranger really is dead: “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”

The Fine Art of Intuitive Management

As a young man obsessed with driving rapid sports cars (often far too rapidly,) I considered myself very fortunate to have my very own mechanic who would regularly tune my latest “beasts” to perfection. He was a genius, and to watch him go about his work – which was his obsession – was an honor and a privilege. He rarely lifted the hood (bonnet) until he was ready to perform his magic, but rather he just listened – not unlike the way a master piano-tuner listens. He was using his well-trained ear to identify the slightest imperfection.

I knew him well … he was my father, and he was one of the most intuitive people I have ever known.

Very occasionally I have witnessed the same thing in my commercial life, but sadly, far too rarely. It is that trait that distinguishes the great manager or leader from all the rest.

Being intuitive means that we “feel” we don’t just see or even hear. We are completely in-tune with our team; we understand each of them; we know what motivates every one of them; we are able to stimulate and goad them in equal measure in order to elicit optimum performance levels from them, and as a consequence we have a team that can achieve remarkable things.

Can anyone become an intuitive manager or leader? Yes of course they can, I have always believed that if one person can do something then we can all do it – if we really want to that is. Example? I could give you so many, but this is my personal favorite…

Up until that balmy May evening in 1954 at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, England when Roger Bannister ran the mile in under four minutes, everyone believed it to be impossible – but then later that same year another sixteen athletes also ran sub-four minutes, because it had been proved to be possible.

In order to become a truly intuitive manager you first have to have an interest in people – a genuine interest – and you also need to genuinely care about them too. Then you have to know and understand yourself well; you have to be comfortable and confident with who you are and with your management/leadership style.

When I communicate with my team – and in fact my client’s teams too – I listen for what is not said as much as what is; I understand and recognize gaps in written communication; I immediately notice facial expressions, body posture and voice tone. It is more than a skill. I have honed it and developed it over the years, and it has stood me in good stead. It is like a sixth sense, and I feel privileged to have it.

So, the next time you survey your team, ask yourself this question: “Do I feel my team; do I understand each of them – do I need to lift the hood (bonnet) to reach them, or can I just listen and hear their imperfections, and then fine-tune them to peak performance levels?” If you can, congratulations, you are practicing the fine art of intuitive management!

Are You Really Up to the Challenge of Change?

Becoming a Top 5% sales performer requires significant changes in your “world view” – how you think about yourself, and how you think about your relationships with key stakeholders. You are faced with new ways of thinking, many of which directly challenge what you have been taught and believe.

When faced with significant innovations in thinking, we tend initially to find ourselves in one of the following three characterizations:

The “Authoritative Critic”

The “Authoritative Expert”

The “Enthusiastic Apprentice”

We can think about these three characters as being on a spectrum that runs from outright rejection to eager acceptance

As we take a brief look at each of these, allow yourself to wonder where on the spectrum you fall.

The Authoritative Critic

This individual quickly dismisses new ways of thinking, rejecting them as ridiculous, foolish and unwise.

What is this individual’s motivation? Fear of change, of loss.

The Authoritative Expert

This individual is one who typically responds to the introduction of innovative ideas by rejecting the reality that the ideas are indeed innovative. This individual is typically thinking “What’s the big deal? I’ve always done it this way.”

What is this individual’s motivation? Fear of losing face, of appearing inadequate.

The Enthusiastic Apprentice

This individual is excited by innovative thinking and is eager to learn. He/she may not understand or totally embrace the innovative concepts, but they are excited about the possibilities that well-informed change may bring about.

What is this individual’s motivation? It is hunger for knowledge and excitement about the possibilities that may come with that new knowledge.

The nature of change is dynamic. As much as we might like to believe that change is linear, the truth is that deep transformative change develops in a spiral pattern.

As you reviewed the above characteristics, you may have seen parts of yourself in each description.

Knowledge is the power. The more aware you can become of your own process of “spiralling” through the process of change, the more conscious and intentional you can be about choosing change, choosing growth, and choosing to become a genuine Top 5% player in the game of sales.

Je Suis Charlie, Tu Es Charlie ….Nous Sommes Charlie

Unsurprisingly, here in Paris the mood has been incredibly sombre. Everyone I have met in the past 24 hours has wanted to share their despair, their shock, their incredulity. This is all to be expected, but my real concern is that now I am witnessing that initial numbness being replaced by anger, and a thirst for revenge. These are emotions which will not, under any circumstances, provide us with a long term solution.

Whatever our faith, be it Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or even Atheist, we absolutely must try to discover the key to co-existence and mutual respect, which is quite simply, consideration: Consideration for the other’s point of view; consideration for the other’s guiding principles and most important of all, consideration for consequences. There are always consequences to any single act or series of acts.

I will defend the right to freedom of speech for as long as I live, but I will also fight for the critical word in that dictionary of human co-existence – empathy.

I am Charlie; You are Charlie; We are Charlie ….

Let us not forget the lessons of history, simply because a small number of senseless, violent radicals have chosen to hide behind a religious cause, when that religion does not recognize them.

We should also not forget that Charlie not only laughed at Muslims but also at every known religion. These are not “attacks” against believers, there is no hate against individuals, this is humor. You can say you don’t appreciate it. But you can’t force people to shut up because you don’t like what they are drawing.

Sales Process – Help or Hindrance?

Far too frequently, competent salespeople are expected to channel their own activities into the areas that will produce the quickest wins. Unfortunately, left to their own devices, they don’t develop and pursue a formal strategy for moving a sale tangibly forward during each prospect interaction, neither do they have a clearly defined set of goals against which to measure the progress they are making. Typically, their judgment is based on gut reaction and is purely subjective i.e. “Oh yes, I’ll get that order, he likes me” because salespeople have to be optimistic by nature. They end up dancing around with prospects, in the hope that eventually they will get to their chosen point on the dance-floor i.e. -the sale. In this scenario, the prospect has complete control.

This lack of a plan is often fatal, because, as recent research from The Results Corporation PLC shows,

60% of clients buy after five “No’s” and yet …

44% of salespeople give up after the first “No”

22% after the second “No” and

14% after a third “No”

A well-known oil company discovered that it took their best salespeople an average of three visits and five follow-up calls to convert a prospect into a client. Yet, their average sales performers only visited prospects twice and then gave up, costing the company millions of dollars in wasted sales effort and even more in lost potential sales opportunities.

When their efforts don’t pay off immediately, even experienced salespeople tend to become discouraged. They spend more and more time struggling to meet their sales quotas and working less and less efficiently.

Feeling increasingly powerless to influence prospects, they may also begin to press for a sale in ineffective ways – for instance, by arranging full-dress product presentations to prospects that they have not even qualified or who haven’t yet agreed that they need the solution being presented. They allow prospects to milk them for information without getting a commensurate commitment first, and even worse they fail to defend margin and make unprofitable sales in order to achieve quotas.

The details of what goes wrong differs for each individual salesperson, but the net result is always the same, a discouraged sales force, diminished sales efficiency (i.e. wasted investment of sales time and resources that fail to produce high quality sales) and, consequently, increased cost of sales which inevitably drastically reduces net profit.

What’s the bottom line? Sales never result efficiently and with maximum revenue unless the sales process is continually and closely managed. But before the sales process can be managed, it must be manageable.

However, a word of caution …

But, and this is a very big BUT, it is not uncommon for an organization’s sales process to restrict and even stifle success by being far too rigid. In many scenarios, creativity is discouraged, and the rules are very black or white.

I have encountered many companies who insist that the sales team must achieve certain goals on a daily/weekly/monthly basis: They place great emphasis on quantity rather than quality, and as a consequence, they typically attract lower margin business.

In my opinion, a sales process should act as a “guide” particularly where activity is concerned, and always be flexible enough to accommodate individuals who sometimes need to work outside of the “boundaries”

Have You Spotted the Golden Egg(s) Nestling in Your Basket?

From quite early on in our sales careers, we are encouraged to explore every sale opportunity that presents itself. In fact, in some companies, the sales teams are “brainwashed” into believing that “all business is good business.” And of course, we do not challenge this fallacy, simply because we don’t know any better – we are on the first rung of the ladder…

We are anxious to make our mark, get “runs on the board” and impress our manager – even our colleagues. At this point in our careers, naivety sustains us, and in some perverse way, insulates us from the harsh realities of the sales environment – but only momentarily.

Maybe all new sales professionals should memorize this statement: “Selling is the most exciting, the most invigorating and the most rewarding career in the world – if you are selling well”

Gradually, as we ascend that sales success ladder, we experience a life-changing epiphany – well those of us that become successful do – and it dawns on us that actually, it takes just as long to progress an opportunity that has no chance of closing through the various funnels and pipelines, as it does a profitable and closeable one. We even manage to work out that, whilst we are spending so much time on unwinnable business, we are letting winnable business slip through our fingers, due to a lack of time and attention.

It isn’t rocket science, but our ability to determine which is which, early in the sales/buying cycle, could ultimately decide just how far we progress up that aforementioned sales ladder. Because, be assured, the very best frontline sales professionals (the top 5%) always position themselves with the real decision-makers, and avoid those without “approval power.” They are able to first identify, and then access, the formal decision making unit(s).

They are also able to readily identify, and know how to deal with, the four different buying influencers present in every sale, and they understand how to prevent sales from being sabotaged by an internal enemy. They insulate themselves by developing strong allies within.

Finally, they are able to recognize fail-safe signals that indicate when a sale is in jeopardy. This comes from experience, but also information supplied by their “allies”.

But most important of all, they are rigorous in tracking account progress and are able to accurately forecast future sales, because they use a proven methodology which allows them to realistically weight every opportunity in the pipeline.

So do you think, if you re-examined your pipeline today and had to wager your house on those opportunities that will really happen, you could do so? Or are you happy to continue playing the numbers game?

Do try to spot the “golden eggs” in your basket, and encourage them to hatch – it will be worth it, I promise you!

What a great exercise to kick-off 2015?