Does Your Company Excel at all THREE Selling Activities?

One of the most important aspects of selling, that we highlight at JFA, is the fact that there are actually three distinct activities that organizations should be focusing on – and they are all equally important.

However, you could be forgiven for thinking that the most critical function is new business identification – or as you may prefer to call it, lead generation. After all, a very high percentage of the articles we read these days are offering us advice on e-mail campaigns, or cold-calling, or lead nurturing, etc.

Professional coaches and trainers have a responsibility to ensure their clients understand the need to develop skills in all three of the critical selling phases, i.e.

Business Generation: This is lead generation, cold calling, email marketing, social media use, referral selling, prospect attraction, and all the skills that are needed to produce new opportunities to continually fill up that funnel. Here, we are developing suspects into qualified prospects.

The middle part of our sandwich is effectively “opportunity management” – but for the purpose of this post we will call it …

Business Management: Here we should be developing the sales skills necessary to convert a prospect into a client/customer. So, competitive profiling, qualification, presentation, proposal preparation (even major bid preparation) negotiation, closing skills, etc.

Business Development: Our final category is account management and development, which is where most companies are weakest. In their desperate pursuit and focus on generating new opportunities, 80% of organizations neglect their existing clients, despite the fact that there are so many incremental opportunities just waiting to be harvested. Here, we should be teaching “client retention” – strategic selling skills, key account management, upselling and cross-selling, political skills, etc.

And actually, it is this third area that I am writing about today, because a vitally important sales activity is that of managing existing customer accounts to consolidate and grow the relationship. Yet, unfortunately, when compared over time, the customer’s interest levels increase while salespeople’s interest levels tend to decrease. This creates a “relationship gap”and is due entirely to complacency.

Another major issue is that, too often, the salesperson fails to expand their “contact base”,as this next survey proves, which results in vulnerability and exposure to competitive activity.

Periodically, the Financial Times conducts a survey of British industry to establish how companies go about their purchasing. The survey is very comprehensive, broken down into many kinds of products and services.

Customer size (Number of employees): Less than 200
Average number of buying influencers: 3.43
Number of influencers visited by salespeople: 1.72

Customer size (Number of employees): 200 – 400
Average number of buying influencers: 4.85
Number of influencers visited by salespeople: 1.75

Customer size (Number of employees): 401 – 1000
Average number of buying influencers: 5.81
Number of influencers visited by salespeople: 1.90

Customer size (Number of employees): 1001 +
Average number of buying influencers: 6.50
Number of influencers visited by salespeople: 1.65 (No, I didn’t make a mistake, it really is only 1.65)

From a Sales Director’s perspective, these are very worrying statistics…

In essence, without a sustained approach to on-going servicing and support activities, customers that took months to win are ultimately lost, because there was a lack of interest from their supplier.

Today’s clients/customers are looking for vendors who can be business-partners, who are willing and able to share risks, and who are able to properly manage the entire sales process.

Fact: It now costs fifteen times as much to locate and sell to a new customer, as it does to an existing one.

Are you really making the most of your customer base…?

The Debate Continues – Coaching versus Traditional Training?

People may learn a great deal on development courses, but when they return to the workplace, they often have difficulty integrating what they have learnt into their day-to-day work. Quite often, what they may have learnt simply slips from their minds.

We believe that between 50% and 70% of an organization’s climate - and hence its effectiveness - can be traced to management style. Effective leaders create a favourable working environment that boosts performance. This is where coaching comes into its own.

Leadership is a set of skills, competences and attitudes that individuals can develop through practice, and by reflecting on their own actions and the impact this can have on others.

Most leadership programs are too general to provide opportunities for such intensive personalized work.

Coaching, by contrast, enables individuals to gain insight into their own motives, interests and concerns, and this link explicitly to the challenges they face in their leadership or management roles.

Coaching can also help executives acquire a greater awareness of their own leadership style. This is crucial if they are to develop the variety of styles needed to manage and lead in different situations.

All too often, leaders rely on a command-and-control style, which has a negative impact on all but a crisis.

Coaching people on leadership styles produces positive results in most situations. It creates a supportive environment in which employees feel empowered to give their best, and find the solutions to problems.

Not unnaturally, some diehards still hold, with an old-fashioned view, that coaching can be used only for remedial purposes. But those organizations, that have embraced the concept fully, have discarded that level of thinking. Their approach concentrates on leadership and personal development as part of building a high-performance organization – they are committed to moving away from managing by a culture of process, to managing as leaders.

Typically, we find that our clients are not interested in adopting the style of coaching used by many companies to focus on simple issues – particularly, how to get on with fellow team members. They choose us, because they believe we offer a more challenging style that digs more deeply into behavior and personality. This leaves executives with something more permanent that they can take away from the coaching sessions and use during the rest of their careers – rather than just a one-off.

It is not always easy to convince executives that they should submit to a scrutiny of their personalities and behaviour… But in reality, those executives who balk at taking “the journey of self-development”could soon find themselves isolated and lesser leaders than many of their contemporaries.

Surging into Q3 – Some Actions to Make it Better than Q2!

Recently, I exposed the considerable “relationship-gap” that apparently exists between customer/client expectation, and what most selling companies believe is necessary to retain them.

That statement sounds terribly arrogant doesn’t it? “What most selling companies believe is necessary to retain them“… But isn’t that the point?

I think most frontline sales professionals believe that they are providing their existing clients with excellent service – but then they are only usually viewing the relationship one dimensionally from where they are standing.

The brutal reality is that customers and clients are rarely asked. Oh yes, they might be persuaded to occasionally complete an online satisfaction survey, consisting of carefully crafted questions designed by a third-party who has as much knowledge of your industry and sector as they do about the sexual shenanigans of a platypus! And have you noticed that we all celebrate and congratulate ourselves when we see the positive feedback, and yet convince ourselves that anything negative must have come from a terminal whiner?

We are all guilty of taking our customers and clients for granted – some of us regularly, all of us occasionally. We are all culpable when it comes to failing to continually strive to “earn the right” to their business. After all, if they want anything, they will call us, won’t they? Maybe once upon a time, when they had less choices and when they were less “educated”, but not anymore. Like those platypus, we are only as good as our last performance!

So, when you finally realize that it is now Q3, and the awful truth dawns on you – you are currently underachieving by more than 50% against quota - do not, under any circumstance, take any solace from the fact that so are more than 50% of the global sales population! There is nothing to celebrate in being a member of the “Loser’s Club” – unless you enjoy safety in numbers…

What I am suggesting you do, in the next few weeks, may well fly in the face of advice you will receive from your manager, who has possibly been conditioned to believe that harder is smarter… It isn’t. So you might want to tell him/her that in the book Emerson’s Essays, there is a section on “Law of Compensation”. It can be summarized simply as “give more, get more.”This is what most salespeople try to do, so they end up working harder when they could be working smarter. This begs the question: Are your sales activities deciding your strategy or is your strategy deciding your sales activities?

My advice is focus , just for a couple of weeks, on all your existing clients. Call them, go visit them. Even better, conduct a formal account review – give them some attention, and let them know that you really want their business this year. You will be amazed at the response. Why? Because it is not something your competitors will be doing – unless they read this post, or have been on one of my training workshops. And just hope that you don’t come up against one of my clients, because they will have completed this exercise last week!

The next time you drive out into the countryside, particularly this time of the year, take time to notice the crops in the fields: Notice the hedges around the fields, and how well maintained – or not – they are. I can assure you that the best maintained fields are yielding the best harvests. The work that those farmers put in during the Spring is now paying dividends – it hasn’t all happened magically!

The better you maintain your relationships with your best accounts, the higher your yield will be. And maybe, just maybe, you can make it into the “Winners Enclosure” come the end of December.

We always have choices, and this is your choice.

Do You Believe You Can? Or Do You Believe You Can’t?

In conversation with one of “me learned chums” last week, the subject of success came up – or more precisely, just what it is that makes some people more successful than others – and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I have very strong views about this!

I believe that one of the defining and most significant qualities, of the most successful people we know, is confidence. It is their inner belief that they can achieve anything they want to achieve, and enjoy as much success as they wish – however they personally define success.

Of course, success is different for all of us. Some people use overt material indicators to show the rest of us that they think they have made it – large houses, fast cars, ostentatious life styles, with a deliberate “Look at me, I am better than you” statement.

Certainly post-Thatcher, the British tend to judge each other based on the house they live in, the quality of their car, and most recently, how exclusive their children’s school is. It doesn’t seem to matter that the house may be heavily mortgaged or that the car belongs to the company.

But let’s get back to my assertion that successful people – genuinely successful people – have considerable inner confidence and self-belief. If you think about it, it is quite obvious. Success is not an easy thing to obtain – if it was, everyone would be successful, and the word “unsuccessful” would not appear in our dictionaries.

Did young Tom Edison ever lose his self-belief – even after 10.000 “failures”? Apparently, after about 9.000, Mrs. E questioned his sanity, but Tom, visibly unmoved by her taunts, simply replied “You’ll see the light one day my dear”

Did the visionary Walt Disney ever question his theme park plans, even though more than one hundred banks rejected his requests for financial backing? “You want to do what Walt?”

Did any of the most successful authors you have ever read give up after their manuscripts were rejected time after time? – JK Rowling had Harry Potter turned back more than eighty times I am told. I wonder how those eighty editors are feeling now – and the eighty-first really did get the cigar!

No, none of them did, because they had such strong self-belief!

Closely aligned with self-belief are courage, commitment, durability, resilience, patience and vision. That last one is very important, because it is our ability to visualize what success will feel like that drives us on, and often keeps us going in times of adversity. It is certainly what draws me back into my study late at night.

Can anyone be successful? Yes, of course they can – if they want it badly enough! If one person can be successful, then we all can. But “most people” never work out what it is they really want… They talk in vague terms about more security, more disposable income, more holidays, but never quite make it.

“Most people” spend their twilight years looking back in total frustration – “I wish I had …” “If only I had …” But by then, it is usually too late.

In professional selling, cultivated sales skills, the use of a clearly defined sales process, in-depth knowledge, for example, will only take us so far. Without that strong inner-belief and confidence, we will never, ever, over-achieve.

And do remember that customers and prospects sense when we are confident about our company, our solutions, and about ourselves. Conversely, they say that dogs smell fear, but customers do too!

My advice – based on my own personal experiences, is always question… but never doubt your ability to succeed.

When doubt enters our minds, confidence slips out via the back door – they can never co-exist.

Be assured, confidence really is the key to success. Arrogance is the exit door!

What’s the Difference between a Sales Trainer and a Sales Expert?

The one word or expression that differentiates a sales trainer and a sales expert is, in my humble opinion, passion.

A sales trainer learns a sales program verbatim, and then delivers it – verbatim: They didn’t write the curriculum; they didn’t create the philosophy; they didn’t – in most cases – understand the core message, so how can they be passionate about what they are saying?

To illustrate my point, the next time you have friends round, take ten minutes out, and get each of your guests to write three paragraphs – that’s all that is necessary – about an emotive topic: It could be why the poor are getting poorer in India, when the country is seen as an emerging economic power-house; or why Russia tries to mislead us into believing it is a democracy, when Putin re-elects himself at will, and protestation is met with incarceration, or …. I think you get my point!

Once everyone has completed their three paragraphs, ask them to pass their note to the person sitting to their left, who must read it out loud to the rest of the group: Then get the original author to repeat the exercise – and notice the difference. More passion and more conviction? Of course.

I am fortunate to count most of the world’s leading sales experts as friends or colleagues; we talk often, and we share ideas; we share our visions and we share our enthusiasm for continually learning: I confess to genuine excitement when I debate with these incredible personalities. After each interaction, I always come away feeling energized, and my commitment to all that is currently happening within the sales space is renewed.

Counter that with sitting through two or three days of mediocrity, as a sales trainer tries vainly to deliver their version of someone else’s concept: I have endured that myself on so many occasions, and it is mind-numbing banality of the worst kind.

Make no mistake, the sales space is finally rejecting the “one-size fits all”mentality, and organizations are showing a strong preference for engaging with genuine sales experts who can deliver tailored solutions, designed to meet diagnozed issues.

The largest sales training companies are feeling the heat, and no longer have the playing field to themselves – the corporate bun feast is coming to an end. Size no longer matters!

Are there exceptions to the rule? Mercifully, yes, but not many. MHI Global is one of the very few, but this post is not an advertisement, I merely mention that fact in passing

The new and successful “kids on the block”are genuine experts. They are flexible; they care and they put their reputations on the line and share the risks. They don’t dictate to, and they are devoid of arrogance.

Most of all, they are passionate.

You will find a whole host of them here.

Sales Quotas, High Jumpers & Hockey Sticks

“Oh no, here he goes again, JF is back with more sporting analogies..!” I hear at least one good friend, and popular sales commentator, mutter, whilst I have always tolerated his comparisons with aviational (dictionary suggesting that there is no such word, but there should be) challenges!

Too right! I can draw so many similarities, particularly this week, when my mind – and my diary – is almost totally pre-occupied and inspired by the greatest sporting extravaganza on earth!

So JF, let’s hear it… High jumpers? What’s that all about?

Have you ever noticed by how much high jumpers clear the bar by? That is, of course, if they clear it… (If you are a high jumper yourself, you may want to move on a bit in this article, because we expect you to know the answer to that question)

The answer is: by very little – in fact, by as little as possible.

Why? Well, what is the point of jumping 2.0 meters, when the bar is set at 1.85?

There are no additional prizes, no extra points, and if the competition continues and a few clear 1.85, the bar will eventually be raised to 2.0, and you can attempt it, but only when you have to.

And that is exactly how most – and for most, read at least 80% (because I love to use good old Vilfredo Pareto’s principle whenever I can) – frontline sales professionals view their annual targets. Something to just achieve, which is considered to be a massive achievement.

In many ways it is not their fault, after all, they probably didn’t set that target themselves. It was probably set by an inexperienced and less than confident manager, who looked at the previous year’s achievement levels, and thought that an increase of 10% sounded reasonable. Why not just stick your finger in the air, or stick a pin in a set of possible variations?!

So, no thought about economic conditions? Increase in competitors? Longevity of the product range? Outdated selling skills of the team? Greater numbers of prospects buying online, etc.?

Is it any wonder that smart salespeople don’t surge through their quotas? Even if they receive “accelerators”(super one-off bonuses) for over-achieving, they know that the struggle they may face to achieve next year’s targets -based on this year’s super performance - simply isn’t worth a little instant gratification.

I don’t have any hard numbers to share with you, but you will appreciate, I feel certain, that one of the main reasons why more than 50% of salespeople are missing quota year on year is because those quotas are totally unrealistic.

And the ridiculous assumption that irks me the most is when I see targets back-loaded. An assumption made that Q1 will be the quietest – and hence toughest quarter – and Q4 the busiest – and hence easiest quarter.

Why?

Usually that is a total cop-out. It means that the manager hasn’t begun his/her next year planning and forecasting until January, so wants breathing space.

Unless you are operating in a seasonal sector, there is no logical reason why one quarter should be any different from another – is there?

We call this the hockey stick effect. But you knew that already, because I bet you have played that game a few times!

In my experience – and experience is one of the few advantages of ageing gracefully – typical sales teams are made up of three groups: new recruits, graduates, younger salespeople, or those just promoted. Their targets are set somewhat sympathetically – if indeed they carry a quota at all. These are theoretically the” super-stars” of tomorrow and we should invest in them heavily, because it will cost us far less to do so than recruit externally at a later date. We are creating a continuous production line of potentially high-achievers.

Next, we have what some unkind sales managers refer to as “plodders”. Actually, they are not plodders at all – unless you feel that delivering consistent numbers, month on month, is a burden. These people are never going to set the world on fire, or bring in the really big orders regularly, but they always gave me comfort as a manager, because their achievement levels were virtually guaranteed, and they represent solid foundations on which to build. With them in place, you can afford to take the occasional risk on the mega-deal that you know is going to stretch resources.

Finally, we have the company’s big-hitters – the really big-earners – the top 5% players. These guys know the rules, and they can really bring in the ginormous deals. They are street-wise, and they expect to be rewarded accordingly. These are the people who, if they resign, the “C-Lounge” get involved in trying to hang on to them – not only because the company would suffer from losing their contribution, but also because of the damage they could potentially cause if they switched to a competitor.

Can you populate your team entirely with these people? Probably. But I have never witnessed it personally, and deliberately never attempted to achieve it.

What would an entire team of Lionel Messis look like? Or Christian Ronaldos -or come to that, David Beckhams?! “There you go again JF, more sporting analogies..!”

The reality is that it just doesn’t work in practice. Dream Teams fall-out, because egos get in the way!

In summary, we need (we are desperate for) sales managers – dare I even suggest, sales leaders – who can set the bar at the correct height for each of their team members. Set it too low and they will cruise. Set it too high and they will become de-motivated…

Challenge each of them! To do this, you must have an intimate knowledge and understanding of their capabilities – for every single one of them.

Oh, and for goodness sake, leave hockey sticks on the hockey field – be brave!

If CRM is only 25% of the answer, what is the question?

The trend, during the last few years, has been toward technology-based Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRMs). Yet, research conducted by the Garner Group, has shown that the benefits a company can realize from any such innovation are dramatically higher when four vital components are in place together:

* Technology (CRMs for example)
* A clearly defined sales process
* Training and personnel development
* Performance-related compensation

For example, often companies will invest thousands of pounds in CRM technology, sales training and performance-related compensation packages for their salespeople, yet forget about defining the sales process. As a consequence, the investment made in other areas cannot be maximized, unless there is a process in place to underpin these three factors.

Equally, having a solid and robust sales process in place, efficient CRM technology, and an ongoing training program will not guarantee success if your sales team is poorly compensated and inadequately motivated by the lack of a bonus scheme.

But we do not just need to consider the sales teams, because it is now a widely accepted fact that you can’t divorce the competence and performance of the sales force from the competence and performance of the organization as a whole.

As an example, in a customer-focused organization, everyone is part of the sales process ; which is why an organization’s culture should breed collaboration and sharing of knowledge, so that every department works openly and efficiently together to support the overall sales process.

When a consultative sales process has been defined, sold to the sales force and supported by other departments within an organization, the stage is set for transformational performance improvements. Just like you need to put in a solid foundation when building a house, the sales process is the foundation for future sales success. But do remember:

A sales process requires constant monitoring to ensure it is being properly implemented

How High is Your “Customer Turnover?”

It’s interesting that we regularly read articles or comments about high levels of staff turnover, but it is very rare to discover any commentary about customer turnover – it is almost as if it is a taboo subject; that there is shame attached to it, an embarrassment. Why? I suppose it is an admission of failure.

The fact remains that most companies do not face up – or do not want to face up – to the potentially high cost of losing customers, and in most instances prefer to blame competitive activity, but the reality is somewhat different.

Here is a survey, which I have published before, but in the context of today’s commentary is worth highlighting again …

Why customers changed supplier/vendor: Here are the results:

- Developed a good relationship with another supplier (5%)

- Less expensive products elsewhere (9%)

- Unhappy with service/product (18%)

Because of the poor attitude of the supplier (68%)

That’s pretty staggering isn’t it?

Taking into account just how much effort and cost is expended winning new business, do you not find it astounding just how blase we appear to become once that first order has been placed? The conquest has been made, we can now relax, after all, they’ll call us if they need anything else won’t they? Meanwhile we can get back to concentrating on winning more new business.

It reminds me of a leaking bucket: We have to keep filling it up with new opportunities to compensate for the continual drip of existing clients leaking out of the bottom.

In many ways I am not surprised that 80% of sales focus today appears to be on new business. Check out all the popular blogs or article sites - probably 90% of all commentary highlights lead generation, lead nurturing, email campaigns etc. etc.

It is as if we have become obsessed with ignoring what is staring us in the face - and that is a regular stream of income, which is relatively easy to forecast – in comparison – and much easier to close and manage.

The reality is that it is never easy to win new business – and it’s not getting any easier – which is why we must nurture existing customers and try to minimize problems and inconvenience for them.

We have to build brick walls around them to ward of aggressive competitive attacks, because your customers are your competitor’s prospects.

So what are you doing to hang on to them?

My experience suggests that you need to recognize some basic essential facts:

Customers want to be respected

They want attention

They want to be appreciated and recognized

Most of all – they want to be understood!

And they expect you to work to continually earn the right to their business

Post-Mortems are not the End, but Rather the Beginning

“We hope you are not going to be discussing dead bodies on this fine, bright summer’s day JF?” I hear you all mutter, barely audibly, but almost in unison: “Relax” I say, with a well-practiced calming reassurance…

What I am going to be discussing is what should happen every time you lose a bid/potential order/piece of significant business and, even more importantly, what should happen when you win a bid/potential order, etc.

So let’s begin by considering what happens when you lose – or should I say, you fail to win. The most common “excuse” I hear is that it was down to price. When there is a very flat playing field where solutions and costings are identical, and there has been no opportunity to prove incremental value, this is indeed the case. The only other differentiators in these circumstances are the quality of your selling skills and your ability to think “out of the box”.

But in most scenarios, when I dig below the surface, I discover a whole host of far more complex – although obvious – reasons.

These can include:

Failure to cover all the bases within the DMU (Decision Making Unit) and simply concentrating on one or two perceived strong allies – only to be outwitted by a competitor who has been far more active!

Or even being hood- winked into believing that the main contact has far more power and influence, simply because that was suggested from their business card. That’s a bit like dealing with the Vice-President of the United States – the title sounds impressive, but not too much power or influence.

But actually, by far the most common failing is not being rigorous enough at the front-end. What I mean is that insufficient time has been invested into asking all of the right questions to the right people, to fully understand the requirement and, consequently, making some assumptions – often wrong ones. From that point on, everything that is proposed is a bit “suck it and see” and relies on hope and luck. That means the odds for winning are 50% at best from the beginning.

A final word on post-mortems after a loss – Be brutally honest! OK, that was three words, but you get my drift. Don’t allow anything, or anyone, to escape microscopic scrutiny. This is not a finger pointing exercise, but it is a fantastic opportunity to roll back the carpet and expose the cracks. Your ultimate objective is to ensure (try to) that you don’t make the same mistakes again, and hence increase your odds of winning the next great opportunity that arrives.

But please do not think for one minute that post-mortems are just for understanding losses. I do so hate the word “failure”… They are just as important after you have won, whilst the scent of victory is still fresh in your nostrils.

Ensuring that you have a total understanding of what you did right is absolutely vital if you want to replicate that success and repeat that superior performance.

Do remember that everything – every aspect of the sales/buying cycle – can always be improved. Perfection is an imaginary target for us all. It doesn’t really exist – unless you are naive enough to believe it does.

Every Frontline Sales Professional is Unique

I was recently asked, that if I genuinely believed that all customers and clients – and presumably prospects – are unique, would I agree that all front-line sales professionals are unique?

Both the short answer and the long answer to that question is an unequivocal YES, most certainly they (we) are.

This is precisely why I rally against those who would have us all divided into boxes or categories: When someone tells us to try and sell in a certain way, and that way is alien to us, our approach is immediately identified by our prospect/client/customer as being “manufactured” and unauthentic.

We each have a unique personality, which admittedly is shaped and influenced by our parents; peer group and even TV/Film stars we admire, but the undeniable reality remains that we are all most certainly different.

The fact that we have chosen sales as a career would suggest that we have an outgoing and gregarious nature – and admittedly, of the almost 100.000 front-line sales professionals and managers that I have personally trained, I am struggling to remember too many shy retiring violets. But be assured, “outgoing” comes in various different flavors, and isn’t always accompanied by self-confidence. We all have a comfort zone, and when we are forced to venture out of it, we are, well … uncomfortable.

When we become uncomfortable, we become anxious, and that anxiety is transmitted to our prospects, so now everyone is  … uncomfortable. You know where I am going with this.

One of the first issues I address during my workshops is the fact that nobody has the right to tell anybody else how to sell: I have always seen my role as one where I share my knowledge and experience; illustrate techniques; discuss concepts and new ideas, and then allow my students to take away what they feel comfortable (yes, there’s that word again) with, to integrate within their own selling style. Of course, I do challenge them occasionally to emerge from their comfort zones and experiment a little, and usually they respond to these challenges, discovering just how much better my way of doing things is.

When you think about it, isn’t this rather like parenting? We do this with our children: We teach them core values, and then allow them to make their way in the world, whilst we retreat into a “supporting” role.

So my message today is a simple one – don’t allow anyone to tell you how to sell: Be yourself, and let your prospects/customers/clients buy the real you, rather than some artificially created robot, who simply regurgitates the words and ideas of others. People really do buy people first, and then they buy your company and your solutions.

The one unique feature that we have in a sales environment, where the playing fields have never been so flat, is ourselves – our unique selling style; unique personality; unique selling ability.