When Buyer and Seller Act as Partners, They are Building a Bridge to Profitability

As I have said on numerous occasions, sales success today demands a radical shift from the “peddler” mentality of merely demonstrating products and expanding on their features. It requires treating the customer as a participant. More often than not, a “flashy” sales presentation alone alienates rather than persuades.

The best salespeople regard the sales call as a two-way conversation – not a one sided pitch.

Average salespeople score fairly well in their ability to provide customers with facts and figures, but top performers dramatically outscore the rest when it comes to gathering information. In addition, how a salesperson collects information still distinguishes exceptional achievers from the rest of the pack. I.e. top performers ask more relevant questions and as a result gain much better information. Essentially, they aim to engage customers in the buying process with questions that require thoughtful answers, that stimulate curiosity and that reveal the customers underlying needs – and their commercial objectives.

It is my perception and belief that most businesses need to re-define selling and what constitutes basic selling skills, because in to-day’s world of selling, there is less and less room for apprenticeship.

The reality is that selling has become an exclusive club of highly skilled professionals where product knowledge and time management skills, for instance, are the cost of membership not leadership.

On-going research demonstrates that today’s average salesperson is just as effective as the high performer in explaining features and benefits effectively, relating a service or product to customer needs and closing a sale. But, above this entry level of competence, the exceptional salesperson is busy defining the basic skills of tomorrow.

Building an up-to-date foundation in sales competence does mean sacrificing some old notions of what it takes to succeed in a competitive marketplace. For example, a salesperson can no longer just “win by knowing”and I would urge every company to test their assumptions about what skills really contribute to sales success. Too often operating on old sales theories means training and rewarding people to do the wrong things.

Successful selling is definitely not about the “hit and run”sale. Top sales achievers regard their relationships with key customers as a partnership and cultivate it as such. When customers face tough business challenges and complex technological choices, they rely on sales people who can assist them in making the right decisions.

The primary objective of a sales partnership has to be, “to create and sustain a mutually productive relationship,which serves the needs of both parties, now and in the future.”

The key word here is symbiotic. Partnership does not mean eliminating the tension between buyer and seller; it means that top-performing salespeople know how to strike a balance between achieving immediate results and developing the relationship fully.

In summary, I would say this: Many organizations have developed without objective analysis of their purpose and structure. The buying power in many industries is no longer evenly distributed – in a large number of markets a few big firms control the majority of purchases.

Since the arrival of Sales 2.0 and Social Media, the development of new marketing techniques has meant that many tasks traditionally performed by the sales team can be more effectively handled by other methods. The prime objective of all sales staff is to gain business. From an organizational point of view, however, how they all achieve their goals must be defined in order to identify what kind and the quality of skills that are required.

Finally, I must emphasize that customers are better persuaded when they are part of the process and not part of the audience, but I must also re-iterate that relationships take time to build – rather like trust.

It’s No Secret-We Can Only Control and Manage What We Understand

There are two escalating pressures in today’s marketplace that are creating a need for a more disciplined approach towards sales opportunities:

– The need to be more specialized and individualized in dealing with clients, because we can no longer afford to treat all situations in the same way.

– The reality of competition: Often to increase market share, you must do so at the direct expense of the competition. The competitive intensity of the sales environment is escalating with the globalisation of the economy.

These are the main “drivers” behind the demand that organizations adopt methodologies and processes to manage these issues.

By utilizing a rigorous and formal opportunity assessment, we are aiming to achieve two sets of objectives:

Business Objectives
– Determine which sales opportunities should be pursued at the direct expense of others
– Given resource limitations, decide where and on what basis resource should be allocated to a sales opportunity
– Determine whether our company is over-investing or under-investing in a sales opportunity
– Enhance forecast accuracy
– Use “proven” criteria to reduce the cost of sales

Sales Objectives
– Identify, quantify and categorize opportunity assessment criteria
– Increase “Hit-Rate” (Win – Loss ratios) by avoiding unsuitable business
– Discover where we and our competition stand with a customer
– Gain a complete and accurate view of a sales situation prior to writing a sales plan to win
– Calculate the probability of winning or losing a deal early in the sales process.

All sales professionals claim to be permanently time constrained – we always have limited time and resources with which to achieve our targets. Therefore, we can be involved in only so many accounts or sales situations before we begin to lose our ability to manage what is taking place. At that point, we lose control and the competition takes control.

We can only control and manage what we understand and that is the real value of continuous and rigorous assessment of our pipelines.

Finally, we must remember that we do not earn commission for having an “overly- pregnant” pipeline – but we do earn commission for closed business!

Have a wonderful w/e, wherever you are!

PS: You might enjoy this “How I Work” piece, courtesy of Matt Heinz, which was published yesterday, if you ever wondered … well, how I work! You can read it HERE (Do please re-tweet/like it for Matt)

The Key to Why Sales Training Fails

If the objective of a training program is for people to apply that learning in the workplace and make an observable difference to an organization’s results, then almost all corporate training fails to achieve its objective.

In a fairly recent study, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) reported that only 3% of training reached Kirkpatrick’s “level 4 of training evaluation results” where there is an impact on the organization. In contrast, 95% of training reached “level 1” where the participants liked the training.

A further breakdown of the study revealed that 37% of training reached “level 2” where participants learnt the material and only 13% of training reached “level 3” where participants applied the learning in the workplace.

There are several failures, which lead to this huge waste of training dollars …..

When training is not related to the organization’s objectives, strategies and management’s day-to-day behaviour, training is ineffective in delivering the desired results. Generic “off the shelf”training which has not been designed for a specific purpose with people from a known organization in mind, may increase an individual’s knowledge, but it does not increase their ability to apply the knowledge. Even if training is devised specifically for an organization, it will still be ineffective when it does not relate to the day-to-day life at the coal face of managers, supervisors and shop floor personnel.

Understanding the coal face before commencing training is the most significant preparation a trainer can achieve.

An organization spending considerable money on training should insist on the training company having that understanding. The first utterance by the trainer which results in a response from their audience, “That does not happen here” is the moment that the trainer begins to lose the trust of the audience.

When trust is lost, so is value and significant parts of the audience stop listening and participating. The worst part of it is that, most times, the response is silent and the trainer may well continue unawares.

A further cause of wasted training dollars is the use of methods, which are not designed to achieve the change in behaviour, skills or knowledge that is desired.

For example, lecture style methods used to change behaviour are inappropriate as they are best used to transfer only knowledge.

To change behaviour, the training needs to be of an experiential type and must be supported after the training is completed by coaching and a structure of formal and informal rewards. If the method used to train is useful for achieving the required change theoretically, it is still at times inappropriate for the audience.

For example, role-plays are effective for improving skills as they allow participants to practice what they have learnt. However, if the participants are unlikely to be comfortable with role-plays, then the method is still unlikely to be effective.

The most significant waste of training dollars however, rests with the lack of thought in determining what training is needed. Training is seen as a classroom exercise rather than a combination of learning interventions, which in combination results in developing the change in behaviour, skills and knowledge required. The failure of mangers and supervisors to determine what needs to change and developing an intervention framework to achieve the change is common. The failure of trainers to insist on finding out before completing their instructional design is more common.

Behavioral change needs personal coaching of the individual and support by a strong framework of goal setting and two-way feedback, if not 360 degree feedback. Skills development needs coaching of a different kind, one where the emphasis is on demonstration and practice. The practice needs to be in an environment where mistakes can be made and learnt from.

Knowledge can be learnt from books, lectures and interactive CDs to name a few. However, knowledge needs to be used in context to breed confidence. Therefore, training in knowledge must be quickly followed by the individual being placed in an environment where it is used.

The fact that training fails so often because of a lack of clearly understanding the changes we want to develop and developing a broader training intervention beyond the classroom is not good. Combine it with the habit of many individuals to treat training as a CV builder, absorbing little but the most basic understanding of what was being taught and a recipe for systemic low productivity is created as the blind lead the blind.

Trained individuals using the most basic of understanding learnt in a classroom to make decisions, implement projects and manage their people have a false sense of competence, which impacts far beyond the classroom.

It is the responsibility of managers, supervisors and most importantly, the trainers, to make sure that training does not fail.

Failure costs far too much, and not all of those costs are instantly visible.

An Abundance of Managers, But Too Few Leaders?

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is what are the key differences between a leader and a manager, and this is the best quote I have ever read because it succinctly answers the question:

There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit management is of the mind. Managers are necessary, but leaders are essential. We must find managers who are not only skilled organizers, but inspired and inspiring leaders.”Field Marshall Slim

I believe that you can buy someone’s physical presence, but you cannot buy loyalty, enthusiasm, or devotion – these you must earn.

Successful organizations have leaders who focus on the future rather than cling to the past. Leaders bring out the best in people. They spend time developing other people into leaders.

In my view, these are the qualities of a true leader:

– Leaders have a clear vision of what they are working towards. They don’t keep their vision a secret – they communicate it to their people.
– Leaders are consistent. They keep their principles and values at all times.
– Leaders can and will do what they expect of others. They are prepared to walk the talk.
– Leaders are not threatened by competence. They enjoy promoting people and are quick to give credit to those who have earned it.
– Leaders enjoy developing their people into leaders, not followers. They train people to take on more challenging tasks and responsibilities – they develop people’s confidence.
– Leaders don’t betray trust. They can treat confidential information professionally.
– Leaders are concerned about getting things done. They don’t get embroiled in political infighting, gossip and backstabbing. They encourage those around them to do likewise.
– Leaders confront issues as they arise. They do not procrastinate. If something needs fixing, they do it right away, even if it is uncomfortable – the longer things are left, the more difficult they become.
– Leaders let people know how they are doing. They reward and recognise performance that is above expectations and they help people identify ways of improving poor performance.
– Leaders are flexible. They welcome change. They do not stick to an old position simply because it is more comfortable.
– Leaders are adaptable. They see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.
– Leaders are human. They make mistakes. When they do so, they readily admit it.
– Leaders reflect on and learn from their mistakes. They see errors as a chance to improve their skills.
– Leaders enjoy challenge. They are prepared to take risks and encourage others to do likewise. If they fail, they treat the exercise as a learning experience.
– Leaders focus on the future, not the past. They anticipate trends and prepare for them. They develop a vision for their team and communicate it to them.
– Leaders are open to new ideas. They demonstrate their receptiveness by supporting change.
– Leaders treat staff as individuals. They give closer attention to those that need it and lots of space to those that deserve it.
– Leaders encourage and reward co-operation within and between teams.

Without managers the visions of leaders remain dreams. Leaders need managers to convert visions into realities. For continuous success, organizations need both managers and leaders; however, as most seem to be over-managed and under-led, they need to find ways of having both at the same time.

Perhaps the best way to handle this paradox is for managers to aim to be managers when viewed from above, leaders when viewed from below and to remember that the need for leadership grows as we move up the organization.

This is only one of the challenges that can make working life fun – don’t you think?

And you, are you working for a manager, or a genuine leader?

Selling is THE Factor in the Total Marketing Process

Business people, certainly here in the UK – and I have every reason to suspect that it is the same everywhere else – have devalued selling for far too long: In fact some unenlightened managers with a very narrow commercial band-width, have even convinced themselves that they would do better if they did not employ salespeople – after all good products sell themselves, don’t they? As a consequence, until very recently, salespeople have done everything possible to avoid calling themselves “Salesman”or a “Saleswoman”

When was the last time you were introduced to a professional salesperson who, when you asked what field they were in, said openly, honestly and with pride: “Oh, I sell”

No, rather most salespeople prefer to disguise their true job title behind euphemisms such as: “Sales Engineer,” “Business Development Manager,” “Account Executive,” “Technical Consultant” etc. But nowadays we have to accept that we all sell everyday – doctors, lawyers, estate agents, architects, politicians, teachers and accountants. The baby crying in the pram is selling to be picked up; the dog tugging at your trouser leg is selling to be taken out for a walk (unless he is someone else’s dog, in which case he is trying to bite you) – but you take my point.

In the commercial arena, the fact remains that anyone who is in business has to sell themselves and their products – and the so called “Captains of Industry” – Branson, Roddick, Marshall, Hanson, Gates, Dell and Co. are thought to be amongst the best salespeople in the world.

It therefore follows that the quality and success of our salespeople will ultimately determine the success of our business: Certainly the world has become more competitive and in order to survive and prosper we need to continually expand and develop the skill sets of our sales teams.

Sir John Harvey-Jones said “Most companies fail not in their attempts to be innovative or creative. In this country most of them fail because they undervalue the importance of professional selling”

Unfortunately, the task of selling never becomes any easier and as competition continues to intensify, sales people will face issues that can be extremely difficult to deal with e.g. decreased product uniqueness, increased competition within ˜safe” markets, longer sales cycles and shorter product life spans. Every organisation that intends to survive in a continually re-engineeringenvironment, must, in my view, respond to those realities.

In summary: Our commercial functions, particularly the sales team, represent our forward line, if they are not scoring regularly we cannot possibly achieve our overall commercial objectives i.e. nothing happens until somebody sells something and all that investment in costly accounting software, new office equipment, expensive IT systems etc. will count for nothing.

We can therefore say with complete confidence, that selling really is the key factor in the total marketing process.

Please Stop Feeding the Monkeys!

I thought I would start the week with something light – but nevertheless, significant.

I have been juggling a number of projects recently, and I also inherited a few monkeys, which is so unlike me as I am pretty assertive most of the time. It is always interesting to analyze one’s time-robbers on a regular basis to see if there is a pattern and if there is, take steps to deal with them.

Where do interruptions come from?

Boss - Who often has the power when it comes to setting priorities

Subordinates - The more accessible you are, the more they’ll use/abuse you.

Fellow workers - Interrupt for many reasons, from social to work related.

Clients and customers - These you can’t ignore.

Phone/Email - Sound familiar?

Dealing With Interruptions:
When you’re interrupted, ask yourself what’s more important, the interruption or what you’re working on?

You can try to keep interruptions short – “what do you want, why, when, etc.?”

You can also keep a log of who/what interrupts you – a pattern may emerge.

Additionally, you might consider the following, they work for me:
– Be assertive; learn to deal with “Have you got a minute?
– Invent deadlines
– Continue to look busy
– Stand up to interruptions
– Remove the chair in front of your desk
– Reduce eye contact
– Collect your papers, check your watch
– Go to them, this way you can leave any time
– Learn to say “no
– Plan a quiet hour

And Finally, Beware Of Monkeys:
Despite being a busy person, it is easy to get sucked into doing things for others. Often these tasks have nothing to do with your job (perhaps they interest you or you are flattered to be asked)

Each time we say, “yes” to these requests we collect another monkey, namely a problem that started with someone else (who is working for whom?)

Furthermore, monkeys eat into our discretionary time; the amount of time left after meeting the demands of boss and job.

Taking the monkey” often means that you are taking on a problem. Also, you are preventing others from taking the initiative and dealing with it themselves.

So, to handle monkeys:
– Deal with them as they happen (say “yes” you can help or “no” you cannot).
– Do not allow them to become too many to handle.
– Feed them face-to-face only or by phone (avoid memos or email).
– Feed them by appointment only; “Come and see me at …”
– Assign a next feeding time; “Try, and if you get a problem come back and see me”

FINAL TIP: Never say “Leave it with me”

Why So Many Salespeople Are Failing So Badly …

My comments today continue from yesterday’s post, “Are There Too Many Salespeople in the World?” 

One of the points I made was that in my experience, in the critical area of sales team development, most H.R. departments are about as useful as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. Harsh words? I don’t think so.

I really do strongly believe that they should stick to what they are good at, like looking after employee welfare; ensuring that the company adheres to the maze which is today’s employment laws, and spending as much time as possible at conferences and on training courses, to add another qualification to their CV. Not in your company? You are very lucky!

Going back to my examination of why so many salespeople are failing today, you see, unlike most other professions, there are no qualifications required to become a professional salesman or woman: I find that very disappointing, and I am also deeply concerned that even the super-rich corporations who used to put their latest intakes on a solid two year program before letting them loose on an unsuspecting audience, now believe that around two weeks of product training is quite sufficient.

Why the change? In a word, “cost” Since the recent financial meltdown, investors have been crawling all over balance sheets, and any investment in staff development always appears as cost for which there is never any tangible evidence of a return.

Whereas replacing non-performing heads is always seen as an unavoidable investment. This in turn has led to a new “hire and fire”mentality, which actually, is incredibly short-sighted, and usually proves far more costly. It is a total cop-out, and simply highlights the fact that so many poor hiring decisions have been made in the first place.

Make no mistake, as a sales leader, when one of our team fails, we fail.

The real answer, as I alluded to yesterday, is the decline in the quality of sales leadership. This is a role, which is now pivotal in every organization, whatever the size: I liken their importance to that of the QB on a football team – yes, that important. Which is why it is alarming to note that the average tenure of a sales manager today is just eighteen months.

So are there any companies out there still willing to invest to accumulate?

Very much so; those companies who have implemented their own “academies” – including most of my clients – are reaping rich rewards. Turnover has been reduced to virtually nil; teams are happy, and feel valued; staff typically work longer hours, but are also working smarter, and they are totally committed.

None of that should come as a surprise to any of us. When a company demonstrates its commitment to its employees by investing back into them, those employees are anxious to repay that faith – it is a no-brainer and definitely win-win.

How about you, are you really valued by your company? Or are you one of the at least 80% of sales professionals who remain unqualified to do your job properly?

Bon weekend a tous!

PS: Did you manage to catch the first weekly edition of Top Sales magazine, that published on Tuesday? Superb! Here is my interview with colleague and good chum, Dave Kurlan

Are There Too Many Salespeople in the World?

That’s not really a question one expects to be confronted with at a private dinner party is it? Unfortunately, like those poor medical practitioners who are regaled with requests for advice on everything from ingrowing toenails to cosmetic surgery, I have kind of accepted that if any of my fellow guests have a beef about sales-related issues, then I am going to be in the firing line.

I usually begin by trying to explain that everybody, everywhere, sells every day: Then I have to elaborate, and eventually, I find myself defending this fine profession, which actually, after a couple of glasses of a decent Burgundy I can do all evening – even with my eyes closed.

But let’s take a more pragmatic approach to the question: Are there too many salespeople in the world?

What we do know is that there are too many under-performing salespeople on the planet – about 52% of the current sales population according to most trusted analysts.


That is a far more complex question to answer – that is to say, there are several answers.

To begin with, most companies, in most industries, seem to find it easier to keep hiring new salespeople, instead of investing in those that they have already: Rather than stopping and taking stock of their current assets, and thinking about what it would take to get that team operating at optimum performance levels, they play the numbers game, which of course is a complete nonsense, and totally unjustifiable financially.

Let me give you an example: What % of sales leaders do you think could accurately answer the following questions about their own team?

– If you benchmarked your team on an individual basis against the best in your industry/sector how would they fare?

– What would it take for them to become the very best?

– Are you able to measure the impact of any investment you have made in training and developing the team in recent years? I.e. what return have you seen on that investment?

– What further development is required in order for them to achieve optimum performance levels?

– If any members of the team are currently underachieving do you know why and do you understand what will be required to get them back on track?

– Who in your team is capable of much higher levels of achievement, if they were to receive appropriate coaching?

And then follow that up with:

When thinking about your own sales force, and their performance in the first two quarters this year:

Do you understand their motivators – what is driving each of them?
Do you have visibility of their numbers – year to date, forecast vs. required performance?
Activity levels – are they working hard and smart enough?
Engagement – are they talking to the right level in their prospects/accounts?
Messaging – are they capable of delivering an appropriate message at the right level?
Qualification – are they only spending time on deals where they can compete and ultimately, they can win?
Closing – are they constructing successful campaigns and closing business?

I’ll repeat the question – what % of sales leaders could accurately answer those questions?

Let me give you a clue, it is more than 1% but less than 5%.

That is pretty frightening isn’t it?

Secondly, H.R. are getting in the way: They don’t mean to, but particularly in the corporate space, they have far too much authority and far too little experience to make the decisions about sales team development that they are making, but more on that tomorrow.

I also intend to illustrate why – in my humble opinion – more than 80% of sales professionals are currently under-qualified to perform the job they are being asked to do.

Do join me?

Think You Are An Effective Networker?

Networking effectiveness starts with a positive personal attitude and an understanding that successful networking is built on a spirit of giving and sharing and not of bargaining and keeping score. Armed with this knowledge, we can now look at how the process of good sales networking actually works in practice.

Whether it is accidental or planned, formal or informal, random or structured, in discussion with other people the effective networker offers his or her knowledge, skills, ideas, resources, guidance or data freely – without any ‘hooks’ or expectations that repayment is due in any form. In fact, the only immediate benefit may be the pleasure to be derived from assisting someone with information that was of value to them. Whilst the giver expects nothing in return, the receiver has a very positive experience and memory of you upon which they can act (if they so choose) in the future. If they do, either directly or indirectly, at some indeterminate time, you may receive some reciprocal benefit.

Along with openly offering any possible help and support, the effect networker does not operate as a one-way helper or super person/white knight/angel coming to the rescue of everyone else, but never personally in need of assistance. He or she also talks realistically about personal goals, tasks, challenges, problems and general issues, and acknowledges feeling vulnerable in not being able to do everything single-handedly.

Being open means being receptive to help when it is offered and, on occasions, asking networking contacts if they can suggest ideas, strategies or approaches that could assist you.

These two processes operate at the same time and together to create a cycle through which ‘favors’ are continually offered to all who participate. These favors are both offered and taken in order to keep the network strong and capable of growing to include more and more people. This process is called ‘reciprocity’. It simply means that effective networking is a coin with two sides rather than just one. You can’t have one without the other.

Successful networking is therefore about:

Giving and receiving

Contributing and accepting support

Offering and requesting

Promoting other’s needs and promoting your own needs

Trust and persistence

The most successful people you know are also successful networkers. Coincidence? I think not!

Hey, Sales Leader, Do You Really Understand Your Role?

In my view, the role of a sales leader is to translate the organization’s vision, mission and values into a meaningful context that sales teams can relate to and feel excited by. If this is achieved then the sales leader will have created a sales team with a shared mental model. This transforms an ordinary sales team into a high performing one.

For clarity, here is a brief description of the following terms:

An organization’s vision is a guiding image of success formed in terms of a huge goal. It is a description in words that conjures up a picture of the organization’s destination. A compelling vision will stretch expectations, aspirations, and performance. Without that powerful, attractive, valuable vision, why bother?

mission statement communicates the essence of an organization to its stakeholders and customers, and failure to clearly state and communicate an organization’s mission can have harmful consequences around its purpose.

As Lewis Caroll, through the words of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland says, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Guiding principles are the consequence of a mission statement that are intended to inform or shape all subsequent decision-making, which also provides normative criteria allowing policy-makers to accept, reject or modify policy interventions and activities. They are a guiding set of ideas that are articulated, understood and supported by the organization’s workforce.

Values are beliefs which the organization’s workforce hold in common and endeavour to put into practice. The values guide their performance and the decisions that are taken. Ideally, an individual’s personal values will align with the spoken and unspoken values of the organization.

By developing a written statement of the values of the organization, individuals have a chance to contribute to the articulation of these values, as well as to evaluate how well their personal values and motivation match those of the organization.

The Human Capital Development Model, created by Krauthammer International, is a logical process that can take top management concepts, and translate them into a context that has real meaning for staff at all levels.

The key to bringing this model to life is to answer the following questions:
– Do my team understand the organization’s vision and how their role moves the organization closer to achieving it?
– How can my sales team translate the organization’s mission into one that is relevant to them?
– How does the organization’s guiding principles impact on the day-to-day responsibilities of sales people?
– Which of the organization’s values does my sales team relate to?
– How can we interpret these values so they become compelling for each sales person?

An effective sales team understands the big picture and the context of their team’s work to the greatest degree possible. That includes understanding the relevance of their job and how it impacts the effectiveness of others and the overall team effort. Too often, sales people are asked to work on an activity without being told how their role contributes to THE organization’s vision, much less how their efforts are impacting the ability of others to do their work. Understanding that vision promotes collaboration increases commitment and improves quality.

And, an effective team works collaboratively, with a keen awareness of interdependency. Collaboration and a solid sense of interdependency in a team will defuse blaming behaviour and stimulate opportunities for learning and improvement. Without this sense of interdependency in responsibility and reward, blaming behaviours can occur which will quickly erode team effectiveness and morale.