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.

How to Turn that Customer into an “Evangelist”

New customers have a tendency to evolve through three phases once they decide to buy from you.

Initially they feel very excited about their decision, before going through a learning curve where they may struggle with blending in your products/services.

Finally, they begin to experience the value that you provide and the relationship settles down and finds its own balance.

Phase 2 can be a potentially vulnerable time for a sales person, because without the benefit of an established track record, and in the face of possible problems – no matter how minor, this is the time when most newly acquired customers are apt to change their mind.

The process of buying has four main components that all customers will evolve through. They:

  1. Have to be motivated to want to buy from you
  2. Make a decision to buy from you
  3. Want to feel convinced that they have made the right decision
  4. Look for reassurance that they are doing the right thing

Once the customer has placed their order, they are at the second stage in the buying process. If a sales person doesn’t provide the relevant reassurance that validates the benefits of their decision, then the likelihood of the customer cancelling their order increases dramatically.

This is often referred to as ˜Buyers Remorse.” Therefore, it is important to provide tangible demonstrations that the customer has made the right decision.

These can include the use of testimonials, higher initial servicing levels, regular contact and, if appropriate, training sessions on the areas effected by the introduction of your product or service.

There are a number of additional ways that can improve the post-sale part of the sales process:

  • Set a service agenda for the first 30 days after the sale, so that your customer knows exactly what they can expect from you. This may include visits and phone calls at the point when they receive your product, or your service begins. This enables you to have established contact frequency at important times when teething problems could occur.
  • Ask each customer for their preferences in the way you manage their account and ensure that they have all the contact information for every eventuality.
  • After the call, send a hand-written note thanking them for their business – this is a personal touch that only takes a moment, yet leaves the customer feeling valued and special.
  • Identify which areas in particular the customer feels is vital to the way you manage their account, so that you can pay close attention to these areas.
  • Agree up-front how future problems will be handled.
  • Document all successes and evidence of your value in writing. For example: “I noticed that your delivery was received on time last Thursday and am delighted that you now have our products in stock.”
  • Actively ask questions to check their satisfaction. For example, “Was everything as you had expected?”Is there anything we need to change?”This helps to flush out problems and manages the customer’s expectations, so they feel they are genuinely being looked after. If there is a problem, the earlier you know about it the sooner you can remedy it.
  • Resolve any complaints quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction.

Never think of the first sale as the end of the sales process, but rather the beginning of the next sales cycle. What you do after you’ve made the first sale determines whether you get the next one, and the one after that, and referrals.

Be assured, the more tender loving care you sprinkle on your customers, the greater the yield you can anticipate in return!

Every customer is a potential advocate – and beyond that, an evangelist.

The Fine Art of Intuitive Management

As a young man obsessed with driving rapid sports cars (often far too rapidly) I considered myself  fortunate to have my very own mechanic, who would regularly tune my latest “beast” 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, it is something that I specialize in coaching: 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 peformance levels?” If you can, congratulations, you are practicing the fine art of intuitive management!

The Excellence Just Keeps on Coming!

In case you haven’t heard, the July edition of Top Sales Magazine is now published.

The big news this month is that we are moving from a monthly publication to a weekly one, from August: It will be lighter, more easily digestible, more dynamic, more succinct … in fact everything you want from the most popular sales magazine on the planet!

So what is in this collector’s final edition?

To begin with, I interview Sam Reese, CEO of MHI Global, the most successful, and significant sales training company in the world.

There are guest articles from: Etien D’Hollander, Diane Helbig, Kurt Shaver, Mike Lieberman, Colleen Francis, Benadette McClelland, and Krystle Vermes.

Our regular feature writers, Barb Giamanco, Babette Ten Haken, Tamara Schenk, Keith Rosen, Deb Calvert, Nancy Nardin and Dave Kurlan are all on great form.

My piece this month tackles the most obvious malaise affecting sales professionals everywhere “Yes But Can You Sell?”

In the spotlight is Jill Harrington

Finally, we reveal this month’s Top Sales Article and Top Sales Blog Post.

It really is a bumper farewell edition that you will not want to miss.


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Are You About to be “Commoditized?”

It’s good to be back – but then it was great to be away!

The saw is renewed, and I am anxious to fill the next two months with the many tasks, which need to be completed before I head off again. So many exciting new developments coming up over at Top Sales World, which I am looking forward to sharing with you soon.

Vacations – and downtime – should allow the creative juices to re-generate, and begin flowing again. That has certainly been my experience, so here we go again ….

For the sake of this post, it is important that we all understand the term “commoditization” This from good old Wikki …

“In business literature, commoditization is defined as the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers. It is the movement of a market from differentiated to undifferentiated price competition and from monopolistic to perfect competition. This is not to be confused with commodification, which is a Marxist term for things being assigned economic value which they (according to Marxist theory) did not previously possess, by their being produced and presented sale, as opposed to personal use.”

I believe that most of us recognize the onward, relentless march of commoditization – although some people in sales appear deliberately oblivious, and are hanging on in the vain hope that it is something that only happens to other people; other industries; other sectors.

The topic came up over dinner last week, when a close friend related this horrific story: He arrived in England three days before Christmas last year, and anxious to quickly check into his hotel before heading off to dinner, parked outside the front entrance, grabbed his “man-bag” and went in. Fifteen minutes later he re-appeared outside to find his car had been stolen. In fact, not only his car, but his suitcases; presents for his children; his laptop … everything, and all he had left was what he was standing up in plus the contents of his “man-bag” and those contents turned out to be his saviour.

If you have no idea what a “man-bag” is, I should explain: Popular in France for years, they are now making a big come-back in Europe, and no self-respecting executive goes anywhere without one. I actually have three, and I keep my iPad in there, plus mobile telephone, assorted essentials like tissues … you get the picture. My suits have never been so bulge-free! But I digress.

Armed with what remained of his possessions, and some incredible support and assistance from the hotel staff, my friend – after two large brandy’s – set about resurrecting his Christmas: He began by arranging for a hire car to be delivered – using his iPad of course. Then he honored his dinner date, and calmed down.

The next morning, he again went online and ordered replacement clothes from Boden and Ralph Lauren (what a great choice – he has so much style, my friend) Then he ordered replacement Christmas presents to be delivered to the rented cottage where he was spending the holiday with his children. Next he was concerned about being able to buy all the food and wine he needed, so he placed his order with Waitrose (other supermarkets provide similar services) to be delivered on Christmas Eve …In fact, in less than one hour, he completely salvaged his, and his families’ Christmas, online, from the comfort of his hotel room, and not a salesperson involved – Christmas for him had been totally commoditized.

If you think back even three years ago, could that have happened?

Slowly but surely, more and more products, solutions and services are being commoditized: My definition of a commodity? If it can be purchased online with a credit card, it is a commodity, and one of the few restrictors is a credit limit.

So how long will it be before you are replaced by a credit card acceptance screen?

There is a huge post-commoditization grave-yard somewhere, full of petrol pump attendants, insurance agents, mobile phone salesmen and women, newspaper sellers, and a whole host of other ex-salespeople made redundant by the internet – and it is filling up fast. Careers are dying to get in there!

Change is inevitable – it is the one constant we can rely on: It cannot be refused or resisted, so we have to accept it and adapt and thrive. The sales space isn’t dying, it is just re-shaping itself, and what comes next is bound to be more exciting than what has been before – we just have to fully embrace it and keep the shutters of our minds in the up position.

Gone Fishing!

This year – and the past three months in particular – have been pretty gruelling. You only have to look at what my small team have achieved this week – five major initiatives, all, almost delivered on time.

We are  disappointed that the gremlins spoiled the new  “Brave New Top Sales World” launch, but anyone who has ever built a new website, never mind one as complex as TSW, will understand the need to legislate for “Sod’s Law”

However, we look forward with tremendous optimism, as we contemplate the upcoming Top Sales Academy and TSW14 – our first venture into the conference arena.

What differentiates TSW, is the commitment and loyalty of the contributing team – the very best sales minds on the planet. We deliver what frontline sales professionals want to hear and read, and they do not pay to do that. They do it because they share my commitment and passion for wanting to continually raise the bar in terms of sales excellence.

TSW is also totally focused on re-dressing the imbalance of males/females in the sales environment – and in leadership roles.

Finally, unlike other similar sites and venues, we are not driven to make huge profits. Rather, our driving motivation is to continue to ensure free access to the very best resources, supported by partners and sponsors who share our vision.

It is no coincidence  that TSW is now the most visited sales-related venue, and our monthly magazine is read by four times more salespeople than the next best offering.

But, do you know what? We have barely started. There is so much more we can and will achieve.

I am off to renew the saw, and plot the next phase of TSW. As a consequence, I will next post in July.

Please do get across to the new Top SalesWorld as often as you can, and enjoy all the new elements and resources.

More soon ….

The 2014 Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers Announced

In 2012 we decided to discover find who really were the sales and marketing experts, gurus, commentators, authors and spokespeople who genuinely influence the way we think, sell and market our companies/products/solutions,

We used the services of a small team of professional researchers and the criteria we used to benchmark each individual’s impact within the sales space was:

  • Social media presence – Twitter/ Facebook/ Klout score/LinkedIn authority.
  • Quality, regularity and popularity of written work – books, blog posts, articles, EBooks etc.
  • ?Active engagement recognized resource sites.
  • And not least, a commitment to continually advance selling and marketing practices.

This year, we have been particularly mindful of the fact that whilst the impact of social media continues to grow, many of the people who have a huge influence on us are not actually actively engaged on say Twitter, Facebook and the like. Conversely, some of the loudest voices in the “social mediaosphere” are not, in reality, saying very much of consequence.

Congratulations to everyone who made the list, and thank you for adding so much value to the way we sell, and market ourselves. VIsit Here