Who said: “Selling is THE Key Factor in the Total Marketing Process?” I Did!

Eight years ago I wrote this article ….

Far too many companies have devalued selling for far too long and some business leaders 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” They have developed a series of euphemisms such as: “Sales Engineer” “Account Executive”Technical Sales Consultant”Business Development Associate” etc. But nowadays we accept that we all sell, everyday – doctors, lawyers, estate agents, architects and politicians.

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

Sir John Harvey-Jones said in his book All Together Now, “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”

Our commercial functions, particularly the sales team, represent our forward line, (offense) and if they are not scoring regularly we cannot possibly achieve our overall commercial objectives – i.e. nothing happens until somebody sells something and all of that investment in costly accounting software, new office equipment, expensive IT systems, glossy magazines, high-tech office etc. will count for nothing.

We can therefore say with complete confidence, that selling really is THE key factor in the total marketing process. A company that is selling well is doing well!”

Then in an interview six years ago I was asked the question: “Will professional selling ever be the same again?”  I responded: “No, of course it won’t for all the reasons I have been highlighting for some time. It’s an old but accurate cliché – everything changes, nothing stays the same etc.

In my view, professional selling, and the key word there is professional, is about to take on a whole new image. All of the dead and inefficient wood is being removed, and what we are going to be left with will look a whole lot better.

As customers become smarter, more discerning, more knowledgeable and more self-sufficient, we will see a new breed of salesperson develop.

The order takers and glib talkers will no longer have a place in our sales world and in their stead will come intelligent strategic orchestrators and business advisors, looking to develop long term allies. They will have the “knowledge” and they will use leading edge technology. They will succeed because they expect to. There is no turning back now.”

So you can see a pattern emerging here: Eight years is not a long time in the general scheme of things is it? Where once I believed that an organization could not function without a successful “engine room” – a highly skilled sales team, performing at optimum levels – I can now see 80% of those same companies possibly performing without a sales team. I can envisage that within five years, as more and more products and solutions become “commoditized” the two most critical functions will be marketing and customer support.

The ramifications for the sales industry are going to be considerable, and the sales training industry in particular needs to prepare itself – and its customers/clients.

Where we once doubted the validity and practicality of functioning with purely inside sales teams, we must now consider the next natural successor – commoditization.

The clock is ticking …

You Are a “Generalist” – Unless of Course You Are a “Specialist?”

I have been thinking a lot about this recently – the differences between so called “specialists” and the alternative, which must logically be “generalists”

It is easy to imagine what a specialist is; someone who is perceived to be if not an expert, then certainly someone who is focused; has chosen to focus on one specific area, thing, sector, topic, subject … you see what I mean. Whereas a generalist is described thus: “One who has broad general knowledge and skills in several areas

Maybe generalists could also be labelled a “Jack (Jill) of all trades” which insinuates “master of none” but actually that is far from true. When I think about the sales space, and some of my acquaintances, colleagues and friends, it is very easy – well for me anyway – to categorize most of them: Linda Richardson, Dr. Tony Alessandra, Jim Cathcart, Jeffrey Gitomer, Dave Stein, Neil Rackham, Dave Kurlan – to name but a few – are definitely generalists, because they have such an all-round, in-depth knowledge of everything sales. Experience is part of that, but so is the depth and breadth of their interest in – and commitment to – the profession.

When I think of specialists, I think of Tamara Schenk (Salesenablement) Jill Konrath (Lead generation/new business development) Joanne Black (Referral selling) Barb Giamanco (Social Selling) Wendy Weiss (Cold calling) Trish Bertuzzi (Inside sales) Lori Richardson (SMB) Dan McDade (Lead generation) plus a whole host of sales management specialists and an entire stadium’s worth of social media experts … and so on (There is always a danger that I will offend someone by not including them on this list – please don’t be, it is late and I have a copy deadline to meet)

So who is better, the generalist or the specialist?

In that environment there isn’t a better: Some have chosen to concentrate on a particular aspect or area; others cannot be confined to one “discipline”

What’s the correlation with front-line selling? Well it is simply this: Commentators like me evangelise about the need – as a professional salesman or woman – to become an industry expert; to know everything there is to know about what is happening in your sector and in your market, so that you can have meaningful dialogue with your clients and prospects. I highlighted this point in a recent post, when I suggested that buyers today are only interested in having interactions that are “wholly relevant” But here there is a dichotomy …

What if you are selling into a variety of industries? What if you cannot select your customers, and you have to rely on them selecting you? What if you have no control of your typical buying/selling cycle? Then of course you are having a much more difficult time – you have, by the very nature of your role, to become a “jack of all industries” and logically you will probably be “master of none”

I have said it so many times before, all customers/prospects/clients are unique, and so are salespeople – and their development needs.

Oh, and me? I am a specialist … and a generalist: I used to be indecisive, but now I am less certain.

The Ongoing Search for the “Sales Holy Grail”

Frequently, there are two main pitfalls that even experienced salespeople can fall into in terms of activities. First, they simply aren’t doing enough. What’s enough? Enough telephone calls to make appointments, enough face-to-face calls, enough calls that involve or influence the decision-makers. In general, the more focused sales activity salespeople generate, the greater the number of sales opportunities they can create.

But let’s be clear, we can all be busy fools; quality trumps quantity every day of the week.

Second, but equally important, salespeople often aren’t clear about how to identify the prospects most likely to have a genuine need for their product or service. Without an objective way to prioritize which prospects to contact first and/or an efficient strategy for contacting them, salespeople are doomed to waste a large percentage of their time.

Another huge dilemma for many salespeople is how to divide their time between servicing existing clients and generating new business from new prospects. Existing clients frequently make requests for service that could be dealt with by support staff. But salespeople, who lack a disciplined, future-orientated plan for generating new contacts and sales, often find themselves spending more time attending to “urgent” tasks for existing accounts instead.

A common approach among salespeople can be summarized in the saying “If you throw enough mud against the wall, some of it is bound to stick” This approach is exhausting, demoralizing, extremely unproductive, and very expensive in the long term.

Marketing now provides another interesting dimension to activity management. Apart from product or service knowledge, salespeople require knowledge about prospects, clients, and market trends. Therefore, if the information those salespeople require is not relayed in an efficient manner, their face-to-face selling activities are dramatically reduced.

In the book Emerson’s Essays, there is a section on “Law of Compensation” which 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?

The “Sales Holy Grail?” – Sustained sales growth achieved efficiently, reliably, consistently and by design.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What Exactly Makes a Great Sales Coach?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Objectives to Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have Our Customers and Clients Become Irreversibly Promiscuous?

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

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

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

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

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

So how does that work?

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

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

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

Build interpersonal trust

Create and maintain a positive image of the sales organization

Inspire respect for their company

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

Identify ways to strengthen the quality of their business relationship

Help the customer meet needs within his or her organization

Deal with issues openly and honestly

Deliver on promises

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

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

In Summary: Long Term Allies and Mutually Beneficial Agreements.

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

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

Maintain regular contact with current and prospective customers

Alert customers to new developments in own organization

Review the business relationship underlying each account on a regular basis

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

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

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

Grant access and information about their customers to the supplier organizations

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

Whatever Happened to the Lone Ranger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fine Art of Intuitive Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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