The Search for the “Sales Holy Grail” Continues

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.

Poor Quality Activity: 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 priorities 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.

Speed of Relaying Customer Information: 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.

Harder Rather Than Smarter: 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 and by design.

If a Salesperson Possessed Just Three Characteristics …

One of the most interesting and enjoyable exercises I perform before I engage with a new client is to conduct a full audit of the prospect’s commercial functions specifically the sales and marketing teams. One of the first results I always look for are those from the “Attitude to Change” assessment: It measures three personal characteristics, which have nothing to do with selling skills whatsoever  – or so you may think.

Creativity and Flair is the ability to look outside the square and to challenge paradigms when necessary; it means, for example, the ability to create solutions to meet client’s needs, the ability to think laterally when the situation requires it and the capability to constantly think, “How can we improve this” rather than accepting the status quo.

Discipline is all about being in control; it’s about working in an organized and efficient way, setting and achieving daily/weekly/monthly/annual objectives. It’s also about having a game plan and being in charge of one’s life and understanding what one both wants and needs.

Realism is slightly more difficult to articulate, but essentially it means that all of the hurdles that are likely to be encountered on the “road to success” have been taken into account.

Realistic individuals understand that success – whatever measure is used – will not be handed to them on a plate.

How do you think you measure up? Want to find out?

You can take this very quick test, which will give you an instant result. HERE

I’ll tell you what your score means on Tuesday!

Right, that’s me done until next Tuesday, I am off for an Easter break. Have a wonderful w/e, wherever you are. JF 

Negotiation: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over …

I do have a concern that as more market sectors become “price sensitive” we are losing the art of negotiation:  I also understand and appreciate that many frontline sales professionals – and senior executives too, for that matter – are not comfortable negotiating. I enjoy it very much, and I have always particularly relished the final act, where things can get very tense.

The closing stages of any negotiation are vital to the overall success of the final deal.

There will come a time when both parties can sense an outcome is possible and each negotiator needs to be careful not to be too eager to close – or else the other party will be tempted to hold back for further concessions.

Once a likely outcome is seen, either party may define outstanding issues, compare arguments and objections, review the position to date and agree a deadline for agreement. If one side avoids making these decisions, the other must probe to find out the reason and deal with it effectively. Negotiators must be careful at this stage to identify tactical delay, which deliberately attempts to force further concessions.

The best solution to aim for always is one where both parties feel they have done well, despite having to concede on certain issues. This is of course called a “win-win” solution.

Once either side feels they have arrived at the final deal, it is important to signal this to the other party.

Body language can say as much about what you are thinking as speech. If you have made your final offer, look as if it is your final offer.

Simply gathering up your papers, looking at the other side directly in the eye and saying “That is my final offer” can do this, and silence can be a powerful tool in convincing them you mean what you say.

Be wary of splitting the difference. If you offer to split the difference, you have, in effect, given the other side a concession that is one-sided. You have said you are prepared to move without asking for commitment in return.

The final consideration is when you have done the deal and both parties are in agreement. Record the details and agree with the other parties involved that your interpretation of events matches theirs. That way there will be no unexpected comeback in the inevitable post-negotiation period when either side reviews how well or badly he/she has done. Again, this will be minimized if the solution you have arrived at benefits both parties.

A final word of caution …

The closing stages need to be approached with caution. It has been shown that the majority of concessions are given or traded in the last 5% of the time allocated for negotiation. That means if you negotiate for one hour, the last three minutes are when you are most vulnerable.

Post-Mortems Are Not the End, But Rather the Beginning

What I want to discuss today 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, and 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 is 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 politically.

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 by that is that insufficient time has been invested into asking all of the right questions of all 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 of 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, because 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.

You see, post-mortems are not the end; they are indeed the beginning … of your enlightenment!

Are You Merely Just One of the Flock or do You Stand Out?

Exceptionally, I recently travelled back to France via the ferry: It is not my favorite method of travelling across the Channel for a number of reasons; the service can be unpredictable; far too much queuing and waiting (I am not known for my patience) and the crossing time is much longer than via the Eurotunnel. However on this occasion I was “time rich” and it was a beautiful day, which meant the sea had a duck-pond resemblance – totally devoid of any anger.

As the ferry pulled out of port, two fishing trawlers were coming the other way after a long day’s labor, with a huge posse (yes I know the collective noun for a squadron of seagulls is “flock” but they were following so closely, as if being lead by a nautical sheriff.) Nothing unusual about that, happens every day everywhere in the world.

An hour later, about half way across, I popped up on deck to stretch my legs and enjoy some sea air. I immediately noticed this huge gull all on his own, flying alongside the boat. We were miles from land, and there were no fish on board, so why was he accompanying us? In hope? Was he disorientated? Had his GPS malfunctioned? Received some bad advice from the restaurant section of Gull Weekly? What was my Jonathan Livingstone doing? I was genuinely puzzled and I needed an answer.

As I was about to return to my car prior to embarkation, I bumped into the Purser who had been so helpful earlier on when I mislaid my sunglasses, and he provided the answers I was so desperately searching for: Apparently, halfway across the Channel, the restaurant and bars stop selling food and much of what hasn’t been consumed is thrown overboard – to a waiting gull (singular)

This got me thinking about a conversation I had with a colleague last week, who revealed that his largest account had just taken 80% of the major account team and relocated them to the business development division: What my friend could not understand was that his client was in a stable sector with no downturn in the foreseeable future; 80% of their business traditionally comes from existing clients, and this was all now going to be put at risk on a whim – they were going to join the flocks and the squadrons scrapping over every single opportunity.

Let’s be clear, everyone knows that we have to continually top up that hopper with new business to replace the customers lost to competition, amalgamation, shutdowns, etc. But the math just don’t add up. Let me give you an example..

My business - that is my consultancy – is typically very similar. For the past twenty years, 80% of my revenue has come from existing clients, and I have always known that as contracts complete, or companies merge, or businesses are sold, I will need to find an additional 20% each year to balance the books and to continually increase overall turnover year on year. As a consequence, I ensure that my existing clients enjoy 80% of my attention – that is common sense surely? If I was negligent I might lose more clients, and then I would need to find an additional 30 or even 40% new clients.

And isn’t that what is happening in the sales space today? Companies are spending so much time looking for new business that they are losing existing clients – it is all becoming counter productive – and more costly.

The other very important and significant thing that my clients and I do is we target specifically the accounts that we want. We learn all we can about our prospects long before we make our approach: We use a couple of solutions to capture their business information, personal information and their online conversations. All of this intelligence helps us to understand their immediate commercial objectives and allows us to engage with them earlier in any potential cycle - much earlier than our competitors: As they are just waking up and smelling the coffee, quite often we are just finishing the cheese course at dinner.

We are that Jonathan Livingstone; usually totally detached from the feeding frenzy….

Do People Still Buy from People?

There is a saying, which has been around for as long as I can remember – and that is a pretty long time – “People buy people first”

What that essentially means of course is before buyers thought about your solution they needed to be sold on you personally.

So has that all changed now?

Well, yes and no.

Over the past few years, I have consistently suggested that “When they first encounter you, buyers really don’t care about you, your company or your products. They care even less about your past successes, your awards or your client base. They only care about what you, your company and your products can do for THEM!” And I firmly believe this to be the case.

What has happened/is happening is that selling has become de-personalized.

As buyers enter the buying/selling cycle much further up the chain, they already know everything about your products/solutions/company. As a consequence, 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.

Outstanding sales results today depend on:

The ability to think from the customer’s point of view

Understanding the customer’s agenda, buying cycle and best interests

Beyond a superficial reading of immediate customer needs, salespeople must gain a deeper understanding of both the buyer’s long-term goals and the overall business climate

Today, the salesperson who clings to the product orientation of a decade ago can expect to become extinct within five years.

As client companies branch into new markets and unfamiliar territories, they are demanding unique, flexible solutions from their vendors – customized to support specific goals

Another myth, which can be exploded, is that customers value flexibility: In fact being too flexible (nice!) can undermine the sales relationship.

Now, the best salespeople have become “facilitators” They understand that unless they are bringing something unique to the table, they have no value However, in most industries, differentiation is becoming far harder to prove – the playing fields are now very level in terms of price/performance/support etc.

So why are the top 10% of sales professionals going to survive and thrive? What do they do/have that differentiates them? In a word, “Knowledge”

They understand that personality is no longer relevant at the front-end of the sales cycle, but it is their superior knowledge of their industry/sector/company/products/self.

They have commercial acumen. They can read and interpret financial balance sheets.

One of the first questions they ask is “So, please tell me what your short/medium and long-term commercial objectives are” and they then quickly establish if their solutions can help the prospect achieve any of those objectives.

They have a reasonable intellectual capacity: For example, they understand what is happening with the economy, and how/why it is affecting their industry – this in turn helps them to see their prospect’s challenges through their prospect’s eyes.

So yes, people do still buy people first, but the rules of engagement have changed forever.

What effect does this have on “relationship selling?” It means that you have to sell first – prove yourself first - before you can hope to develop a relationship.

Leading with the notion that you can build any sort of relationship from the outset is hopelessly out of touch – but that is precisely what around 90% of front-line sales professionals are still trying to do.

But be assured “relationship selling” is alive and well, and reports of its death have been wildly exaggerated.

Choices Make Buying Decisions So Much Easier

Many years ago, a very good friend of mine who owned a chain of sports shops and gyms sought my advice: He said that he thought the quality of the entire customer experience could be considerably improved throughout his business, but didn’t really know where to start. Knowing that I would be initially reticent because retail and B2C is not really my “bag” (pun fully intended) he made me an offer that was difficult to refuse – I won’t go into detail, let’s just say it involved free sports gear and gym membership for several years!

It has occurred to me since that perhaps I was one of the first “secret shoppers” because I visited all of the branches and outlets, buying goods and of course observing the staff. One of the most significant insights I gained was to view the whole buyer-seller experience from the other perspective – which as a more frequent seller than buyer was eye-opening: And this formed the basis of my first session with the staff – you can call it empathy, but actually, it was much more than that; I asked them all to look at themselves through their buyers eyes. The results were quite astonishing.

The second most important point I made was that far too frequently, they were failing to offer the customer choices – they were not realizing that the customer did not know what they did not know. They arrived in the store, often with a pre-conceived idea of what they wanted to buy; the brand; the color; the price-range, but actually, it may not have been the ideal choice, and there may well have been a better option. So getting the staff to ask a few simple questions in a gentle non-threatening way often revealed some startling expectation gaps – and inevitably resulted in more satisfied customers. I know that all sounds very obvious, but I suggest that the next time you buy anything from a retail outlet, notice how you are being served and how you are being sold to.

So the next change I was keen to implement, was to get them to understand why people buy – the buying motivators. I suspect that some of you may be thinking, oh that’s easy, it is all determined by price – wrong! Others of you perhaps thought, ah, to avoid pain or to gain pleasure? That’s far too simplistic. According to my chum Jeffrey Gitomer, people buy for the following reasons.

  • To solve a problem
  • They need it
  • They think they need it
  • To get a competitive edge
  • To save money or to be more efficient
  • To eliminate mistakes
  • To feel good
  • To show off
  • To change a mood
  • To solidify a relationship
  • They were talked into it
  • It sounded too good to refuse
  • They got a great deal (or thought they did)

And I agree with most of all that, but it doesn’t get away from the fact that we always think that a buyer is going to choose between a competitor and us. What if they could choose between us and us?

You see, as sellers we often become so convinced that we have the “perfect” solution, we fail to see that solution from our buyer’s perspective, and as a consequence, we only offer one option – and yet we all like choices don’t we? We don’t like to feel that we have accepted the first and only proposal – we like to compare.

Using this simple philosophy, I got the sales staff in the sports shops to start offering options: “OK sir/madam, with the running shoe you are looking at, we actually have four options, the Nike 67 model, the Adidas 78 model, the…” And then I persuaded them to try something even more clever; for the first time, I got them to ask about budget – if you know anything about retail, it is very rare for a shop assistant, particularly in a sports shop to question you about your budget. Of course they didn’t come out with “So, can you tell me what your budget is?” that would have been far too formal, and pretty dumb! Rather I got them to ask “How much are you looking to spend on your running shoes today?” Emphasis on today - just to make sure that the customer knew they were expected to make that purchase before they left the store!

With budget established, choices were presented – and the final “piece de resistance?” Taking the opportunity to “sell up” Having helped the customer try on and try out the four pairs within budget - the obvious choices – I then got them to ask themselves, if the customer had a slightly higher budget, would they have shown them any other choices? If they would have done, then they owe it to the customer to show them what they could buy if they were prepared to stretch the budget – and we have all done that, haven’t we? So the final conversation with the customer would go something like this: “Ok, so those are all the choices in the price range you have given me, and finally, may I just show you these – they are slightly more expensive, but the benefits are … and the additional value they provide is….”

The net result of that very brief coaching exercise – retail therapy? – was that staff became far more customer-aware, which resulted in happier customers who returned more often – and told their friends – so profits increased, as did bonuses to the staff, who were then happier themselves. Now that is a real “win-win” success story isn’t it?

But selling-up is not really the point of this post: The point is if you want your customer or prospect to choose between you and you, give them choices – provide them with options, and be creative! Otherwise it will be between you and the competition and the odds on making the sale suddenly slump to 50-50!

How Much Did That Lead Cost You – Honestly?

Here’s an interesting question for you: How much is it costing your company to generate one lead?

Here’s another equally interesting question: How many leads does your company need to generate to create one sale?

I have spent the past two weeks asking those two questions of friends, colleagues, fellow sales commentators, clients, prospects, – in fact, everyone with whom I have come into contact. And do you know what? Nobody really knows the answer. Of course there were some pretty wild, finger-in-the-air guesses, but not one rock-solid, convincing response that you would bet your children’s inheritance on.

Don’t you find that somewhat alarming?

I do, particularly when there appears to be such a concentrated focus these days on creating new opportunities. No wonder sales departments are viewed with so much suspicion by the “grey men” in finance; they must be totally convinced that we are completely out of control.

So what’s the answer?

The reality is that there are so many sources of leads that the process of generating leads can sometimes cause sales people to feel overwhelmed when tackling this vital sales activity.

Every organization is unique and can employ a variety of approaches in their quest to attract the attention of their target market. (This will become even clearer once you have created your Ideal Customer Profile). That’s why it is essential to invest some time analyzing which lead generation initiatives worked well in the past; why they worked well and what improvements can be made to optimize their effectiveness.

There are three areas that you must consider that can help evaluate different lead generation initiatives with greater objectivity.

1. Effectiveness: Which lead generation activities produced the most quality leads?

2. Cost: What were the tangible costs for each lead generation initiative?

3. Time: How much time did it take to initiate and follow-up on each initiative?

1. Effectiveness

  • What number of leads were generated?
  • How many of these leads became qualified prospects?
  • What business was generated from these leads?
  • What is the projected probability of business generated from these leads for the next 12 months?

2. Cost

  • How much did this lead generation initiative cost?
  • Using the number of actual leads generated, what was the cost per lead?
  • What profit contribution was made from leads generated over a 12-month period? (Gross margin from sales, minus the cost of the initiative.)

3. Time

  • How much time did salespeople invest in following up on these leads?
  • How much time did they spend on leads that did not become qualified prospects?
  • What was the cost of salespeople’s time spent on this lead generation initiative?

Unless we have an accurate handle on our lead generation activities, our salespeople will continue to be overwhelmed, whilst those grey men will continue to be underwhelmed!

The Essence of Effective Social Networking

Have you noticed that some people network effortlessly? Others become “great friends” after merely exchanging a couple of emails or tweets and it seems that technology has offered us the opportunity to suddenly expand our social circles ten fold  – even one hundred fold – without ever leaving our desk.

But, do you ever wonder how shallow all of that might turn out to be? Some people appear unable to distinguish between “colleagues” “acquaintances” and genuine “friends”

At the end of the day, I suppose it all boils down to one’s definition of friendship: I have been communicating online with some people for five or six years, and exchanged hundreds of emails, but I cannot think of them all as friends although I might like and respect them very much. The point here is that they are part of my network, and I do consider myself to be an effective networker.

Whether it is accidental or planned, formal or informal, random or structured, while discussing 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 effective 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.

Two-Way Process

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

All of this is the essence of effective networking

It is what a friend (yes, a genuine one) calls “getting it” - in fact I think she invented the term. She is also responsible for me standing back and re-evaluating my online relationships, but I haven’t admitted that to her yet!