October 30, 2008

Experts outsell salespeople every time

The level of expert knowledge is the key factor differentiating high-performance sales people from the rest.

The demise of the salesperson

Buyers are increasingly sceptical of sales people. Experience has thought them not to believe everything that they are told, or top rely on the salesperson for; insight, information, or expertise.

The rise of the expert

Nobody wants to be sold to. Yes, people need to buy things and making the right choice is getting more and more difficult. But, for most buyers the fewer sales people they have to meet the better.

That's because most sales people make the buyer's decision, more, rather than less difficult. Experts, on the other hand, are always welcome. So, to are trusted advisors. That is why experts out-sell salespeople all the time.

New job titles don't make experts

In recent years many salespeople were re-packaged as 'consultants', 'advisors', or 'specialists'. But little else changed and buyers were not foolled.

Titles alone don't change the salesperson’s; level of product and industry knowledge, credibility in the eyes of the buyer, or ability to ‘get down and dirty’ in solving customer’s problems.

We asked a group of 50 professional B2B sales people in London if they considered themselves to be experts in their fields. Only 5 answered yes.

Making the transition

From 'sales person' to 'expert advisor' is a small change in words, but a major change in attitude, skills levels and sales approach.

Salespeople begin to walk taller when they see themselves as an expert. They also begin to act a little different. Buyers begin to act differently too, engaging more, listening more and trusting more.

The expert has to be able to:

  • Identify customer needs, some of which may be underneath the surface, by asking good questions.
  • Consult and engage with the customer, on his/her, being sufficiently confident and knowledgeable to advise, educate, persuade and inform.
  • Demonstrate knowledge, without appearing as a show off, or ‘know-it-all’.

Product Knowledge is not enough

The number one complaint of buyers used to be lack of product knowledge. But product knowledge is only part of the expertise equation.

Knowing the product and in particular how it works, is not the primary interest of today's buyers. Buyers want to know how it will help their business meet its particular needs and challenges.

The first step is to become an expert in your solutions and how customers use and benefit from them. From there it is to become an expert in your industry and your marketplace.

Are you an expert?
Take the test:

  • Does the customer see you as qualified to help and advise them, or simply as somebody trying to sell something?
  • Do you know the customers' industry, its opportunities and challenges? Have you taken the time to really understand their business and its strategies?
  • Can you tell the customer how others have benefited from your solutions and in detail how they are using them?
  • Do you have some insights, or information that is otherwise not available to the buyer?
  • Have you had enough product training? Are you certified?
  • Have you read leading research papers on the industry and the technology in question?
  • How visible is your profile as an expert; have you written something, joined a professional body, or given a talk?

Sales Avoidance Tactics

We have all got them – that is reasons to delay making that cold call, following up on that lead, or visiting that prospect.

Don't feel like making that call today? Well you are not alone! Jeff Thull in his book 'Selling Excellence' quotes research suggesting that 90% of sales people have some degree of sales call reluctance, with 40% having sever reluctance.

A nice term for them is Sales Avoidance Tactics – attending a management meeting, preparing a report, submitting an expenses claim, sending emails, etc.– all tasks that compete with sales activities for our attention.

No sales person is reluctant to collect the cheque, or co-sign the sales order – it is other parts of the sales process , in particular, lead generation that people run from. Specifically, the number one area of reluctance is cold calling (about which you find lots of information elsewhere in this blog).

So, you are not alone. But, knowing that won't get the job done. Sooner or later (and preferably sooner) a bit of 'just do it' is required. So launch yourself bravely, with your goal in mind, and get stuck in.

Remember, if you do the hard jobs first the easy jobs will take care of themselves.
Start small and start easy. Pick the people you feel most confortable approaching first and block some slots from your diary. Have all your preparation (including list, call guide, email, etc.) and practice (role playing) done and find out about the person and company before you call looking for a common link, connection, or topic of conversation. Then take the phone up and dont leave it down till you are done.

Remember as Dale Carengie said ‘Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it... that is the quickest and surest way every yet discovered to conquer fear.’

Protect the Customer's Ego!

You are 'beating around the bush' with that potential customer a
colleague said to me after a sales call recently. I asked him to
explain and he added 'you make a point or ask the customer a question
that cuts directly to the point, but then you dilute it by adding
something like 'what do you think', or 'do you think that might apply

I must admit I struggled to explain why. They I remembered two
golden rules of sales - 'protect the customers ego' and even more
basic: 'don't make the customer feel foolish'.

I like a good headline as much as the next person and bold type such
as '90% of managers fail to budget properly for IT projects '
certainly grabs attention, but isn't it really a disguised insult to
the customer.

If you are going to poke your nose into the customers business and
he/she opens up to tell about the business you have to be very
careful. Selling entails identifying problems and creating tension
for their resolution, but the pace at which that happens very

You may quickly arrive at what you feel is the ideal solution for the
customer and may even struggle to hide your surprise at how obvious it
is, but slow down and make sure you bring the customer along at
his/her own pace to the same realizations.

So take your time to air all the clients problems, or short comings
and balance with recognition and praise for the companies successes
and achievements. Finally, don't making your suggestions in a way
that will make you look like a ''know it all''.

October 29, 2008

Parent, Adult... Oh! and Salesperson!

You have probably heard of the Parent – Adult – Child concept. Not it
is being applied to sales and it has really got me thinking.

There are 3 types of roles we play in our relationships and
with others - Parent – Adult – Child.

The parent role conveys 'I know best' and 'do what your told', it is a
talking down to somebody who is considered to be younger, less
experienced, or less knowledgable. And hey, that is what many sales
conversations end up being!

Think about it. The customer says 'I are very busy, so if you
wouldn't mind lets skip meeting
and just send me in a proposal in
response to the questions we have outlined in our brief'.

Or the sales person who opens a conversation with 'Most companies
(like yours) are struggling
to meet their legal requirements in
respect of… we make sure they are fully compliant.'

Sounds like a parent to me, talking down to a child in both instances.
What does that imply about its effectiveness? Well, you guessed it.

It's time for sales people and customers alike to get a dialogue going
that is based on equality of roles and respect.

Don’t waste your time selling to people you don’t like!!

Here is a controversial point – don't waste your time selling to
people you don't like!!!

If selling requires building rapport and you can't close the sale
without building a relationship
, then some prospects are never going
to be your customers, or at least your repeatable and referable

Yes, there are the exigencies of being in business and to meet target
you would probably sell to the devil. However, as
you develop your sales approach over longer term the win-win nature of relationships is worth
keeping in mind.

Some customers if they ever buy from you will break your heart when
it comes to service and support. And to get them to the point of
buying you may have to swallow your pride.

If you are going to have to take a deep breath every time you pick up
the phone to a particular prospect
, or feel like you need a therapist
after every meeting with a customer, then think again about the type
of customers you want to be dealing with.

A sales person who conducts himself/herself with professionalism and
respect, deserves the same in return. If a customer or prospect can't
give that, then find somebody else who can appreciate and benefit your

When is the last time you read a sales book?

Topping up skills is very important, and not just every 5 or 10 years
but on an ongoing basis.

All accountants are, for example, required to put a certain amount of
time aside for training or related learning activities
very year of
their professional life. It's compulsory! In fact, if they don't
they cannot continue to be called an accountant!

In sales it should be the same! But alas it's not. In fact, most
salespeople don't do ongoing learning – be it reading a sales book, an
audio cassette, attending a course, or seminar, etc.

In fact, out of a group of 50 UK sales people and their managers
surveyed at an event I was at said they less than 5% had read a sales book in the
past year

Does that mean sales is any less of a profession than accounting? Is
it less demanding, or less sophisticated in terms of its skills and
techniques? Is it more immune to changing market conditions? The
answer on all counts is No. So, why is there little commitment to
ongoing professional development in sales?

OK, I hear you say there is little in any of the books or training
courses that you haven't seen, or heard before. But that is not the
point. You may know it all - but until you are applying it
consistently in our daily sales tasks we need to keep on learning.
Ongoing professional development in sales is essential.

October 24, 2008

7 Ways to Get New Customers

Last evening I had dinner with a group of 26 successful independent consultants. During the meal, each consultant was asked to talk about a key business priority or challenge he, or she was facing at this time.

Guess, what topic took centre stage? Yes you got it - how to get new clients! Approximately 3 out of every 4 consultants present raised this issue in some form or another.

Great! Getting new customers is the most wonderful obsession there is. It has been said that what you focus on expands - so focusing on new customers that is sure to expand too! But what were some of the specific recommendations?

Well here are Top 6 recommendations offered by the consultants:

1. Referrals and use of customer testimonials (customers like to be asked for testimonials provided your write it for them!)

2. Repeat business - 80% of business is repeat, so to get new clients you should invest heavily in our existing clients, also you may need to do lower cost work to get the first project with a client

3. Look at the key success factors you had with key clients and sell that success to others

4. Focus on a sector - demonstrate your expertise (through research) that you have information on that sector to potential customers

5. Write an article and get it published, or circulate it

6. Networking - get out and meet more people who have the potential to be your customers

7. Stay positive - avoiding the all to pervasive recession hype

October 23, 2008

Why I will skip this year’s marketing conference

The list of speakers is impressive and I am sure the buffet food would be good, but I am going to give this year's annual Irish marketing conference.

Looking through the list of speakers and the topics at this year's annual marketing conference on the 5th November in Dublin's Four Seasons Hotel, I am again reminded that marketing of this type is a minority sport.  

That is, it is almost exclusively focused on consumer marketing and aimed at organizations with big advertising and promotions budgets.  While some of my clients may be in the former category, their love affair with traditional marketing is long over.

If I am not going to the event does that mean I am not committed to marketing?  Well, maybe I will show by guarded support by staying at home and re-reading the Marketing Payoff instead. 

Ray Collis, The ASG Group

You should't try to appeal to everybody!

This week I met a sales manager who told me that his solution appealed to almost all segments of the market.  

To this he added, that the functionality of his product was comprehensive - addressing a multitude of customer needs – sales, administration, accounting, etc.  

Was I impressed?  Well, confused is more like it, and that is the same way his customers are likely to be.  The manager and his message was less credible as a result.

Even if your product genuinely 'does everything for everybody', successful marketers know that you have to slice and dice your market and your proposition in order to maximize its market appeal.   Some call it market segmentation, others refer to it as sales focus.

In fact the surest way to dillute your appear to the market is to try to appeal universally to all customers, thereby failing to address the specific needs of any particular customer group.

Success requires tailoring your proposition to different customer groups, or segments so that the key ones feel your solution is ideally suited to their specific needs.  If you alienate other potential customers (outside those you have specifically targeted) so be it. 

Similarly, to get your message across you are going to have to focus in on one or two specific key benefits most relevant to each segment.

Another Manager I met recently told me that there were 4,600 potential customers for his technology solution.  Was I impressed?  Well, yes.  Particularly, as he had a list of them and could tell me how much progress had been made against it!

Want to read more about the importance of strategic focus?  

October 22, 2008

How to Creat Powerful Customer Success Stories

Customer stories and case studies are the most powerful of sales aides. That is because we are all more likely to believe our counterparts that the claims of a salesperson.

In a review of competitors for a client recently, we were struck by the poor standard of client success stories and case studies.

So, here are the lessons for writing powerful case studies:

1. Keep it short – The best client success stories can be communicated in 1 page, including graphics, both logos and contact details. That is 8-12 sentences, plus main heading and 2/3

Use good headlines – there was nothing to get the reader's attention or to encourage him/her to read on

3. Have a Central Point to Communicate
– one that relates to the central benefit of the suppliers solution, don't try to include everything.

4. Have a story to tell
– most case studies are bland, they have more in common with press releases to announce the signing a customer deal that a story of client success

5. Focus on the business, not the product
– too many case studies focus technical implications as opposed to business impact

6. Use powerful quotes
– keep them short and punchy and put them in large font sizes.

7. Use figures and graphs
– quantifying key benefits makes them more tangible.

Top 5 Recruitment Mistakes

Picking sales and marketing people is more difficult than picking any other candidates.  With that in mind here are the Top 5 mistakes made in their recruitment:


1. Job description too broad (essentially combing two or more specific roles into the one) or too vague (e.g. make and log telephone calls with a minimum of X potential customers per week).


2. Not asking the practical questions (e.g. We are beginning a marketing drive in the UK in May, if you had responsibility for it what specifically would you do ensure its success?  What would be your focus in week 1 of the job? Etc.


3. Not asking sufficiently detailed questions about previous roles, activities and achievements and then following up on references.


4. The getting off to a good start (the first month or two are a golden period, if it is not successful and the candidate is not managed properly in this period, it is very difficult to change things later on).


5.  Failing to ensure the candidate is a hard worker, with an action-bias and practical bent.  As somebody once said ' I would rather have a body without a suit, than a suit without a body'.

Gambling on a new salesperson?

The success rate for new sales hires is a miserable 33% - that means adding a new sales person to your team is one of the riskiest gambles you can take.  Given recruitment fees and long lead in times it is also one of the most expensive.

Most managers have experience of a failed sales or marketing hire, but how to maximise the chances of success and miminimise the costs of failure?

1. Get the timing right - Too many sales people join organisations at the wrong time - their desk and phone are not ready on the day they arrive, the target segments are not clear, there is no target list of customers, no marketing material, the induction training is not ready, etc.  It can be tempting to recruit a new sales person as soon as possible, however it is very important that the new hire joins when you, your organisation and your market is ready.

2. Prepare the ground first - As a general rule don't bring a sales person on board until you have your sales and marketing strategy set - that is your product is market ready, the sales proposition is clear and the choice of market segments has been validated. 

3. Set the right expectations - Don't be vague in terms of your job description for the new hire - specifically what level of sales activity do you want and what results do you realistically expect (given historical conversion rates and lead times).

4.  Define the role - there is not just one type of sales person, but a multiciplicty - which one suites depends on the size of the company, its stage of development, the sophistication of its sales and marketing, etc.  The two most common mistakes are:
  • To hire a heavy hitter sales person - with a track record of closing big deals (supported by a sales and marketing organisation and established brand) to a start up company where there is minimal support in terms of lead generation, marketing materials, etc. 

  • To hire a sales person who is a successful account manager with an established customer base, for an organisation that requires a sales person who can successfully identify and recruit new customers.

5. Adopt a more sophisticated approach to recruitment - sales and marketing candidates are good at selling themselves, so you are going to have to be very careful in your selection.

6. Get off to a good start
- The first 6-10 weeks is a golden period.  - Have everything ready for the new hire, and provide full support, training and coaching.  Leads are a stumbling block to most sales people getting off the ground quickly, so put a programme in place in advance to provide some fresh leads and enquiries that the sales person can follow-up in the early weeks. 

7. Remember you are still responsible - if a new hire does not work out, his/her manager must share the responsibility.  Too many managers appoint new sales people, provide the training and then step back - leaving them to their own devices.  It is important to spend lots of time with the new person visiting customers and prospects, to plan and review activity in regular and structured sales meetings, as well as to use a sales system to track activity.

8. Make the call early, but not too early.  Having made a major committment of time and resources to the appointment of a new sales hire, managers are understandably reluctant to pull the plug it is not working out.  The temptation is to give it a little more time and hope for an improvement.  However, if the support has been provided, then the manager is entitled to ask why the planned levels of sales activity has not been completed, if it has then why it has not borne fruit and whether the attitude, enthusiasm or skill of the sales person is at fault.  Every month that passes when a sales person is either in active or ineffective is a waste of time and money.

October 21, 2008

Why Most Lead Generation Initiatives Fail

Virtually every manager believes his/her sales team could sell more if they have more and better sales leads. In most organisations lead generation is broken, but who is going to fit it?

We are soon to publish a benchmarking study of sales and marketing by Irish B2B technology companies (70 in total), here are some of the interesting findings with respect to lead generation:

· 88% of sales managers identify sales lead generation as a challenge

· 96% want more sales leads

· 80% say sales people are not spending enough time prospecting

· 63% still rely heavily (if not exclusively) on cold calling

· 61% don't have a plan, target or budget for lead generation

So it seems that, although of vital importance, sales lead generation doesn't get the time, or attention it deserves.

Most lead generation initiatives don't work, more often than not creating tension between marketing and sales.

In fact there it appears, more than almost any other area of sales and marketing, lead generation lacks structure, process and science.

October 09, 2008

Building your company’s sales credibility

Credibility is an essential ingredient of getting the sale. It is the stuff that buyer confidence is made off.

Credibility isn't a problem if you can point to 70 reference sites, a global brand and a balance sheet of millions. However, for younger companies, being taken seriously can present challenges.

Here are some of the ways you can fast track your credibility and increase your sales ability as a result:

1. Become an expert and specialist – it is hard to credibly be the best at everything, so specialize and build your expertise in a specific area.

2. Ask for and use customer recommendations – put them on the first page of your website.

3. Join an association, or even better get on the council of an association.

4. Start a blog, or join a blog – this is a sure way to build your credentials online.

5. Talk at an event, or seminar – then let everybody know you have done it.

6. Create partnerships – link yourself to others to build your credibility.

7. Add a heavy weight to your board – having a statesman figure as chairman can add serious credibility.

8. Write a book, paper or article – it is easier than it sounds.

9. Create an advisory panel – for example if you sell banking software form banking advisory panel with luminaries from industry.

10. Get an award, or accreditation for yourself, or your business.