December 27, 2008

How you can close more business in 2 months than in 2 years

I read something by Dale Carnegie that is as true as it is simple:

'You can close more business in 2 months if you are genuinely interested in other people, than in 2 years of trying to get them interested in you.'

We sell by helping people. We have to demonstrate that we are willing and able to help before the customer will buy from us.

Forget everything you learned about closing. This is where it is at.

What should your sales plan look like?

No manager wants to spend days writing a sales plan, and no rep, manager, or investor wants to spend hours reading such a plan either.

Everybody agrees that a plan is required, but how to keep it short and at the same include all those key elements that will ensure the sales team stays on course for the year.

Here are some of the key ingredients included in the best sales plans:

1. Too many sales drives stumble at the first hurdle, that is lead generation. So you plan has to include a target and budget for lead generation from multiple sources over time.

2. Activity gets results and for many managers getting the level of sales activity up (e.g. getting in front of more prospects) is a key priority. However, targets and plans in this area must be balanced with the need to improve the level of sales effectiveness. Quite simply, it is a lot better to do 10 meetings and convert 20%, than to do 20 meetings and convert just 10%.

3. Too many plans are short on specifics, in particular those metrics and KPIs that can be used to track progress on a weekily, or monthly basis, including number of meetings, conversion rate from lead to meeting, from proposals to orders, etc. then track them.

The precise form of the KPI will vary depending on the particular managers priorities, but here is a good example.

A start-up company set an assumption regarding conversion or success rates and then set a target for the level of activity required – that is they needed to meet with 7 target companies every month for the first 12 months. That provided the manager with a clear measure against which he could benchmark sales activity and sales effectiveness.

4. Set a target for new and existing revenues, set target for up-selling and cross selling. Outline targets for growing revenue in key accounts and key account management and customer service priorities/policies.

5. Focus on a number of campaigns, around which you can centre your activities. Don’t have one plan for marketing and another for sales, but an consisted and integrated campaign arranged on a quarterly basis for example. Agree the message for each, the target list / target list profile for each, etc.

6. Help individual sales people put together a 2 page plan for themselves. Nobody is more committed to a plan than if they write it themselves. In addition, this an ideal opportunity to coach them towards achieving their full potential. Your overall sales plan is the summation of all the individual sales plans of your team.

7. Don’t beat around the bush, exactly how many leads and meetings will be required for each sales person per week, or per month in order to achieve target.

8. In your overall plan focus on this/next quarter in detail, relating it to the individual sales plans of each of the sales people and the overall campaign set out. Include an rigorous validation of the pipeline, that is related to the key stages of your sales process.

8. Focus on the issues of sales process, sales systems, sales structures, etc, Identifying opportunities to ensure the smooth running of your sales organizations/sales team.

Click here if you would like to read more on why you're going to need a plan, or the questions others are likely to ask regarding your plan.

December 26, 2008

Does your sales engine needs a tune up?

Every engine needs a tune up. Otherwise it will gradually lose power, burn more gas, and generate higher emissions.  Even if the increase in performance is as little as just 3%, or 5%, the yearly impact can be very significant. 

So, from time to time an engine will require new spark plugs, a new filter, new oil, etc.  Similarly, the way an organisation sells will require ongoing fine-tuning – adjusting the level of sales activity and its effectiveness. 

Is your sales engine purring softly? Are all cylinders firing? Is it delivering the torque you need?Could it be turbo charged, or even supercharged?

How do you know if your sales engine needs a tune up?

Here are some of the tell-tale signs that you could be getting more miles per gallon from your sales and marketing:

      1. Your market has changed, is slowing or is more competitive

      2. Customers who should be placing repeat orders are not

      3. You are losing deals that you expected to win

      4. More deals are stalled, or ‘in the valley’

      5. It is increasingly difficult to predict what deals will close and when

      6. Buyers are making more decisions when you are not in the room

      7. Prospects see you as a salesperson, rather than a trusted advisor

      8. You could sell more if you were able to get in front of more of the right prospects

      9. Some sales people are underperforming, or sales force turnover is rising

      10. Sales people don’t feel marketing is helping them and you are not sure of its role either

      11. Sales and marketing costs are rising, but value for money is a growing concern

Every sales engine needs periodic fine-tuning, particularly in the context of a changing market environment.

December 23, 2008

12 ways to unlock the real potential of your sales team

Managers often say that their people 'are their greatest asset'.  Yet, if surveys are to be believed most of those people are neither very happy, nor very productive in their jobs.

This is not a poke at the people in question, far from it – issues of employee satisfaction, motivation and performance are, in my view primaryily the responsibility of the manager. 

After all, it is the manager (or his predecessor) that has recruited, selected, trained, managed and led the person into their present zone of satisfaction, or performance.  If that is not where the manager wants the person to be then he/she have got to have a plan for how they are going to help the person in question change it.

Wouldn't you rather have an empty chair than an empty suit?   Because a half hearted sales person, is almost as bad as no salesperson at all, ensuring high levels of motivation and performance is a particularly important issue for sales managers.

Many managers prefer dealing with spreadsheets and contracts, as opposed soft issues, such as; staff satisfaction, or potentially 'dicey' areas, such as; employee reviews.  For sales managers this is where, because both personalities and wills tend to be stronger, the comparison with 'managing a bag of cats' is often drawn.

So how can managers transform the levels of motivation and performance of their staff?  Well, to find out I turned to the Gallop survey of 10 million employees and managers.  More precisely, I turned to 'The 12  Elements of Great Managing' by Rodd Wagner and James Harter for the list of factors that determine job related performance and satisfaction in any organization. 

The more productive the team member the more of the following points apply:

1. I know what is expected of me

2.       I have the materials and equipment required to do my work right
3.       At work I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day

4.       In the last 7 days I received recognition, or praise for doing good work

5.       My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person

6.       There is someone at work that encourages my development

7.       At work, my opinions seem to count

8.       The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my work is important

9.       My associates or colleagues are committed to doing quality work

10.      I have a best friend at work

11.      In the last 6 months somebody at work has talked to me about my progress

12.      This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

From reading the above list it is pretty clear what we, as managers, need to do to enable our people to perform at their best.  

Steel tycoon Carnegie, said 'you can burn down my factories, but leave me my sales people and I will be back to where I am today in less than a year'.  Sounds like the 12 factors applies to his sales team.


Yes, Sales People Are Different

Salespeople are different.  More precisely, those in the profession of sales are typically characterized by a set of traits different to the majority of the population.  That is from those people with whom they must work and to whom they must sell. 


The typical sales person is different to the typical accountant or engineer.  They started out with a slightly different set of characteristics and skills, and over time have nurtured those skills in order to ensure their success.


You will already have noticed that sales people are typically a little more assertive, independent and confident than the population, or workforce at large.  The archetypical sales person is generally:


·         A better talker than listener


·         Prefers solo-runs to a team effort


·         Has a bias towards action, as opposed to planning


·         Can be quick to make their mind up and slow to change it.


Many of these personality traits can be important strengths in selling.  But, of course any strength overused can become a weakness.  Consider the fact that for many colleagues (particularly those in accounting or technical) the archetypical sales person can seem; loud, showy, insincere and arrogant.


Recognizing and appreciating these differences is important for sales people in managing themselves, for sales managers in managing their teams and of course in building strong customer relationships.  Unfortunately, however, too many customers and staff have a poor perception of sales people and that is something that must change.


Awareness of the differences is key.  Every organization needs a cautious and analytical account, as much as it does a confident and outgoing sales person.    For both to appreciate, support and respect each other then the sales dynamic in an organization is at its greatest.


Of course, the best sales people don't so easily fit the archetypical definition.  They take care to balance listening with talking, work well as a team, plan before acting and so on.  And, of course, they can and do come from all backgrounds – after all who better to see accounting solutions than an accountant, for example. 


But, keep in mind that as a sales person you




December 22, 2008

Do you really know your competitors?

Our research suggests that 8 out of 10 sales people don’t know enough about their competitors. Unknowingly that limits their ability, or confidence when it comes to selling. But it is not just sales people that fail to banish confusion among choice-spolit buyers and clearly communicate how their companies are different. It is other people like marketing managers, sales managers and CEOs too, as well as the web sites, presentations and brochures that they use to communicate to customers and prospects about their business.

Why it is important

First your prospects want to know what you can do for them. Second they want to know how it is better than what your competitor has promised. And although you cannot attack your competitor directly (badmouthing the competitor will do you more harm than good) you have to clearly position your company as better than your competitor in terms of some benefit that is important to your customer. This of course presupposes that you know enough about your competitors!

So what is your competitive edge

So what is your X Factor relative to your competitors? What is you compelling competitive advantage? Is there a competitive moate around your business? That is another way of asking if your advantage is sustainable.

Knowing your competitors is essential to maintaining maximum competitive advantage, that includes understanding:

  • Your competitors' products and services – their strengths and weaknesses, features and benefits.
  • Their reputation for customer service and support.
  • Your competitors' sales and marketing plans.
  • The loyalty of your competitors' customers.
  • How a customer rates your competitor after their solution is in place.
  • How well your competitors meet implementation schedules.
  • Which accounts your competitor uses as references, including poor references.

Announce Your Wins!

Next time you win a customer, why not ask for permission and put a short summary of the work you are planning to do, as well as a highly flattering short profile of them, online as a piece of free PR using a site such as:

Why?  Well because they are well positioned in search engines (e.g. google) and should help to promote your business online.  Oh and dont forget to link the piece back to your web site, as well as to your customer.  That helps with search engine optimisation too!

Applying manufacturing principles to sales/marketing

Traditionally sales and marketing as been considered an art form.  It was thought that great salespeople are born, not made.  That marketing is inspiration, not analysis. 


However, views have changed, with managers adopting an increasingly scientific approach in both areas. 


That approach has brought with it more; discipline, structure, process and planning – all of which are absolutely necessary in the face of increasing competition and costs. 


However, when sales and marketing are compared to other business functions, such as; production, or accounting, there is still some way to go.


Compare it to manufacturing, for example, where the search for the best way began with starting with Frederick Taylor's time-and-motion studies in the early part of the last century, and culminating in today's Total Quality Management and Just-in-Time methodologies.


But, what if you viewed Marketing/Sales as a process to manufacture sales (including repeat sales)?  After all, every business has a sales production system of some sort in the form of your existing Marketing and Sales activities.


But does it represent a true seamless process – one that can be measured accurately and managed in terms of its effectiveness.  It is systematic (i.e. proactive, consistent, predictable, and reliable) and optimized?


Consider how sales/marketing is like manufacturing?   Both are processes that take raw

material, transform it, and output a desired good. Specifically, Marketing/Sales takes leads or suspects (raw material) and moves it through a number of processes/stages generate a sales and ultimately a loyal customer.


Marketing/Sales is further like manufacturing in that the process can be managed

as a set of work areas/processes, with raw material, work-in-progress (WIP), and finished goods.   Just as in manufacturing, each Marketing/Sales work cell has scrap rates, yields, quality measures, and latencies.


So why stop there  - apply other manufacturing and process engineering principles directly to Marketing/Sales, including; — including process mapping and re-engineering, constraint analysis, continuous improvement, and lean thinking.

December 18, 2008

Sales presentations - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Over the past 16 weeks I have had the opportunity to sit through 36 sales and marketing presentations from technology vendors and professional services companies. After the first presentation I decided I would take note of the presentations that got an enthusiastic response and those that hit a low note. If you happen to be one of the 36 people who presented to me you should know what I am going to say.

The bad

Lets start with the bad.  Why do 70% of vendors start their presentation with an ABOUT US slide?  Why not just call it the PLEASE YAWN slide.   Maybe it is interesting to the salesperson but it is not for the prospect.

Next why over 50% of presenters try to use humour to kick off their presentations? Nobody asked for a stand up commedian and that is not what the salesperson turned out to be.  Most of the attempts I have seen simply fell flat, because they weren’t funny.  It is time for salespeople to play it safe.  Trying to break the ice with a joke is a nice idea, but it does not work in most cases.

Vendors who tell buyers they can do everything…… yet experienced buyers have been around a long time, they have heard all the promises a million times, they don’t believe vendors who claim they can do everything

Have sales people forgotten they need to take notes during presentations, its amazing to see how many people present their offering, ask a few questions during the presentation (supposedly trying to identify client needs) and forget to show the buyer on the other side of the table the respect to take note of the answers they give

Eye contact – if you keep looking down at your notes, people begin to think you don’t really know your stuff

Bluffing answers – the old saying goes know what you don’t know. If you don’t know the answer admit it. Bluffing rarely works and buyers can see through 9 out of 10 bluffs

Ok please listen to this – if you have a slide with 5 bullet points and you put it up, guess what, the audience will read the five bullets and stop listening to you until they have gone from bullet 1-5 – a suggestion either use a slide build and bring one bullet in at a time or put the slide up, take a sip of water and let the audience read the slide and then make your point.

The really ugly

These things really happened I am not joking:

- Slouching in meetings with arms crossed – I felt like asking the guy if he wanted a pillow!!!!

- Checking mobiles & texting – I wouldn’t have believed it only for I witnessed it with my own eyes!

- Interrupting colleagues when they have been asked a question

- Asking what products my company sold – do your homework!!

- Answering questions without letting the buyer complete his questions

- Clicking a pen when talking

- Leaning on a lectern looking like he was about to fall over

- Telling the audience who are risk averse that the company is small

- Wandering around the top of the room speaking at the slides

- Rocking back and forth while talking

Ok here is the good

- The presentations that went down well told stories – they used client stories to demonstrate the value they deliver, they asked questions as they were telling stories, they showed they cared

- The presenters who knew their stuff and showed they were experts earned the right to ask probing questions - people like to talk to experts especially experts who show they know the challenges faced

- The presentations that work best had a really good opening and a really good close and yes it takes practice. Over a three week period I saw 6 IT vendor presentations and only one started and ended well

- The number one presenter amongst the 36 was the one person who spoke slowly, showed confidence, smiled, used his hands to illustrate key points and asked interesting questions

- Another simple thing that goes along way, clarifying the agenda and meeting expectation before launching into a slide show

-The guys who sign-posted where they were made it easy to follow – you knew where you were। When you know where you are it is easier to pay attention and interact

- Interaction – key to every successful sales meeting. If you have been around a while you will know the questions you need to ask and you will know that the more interaction the more likely people will feel you are trying to understand them, I was in a workshop recently that lasted about 6 hours, the time flew because the vendor got us to interact for at least 50% of the time, we were asking questions एंड openly answer questions.

Good advice for bad times.

Aristotle famously advised that we should choose our philosophers as carefully as we choose our butcher (or words to the same effect). In age of BSE, samonella and occassional high profile recalls of tukey, pork and beef products that is an important point.

We all know the effects of eating bad meat, but what are the affects of consuming bad advice? The quetion is this: n the present challenging business climate - is the advice we are getting helpful, or harmful?

Last week I attended an enterprise evening with 3 consultants, 1 solicitor, 2 bankers. Their message cut back expenses, draw out credit, delay making payments and generally 'batten down the hatches'. I was left uninspired, apart from one presenter who reminded the audience that Microsoft and Apple among other companies were founded during a recession.

The message is the same time and time again - a negative one. A few weeks ago you may have heard me complaining about a high profile, but very de-motivating breakfast event delivered by the Chief Executive of an international consulting firm and a former senior civil servant.

Every day we read the 'recession-laden' advice of journalists, economists and pundits. And it all leaves me feeling like the meat is gone off! But then a voice of wisdom breaks through!

In this case the words of a veteran entrepreneur and holder of the title; Master Entrepreneur of the Year (a title awarded by Ernest & Young) and MD of Peninsula Systems a successful B2B services business that has grown from 50 to 23,000 customers over two decades.

So, what was the same Peter Done's remedy for difficult economic times? Quite simply this: 'our telesales staff now work an extra hour each day and an extra two hours on Wednesdays.' If the market is tough then increase the level of sales activity.

So, while everybody else is cutting their way back to success (in line with the advice of all those others mentioned above), their customers are being targeted more aggressively by companies like Peter's.

Lessons in Setting Up A Telesales / Telesupport Desk

Lessons learned by managers who have set up and operated their own in-house telesales/service desk initiatives.

1. Set an objective - the level of revenue and profitability of the same for repeat customers as well as for the results of any outbound telesales activity.

Ensure you have some benchmark in place to track your results against. Track metrics & calculate the activity levels required based on the metrics.

Use metrics to focus attention on sales effectiveness, including testing new scripts/service offerings, approaches, etc. in order to increase success rates.

For service develop account plans for individual accounts, or categories of accounts, together with account targets.

2. Preparation of materials. Have scripts, materials and call flow scenarios in place. These are the vital ingredients of success. If the desk is going to do outbound calls don't waste time chasing people that should not be on the list in the first place. Make sure you have a reason to call - some useful information to convey, etc. to the prospect.

3. Stay focused in particular on a specific sales proposition/message and target markets. That allows you to experiment and vary your approach, to measure what works best and to incentivize particular initiatives.

4. Hire somebody who has telesales background and is happy doing that work – marketing grads are generally poor at it.

5. Provide rewards for results achieved - just as in any other area incentives are key. Celebrate success whether it be a compliment from a customer, or a sales win. Major on training, providing ongoing support and encouragement - it can be a lonely and frustrating job.

6. Make the telesales/service desk staff feel part of the team - this is often not the case in many organizations with service desk often looked down upon by sales

7. Test your systems rigorously before the service desk is rolled out to all the customers. It goes without saying central access to all contact information is key

8. Set targets for activity as well as results, including the number of calls made/taken in a typical day, etc. View calls as results, not just the more obvious results, such as; up-selling, appointments, as well as the gathering of information, building awareness, educating potential customers, etc.

9. For telesales develop pre-qualification criteria in respect of when a prospect should be met by a salesperson, etc. In most organizations this can become an area of contention.

10. Develop a KIT (keep in touch) process to nurture prospects to sales readiness - the first call is only that - the first step in a process of relationship building.