March 31, 2009

A lesson from Google: keep your product simple

Products, or services don’t have to be perfect before you release them. In fact, holding out on getting to the market, until the product is finally ready could be a major business blunder.

This is surely a lesson that leading software developers like Google and others have learned. For example, I clicked to add an attachment in my Gmail account recently, to be greeted with the notice below:

Clearly, Gmail continues to launch new features not just in beta, but s part of a continuous stream of product iterations and new releases. Next quarters features will be richer than today’s, but the focus is on getting today’s products immediately into use among customer.

It used to be said that ‘good is the enemy of great’, however too many great products never reach the market. Limiting what a product, or service does, so that it can be sold next quarter, as opposed to next year is key to success. Besides, the one big launch at the end of a waterfall, has been replaced with a product roadmap dotted with regular iterations and releases.

There is another trend that we have noticed from buyers. The bells and whistles approach to new product development would appear to be at an end, with budget restrictions and cut backs focusing buyer attention on core benefits and features and how they impact on their business. With payback at the top of the agenda, the ‘nice to have’ features are suddenly less important.

Another trend is the focus on ‘point solutions’, as opposed to complete systems overhauls, or technology revolutions. Buyers want a problem solved and want the most practical and cost effective way of doing so. When it comes to ripping out the back end, adopting a new platform or implementing a new technology, many buyers prefer to wait until the present economic uncertainty reduces. So, it is fix a problem today mindset and change the company tomorrow. This mindset demands a point solution.

Intensity, Commitment and Enthusiasm

Yesterday, I overheard a coach shouting from the riverbank to his university rowing team afloat in the water. He recognized that they were tired, after all this was the fourth night in a row of intensive training for the amateur team. Then he counted down the weeks to a major tournament and assured them that victory if they maintained the present level of intensity and commitment. Suddenly I heard the voices of hundreds of sales managers.

Many people draw inspiration from sports, but what level of commitment did you, or your sales team bring to their work today? Was it the same level of intensity as expected from a victorious six nation's rugby team, or a world champion boxer? Did it flow from the top of the organisation to the bottom, impacting on customers, prospects and suppliers alike?

Many sporting coaches have brought their knowledge of human performance to business and they have brought the acronym ICE with them - that is intensity, commitment and enthusiasm. These characteristics are an essential to survival in today's turbulent markets:

Intensity – as if your job depended on it.

Commitment – as if you might not get the chance to do it again

Enthusiasm – as if you could not fail.

The era of full order books, RFPs and in-bound customer enquiries is at an end. The response is ICE in terms of selling. This is immediately evident in terms of levels of activity, professionalism and innovation in terms of sales and marketing. It can be quantified in terms of the number of; calls, emails, sales meetings, etc. with customers, past customers, prospects, contacts, etc.

Launching a New Product, or Service - What You Need To Know

You can get insurance for pretty much everything -  even very risky activities such as parachute diving and stock car racing.  But you cannot get insurance in respect of launching a new product, or service.  Why?  Well, because the risks are simply too high.

Now, at this time when innovation is so important, pointing out the risks is not meant to deter individuals or companies from launching new products, but to prepare them for the road ahead. 

This list  of what you need to know before you decide to launch a new product, or service has been inspired by a piece written by start-up guru Brian O Kane.

1. It is going to take a lot longer than you think and more time and money too.

2. The chances of a set-back, or a false start, are great.  There is a risk of your won't get off the ground at all!

3. Your plans are how you want it to be and they are a good guide.  But that is not how it will work out.

4. If you hire somebody for the job of selling, it more than likely won't work out – either way the success will still depend on you.

5. The customers you imagine for your solution, are probably not those who need it most

6. People don't know they need your solution, they probably don't even know you exist.

7. You need selling more than marketing, because months down the line you will be complaining that you are not getting to see enough potential customers.

8. Having the best solution doesn't guarantee success.  In fact, nobody important cares about your features and technology.  What your product does, is more important than how it does it.

9. People won't believe how good your solution is, unless your customers say so.  So don't write brochures, write customer success stories.  Oh and that means getting your first satisfied customer as a reference site is key.

10. You are going to struggle to be objective, unemotional and rational about your new product, or service.  That is one of the biggest threats you face.

11.  Success is a confluence of factors, many of which are outside your control.  That is why people say timing is everything.

12. Market resarch may well lead you astray, as keep you on track.

13.  Ironically, the more you think your solution appeals to everybody, the more difficult it will be to market, and the most costly to develop.  You will be tempted to add in more features and more complexity than is necessary.

Why Selling Is An Olympic Sport

Sales people are in the front line in this time of economic slowdown.  Well all know it is not going to be easy – in fact for many it is already providing to be a challenge of Olympic proportions. 

So, perhaps 'selling in the downturn' should be among those competitive sports included in the London  Olympics.  Here are some of the parallels:

1. Selling as in any competitive sport, requires discipline and stamina, strength and endurance.  A lot of hard work and preparation will go into that short moment on the track. Training and preparation is everything.

2. There will be bruises and the occasional injury along the way.  Sometimes, it will seem like you are constantly running up hill, where perseverance rather than skill counts most.  Other times you will be on a winning streak - in the zone / the sweet spot and at the top of your game.  It can switch between these at any time.

3. You will occasionally hit the wall, that may be a lost sale, or worst of all, perhaps, it may be a stalled sale.  The ability to motivate yourself to get back on the track is paramount.

4. It is not just about a single race – but an unending series of competitions.  That means you cannot rest on your laurels for long, the moment of glory soon fades.  After all, you are only as good as your last sale.

5. Winning is everything, even second place is poor consolation.  If you are not winning then you are off the team and on the sidelines. 

6. It is a team sport.  Increasingly it is not just one person in the limelight.  Every champion owes shares his/her success with a support team of trainers, coaches and so on.  Team based selling requires a combined of skills and for each person to successfully pass the baton. 

7. It could be a marathon, it is not just a long race, but a series of short races one after the other.   With increasingly long sales cycles you cannot always see the finishing line.   Or it could be in the pool, as it can require holding your breath for long periods of time.

8. A great coach is a key ingredient of success, someone that can help people to perform at their best.  So too is effective team work and an evironment that not only rewards, but celebrates success.


March 29, 2009

Belief and conviction in your offering will affect your close rate

If you are responsible for selling, it really helps if you have total belief in the value your solution delivers. An obvious enough statement one might think. Well not so obvious, I can tell you from listening to vendors and service provider talk about their solutions lately. 

Consider these three questions

1. Do you have conviction when you talk about the value of your solution
2. Do you sound like you understand what it takes to deliver the solution/service you are offering
3. Do you sound like you understand how as a buyer I am feeling about the change required to implement your solution or take on your service offering
4. Are you passionate and enthusiastic about it

If you answer yes to all three great, if you can’t, you need to sit down and review the actual value delivered to clients in previous engagements. In my honest opinion, conviction and belief gets built with experience and real world / practical understanding of how others have gained value from your offerings no where else. 

And please remember, it’s not the value marketing tell you about that will help build conviction and belief into how you communicate your overall value, it’s the value customers talk about that counts, this implies extending relationships beyond the point of order.

Food for thought

March 28, 2009

A tale of two companies - the difference between failure and success in a downturn

There is no question but that the construction sector is fareing the worst in the present global down turn.  But, scratch beneath the surface and you will quickly see that some in the sector are suffering more than others.  The lessons are clear for all companies and all industries.

Over the past 6 months we have worked with Ireland's largest architectural practice, as well as Ireland's largest engineering and technical services firm.  Both are doing better than the average, as as blood is spilled right through-out their industries these firms have managed to maintain an even keel.  Why?

A tale of two companies...

The story is best told by reference to two leading arhcitectural practices.  Both with fancy offices  and glossy brochures, as well as international offices and prestigeous portfolios.

One however, did more business development than the other, started it earlier and involved more people throughout the organisation.   That company has met its sales targets for the last 3 months running, while the other has gone out of business.

Even in markets that appear to be in free fall there are opportunities.  It requires a lot more searching to find them and a lot more innovation to win the business, including new forms of pricing and packaging of projects.  It requires applying new skills to develop new services and most of all a concerted effort and increased sophistication in respect of business development.  That is the difference between success and failure in a downturn.

Mining Your OUTLOOK Contact Book

All set to start panning for gold among your network of contacts? That means renewing old contacts and establishing new ones among your; past customers, existing customers, leads and enquiries, former colleagues, old colledge chums, etc.
The first step is to pull together a list of everybody you know. A great place to start is by exporting your outlook contact book. Thankfully, that is a lot easier than you think.

Many companies and managers have a vast untapped information resource - that is the various address books of contacts contained on every PC. This short piece describes how to get at them so that they can be systematically nurtured in respect of business development.

The Import and Export Wizard in Outlook makes it easy to export contact information from Outlook into an Excel worksheet. To guide you through the steps we have reproduced Microsoft's instructions here for:
- Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003
- Microsoft Outlook® 2002
- Microsoft Office Excel 2003
- Microsoft Excel 2002

While there may be a number of address lists available to you in outlook (eg. global or company-wide address book), only your contacts can be exported directly from Outlook to Excel.

1. In Outlook, on the File menu, click Import and Export.
2. Click Export to a file, and then click Next.
3. Click Microsoft Excel, and then click Next.
4. In the folder list, click the Contacts folder, and then click Next.
5. Browse to the folder where you want to save the contacts as an Excel file (.xls).
6. Type a name for the exported file, and then click OK.
7. Click Next.
8. Tailor the Excel file to your needs, for example you may add columns such as:
- how important each contact is (e.g. A, B or C)
- The priority associated with each contact / when each is to be contacted
- Date of last contact
- Next action (what is the next action with each contact) and a date for this action
- Status (e.g. left message, sent email, talked to, etc.)
- Rating (e.g. level of interest unknown, possible future interest, wants to meet, etc.)
- Notes (some record of any conversations, background information, etc.)

That is it! Your outlook contact book is now in a format that allows you to plan and track your business development activity against that list.

March 16, 2009

Measuring the results achieved by your customers

The order has been won. The selling is over, right? Wrong, it is just the end of round one. Well, that is unless getting the initial order is your only goal. If like most organisations you need to win the customer, not just the order, then there is lots more work to do. You need to win his/her future business and recommendation.
Of course, there is the delivery of eveything you promised and more beside. That goes without saying. But there is also the measurement and reinforcement of the value that is being delivered, the results that are being achieved, and so on.

Too many suppliers install their solutions and then collect the annual maintenance and support, but forget to measure the impact that their solutions are having on their customers. For some there is a fear that the results shown will disappoint. For others, there is the lack of a methodogy, model or formula for calculating the results.
Bottom line, they lack the ability to guide their customers through a before and after analysis of the success of their solution. They are less well able to manage expectations, where results are slow to materialise, or to pin-point areas in which client side adoption, or implementation of the solution could be improved.

Perhaps there is a requirement for; more user training, more help desk support, updated user manuals/help files, product add-ons, or maybe bug-fixes, or product enhancments. These are opportunities, many of which have revenue implications, that suppliers should not be blind to.

Quantifiable information about the impact of your solution is not just nice to have it is essential. It not only enables you to demonstrate the impact on your solution on your customer's business, but provides you with the confidence to build a compelling business case for your prospects.

So, here is a checklist:
- Do you have a model to calculate the impact of your solution and demonstrate the business case?
- So, what are the top metrics used by customers to assess the impact of your solution?
- Do you have the before and after information for your customer?
- Does the customer believe the peformance and impact metrics you produce? Is he/she involved in the process of their preparation?
- Are key business impact and solution performance metrics discussed at client side meetings/reviews?
- Are senior mangement in the client company aware of the impact of your solution?
- Is first-hand user feedback incorporated into product and innovation management processes in your company?

Sales is everybody's job

Organisations, not just sales people, sell. Indeed, the most progressive organisations view business development, as everybody’s responsibility. For other companies that requires 4 significant organisational changes :

1. Getting Senior Management More Involved in supporting sales and an executive to executive (as opposed to sales person to executive) approach adopted. It is essential that in reviewing sales performance, setting financial targets and shaping business strategy that all senior management have had first hand exposure to the market. So, when is the last time the CEO, CFO, CTO, was in front of a customer, or a prospect?

2. Getting Sales and Marketing Working Together. That means overcoming the tensions that often arise, through improved communication and a more coordinated and sales-led approach. So, why isn’t marketing a full member of the sales team and why isn’t marketing measured in terms of leads generated and results achieved?

3. Grass roots involvement in business development. Account managers, project managers, customer support staff and just about everybody else has a role to play in maintaining and growing sales revenues. In the current economic climate this grass roots involvement is essential. But, how may senior staff have contacted a potential customer, attended a networking event, asked for a referral from a past customer, etc. in the past 6 weeks?

4. A team-based approach to sales. Just as purchase decisions are involving more people in the buying organisation, sales success requires the competences of a team, as opposed to just the individual. In fact there are up to 8 sales-related roles in your organisation.

The importance of Keep in Touch Mindset

Sales champions adopt a keep in touch mindset for all their valued leads and contacts, nurturing them to sales readiness and increasing their chances of success where a future sales opportunity does arise.

Occasionally you will strike gold

Sometimes you will leave a sales meeting on a high. The customer has a problem, is looking for a solution and yours seems to fit the bill.

Your timing has been perfect. A next meeting has been arranged and that will focus on a detailed examination of needs and requirements. All of a sudden your pipeline is one opportunity richer. Great!

But, most sales meetings don't result in an immediate sale

However, most sales meetings do not present immediate sales opportunities. At best they offer the vague promise of a future distant need, or perhaps no promise at all.

The company wanted to meet, and met the prequalification criteria applied to all your sales leads, but the result of the meeting is a kick back.

They buyer has said 'this is not a priority for us', 'we don't have a problem', or 'we already have a solution'. Perhaps there is a competitor already entrenched, or no available budget. Even more frustrating, maybe you know they need your solution, but they just can't yet see it (at least not yet).

Bottom line, you are going to leave lots of sales meetings knowing that the prospect is not ready, willing, or able to buy. Maybe they will never be - you just have had one meeting it is just too early to tell.

Maybe the next meeting will result in an order

Most sales people, although disappointed, pick themselves up and move on enthusiastically to the next sales meeting. Maybe that will be the one that uncovers a real sales opportunity.

If not, then perhaps it will be the one after that. As salespeople we turn to the law of averages for comfort, it tells us that if they meet enough prospects, be that 5, 10, or 15, we will stumble upon the one who is ready and in the buying zone.

As salespeople, that keeps us going and it also keeps us busy, but it often results in the neglect of furtive relationships as salespeople fail to keep in touch with the scores of managers once met and quickly forgotten about.

The 'Close the customer down, or move on' Mindset

Most sales people have an aversion to meeting 'tire-kickers', and are anxious to avoid wasting time on companies that are not really in the market for a solution. Their managers expert them to be converting sales meetings into orders won and expect them to 'close the customer down, or move on''.

But, just because the company is not ready to buy from you today does not mean that he/she won't ever be. Situations change - new businesses needs emerge, managers come and go, priorities change and so to budgets. But are you going to be around when that happens? Are you going to be there when 'the light goes on' and suddenly the customer is in the market for a solution.

'Nobody Gets Left Behind' Mindset

High performing sales people adopt the US marine's policy that 'nobody gets left behind'. They keep in touch with the entirety of their contact base, with the level and frequency of contact determined by a rating scale that reflects the potential associatated with each company and contact in their sales system, or database. For example:
  • They just send an occasional email newsletter, article, or information piece to those that represent 'long shots'.
  • They diary a periodic telephone call, be that every 6 weeks, 3 months as appropriate.
Good intentions are not enough. A CRM system is required to schedule the periodic ongoing contact, making it easy to administer and ensuring that it does not rely on the vagrancies of memory.

To avoid follow-on contact falling into the nuisance category ensure that the communication has a real value. For example, sending:
  • an article, or whitepaper that might be of interest,
  • a note regarding a move by one of their competitors,
  • a link to a website containing useful information, etc.

Nurturing to Sales Readiness

Nurturing companies and relationships over time to sales readiness is essential to long term sales effectiveness. It recognises that in most situations needs are latent and await discovery. That discovery may take weeks, months or years.

Sales meetings and sales leads are simply too expensive to be discarded because they don't produce an immediate opportunity. If the company in question qualifies for your target list, then you will want to keep in touch, helping to generate awareness of the need overtime and being there when the light goes on.

Even if the result of all the nurturing is not a sales opportunity, then it can still be worthwhile. That relationship can be a source of useful information, referral or introduction to others, etc.

Keeping-in-touch will at least double your sales success

The reality for most salespeople is that a keep-in-touch mindset, or approach, has the potential to double, if not triple sales success in the long term. A first pass of a target list in terms of leads generated and meetings held will result in a certain number of sales opportunities and ultimately sales wins.

However, a programme of progressive contact with the same target list will over time deliver twice or three time the results of a once off campaign. That is why business development requires a strategic approach.

Being there before requirements are set increases sales success

Those sales people who have been involved with the prospect, before a active buying decision is made have a head start on those other who may be called to tender. Being involved at the early stages in terms of identifying the need and the definition of requirements, means the salesperson has a unique advantage in terms of being able to influence the buying decision.

March 15, 2009

The Steps Involved in Maximising Customer Referrals

In a recent blog piece we talked about the importance of customer referrals in maximising sales success.

This checklist will help you to maximise sales referrals for your business: 

  1. Analyse the source of your sales.  First check to see where your sales, leads and enquiries come from and the closure rates for each source.  How many are derived from customer referrals?  
  1. Set a target for referrals.  How many of your customers have been asked for a referral in the past year?  Set a target for the number of referrals you want to get over the next 12 months and the value of additional sales you expect as a result.
  1. Put a plan in place for referral-generated sales.  Don’t leave referrals to chance - list all the actions required by sales and service to meet your sales referral targets.  Put names, as well as completion and review dates beside all the those from whom referrals are to be sought.
  1. Make sales referrals a part of your key account management plans.  So, when your team is discussing key customer accounts, put sales referrals on the agenda and leave it there.
  1. Deliver on your promises.  If you want referrals then you must deliver on your promises first.  That is you must ensure that your customer is satisfied with your product and service.  Before you ask for a referral, ask the customer for feedback.  This will either identify opportunities for strengthening your relationship with your customer, or immediately pave the way for referrals, or testimonials.
  1. Be an expert not a sales person.  If your customer considers you to be an expert, a solutions provider, or a problem solver, as opposed to a sales person, then you are already well on the way to winning his commendation.  Also you have made it easy for him to pass on a referral.  After all, everybody is cautious about setting a sales person loose on a friend, or colleague.
  1. Become a partner not a supplier.  If you are going to be a problem solver, as opposed to a sales person, then to be consistent your organisation should position itself as a partner, not just a supplier. It’s a small change in terminology, but a major difference in mindset and one that your customer will reward you for.
  1. Share sales commissions on referral business with service and support staff.  Referral business comes from good service, as much as good salesmanship, so it makes sense to reward and encourage service for sales referrals.  Indeed, front line staff are best positioned to hear about the customer’s buying plans, company changes, etc.
  1. Make your buyer and his/her manager look good.  When a manager in a customer organisation makes the effort of passing on referrals they are in effect saying a personal thank you.  All organisations have their own internal politics and pressures.  All managers have their own egos and ambitions.  So, helping them in these areas, is as important as providing them with technology, products, or services. This can be achieved in a lot of ways.  One simple way is to provide the manager with specialist training, information and ideas that will be of specific help to him.  Above all let him take the credit and make him, or her look good. 
  1. Ask, but at the right time.  Don’t ask for referrals before it is reasonable to do so.  Wait until the customer has experienced your company and its products sufficiently to be able to pass judgement, both for themselves and others.  It is unfair to ask the customer to attach his good name to something that he or she has had only limited experience of.  More important still, it makes you look pushy if you ask for a referral the minute you have closed the sale. 
  1. Ask, but only the right people.  Make a list of the customers you can ask for referrals.  Not all customers will be raving fans of your company and maybe even different contacts in the same company may be more positively disposed to helping you.  
  1. Ask your customers for testimonials and agree where and where they can be used.  What your customers say about you, particularly, where they attach their name to it, has more impact that anything you, or your marketing people, have to say.  
  1. Generate publicity for your customer (and yourself).  Another important way to bask in the glory of what you have done for your customer and to directly and indirectly generate referral business is to get publicity for your clients.  For example, if your customer has just implemented your technology help them to get trade press publicity regarding their new capabilities and facilities.  Let them take most of the limelight, as long as your company’s name and its products are mentioned. 
  1. Say thank you for referrals.  Make sure you say a personal thank you for any referrals.  Make a purpose of calling your customer to say thank you and of updating your customer on how things progress with the referral.  If you get to quote, or get the contract, say thank you with a bottle of wine, a meal out, or something else.  Find another way of showing your gratitude if your customer’s company policy dictates against gifts.  
  1. Provide an incentive for referrals (if appropriate).  Any ongoing arrangement regarding referrals should involve a referral fee, or percentage based on resulting sales.  In setting on this, it is useful to analyse the relative cost of generating a sales lead and closing a sale (from different sources).
  1. Pass referrals both ways.  One of the best ways to encourage referrals is to provide your customer, or partner with referrals/useful contacts in turn. 
  1. Use Linked-In to ask for referrals from your contacts - see the full details of who your contacts know and ask for an introductions to those that may represent potential customers.  See our guide to using Linked-In.
  1. Make sure your customer knows your full range of offerings.  It is easy to assume that your customer, in particular, all departments, managers and buyers, in the company know about your company and your full range of products and solutions.  If they do not know then you are missing out in sales referrals within your customer’s organisation, as well as outside.  Also make sure your customers know the type of customers you are looking for.

Why Customer Referrals Are Essential to Sales Success

One of the most effective and immediate ways to boost the pipeline and ultimately sales is to ask customers for referrals.  Yet it is so often over-looked, with less than 10% of sales people actively using customer referrals to sell.

The ultimate measure of a customer’s satisfaction is his/her willingness to recommend you to others, in particular to friends, colleagues and associates.   In the long term the willingness of customers to recommend your business to others, is:
-  As powerful an indicator of growth potential as win rates, or any other variable.
- A proxy for; customer loyalty, the potential for repeat sales and, more fundamentally, your  competitive advantage.  

- A indication that promises made during the sale, have been met during delivery. 

Referrals tell how the customer really feels about you

Client surveys and client side account reviews can generate a lot of very useful feedback, however the extent to which customers are recommending your business to others is the most telling indicator of the health of a customer relationship.  

Client's often respond to the seller's questions by saying they are satisfied, but does the customer feel comfortable or motivated to tell you what they really think, what exactly does that mean and is being 'satisfied' a sufficient achievement for your business.  

It is only when they are active in recommending your business to others, that you really know that the promises made during the sale, have been met during delivery.  It also also when you know that you are moving from being a mere supplier to partner in the customer's eyes.

Referrals maximise your win rate

Existing and past customers can spread the good word about your business more convincingly than any ads, or brochures.  Indeed, the closure rate from customer referrals is likely to be 2 or 3 times that of your normal sales leads. 
In addition to higher win rates, referrals result in faster sales cycles.  When you are introduced or referred, then you are marked aside from the traditional sales person, you gain a badge of trust and credibility that can move you to the inner circle and ensure you are treated as an expert and problem solver, not a sales person.  

Letters of Referral are the most powerful sales aide
More effective than any glossy marketing brochures are letters of recommendation from customers.  They are more believable, more interesting and more memorable.   They mean that cynical buyers dont have to take your word for it, providing 3rd party validation and peer references, or social proof.
No salesperson should visit cutomers without having a selection of letters from customers saying how they have benefited from the products, or services that were supplied.

Customer Success Stories are the Most Effective Part of your Sales Pitch
Stories are easy to tell, more interesting to listen to and easier to remember.   In selling, stories are the most effective way of communicating a sales message.
The most effective sales presentations replace long lists of features and benefits, with stories of how other companies have benefited from their solutions.  They replace technical information that is only of interest/accessible to a select few, with details of how their solutions have impacted on key business opportunities, challenges and metrics.

So, how to maximise the role of customer referrals?   Well, you should find this checklist useful.

March 14, 2009

What MPG is your sales organisation delivering?

Why Sales Managers are paying increased attention to meetings per quarter, and other key sales effectiveness variables.

I had a director years ago who struggled to reconcile what was a very busy sales office, with the results that were being achieved. On his occasional visits he would innocently ask ‘are we busy fools?’ - a question that secretly enraged both over-worked managers and staff. Yet, it struck at the heart of the issue of sales effectiveness.

MPG = Meetings per Quarter

Let’s put it at its simplest – meetings per quarter (mpq) is the motoring equivalent of miles per gallon (mpg). Like a car, a business, or a salesperson, has a certain amount of fuel in the tank. In respect of selling, that equates to a certain number of customers and prospects that can be met in a quarter.

A high, or rising, mpq could suggest that;

  • The wrong type of managers and organisations are being met
  • The level of pre-qualification is inadequate, or the criteria are out
  • Leads are not being nurtured to sales readiness
  • A more sophisticated approach to sales meeting is required, or enhanced sales skills
  • The sales proposition needs to be revised, or more fundamentally the market segments being targeted.

Making Every Meeting Count

Regardless of the reason it means that sales costs are rising and that reaching the sales target is going to be more difficult. Prospects are increasingly difficult to identify and costly to meet.

Buyers want to see less sales people and only a small proportion of sales people will get in the door. That means making every meeting with a sales prospect count is very important.

Two Very Important Metrics

Just like in motoring, mpg, mpq (meetings per quarter) and lpq (leads per quarter) is all important. Ultimately, it tells you whether you can reach your sales target, or will grind to a halt somewhere along the way.

Meetings per quarter is also one of a number of important metrics that indicate the effectiveness of your lead generation activity is, and puts the leads per quarter metric in perspective. As sales meetings are costly, the average cost of a sales meeting for many companies being in excess of 1,000 euro, meetings per quarter and cost per meeting are important metrics for every manager.

Metrics for Activity, as well as Effectiveness

Of course, how much fuel you are consuming (mpq, lpq, etc.) and how fast you are travelling are interrelated, but separate variables. So, the metric of meetings per deal, as well as meetings per sales cycle are equally important. There is no point in having lots of meetings that go nowhere and ultimately it is the conversion rate to deals won that matters most.

Productivity & Effectiveness in Sales

Sales productivity initiatives to generate more leads, meetings, etc. have been high on the agenda in sales organisations for many years. Managers initially targeted increased levels of sales activity, but with more complex sales cycles have turned their attention to sales effectiveness as the priority.

Imagine one of the back wheels of your sports car was spinning faster than the other, with lots of activity and poor conversion rates, or increasing conversion rates with little activity. The result would be lost of smoke and burning rubber, but little movement. That is why our formula views activity and effectiveness as two side of the selling axis.

Thus, increasing the number of sales meetings, proposals, etc is futile unless they are successful. The level and effectiveness of sales activity must be increased in tandem.

Does your sales proposition: Provoke, Persuade and Compel?

Tired of using the same old sales presentation slides, brochures and pitches many sales people are looking for ways to make their sales collateral and marketing message more effective. In this post we discuss how this can be done.

We review hundreds of sales presentations, marketing brochures and web sites every year. According to buyers most of them fall short of the mark. That is they make the buyers decision harder, not easier.

On one level these often quite glossy materials don’t give buyers the information they need. But more importantly, they fail to; provoke attention / awareness of the need, persuade buyers about the benefits, or compel the customer to take action. The following are the reasons why:

1. Most marketing is bland. The fact is brochures, web sites and sales pitches deliver long lists of benefits and features to confused and disbelieving customers. They should talk about the business impact of the solution, or service. That is the tangible impact on key business variables, such as costs, revenues, margins, etc.

2. Most marketing does not stand out. It is as if all of the competitor's brochures and web sites were written by the same people. Buyers struggle to tell them apart. That is often because suppliers try to appeal to the broadest possible market available. They position themselves for universal popularity across all markets and segments, as well as the industry leaders on all key features/functions. It is much better to tailor your proposition and its unique selling points to appeal to the specific needs of different niches and segments as opposed to trying to 'be all things to all people.' Strategic Focus is key.

3. Most marketing is unconvincing. It is written by the seller and packed with adjectives of self praise, to which buyers react with a 'what else would you say?' Sellers don't leverage the stories of how their customers have benefited. They don't provide the third party validation that buyers seek.

4. Many marketing pitches contain thinly veiled insults. For example; 'IT asset inventories in most organisations are out by 20%...'. You are wrong and here is what Gartner, Frost & Sullivan or some other analyst says in order to prove it. Instead of saying IT managers are getting it wrong, say that they are being frustrated in their efforts by factors outside their control, for example that they don't have the tools, or resources they need.

5. Most sales presentations are too sweeping in their claims. For example 'we provide the total back-office, front-office and middle office solution that integrates easily with all existing technologies'. What a relief for buyers when salespeople present more modest, credible and verifiable claims. The lessons is don't tell the buyer you can do everything, or that everybody needs your solution. Tell him/her you do the things that are important to him/her very well, but don't be afraid to say 'this solution is not necessarily for everybody, it is specifically for organisations that face this problem/opportunity.'

6. Most statistics used in sales presentations and collateral don't work. For most buyers they are; labored, irrelevant, or just not credible. Firstly, he/or she thinks 'my business is different - I don't care about everybody else, I am only concerned with what happens in my company'. Secondly, most percentages used appear to buyers as exaggerated – after all isn't a 3%, 5%, or 10% cost reduction more believable than a 75% figure? Added to this, is the growing suspicion that analysts and research reports will say whatever they are paid to say.

7. Most sales cycles don't explicitly recognize that buyers have alternatives. The elephant in the room for most sales people is that customers have alternatives, they could implement a different technology, select an alternative supplier, or they could simply do nothing. Not recognizing all of these viable customer alternatives doesn't make sense. The best salespeople help their customers make the best buying decisions, that means enabling them to evaluate their solutions in the context of all the other options available.

A Checklist:

- Does your marketing material provoke – generating awareness and attention. Or could it be bland?
- Put your sales collateral alongside that of your competitors? Does it stand out?
- How credible is your sales message? Is it convincing?
- Do the things you are saying make the buyer look and feel good? Is the buyer's organisation; skills or past success being called into question?
- Are the claims you are making modest, or at least credible?
- Are the statistics used in your sales presentations credible? Could they be over the top?
- Are you fully aware of the alternatives buyers are considering?
- Has your message been 'CEO proofed' (i.e. will it appeal to the CEO)?

March 12, 2009

8 Ways Sales Managers are Dealing with the Downturn

The economic downturn has galvanized the sales community. For many organisations the result has been a sharp increase in the level of activity and innovation respect of sales.

Here are 8 ways Sales Managers are rising to meet the challenges of the slowdown:

1. Top filling the pipeline to allow for the increased likelihood of stalled, or delayed buying decisions, as well as the impact of the general market slowdown. That means increasing the level of sales activity to generate more leads, more meetings, etc. Managers are learning to live with longer sales cycles and falling conversion rates by increasing the pond in which they are fishing, the size of their nets and the hours spend by the water.

2. More clearly communicating the business impact of what is being sold and demonstrating a very quick payback. That means replacing long features and benefits lists with customer success stories that demonstrate the quantifiable impact that your solutions have had on others, in terms of; on costs, revenues, efficiency, etc.

3. Offering the customer better value for money, everybody expects more for less these days but of course that is often a matter of perception, as much as reality.

4. Breaking the overall project and its cost into chunks, phases, or stages, in order to reduce up-front cost, or risk. In particular, make it easy for the customer to try it out. They are packaging and bundling their offering in new and innovative ways.

5. Selling higher and wider in your customer’s organization – more and more decisions require not just a senior management sign-off, but active senior management involvement. Sales people are also preparing for longer sales cycles and more interaction with buyers throughout.

6. Helping existing customers deal with the slowdown and proactively exploring how the services and solutions supplied can be adjusted to help them meet the challenges they are facing in their business.

7. Re-investing in sales skills and most importantly ensuring that the sales team stays positive. A key aspect of this is the transition from salesperson to expert and from selling products / services, to selling solutions to customer problems.

8. Innovating in terms of the offering and how it is marketed. There is a saying in retailing 'when business is bad, paint the shop' - a similar approach is being adopted by sales and marketing managers. Another trend that we notice is that companies are looking to simplify, minimise and reduce the cost of what they are offering.

9. Better understanding customer motivations, challenges and buying decisions. This includes a greater appreciation of buyer risk and uncertaintly, understanding the totality of the choices faced by buyers (including doing nothing) and really understanding the prospects key business drivers and how they can be impacted upon.

March 09, 2009

The key questions asked about Sales Meetings

Here are the common questions that arise in respect of sales meetings.  Answering them will help make sure you are fully prepared:

Should I push to get a meeting when I am talking to a prospect?

Should I confirm the meeting in advance?

What preparation do I need to do before the meeting?  How long should I spend preparing for the meeting?

How do I make sure that I only meet people who are prospects?

How to ensure that I don't end up meeting 'tyre-kickers'?

Can I get away with just doing a teleconference, or webinar?

How do I provide the prospect with a valid reason to meet?

How do I make sure that the person being met gets something from the meeting?

Who should be in control of the meeting?

What proportion of the time should I spend talking?

Should I go to the meeting on my own, or should I bring a colleague?

Should I give a presentation?

Should I tailor the approach to each company visited?

How long should the presentation last for?

What are the tips for a successful presentation?

How much preparation will be required?

Should I use a laptop, or printed slides?

How should I act in the meeting?

What are the most common mistakes that I should Avoid?

How much social talk is required?

Should I send an agenda?

Should I ask everybody in the room what their role is?

How long should the meeting last for?

How do I keep the meeting on track?

How do I wrap up the meeting?

What should be the objectives of the meeting?

How many meetings are required?

How many people should be at the meeting (buyer side)?

How many people should be at the meeting (seller side)?

Who should lead the meeting?  How should others be involved?

How to make the meeting as effective as possible?

How to prequalify the customer?

What sales aides are required?

Do I need to have a brochure, etc?

How do I make sure I am meeting the right person?

What questions should I ask?

How to deal with customer questions and objections?

How to come across as more confident?

How to come across as less of a sales person?

How to communicate a lot of information in a short space of time?

Do I need a factfind?

How much details should we get into?

What should be done after the meeting?

How do I get the customer to open up?

How can I build rapport?

What do you do when you just don't 'hit it off' with the person you are meeting?

How do I deal with somebody who is nasty, or rude?

How do I avoid being seen as a salesperson selling something?  How do I position myself as an expert?  

How do I really ensure the customer is interested?

How do I know if it is not going to well, and what can I do to turn it around?

How quickly afterwards do I respond?

How to make sure the meeting does not just go nowhere?

What is the next step?

What if it is not going well?

What is it that buyers want to hear?

How do I know if I am wasting my time?

How do you know if the meeting went well?

Should I include a demo in the meeting?  What should the demo cover?  How long should it last?

Should we discuss price at the meeting?

What I if get asked questions I cannot answer?

Do I need to leave something behind (e.g.  a brochure)?

How quickly do I need to complete any of the follow-ups required?

Should I prepare a proposal if asked to do so at the first meeting?

March 05, 2009

The obstacles to picking up the phone to your contacts and prospects

You know it needs to be done.  You need to pick up the phone to call old and new contacts alike, and to start telling them about your business.  It is the only way you will survive the slowdown, but yet it is so easy to keep putting it off.

We have made a list of all the obstacles that can get in the way of doing what needs to be done.  The list is long.  In our view all the objections are real and genuine.  But they can also be easily overcome. 

The objective of the list is not to deter you from getting started, or to make it seem harder than it actually is.  The objective is to show that everybody has to overcome the same issues.  However, the difference is that those that are successful don't let the obstacles stop them.

The list will guide you in terms of the preparation you can undertake to get started and keep going.  That will make the task easier and your efforts more effective.

Here is the list:Publish Post

1.       Who will I call?  How do I know who is worth calling?  

2.       What will I say?   Can't I just email?

3.       What is the message?

4.       What do I want to sell?

5.       I need a reason to call, what is it?

6.       I don't want to seem pushy

7.       I don't want to be an interruption, or a nuisance

8.       Should I send something (e.g. a letter) first

9.       I don't feel comfortable doing it

10.   I don't have the personality for it

11.   I am no good at it

12.   I hate cold calling

13.   I don't have the time

14.   What if I get asked something and I don't know the answer

15.   It is not my job

16.   It not what I trained for

17.   I don't have the skills

18.   There is no point – it won't work

19.   I don't like talking about work with my social contacts

20.   What if I mess up?

21.   How many times should I call before giving up?

22.   I need a brochure to send

23.   I need a web page to point people to

24.   What is the next step if somebody is interested?

25.   Should I try to sell on the phone?

26.   My contacts are too few, or too junior

27.   Where can I get a list?

28.   How much homework should I do before calling?

29.   Should I write out and rehearse what am going to say?

30.   Should I leave a voicemail?

31.   What to say to the receptionist or PA?

32.   What if the person is not interested?

33.   What if the person does not have any business for us?

34.   How much time should I spend on it?

35.   What kind of a record do I need to keep of the calls?

36.   I Need a database, or CRM system

37.   How do I schedule next actions arising from the calls?

38.   How do I know if it is worth keeping in touch with a particular contact?

39.   How do I keep in touch with the contact?  

40.   How long do I leave the next call/contact?

March 01, 2009

Why Success Requires Strategic Focus

Where companies look for growth has a major bearing on the level of success they enjoy. This is simply a recognition that not all markets offer the same potential for growth.

Those companies that grow fastest do so by carefully choosing where they will compete – they steer themselves strategically into those market niches and segments that are most attractive and amenable.

They don’t seek to have the best solution in the marketplace overall, but do have distinct advantages in meeting the needs of particular groups of customers.

Why Strategic Focus is Important

Here are the reasons why you should focus on particular customer groups, or segements:

1. Your sales and marketing can only stretch so far, so you have to focus your efforts on those customers that can deliver the greatest success. The fact that for most companies 20% of their customers deliver 80% of their profits means that too much sales and marketing activity is focused on the wrong customers.

However, even if your resources were unlimited no company can be all things to all people. So inevitably you must therefore make choices about the customers you want.

Indeed, one of the greatest opportunities to increase the effectiveness of your sales and marketing is to tailor it to specific segments and niches. For example, instead of having one piece of marketing material, or sales presentation for all the industries and sectors you are targeting, tailor it to each significant segment and niche in turn.

2. Some customers are easier to win than others, being more attracted to your solution and more amenable to your sales efforts. Even if everybody needs your product, or solution, there are some that need it more, have specific requirements and can pay more for it. So it makes sense to seek them out.

3. Every company likes to think that it's industry, or segment is different. So they will quickly ask if you done work for others like them? They want to know that your product/solution is specifically suited. They will listen carefully to see if you understand their industry's trends, language and challenges.

Being a specialist (or at least being seen to be specialist) is important because customers think the needs of their business and their industries are special. The big bank, for example, will not be impressed if you experience is with credit unions.

4. A distinctive advantage does not come from being the absolute best, but from being better at meeting the specific needs of particular customer segments. That is because the needs of customers and the way they buy generally varies by sector, location, company size, stage of development, etc.

Successful companies are ordinary companies, but with a clear focus on a key market segment(s) where they have a distinctive advantage. Once they choose their ideal customer they are not afraid to alienate others in tailoring their proposition and message exclusively to that group.

Why focus can be difficult

For most managers the need to focus on the right market segment(s) goes undisputed, however the reality is that many companies struggle in this area.

• Too many companies try to be everything to everyone, but that dilutes the appeal of what they offer. They fail to recognize the unique differences and particular needs of different customer groups and are vulnerable to competitors as a result.

• Too many companies don't segment their market to identify the most attractive / amenable group of customers and don't tailor their proposition and how it is sold accordingly.

• Others make the choice but focus on the wrong segments with disastrous results. Focus, or segmentation, is not just about customers, it also means choosing your competitors, margins, and so on. Hence the importance of making the right decision.

• The main reason for getting the focus wrong is an insufficient understanding of potential customers needs, or competitors. The next is an impatience to get results accompanied by a concern that the chosen market may not pay sufficient dividends.

Want to read more on why you should not try to appeal to everybody?

The most common problems with sales process

1. Everybody has their own way – different approach and results across
the team/over time - suboptimal
2. No concensus regarding the best way
3. Focus on sales process not buying process
4. Continuous review or process
5. Sales process not captured by slaes systems
6. Training in the best way
7. Too much depends on the person
8. Wrong process / inflexible / unresponsive
9. Tries to get customer to conform, focused on the seller not the
buyer, not enough information on how customers buy
10. Takes longer to train in new people

The most common problems with sales structures

1. A deficit of leadership and coaching
2. Trying con compensate for inadequate sales systems
3. Not enough time spend tin the field by management
4. Too little or too much reporting
5. Too formal or not formal enough structures
6. Organisational centric versus people centric
7. Hands off structures trying to compensate for hands on management
8. Inflexible, authocratic, beaucratic – restrict rather than enable

The most common problems with sales systems

1. Don't give managers and their staff the information required /
provide visibility, predictability and control in respect of sales and
2. Out of date – functionality – usability
3. Out of date or irrelevant information – not cleansed / pruned
4. Not used consistently by reps
5. Not used by management, not used at sales meetings, for calculating
commissions, etc.
6. Used differently by different users
7. Not aligned with sales process
8. Limited reporting functionality - Spreadsheets used for reporting
9. Insufficient training and support to users
10. Inadequate system admin
11. Lack of integration with other systems (calendaring, email, CRM,
accounting, etc.

The most common problems with sales & marketing plans

1. Not specific enough about what is going to be done and when (action
plan, dates, costs, deadlines, etc.)
2. Not enough marketing and strategic validation, insufficient
objective information and input
3. Not flexible enough to respond to changing market circumstances
(time horizon is too long and review processes are inadequate)
4. Writing a thesis versus setting direction, making decisions,
generating consensus, empowerment, etc.
5. Insufficient bottom-up involvement (involve customers and staff) –
traditional process for writing plans is not the best means of
collaboration in the new era)
6. Cross functional – align sales and marketing
7. Process is more important than the plan
8. Trade-offs not explicit – strategy is not clear
9. What is the purpose of the plan / the audience

What would help your sales team to maximise its success?

– More effective leadership (including leading by example)
– Clearer lines of responsibility
– Involving and engaging the team
– Greater appreciation and recognition
– Improved communication & openness
– Creation of a high-trust culture
– Greater clarity of direction
– Encourage greater innovation & creativity
– Delegation of responsibility and the empowerment of staff
– More effective administration, organisation & planning
– Remove barriers to increased effectiveness (as perceived by the team)
– Improved team work, team spirit, etc.
– More sales support (administration, lead generation, technical, etc)
– Easier to use sales systems (to track and manage leads, meetings,
cycles, orders, etc)
– Revised sales structures (e.g. more effective sales meetings, or
revised reporting arrangements)
– Training & investing in people
– Revised rewards & incentives
– Sales process changes (addressing the issue of sales effectiveness)
– Remove false expectations and limiting beliefs (e.g. nobody is
buying at the moment)
– Greater visibility

Are there any obstacles in the way of individual sales people selling more?

What is getting in the way of each of your sales people selling more?  Many managers are afraid to ask this question fearing the result will  be a list of excuses. The result is the opposite however - once all potential barriers (real or imagined) are clearly identified they can be tackled head on.

The most common barriers are; the relationship with the manager, levels of marketing and support, changes in the market (e.g. competition), the sales message or proposition and inefficient sales systems.

Here is a list of the key areas in which sales people can be helped to sell more:

(a) Leadership
Including building trust and respect, better communication, involvement in decisions, lead by example, clarity of responsibilities and direction, consistency, etc.

(b) Support
Provide assistance in the following areas:
– Messaging (how to communicate a compelling proposition for the customer)
– Marketing support / materials / sales aides / build awareness / references
– Product / industry knowledge and market intelligence (including competitor analysis, etc.)
– Sales training and coaching
– Pre-sales support
– Delivery / implementation / customer service / account management
– Unrealistic or impossible sales targets ) / demands

(c) Free up more time for selling by reducing time spent on:
– lead generation
– sales reporting
– admin
– preparing proposals
– travelling
– other areas (e.g. product meetings, order fulfilment, etc.)

(d) Provide more and better leads:
– Assist the sales person to be more effective in generating more of his/her own leads (buying, or building lists, direct mail shots, marketing support, etc.) 
– Provide the sales person with more and better leads in order to support his/her own led generation, contacts, black book, introductions, etc.

(e) Sales systems
The effective use of a good sales system (SFA/CRM) allows sales people to reduce reporting time, improve levels of personal organisation and increase sales effectiveness (conversion rates).

Yet, most sales people don't use a sales database, or at least don't use it fully. They regularly complain that sales databases, or systems that are cumbersome, slow, lacking in functionality (e.g. mail, calendar, etc.) and containing out-of-date information.

– Upgrade, or replace the system to ensure full usability and functionality
– Provide more training and user support
– Provide administrative support (including purging the system of redundant information, etc.)
– Make use of the system compulsory (linking it to payment of commissions, etc.)

(f) Strategic issues, dealing with the following objections:
– Competitive advantage (from pricing to product comparison)
– The market place is in a state of change (e.g. a downturn, etc.)
– We are not well known in the marketplace
– We need to build our brand, or change our reputation
– We need more / better reference sites / customers
– We need to re-examine the markets we are serving (geographic, sectoral, etc.)