April 28, 2009

Selling some of it is intuition

I had an early morning coffee with one of the most successful technology sales people in Europe this morning. This guy has closed both high value and low value deals all around the world. Every time I meet him he leaves me with nuggets of wisdom that are worth considering. Here are six I jotted down this morning:


·        Complex sales will require multiple channels of communications with the prospect. Inevitably when the deal sizes get interesting channel dynamics & personalities will emerge. You need to think like the partner if you are going to get one of the big boys to joint bid with you. The value you bring needs to be clear to them and to the customer. If having your organization involved in the joint bid doesn't strengthen a partners position considerably, they just won't have you on their bid team.


·        The sales guys that are doing deals right now have the ability to present the business case for a major sale with a CEO in the morning and then get on the phone and progress a smaller €100,000 deal in the afternoon, gone are the days your sales number will be achieved by just focusing on the big deals. Selling requires some street fighting (in the nicest possible way of course)


·        Lots of small deals are lost by forcing a yes no decision (T Junction) too early. You need to avoid taking the prospect to a T Junction too quickly, nurture the relationship and seek out the compelling event. Your solution needs to be must have, not a nice to have. Lots of sales people forget this.


·        When selling to the public sector abroad, obey the price envelopes that are set down, failure to do so will result in you not being shortlisted


·        Sales forecasting and planning should not just be about a scientific model, you need to, look back to previous quarters, look out at the market and then apply some intuition otherwise the target that are set are unlikely to get buy in from your sales team


·        Selling is very much team based, it requires sales professionals, pre-sales support, technical support, finance and customer support, it's not about one or two top people anymore.


Hope these nuggets from the field of professional selling are of use.


John O' Gorman – sales effectiveness, sales activity


April 26, 2009

Time to launch your own stimulus package

Few of us will be saved by an industry bailout - that is reserved for bankers and motor companies.  Furthermore, quantitative easing is not going to help you meet your numbers and the economic stimulus package is not going to be enough to restore vitality to your sales.  

The reality is that Barack Obama, Gordon Brown or Angela Merkel have got too much on their minds to be concerned about your business, or mine.  So if you want to get sales revenues back on track then you are just going to have to launch your very own stimulus package.    A sales stimulus package that is.

As we see it that should have at least 4 components:

1.        Activity stimulus:  ramp up your levels of sales activity and keep them up, that means more sales calls, more emails, more meetings, etc.  As your competitors take their foot of the pedal you can cover new ground, make new contacts and woe new customers.

2.        Innovation stimulus: Never has the appetite for change being so great, with companies having a blank check as regarding reinventing themselves, their products and their processes.  In particular that means finding leaner and more flexible ways of delivering new and existing benefits to the customer.

3.        Value stimulus:  With so much talk of deflation and price cutting, a focus on how your solutions create value for the customers business is key.  If you are using long lists of features, or benefits to sell then now is the time to stop.  Focus instead on quantifying the impact your solutions have on the key metrics and variables that relate to the performance of your customerss business.  Stimulate the buyer by explaining to prospects, using real customers as examples, how your solutions have cut costs, increased sales and impacted on other important business metrics.  Then explore new ways to add value to all your existing customers, ways to exceed their expectations and to transform your company from a supplier to a strategic partner in respect of their businesses success.

4.        Buyer stimulus:  As buyers stall buying decisions and delay key projects until a time of lower risk and uncertainty, what can you do to stimulate action?    In another article we have listed 8 ways in which sellers can reflect the changed priorities of buyers, including flexible pricing, agile implementation, point solutions, etc.  Success requires that sellers are in synch with the changed business requirements of their customers and prospects.  The appetite for large scale IT projects with long term paybacks has, without question, diminished, however that does but those who can help buyers do more for less, cut costs and respond to uncertainty can and will close business. 

April 24, 2009

9 things unforgiving buyers don't like

Buyers have heard it all before, which makes them a little more demanding. In short they are less forgiving when salespeople make any of the following mistakes:

  1. Not knowing enough about your own products, or the customer’s industry. The number one complaint of buyers is a lack of product knowledge on the part of sales people.

  2. Suggesting we need your solution without taking the time to find out about our needs, or requirements. It is risky to assume the customer has a problem and needs your solution, so don’t forget to ask first.

  3. Claiming that your solution meets every company’s needs and failing to appreciate that my business is different, or that my challenges are special.

  4. Talking as if yours is the only alternative, or option, making us suspect that you want to sell to us regardless.

  5. Hinting that the customer does not know what they are doing, or that what he/she is doing is wrong. Surprisingly this is quite common, with many sales pitches beginning with a statement such as ‘80% of software projects are over budget’, ‘most IT inventories are out by as much as 20%’, etc. These could be seen as thinly veiled insults to the customer.

  6. Oversimplifying the customer requirements, for example suggesting easy integration with 3rd party systems, when buyers know that integration is never easy.

  7. Making exaggerated claims that detract from the credibility of their message. For example ‘reduces time to market from months to just hours’, ‘cuts integration costs by up to 90%’, or ‘can be implemented for just 10% of the cost of traditional solutions’. Your claims must be believable and backed up by valid customer references.

  8. Talks in terms of marketing fluff, as opposed to objectively verifiable and quantifiable information.

  9. Getting defensive if the customer asks questions about your solution, or not attaching enough importance to objections and questions raised.

Getting Ready To Start Prospecting

The need to start prospecting
Things start happening when people pick up the phone and start talking to prospects and customers. It is as simple as that.

Indeed, when the market is tough, that calling becomes more important than ever. That explains why it is the focus of so many articles we have written. Most organisations are not calling enough potential customers, or doing it in as systematic manner as is necessary.

The bottom line is they find it tough, with most salespeople creatively avoiding it in many ways. The lack of prospecting is the number one complaint area for many sales managers. When outside telemarketing agencies are used the results too are often disappointing. The solution to both these problems is more preparation.

Preparation falls into two categories
I started my career making approximately 50 telemarketing calls a day. In a way I was well trained and quickly learned the importance of preparation for any campaign. That generally meant physical preparation, such as:
  • Deciding who and how many will be called, what the objective of the campaign (metrics, etc.) is and how long it will last, number of days to allocate, setting review dates, etc.
  • Building the list
  • Writing out and re-writing what you are going to say, until you are happy with it
  • Writing out questions you are likely to be asked and your answers to them
  • Practicing what you are going to say and how you are going to say it
  • Formulating a list of questions you are likely to be asked, or barriers that arise and answers to them
  • Preparing your list of questions / information you want to gather on the call
  • Deciding what you will say to the PA and what voicemail message if any you will leave (if any)
  • Gathering product/industry knowledge
  • Deciding what you will send if somebody wants more information, or what web page to point them to
  • Preparing the list – agreeing the criteria, finding the names, numbers, ensuring that the company has not suscribed to any 'do not call' list (e.g. TPS in the UK), etc.
  • Doing your homework on the persons and the companies to be called
  • Using a database, or a spreadsheet to track your calls
  • Allocating time, including uninterrupted slots in your diary for calling
  • Determining what supporting marketing activity, such as direct mail, will be employed
  • Undertaking a pilot (a couple of days of calling in order to test the approach and its effectiveness) before ramping up activity
Psychological Preparation
Less obvious and equally important is the mental preparation required for calling prospects. All too often that gets forgotten about. Yet it is the single most important factor that determines long term success and failure. In particular it is key to the ability to sustain sales prospecting activity, beyond the initial burst of enthusiasm.

I believe 80% of the success in sales prospecting is psychological, here are some of the factors:
  • Focus on the goal. You can do anything if you believe it is important enough.
  • Practice and prepare, it will make you feel more comfortable and confident. Write out what you are going to say – it is comforting to have the information beside you.
  • Jump straight in – don’t put it off till tomorrow. Launch bravely – just get started. Allocate a slot of time each day or each week and when that is over you can feel good about it. Free yourself from interruptions (block incoming calls, close your email application, etc.). Reward yourself when you are done.
  • Start small and then grow from there – set realistic expectations (both about the results, the number of calls and the time you can allocate to it) – remember It is a marathon not a sprint
  • Remember it is an information call, not a sales call. So, have something useful to say, or some information to share (focus on what is in it for the buyer). Your objective is not to sell it is simply to call – to gather and share information. In that way every call is a result and every hour of calling is a success.
  • Remember you cannot mess it up and you cannot fail (unless you give up). After all what is the worst thing that can happen? That somebody says they are not interested?
  • If they are not interested then no worries, your job was just to provide them with information and tell them about your company (anyhow they may change their mind later you never know)
  • Let the averages work for you - remember you don’t have to talk to a manager in every company you contact, and you don’t have to get a positive reaction from every manager you talk to, it may work out to be 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 or some other rate of interest, no worries that is fine. Once you know the average you know exactly what you need to do. The focus becomes the 20 not the one.
  • Go home happy once you have done your calls, regardless of the outcome, then the next day ask if there is anything that you could have done any differently. But persist regardless.
  • List the calls you make each day and count them. Feel good about it. Each call is a result.
  • Eventually you will talk to somebody that is interested, you will gather useful information, you will build awareness of your company, you will add to your skills/resilience, so keep going. Make one more call, that could be the opportunity you have been waiting for. All the time remember that you are planting seeds today that will grow over time
  • You don’t have to talk the buyer into buying (very few high value B2B products are sold over the phone), your job is to provide him/her with useful information and to arrange a future conversation (or other appropriate follow-up)
  • Remember this is the beginning of a relationship; it is not just about one call. The next call will be easier as he/she will remember you.
  • Don’t rush to judgment; don’t make a hasty assessment of success or failure based on the first few calls, or the first few days of calls. Give it time and switch off the internal conversations fortelling failure in the meantime. Too many campaigns are afflicted by premature and ongoing postmortems. Remember you only fail when you give up. Success lies in keeping the activity going. In that way results are inevitable. If the results dont come in time, then be stoic - perhaps the outcome is telling y0u to change your strategy, or approach.
More psychological preparation
  • It sounds obvious but dont assume that the person you are calling will be interested. Don't be afraid to start of by saying 'i am not sure if this is something that might be of interest to you, but...'.
  • See yourself on the same level as the person you are talking to and dont see yourself as interruption.
  • Act confident and you will be confident. So before each call, sit up, take a deep breath, raise your shoulders and smile. The speak slowly, clearly and confidently. All this will make you feel more confident.
  • Have a genuine interest in the other person. That is you genuinely want to pass on some information that will be off value, or encourage him/her to explore a solution to a problem.
  • Speak more slowly than normal, in that way you won’t have to worry about your accent and being understood. It will also make you sound more confident and professional.
  • Smile, it will come across to the person you are talking too (strange I know, but it has been proven to work).
  • Don’t take any rejections personally. Remember occasionally you will talk to a grouch, or somebody who is just having a bad day.
  • Remember the last time you got a call, how did you feel?
  • Respect the persons time:
    - Don’t assume they will be interested – in fact tell that you are not sure if it is relevant to them
    - Don’t assume that they have time to talk to you, or that you have called at a good time
  • Don’t put down the phone – make the next call. Keep calling - the call you did not make is the call that might have got you that result you wanted
  • Set a time for call, preferably a slot earlier in the day, when you will make your calls, without interruption. When that time is up, you can move on to the next task feeling good about having completed what you had set to do. It is useful to set a pattern to your work, for example calling on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, thereby reinforcing the habit.

The new business development equation

There is a new equation to calculate the rate of success you can expect to from your business development activities.  Well, it is actually not new at all, although for many people it is newly discovered. 

It states the obvious - new business generated is a function of the number of sales; calls, emails, letters and meetings.  It works on two levels:

First, the building of the sales pipeline is directly related to the volume of each of these elements.  Sales is not just a once off email, or meeting that is required to close a deal, but an ongoing and systematic process of calling, emailing, meeting, etc.

Second, the level of success with any prospect, or sales opportunity.  That means calling prospects and keeping in touch by email and letter, sending the occasional useful piece of information (a case study, white paper, etc.).   

Related posts:

Keep in touch.  Nobody gets left behind.  People are interested in people who are interested in them.  You cannot trust people you don’t know.  Relationship selling.

How the iPhone has changed how people see your product

The way your customers see your products has changed. Popular products such as the iPhone have raised the bar with customers now demanding more sophisticated, or at least more visually appealing user interfaces.

This became very clear to a client of ours recently previewing its new web site with two members of its board. Both liked the content but wanted it to look sexier. After some discussion of what that meant, the iPod was identified as the benchmark.

For a long time we have known that most screenshots of IT systems, although popular additions to marketing brochures and sales presentations, do little to increase the attractiveness of most solutions. There are three reasons;

  • Screen shots do more to communicate features rather than benefits
  • Most UI screenshots are not visually attractive and sometimes not even userfriendly
  • Most screen shots are not legible when they are reduced to fit onto a brochure, website or sales presenter

Something similar applies to demos. With so many expectations created in advance of the solution being demonstrated, displaying simplistic, or crude system user interfaces can be a letdown.

One of our clients recently demonstrated its new set top box entertainment system on a large plasma screen television recently. Impressive? Well not quite so. The icons used were more a kin to a BBC Micro, or Amstrad computer, than the iPod. So too was the on screen text and the layout. The client, disappointed by the lack of a wow reaction, explained that while the system’s functionality was rich, the graphics were limited by the hardware’s capacity. Again those watching pointed out that users would view the system on its appearance, long before being able to judge its functionality. Again, the iPod was identified as the standard to be achieved.

Who knows if the iPod is the best product on the market, but one thing is for sure it is both easy to use and nice to look at. In short it is sexy. It has set the standard for user interfaces, with intuitive and stylish, yet understated, icons and buttons.

Buyers: Treat salespeople As you would expect to be treated

Applying the Golden Rule to Sales

What goes around goes around.  So treat salespeople as you expect to be treated.  Call it good karma, good manners or simply the golden rule (a la the Bible, etc.).

Almost everybody in business will have to make a sales call at some time, or other.  When they do they hope to be treated with professionalism, courtesy and respect.  But is that how they treat the salespeople that call on them?

Treat salespeople as you would like to be treated

Many managers don’t treat the sales people calling on them very well.  In the mist of a busy workday the sales person who calls, or visits, often gets short shrift.  After all, time is scarce and we cannot just entertain every salesperson who either rings up, or drops by. 

However, if managers don’t treat salespeople with respect, how do they expect to be treated with respect by their customers and prospects?

When the shoe is on the other foot

How you treat other salespeople is ultimately how customers and potential customers will treat you.  In a karmic way if you are rude and impatient with a sales person when he/she calls, then you have no right but to expect anything different when ‘the shoe is on the other foot’.

Yes, cold calling sales people are the lepers of the modern age and those who apply pushy and intrusive selling techniques may deserve to be shunned.  However, it is important to treat salespeople in the same way as you yourself, or your salespeople would expect to be treated.  So here are some guidelines.

When a salesperson calls you on the phone:

  • Put yourself in the salesperson’s shoes
  • Be nice, if you cannot speak then ask the person to call back again
  • Assume that the sales person is a professional , unless proven otherwise
  • Give a minute to listen, maybe it could be of interest
  • If you are not interested say so, don’t for example fob the person off by requesting a brochure if you are not really interested

When you are in a sales meeting:

  • Be clear on the purpose of the meeting and agree in advance what time you can give to the salesperson, after all  you have invited him/her to travel to see you
  • Interact and show some interest – we all know how off putting it can be when a customer, or potential customer sits there and says nothing, or when the conversation is all one way
  • Don’t just ask for a proposal without being prepared to give the customer the time to explain your needs
  • Don’t ask the customer to do a presentation unless you are prepared to give him/her some background on your company, what you would like to cover, etc.
  • Don’t ask for a proposal unless you really will consider it – we all know how much time it takes to prepare a proposal and how frustrating it can be to discover it was a waste of time

- None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother (salesperson, or not), what he wishes for himself (Islamic Hadith).
- Do onto other (salespeople) as you would have them do unto you (The Bible).


April 23, 2009

What to do when you have lost the sale

So you have lost the sale…

All salespeople become emotionally involved in winning the sale.  It is not just a financial issue involving commissions and targets, but also an issue of personal pride.  So, getting a ‘no’ can feel like a bit of a slap in the face.   With this in mind here are some tips on dealing with a lost sale.

Don’t blame yourself, or anybody else and don’t moan and complain either.   For example, don’t say ‘they wasted our time’, ‘they used us only to get another quote’, ‘we cannot close’, ‘they did not know ’, Focus instead on what can be learned from the situation.  Instead of using it to beat yourself, or others up, let it help you - let it move you forward.

Don’t personalize it.  If you feel you, or somebody else ’dropped the ball’, then focus your attention on the actions as opposed to the person.  For example, it is not because John the account manager failed to close, but because the sales process employed fell short and needs improvement.  Focusing on behaviours as opposed to people is key to transforming destructive criticism into positive direction.

Accept responsibility.  That is much different to the issue of blame.  Even if the market downturn, the departure of your contact in the prospect company, the actions of a competitor, etc. have played a role in losing the sale, it is best not to focus on these things, but instead on how you and your company are/can/should deal with them.  Accepting responsibility in this way is the key to leadership, to maintaining peace of mind and to moving forward.

Learn from it.    This offers the potential to transform a set back into an event that has the potential to improve your overall win rate, or ‘batting average’.  So, ask yourself (and all the others involved):

  •     What will I/we do differently next time to get the result that I want?
  •           Did I/we do everything you could do?   What worked?   What wouldn’t I/we do again? 
  •     Take the learning systematic, by undertaking win loss analyses in respect of ever proposal, or tender.  That means asking questions such as:
  •           Why did it come as such a big surprise?  What clues did you miss? 
  •          What was the gap between your solution and the prospect’s perceived needs? 
  •          Did we fully understand the needs?
  •          Did we ensure the prospect had all the information required? 
  •          Did we clearly build trust and establish credibility? 
  •          Did we identify and address all the barriers? 
  •          Could we have made it any easier to say yes? 
  •         Did we invest enough time in building relationships?  
  •          Did we cover the buying unit?  Did we keep all our promises throughout? 
  •          Were there any aspects of how we managed the sales cycle that could have been improved? 

 Some other pointers:

Ask for feedback and advice from the prospect who has just said no.  Make it easy for the people involved to open up and tell you the real reasons.  Take great care not to appear as a ‘sore looser’.  Swallow your pride and genuinely wish them the best in implementing their chosen solution.

Stay positive.  See the setback as an opportunity to grow, improve and become stronger.  Remember, as Winston Churchill said ‘success is moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’. 

You may have lost this sale, but that does not mean that you have lost the potential customer.  So it is important to keep in touch with the customer, even though they have chosen another supplier.  Things change and suppliers, as well as managers come and go, so if you maintain the relationship you may find yourself in pole position for the next order. 

Revise the numbers.  Dealing with the implications head on is best.  As yourself:  What is the worst case scenario now that that potential sale is lost?   Can we cope with that situation if it does occur?  How can be ameliorate the situation?

2 Tips to make your calls more effective

Today I was role playing for a telemarketing campaign to C level executives in major UK financial institutions. Last quarter’s message has run its course and it was time for a new message - one that is more in keeping with the present market environment.

We are now at version 4 of the new telemarketing script (actually, we prefer to use the term conversation guide) and with a bit of minor tweaking and changing should be ready to go.  

Just as the role play concluded with the Sales Director and Sales Manager listening in, two important points were raised that although simple can contribute in an important way to success:

1. Ask ‘do you have a minute, is now a good time?’

Before launching into the message don’t forget to ask the person on the other end ‘do you have a minute, is now a good time?’  Now in telemarketing school they say never ask this question, because it makes it easy for the customer to say no and as a consequence will multiply your workload in terms of call backs. 

However, in the world of executive to executive selling it is important to clearly differentiate yourself from the stereotypical ‘I got you’ seller who is pushy and interrupts.   What better way than to ask straight up ‘it will take two, or three minutes, is now a good time?’

The reality is that by asking the question you are likely to be asked to call another time in probably 33% of the cases.  However, this extra workload is more than justified because in addition to making your look more professional, calling back at a more convenient time will also make your call more effective.  Quite simply it means that the person on the other end of the line will be better able to listen and appreciate what you have to say. 

2. Make sure you have some good questions to ask.  

The objective of the call may be to get an appointment, but the effectiveness of that appointment often depends on what information you have been able to gather in advance regarding the needs and priorities of the prospect.

Now, there are two factors at play in terms of why most telemarketing calls are more of a monologue than a dialogue.  The first is that it is difficult to get the potential customer to open up or say much over the phone.  The second is that the person making the call needs to have sufficient knowledge, confidence and training to be able to ask questions and understand the answers.  However, at a very minimum the salesperson should know before calling on the customer a little about what areas the customer is particularly interested in, what he or she would like to get out of the meeting and whether anybody else in the organization should be there.

April 22, 2009

Tough times never last, but tough people do

Here is a new mantra for selling in a slown-turn: ‘tough times never last, but tough people do.’

The importance of staying positive

It is a challenge for sales managers, and indeed managers generally, to stay positive in these negative times. But, the problem is that, more than almost any other profession, selling requires a positive mental attitude.

A negative salesperson is going to struggle to get into the car in the morning, to deliver enthusiastic sales presentations, or to demonstrate with confidence that his/her solution will help. In a time of crisis people look to others for confidence, leadership and direction, but negative sales manager, will inevitably fall short.

Those sales people who are performing best in spite of the present difficult market conditions have isolated themselves from the bad news and its associated negativity. They are listening to music instead of talk radio and are reading a sales book instead of the newspaper.

Possibility Thinking

There are still opportunities in spite of the downturn, but those overwhelmed by the doom and gloom can’t see them. As the chairman of one of our most successful client companies recently told his management team ‘People still need to eat, somewhere to live, to travel, etc. - the world has not stopped, it has just slowed down a bit.’

Today’s opportunities are less obvious than those in a fast growing market, but they do exist. It may be a competitor that has lost its way, somebody you were unable to sell to previously that is now looking for a better deal, a shift in buying patterns (from the top end of the market to the middle), opportunities for innovation in terms of new pricing models, phased delivery, point solutions, etc.

A New Mantra for Sales Managers

How to stay focused and positive? Well say aloud: ‘tough times never last, but tough people do*.’ Put it up in your bulletin board, put it on your desk, repeat it in your sales meetings – ‘tough times never last, but tough people do.’

Anybody can focus on the negative and most do. The test of a leader is to stay focused on the positive. Negativity leads to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. It results in a focus on the problem, instead of a possible solution. So, focus not on the recession but on how you are dealing with it. The former you can’t control, but the latter you can and that has the potential to make all the difference.

So how tough are you, your organization and your team? Well, probably a lot tougher than you think. So, now is the time to shine. Today’s opportunities are ‘dressed in work clothes’ - that is to say exploiting them requires greater effort and creativity than was the case in growth times. But, it is worth remembering that some of the world’s best known companies, Microsoft and Apple, were started in a downturn.

*Thanks to Dr. Robert H. Schuller

April 21, 2009

Some companies can see beyond the downturn

Looking for some positive news in this time of economic turmoil?   Well, today’s Financial Times had exactly that, reporting that 10 deals worth 27 billion were announced yesterday the 20th April 2009.

What is says is that some of the world’s biggest companies can see beyond the downturn.  They are confident about their futures and are actively shaping it:

·         Oracle agreed to buy Sun Microsystems for $7.4bn

·         GlaxoSmithKline paid $3.6bn for Stiefel Laboratories

·         PepsiCo offered $6bn to buy out investors in its two biggest bottlers.

It is all about confidence, but as sales people, it is too easy to assume that our customers and prospects don’t have the bottle to take important and even risky business decisions at this time.  That is a dangerous assumption. 

The spurt in M&A activity shows that companies are as capable of making good business decisions today as ever, if the business confidence and rationale exists.  Our job as sales people is to make sure it does.  As Dale Carnegie would say ‘if all you have got is lemons, at least you can make lemonade’.

The fact is getting project approval has slowed sales down

I was on an early morning con-call today with a professional sales person based in Australia. He recently secured a significant deal (more than $10 million). I asked him what he was doing to face the slowdown. His reply:


“Now is a good time to knock on doors, it is important to stay focused and to stay positive about the impact your solutions can deliver. Eighteen months ago, I wasn’t too worried about looking for budget in the early part of a sales cycle. Now I am qualifying very hard a lot earlier on, we are asking questions like

  • What will the board view be on a project like this?


  • Where will the budget come from for this project?


  • What types of cost benefit analysis will we need to work on together?


  • We are being frank but at the same time respectful, its is important not to come across as being pushy.


Our sales team are drawing out the cost benefit and project justification a lot earlier in the sales cycle as part of qualification. We are working with the clients to build this so we don't waste our time or theirs. Qualification and activity levels are the only game in town if you are going to reach your numbers”.


I hope this insight from the field is useful.


John O' Gorman - sales coaching, sales effectiveness, sales management



April 17, 2009

Selling - Its time to start singing of the same hymn sheet

Is everybody in your organisation singing of the same hymn sheet when it comes to sales and marketing? Probably not, if the experiences of most companies hold true.

Here are the different viewpoints to be found in most organisations:

1. Manager Viewpoints

We find that managers are concerned about the salesperson who cannot ask for help and proceeds through sales cycles without involving others. But they are also concerned about the sales person who asks for help too early, or too often. The latter is perhaps the most common, with managers complaining ‘he/she wants somebody to go along to almost every meeting to accompany them!’

At the core of the problem is the lack of agreement as to how sales cycles are to be managed - who is involved and when. All this comes under the heading of sales process definition.

2. Technical Department Viewpoints

- Technical people often complain that sales people don’t have sufficient product, or technical grounding.

- Furthermore, the fact that salespeople ‘have not made the effort to learn’ is something that they find difficult to understand.

- Although in some cases the efforts by salespeople’s to learn from their technical colleagues are stymied.

- They also complain about uninformed salespeople over-promising, mis-representing or underselling their solutions.

3. Salesperson Viewpoints

- Sales people often complain that technical is reluctant to adapt to the requirements of customers – Why can’t we have that feature if the customer wants it? Why is it going to take so long?

- They are irked by demos that don’t go smoothly, or by the lack of preparation for customer presentations.

- They want less information to reside in the heads of developers and engineers, and more to be found in documentation and support materials.

- And last but not least, they are concerned with form as well as function and want often want what the customer sees (the interfaces, etc.) to look sexier.

- They often feel at a disadvantage in having to compete for time and resources, believing that a greater priority should be attached to supporting sales opportunities.

- All of this is not helped by the fact that the typical salesperson is less patient than normal.

The lone ranger sales person rides into the sun set

No more solo performances

Increasingly organizations are turning from the ‘lone ranger’ approach to selling, to a more team based approach.  That is because in today’s complex sales environment, great solo performances are not enough.  Sales is too important just to be left to the sales person alone.

Today’s stellar performing salesperson is merely the front man.  Selling complex solutions requires the combined and coordinated efforts of a team that includes; technical, sales support, account management and other people and skills. 

Team-based Selling

They key word is team.  The multiplicity of tasks, the variety of decision making factors and the number of people involved in the decision making process, means that selling is too much for just one person.  There are no a multiplicity of roles required in any sales team.

No one person has all the information, knowledge and expertise required to single-handedly close a major deal - to navigate the customer through the different stages of increasingly lengthy and complex sales cycles, including;

-          Factfind / needs analysis
-          Developing the solution
-          Nurturing relationships and building credibility
-          Communicating the benefits
-          Calculating and Negotiating price
-          Building and validating the business case
-          Demonstrating / customizing / integrating the technology
-          Contract negotiation
-          Implementation and project management
-          Problem solving

The Team Selling Challenges

A team is not just a collection of individuals.  It is a meshing together of different skills, disciplines and even perspectives in the pursuit of a common purpose.   However, the diversity inherent in great teams, also represents one of the greatest challenges to getting people working effectively together:

       -         Different roles and backgrounds, sales and technical, for example, or even sales and marketing.  Too often the lines of demarcation can become battle lines.

       -         Different personalities and sometimes contrasting role-related stereotypes - for example the typical salesperson who is outgoing, confident and shoots from the hip, versus the typical techie who is likely to be understated, introverted and more analytical.

       -         Different disciplines, each with its associated language, methodologies and paradigms.  It is clear that most engineers and sales people think differently.  They speak and act differently too.

       -         Last but by no means least, there is the inter-personal element, the relationships, the egos, the histories and the culture.

Diversity equals strength

Diversity in the right team environment means synergy.  Different perspectives, different approach, etc. all are valuable.  But, combing them together effectively is key.  That requires matching people to the right roles and getting people to sign off the same hymn sheet.  It also requires an coach, or leader to ensure effective communication, provide encouragement, manage feedback, etc . 

Great solo performances are not enough.  If the salesperson is the trumpet, then technical is the strings section, account management is the drums, etc.  But is everybody in harmony and just who is conducting the orchestra?

April 13, 2009

How tangible are the benefits of your solution?

Most salespeople struggle to move beyond adjectives in selling their solutions. This greatly limits their effectiveness.

Relying on adjectives, as opposed to more meaningful and tangible evidence of benefits, limits the impact of their proposition, in most cases making it almost indistinguishable from competitors. Here is an example:

Our customers achieve significant savings as a result of implementing our solutions

That sounds pretty bland, right? It sounds like what most of your competitors would say. Significant savings is vague and somewhat unconvincing. It does not grab attention, or represent a compelling reason to buy, or at least explore buying.

Now change the message slightly, as follows:

Our customers, including; companies A, B and C, have achieve savings of up to 20% as a result of implementing our solutions

The impact is a lot greater, right? First off, there are companies mentioned, that adds credibility and 3rd party validation. Then the benefit are tangibilized, even quantified. That tells customers exactly what to expect.

Now, many salespeople will say customers wont believe the statistics (a point we discuss in another article). But, assuming that it is true and veritably so, that depends on how it is used. It should be merely a reference point, with the salesperson saying ‘…this is what other customers have achieved, we would be delighted to explore with you whether this can be achieved by you…’

It is also worth bearing in mind:

- That when you mention a statistic you have to be able to convincingly back it up, with reference to the experiences of your other customers and to a business model, or spreadsheet.

- Take care with the figure you use. Dont use a figure that will sound incredible to the prospect, even if you need to pare your figure back a little.

In age where brochureware gets binned quicker than you can say marketing blurb, we help many companies increase the effectiveness of their sales messages and materials. We are always surprised that our clients struggle most to provide any quantification of the benefits delivered for other customers.

Managers can easily provide long list of features and feature-led benefits, but succinct statements of the impact on key customer business metrics are a challenge. In our view this points to the need to get closer to their customers.

The conclusion: if you want to want to grab your prospects attention and keep them reading - quantify the results that your solutions have achieved for other customers. The rest of the sales process is then focused on the salesperson and prospect exploring how he/she can achieve the same, or a similar result.