Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sales Tools in 2017 - it's different!

Every year it seems like the same exercise.  The holidays approach, winter sets in, we spend time with family and friends, and we start to think about how next year is going to be better (or at least - different).  Different is not always better, but when you try things differently, you may get a different result.  Different is a start.  Different will always be a good experience for you because it will either affirm that the current way you do things is still great, or it will show you a new pathway to even greater success.  If you're unhappy with how things are right now, the exercise is critical.  Change now, do something different, or be stuck with your unhappiness.

This begs the question:  How do we change things?  Whether it is your professional sales career or something more personal (like getting more exercise or eating cleaner), the experts will tell you that you need to plan for your success.  Actually you need at least four things:  1) Define what you are currently doing;  2) Accept how you are feeling about it;  3) Agree upon an objective goal that you can measure; 4) Create a plan - with milestones - that is reasonable and achievable.  All of this is difficult to do in your head, and there is a mountain of scientific evidence that demonstrates that you will see significantly better results if you do this on paper ("on paper" today includes things like on a computer, on an iPad, using a tool, etc.).  Before the age of constant connectivity, science would still insist that you physically write this down.  Even today, productivity experts still suggest that your brain knows the difference between handwriting and typing.  There is a physical/mental connection between the hand-motions of writing versus typing (weird, right).

Given so many ways to take notes, set reminders, be alerted, email/text/instant message, etc. what should we be doing today, in 2017, to be most effective at instituting change in our work and personal lives?  How do we structure and use tools differently than we might have done in the past (even as recently as last year)?  Here's some ideas that should get you thinking about self-improvement.  The most important take-away is to begin somewhere.  Don't wait.  Don't think about how to do it perfectly, just get the four items above written down somewhere and read it the next day.  Then do a bit more.  Read the items every day.

  • Planners and Notebooks.  Still the king.  Doesn't require electricity, a charger, a reminder, or an internet connection.  Still has the most scientific evidence of being your best tool out there.  Still produced in enormous quantities, but things have changed for the planner you used a few years ago.  Today, planners have crossed the Millennial line, and are being manufactured by small start-up companies hoping to get you just a little more productive.  Planners like Passion Planner and Panda Planner have sold millions of units aimed at integrating journaling (which is another time-tested way to implement change) and productivity planning.  While traditional planners like Franklin Covey and Day Timer have focused on prioritizing tasks and time, today's more flexible planners (neatly bound in a flexible, rubber-banded package) push users towards creativity and "infinite possibilities").  I've found these new planners to do everything the older-style planners did, and more.  They actually pushed me to write more things down, document the wins, focus on positive thinking and track patterns at-a-glance.
  • OneNote, EverNote, AnyNote.  Regardless of the name, these constantly connected, cloud-based note-taking applications are slick and enable mobility without carrying around a planner.  But wait.  Don't you have to then carry-around a device that's good for typing or hand-writing?  Now you have to start thinking about how good your note taking/reading is on an iPhone, iPad, or laptop.  You have to start worrying about connectivity and synchronization.  You also have to think about battery use and accessories.  Unless you are somebody who simply sits in front of a computer for 16 hours a day (even on weekends), there's something here that just requires more effort and, thus, less productivity.  Isn't the whole thing supposed to give you more productivity?  Isn't it interesting that Microsoft OneNote goes to great lengths to mimic a real notebook, with tabs, pages and more?  The big advantage of using these online, connected SAAS products is that you can copy metadata, links and photos directly into the tool.  This is way more productive than printing, cutting, pasting and 3-hole punching your way into a planner.  It's a trade-off.  Sometimes the easiest thing is not the best thing.  Maybe there are two things going on at the same time (the need for productivity management and the convenience of photos, artwork, and web links at your fingertips).  What will really bend your noodle is tools like the Microsoft Surface, which create a very realistic digital writing experience in OneNote, and perform pretty good optical character recognition.  Hmmm, the debate will go on and as a society, we will spend a lot of money and time figuring this out.
  • Post-It Notes, Sticky Notes, Outlook Tasks and Reminders.  Productivity experts will frown on using these throw-away tools.  They will tell you that you are decreasing your productivity by using a second tool to do something that should be all in one place.  This is as true today as it way ten years ago.  If you are keeping all of your priorities, tasks, reminders and data in a single tool, why distract yourself in this way?  Sticky notes and card systems are similar to email flags.  In order to see the flags, you have to read through everything, or create a separate view to see all your flags.  It seems good at the time, but all of these things actually diminish your productivity. If you have a desk full of files, documents, sticky notes, notebooks and cards - this is a sign of disorganization and big-time loss of productivity.  Stop and make some decisions to streamline your work life.
Regardless of the tool, think about change.  What do you really want in 2017?  How will you do things differently?  What are the four items required for change in your situation?  While I am typing this blog on the computer, I only composed this because my planner helped me to prioritize and reflect on the importance and reasons behind it.  Perspective is sometimes the thing we need to change most.

Happy selling in 2017!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Clinton or Trump - How does it impact salespeople?

We're in for a fight on our hands, and the next President of the US (POTUS) will be elected by nothing short of a back-alley knife fight.  The last one standing (or should I say, the one who can withstand the constant barrage of name-calling, insults and racist remarks the most), will be our new POTUS.  For the purpose of this blog, let's refrain from the personalities.  Instead, let's look at how your sales environment might change, once our new leader is in place:

If Donald Trump wins:

  • Expect the economy and your customers to reflect a more aggressive reflection of the new President.  If Trump has his way, there will be massive tax cuts for business.  This might mean more capital to spend on whatever it is that you sell.
  • If you or your company sells weapons, firearms, survival gear or emergency supplies - boy, are you in for a windfall!  If Trump makes good on his foreign policy promises, the country will need more weapons.  We may need to defend ourselves.  If any of you sell underground bunkers, please call me for an estimate.
  • When it comes to illegal immigration, if Trump builds the wall, and throws out millions of illegals,  there may be a big demand for manual labor.  Our country has seen a lot of jobs lost to overseas manufacturing.  If Trump can reverse this, it may be a salesperson's paradise for labor recruiters across the nation.
  • If you sell retail (clothes, appliances, cars, etc.), it's hard to predict how a Trump Presidency would impact you.  On one hand, the public may spend more, if they are taxed less.  On the other hand, Trump has created a great deal of concern over what happens next in our country.  This may cause buyers to save as much as possible (they may want to buy anti-radiation pills or a gas mask).
If Hillary Clinton wins:
  • One possibility here is that absolutely nothing will change at all.  Sales may continue to be either good, bad or indifferent - just like they were during the last eight years under Obama.
  • If Hillary continues to spend money on government programs at the same rate (or faster) than Obama, the US debt will be at an all time high.  This means we may be in another economic bubble.  One small interest rate by the feds may tailspin this country right back into another recession.  If that happens, life is not good for salespeople (but good for lawyers).
  • It will be interesting to see Hillary's "Debt-Free College" program.  Somebody will be paying those schools to teach.  This likely means the US Community College system in America will be asked to step up.  Unfortunately, our Community Colleges are some of the most challenged schools in the country, many of them suffering from huge debt and inadequate funding.  Those salespeople selling college admissions or selling to colleges or universities may be sitting well, if Uncle Sam begins funding these schools.
  • If Hillary takes the White House, it may mimic what her husband's tenure looked like for salespeople - which was a general, steady increase in household income.  Maybe the upper class will save more, but the middle class will continue buying cars, insurance, and houses.  
Take a look at what it is that you sell.  Would it be better with Trump or Clinton?  You decide.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Blog after blog.  Journal after journal.  Why aren't people listening?

Here is the most important concept in all of selling (boiling the entire ocean):  People tend to do whats in their own best interest.

That's it.  There's nothing more to it.  Well, actually, everything you do or say comes after it.  The sales industry calls this Consultative Selling.  It's been around for 45 years or more.  There are giant sales training/methodology courses teaching the full 360 degree view of this simple concept. For some reason(s) (keep reading), salespeople still do not take the time to learn and master this approach.

Let me put in another way.  There's no trick.  There's no gimmick.  There's no closing technique.  There's no political component to it.  All sales are made by a person or people who are looking out for what's in their best interest (hopefully that is also in the best interest of your customer's business as well, but that topic is for another day).  Every time you try to add to this, turn it around, "disrupt it," remodel it or shine-it-up, it will backfire.  We have all experienced this as a customer buying something of consequence.

Today, I read for an hour on the web about salespeople's challenges and what their company wants them to say or track.  Here's how to evaluate anything your company asks you to do:  Is what they are asking in your best interest and the best interest of your company?  If it is, then do it.  If it's not, say something about it with a suggestion on how we can get back to the core principle of selling.

Today, make a pledge that you're going to stop the rodent wheel, take a deep breath, and find out what's going on with your prospects and customers.  What do THEY care about.  What are THEIR initiatives?  What are THEY struggling with?  What do THEY do great?  If your product/service/solution can't contribute to these things and really help them (either directly or indirectly), you are done.  Approach your customers like this:

"Bob, you and I have talked about the products/services that my company offers (or I offer).  Today, let's put that aside and talk about you and your business/organization.  Why do your customers choose you?  What are things that you really want to accomplish?  How does the business really operate?"

Stop being "disruptive," because some manufacturer or trendy blog post told you to.  This goes back to how we operate as human beings.  Want more.  Buy my book on Amazon.  If you have Amazon Prime, it's a free download.

For those of you who were patient and want to know why salespeople don't sell in a consultative fashion, here's the answers:

  • Maybe they are new.  Nobody has taught them this.  It must be learned by others.  Then practiced (which leads to the next one).
  • People are lazy.  They don't like change.  They don't want to practice.  They accept mediocrity.
  • Their ego will not allow them to see anything that they didn't come up with; or
  • Their ego is so big, they can't even hear you.
This makes up about 98% of salespeople.  What are you going to do about it?

Happy Selling!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why do you want to be a Sales Manager?

It happens on every sales team, in every industry.  We typically see the 80/20 rule, where the top sellers bring in the lion's share of the revenue (Pareto Principle).  These top 20% also get paid top commissions.  They receive the highest accolades, earn club trips, are thanked by the executives, and receive recruiter calls like flies around a rib roast.  Some are given luxury cars to drive and minions to do all of the dreaded administrative stuff they hate (e.g. opportunity management and forecasting).  Seems like a pretty good gig, right?

When a sales management role suddenly becomes available, many of these top performing salespeople show interest.  Granted, many do not (they see all of the challenges/issues they escalate to their sales manager and realize the truth that they will be taking these problems on - along with everyone else on the sales team).  After they come to grips with this concept, there are other downsides to being a sales manager.  For the sake of brevity, here's a list of some of the big ones:

  • You inherit all of your team's problems and escalations (already discussed above).  This adds up fast.  On a typical sales team of six to ten salespeople, you'll have a mix of a couple of totally independent salespeople; however, when they have a problem - its enormous.  Other reps will have a steady flow of challenges week after week.  Then you have the salespeople that are either going to be leaving the business and those that are being ramped-up.  This set takes up a signifiant amount of bandwidth.  It's very difficult to manage tactics vs strategy and proactive vs reactive activities.
  • You typically make less money.  Beware strangers bearing gifts here.  Yes, it is possible for sales managers to have a blow-out year, but it comes rarely and is usually unpredictable.  Savvy sales organizations know exactly how to set quotas based on multiple criteria.  Their objective is to set a target that you could achieve if most of your team is performing above target.  They want to set the bar higher than you'd expect, so you'll stretch to perform.  This usually means that in any good year, you'll over-achieve just a small amount (around 10-15%).  This usually amounts to total annual compensation that is still around 20% less than top performing salespeople.  Only when the quota is set a little lower than it should be, and everyone on your team blows-out their numbers, can sales managers really rake in commissions.  This rarely happens two years in a row, as your company will take note of the success and try not to let this happen again.  It's not that they don't want you to be successful, they just don't want to pay more than they need, to achieve success.  As sales leaders are promoted, the same principle applies.  Sales directors, area VP's, regional VP's, etc. all get incremental increases in base salary, but the target is more difficult to overachieve and the payouts are less (percentage-wise) the higher the role.  There reaches a point where executives are compensated more on the performance of the entire company rather than any particular team/group.
  • Hitting your target is expected, but NOT the most important criteria of success.  I know many of you reading this think this one is a myth, but I've seen this one time and time again.  You'll have a good-to-great sales manager, who gets to 70-75% of target, and really knows what sales management is about (hiring right, on-boarding, coaching, performance management, political management, knows how to internally block and tackle, etc.).  These type of managers don't blow out the number, but they also usually don't create problems.  The opposite sales manager, who does 150-200% of target, doesn't really do anything to help his team, hire good people, create succession, nor create excellence.  These sales managers create "broken glass," are negatively perceived for bypassing process/protocol, rely upon star players, can't really develop talent and usually these managers cannot maintain this level of success. 
  • Sales Managers have LESS customer contact and MORE administrative work.  Unfortunately, most sales managers get pulled into customer engagements when there is a problem, reactively.  Administrative work goes up dramatically as a sales manager, including forecasting expectations, strategic planning, demand generation events, and documenting performance and escalations.
With the challenges of being a sales manager so large and many, why would anyone purposefully want to leave their individual contributor status and move into sales leadership?  While some of you may need to ponder on this for some time, there's only one real answer - and it comes down to motivation.  For a certain type of individual, helping others to be successful is a key motivator (sometimes heavily weighted above making more money).  The idea of creating success in a team consisting of different personalities and styles is a challenging one.  Some people thrive on this challenge.  This is why finding great first-level sales managers (full time leaders managing salespeople with individual contributor status) is so difficult, and many agree that this role is one of the most challenging (and rewarding) of all sales leaders.

If you're thinking of making the leap to management, or if you're already a manager, it's likely you are this type of person.  You gain satisfaction out of creating excellence with a team and with other people.

Happy selling.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Faroe Islands slaughters 22 Pilot Whales

While I normally reserve this blog for sales related content, sometimes you have to use whatever means that is at your disposal to communicate cowardice and barbarity.  On June 30, 2015, whalers (if you can call the pitiful excuse of the butchers such a name), rounded up 22 Pilot Whales in a cove off of one of the Faroe Islands (between Norway and Iceland) and used hunting knives to stab and slice the throats of the beached animals.

The video is heart-wrenching, and the people are pathetic cowards.  Dressed in their industrialized winter clothing in modern housing by the bay, there is simply no excuse for this behavior.  These aren't natives struggling to survive.  This is about money and a lack of any respect for animal life.

What must we do as a society to protect the eco-system that keeps us alive?  Which species is ready to blink out due to our ignorance, arrogance, and chasing the dollar?  This example is just a snapshot in time (our time), of what we've become.  Let's evolve just a bit faster and recognize that everything is not ours for the taking.

I challenge you to forward this video to 10 people that you care about.  Let's get a message sent that we are outraged and will do something about this.

Want to do more?  Visit the Sea Sheppard website:  Find out more about conversation.  Communicate socially.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Salesperson or True Detective?

As the magic of television and film continues to dazzle us as consumers, one trend I've noticed is that things are becoming more and more realistic.  As an example, today's westerns no longer show John Wayne with a clean red scarf and immaculate cowboy gear.  Westerns today show the dirty, terrible, violent side of what living on the frontier might have been like.

I recently caught the bug of a new HBO series called "True Detective."  It's not for everyone and it's only in the second season, but my wife and I we utterly consumed by season one's gritty reality.  The show focuses on both the exciting and mundane world of law enforcement investigation.  Unlike a "Law and Order,"  in "True Detective," we're not spared the tedious and frustrating nature of tracking down a lead, checking old public records, or shifting-directions as one lead looks more promising than the other.  The series also shows the importance of visualizing an investigation by story-boarding things like connections between people, locations involved, statements made and more.

As I watched the drama unfold over season one, I starting thinking about the parallels of criminal investigations (that a police detective might do), and the "investigations" salespeople do every day.

  • We "track down" leads.  Sometimes they're qualified, sometimes they're not.  Sometimes they push us in the wrong direction.
  • We have to do the "tedious" things that nobody (including detectives) like to do.  We have to document what we do (or the criminal/sale gets away).  We have to connect information together.  We have to try things 100 different ways before it works.
  • There are consequences.  Detectives know that if they don't catch the bad guy, something bad is likely to happen - again.  In sales, the consequence is losing a sale, or your sales reputation!
  • Detectives have to interview "people of interest," to get them closer to the suspect.  Salespeople have to interview different decision-makers and influencers  to get them closer to the sale.
  • It's the smallest thing that makes all the difference.  Detectives know that the smallest clue sometimes leads them right where they need to be.  Salespeople often look back and think, "If I would have just seen that one piece of information. . . "
In many respects, all salespeople are detectives.  We aim carefully, define prospects, investigate clues and set the right influence to capture the sale.  Visualize your sale...connect the dots.  No badge required.

Happy Selling!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

SPIN Selling - Still Strong After 30 Years

SPIN Selling - Still Strong After 30 Years

SPIN Selling - Still Strong After 30 Years

SPIN selling methodology has been a 30-year old staple for the sales community.  Developed by Neil Rackham from a large observation study with Huthwaite (a study/development organization), I recently had the opportunity to attend a formal 3-day training course on the sales methodology.

I must admit, I was somewhat skeptical before the class.  I have not only been a "student of sales" for about 20 years, but I've also been a professional sales instructor.  I have attended half a dozen training workshops on sales methodology, but had never been introduced to SPIN until the class.  The class was led by a professional instructor from Huthwaite, so I knew I was going to get the information directly from the source of the methodology (Rackham sold the methodology to Huthwaite some time ago).

For those of you unacquainted with SPIN, the methodology is derived from a large focused study of sales/buyer interactions (Huthwaite continues to update/affirm the results even today).  The material has a scientific approach in that the ideas are presented simply and factually:  "We saw this behavior from salespeople, and here were the results."  In essence, the methodology revolves around a defined Buyer's Sales Cycle, which originates by understand the buyer's Explicit Needs.  Everything in the methodology surrounds these Explicit Needs by asking SPIN questions (Situation, Problem, Implication and Needs-Payoff).  A full sales methodology unfolds, including all of the components you might expect (meeting formats, questioning skills, buyer interactions, approaches, objections and moving the sale forward).

The workshop was extremely interactive with plenty of role-play, exercises and group discussions.  The program blends well with other consultative-selling programs (methods in which the selling methodology is focused around the customer).  There were several times where I had an "ah-ha" moment (which is the sign of a strong class).

Here's my overall feedback:
I think SPIN is a solid, effective and sound sales methodology that puts the customer's needs first.  It is especially effective for complicated/enterprise solution selling.  It's a bit surprising on how relative the methodology still is after such a long time, but it absolutely ranks up there with any competitive sales process.  There is a learning curve, and many acronyms/processes that will require reinforcement, but I think this is true of most good methodologies.

If there are sales professionals out there that haven't adopted a formal sales methodology (which you should  - just look at the science), I think SPIN is a good choice.

Happy Selling.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Fight with the DirectTV Salesperson

I got into a fight the other day at my local Best Buy.  OK, it wasn't a fist fight.  It was more of a heated argument.  But there I was, in the middle of the Best Buy, at the brink of yelling at this salesperson.  What happened?  How could I have gotten myself into this position?  What was the cause of all of this distress?  Well, the reason I was arguing was because of sales methodology!

I was casing my neighborhood Best Buy, checking out new tech, looking for super deals, you know, the usual.  I was inside the store for no more than one or two minutes before I noticed somebody, out of the corner of my field of vision.  It was the DirectTV sales gal.  I knew this woman.  I had encountered her before.  I knew her MO.  I had to cut through the discount DVD aisle to avoid her. I swallowed hard and dodged past the memory cards.  Whew, that was a close one.  I thought I was saved.

I was having flash-backs of my other encounters with her.  It always started the same.  First it was, "Hi, how are you doing today?"  To which I had tried various responses with always the same outcome.  Her response was some pleasantry, followed by, "Are you a DirectTV subscriber?"  It didn't really matter whether I would answer truthfully (which would have been, "no,") or whether I lied and said, "yes, and I love DirectTV, thank you!" She would start the hard sell at that point, and regardless of my pleas to be removed from the situation (like "I'm really not interested, but thank you"), the deadly objection-handling phrase would always come:  "You're not interested in saving money?"  It makes my blood boil just writing the words.  I think of all of the people who signed up for DirectTV service because they simply couldn't get away from her.

My ending encounters with her were also always the same.  I felt bad, but simply had to walk away to be released from her grasp.  Today, however, I wasn't going to let her get away with these hard-handed sales techniques.  She had to hear the truth, no matter how badly it hurt.  Somebody had to be responsible to tell her that she couldn't treat people like this.  Today would be the day that I stood up to the DirectTV sales gal.

She caught me near the Dyson vacuum cleaners when I least expected it.  After the same old aggressive sales pitch, it was time for reality.  "Do you realize that this is the third or fourth time you've solicited me here in the store?" I asked her.  She was stunned, but way too salty to let that distract her.  I continued.  "Do you understand how body language works?  When I say 'no thank you,' and walk away from you, that is your clue to leave me alone?"  Her eyes opened wider, ready for battle.  She retorted, "I'm sorry you feel that way, I genuinely want to save you money."  I was in disbelief.

In the next few minutes, I came to understand that she was actually a sales manager, and she taught her salespeople this approach.  She didn't seem to care that she was bullying people by using sales tactics and pressure.  I begged her to reconsider what she was doing.  When the argument ceased, her last question to me was this, "What would like me to do?"  My reply was short, simple and honest.  I told her, "I want you to change."

Maybe, after I left, she went right back to pressuring my neighbors to buy her fares.  Maybe she just thought I was a jerk.  Maybe I was.  But maybe I planted a seed with her that people can't be treated as targets, pressured into commitments by complex sales tactics.  At one point, I asked her, "would you like to be treated like this?"  She said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

Maybe I'll shop at Frys Electronics from now on.  Part of me is afraid the DirectTV lady will be there on her day off.

Happy Selling.

Friday, June 19, 2015

"It doesn't really matter what I sell" - oh really?

Throughout my career, I've interviewed hundreds of sales candidates.  My interviewing approach has changed dramatically over the years, and I now find myself spending more time talking to candidates about their motivations, why they do what they do.  While it is relatively easy to identify people who are passionate about selling, I find it fascinating that a small subset of people don't really care what it is that they are actually selling.

These folks fall into a "true believer" status.  They are convinced that they are so good at sales, they can sell anything they want (cars, toilet paper, software . . .  you name it).  While I get the concept that if you can build relationships, understand the goals/needs of your customer, and approach things with integrity - you will be successful - but, what about the passion?

I believe we are better at selling things we are passionate about (and not as good at selling things that don't interest us).  I often find myself in an interview with a sales candidate thinking, "This candidate has had five positions in 20 years all in a specific industry, selling the same thing, and now they want to sell something completely different.  Why is that?"  When I inquire, sometimes I get a surprising response:  "It doesn't really matter what I sell."  Hmm.  I think it does.  And if it does, as a sales manager, I only want to hire those candidates who can be passionate about what WE sell.  It should matter what you sell.  This falls under the concept of sales "belief."  You must believe in your product or service.  Not only do you have to believe in it, but the more passionate you really are, the more successful you are likely to be.

Think about this one when you face a potential career change.  What would I LOVE to sell.  What am I really passionate about.  Go sell that!

Happy selling.