Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Wall: Sales vs. Operations

At every employer I've ever worked for, there seems to be a prominent "wall" between these two groups in the company.  On one side of the ring, weighing in at several thousand pounds, the promise-makers, earth-shakers, commission-takers:  The Pre-Sales Thunder!  This includes all the folks whose lives revolve around creating and closing the sale.  Account Managers, Sales Engineers, Business Development Managers, Sales Managers, Marketing and Sales Operations all live on this side of the world.  Then we have the defending champions, weighing in at some exact number (accounting folks live here too), we've got the Operations side of the world.  This includes people like:  Project Managers, Project Accountants, Administrators, Engineers and Technicians, Human Resources, Controllers, and wide-variety of others.

While there's no good or bad side of the wall, the key of enjoying life at your employer is to keep the wall as small as possible, with lots of windows, screen doors and temporary siding.  When you think about it, both sides have a legitimate (and opposite) reason to keep a wall erected.  Sales teams think like this:
  • Things are grey, a bit mixed-up and sometimes you need to fly by the seat of your pants.
  • Customers come first and without them, nobody has a job.
  • Selling is the toughest (and most exciting) job in the company.
  • Operations creates "sales obstacles."
  • Everyone thinks we make too much money - they don't know how difficult it is to sell.
  • I'm not worried about my past performance, I'm worried about the future.
  • Keeping a good customer is way more important than finding a replacement.
Operations folks naturally think differently, and they should.  It's the difference in the thought process that creates the wall.  Many Operations teams think like this:
  • Accuracy, details and schedules are critical.
  • Protecting the company comes first.
  • The toughest job in the company is managing the "out-of-control" salespeople.
  • Salespeople create their own obstacles.
  • We're underpaid, compared to the salespeople - and we work just as hard.
  • I'm worried about whether the salespeople are going to sell enough for the company.
  • If we lose a customer, the salespeople can always get us another one.  That's what their paid for.
OK, I'll admit, it's not a fair list.  Not all Operations and Salespeople feel like this.  As a matter of fact, there are fantastic folks on both sides of the wall.  Unfortunately, it's a mix of these feelings that really exist in most companies.  The more deeply ingrained these feelings run, the bigger the wall.  The more isolated the organizations are, the thicker the wall.

Feel like the wall is killing your business?  Here's some tips to minimize the wall (it never really goes away):
  1. Communicate like you're one organization.  Sales needs to know what Operations is doing.  Operations needs to share their work with Salespeople.  Be sure the Sales Manager sits in the Operations Meetings and the Operations Manager comes to the Sales Meetings.
  2. Be sure the two leaders of both organizations understand each other and have a common road map.  Many times this is created by the company culture and is communicated by senior company ownership/leadership.
  3. Don't let any of the above feelings go unchecked.  This is the old saying, "How do you solve a problem that you don't know about?"  Anytime people have a challenge, it's time for a face-to-face meeting.
  4. Team build together.  Be sure both organizations are involved in company policy together, including hiring, strategic planning, money and metrics.  Go have beers together.
Pink Floyd's classic masterpiece, "The Wall," is about to be re-released in High Definition.  Roger Waters said, "All in all you're just another brick in the wall."  You don't have to be.  Be the wall crusher.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Top 5 Movies About Selling

Ever wonder why people have preconceived notions that salespeople are losers, unethical, pushy, unreliable and down-right "used-car?"  Maybe part of this impression is placed upon the general public by Hollywood.  As a salesperson, I love to see movies about how people sell.  If I was a cop, I'd love to watch detective films.  Doctors always joke about the newest medical mystery picture.  If you're looking for the "dirt" on the coolest (yet mostly made-up) movies about selling, look no further:

5.  Jerry Maguire.  OK, I know it's a chick-flick, but come-on:  "Help me, to help you!"  It's a classic that never gets old and shows the trials of a one-man sales organization (not dissimilar to us all).  I love the part where he promises the guy on the phone that he just needs a little more time to pay for the Ferrari's.

4.  Boiler Room.  Greed run amok.  This difficult-to-watch film shows the gritty underside of inside salespeople doing whatever it takes to con people out of their money.  Many of the tactics shown in this film are a little to close to home.  Research shows that much of the sales content is right on track in the high-dealing world of investment selling.  Favorite scene is when he's giving sales advice to the newspaper salesman on the phone while he's eating breakfast.

3.  Tin Men.  Barry Levinson's classic tale of aluminum siding salespeople from the 1950's and 60's.  Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito are spectacular as they bilk the poor home-owners out of their money.  My dad (who's been in sales forever) tells me it's  all true.  I think I believe him.  The line of Cadillacs and the flowing booze round out a classic.

2.  Glengarry Glen Ross.  Yes, I am purposefully leaving out Wall Street here because I think it's just too over the top.  Back to Glengarry Glen Ross.  This is a MUST SEE film for every salesperson on the planet.  Don't expect to watch it and feel good inside, though.  It's about as raw a sales film as you'll get, and this is what makes it so spectacular.  The cast they assembled for this film are uncompromising stars, including Jack Lemon, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacy and more.  Favorite Scene:  the whole damn picture.  Just go rent it.

3.  Tommy Boy.  OK, I know what you're thinking already - "that guy's a goofball - how could he put Tommy Boy ahead of Glengarry Glen Ross?"  You're right.  It was a difficult decision, but I love Chris Farley and it's just so funny.  The sales engagements in this movie will make you laugh every time you see it.  I think I've seen this film about 22 times and it just keeps getting funnier. 

You've seen the rest, now go check out the best.  Till next time.  Happy viewing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Analyze This - SWOT for Sales Organizations

Strategic Planning is EVERYONE's business, including salespeople.  In fact, I can't think of any department in an organization that should focus more on Strategic Planning than the salespeople who create the very life blood of the company.

If you examine any out-of-the-box business plan, after you deal with the vision, goals and plans there is always an analysis of the characteristics (both internally and externally) of that organization.  This section of insight is usually called the SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).  If outlined honestly, this is where investors really key into what they're getting themselves into.  This is where the real work is evaluated.  Ever think about performing a SWOT analysis of just the sales department?  You should.  It will really expose the path to success.

Try this exercise:  Have you entire sales team create their own SWOT analysis.  This can be done individually at first, but eventually you must get the team in the room and talk about why some people feel the way they do about your sales organization.  You might find out how positioned you really are in the marketplace.  You might discover a serious weakness that can be addressed before it becomes a company killer.  Share your SWOT analysis with other departments in the company.  You'll be amazed how supportive people can be of the sales team when they understand the obstacles that must be overcome.

Strategic Planning is a critical part of your success.  The tactical day-to-day wrestling only gets you so far.  Try it.  Do yourself a favor!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We're Amazing - Or Does Everyone Else Suck?

Over the past week, the company I work for won two deals with customers who will ultimately be multi-million dollar accounts.  We rock, right?  Maybe so.  I mean, our sales team is phenomenal.  We're consultative.  We match our solutions with real business needs.  We think about the customer's best interest.  Oh, yeah - I forgot to mention that the competitors on both of these deals...I don't know how to put this delicately...they just suck.

Have you heard the sales phrase, "We sucked less than everyone else?"  I read sales blogs almost every day, in addition to writing here.  I am overwhelmed by the massive amount of sales tactics, methodologies, training, tools, and general advice out there.  How about the simple concept that in any opportunity, sometimes the decision to buy from one organization over another comes down to choosing who sucks less?  It's a harsh message, and one that no salesperson likes to hear.  I wonder how many times sales success hinges on this important concept?

If your organization sells products/services that must be bought in order for a business to function, you might ask yourself this question as you're planning your sales strategy.  You've heard this before disguised as the word "competition," but I wonder whether our egos allow us to think about this particular kind of competition.  The best analogy I have is with my cable TV/Internet service at my house.  I've only got two choices.  Guess what?  They both suck.  Their customer service is horrible.  Their reliability borders on unusable.  Nonetheless.  I have to pick one of the two.  FYI - the one who sucks least is Charter Communications.  Do you think they're celebrating the "win?"  Maybe.

Next time you're breaking out the champagne, think about this one for a moment.  Maybe after you do, you'll shrug and say, "Nope - we won because we rock."  Maybe you just suck less.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

5 Laws of Nature - For Presentations

Carl Sagan, the late brillant astrophysicist, often spoke about the "Laws of Nature." He was referring to principles that, upon centuries of testing, always produced the same result. Great examples are: The Law of Motion, The Law of Gravity, The Law of Evolution.

For salespeople, we have Laws of Nature too. We have: The Law of Customer Impact, The Law of Business Knowledge, The Law of Activity Generates Customers. Today, let's discuss five important Laws of Nature for making compelling presentations to our customers:

Law #1: Professionals Don't Wing It. Have you ever seen a presentation which looked so perfect, so flawless that you assumed that the individual was simply a genius when it came to the topic? No, my friends, this isn't true. The presentation APPEARED that way, because they practiced it thousands of times. Don't let your peers tell you any different. Professionals Don't Wing It.

Law #2: Audio and video use increase retention of the information by over 30%. This one is scientific. Learning professionals have reproduced these studies for years. They know that a dull PowerPoint presentation alone pales in comparison to those presentations adjuncted by creative audio and video support. Use the whiteboard, a flip-chart, music (where appropriate), video and blow your competition away. Does it take more work? Of course. Selling takes work.

Law #3: The presentation is more about YOU, than the material. People remember the things you do during a presentation. Do you sit and read your slides with a laser pointer? BORING. They'll forget it. Get up and move around the room. Stand up, sit down, croutch down, raise your arms, whisper, shout. Look people in the eye. Speak to individuals as if you were alone together. Be a bit overly-dramatic (whithin reason). Be passionate, like this is the most important thing they'll ever hear. Practice (see Law #1). Be perfect.

Law #4: Use PowerPoint - Don't Abuse It! OK, you've read it before, but start living these important rules: A) No more than 3 bullets per slide; no more than 3-4 words per bullet. It's not about the slide. You're going to give them the information in other ways. Need to relay more information? Add another slide! B) Pictures work much better than words. Don't use Clip-Art. Go to Google Images and find real pictures, illustrations and photographs that relay your meaning. C) No complex diagrams. There's no good place in PowerPoint for a complex slide. If you need to present something complex, the best way is to draw it, by hand, on a white board. Your audience will internalize the drawing as you're developing it. D) Be creative. If you saw a slide that looked like yours anytime in the past 6 months, don't do it! Come up with something new. Creativity is the key. Use Microsoft's new Office 2010's SmartArt. Nobody's figured out good ways to use it yet. Be the one!

Law #5: Your Presentation is like a good concert. Start off with a bang! Make a great start. Think about the concerts you've attended. How many kick-ass songs do they play before they do a slow-tune? How do they end the concert? With you screaming for more. This is exactly what you must do during the presentation. Start off kick-ass - move to less exciting topics - end with your audience feeling as if they NEED more from you.

Oh, and one more thing, don't hand out anything during your presentation. It will distract your customers and decrease how much they pay attention to you. When you're done, feel free to distribute your documents - explain them.

Sagan said, "We live in and between universes, where things change alright, but according to patterns, rules, or, as we call them, Laws of Nature." While things change in sales presentations, some things are simply true. Don't violate the Laws.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is it You? Or is it your Sales Manager?

When it comes to job satisfaction, many studies have pointed out that one of the most important key indicators of high job satisfaction is your boss. Why shouldn't this be any different for salespeople. Unfortunately, I've had many salespeople come to me after just a few months employment and confess that they've really never been managed before.

As a Sales Manager, there are some key elements to create an environment to achieving your #1 goal, which is:

  1. Perfect alignment between the salespeople and the sales manager. To be successful, everything must line up. Both people should be measured and paid on the same metrics so that all motivations align. This way, when the salesperson wins, the managers wins too.

  2. Sales Managers must be great coaches. This usually means that the manager must know more about salesmanship than the salespeople working for him/her. Managers must have "walked a mile in their shoes" and understand the challenges associated with selling.

  3. Sales Managers must be Leaders. Leadership is a seperate skill set than simply managing people. You must set vision, develop objectives/goals. You must think both tactically and strategically. You must lead by example and want sales success as bad as your reps do.

  4. Sales Managers must continue to learn new sales methods, attend training courses, study leadership and seek advice from a mentor.

  5. Not all great salespeople are great managers, and it takes a unique individual to rise to the role of sales management. All too often do I see people who were great at selling and only become frustrated at what amounts to a completely different job when they are promoted.

If your Sales Manager fails to demonstrate these traits, and you find yourself struggling, ask yourself how much of the problem is you versus your manager. Maybe it's time to shine up the resume and find a leader to really support your efforts.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

If It Ain't Broke - Fix It Anyway!

Don't have a business issue that can be resolved with one of our solutions? It doesn't matter - I'll try to sell it to you anyway! If fact, I'll purposely waste everyone's time and money to force a fit no matter how difficult and hopeless it becomes. I'll pitch my products and services to you when you don't care at all AND, even if you tell me that it doesn't fit, I'll continue to waste your time. I'll pass up other potential opportunities and keep relentlessly bothering you.

Alright, I'm being a bit dramatic here; however, I know that this situation happens every day in thousands of companies, worldwide. Selling isn't about the product/service you're pitching - it's about the IMPACT those products/services have on your customer. This is a universal truth about selling and buying regardless of product, industry, value, size or customer-type. You don't buy a toothbrush because you like toothbrushes. You buy it because it cleans your teeth and prevents cavities and tooth loss - which causes pain! It's the same thing for your customers. NOBODY buys your product/service for any other reason.

Given this simple, but important fact of life, doesn't it make sense to focus sales efforts only on those customers that really have a business/organizational issue that you can solve with your solutions? This means, as a salesperson, you MUST understand the customer first. You have a professional obligation to qualify your customers before you propose. This builds the "trusted partner" relationship which creates long-term satisfaction. Isn't that what you want?

Next time you're with a customer and they really wouldn't be better off buying your solution, try telling them the truth. You'll be amazed what fruits grow from this seed of honesty.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Selling As Easy As...Kung Pao Chicken

Have you heard the one about the wife who wants her husband to take the family out to a fancy dinner? She sends her husband a text message during the day: "Let's go out to dinner tonight." When he gets home, she says, "Honey, wouldn't it be nice to go to that great Chinese place where you had that fantastic Kung Pao Chicken?" He thinks about that chicken and stops thinking about the hassle of driving the family in traffic and the cost of the bill. They go to dinner.

Yes! This is a sale. It's amazing how many times during our normal day-to-day lives we create sales discussions with our family, friends and strangers. If you think about it, everytime you have to convince somebody of something, you're making a sale. Think about the story above. She set and agenda and seeded the prospect by sending the text message. This is very similar to how we email and phone our prospects to plant a idea about a sale. Next, she emphasized the features/benefits regarding the dinner by reminding him of the chicken dish. We do the same thing when describing our products and services.

When you think about it, great salespeople are all around us. I'm always facinated by people I meet who say, "I could never sell anything," and yet I witness their sales accumen by making compelling presentations about the simple things in life. As all salespeople know, much of the sale is made in how we make these compelling arguments to our prospects.

Next time you're convincing your loved one to buy a dishwasher, travel to Europe or go out for Chinese food, remember - you're making a sale!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What the Hell - Qualify the Damn Customers!

OK, I'm a bit frustrated today. Rookies are one thing, but when salespeople represent themselves as seasoned veterans, you'd assume that they know how to ask the important questions during the first qualifying meeting to really understand whether we move forward or whether we politely tell the customer that may not be a fit.

Qualifying is one of the most important parts of the sales cycle and is really performed on every step, on every meeting and gives the salesperson the critical information to determine whether their product/service really CAN have an impact on the prospect. Some of the giants in the industry actually call selling: "The Art of Disqualification." I couldn't agree more.

Look here folks, you only have 8-10 hours in a day. We must always be disqualifying customers who will probably not buy from us and move on to other prospects that are really qualified. How do you qualify a customer? Well, it really involves:

  • Ask open-ended questions. I can't tell you how many salespeople ask an opened-ended question, only to quickly close the question by offering suggestions to the customer to answer it. Are you kidding me?

  • Talk about their company. You want to learn everything you can about this prospect. Their vision, goals, plans, structure, finances, competitors, customers and how they make decisions. You'll pick up great information that might uncover opportunities for you.

  • Talk about their existing products/services that you sell. This will give you keen insight into what traps are hidden behind the decision.

  • Talk about the criteria they'll use to make this decision. I've found that the best approach is a direct one, "when you think about this decision, what are the characteristics that you'll use to really determine one solution is better than the others?"

  • Talk about budget and money right up front. Here's a great one, "Given the information you've given me a typical solution will probably cost between $125,000 to !160,000. Does this number align with your budget?"

  • Talk about time lines. A classic blunder here is not talking about time frames and later finding out that they need the solution in a week, when you can't possible even order the product in that time frame.

Come on salespeople! Step it up. Qualify, Qualify, Qualify.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Salesforce Automation - Complication

If, as a salesperson, you've worked for several companies, you're likely of the poor souls who have been forced to embrace a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Salesforce Automation (SFA) tool. Long ago, these tools were the old familiar Franklin Planners, DayRunners or DayPlanner binders. The digital age has changed everything and most organizations understand that centralized management of customer information is an important concept. What if a salesperson leaves? With centralized management, the data stays with the company.

CRM tools also help organization run forecasting reports, assist in sales activities and generally help companies become more productive and efficient. Oh really, you say. Well, at least that's the pitch. Don't get me wrong, you'll rarely find a stronger supporter of centralized CRM tools for a salesforce than I, but picking one that helps salespeople achieve their objectives rather than pose as a sales obstacle is critical.

Most salespeople are resistant to change (even if it's good for them). CRM adoption is something that must be carefully planned in order for salespeople to understand why this is good for THEM, not just the company. Truthfully, CRM is awesome for salespeople. It assists with customer follow-up, time management and accurate sales reporting.

Here's my take on a few of the many CRM tools out there and where I stand (briefly):

  1. - May be one of the best one's out there. Many large organizations are embracing this hosted tool which can be accessed via any Web Browser. It's intuiative and it has fantastic add-on applications which make the tool even more powerful. Unfortunately, the tool is relatively expensive and salespeople complain of the constant hitting of the "back" button to navigate.

  2. Microsoft CRM - This SQL-based CRM gains market share every year because Microsoft dominates the end-user environment. Companies are drawn to a common look-and-feel from MS Office products and the Outlook integration is excellent. CRM version 4.0 is a good choice for those companies that plan on using other back end solutions that take advantage of a common SQL platform. One common complaint I often hear regarding MS CRM is that it just isn't intuitive for salespeople. I agree. It feels like an operations person wrote it.

  3. ACT & GoldMine - Why do I lump these both together? Well because they really belong in the small business/sole proprietor category. These applications rock and they give fantastic, intuitive screens of CRM data. The catch: they just don't play well in a networked, larger organization. If you run your own business; however, look into these two programs.

  4. Seibel - Don't get me started. Along with Oracle CRM, these monster programs are just unacceptable versions of modern CRMs. Still designed to look like a mainframe dumb terminal, any salesperson considering working for a company who uses these CRMs should think very carefully about what life is going to be like trying to manage a dinosaur.
Straight talk here - use a tool that makes sense for you and your company. If your organization is considering buying CRM, actively participate in the decision if you can. You'll be that much more successful!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Serious Seven

No, not the seven habits, the movie "seven," nor the seven deadly sins.  Dante's famous list pales in comparison to our topic:  The Serious Seven.  Imagine that you took a thousand customers (or a thousand salespeople) and locked them in a room for a day.  Ask them to come up with the most important skill sets that a salesperson must posses to be among the elite; the top "focus areas" that, if you could, would be taught to every salesperson alive.  Now ask these folks to categorize these topics into seven, easy to manage categories.  Viola!  You have the Serious Seven:

  1. SALES ENGINE:  This area includes developing a marketing strategy, a prospecting plan, a pipeline development program and a way of measuring your activity against specific goals/plans.  The absolute first step in determining the road map of success.
  2. PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE:  Always ranked as a Gartner Group top five characteristic of a great salesperson is somebody who knows everything about what they sell.  Whether you sell a product, solution or service - the more you know, the more likely you'll be able to match what you're selling to your customer's business/organizational issues.  Great salespeople know more than any prospective customer.
  3. MARKET:  This one is also known as "stay ahead of the competition and trends."  Know your competitors, your geography, your territory and the market trends working for you (or against you).  Included here is knowing what I call "Inside Information."  This includes all the political stuff that you must sniff-out through network connections.  Know how good or bad your competitive counterpart is.
  4. COMPELLING PRESENTATION:  Even if you are the master of the above three items, if you can't present your product/service in a compelling way, you're dead.  Customers are savvy.  They've seen the old routines before.  You must be able to present an argument that directly/indirectly ties to their issues and you better not look like the three jokers that went before you.
  5. HANDLING OBJECTIONS/NEGOTIATION:  Think you know how to negotiate?  Is your idea of negotiating simply lowering your price?  Think again.  This skill set is usually absent in 99% of all salespeople and is particularly sensitive given our "everything's negotiable" U.S. mentality.  Great salespeople must know this skill and be better at negotiating than the Accident Lawyers down the block.
  6. CUSTOMER MANAGEMENT:  Think the sale is over?  It never is.  Even if you're in an industry that will never see repeat business from a customer - don't you think word gets around?  Managing customers AFTER the sale is just as important as all the work you did to get the customer in the first place.  Knowing how to communicate, how to ask for referrals, and securing long-term, ongoing relationships is what will get you to the top.
  7. TIME MANAGEMENT:  No, we didn't the leave the best for last, but it is one of the most important ongoing skill sets that a Great Salesperson must embrace.  You only have a limited amount of time each day, and too much to do.  You need the most efficient, productive system you can lay your hands on to make the best use of your time and prioritize your life. 
If you're thinking, "Sure, that makes sense, but how do I get good at The Serious Seven?" you're not alone.  This is the skeleton - the road map and the outline of a plan to be a top performer.  What will you do to break these apart, and create something of value.  Be creative.  Start working on this now - like today!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Professional Salesperson? Like a Doctor?

My now 83 year-old father once told me, "Go to school and become a professional.  You know, like a doctor or a lawyer. If you can't do that, you'll end up becoming a salesperson."  Once at the pinnacle of the sales insurance industry (1970-1990), my father's advice seems to hover over my life as if he had reincarnated Nostradamus.  After more than 20 years of selling and managing salespeople in the technology industry, meeting with thousands of customers across almost every industry and producing an income that only 3% of salespeople foster, I still require a daily dose of meditation on the thought of being a Professional Salesperson.

Like most salespeople, I did not plan for a career in sales.  I took the "physician highway," achieved an undergraduate degree in biology and spent my parents well earned money attending medical school in the midwest.  My sales career started as one of necessity when the rigors of medical school got in the way of rock and roll, college-life and a large dose of growing-up.  Like many of us, I quickly became charmed with the idea that "simple conversation" and product-knowledge created a SALES ARGUMENT, one of the basic tennants of all salespeople.  What I didn't realize was that charm doesn't produce reliable sales results.

Unlike other careers, salespeople have a choice:  1) Sell as a means to an end;  2) Sell as a passionate experience that drives us to excel.  Which one are you?  If compared to a physican or attorney (less the degree which the industry has frowned upon since time began), these professionals all share common traits:
  • Professional Salespeople are passionate.  They sell what they love. 
  • Professional Salespeople want to get better at what they do.  They train.  They seek advice.  They recreate themselves often.
  • Professional Salespeople hold themselves to a standard well above average.  They desire excellence.
  • Professional Salespeople work harder than they have to.  They push the bar higher.
  • Professional Salespeople know their product/service/company COLD.
  • Professional Salespeople plan for their success.  They set goals and plans.  They measure results.
  • Professional Salespeople create an environment in which the customer, their employer and themselves create a "golden triangle" of success.  There are no losers.
Well, Dad, while you're unlikely to see this posting, I will always know that there are Professional Salespeople out there.  Each day, while driving to see the next customer, I will re-affirm that although I'm not the doctor or lawyer, I am a true professional.