Archive for the ‘skills’


A Sales Story for Our Time

frustrated-manWhen Matt finished the meeting, he was angry. His biggest customer just told him that she had placed a big order with a new supplier.

“You know it’s not you. I like working with you Matt. How long are we working together? It’s been a long time.” Said Joanne, the EVP Operations at DeepEarth Oil, “But Mandy Adamson at Innopartners – she blew us away. I know they are a little more expensive than you, but Mandy agreed to share her vision with the whole executive team as well at our next exec QBR. She helped me think about this company – this industry really – in a whole new way.“

Matt knew Innopartners. He beat them in most competitive situations – even with brand new customers. His solution was superior to theirs, and he certainly did not expect them to unseat him. This was deeply aggravating. Mandy Adamson? Matt thought he knew most of the sales team there, but he had not come across the name Mandy Adamson before.

And yes, he was angry too; angry at himself for listening to Jack, the Chief Marketing Officer at JKHiggs Global. “Just present Dynamix14 this way and focus on the energy saving. That’s our key differentiator.” he said, “And be sure the customer knows that we’ve been in this market longer than anyone else.” He was going to have a reality check conversation with Jack as soon as he got back to the office.

When Matt checked his phone, he was glad to see a message from his friend Tom. Before Tom left to start his own business, he and Matt had been in the trenches together for seven years and had become good friends. Now that Tom was building his new business he had little time to socialize.

Turning the corner as he walked towards his car, the sky darkened and Matt was buffeted by a chill wind. Under grey skies, he looked for something to brighten the day. Dialing Tom, hoping he’d be free for lunch or a coffee, he wondered what Tom would think about what he planned to say to his CMO Jack later.

“Has your chandelier popped a bulb? Is your brain past its ‘Best Before’ date?” Tom’s colorful speech always amused Matt, and he always enjoyed spending time with him, but this time, sitting in the Starbucks across from his ‘starter-upper-sorry-we-don’t-have-a-coffee-maker’ office, he was disappointed in his reaction to his suggestion.

“Look, Jack has been following the same path now for far too long. But the world has changed. Customers know more about our business than we do about theirs and introducing a new product with just a datasheet and a Features & Benefit list isn’t working. This approach is costing us business, and Jack is costing me money. Someone needs to put his lack of market understanding in front of the Executive Management team meeting.”

Tom took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes slowly. This was getting tense, and Matt had that I-don’t-care-what-anyone-says look. Time to diffuse things a little. “Ok, so what you’re saying is that Jack is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. But even if that is true, is this the best way to solve things? Do you really want to lead a witch-hunt against Jack. This is not a Jack issue, it is a strategic company issue. ”

“Tom, I thought you’d understand,” Matt responded. “Jack, and the rest of the marketing team think that just because they’ve spoken to the analysts and done some market research, that they can tell us how it works in the field. But they rarely get in front of customers, and meeting with customers everyday is what we do. I’ve been successful selling ever since I came to JKHiggs, but now, I am losing to competition when I should win.”

“Ok”, Tom interrupted, “let’s look at this calmly. From what I heard, the marketing team is delivering more sales collateral than ever before, and built a really cool micro-site for Dynamix14. You can’t criticize their work-rate. What exactly are you saying?”

Matt took a long sip from his Americano, and sat back in the soft leather chair. “Ok, I admit I’m getting some leads; that’s not my problem, and I know marketing is investing heavily in brand awareness. There are more marketing materials than we have ever had in the past – but even if I could find the piece I need, I am still going to get my butt kicked if the competition is helping the customer to … how did Joanne at DeepEarth put it? – ‘help me think about my business in a whole new way’. We don’t know how to do that. We have not figured out how to connect our solutions to the customer’s business, and you know what, that’s actually the issue here. We have spent all of this time on our ‘Sales and Marketing Alignment Project’, when in fact we should have been thinking about the customer first. Henry in Engineering gets this stuff. Customers love him – he knows more about the impact we can have better than anyone on the planet. If we can get him in front of more customers, then maybe that will help. That’s what I need. That’s the answer.”

“Look Dude, you’ve nailed the problem – but not the solution. Henry doesn’t scale across 400 reps. If you think the marketing department at JKHiggs is going to help you solve this, then I’d like some of what you’re smoking. Your job is to sell. Do the research yourself. Use Google. Buy Henry lunch. If Jack is filling the top of the funnel, that’s just as much as you can expect. I wish I had someone hand me leads. Now, my dear friend, don’t be a whiner. Accept that your meeting today wasn’t great, but dust yourself off. Learn more about your customer’s industry and get back in the saddle.”

“I don’t know Tom” Matt sighed, “ I hear what you’re saying and I know you have my interests at heart, but customers are getting smarter and more knowledgeable all of the time. They are using social media to educate themselves on everything that’s going on; not just with us, but with our competitors, their industry and other companies like them. It’s not my pipeline volume I’m worried about; it’s my sales conversion rate and the pipeline velocity. If JKHiggs doesn’t sort this out, we will lose our position in the market and that will make my job harder. Marketing is investing in the wrong place, and something needs to be done about it. I think Jack needs a good dose of reality.”

Tom stood up and dropped his empty coffee cup in the trash. “Listen, I’ve got to get back to the day job. But ask some of the other guys what they think before you take on Jack, or maybe call the guys over at Innopartners and see if they have any openings. They seem to have figured it out.”

… and that’s where it ends.

(Depending on your input below we can find our what happens in the meeting between Matt and Jack.)

-o-

According to a recent Forrester Research report, only 36% of executives believe that sellers can have a valuable conversation with them about their business. The reality is that communicating value is no longer the job of the sales person. Buyers can learn all they need to know online. Winning sellers are those who can create value for their customers by helping them learn about the business issues they should be caring about.

Buyers value sellers who can offer a unique valuable perspective on the market, use their experience with other similar companies to help then to avoid potential land mines, and educate them on new issues that they should consider.

This is not just a sales issue. It is not just a marketing issue. It is not just a sales and marketing alignment issue. It is truly a customer alignment issue that can be easily solved with a little bit of strategic thinking. Most companies already have in-house the knowledge they need to describe the customer’s business, their typical goals, pressures and problems that they are trying to solve – and why they built their products in the first place. But those tools are rarely in a format that’s easy accessible and readily consumable by sales. (Here’s something to consider.)

What do you think? Do you think Matt is right? What about Tom’s perspective? Does Matt’s situation sound familiar to you?

Remember, we have not heard Jack’s side of the story yet.

 

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Sales Metrics That Matter

The best sales professionals are constantly looking for help.  Winners are honest in their self-assessment of the skills and competencies – or at least as honest as they can be.

  1. Only 61% of sales reps think they are good at uncovering customer problems. Until they can do that they can’t know how to apply their solutions to help.
  2. Just over half (54%) know how to access Key Players in the buyer’s organizations. The Key Players are critical in the buying decision.
  3. 80% of sales reps think are good at qualification. But 51% of forecasted deals don’t close. Sellers who qualify effectively are 58% more likely to make quota.

Here’s an infographic based on some research we did.

Sales-Metrics-That-Matter-smallJ

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Battling the 57% – Part 3: Getting Ahead of the Curve

Much has been written about the research that suggests that a buyer is 57% through their buying process before they engage with a vendor. I have written about this how I think the ‘57%’ is sometimes misinterpreted. Sometimes buyers engage with you early, and sometimes the call you after they have done their own research. Strong patterns exist that correlate the level of awareness that a buyer has of a need to act as he rushes headlong to that 57% Point, directly with his propensity to buy something. That is really no surprise. The parallel pattern however is that his level of awareness is inversely proportional to your opportunity to create value. This is a vital opportunity to which every sales strategist should be paying attention and that’s because most effective selling happens before the buyer calls someone for a solution.

 

ACCOUNT PLANNING IS THE NEW MARKETING

Selling early means working in the areas traditionally assigned to marketing: raising awareness, generating interest, and being top of mind as the buyer develops a preference. Our way of expressing this mindset is “Account Planning is the new Marketing.”

Think about what good you can do for your customer early rather than waiting for them to call. This gives you an opportunity to apply account planning principles early and helps you deliver superior value.

Focus on creating, developing, pursuing, and winning business that delivers mutual value to you and your customer. If you can work on a project that’s good for the customer and good for you, it’s more likely to be non-competitive and less price sensitive. By delivering more value to your customer, you’ll improve your opportunity to succeed.

KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER

You need to have a deep understanding of your customer’s business problems and you need to know their people. Our surveys tell us that only 61% of salespeople think they’re good at uncovering their customer’s business problems, and only 54% of sales people believe that they know how to discover this key information. That’s a challenge that you must address and overcome to assure success. If you don’t understand the business problems and don’t know and understand the people, you’re unlikely to create value or make a sale.

SUMMARY

Every buying decision is subject to these four phases: (1) Awareness of need, (2) Interest in solving the problem, (3) Developing a preference for a solution, and (4) Deciding to make a purchase. You need to determine

if you acting before the buyer develops a preference or not? Whenever you can, act early to have a greater opportunity to create value. If you determine that you’re acting after the 57 percent point, you can still prevail if you qualify carefully and work from deep insight about the prospect’s business needs. Then, flank toward your strengths with unique business, target the people who can assist you – and win.

Please feel free to download our latest publication:

Battling the 57%: Deconstructing the Buyer Seller Dance.

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5 Abilities That Help to Predict Success

winnerWe are all born with a certain set of skill or abilities. As we grow and develop we get the opportunity to maximize the contribution we make to the world and to each other, in work and in our personal lives.

I have been extremely fortunate to have encountered so many gifted, compassionate, driven and capable individuals over the years.

What is it that separates the great from the good? While I am sure there are many others, here are 5 attributes that I have observed as factors that seem to exist in most of those who manage to separate themselves from the pack.

1. Preparedness and Hard Work

Winners don’t just turn up. In any business discipline, sport or other field of endeavor, it is most likely that those who are suddenly successful have spent the preceding years working very hard at their specialism. It is what Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, quantifies at 10,000 hours.  There is a discipline, a routine, a dedication and a core interest and affinity with the subject, sport or profession that separates the mediocre from the great.

2. Concentration in the Moment

Just as a Formula 1 race car driver can win or lose a race in a moment of brilliant maneuvering or lapse of concentration, so it is with the practice of a professional discipline. Based on preparedness and hard work, the winners see the open door, the moment of opportunity, and almost instinctively know how to act.  I say almost instinctively because while the reaction seems like a natural reflex, it is instead a practiced moment governed by well developed muscle memory honed by hours of practice and focus on that one thing that the practitioner has chosen to excel at.

3. Intense Desire to Win in our Field

There is a competitive streak in all of us.  We all like to win. It is however in our chosen discipline that we care most. I know I will never be a world class tennis player, Formula 1 driver, or artist.  I just don’t have the interest, nor have I sent the time on the tennis court, on the track or in front of a canvas. However when it comes to my areas of expertise, there is a confidence borne from thousands of hours of effort that give me a sense of confidence that if I execute at the top of my game, I should win. And it hurts if I lose. I don’t believe winners can achieve the pinnacle of their potential without this competitive streak. It matters.

4. Experience and Acceptance of Occasional Failure

While this might seems to contradict my previous point, how someone deals with failure is an important predictor of future success.  Winners learn from their mistakes and use the experience to sharpen their skills. Accepting full responsibility for the failure with humility and understanding is a mark of a mature professional. This becomes more critical as the practitioner achieves great heights, for it is here that this learning can be the difference that leads to greater success and a plateau of achievement.

5. Ability to Adapt

Flexibility matters, and an open mind that is not hampered by rigid thinking, allows for continuous growth. We all have the ability to be in the top 1% of some endeavor.  By definition, that separates us from most (i.e. 99%) of our fellow travelers. If you believe in evolution to any extent then you must see that the ability to adapt is one of the greatest
arbiters of survival (first) and excellence (second).

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Battling the 57% – Part2: Flanking to Win

I have written before about the statistic that is out there ‘buyers have progressed 57% through their buying process before they engage a salesperson’ – is in fact an average and that how you act before and after ‘the 57%’ is a matter of choice, not a function of averages. It really comes down to whether you engage first with the buyer, or react to their engagement with you. In this post I will set out some guidelines on how you might react ‘after the 57% point’ if you find yourself in that situation.

Let’s first consider the whole spectrum of engagement – the Sales & Marketing Continuum.

57-2-smc620

For any purchase, the customer goes through a number of phases, beginning with Awareness. At this point, they learn that you and your product exist. This is followed by Interest where they care about what you (and others) have. The next phase is the critical one. This is where they establish Preference for a given solution or supplier.

When you overlay the 57 percent point on the Sales and Marketing Continuum, you can see that it lies at the critical juncture between Interest and Preference: If they’re already 57 percent through the decision process before they engage you, there’s a high probability that they’ve already established a preference.

57-2-smc2-620

Consider what happens if  you’re late to the game. If that is the case, you’re probably chasing a sale that will be hard to win. In this case how you respond is really important. At this point your competitor is probably in the lead and has been established as the preferred supplier. You need to shift the focus of the customer’s buying criteria to a new or additional issue — one that your solution will uniquely deliver. This is called a Flanking Strategy and can reset the conditions of the sale in your favor.

57-2-flanking620

There are four things to consider:

  1. Don’t follow the rules. (Your competitor is already winning under the current rules.)
  2. You need to have internal executive support. (You’re changing the game, and someone powerful must help.)
  3. Make your move last.
  4. Don’t open the door to alternative solutions.

However you can’t just arbitrarily adopt a Flanking strategy, you must also have the right conditions in place.

  1. A flanking strategy requires that you offer a solution with unique business value informed by genuine insight about the customer’s needs.
  2. The proposed solution must also favor your unique strengths.
  3. You are devising a specific benefit or value for the customer that your competitor can’t match.

Let’s look at some examples:

In the 1990s, Oracle and Siebel dominated the CRM market. In 1999, salesforce.com entered the field. Rather than asserting, “We’ve got a better CRM,” Salesforce focused attention on a new perceived value by stating that their approach of delivering enterprise software from the cloud would yield a 10X easier deployment cycle. They didn’t sell based on CRM features. Their proposition was that Salesforce was easier to use and easier to deploy – a benefit against which the others couldn’t compete: a unique business value that the customer cared about. Over the last fifteen years Salesforce used a flanking strategy flawlessly and changed the rules in a big way.

In our own case at The TAS Group, we also adopted a flanking strategy to introduce our solutions. We examined the business of sales training, methodology and effectiveness tools: $10 billion of expenditure every year. But research showed that on average 87 percent of that training was ineffective after thirty days: $8.7 billion wasted. Clearly, traditional approaches weren’t the most effective investment for improving sales team productivity. Our solution, Dealmaker – embedded decades of sales methodology in a smart, easy-to-use software application – uniquely helps companies to operationalize their sales effectiveness initiatives – for true, sustained sales transformation. Our flanking strategy was born of this insight and helped us establish a new market category: “How do you operationalize your sales effectiveness? What do you do when the sales trainer leaves?”

While customers have an ever-increasing opportunity to research their own solution before they engage with a supplier you have an opportunity to shape the subsequent interaction by helping them to learn what you want them to know.

Feel free to download The TAS Group’s latest publication, Battling the 57%: Deconstructing the Buyer Seller Dance or for a more detailed treatment of how to add value to your customers, check out the #1 Amazon Bestseller Account Planning in Salesforce.

 

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10 Rules for Great Sales Coaching

Over the last number of years I have given a lot of thought to Sales Performance Management.  I think that most experienced practitioners and observers recognize that the front-line sales manager is the key to scaling sales performance. But it is a really hard job. And if sales managers are in fact the linch-pin of the sales organization, then when sales management fails, sales fails. Bouncing from task to task, managing up, out and wide, getting to the important tasks often suffers under the pressure of the urgent. One of the important tasks that get relegated to the ‘I-know-I-should-do-it-but-I-just-can’t-get-to-it’ bucket is sales coaching. I thought that I would share some thoughts here on how you might make what every coaching time that you have most effective.

But first, some facts:

  • According to SEC/CEB, Coaching can improve sales productivity by 88%
  • Per Gallup, when sales coaching is effectively deployed, customer loyalty increases by 56%.
  • This is not surprising given that in a recent report from CEB, 53% of customers see the ‘Purchase Experience’ as the primary driver of customer loyalty.
  • Sales Management Association conducted a study looking at issues that are “important to sales force success” and examined the resource that was applied to those initiatives.  Sales Coaching stands alone, as being recognized as being important but not getting the attention it deserves.
  • According to a separate Sales Management Association study, most sales managers are spending less than 5% of their time on sales coaching. Perhaps given all of the time they are spending on all of the other activity, perhaps this is not a surprise.  But it is still worrisome.

We looked at why Sales Managers don’t coach, and saw a combination of (1) the lack of time, and (2) uncertainty about what to look for as two of the major obstacles.  As you would probably expect from me – I believe that technology and smart automation has a huge role to play in resolving both of these issues to empower the sales manager to (a) understand the vulnerabilities in his/her team and (b) provide coaching to help the team members improve.  (Disclosure: This is precisely what we do with Dealmaker Sales Performance Insight.)

But it is worth stepping back to consider what good coaching looks like:

Here are my 10 Rules for Great Sales Coaching

(I want to thank all of the experienced practitioners who contributed/validated/improved my work in creating a list and then reducing it to a manageable number of just 10!)

 

1. Collaborative:  collaborative

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Coaching should be a joint process. It is not about the manager telling the sales person what to do.  It must be viewed as connected to a shared positive purpose, with agreed expectations and suggested preparation.  You may jointly want to progress a deal, learn from a loss, or review strategy – but the emphasis needs to be on jointly – it must be a two-way flow.

2. Regular Cadence:cadence

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Coaching should be embedded in how you manage your sales business. If centered around deal reviews, assessment of account plans, discussing a sales process, coaching should not be viewed as an event.  Regular, scheduled coaching sessions will develop a consciousness and familiarity with the process that will grease the wheels and make each coaching session less challenging and more productive.

3. Consistent Framework:  framework

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Consider, for example, a Deal Review.  You should create a consistent framework that the sales team is familiar with.  You might start with an overview of the deal, allow for clarification questions, identify risks and vulnerabilities and then brainstorm solutions and strategy.  Do it the same way every time and it will flow more easily.

4. Apply Buyer’s View:buyer

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In truth there is only one perspective that really matters, and that is what the customer thinks.  Remember that the impact on a customer of a bad buying decision is typically greater than the impact on a sales person of a lost deal.  So the sales manager, or others in the coaching session, should take the perspective of the buyer. Honestly answer the question: “If I was the customer, would I buy from us?”  It’s a great lens to use to focus your thinking on what the customer cares about.

5. Look for Evidence:  evidence

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Always look for evidence.  When presented with comments like “Joe Smith really likes us,” or “We have strong compelling event,” you should always respond with questions like “How do we know?”  Be clear about the evidence of customer action that helps support those assertions.

6. Elicit Critical Thinking:thinking

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The role of the coach is to elicit critical thinking from the sales person.  Start with “If we were to lose the deal, or fail in this account, what would be the top three reasons?”  Then, when these risks have been identified, allow the sales person to come up with their own answers.  This critical thinking is a muscle that can be developed with progress.

7. Praise Good Insight:  good-insight

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People respond to praise – particularly in front of their peers.  If you don’t acknowledge or recognize valuable contribution, you are less likely to get that same contribution again.  You audience will think either that you don’t get the value – or think that you are too important (in your own mind) to respect their opinions.

8. Be Objective & Curious:  curious

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As Albert Einstein said, “Never stop questioning.”  Remove any bias that you have about account, the opportunity or the sales person.  Remain objective and seek the truth that will serve you all.

9. Don’t Take Over:  no-control

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It is not your job to close the deal, be too prescriptive on strategy or directive on the next action.  Don’t feel that you are the only one who can call the customer, or do the research, or plan the account.  You are trying to develop new behaviors and that only happens with practice.  Don’t take over.

10. Document Actions:document

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If the coaching session was worth doing, then it is worth recording what happened, the insights you learned, and the actions that were agreed, and then follow up.

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What to do when “No Decision” is not in the customer’s best interest

I have written before about the only two reasons that you lose a sale;

  1. You should not have been there (chasing this particular opportunity), or
  2. You were outsold.

I know I have fallen at both of those hurdles.  Sometimes being outsold means you lost to the dreaded No Decision.  In fact according a report I read from CSO Insights this is happening 26% of the time. Ouch!

Now in most cases when the customer is making No Decision they are in fact making the right decision. They will have objectively evaluated the project, and decided that this particular project did not reach the required threshold of return, or was not as important as another more pressing initiatives.

But in some cases they are just afraid, and No Decision is taking the easy way out.  This No Decision will often be accompanied by phrases like; “I don’t think we have the right team in place to implement this project now”, “We need to learn to walk before we can run”, “I’m not sure the team is ready to embrace this amount of change.” In truth they are just afraid.

They might be afraid of making an investment for which they will be held accountable. They might be afraid of something that is new. They might be afraid of change. They might be afraid of upsetting the status quo lest it might threaten their own status.

In these cases they are not in fact making No Decision, they are making a decision not to fix a problem that is broken. They are taking cover in the status quo where they are less likely to be seen as the instigator of something that went wrong. Sometimes that is a consequence of organizational culture – and in other cases it is  individual responsibility being abbrogated, denied, or ignored. But, is it your job to tell them?

I’ve written before that ‘A bad buying decision usually has a greater impact on the customer than a lost sale has on the salesperson’.  I believe that to be true, and I further believe that it is the sales person’s responsibility to tell the customer if they think the customer is making a bad buying decision. It is part of delivering on the trust that you’ve tried to earn.

In all of this post I have assumed that there was a real problem that the customer wanted to fix, the issues were identified, you were speaking the people who had the power to make the decision, and you had developed a joint vision of the desired end-state.  Then the customer got cold feet.

But how do you tell the No Decision customer that they have made the wrong decision – without it appearing as mere sour grapes, or that all you care about is selling them your solution?

  • First, be honest to yourself and about yourself. Acknowledge that you have failed to provide enough evidence to the customer to make them comfortable to make a positive decision.
  • Second, restate the problem you think the customer was trying to solve and the impact of No Decision
  • Third, withdraw from the sale, pointing out that this maybe the impetus for the customer to act (and maybe buy from your competitor.)   This is in the best interests of the customer. Maybe you’ve nothing to lose anyway, but that’s not the point. The point is that you must maintain your integrity.Your initial contract with the customer prospect was to help them solve their business problem.  That’s where you started and that’s where you should finish.

You have two other alternatives to this approach. (1) You can do nothing except walk away and lick your wounds. That serves neither party well, or (2) You can seek other (perhaps more senior) people in the organization who will reverse the No Decision made by your contact – but that’s the subject of another post.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. This is not a simple question.

 

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The Challenger Sale Debate – Is it missing the point?

There has been a lot a debate among the sales training / sales enablement community about The Challenger Sale from CEB’s Sales Executive Council.  Some of it has been cogent and balanced, but unfortunately a lot has been mud-slinging and poorly articulated or uninformed specious commentary that does not reflect well on the sales training industry. Most of the latter type has, probably predictably, come from those who might have good reason to be threatened by the seeming ubiquity or pervasiveness of TCS.  On the other hand, where measured arguments have been put forward, it seems that these originate more often from users, practitioners, or observers who acknowledge the value of TCS while wondering about its place in an overall sales eco-system.

I have read commentary from Linda Richardson, HRChally, Jonathan Farrington, Dave Stein, Tamara Schenk, Solution Selling, and others, and you can look at the links and judge for yourself who is engaging in productive debate, who is posturing to protect their own patch, and who is being downright unprofessional.   Methinks the latter doth protest too much!

Most of the anti-Challenger rhetoric seems to rail primarily against how the Sales Executive Council has presented Challenger to the market, and less about the substance of the TCS model, or the research behind its findings.  Many of the commentators take umbridge at SEC’s positioning of the findings as being new or noteworthy.  “There is nothing new or unique here” is a common cant.  Well, clearly that is not true: Otherwise TCS would not have captured the attention that is has, resonated as strongly with the marketplace, or evoked such a – sometimes vitriolic – response from those who feel threatened by it.

At The TAS Group, we faced similar criticism from some of the traditional sales training players when we introduced Dealmaker to the market.  We presented a view that effective adoption of methodology could only happen when supported by intelligent software and integrated into the daily workflow of the sales professional by combining the application of methodology with usage of the CRM. We were subsequently positioned by our competitors as only focused on technology, and we were questioned by the analysts as how we could maintain deep research in methodology and technology at the same time.  Well, that was six years ago, and the evidence suggests that we were not as misguided as some would have thought.   Now, although not everyone has the depth of technology resources that we do, everyone recognizes the need for software as an integral part of a sales performance system.  And, the advancements we have made in methodology during that time has served our customers very well.

I don’t think TCS is either perfect or a complete sales system, or a one-size-fits-all solution; nor do I believe that the folks at the Sales Executive Council think so either.  (By the way, I am struck by the fact that it is evident that many of those who are criticizing TCS had not spoken to the SEC before they expressed their views.)  A complete sales performance system requires everything from market planning to territory segmentation, account stratification, account management, opportunity management and sales process, all supported by skills and technology.

But TCS has a number of undeniable strengths.  It has done a better job of highlighting the need for greater sales and marketing alignment than many of its forerunners.  (I have written about that problem here, here, here, here, here, and here.)  With a level of clarity all too rarely seen in the industry, it has debunked the myth of the Relationship seller.  Where others represent it as arrogant that a sales person should bring insight, or being able to ‘teach’ the customer as being arrogant, I see it as a customer focused approach, and an acknowledgement that buyers are more informed and therefore the sales person has to prepare much more diligently.  It demands that the sales person work hard to understand their customer and the customer’s industry, and requires a level of intellectual capital that all customers should look for from their suppliers.   In my opinion, any effective sales person should be able to bring insights to her customer of what has worked elsewhere.  I think that is table stakes.

Through its membership community, SEC has an effective petri dish to test its approaches, before unleashing them on the market.  Their heritage in research is a matter of fact – not of opinion. While they still have a way to go, I would have hoped that constructive inclusion, a recognition of how TCS complements other methodologies, would have been the response, but sadly …

More importantly though, the success of Challenger – and it is unquestionably successful – points to a failure of traditional providers, particularly those who focus on sales skills.  The fact that TCS has been so quickly embraced points to a deficiency in the alternatives.  Otherwise why would there be a gap in the market for SEC?

Make no mistake.  SEC has done a remarkable job of positioning TCS in the market, and indeed is using the principles espoused by Dixon and Adamson in their book to effectively challenge the status quo.  Something is working – and the response of the detractors only validates the approach.

 

 

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Space

Space – no not the Star Trek variety as in “Space – the Final Frontier, but the gaps in conversation that you need to leave when speaking to someone.

Let me start with this:  The only way we can express the worth of our own opinions is by valuing the opinions of others.

Too many times I see sales people (and indeed many others) sitting on the edge of their seats just waiting for a break in the conversation, or waiting until the other person pauses for breath, to jump in with whatever is one their mind.

This is not active listening, and if you are one of these early jumpers, it only demonstrates that you are not really interested in what the other person has to say, and that you think that you know better. You don’t have time to consider what the other person has said, nor do you have time to consider your response in the context of what they just said.  It is both disrespectful and ineffective.

I remember many years ago when my daughter, then 5 years old, came home from school and told me she was going to be a shepherd in the school Christmas play.  Usually she would be excited about going on stage, but this time I sensed only a moderate excitement.  When I asked how she was selected to be a shepherd, she responded “Well, the teacher asked who wanted to be shepherds, and me and Alice put our hands up,  but, but, but, how were we supposed to know she was then going to ask who wanted to be angels?”

When someone stops talking, it does not mean they have told you everything they are thinking, or that they have said all they want to say. When you make a statement or express an opinion but don’t leave adequate space in the conversation for others to consider what you said,  or respond fully with their own thoughts, you are missing out on an opportunity to learn, and signalling to them that you are not interested in their opinion.

Leaving space in a conversation for follow on comments or questions, may illuminate areas that you did not even know were in the shade.

The old adage of “You have two ears and one mouth – so you should use them in that proportion”, is truly valuable. But if you have one ear on the left side of your head, and one on the right, then you might consider that Space is in fact, as our Star Trek friends would have you believe – the Final Front Ear. (Sorry!)

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The One Sales Trend that Demands Attention

Guest Post: Bruce Wedderburn, EVP Channel & Enablement, Huthwaite Inc.

As we kick off 2012 with a heightened sense of optimism after the past few years, we all hypothesize what the new year will bring to our organizations, our people and our clients.  And typical of this time of year there are no shortages of prognosticators who are allegedly spotting the trends that are going to take the sales and business world by storm.  Having read many of these predictions and having had a chance to cross reference them against what we are seeing at Huthwaite as we look into 2012, there is one trend that we feel strongly all sales organizations would be foolish to ignore.

The traditional discovery or investigating skills that have been the bedfellow of top-performing sales people for the last twenty years are being totally redefined.  That redefinition is being performed by your clients, with or without you.

The previous approach to sales quota-busting was centered on your ability to effectively diagnose the customer’s known pain, uncover their needs, and based on that discovery to then craft a targeted solution that addresses the needs as the customer articulated them to you.  Sounds right, doesn’t?  I mean, that’s the practice of the star performers, isn’t it?  They have mastered the art of asking good questions.

Maybe…

Your customers have changed their purchasing behavior to make that approach a little antiquated.  Customers have put in place strong buying systems, they are taking advantage of the availability of information on the web and social media, they’ve employed consultants, and their purchasing is more strategic, commercial-driven, transparent and professional than ever before.  That means that by the time your sales rep gets to talk with a customer, the customer may have already moved far around the buying cycle on their own.  A recent SLR report stated “on average, 57% of a purchase decision is complete before a customer contacts a supplier”.  By this time a customer is quite clear as to what their needs are, what options are available to them to meet those needs, and what price they can meet those needs for.  So a traditional discussion where a sales rep asks the customer about their needs (as understood by the customer) is of very low value.  The customer already knows their needs and the unfortunate rep is forced to play the role of solution describer and price discounter.  New customer buying behavior is driving traditional sales reps to a world where they are responding to demand, not creating demand.  They are finding customers who are already in the market vs. making customers out of those who are yet to look for a solution.

Herein lies the key to the redefined role of the sales rep in 2012 and beyond – star-performers will be applying their skills in the opposite direction.  They will increasingly create demand, not respond to demand.  That demand will be created not through providing information about products and services, and not through asking the customer questions about information the customer already knows.  It is through delivering insights to their customers in a way that creates value.  But a critical question is – how are these insights to be delivered?  Recent thinking proclaims that the best reps must “teach” customers, you must “educate customers on potential ways to change”, or deliver value by telling customers what insights are important to them.

Sounds compelling, doesn’t it?  Even seductive – but it totally misses a critical point.

We must remember that there are two rules that apply to all human communication.  These rules apply particularly to selling:

1. Customers  value what they say and their own conclusions more than what they are told. (especially what they are told by sales people)
2. Customers value what they ask for more than what is freely offered. (Especially insights that are freely offered by sales people)

These rules of communication tell us that an approach based on telling, teaching or lecturing to a customer about the insights they need to be aware of may fall on deaf or suspicious ears.  And there is factor that we must also take into consideration.  With the increased sophistication of customers in today’s market, is there a risk that a sales rep’s attempts to teach or challenge may be perceived by an experienced buyer as a little obvious and even self-serving?

The reality is that the star-performers of 2012+ in the B2B world will still be the champions of investigating.  It’s just that they are no longer only asking questions to uncover customer needs.  They are asking questions that provoke and encourage deeper thinking about unrecognized problems and unanticipated opportunities for business growth.  They are indeed educating about trends and delivering insights, but doing so by helping the customer arrive conclusions not through presentation but through discussion.

Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and ask yourself which approach you would prefer?

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