Executives Bonding with Sales

Perhaps, there is a reason that so many corporate CEOs come from the Sales organization. I have observed that successful businesses have strong teamwork between the Executive Staff and the Sales group. Everybody in a business understands that they are dependent on Sales to provide a predictable, profitable stream of orders. Yet, a surprising number of executives are unaware of what they need to provide to the Sales group to support their success. There are three elements that executives can provide that will support Sales.

Provide a clear two-year outlook for the companySome business owners have the attitude that if you give a sales force a good product, they should be able to sell it. A product needs to be really good and a bit disruptive to sell itself. In most sales situations, the product falls behind the sales representative and company reputation in importance to the buyer. Sales people need to describe to their prospects how the company’s investments and strategies align with the prospects’ anticipated needs. A lot has been written lately about how stories are powerful sales tools. A good story describes how a company came to their current mission and how customers can depend on the company to protect their future.

Accept responsibility for sales resultsQuality models suggest that sales people are accountable for sales and that managers are responsible for them. A company that enforces accountability, but shirks their responsibilities will have a sales force with high turnover. I have always believed that every employee’s performance impacts sales and that it is the executive’s job to assure at the company is responsive to potential and existing customers.

Lead positive change – When a sales person walks into a customer’s office for a visit, it’s common for the customer to ask, “What’s new?” Customers want their suppliers to be dynamic and not static. Sales people need current information that gives an interesting reply to the customer’s question. Once a customer becomes concerned that your business is not keeping up with change in technology and markets, the door is open for competitors to grab the account.

I would enjoy hearing reader’s opinions and practices regarding how they maintain marketing quality. I am scheduled to give two presentations on the topic in the Connecticut area and encourage you to attend and learn more.

 

Will They Remember You?

 

The essence of making a good business introduction is connecting with the other person. The great poet, Maya Angelou, captures this notion succinctly:

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

While it is important to tell people what they might want to know you, it is best done while putting people at ease.  Developing this skill requires taking time to get a sense of who you are and then taking that identity lightly. To help with this reflection, I find that focusing on the points Why, Who, What, and How to be useful.

Why      This point covers why you entered your profession and why you continue to do it. Of the four points, “Why” is the most revealing and often creates the most connection. Yet in an effort to be brief, people’s discomfort with talking about themselves will cause them to skip it.

Who      The best way to cover this point is to describe the type of customer you most enjoy working with.  Some people are tempted to keep this description as broad as possible; so as to not rule out any prospects. Yet, by being specific, people to will remember you when they meet somebody who might want to work with you.

What     Of the four points, this one is most mishandled. People most often will talk about what they do instead of what they do for their customers that makes them want to buy again. By using visual language that captures the impact your work has on satisfied customers, you become memorable.

How      This point explains how you uniquely deliver the “What” that makes you preferred over your competition. The “How” is never a technical explanation and does not have to be earth-shaking. It can be the value or practice that consistently draws satisfaction and makes you trustworthy.

For example, a real estate agent might say;

My home grounds me and is a source of my refreshment at the end of my day. So I work to reduce the time families feel the dislocation of selling and buying a house.  I most like working with young families in southeastern New Haven County looking to expand into a larger home that is still under $550K. My clients tell me they especially appreciate my ability to understand what they feel are the key selling points of their current property and then communicate persuasively to get interesting offers on the home.

As I wrote at the beginning, the words are not nearly as important as being genuine. Good luck.

 

3 Mental Keys to Being Awesome

 

Coming from a quiet, Midwest upbringing, I was always taught to “never get too full of yourself” or “don’t get too big for your britches.” While I understand that these expressions were well-intentioned attempts to reinforce humility, I always felt them as an admonishment to be compliant and conform.  Most people experienced comparable messages or worse as a child; as over 90% of criticism is negative. Unless you put aside those messages, they will only serve as obstacles on the road to awesome.

Some people dismiss positive affirmation as a pop-psychology gimmick. Executives, managers, and influencers should beware that, unless you consciously dismiss those old messages, they will haunt you for the rest of your career. We have all observed managers that avoid conflict, sales people who hate cold calls, or executives that cannot own a mistake. While these professionals may not consciously recall old messages, emotions will come into play that spurs avoidance, procrastination, or even aggression. These habits of thought can be broken and here are three keys for going forward:

 

Log your dreams and set goals to achieve them. It sounds so simple. Yet, most professionals I know do not set goals. Most of these people are highly productive and competent in their work. A common belief system is that it is an obligation to be highly responsive to the people and events around them. While that’s laudable, such a belief system results in other people and events defining the future.

Improvement requires both learning and letting go. You will never learn something new unless you want to change and believe you are able to learn it. Daniel Goleman, renowned expert on emotional intelligence, began his research by trying to understand why corporate training wasn’t more effective. He found that an overwhelming number of people did not know why they were being sent to the training and most would prefer to skip it. The result was that people returned from training with performance largely unchanged.

Professional athletes spend hours visualizing top performance to improve their performance. In the high-velocity world of professional athletics, athletes must respond intuitively; as there is no time to think. Not so obvious, business professionals face the same challenge. A client or employee speaks to you, and in a millisecond, your body language and facial expression flashes a response before you can even open your mouth. In the business world, responses to stimulus need to be intuitive and preconditioned.

Listening and observing to understand how to speak.

Most achievement is earned through the relationships you form and the level of trust and support you experience in the relationship.  Persuasion and accountability play a large role in recruiting others to support your goals.  In order to recruit someone, you must listen and observe carefully to understand what they want, how they like to be communicated to, and how they like to make decisions. Persuasion is 80% listening and 20% talking.

I will be conducting a class that meets weekly called, Helping People Buy, in Wallingford, CT June 20 to August 22nd. This class will help sales professionals improve their performance by exercising the concepts above. See the link below for more information.

 

Helping People Buy

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How Good People Lose Sales

 

happy salesmanThe only thing that separates lay people from sales professionals is that sales professionals receive incentives to be good at sales. Some people conclude that sales people are born with the gift of gab and scary, manipulative skills. But know this: all sales skills can be learned and all sales people are better at some skills than others. Even talented, well-motivated sales people have blind spots that allow some opportunities to go by the wayside. Some sales people are stronger at counseling and reassuring; while others have the talent to simplify complex concepts and help apply technology. Here are four examples of how good sales people can lose sales:

  1. Lack of focus and articulation on the value of their solutions. It is common for technology and commodity sales reps to develop a belief that simply describing the product is sufficient for a prospect’s buying decision. In an age where people can get all the data they need on the Internet, what prospects really want to know is how representatives’ products and services can improve their business and make their lives better.
  2. Lack of appreciation for how people want to make their decisions and be communicated with. Some people just want to understand how a purchase will effect their bottom line, while others are more concerned about how their company will perceive them if they make the purchase. A sales rep’s ability to perceive a prospect’s style and motivations will impact their success.
  3. Misreading who will really make the purchase decision and the timing and resources available for a project. When the person across the table is really excited about a solution, it’s easy for a sales rep to lose focus on key logistical questions that will impact a sale. When prospects are confronted with the capital and manpower needed to implement a solution, they will sometimes opt for an approach better suited to their constraints. It is also important that the sales rep identify when a prospect is stalling and holding up objections without basis. Correctly handling a stall can get a sale back on track.
  4. Not being able to position a solution benefit against a real want. Sometimes a sales rep will make a solid presentation to a prospect and learn that there is no interest in going further. This happens when the sales rep is unable to discover the issue that the prospect really cares about. When that pleasure or pain point has not been identified, prospects will dismiss solutions arbitrarily for one of many possible reasons. In this situation there often is no opportunity and the real loss is the time invested by the sales rep.

While these problems may seem obvious, missing an important cue can leave the sales rep bewildered when the opportunity fades. By learning to focus attention and ask questions that will lead to a thorough discovery, sales performance can improve. For readers in the Branford, CT vicinity, I will be leading a ten-session class beginning September 20th that develops key sales skills. For more information, click here.

 

Is Anybody Listening?

ConversationIt’s only July, and most everyone I meet is sick, if not distraught, with this campaign season. While I have seen glimpses of positive persuasion and leadership, most of the current news stories illustrate what we should not do as leaders. Personal attacks and political spin invariably make me stop listening. To be a great orator, you have to be a great listener, first.  The candidates have me asking myself the question, “Is anybody listening??” As listening is quintessential to all leadership positions, it is worth reflect on your own listening skills. Here are the three steps you can take to be a better a listener.

Stop Talking – This may seem obvious. But if you are speaking more than 25% of the time during a conversation, you’re at best doing a marginal job of listening.  I sometimes find myself thinking that sharing my experiences, suggestions, or reactions will be helpful to a person seeking to be listened to, when I know that it’s not. In business, executives, sales people, and service professionals all need healthy egos to be successful and the ability to restrain their egos to be exceptional.

Discern the consequences and possibilities a speaker is focused on – By simply noting whether a speaker is focused on possibilities or consequences, the quality of communication will greatly improve.  Discovering sources of excitement or concern will deepen connections and build trust.  Attentive listening is required to make these discoveries; as speakers are often not aware of the true root of these emotions.  We all have habits of thought and a good listener is required to disrupt those patterns so situations can be seen in a new light.  

Make it personal During the course of a good conversation, you will discover hopes, goals, and fears. There is a temptation to take these conversational gems at their face value; when asking one more question might change the course of the conversation. The question is, “What does realizing (or failing to realize) this goal mean to you personally?”  Even though most of us appreciate being asked such a question, our social conditioning can make us reluctant to ask a personal question.  Ask yourself, “What does completing my goals mean to me personally?” If this question doesn’t give you pause, think about setting a goal you are really excited about.

Effective leaders know that meaningful conversations with collaborators are a source of creativity, innovation, and unity. Engage in a conversation today and try it out!

 

3 Measures for Customer Focus

customer-focus-image

Many clients seek my services when they lack customer focus and are not achieving the order growth they had planned for.  One of the ironies I observe is that people, who lack customer focus, will often resist obtaining it. A symptom of being “unfocused” is the belief that if people were only aware of the excellent products and services, they would buy them. Businesses following that logic will invest in advertising and social media; only to observe disappointing results. This reminds me of the American who believes foreigners will understand English if they just speak louder.

Business people generally care greatly about their customers. Customer focus, however, is acquired by developing a new attitude toward business and customers.  An attitude is a habit of thought and, like any other habit, it can be difficult to break an old habit and acquire new ones. These are three measures to gauge your customer focus.

 

Have a list of customer-validated desired results:  What customers want will drive buying decisions. Wants are associated with feelings and experiences people yearn for. A result is the observed change in measures or perceptions that occur after the purchase of a product and go far beyond the function of the product. Customer focus is identifying the expectations buyers have for what will result after a sale. A self-centered focus only studies getting the sale. Simon Sinek has described how successful companies focus on why customers want to buy their products rather than which products customers buy.

Have data from your customers regarding what they find satisfying and dissatisfying about your business and a plan to improve: Customer loyalty, or the willingness to purchase a business’ product repeatedly, is based on the complete purchase experience. The ease of ordering and paying, the warmth of product displays and service employees, and the ability to resolve product and service issues are as important as the product. And because customers’ perceptions are relative to your competition, it is impossible to understand how customers perceive you without asking them.

Desired results, product benefits, and product features are in clear alignment:  The value of products and services is determined solely by the customer.  Advertising and sales presentations will have little impact unless they touch on what customers want. The first bullet addresses what customers want. This bullet addresses how clearly a business satisfies a want. In short, how many of your customers are raving fans?

I welcome all comments regarding customer focus. If you have concerns about the focus of your business, please contact me at Charles@accelachv.com.

More Sales Lessons from the Campaign Trail

patriot flags

Politics is one of my favorite spectator sports; as it brilliantly illuminates the best and worst aspects of our humanity. This month I return to the campaign trail to uncover more lessons in persuasion and perception that can be applied to the sales profession.  The evening news continues to deliver material that’s better than anything I could make up.  So here we go….

They have to buy you before they’ll buy what you sell.  The emerging standoff between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush illuminates a couple points. In August Mr. Trump accused Mr. Bush of being weak. Mr. Trump has upped the ante by refuting Mr. Bush’s assertion that his brother kept us safe after 9/11. In August, Jeb Bush chose not to respond to an attack on his character, and instead, focused his campaign on policy positions. What stuck with the public was “weak.” By forcing Jeb Bush to defend an unpopular chapter in his brother’s presidency, Mr. Trump continued the focus on Mr. Bush’s character and has stymied the Bush campaign’s progress. In sales, it’s important to make a friend and earn credibility before you give your pitch.

Pick your target audience.  The argument whether “George Bush kept us safe” brings up another observation. Safety is a question of how one perceives their immediate surroundings. People who still feel unsafe after 9/11 often feel that the US government failed the country; where people feeling more secure may see a more complex situation and feel Mr. Trump’s criticism unfair. In a Republican primary, Mr. Trump is chasing the “unsafe” group. Sales people and marketers often must take a position that will endear them to one customer group while distancing them from another. Always endear the audience you favor.

Stay clear of emotional landmines. The attack on the World Trade Center is a horrible chapter in American history and we all hold deep memories of that day. By calling out 9/11, Mr. Trump is gambling that his own character will not be called into question.   Sales people are wise to tread carefully when meeting prospects. Recently departed executives, failed product campaigns, and missed promotions are topics that must be discovered and discussed with sensitivity.

Never help the competition sell.  I will never understand why Bernie Sanders excused Hillary Clinton’s email scandal in a public debate while surging in the polls. Between Bernie and the Indianapolis Colts handing over a game to the New England Patriots by lining up in an illegal formation for a fake punt, we’ve had a week where the underdog seemed firmly committed to being an underdog. This can too easily happen when a sales person takes their focus off the sale and needlessly volunteers information that places the competition in a better position. Sales people who believe a technology or product will sell itself can be lulled into complacency.

My caution to the sales community is stay aware and alert or you’ll end up like a politician. As always, please share your observations and comments.

 

5 Sales Lessons from Donald Trump

PoliticianDonald Trump, love him or hate him, has captured the attention of the nation. While Mr. Trump’s empire has had booms and busts, he has always proven himself to be a master salesman. His campaign has benefited from his sales prowess; but it has also raised questions about his intentions with this campaign. In my mind, voting is a decision to buy a candidate’s vision. Below are some lessons to consider about that “buying/selling” experience:

Establish an emotion connection upfront: Much of the country is frustrated with the slow economic growth and weakening institutions. It has left many feeling angry and isolated from the elected leadership. Mr. Trump’s brash and angry comments about Washington have formed a strong bond with the disaffected that allows extreme behavior with little repercussion. People buy from those that “get them.”

Don’t belittle your competition: In the sales world, attempts to grow your perceived value by diminishing your competition can be catastrophic. Mr. Trump’s insistence on calling his rivals weak and incompetent defies sales logic. Although the media reaction has prompted Mr. Trump to focus on his value and compose some position papers, the lesson here is whether Mr. Trump experiences consequences.

Is your target market big enough? To win the GOP nomination, Mr. Trump will need to attract the supporters of the “weak and incompetent.” To win the election, Mr. Trump will need to gain support from the minorities he has disparaged and dismissed. Sales logic suggests you always chase the broadest audience possible. An exit early next year will suggest that this logic holds.

Can you deliver? Nothing destroys the reputation of a company or a sales person more completely than failing to deliver on your promises. Emotions guide the beginning of the buying process, but usually logic prevails at the end. Mr. Trump has been a fountain of innovation and ideas. And as Mr. Trump would say, “Some of them are good.” Mr. Trump has discounted the legislators whose cooperation he will need to implement his ideas.. While this suggests a bumpy road for Mr. Trump, I concede that the electorate can be very naïve in answering this question about candidates.

It’s always about the customer, not you: Wise salespeople understand that effective sales is about understanding their customers’ needs and allowing customers to discover how a proposed solution can satisfy those needs. I often wish we had more wise politicians. When a salesperson or politician starts telling their customer what they are going to do for them, people often tune out. Mr. Trump has been doing a lot of telling and I wonder if the electorate will decide if he is acting in their interest.

It takes a lot of courage to run for President and I respect Mr. Trump for his effort. The campaign is played out where everyone can see. The salesperson’s campaign is viewed only by their prospects and customers. While it may seem I am picking on Mr. Trump, the real point here is that countless sales people fail these lessons every day. Please contact me if you want to discuss further.

Five Missteps that Will Lose a Sale

For many small business owners and entrepreneurs, the passion for their products and services is what inspired them to start their business.  Business owners can be intimidated by selling or tend to oversimplify a high-skill profession. Particularly for businesses that sell products and services to other businesses, it is critical that business owners gain healthy appreciation for selling. What follows is a list of the five most common mistakes I observe with sales people:

  1. Failure to Gain Interest – The first contact with a prospective customer is the most crucial. Executives and buyers today are constantly being solicited to buy products and services. Sales people can differentiate themselves by demonstrating a clear interest in prospects and an understanding of the issues that concern them. The most common error is turning the conversation away from being about the prospect to pitching products.

  2. Chasing Latent Needs – Customers have latent and active needs. Latent needs are problems that the customer recognizes but has insufficient interest in fixing. Sales people are prone to hearing a prospect express a latent need and then using that interaction to qualify the lead. Experienced sales people will probe deeper to understand the value the prospect places on a solution and to see if additional information will change that valuation.

  3. Not identifying all the Influencers and Issues – It is critical to understand who is minding the purse, what that person wants, and who that person listens to when making decisions. Sales people representing consumer products can mistakenly assume that the male half of the couple will make the decision. Executives can have trusted advisors that are not impacted by a purchase, but are called upon for advice. Patience and commitment to understanding the buyer is imperative.

  4. Missing the “want” There are times a sales person will miss discovering what a buyer wants. I have seen instances where executives want to buy the most expensive, glitzy computer or phone; just to send a message about how they want to be seen. An executive looking to retire might be more interested in minimizing change or changes that can make his or her succession happen faster.

  5. No follow up after an order – Like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.” With capital goods, there is usually a significant lead time between shipment and the order. Sometimes competitors will see an order as reason to inject a “better and final” offer. This is also the time when suppliers with the better understanding of the “want” can get an upper hand. Be vigilant.

I’d love to hear your comments regarding the lessons you have learned from the competitive world of sales.

Seven Top Attributes of a Salesperson

I have had a flood of people approach me lately bemoaning the difficulty of finding top sales personnel. Selling is difficult to master and people who have no sales experience often do not fully appreciate how valuable an asset a top salesperson is. Chances of making a good hire improve dramatically if one takes the time to reflect on what they are looking for. What follows are the attributes I look for in a sale person. The weight or importance of these attributes can vary and depends on the type of product or service being sold.

Ability to set and achieve goals – If a candidate has sales experience; it’s always good to understand how they have performed against a quota. Quotas are often set by the employer. I prefer an example where the candidate came up with the goal without outside influence. When a candidate joins a new company; the speed with which the candidate becomes productive will depend on their ability to independently set challenging, meaningful goals.

Capture attention – The late Bill Brooks taught that the first minute of contact with a prospect has the most impact on sales success. There is a misconception that this ability is tied to a gregarious personality and charm. Good eye contact and an opening statement that connects with a prospects needs and wants gets the job done.

A Balance of Caring and Motivation – The difference between sales and manipulation is that sales people care and are committed to the success of their customers. If all a sales person does is attend to existing accounts, there are not going to be many new customers. Sales success requires the motivation to do the hard work of prospecting.

Able to Discern Customer Signs – Talented sales people can read body language to determine if a customer is interested, when the customer is ready to understand product and service details, and when the customer is ready to buy. Failure to read and respond the signs results in lots of meetings and no sales.

Ask the Right Questions – A successful sales person will spend no more than 30% of the time talking during a conversation with a prospect. It’s vital that the questions asked both reflect an understanding of the customer’s business and capture the key wants and needs.

Handle Critical Conversations – Companies sometimes make mistakes. It’s vital to a company that their sales people can handle a customer’s frustration and anger and find a remedy that will start to restore trust.

Handle Objections and Clarify Value – The key objective for every professional buyer is to turn your product into a commodity. Sales people must understand the company’s unique value and be confident in the organization’s ability to deliver. Success depends on the sales team resisting price pressure and bringing the prospect back to the economic value of your products.

Please comment if I have missed an attribute!!