Time for a Check Up

"Plans get you into things but you've got to work your way out." – Will Rogers

Here are a few simple instructions for a quick exercise all professional salespeople should do at the end of the first quarter of their sales year:

 -Turn slowly toward your bookshelf in your work area.

 -Look for the binder labeled "2009 Sales Plan" (you remember, it's the one you put there last   December)

 -Grab the binder, put it on your desk and review it.

Now ask yourself this question: "Am I doing what I said I would do in this sales plan?"

There are three answers to this question:  "Yes, No and Kind of"

If you answered "Yes", good for you. Your follow up question then is, "Are my business development efforts getting me closer to my goals?" to make sure you are getting the results you want.

If you answered "No", your follow up question is: "Assuming my goals are still the ones I want and my action steps are still effective means to reaching those goals, what's holding me back?" Then comes the really hard question: "Are these valid reasons or am I making excuses for not doing the behavior?"

If you answered "Kind of", your follow up question is: "Am I giving the right amount of effort or do I have to press the 'gas pedal' harder?"

I know there are no simplistic answers. However you answered the first question, the point is to take the time to sit down and review how you are doing in comparison to what you planned to do in your sales plan. You may need to fine tune it a bit because of changes in market conditions, your customer accounts or in your own business .

Once you complete this review (and changes if needed), you can be confident that your business development efforts are in complete 'sync' with current business conditions and more importantly, that you are showing high integrity to yourself and to your sales plan by 'doing what you say you will do'.



Marketing in a Down Economy

I recently sat down with Mike Van de Kamp of Van de Kamp Consulting LLC  (LinkedIn profile)to ask him about his thoughts regarding what companies and organizations should be doing when it comes to marketing themselves in the current economy.

Jim: Hi Mike. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your insights.

Mike: Hi Jim, good to be with you today.

Jim: We've both been around awhile and this is not our first rodeo, so to speak, when it comes to experiencing a poor economy. Is there any common theme relating to how companies approach their marketing efforts when business conditions deteriorate and sales begin to slow or take a serious hit?

Mike: There is. And it's interesting that whether it's a mild recession like in the early 90's, a more severe downturn of eight years ago and even what we are seeing with today's economy, companies always seem to react the same. To illustrate how they react and what their mindset is when it comes to their marketing efforts, let me share with you a story I remember hearing in a marketing class at the University of Wisconsin sometime on the north side of the last century. Luigi, whose son was away attending college, ran a small but ridiculously successful hot dog stand that had grown its reputation on pricey Vienna Beef/Chicago style hot dogs.

Jim: I think I've been at this establishment.

Mike: No doubt, I think we all know of a place like this. Over the past years, many people had been laid off of work in the small community, many businesses had closed their doors permanently, and most other restaurants were singing the blues. Then Luigi's son returned home for the holidays after completing this advanced economics class during the first semester. His friend drove him through town to drop him off at the hot dog stand around closing time so he could go home with his dad. Going through the center of town he saw the pricey billboard his dad had used for years to call out his "Dog Delights".He made a mental note. Riding home with his dad after a very busy day at the Hotdog Boutique, he told him about his economics class, the terrible economy and the need to reduce all avoidable expenses. After much debate, Luigi (sixth grade education) bowed to the wisdom of his college educated son. After his son returned to school he cancelled the billboard and set about drastically cutting costs.

Jim: What happened at that point?

Mike: Well, his son returned home for spring break just 45 days later and met his dad at the hot dog stand during the lunch hour. As he walked in, there was but a handful of the customers who normally frequented the place. His dad walked out of the kitchen and embraced his son. "My son, thank goodness I listened to you. I laid off the waitresses and went self-service, I discontinued the pricey Vienna Beef hot dogs, I switched to paper napkins, eliminated table cloths and cut my costs further by eliminating the billboard. I did it just in time before my business crashed like the others. I'm lucky it didn't catch up with me a year earlier like everyone else."

Jim: So what lesson should a president, CEO or business owner take away from the story?

Mike: The first lesson is to be able to answer a simple question? How do you market in a down economy? Very, very, very carefully.

Jim: You said that's the first lesson. I'm hearing that there are others, is that right?

Mike: That's right. The hot dog stand is a simple little story. However, it's full of lessons that apply to most businesses in time of recession.

Jim: Can you share a few of them?

Mike: Sure. First, if you have been successful in business to date, if the underlying values of the owners (if closely held) and (or, if widely held) the leadership group of an organization compose the seamless fabric of the organization's products and services delivering what the customer truly needs, be careful about changing anything. At the very least, seek input directly from your customers and base any change upon their candid opinions. Do not take the word of any intermediary, speak with them directly.

Jim: So if a business owner or president is going to listen to anyone about making changes, that first "voice" should be the customer's.

Mike: Exactly. And what I just described is the best case scenario. If the deep seated pains of your customers and the financial budgets available to overcome those pains do not line up perfectly with the products or services you offer, analysis and change are critical. Work from the customer in and values out to make sure everything you do is something they are willing to pay for. How do you do this? Again, like I mentioned earlier very, very carefully and very, very quickly.

Jim: Are companies capable of doing the analysis and change piece themselves? Or are they too close to the issues to effectively go through the process to see what changes need to take place?

Mike: It varies of course. However, as a business owner if you are unsure of how to do the evaluation and re-alignment, seek help from outside experts who do that type of work every single day. Don't cut out the very reasons the customer came to the hot dog stand in the first place. Find out what they really think and why. Then muster the troops, deliver it and prosper.

Jim: Mike, great insights. Thanks again for your time.

Mike: My pleasure, Jim. Good to be with you.



Leadership or Communication Challenges?

Utech Consulting's "Leadership Boot Camp" and "Effective Communication Seminars" can help.

I have personally attended these programs and I think you will receive a message of value as well as learn a methodology and strategies for growing your business or organization and improving communication with customers and business associates.

I have done several joint consulting projects with the Utech team and I continue to be impressed with 1) their understanding of how organizations and people work…or not work and 2) their practical solutions to everyday business challenges.

Check out Utech's "Leadership Boot Camp" and "Effective Communication Seminars" at this link.



Is Your Sales Team Receiving Effective Coaching?

From working with many company presidents and business owners over the last seventeen years, I've learned many valuable things. Chief among these is this obvious one: Company presidents and owners are very busy and wear many 'hats' in leading their businesses.

One of these hats is that of being a coach to their sales team. Depending on the size of their sales organization, the amount of coaching a president does can vary widely. With a larger team and a VP of Sales in place, they may only be involved in strategy sessions dealing with larger customer accounts. When the sales team is smaller, a president may be serving as their own sales manager and interacting regularly with their salespeople.

No matter what your level of involvement may be with your sales team, current economic conditions require that you adapt the coaching of your salespeople even more now than when the economy and sales were humming along.

Here are some questions that will help fine tune your coaching sessions:

  1. Has this salesperson experienced these kinds of business conditions before?

  2. How did this salesperson react to those conditions then?

  3. How do they view your industry's selling environment today?

  4. If they haven't experienced this type of business environment in the past, what is their mindset today?

  5. How is their current mindset affecting what you need them to do to find and close business?

  6. What are their sales skills, competencies and selling style? Are they able to execute effectively in this type of selling environment?

  7. Have you (or your VP of Sales) evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of your sales team and examined how those findings relate to previous items 1 – 6

Knowing the answers to these questions is important for several reasons. First, the answers will assist you in adapting the coaching your salespeople receive to help achieve their sales goals in a challenging economy. Second, by effectively customizing your sales coaching now, when business conditions begin to improve, your sales organization will be that much better positioned to close more and better sales.





Lost and Found

"You've never been lost until you've been lost at Mach 3."   Paul F. Crickmore (Test pilot)

I don't know about you but I have never had the experience of being 'lost' at Mach 3. I'm sure it's something you don't forget. 

Sometimes in a sales career we can get a feeling of being 'lost'. This can result from a sales slump, a poor economy or personal issues. We have all been there. Let's talk about some of the things we can do to go from lost to…..found.

Here are a few suggestions that can help you get back on track and in focus:

1)  Re-connect with your written personal and business goals.

 What do you want for yourself and/or your family? What rewards will give yourself in exchange for all the hard work you will put in? If you have written goals, are they still important? Do they need to be fine-tuned?

2)  Re-connect with your values.

What drives you? What motivates you? What gives you energy and passion? Do your values help you live consistently and help you perform well in your personal and business life?

3)  Re-connect with your vision.

What is it you are moving toward? What is it that you (or your organization, sales team, company) want to become? What does it look like? Can you describe it specifically? Vividly? Make it look and sound real?

Here is the interesting part.

There is a very good possibility that our goals, values and vision haven't changed very much from one year ago to the present day. What has changed is our focus on them and our awareness of using them in our everyday lives. It's not unusual to lose that focus and awareness, however, given all the things that come at us daily that steal our attention. It's easy to lose sight of these important 'guideposts'.

Here is a suggestion: If you are part of the sales function of your company, set a time once a quarter, to take some quiet time and sit down to review your goals, values and vision. Use this opportunity to get back in focus and re-energize yourself! 




Crunch Time

The “R” word is now official—recession.

Depending on what industry you work in, you may feel that the economy was in recession long ago.

Regardless, many salespeople have not experienced an economy like this one and for many of those sames sales professionals it is “crunch time”. They are about to find out what kind of commitment they have to themselves, their personal success and their profession.

Do they have conditional commitment? This means they are committed to their success or will execute necessary actions in the sales process as long as what they have to do is not too difficult or they are not afraid, uncomfortable or in disagreement.

Or will they find out they have unconditional commitment? This means the salesperson is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful, no matter what! Even if it is difficult! Even if they are afraid! Even if they are uncomfortable! Even if they don’t agree with the sales strategy!

If you are a salesperson reading this, what kind of commitment do you have?

If you are a sales leader (President, CEO, VP-Sales, Sales Manager) reading this you already know what kind of commitment you want from your sales team. The question is this–what kind of commitment do your salespeople have today?


Honoring Your Process

Current economic conditions can present unique challenges for your sales team and culture.
These challenges may include: 1) continuing efforts by large companies to aggressively manage their supply chain by putting pressure on your pricing (and margins) and by requesting ideas for cost reductions or 2) unexpected requests from companies for your organization to quote on pieces of business that you haven't been able to quote on in the past (making your team susceptible to doing free consulting) or 3) companies continuing to commoditize you by comparing your high value-added product or service offering to lesser value-added competition. Your salespeople may be encountering one or all three of these situations.  

These sales challenges require renewed attention on the importance of staying focused in using your organization's sales process to close sales with current and potential customers. 

The ideal sales process has these objectives and characteristics:  

1.  To qualify the prospect for a 'fit' for your product or service offering.  

2.  To uncover business problems you can solve with your value added offering.  

3.  To manage and protect your sales team's sales assets – time, knowledge, customer relationships, company expenses and the salesperson's self-esteem.  

4.  To accomplish 1 – 3 in a cost effective timeframe that allows your company to deliver the ultimate value required by the customer to solve their problem.  

Having this type of ideal sales process in place and operational will make it easier for your sales organization to honor that process when working with the customer challenges described earlier.  

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines honor as "to live up to or fulfill the terms of". In terms of honoring your sales process this means your salespeople will consistently and appropriately use its steps and strategies with customers. Doing this requires daily discipline by your salespeople. Any salesperson can give a minor price concession to a customer when times are good and orders are coming in from other customers. However, only a disciplined salesperson can live up to their process and respond effectively when, in a slow economy, a major customer threatens to put their book of business out to bid in response to your company requesting a needed price increase.

As the leader of your organization, your mission and purpose should be to grow and nurture your team's discipline to honor their sales process by setting the proper expectations, holding people accountable and giving positive reinforcement to salespeople who effectively execute the right behaviors.


Ten Selling Rules Your Sales Organization Should Know

There are many rules your sales organization should know and be putting into practice in growing sales. Here are ten rules that are an excellent start in systematizing your sales process:

1.   Before you start a sales call always have an upfront agreement.

2.   When leaving a sales call always know "What happens next?

3.   You will get the outcome you think you will on a sales call.

4.   Make prospects qualify for your time.

5.   Find a problem (pain) you can solve before presenting a solution.

6.   Closing a sale is a point in time–not a step in a process.

7.   Listen for the beliefs behind the prospect's words and respond to those beliefs.

8.   When talking with prospects, if you feel it, say it…softly.

9.   Never talk about money before you have found the prospect's pain.

10. Stop hearing objections and start hearing statements from your prospect.




The Power of ‘No’

Many traditional sales approaches emphasize the importance of getting prospects and customers to say 'yes'. Here are some examples:

"A small 'yes' (a demo, accepting literature, etc.) leads to a big 'yes' ( a closed sale).

"A prospect who is saying 'yes' is still a prospect (even though the 'yes' is seemingly a willingness to take an action step, such as "I want to think this over." but is really evasive and non-committal).

A salesperson who accepts these types of affirmative responses has developed a set of "happy ears" and probably has a sales pipeline that is bulging at the seams with opportunities that look good but never seem to close in the forecasted quarter. A salesperson with happy ears has never learned to accept a 'no' from a prospect or to get the prospect to say 'no' so the sale can really begin.

High performing salespeople however, have an entirely different perspective of 'no'. They understand the power of this two letter word. Using the word 'no' (or a form of it) at the right time with the right person:

-Enables them to level the playing field with prospects who attempt to commoditize their product or service offering.

-Allows them to put the possibility of not doing business together on the table in the first sales call which is a powerful strategy in the sales process.

-Gives the prospect the right to say, "I don't think there is a fit between our two organizations"…but also gives the salesperson to say the very same thing to the prospect and qualify out of the sales opportunity.

These are just a few of the benefits of using the word 'no' when talking to potential customers.

If you are a President, CEO or business owner, ask yourself this question–"How do my salespeople view the word 'no' and how do they use it with our prospects and customers?"


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