All posts by Jim Nelson

Goal Setting and Your Team

It's that time of the year again. That's right. Most companies are just in the middle of their process for putting together a business plan for 2011. Of course, part of their plan will include a sales and marketing plan.

Typically management will ask the sales department for a sales forecast of what the sales team will sell in the coming sales year and their salespeople will turn in estimates of business they will bring in from prospects and current customers. Management then digests the numbers and eventually each salesperson receives a sales goal in the form of a dollar figure.

Sound familiar? If you are a leader of a company or a sales organization and you recognize yourself in the above description, you are probably not alone. However, it's not that the process is wrong, it's just incomplete. It needs to go one step further.

What I've discovered in working with many successful companies and businesses is the need for a certain required next step to be accomplished as part of the planning process–individual goal setting.

Goal setting by an individual salesperson is important for several reasons. For a sales leader (or a company president or owner who also wears the sales leader's hat) it's imperative to know what motivates each and every member of their team. Are they motivated by money and what money can get them? Like a second home, travel, a Caribbean cruise, a boat, etc.? As a leader, if you don't know what motivates your people, then you won't know how to manage them on a daily or weekly basis.

From an individual salesperson's perspective, having clear exciting personal dreams, goals and a process to measure progress will enable them to maintain a high level of desire for success in their sales career as well as the appropriate commitment needed to be an effective and successful sales professional.

If you already have salespeople who do personal goal setting on their own, consider yourself lucky. Fewer than twenty percent of all salespeople have written personal goals and a process to measure progress toward those goals.

If you don't have personal goal setters on your team now, sit down with them, have a conversation with them about working through the goal setting process today. It's the right time of the year to get it done!

 

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The CEO and the Sales Call

Here's a familiar scenario that is happening more and more these days. Company CEO's are now more active than ever participants in the  company's sales process for retaining current customers and developing new business. The most common form is the "joint call" with the salesperson in the account.

Whether you are a CEO or a salesperson here is a short list of guidelines (there are more) for a joint call that includes the sales organization's CEO.

1) "Plans are worthless but planning is everything."

You may be familiar with this Dwight D. Eisenhower quote. The critical thinking and discussions that occur during a pre-call planning session prior to a sales call are more valuable than the plan that emerges. Obviously, you won't need to do this for every sales call but if you are pursuing a 'whale', exercising your planning muscles before the call is indispensable. Take the example of a PGA golf professional. What do they do during the week of a tournament? They play a practice round to find out how the course is 'playing' to determine what it will take to shoot a competitive score and win the tournament. It may rain the third day of the four day tournament and playing conditions may change completely. Because they went through the planning process (the practice round), they will more easily be able to adapt to a new approach and still be successful.

CEO Tip:  Allow your salesperson to lead the planning process. It will not only help them take ownership of the plan, but it will give you a measure of their strategic thinking capabilities as well.

2) Define what success will look like.

Too many salespeople don't have a clearly defined goal for the sales call. This is usually revealed in the pre-call planning session. If a formal planning meeting wasn't done, perhaps because of the size of the account, the lack of a specific meeting outcome will then become known during the car ride to the call when the CEO asks, "So why are we seeing this person today?" What he will hear is some vague, ambiguous response about how the salesperson thinks that it's a good idea for the customer to meet the CEO.

I may be exaggerating, but not much.

CEO Tip: As CEO, consistently ask your salesperson what the goal of the call is and don't accept anything less than a clear, concise action step to be taken by the customer.

3) "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players."

Maybe Shakespeare was a sales leader at one time as well as a writer. I can't stress enough how important it is for the CEO and their salespeople to be on the same page and know what their roles are in the sales meeting. Is the CEO there as a presence for the company, to share the company story or conduct part of the call? There should be no mutual mystification here.

CEO Tip: Remember the 4 W's: Who will say What to Whom When?

4) Follow your process.

Dave Kurlan of Objective Management Group reports that 91% of the companies OMG has evaluated since 1985 (covering 500,000 salespeople) do not have a formal, structured sales process. That is an amazing number. If your company currently has an effective sales process, congratulations! Make sure that you and your team stay focused in it and execute it consistently! If you don't, I'll remind you of W. Edwards Deming's thoughts on the subject: "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing."

CEO Tip: Because you wear seventeen hats and all before noon, it's not necessary that you have the same mastery of the company's sales process as ideally required of your salespeople. However, you should have enough knowledge of it in order to recognize that it's being implemented effectively in the field and to be able to ask great coaching questions in your sales call de-briefings with your salespeople.

5) Be prepared to be unprepared.

A sales organization can faithfully follow all of the above guidelines and somthing totally unexpected may still occur during the sales call. Anyone who has been in sales for awhile has experienced one of these moments. Embrace them! They are tests of how well you and your sales team have developed their competence in executing your sales process, it's concepts and strategies. Learn to use these episodes to learn a lesson that will enable your people to react better in the future and improve their effectiveness.

Sales organizations that follow these guidelines for CEO involvement in the sales process will see significant effectiveness in their sales results!

 

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Are You Still Winging It?

I recently came across something that totally astounded me. While doing some research, I came across a business resource website that contained information covering a wide range of topics. Under 'Sales' was a section that was devoted to 'Closing Techniques'. Out of curiosity I clicked on it and it listed sixty-eight (68) different closing techniques! You read that right! 68 closes!

Now granted, if you eliminated half of these closes because they are more appropriate for retail sales than business to business sales, that still leaves you with over thirty different closes. Even if you wanted to use them, who can remember all of them, at the right time, in the right situation? I don't think anyone is that good!

But do you have to be 'that good'? Here is my point: The necessity of using a 'close' in a sales process or relying on a 'close' to make a sale is the direct result of not having well-designed, systematic sales process to use in place of a 'close'.

What I mean by a systematic sales process is one that eliminates the need for a close. Instead, the salesperson's sales process would be designed to determine 1) whether the prospect has any compelling reasons for changing his current reality, usually to fix a problem or acquire a desired gain, 2) whether the prospect sees the seller as someone who is uniquely positioned to provide a solution and 3) whether there is any urgency for the buyer to take the first two steps now. If these three steps are executed properly, there would be no necessity for a close because the prospect would take action and close themselves in order to fix the problem or acquire the gain.

So, what are you doing?

As a salesperson or a sales leader, are you just winging it when you engage with a prospect or are you implementing your systematic sales process that will efficiently help you close the sale and get the business? 

To read more about the objectives and characteristics of a systematic sales process, you can go here and here.  

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Commitment to Success in Sales – How Important Is It?

During the last eighteen year that I've been working with companies and their sales organizations I've seen many changes in the profession of sales.

Here is groundbreaking news about one of those changes.

One of the necessary elements for success in sales is the level of commitment that a salesperson brings to the process. The willingness to do 'whatever it takes' to be successful is a common trait among all high-performers in sales. I'm not talking about conditional commitment ("I'll do it as long as I'm comfortable, not afraid or I agree with it.") I'm talking about unconditional commitment ("I'll do it no matter what.")

Now Dave Kurlan of Objectivement Management Group has put forth a very convincing case that of the four crucial elements–Desire, Commitment, Responsibility and Outlook–Commitment has now passed Desire as the most important element for success in sales! To find out why, you can read Dave's recent blog post, Top 10 Reasons Why Sales Commitment Has Become More Important.

The impact of Dave's finding cannot be underestimated. In looking at why salespeople struggle to get sales, sales organizations tend to overlook the amount of commitment on their team. Instead they blame  a lack of closing skills or not enough new prospecting calls. They look in all the wrong places except the one right in front of them–no commitment on the part of the salesperson.

Check out Dave's blog post and let me know your thoughts in a comment.

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The Bounce Back Factor

Maybe you know the following quote by Robert Frost, the poet. It's one of my favorites.

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

I like these words for the insight they seem to offer. That no matter the ups and downs that we encounter daily, life goes on and we should stay in the moment and enjoy every minute. Of course, that's my interpretation.

I also like how you can apply the principle of 'life goes on' to the sales profession. High-performing salespeople succeed every day. They also fail every day but what helps them recover from their losses quickly is their mindset. High-performers believe that a 'no sale' is an opportunity to learn from a negative experience, take a lesson and turn it into a positive experience that will help them execute more effectively in the future. They bounce back fast and are ready for the next sales call.

When an average performing salesperson gets a 'no' they dwell on it. They make excuses for not getting the sale. Soon their sales effort is dead in the water. Their inability to recover from rejection quickly has sabotaged them again.

Want to improve your (or your sales team's) ability to recover from rejection? Here are two things to do immediately:

1) Begin working on increasing the the size of your sales pipeline and the number of qualified prospects in it. Knowing that you have other opportunities to work on if you get a 'no' from any prospect is a great confidence booster and will help you maintain your selling behavior momentum.

2) Change your view of what rejection or a failure to get the sale really means. It doesn't mean you look around for external reasons that justify the outcome. Getting a 'no' allows you an opportunity to take a lesson–for example, drilling down further into the prospect's budget issues to determine whether they truly qualify for your offering. Turn the negative experience into a positive one and bounce back quicker.

Making these changes will result in a more productive, effective, efficient sales effort.

And remember, life goes on. Go live it!

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An Inverse Rule of Communication

Does this situation sound familiar?

A salesperson is in a meeting with a customer, or potential customer, and they cannot stop talking. They talk about their product or service, their features and benefits, customers who are in love with their product or service, features, benefits…Well, you get the picture. And then they wonder why so many of their meetings never lead to the next step–"The prospect just didn't seem receptive to our stuff and I couldn't get them to open up and talk about what they're using or looking for!"

It's another illustration of an inverse rule of communication–if you want the customer to listen, stop talking!The ability to use 'silence' effectively in a sales meeting is one of the most under utilized skills in the sales world. The process of 'selling' is having the prospect believe what the professional salesperson believes–that the salesperson's solution is the optimal solution to solve the prospect's problem. Oftentimes, the prospect cannot form the new mental construct (or belief system) of beginning a new business relationship when they are listening to the salesperson present their product or service or features or benefits. They can only do it when there is silence. And that silence is staged and managed by the salesperson.

The ability to use 'silence' is an absolute must for success in sales. Warning! As you or your salespeople work on developing on this skill, it will be horribly uncomfortable. Too often we think we add the most value to the customer when we are talking. So we think we are not serving the customer when we aren't talking. Actually, it's just the opposite. The greatest value we provide is 'not talking'.

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“The Mission is Ordnance on Target”

The focus of this post is "focus".

The focus of the Navy Frigate Captain's observation (above) is simple, clear, concise and easy to understand. No mystification. The ship is designed and equipped for one purpose. The crew is trained to accomplish one purpose. the captain's decisions and commands are performed for one purpose–ordnance on target.

Now let's compare the Navy's approach to its mission to how salespeople deal with the sales process–

Do salespeople approach their sales calls with a 'mission'?

Is that mission as tightly defined as 'ordnance on target'?

Are their strategies designed to accomplish the mission?

Are they trained to execute those strategies effectively?

Do they perform the strategies with one purpose–to achieve the mission?

Or–

Do most salespeople wing it?

Do they not do any pre-call planning to determine what outcome they want to get?

Do they not do 'what if…?' scenario planning to take into account any anticipated eventualities in their sales meetings so they don't get caught by surprise and thrown off track?

Do they not receive any sales training to improve their selling skills?

Is their decision making performed to achieve a tactical outcome rather than a strategic one?

One group of salespeople is high performing.

One group of salespeople is underachieving.

Do you recognize focus, ordnance on target, when you see it?

 

 

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The Hidden Sales Talents of Your Non-Sales Team

I had an interesting experience while conducting a coaching session with a client sales organization that will give you some insight to the untapped power available in non-sales departments of most companies.

We were working on a pre-call preparation for a first time face to face meeting that three member of the management team (one of whom is the president) would be having with a prospective client. An individual who is a center of influence in their network had given them an introduction t a prospect company that could result in a long term profitable relationship.

In the coaching session, there were managers, outside salespeople, inside salespeople, project managers and support people from two divisions, covering the company's four primary markets. Specifically, we were strategizing primarily to answer two questions:

  -What is our objective for this call? 

  -What should our process be for achieving the objective?

The group was asked to share their answers to the first question. The salespeople offered, "Sell our products and services." (I'm paraphrasing.) No surprise there right? Some of the managers said, "Sell our products and services." Somewhat of a surprise. Finally, one of the project managers suggested, "Find out if this will be a fit for us?" Eureka!!

Great question! But who did it come from? Not a manager. Not a salesperson. The best question was asked by a non-sales person….a project manager. How could this be? Well, very often I find that the people who are responsible for managing projects, making sure they are done on time, on budget and profitably, are the people who are most concerned about why the business was pursued and acquired. It's the sales team that tells the customer, "Sure we can do that!" and then when the work is handed off to the operations team, those folks are then left asking each other, "How are we going to do that?"

The lesson here is that the operations team can be a great source of additional sales knowledge, intuition and perspective. It's the project managers, engineers, estimators, etc. who will ask:

  -Why are we talking to ABC Company?

  -Is this a fit for us?

  -If we do _________ for them, what happens next?

The list of other great questions generated by operations people is a long one. Presidents, CEO's, business owners–leverage the hidden talents of these valuable team members in gaining more sales.

Listen.

 

 

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Top Ten Ways to Be an Advisor in the Sales Process

Too many salespeople these days are just that–salespeople. In the way they look, act and behave, they don't stand out from their peers. And they definitely don't stand out in the minds of their prospects and customers. Result? They get commoditized, shopped, talked down to and ignored. Here's a list of necessary attributes to move from 'salesperson' to 'advisor'.

1. Advisors don't fear a 'No' – They know when sales opportunities are a good fit or not. They prefer to lose early, save selling costs and go and engage with prospects with whom they have a higher percentage of getting the business.

2. Advisors know how to push back – If all salespeople do is show up and accept at face value everything prospects tell them about what they want or how they view the world, they are a facilitator in their prospect's eyes. Advisors know how to effectively challenge what they hear and see and in the process, build respect and value in the minds of their customers.

3. Advisors use 'business language' rather than 'sales language' – They discuss market share, ROI, share of wallet, cost reduction, etc. with their customers. Prospects want to buy from business people, not salespeople.

4. Advisors see themselves as change agents – They are experts in quickly determining if the customer's current reality calls for change and whether the customer can effectively and efficiently execute that change.

5. Advisors recover quickly from rejection – All people involved in the sales process get rejected. For some, it's a day killer, maybe a week killer. For a very few, it's a month killer. High achievers take a lesson from a lost sale and promptly move on to the next opportunity in their pipeline.

6. Advisors control the sales process – They use a formal, structured sales process designed to achieve consistent, predictable results while providing them with feedback relative to where they are in the process and what they must do to succeed.

7. Advisors have clear and specific personal goals…in writing – They know where they are going, what they must do to get there and how they will measure progress. Period.

8. Advisors build relationships quickly – They perceive, gather and interpret all the information that prospects give out–body language, behavioral style, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), birth order, educational background, industry expertise, organizational title–and use that knowledge to make other people feel comfortable and safe with them…in a very short period of time.

9. Advisors are great listeners – There is a Native American proverb, "Listen or your tongue will make you deaf". Enough said.

10. Advisors are life long learners – Whether its reading industry trade journals, books on selling or human psychology or listening to self-inprovement audio CD's, high achievers are constantly adding to their knowledge, looking for strategies and tools that will give them that decisive edge over the competition that gains them the sale.

 

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This Story is ‘Developing’ at This Hour

Perhaps some of you have seen the movie, “The Blind Side”. It’s a popular film about the true story of a rich, white couple (Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy) who take a poor, black 16 year old (Michael Oher, now a professional football player for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens) off the streets of Memphis, Tennessee and into their home.

While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I’ve just read the book by the same name written by Michael Lewis that the movie is based on. It’s a terrific read and more than just a story about football–it’s really about serendipity, family and love.

As I read the book, several parallels occurred to me between the story and the challenges that companies have in the ongoing development of their sales organizations.

Companies looking to develop high-performing sales organizations must focus on:

-Raising and managing expectations for their salespeople.

Once they got to know a little bit about Michael Oher and realized he had achieved virtually nothing in the Memphis public school system (at the time he had a 0.6 grade point average), the Touhy’s never stopped believing that, given his athletic ability, he had a great future in front of him if he put in the work on his school studies. And they consistently communicated their beliefs by the manner in which they set expectations for Michael–that he would do the necessary work, period. No rationalizing. No excuse-making. Get it done.

Sales leaders need to raise their expecations higher with their salespeople and communicate those expectatons clearly and consistently…and not back down, not give in, not accept excuses, poor economy or not.

-Helping their salespeople overcome their weaknesses.

Michael’s biggest area for improvement was his lack of an adequate education. Sean and Leigh Anne began an intensive tutoring program to accelerate his learning not only to be able to play on the football team but to guide him in day to day living. LeAnne commented, “Everyday I try to make sure he knows something he doesn’t know.”

In order for their salespeople to meet the expectations set for them, companies must identify those selling weaknesses that may prevent them from getting there. Once those obstacles are known, sales leaders should put together a plan to coach and develop their people until those weaknesses no long affect them in the sales process. Note: Work on only one weakness at a time and begin with the one that is the biggest roadblock to effective execution and performance.

-Preparing their salespeople for more responsibility and a higher level role.

In working with Michael, Sean and LeAnne Touhy’s guiding principle was this–football aside, they were willing to do whatever it took to prepare him for a fulfilling and rewarding life on his own. After Michael graduated from high school and entered the University of Mississippi, the Touhy’s purchased a home near the Ole Miss campus and continued to provide guidance and support  because they felt he needed their continued help to be successful in college, in his anticipated NFL career and in life.

To prepare their people for more responsibility and a higher level role, sales leaders should develop their team to become “advisors” in the sales process rather than “salespeople”. This involves strengthening their sales skills, competencies and ‘presence’ to effectively interact with all levels of a prospect organization with an emphasis on C level executives. 

There are many more lessons to be gained from “The Blind Side”. I can’t wait to see the movie.

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