Sunday, August 27, 2017

Without Sales, Everything Stops!

There comes a time in every salesperson's career (or more accurately many times), when sales dry up. Manufacturers don't care why the sales have stopped; they don't listen to our excuses (buyers on vacations, economic downturn, etc, etc).  They are are solely concerned about backlog and layoffs of key workers--and the blame for this downturn is always placed on sales.  "If you did your jobs better, we wouldn't be experiencing this downturn. Get off your rear ends and sell something."
So what do we sales folks do when the hammer comes down: "we need more sales or we have to lay off manufacturing personnel"?
To get out of this situation, we need to go back to basics:
1.  Start with your existing and past customers.  Is what you sold them in need of replacement? Do they need more of what your sold them--has their business grown? Has your product added technology that would benefit your customer? So, take your list of customers and start calling them--existing customers are the best source of future business.
2.  Next, get a list of customers you lost. There are a lot of reasons the customer who gave the order to someone else may no longer be happy with their decision.  Call them; ask the question.  That five minutes may be well spent.
3.  Get out of your comfort zone!  Sales people love to keep going back to the customers who make them comfortable--who accept them and like them.  This is one reason why sales dry up.  New customers and new markets for your products breathe life into your sales.  Find new customers who are in the same business as your existing customers and go see them.  Find new markets for your products and get out to see those new potential customers.  Use Google; use; use technology to find these new customers.  If your existing customers can't provide enough sales to keep the production lines running, then you have to find new customers and new markets.  You can't protect your customers if they can't give you enough sales to make your bosses happy.
4.  Never, ever use the excuse that it's the other sales folks who are not pulling their weight.  It's on you.  Take responsibility.  Don't wait for others to pick up the slack.  It seems unfair, but sales is responsible for keeping the production line running. "Without sales, everything stops."  Do not take your job lightly.  People depend on you doing your job.  Take what you do very seriously and do the absolute best you can--families depend on you--and not just your own.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Start by Making Your Bed

Admiral William H McRaven
In a commencement address to University of Texas students, Admiral McRaven offered Ten Life Lessons he said he learned by being a Navy SEAL.
"Lesson Number One: If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed."Why is this task so important?  Because if you start the first task of the day by being organized and orderly, that sets the mood for the rest of the day.  Making a bed well takes a little time and more discipline than most people realize.  Try it and see if it makes a difference.  This may not work if your spouse happens to be still sleeping.  But the underlying message is to start the day by organizing yourself.  It may mean simply sitting at the breakfast table and making a list of your tasks for the day.
"Lesson Number Two: If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle."I have written many times that we cannot be successful in sales by ourselves.  We need to seek help, always,  because other people see things that we don't and those things help to close sales.
"Lesson Number Three: If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers."We are often influenced by things that don't matter and we don't pay attention to the little things that do matter.  Take your blinders off and really look at the little things around you; look into a person's heart.  Successful sales people need to understand people and their needs: look into their hearts.
"Lesson Number Four:  If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.We, in the sales profession, often feel "entitled" to that order--we deserve it because we worked harder than the other guy.  Well, McRaven says, get over it and move on.  The other guy got it and you need to check your ego at the door.
"Lesson Number Five: If you want to change the world, don't be afraid of the circuses."We live in a crazy world.  People make ordering decisions for reasons that we'll never understand. Unexplained failure--the loss of an order for reasons that don't make any sense--will happen over and over.  Get over it and move on.
"Lesson Number Six: If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first."The meaning of this lesson is not obvious.  In our sales world, "sliding down the obstacle head first" means that sometimes you have to accomplish the selling task by taking a totally different approach to the customer--think outside the box.  This is why it's good to talk to people and get input. Someone may show you a different way--headfirst.
"Lesson Number Seven: If you want to change the world, don't back down from the sharks."We all know who the sharks are--they're our competitors who, sometimes, will do anything to derail the sale we're trying to make.  The lesson here is not to back down.  Don't become a shark yourself, but aggressiveness in the pursuit of a sale is not a fault.  As I have said to my sales folks often: GTO (Get the Order).  That's the game we have to play.
"Lesson Number Eight: If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in your darkest moment."Everyone experiences dark moments.  In our world, it's often the loss of a big order that everyone was looking for.  It is at this moment that you go into the "debrief" mode that I've written about several times.  Understand what got you into this place and make sure you figure out how not to get there again--get help, talk to people, don't go through it alone.
"Lesson Number Nine: If you want to change the world, start singing when you're up to your neck in mud."There's another way to put this: "never let them see you sweat." In our sales world, we have to be optimistic no matter what happens.  I like to use the example of a successful baseball player: a successful major league baseball player gets an average of 3 hits for every 10 at bats and may experience 20 or more at bats with no hits.  A pitcher may have a horrible inning, but he has to come back and pitch again in the next inning.  When you're up to your neck in mud, sing.  Try it.
"Lesson Number Ten: If you want to change the world, don't ever, ever ring the bell.""Ringing a bell" for a SEAL is quitting.  A salesperson, like a Navy SEAL, like a baseball player, should never give up.  Keep swinging; keep fighting; keep finding new customers and taking care of old customers--just don't ring the bell.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Great Salespeople are Great Leaders

Sinone Askew, first black woman appointed West Point Captain of Cadets
“Some cadets that are really high performing, they just go about their own business,” said Colonel Ryan, of the department of behavioral sciences and leadership at West Point. “She is just a leader in every sense of the word, figuring out how she can connect people together and serve others.” New York Times, Emily Cochrane, August 14, 2017
We could say the same thing about some really good salespeople--they "are really high performing, they just go about their own business." But great salespeople are leaders--figuring out how to connect customer with solutions.
Simone Askew was interviewed on CBS News and asked how she got to the top--against all odds. Her response was that she couldn't get there by herself. She needed help--other people--mentors, colleagues, friends--to get there. Askew said: "Allow yourself to be a vessel. Throughout my cadet career I've just really focused on being poured into, seeking advice, seeking development, leadership mentors wherever I could. Just truly be a vessel and be poured into."
We all make a big mistake when we think we can succeed without help. Really successful salespeople reach out to others to give them insights and intelligence that will overcome the barriers to sales.
And what keeps us from asking for help? Pride. As I have said in earlier posts, humility is a key to sales success. Our egos are a huge barriers to success in sales.
Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help to close that order, or to prepare for that sales presentation.  Dare to be great by daring to be humble.  
Bring all possible resources to bear when you go after that new prospect or try to close that big sale.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Anatomy of the Lost Order II

The late Peter Drucker, Mangement Cunsultant

If you Google "Peter Drucker" (world famous management consultant and author of many books) you will find hundreds of great quotations.  His most famous one was "Doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right."  For purposes of this post, we're going to examine his quotation: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast, technology for lunch, and products for dinner, and soon thereafter, everything else too."
Culture is a "top down" thing; it determines the way we look at ourselves and our jobs.  Let me give an example.  A company that I'm familiar with demands that its salespeople "sell" a minimum of three units a month.  The boss doesn't care how it gets done, just that it gets done.  You can see how this culture (if you can call it that) eats strategy, technology and products right up.  Everything takes a back seat to the sale--to the transaction.  (Remember Transaction Man?)
But, if you know you're competing against Transaction Man (a salesperson so desperate to get the order to make a quota that he'll give the product away at very little margin), you know how to beat him.
Rebekah Iliff discusses this in the July 31, 2017 issue of INC magazine.
Relationships build companies, not transactions.  "Making an emotional connection with the buyer is what matters."  The culture that we're promoting is a relationship driven culture, not a transaction driven culture.
To beat Transaction Man to the order you have to work harder to build a relationship with the customer.  You have to understand that all Transaction Man has to sell is price--he has to get the order.  Therefore you have to find a connection with the buyer that goes beyond price.  Iliff's suggestions:
1.  "Make an emotional connection with the customer."  This will demand some homework.  Use LinkedIn and Facebook to understand his personality; use Google and Manta to understand his company.  Do your homework before making that first sales call.  Remember, you have to beat Transaction Man and it better be something other than price that sells your product.
2.  Understand that the customer has to be comfortable that you have to demonstrate that you know more about your product than Transaction Man.  Don't be afraid to get help in this area.  Be humble, ask your colleagues for help.  Overconfident Man loses to Transaction Man every time.
3.  "Set clear expectations and follow them."  Make sure the customer understands that what you're offering transcends price; you're putting yourself and your company into the mix.
4.  "Communicate til you're blue in the face."  Never, ever say--"this order is in the bag."  Overconfident Man loses to Transaction Man every time.
Be Humble and Assume Nothing.  Your culture is relationships, not transactions. Relational culture beats transactional culture.
PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE, HUMILITY, RELATIONSHIP BUILDING.  These are the things that beat someone who is just using pricing to get an order.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Anatomy of a Lost Order

Understanding how an order was lost demands brutal honesty--and honest self examination--something salespeople are often reluctant to expose.  The Harvard Business Review did a survey of 230 buyers, asking them to grade the salespeople who come to them to sell their products.  The results are shocking: the buyers rated only 12% of salespeople as "excellent"; 23% as "good"; 38% as "average"; and 27% as "poor".  There was no corresponding interview of salespeople to ask them how they rated themselves, but I suspect 80% of us think we're "excellent" and 20% think we're "good".  Ego is important when you have a job that involves so much rejection, but ego is a deal killer in the buyer's office.
What are buyers looking for?
1.  They want to TRUST the salesperson; they want to feel that the salesperson is being honest about his product and what it can do--and being honest about what it can't do.
2.  They want a salesperson who can converse intelligently.  This is huge!  How does a 30 year old salesperson converse intelligently with a 55 year old buyer--one who's heard it all?  This demands a well-rounded salesperson: one who reads the newspaper, reads books, knows "stuff"--not just his product.  This demands a salesperson who reads about and understand the customer's business, who looks around the customer's office and sees the customer's interests and can talk about lots of things.
3.  The buyer wants to understand how the salesperson's product is going to help his company and how the salesperson's company is going to be there to help solve aftermarket problems.
4.  The buyer doesn't want to feel like he's being forced to order.  I've known lots of salespeople who push the issue--"my kid's going to college, I need the commission.  Come on, give me the order."  This is not a good strategy.  Giving you the order puts the buyer at risk (what if he made a mistake with your product). You have to make him feel comfortable with giving you the order.
5.  Make a personal connection with the buyer and make sure he understands that you will be there for him if there are any problems with the order.
6.  Be humble.  Buyers hate arrogance.  If your product was the best in the world, they wouldn't need salespeople; if your company were the best in the world, they wouldn't need you.  You, the salesperson, are simply a channel to get your product into the customer's hands to help him solve a problem.  Be the best channel you can be.
TRUST, HONESTY, HUMILITY, COMFORT, CONNECTION--these are the traits that make you "excellent".
When you analyze why you lost that order, you have to ask yourself if you communicated these traits to the buyer.  Ask honestly and brutally.

Monday, July 31, 2017

You Lost the Sale: Don't Get Mad, Get Smart

Gregory Peck in "Twelve O'Clock High" (1949)

The centerpiece of the World War II move, "Twelve O'Clock High", is a debriefing that takes place after a mission.  The navigator was three minutes off on his bomb release and missed the target, and, of course, there was hell to pay at the debriefing.  The consequences of that kind of mistake are enormous--much greater than losing an order.  (Although some bosses may disagree.)  I wrote about the importance of the "debrief" in a previous posting.
Now I want to discuss the importance of analyzing the lost sale--of understanding how it was lost and how to prevent future losses.
We often just want to forget that we lost that big order; even more, we don't want anyone to know that we lost it--most of all our bosses or our colleagues.
Baseball players don't have the luxury of ignoring mistakes.  Their strike outs or errors are shown on the JumboTron for all to see and criticize.  When a sales person loses an order, it's easy to hide it--usually--unless you've bragged about getting it before you actually got it (see my post on Overconfidence).  But, did you ever notice that a major league batter often heads down to the clubhouse after a bad at bat to look at the video to analyze what he did wrong.  That's what I'm talking about here.
In the military, there is no detail that is too small to be brought up on the debriefing.  In the "lost order" category, there is no detail too small to be discussed with your boss or colleagues.  You're all in this together and you need to find a solution to the lost order.  George Santayana famously said: "Those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it."
The answers to these questions must be brutally honest:
1.  Was the order lost because of price?  Really?  Orders are rarely lost because of price, so the answer is not the obvious one.
2.  Did you lose it because of poor follow up?  Read my post on follow up.
3.  Did your competitor introduce some features that your product doesn't have?
4.  Did your competitor have a better relationship with the customer?  Really? Then check out my posts on Transactional and Relational Sales.  Relationships are critical to sales success.
5.  Are you sure you were absolutely clear about the capabilities of your product and your company?  Did you spend the time to present your company and your products and service capabilities?
6.  Have you talked to the customer and asked who won the order and what the reasons that he chose the competitor rather than you--have you "debriefed" the customer?
7.  Can you meet with the customer and discuss the reasons that he chose the competition and not you?
Often, our attitude is--"okay, I lost it, now let's move on to the next one."  Well, you're going to lose the next one if you don't understand how you lost the last one. Don't be afraid to dissect the lost order--even to the point of interviewing the customer who went with the competition.  Don't get mad, GET SMART!

Monday, July 24, 2017

How to Get to Canegie Hall

We sales folks never think that our jobs require practice.  Practice is what musicians do; it's what actors do; it's what athletes do--not what sales people do.
I was speaking recently with my good friend, Sal, a small business owner.  Sal is a volunteer firefighter and he was talking with me about how, once a month, firefighters are required to operate every piece of equipment--including doing things as simple as extending ladders.  Even firefighters who have been doing their jobs for decades are required to go through the practice--no one is excluded.
So what does this have to do with us sales folks?
I have spoken over and over again in my blogs about the need for preparation.  NEVER go into a meeting without an agenda.
But I'm going to suggest something more.  I'm going to suggest that you actually practice your sales pitch. Practice it on your wife; your kids; your boss; your colleagues.
Sales people who thinks that they're too good or too smart to practice are misleading themselves.  When I ride with a regional sales manager or another sales person, I like to go over the proposed sales pitch--practice it over and over.  In fact, one of the regional managers that I rode with used to debate with me: he would take the part of the customer or he would take the part of the competitive product sales person.   We were constantly discussing the merits of our product and debating the merits or failings of the competitive products.
Sales people NEED to practice their craft.
I have a major sales presentation in a couple of weeks.  My plan is to have the three presenters meet the morning before the meeting and prepare very carefully.  I refuse to go into a meeting without thorough preparation--without practicing.
How do we keep robots from taking our jobs?  By being better--PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.  As I said in my previous post, overconfidence is a deal killer.  Practice requires humility; it requires you to admit that you can get better.  And every one of us can get better.  Be humble; practice your craft.