Getting the most from a sales call

The other day I was in a one of those instant Oil change service stations.  My car simply needed an oil change, but the service guy chose to ignore me.  He rattled off the list of things my car needed (after careful diagnostics of course) and as I went to say “no thank you” he quickly shifted gears and told me about how I could save a bunch of money with the discount specials they were running.   I told him I can’t afford to save anymore money and to tell you the truth I am not sure he even understood what I just said.  In fact, after a lengthy “instant” oil change he said “call this number and tell us how we are doing…..you could win $5,000. ”  Unfortunately this type of sales behavior is not limited to rapid oil change places.  It also is takes place in B2B professional sales.

As a sales person myself I completely understand the pressures and accountability that come with the job.  Pressures like keeping a full pipeline, meeting weekly, monthly or quarterly numbers and creating cross-sell / up-sell opportunities have taken their toll on the prospect/client.  Things like having a valuable conversation between two people, taking the time to get to know each other and establishing trust have been pushed aside.  Its become so bad that when I call on a prospect and genuinely say “sounds like you guys are doing great in that area….probably not a strong need right at the moment for our services” they think it’s a sales setup question.   Having a good genuine business conversation to determine value has become just plain difficult. We sales guys have created this monster and reinforce it with our behaviors driven by a need to fulfill the sales goals back at the office.  Conversations suffer and so does further sales potential.

Instead…take a step back, remember that there is another business person in front of you with their own goals and objectives.  Listen to them, ask questions, share your thoughts and perspectives and enjoy the conversation.  You may learn a lot about the person, the business and where there is mutual opportunity.  In a fast paced business world this is hard to do, but find a way to forget about the sales challenges back at the office and take the time to enjoy the conversation…it may just lead you to a more profitable and long-term sales relationship.


Community Business Lessons

Last night I attended a County Planning Commission Meeting around a proposed moratorium to review the impact of a proposed Sand Mine operation in the local community.I found the discussion quite interesting and it illuminated a few business lessons that I would like to share.

First, if you don’t know what a moratorium is it is a period of time in which there is a suspension of a
specific activity until future events warrant a removal of the suspension or issues regarding the activity have been resolved.  In this case the residents of the community were pushing for a moratorium on the proposed Sand Mine operation.

One the first groups to speak was the group of residents who applied for the moratorium. They had several expert testimonials on different topics from the impact of the Sand Mine on the community’s health to potential traffic and tourism problems.  A lot of different issues were covered.  Despite the application group’s tremendous detail there was so much information it was hard to decipher what was important to them.

Following the applicant’s presentation the meeting was opened up to public for comment and feedback.  Ironically, one of the first residents to speak at the podium was a resident in direct opposition moratorium.  In his opinion past moratorium have been applied for and their outcome was unsuccessful so why do this again.  In this person’s mind there is no reason to believe another moratorium would be valuable. The rest of the residents spoke in favor of the moratorium and were in great disagreement with the opposing resident.
The County Planning Commission debated for a couple of hours with more resident input, but ultimately decided to not make any decision on the moratorium.  The decision that night was to reconvene in a month so they had time to filter through all the information.

The Business Lessons:

The first business I connected the dots on was related to the resident’s moratorium application
presentation.  I couldn’t help but think if the applicants had prioritized the highest impact concerns the County
Planning Commission may not have decided to delay this process.  The lack of focus created more delays.  Concerns were even raised about the scope and scale of the moratorium application and all associated cost (i.e. The
impression left is that it was a beast to manage).

The second business lesson I identified was on the moratorium plans.  For example…one part of the plan says that as part of the moratorium there is a research study to be done on the potential health effects of local residents in close proximity to the sand mine.  However nothing was discussed about the decisions that would be made if things played out this way or that way.  It could be a tremendous waste of time, money and resources because no matter the outcome the decision could be the same.  This would support the opposition that this is not just another moratorium that doesn’t work.

The third business lesson I picked up on was from the only opposition voice in the room.  While I believe the opposition raised a great point (we have done this before and it never works – definition of insanity) the real issue was not with the moratorium but the process in which moratoriums are executed, measured and

Lastly and most importantly one business lesson rose to the top for me.  Sometimes the most
obvious things are missed because there is too much focus.  This missed item could be the most valuable
of all and the key component of the moratorium. This was missed by the residents, the opposition and The County Planning Commission.   Everyone was so focused on the short-term issue of the Sand Mine company wanting 150 acres and its proximity to residents/ natural resources and the moratorium research that a very important point was completely missed.

No one asked about the Sand Mine companies long-term plans.  What does the Sand Mine company have
in its long-range plans for this area or neighboring areas?  What is the Sand Mine company’s
objective?  What specific rules and regulations would the Sand Mine company have to comply with and who would enforce those rules?  The short-sighted perspective may prove to be very detrimental to the community’s objective.


Good bye to the 80/20 rule

 If you are in sales you have to remember the infamous 80/20 rule you were taught in Sales 101 class. There are many versions of this rule, but I am talking about the specific 80/20 rule that says….”The prospect is talking 80% of the time and the sales person only 20%.” This sounds great on paper, but what happens when your prospect is an introvert? What if 80% of what the prospect is saying during your conversation is about the game last night?

While there are many so-called “rules” to sales what’s really important is that the conversation for both the prospect and sales person is mutually valuable. Many of these rules were developed as guidelines and not etched in stone. Born in a time when the sales organizations were awakening to the fact that pushing products and services was not as fruitful as aligning those products and services with a prospect’s needs. We now live in a time where everyone is incredibly busy and if there is no value in the conversation then a sale will not occur…plain and simple.

The dialog between a prospect and a sales person today is typically more 50/50 with both parties asking questions and sharing information. The dialog simply flows without worry about who is banking more time talking. I have been witness to many highly effective sales people who spoke a lot, but what they had to say was valuable to the prospect and thus the sale moved to the next step in the sales process. Think value not time.

This blog does not suggest that a sales person should dominate a conversation even if he/she believes there is incredible value. Common sense should always prevail, but what this blog is suggesting is that the conversation should flow between individuals.  I think its time we put the sales “rules” away and look at them as guidelines.   At the end of the day each prospect you meet will be different and no one steadfast rule can apply to all.  We should know at this point in time what a good business conversation looks like. That is how our sales calls should be conducted.


Are you audacious enough?

I had a conversation yesterday over lunch with an executive that really got me thinking.  Its been a while since I have heard anything new in selling approaches that capture my attention.  Most of what you read about and attend in seminars is the same old story….differentiate, compete on value not price, make sure you have a minimum of 10 touch points with any prospect and the list goes on and on.  These are all great points and have some foundational merit in effective selling, but it seems all the great sales minds seem to take different angles at the same information.

Back to my lunch discussion…

The topic of effective selling came up and “right customer.”  As we shared our view points this executive said something that got the sales wheels turning again.  It was about being audacious.   The definition of audacious is “extremely bold and daring….in some cases reckless.”  As a salesperson myself… that definition can feel a bit too much and conjures up images of a very unpleasant selling experience for the prospect/client.    However, after probing deeper into what he meant it became clear to me how audacious was being interpreted.

The executive I spoke with felt that most conversations center on “the needs” of the prospect.  While this is not a bad approach in itself it usually leads to the salesperson trying to see where his/her services or product could fulfill that need.  In some cases the salesperson may even transform into what the prospect/client needs them to be.  In either case it’s the same old story.

What this executive was talking about is that the sales person should have a strong perspective about his/her service or product.  That perspective opens up all kinds of conversations even if it does not directly fulfill the need as stated.  It also helps to flesh out right customer from wrong customer.  

Now….back to the word audacious… 

Maybe a better word is belief or passion.  Regardless of the correct word the concept is a good one and much more genuine.  Most people are drawn to others who have passion and truly believe in what they are doing and how it can help.  It draws out a good conversation that is valuable and fruitful.  One word of caution though…respect must stay in check with this approach.  A good dialog is listening to each other’s point of view then discussing it without emotion taking over.  It’s a good wakeup call for us salespeople to start believing in what we sell, understand intimately where it adds value and stick to our beliefs.   The more we try to convince, adapt, adjust, shift, etc. the less valuable the conversation becomes for you and your prospect/client and the less genuine you are perceived.


A Sales Management Story

Once upon a time there was a Sales Manager who was very upset.   The Sales Manager ‘s rep had provided a pipeline forecast that never came to reality.  You see the Sales Manager had to provide forecast numbers to his boss (The VP) for the region.  The VP in turn had to give forecast numbers his to his boss (The CEO). 

As the end of the quarter came to a close the pipeline and associated sales forecast fell apart. The sales rep never made the numbers he had promised.   Subsequently, the  CEO came down on the VP who came down on the Sales Manager who came down on the rep .   Unfortunately, this same scenario happened again the following quarter, but now the sales rep found himself on performance review.  Everyone in the Sales Kingdom was very unhappy.

As the frustration and finger pointing escalated a small but wise old man showed up in the Sales Kingdom.   He had come to help get the Sales Kingdom back to a happy and productive place so he went right to the home of the Sales Manager.

The old man sat down with the Sales Manager and spoke softly, but candidly about this whole pipeline and forecast situation.  The Sales Manager told the old man had had it with the rep giving him bogus pipeline forecast numbers he would never achieve.  The Sales Manager said that the VP was growing concerned about the Sales Managers numbers and the CEO was putting significant pressure on the VP.

So the old man said to the Sales Manager….”who is accountable for this situation?”  The Sales Manager said….”my rep is of course! I gave him the numbers he must hit, he told me he was going to hit these numbers and he delivered next to nothing.  Further he has now done this to me twice!”….maybe its time to get a new rep!

The old man pondered this for a moment and said …”Tell me…what was the reps specific plan to meet the pipeline expectations?”  The Sales Manager uncomfortably shifted in his chair and said…”My rep told me he had quite a few prospect meeting setup and that a couple of them would probably close.”   The old man thought about this and said ….”So how confident were you in the plan to achieve the pipeline forecast?” 

The Sales Manager responded directly…”He didn’t really have a specific plan …. he just updated me on where he was at with each prospect at our 1:1 meeting.”  Again the old man asked….”So how confident were you in the plan?”  The Sales Manager replied defensively…” I told you that there was no specific plan.” 

The old man leaned back with a inquisitive look and said…”So there was no agreed upon plan yet you provided the VP with forecast numbers?”…..not once, but twice?”  The Sales Manager responded…”I guess I did.”  Soon the Sales Manager began to become conscious about what was going on.

The old man questioned … “So who is accountable for the reps performance or lack of performance?”  The Sales Manager says….”I am.”  The old man agreed and said… “And what would you like the outcome of those forecasted numbers to be?”  The Sales Manager said….”I would like my rep to achieve what he has promised.”  The old man smiled and said…”So how can that be done?”  The Sales Manager replied…”I need to sit down with my rep and put together a plan we agree on and one that I am confident we can deliver.”  The old man said… “And what else?”  The Sales Manager responded…”I need to monitor the progress of that plan with my rep and provide support and adjustment where necessary to ensure its success.”  The old man pleased said…” So who is really accountable for the accuracy of the forecast?”    The Sales Manager said….”I am!”  

The Sales Manager soon began to realize how to make things better in the Sales Kingdom.   After a little while things changed for the better AND although not every forecast hit its mark there was always a specific planned tied to the forecast goal and success came more and more often.



Overcoming Peer Promotions

One of the most difficult positions to be placed in is managing your peers.  Many top sales people eventually get promoted to Sales Management and find themselves struggling to manage their team.   The team used to be their peers working alongside them in the sales trenches.  Now the sales person has become “the boss.”

This is a really tough spot to be in.  After developing close relationships inside and possibly outside of work new dynamics are taking place that makes everyone uncomfortable.  Some peers may be jealous, others confused, some elated that their “friend” is now the boss and others may become defensive and challenging to test the companies decision to put the person in charge. There are also challenges on the Sales Managers side wondering what they are supposed to be and how to address the team.  Managing your peers is one of the most difficult positions.

So how do manage this?  How does one make this transition effective and successful?  Well…the bad news is that there is no easy way to do this or some slick process to avoid pain.  Like a flu shot you have to feel a bit of a sting to receive the benefit.

The first place to start is a candid conversation with you.  When you were cherry picked from the tree you have two choices:

  1. Accept the position
  2. Don’t accept the position

By accepting the position you accept that you are now accountable for the performance of both the individual team members and the entire team.  You accept that you will manage the goal numbers provided to you by the company (realistic in the eyes of the team or not).  You also accept that there will be days when you have to have some candid and difficult conversations with your former peers about performance which could negatively impact your personal relationship with them.

If by contrast you do not accept the position then you accept that you can keep the relationships you have established with your peers intact.  However, you will not be a manager for this team and most likely will not be considered for management of this team in the future (i.e. The opportunity door may shut).

So a conscious choice has to be made when you are offered the position.  You can choose to accept it and all the accountabilities and challenges that go with it or you can choose to stay a peer and remain at status quo.  Simple decision, but not always easy.

For the sake of this blog let’s say you “accept” the position.  The next immediate step will be to make crystal clear to the team the company’s expectations/goals (that which you do not have control of) and your expectations and plan for both each team member and the team as a whole to achieve those goals (that which you do have complete control over).  There are going to be those who may resist or challenge you, but if you make the expectations clear you will find that your people will come to eventually respect you especially if they are seeing results.

The biggest part of your success in this transition will be determined by you (accepting or not accepting the position).  Not just in words…but in mind.  Once the choice is made and you accept it fully the rest of the plan will fall into place.  It all starts with you!


Thoughts on Accountability

Accountability – an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility.  

Let’s face it…we have a love/hate relationship with this word.  On one hand we would love if we could effectively hold people accountable and on the other hand we hate having to hold people accountable…its just not fun.

In Sales Management it is vital that accountability play a significant role.  If you can’t hold your sales people accountable then there is a high likelihood you will not make progress on your sales goals.  So how do you manage accountability in an effective way?

First, you need to accept that when you got dressed in the morning and showed up to work it is not to “just be there.”  We often walk through the office door and say “I’m here” and subsequently that’s the way we run our sales teams.   A better way to show up is to say “Here I am!”  This let’s the team know you are here to play.

The next step is to be crystal clear on your expectations and get acknowledgment that each sales team member understands and accepts the expectations (i.e. agreement).  Many Sales Managers struggle with this part. If you don’t get the acknowledgment and agreement then accountability doesn’t exist and cannot be managed effectively.

Just to be clear I am not just talking about the numbers such as; “I expect that as a team we will reach our sales goal of $1.0mil by the end of the year.”  I am talking about specific accountability.   For example….. “Bob…our goal is $1.0mil by the end of 2011.  My expectation is that for each prospect call you go on you will put together a pre-call plan that includes the following:

  • The objective of your call and outcome you would like to achieve
  • Questions that will help you identifying 1-2 other products or services we could offer this prospect/client
  • The top 3 priorities for this prospect (short-term and long-term)
  • Other organizations this prospect /client is considering to solve their business need

Bob I would to monitor the effectiveness of this approach.  Let’s plan to meet each Monday at 9:00am to review the pre-call plan to see what parts are generating successes for you and what parts are not”. 

You can see that the approach is very specific and has clear accountabilities.  This is not about “micro-managing” anyone its about “managing” the accountabilities so that the sales person can become successful in meeting expectations.

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