Archive for the ‘Sales Strategy’ Category

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Leadership in a Matrix Environment

March 30, 2011

As a professional speaker, the toughest crowd is the one filled with folks who talk for a living.

Salespeople understand how to tell stories; they understand that the customers’ story is where it all starts. Then, on to proposing and closing…and whoever tells the best story, wins. Delivering a product or service in a complex sales process is never the work of just one individual. Resources must be engaged, in order to respond to the RFP, or address particulars of technology, service level agreements (SLAs), etc. Many times these required resources have no direct reporting responsibility. In other words, the challenge facing sales executives is how to create leadership, without real authority. Creating a keynote on leadership can be challenging, especially for a bunch of sales pros. But, who wants the easy route, anyway?

Some believe that it is easy to inspire good behavior when you have the power and authority to influence bonuses, paychecks, and annual reviews. However, relying solely on a title, or the ability to hire and fire, is not about true leadership. Managing the day-to-day actions of a team of employees is a separate task from leadership in a matrix environment. Handling your reports is about direction; leading others without authority is about inspiration.

In a recent presentation to international sales executives at HP at HP Sales University, the topic of “acceleration” came up. In complex sales, there is no real way to accelerate the IT decisions or cap-ex (capital expenditure) investment that major corporations will make. However, it is possible to accelerate the role of the leader, fostering greater trust in a matrix environment.

Inspiring team members (even virtual team members) begins with recognition. Identifying and connecting with others means understanding a person’s unique contributions. Sure, it’s easy to see that the engineer or security specialist brings their own particular talents to the customer engagement; but what’s beyond the skill set? How can you recognize the unique contributions of the individuals on your team? More importantly, how can you demonstrate your ability to value (and leverage) those contributions?

Recognition really starts with “Why?” We all do our thing from 9-5, to collect our paychecks. But not all paychecks are created equally (even if the numbers are exactly the same). Consider: Why do you do what you do? Just to make money? OK, maybe so…but what does that money allow you to do? What are you able to do for yourself, your family, your church, your parents…because of what you do? Understand your “Why”, and then understand the “Why” of your team members. Get engaged in their story, and they will get engaged in yours.

Leadership is about influence.

It starts with recognition of others, as the first step towards trust. True leaders are able to be clear and transparent with their teams. By understanding the capabilities and the needs of the members of your team, you understand how to create an environment where individuals are not just recognized, but valued. Everyone, at every level, wants to make a contribution that is recognized, and valued. Prove that value to others, and you are telling the story that everyone wants to hear. Through trust and recognition, you earn the right to lead — not just in a matrix environment, but in any environment.

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Practice to Win, or You Never Will

February 9, 2011

Your biggest competition in business is “don’t know”.

If the customer doesn’t know what your product or service can do, they’ll never buy. And, if your competition is telling your story for you, then the customer will never know how you can make a difference. (And, by the way, it’s “the” customer, not “your” customer, because of what they don’t know).  The same concept applies to the management of sales teams, where “don’t know” can mean the difference between a lost sale and a major victory. The way to defeat “don’t know” from a management perspective is to create an environment for sales practice.

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Professional sports teams and performers practice much more than they actually play – but in business, it’s just the opposite. How do you get better at sales, if you never practice?

If you are really in the advanced class for weekly sales meetings, then you have the skills to explain exactly what to watch out for, and what to do in particular situations. Ask for volunteers to answer the tough questions! In a “What would you do if…” situation, you play the customer, or the client. Call somebody up to the front of the room and let them shadowbox a little on the competition, or pricing, or other key objections. Let the best come forward and show their stuff. It takes guts, but if you do this right you will teach volumes to your team!

Look, I know that sales management isn’t acting class, but if you want a great performance from your people you better show ’em how it’s done. Practice makes perfect, but you can’t expect perfection if you don’t demonstrate it first.

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Dealing with “No, I’m Not Interested”

February 7, 2011

Often our perceptions are what keep us from hearing “YES” from the customer.

Instead of selling to people, consider that it is your job to teach them how to buy. (Of course, the way to buy is “profitably for your business”. I think it’s important to advocate for the customer, but not at the expense of the company that signs your paycheck). What information, if known by your customer, would change indifference to action?

“No, not interested” is the stepchild of “I don’t know” and “I don’t care”.

What do you need to teach the customer, to change their perspective? How can you teach a customer what they need to know, so that you can overcome your biggest competition (that would be “Don’t Know” and “Don’t Care”). Fight disinterest with knowledge, and teach your customer how to buy what they need. Teaching customers how to buy is the service that changes the game.

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Building Blocks of Business: Getting Started

January 19, 2011

When starting an entrepreneurial venture, there are four key pillars that must exist, in order for you to create and sustain your business.

Concept: Why are you in business? What product or service do you offer, and how is it unique, desirable and/or better than what’s currently in the marketplace? What results or outcomes does your business offer, and how can you demonstrate the value of your solution?

Communication: Leveraging the value of your solution means that you have to tell the marketplace about your product or service. What is your message, from a marketing perspective (product, price, promotion and place/distribution)?

Clients: Who are your target customers? How will you communicate with them, and how will you engage those customers to buy (distribution methods)?

Cash Flow: While “cash is king”, you must first have a compelling offer, priced correctly, and presented to the right audience. What investments will you make to acquire customers? How much do you expect to spend, to attain your first customer? Are your prices both competitive, and profitable? What is your path to break even, and how will you tend to your “burn rate”, before that first customer puts their money down? Then, what will you do to maintain and expand your results, creating relationships with other customers?

Starting a business is a complex endeavor, and each business has its own unique challenges. Creating a communication plan, based on an innovative concept, is the key to creating successful relationships – and positive cash flow.

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Fixing Alec Baldwin

September 17, 2010

While “Always be closing” makes for some interesting drama, it’s a recipe for disaster in this economy. Real sales strategies don’t come from Hollywood –  so, how about a plan that you can actually use?

Every sales person, every Alec Baldwin fan, maybe everybody who can read and write, knows the slogan, “Always be closing”. That was the message from his character, Blake, in the classic movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross”.  As much as I enjoy Alec Baldwin as a performer, “Always be Closing” is a recipe for disaster in the current economy. I’m seeing a lot of individuals “go for the close” (and fail) when what they really need to know is: how to go for the sale.  While Web 2.0 tools have opened up new ways of communicating and marketing to customers, there’s still a need to get face to face to close a deal.    If that scenario is something you deal with on a daily basis, then read on, MacDuff.

Here’s a little secret that is the one common characteristic of every successful sales engagement, and every successful sales person. The one most important characteristic of sales success isn’t the killer close, or mental toughness, or a strong forceful personality, or…or whatever.

The best salesperson is ALWAYS the one who is in front of a customer who wants to buy what they are selling. Think about it. Finding a customer that’s buying is the secret ingredient. It’s not some slick closing strategy or verbal kung-fu that forces a sale. If you have the talents of a monkey, and a customer that wants to buy what you’ve got, you are going to close a deal… and be able to pick up objects with your feet. Impressive! Qualifying an opportunity has never been more important. And, opportunities are scarce! So, how do you do when it comes to qualifying opportunities?

Based on my experience, the number one thing you can do to help grow your business -especially if your business is the “business of YOU”: learn how to “always be QUALIFYING”, and the transaction will take care of itself.

Are You Qualified to Drink This?
Questions are a great way to approach an opportunity, because of what is implied behind the curiosity. (And I’m not talking about questions like, “If I can drop the price by 2%, will you buy TODAY?!?”) The questions I’m talking about are the kinds that yield results – a series of “yes” answers that helps you to clearly define the customers needs. Your concern, your caring, your experience, your product knowledge all are conveyed …indirectly. It’s a style shift, and it can be subtle, but the results are huge. The message behind the message is that you are genuinely concerned about the customer’s concerns – and, quite frankly, the mutual fit for your agendas. You go from “telling and selling” to helping your customer to solve a problem. As you help to identify their needs, you tailor your services and solutions for what they want, not just what you can do. The best person to articulate customer needs is always the customer. If there’s no need, there’s no sale.

Of course, there are many more aspects of qualification. What’s the budget? How did you hear about me/my company/my gorilla-like reflexes, etc.? Have you ever seen/used/owned equipment like this before? What is the salary for this position? Etc. etc. All important questions, and all must be asked as part of the needs identification and implementation phase.

You still have to ask for the business. But closing is just the final step in the qualifying process. First, make sure that you’ve got a qualified customer that’s come forward with some real clear needs, and you are almost home. With all due respect to Alec Baldwin, remember to “always be qualifying”… unless, of course, all you want to end up with is a set of steak knives.

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Are You Ready for Your Close-Up

August 16, 2010

For most companies, and customers, video has become the most authentic method of telling a story. It’s authentic because people tend to trust what they see in a video, the visual cues and clues are more comprehensive than in a written story. After all, you can see expressions, body language and more via video.

Yet for executives with little or no experience in front of the camera, an interview or presentation can be a daunting task. Not everyone is suited to being in a video, but here are some tips that can help when it’s time for “Action!”

In the Studio with Your Online Video

Picture Yourself Here

  1. The camera is your friend. When you look at the camera, what do you see? An evil lens, peering at you like some hyper-critical judge, ready to expose all your flaws and add 10 pounds to your waistline? Don’t let your preconceptions get in the way of what you are saying.  As mom always used to tell us kids:  if you don’t like your preconceptions, time to get some new ones.  The camera can’t hurt you, but you can hurt yourself if you grimace when that little red light comes on.What if you were to think of the camera as an old friend – a friend who accepts you just the way you are?  If you look at the camera the same way you view the dentist’s drill, chances are the people watching will feel uncomfortable, too.  Turn the camera into someone who has known you for a very long time, who accepts you as you are, and laughs at [most] of your jokes.  The magic of working on camera is forgetting all the studio lights, microphones, and behind-the-scenes distractions, and concentrating on telling your story.  If this idea of the “camera as an old friend” sounds phony, contrived or imaginary…you’re right!  But, if you would rather flinch and scowl, go for it! Imagination is for little kids, anyway.
  2. Enjoy telling your story. What you have to say has to be engaging, so make sure you’re engaged.  If you say, “I’m passionate about…” in a monotone, you can bet that your audience will be snoring before they find out about your true “passion”.   Similarly, there’s no need to go all-out Ballmer to make your point.  But be authentic and engaged in the words you are saying.  If you’re into it, the audience will be too!
  3. Photo of Harrison Ford

    This is not you.

    What if I still don’t like what I see – How can I get better? First of all, congratulations for being brave enough to watch yourself before others do. YouTube is littered with videos of executives and would-be DeNiro’s who have created a new level of personal embarrassment, completely unbeknownst to their ego. So, while there’s no magic formula to turn someone into Harrison Ford,there is a way to present your authentic self on camera, and it has to do with being relaxed and comfortable with your own style. For many, knowing the material is key – feeling comfortable with the presentation is the focus. But, often the best speakers are the ones who are comfortable with themselves. There’s only one Harrison Ford, but there’s also only one “you” – and no one is better qualified to tell your story than you are.  The real trick is to make sure that you give yourself every opportunity to create the best possible online image you can.

The most authentic medium on the internet is video – that’s why YouTube and other sites are growing exponentially.  But, growth is not the same as quality.  Make sure your content is easy to find – and easy to watch – if you want to create an effective online brand.

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Sales Leaders’ GPS

June 2, 2010

A personal story:

As a young salesperson, I was in a training session at AT&T, getting bombarded with all sorts of “Latest & Greatest”  verbal kung-fu, cleverly disguised as sales strategy.  How was I going to remember all this stuff, in front of a customer?

Cerebral Iguana

My Brain at Work

My lizard brain was on overload!

I was concerned that I might not get everything out on the table, when I was with a prospect. What would I do if I forgot something?! I raised my hand and asked the sales manager, “there’s a lot of detail here…what happens if I leave something out?”  (Ever felt that way?)

He replied with one of the wisest things I have ever heard, and a piece of advice that I use to this day. Beyond the concepts and the process, you have to focus on the customer.

FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER AND YOU WILL NEVER LOSE YOUR WAY.

I keep this technique front of mind for myself personally, and for all who I have the opportunity to coach. Specifically, it means getting the attention off of yourself – you product, your process, and your “concepts” – and asking questions to make sure you are qualifying your prospect, meeting their needs, getting to their goals. At the same time, you will qualify your answers and create your own roadmap to the purchase decision. There’s no substitute for knowing your offer in detail, but knowing the customer trumps all else! By focusing on the customer, you will make sure that you find what you may have forgotten – and arrive at your destination (along with the order)!