Category: Business Development

React Consciously

Picture your least preferred client…..

They email you unexpectedly with ‘I have the proposal you gave me in front of me.  I have found a few mistakes and have some areas I need to talk to you about.   Can you come to my office at 2pm?’

What feelings do you have?  Natural to go/think ‘Sorry 2pm doesn’t work for me’?  Groan?  Hackles go up?

Now picture you favourite client sending the same email, they say the same thing…..what feelings do you have now?

Egg

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Be The Lion

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When ever we look to do something courageous, contentious, abnormal or similarly ‘departing from the normal’ – we are almost guaranteed to receive criticism and/or negativity. Not the constructive kind either.

More often than not, this criticism comes from people who are at or below average at what you’re trying to do. Average or below doesn’t like above average as it feels shown up. So it unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, looks to discourage any one who could put them to shame.

In sales, great sales people aren’t average – obviously. Therefore, it is fair to say that great sales people have encountered a lot of criticism to get where they are.

There is an African proverb that goes:

In sales there are many small dogs. Some bark louder than others and sometimes they bark in chorus – but they will always bark.

Your Dog

If you are a typical sales person – your dog will bark the loudest and most often. Part of us is fearful of putting ourselves out there, so in the recesses of our mind a dog barks to protect us from failure. The logic – by not trying we don’t fail and therefore don’t embarrass ourselves. Of course this is true – but it also means we never succeed if we listen to this dog.

Sometimes this dog barks for real reasons and correctly identifies skill, knowledge, process or similar gaps in what we’re doing. In this case – listen to the dog, but don’t turn around. Address the gaps – move forward. That dog barking isn’t a reason to stop – that dogs bark makes us stronger. It is warning us.

Unfortunately, our dog is the biggest dog we have to fight. We’re usually the only one that can hear it and it speaks our own language. We’ve taught this dog through years of self talk. We’ve nurtured this dogs bark. It has both protected and inhibited us. You need to learn to not ‘turn around’ because of it, but listen and judge whether it’s bark makes sense.

The Team Dog

In some sales teams, there is an air of mediocrity. Of ‘getting by’. As a result, anyone departing from this culture quickly encounters the team dog/s. This is where average endeavours to maintain the status quo. Statements like ‘That won’t work’, ‘They won’t buy from us’, ‘They’re a difficult client’, ‘This sales course is worthless’ and similar remarks are all the team dog barking.

You can see this in some teams where the best sales people end up lone wolfing simply because they have chosen to ignore the team dog and just do what they know works. They don’t turn around, but unfortunately often at the expense of the team dynamic. They risk getting socially emancipated from the team.

This can often be why good sales people don’t last long in poor sales teams. Too many dogs barking, not enough lions. As a sales leader – this is important as often the lions don’t roar often, but you better listen when they do. Provided you can hear them over the dogs barking.

The Company Dog

Sales is usually one aspect of a business – with many other areas of the business existing and working together. Sometimes, tension unnecessarily exists in a business – you end up with the company dog.

It is all to easy in sales to find a reason to not leave the office. Someone always wants a report completed, some admin work done, and similar valueless work. Sure, it needs to be done, but are you turning around because the company dog is barking? If it doesn’t help you achieve better outcomes for your clients, achieve your results and genuinely isn’t time critical – why did you listen to that dog barking?

As a sales leader, you job is to silence, minimise and/or eliminate this noise from your sales teams to allow them to focus on being the lion. Without distraction.

The Market Dog

I’ve seldom met a sales person who is 100% happy with the market conditions. There is always a more active competitor, someone who is cheaper, someone with a better product, not enough clients, poor economic conditions. That market dog can bark pretty bloody loud if you let it. Sheesh – some days you can question why you even get out of bed.

But hold on – I have also met a number of highly successful sales people who perform regardless of these conditions. Sure, their results vary in good and bad markets, but they still outsell everyone else. Sure, market and competitive conditions vary but they don’t turn around.

Listen to that dog and potentially change direction accordingly, but don’t turn around. As a sales leader – you need to determine if that dog barking is an excuse masking another issue, or a genuine reason inhibiting their activities/outcomes.

The Client Dog

Sometimes we can even encounter a dog in front of us which can stop us and turn us around. The client dog. This is especially true in situations like where the client has an unexpressed or unconscious need we’ve identified but they haven’t as yet come to realise. Or, where we have clients under stress, competitive pressure, experienced a service or product failure.

It is easy in these situations to have a client who barks a lot and, as a sales person, for us turn around. Sometimes the client dog can bark VERY loudly. It can be deafening. As both a sales person and leader, you both need to determine is that dog going to bite and how hard. After all, as sales people, they’re why we exist.

However, good sales people are resolute and listen to that dog and continue forward to deliver that client the best possible outcome they can.

There are many dogs barking in sales vying for our attention and endeavouring to throw us off course or stop us altogether. Endeavour to find others like you who can hear but ignore those dogs and keep moving forward. Eventually those dogs will stop barking as they have nothing to bark about.

That Lion doesn’t turn around simply because it has nothing to fear. It has learned, as an apex predator, that those barking dogs are noise but not a threat. They exist but are immaterial.

Be the lion.

Be The Candle, Not The Moth

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Asking all sales professionals –

  • Do you curate your own content?
  • Do you create your own content?

One of the challenges in sales is finding, engaging and holding to new clients whilst maintaining strong relationships with the ones you already have. You’re like a moth circling many flames at the same time.

Imagine if you could be the candle instead – your flame attracting your clients and prospects alike? Imagine a world where clients seek you out and want, if not yearn, to do business with you? A sales nirvana. One, historically, that was hard to achieve with mass marketing being expensive and a sales force left with phone, feet and (later) email to reach their market.

However, in today’s world your reach is far more expansive than it has ever been. Personally, status updates and tweet immediately reach our friends and network and quickly circle the world. Youtube videos have immediate and enduring reach. People are prepared to and do broadcast their thoughts, ideas, advice and opinion with often reckless abandon.

Yet, professionally, we seem to inhibited in this ability to similarly present our ideas, expertise, advice and opinion with the same passion and frequency. We stiffle this markedly in comparision with our personal lives.

LinkedIn is a fantastic example – whereby anyone can produce articles, share their own content and that of others content, have dynamic profiles and all manner of other mediums. Yet few do. The old ‘1% produce content, 9% comment on it and 90% watch’ plays out day after day professionally.

What is true though is that the reach of social media in business through sites like LinkedIn is growing daily. Businesses and business people NOT engaged and active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc is dwindling. So, as a sales professional, where is your audience today?

Back to the original questions – do you create and/or curate your own content?

More importantly, if you don’t, you are probably asking ‘why should I’? Well, there are a number of salient reasons, including

  • Distinction Yes, sharing information is the first natural step in the social space. Simply clicking the share button and clicking it again. The next step is adding an opinion, comment or embelishment to it. What will people think? Finally, the big leap is producing and publishing your own content – with your own ideas and your own opinion. Nervewracking – probably. Rewarding – definitely. Doing this is like public speaking. Whilst we have a fear of it, most likely everyone else does as well. But by standing up and doing it, we distinguish ourselves. As scared as the you may be, many in the audience are going ‘Wow, they’re brave’ or ‘I couldn’t do it’. Regardless of your content & relevance (which is obviously still important), you’ve already made people stand up and notice. You’d made yourselve distinct from many of your peers and have grabbed the attention of your clients in a completely different manner.
  • Engagement Notwithstanding them even reading the article/watching the video in full, they will notice you on their activity feeds (assuming of course they’re connected with/following you). They are reminded you are there. Of course, whilst clients and prospects alike may not have an hour to spend with you at that particular moment, many will take the time to read articles. Then, wait until people start commenting and real, tangible engagement ensues. The joy of this engagement though is it is not push, it is pull. You are putting it out to the general ether, they are choosing to notice, read/watch and/or engage.
  • Expertise Here is where you can demonstrate your knowledge and why you do what you do. Why you are passionate about what you do and how it helps your clients. It isn’t about ‘selling’ it is about value creation, problem solving and opportunity realisation. Well written articles can challenge thinking, educate, inform or even entertain. But shouldn’t sell (this isn’t an advertisement!). Here is where you give what you know freely, abundantly trusting it will pay you dividends (in what ever form) later.
  • Bigger Than Social What starts as a social strategy, can quickly develop in to a physical, face to face one. Requests to talk, present, coach, and consultant quickly follow. The absolute benefit of this is they are engaging with your because of your thoughts, ideas, advice and opinion – not simply because of your product/service. They want you to advise them – therefore you, in crude terms, enter the sales cycle correctly once engaged. You start with a relationship, not a transaction.

Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, contributor to the development of RSS and staunch activist for freedom of public information said:

“In the old system of broadcasting, you were fundamentally limited by the amount of space in the airwaves. You could only send out 10 channels over the airwaves for television, right? Or even with cable, you had 500 channels. On the internet everybody can have a channel….So it’s not only certain people who have a license to speak. Now everyone has a license to speak. It’s a question of who gets heard.”

Whilst he was referencing the likes of Google and their control of ‘who sees what’ on the internet – he is stating a modern trusim. Everyone now has the ability to produce content – a license to speak.

However, the last line is true also – it isn’t about simply producing content, it is about who is being heard. To this end Benjamin Franklin said:

Probably like most of you, I quickly remove connections who pitch me ‘ideas’ or ‘opportunities’ immediately after connecting. I unsubscribe and delete similar emails from people who have scraped my email off LinkedIn. They effectively ‘cold call’ by social messaging. Yuck!

I do however read the content produced by my connections and people I am following. And, where it is content I connect with, I share it. Similarly I produce my own content for no other reason than to educate, inform and/or entertain. I certainly hope it is worth reading, but I don’t write it to sell anything.

So, hopefully now I’ve incited you to consider curating or publishing your own content. What next? How do you produce relevant, engaging content?

Consider the below when producing your own content.

  1. Know your audience. In the words of Mr Franklin, one of the key errors is producing (or sharing) irrelevant content. Tailor your content (whether shared or created) for your specific audience. If you don’t know your audience, work it out before you start.
  2. Expertise > Sales. I regularly get infuriated when I read an advertisement disguised as an article. You need to give to get – trust that your expertise is valuable in the hands of your audience if presented correctly. Be a centre of excellence and work The best way to demonstrate your value to your audience is to demonstrate you are a centre of excellence in what you write about.
  3. Don’t over think it. Publishing your first article is someone nerve wracking. As I mentioned above, you will get feedback, questions and sometime criticism. But is this bad? You want to provoke thought and discussion. You want engagement. Sometimes being controversial is actual the angle to take.
  4. Be you. Your articles are a reflection of you – it is your chance to personally talk to your audience. Be conversational and personal – reflect and opine.
  5. Be consistent. Writing one article is easier than consistently writing articles – but regular writing maintains consistent engagement with your audience. Try and publish at the same time so your audience becomes accustomed to when they are likely to hear from you
  6. Don’t worry about the stats. It is easy to become consumed with the number of views, likes, comments and shares. Over time this becomes important, but this grows. Though, do read the comments and respond – if someone has taken the time to compose a response, take the time to respond. Similarly, thank people where they share your article and, if game, ask them what in particular did they connect with as this helps shape further content.
  7. Visuals. A good headline image is important as human’s are visual. Similarly, using images, graphs etc in your article helps with explaining/illustrating points, covering quickly what words would cumbersome to do and provide visual breaks.
  8. Collaborate. If you’re not an expert on a topic you know your audience would like, find someone who is and co-write an article. Ask them if you can share/quote their article and add your own opinions or comments over top to connect it to your audience. Ask them to guest write for you or conversely you for them.
  9. Honour your sources. Don’t use others content without asking and citing them. If you reference other public information – quote and include links. People have taken the time to produce their content, it is only fair your recognise their contribution to the quality of your work.
  10. Be proud. Sign off your work with a) a link to your other work b) how to reach you c) a suggestion people like, share or comment on the article if they found it interesting and/or useful. Remember, 90% of people lurk and for some it only takes a prod or two for people to engage.

There are many more suggestions and I encourage your comments as to what works and doesn’t for you. I fell in to writing articles as I simply wrote for myself and then a few people said I should publish them. Now I find writing articles is incredibly useful for me as much as I hope it is for my audience.

The biggest advantage is this gives you the opportunity to be the candle, producing the flame, rather than a moth looking for something to circle. Sure, you may end up with no or few moths, but with a little perseverance and fine tuning and you’ll quickly find you have an audience, most likely including clients of your competitiors – recognising so few sales people do it.

So, if you are an expert at what you do, why aren’t you producing your own content? Why aren’t you becoming a centre of excellence. The channel is there to speak, you just need to be heard.

Ask To Act

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Two recent video interviews I shared from two sales professionals I respect touched on this need to focus what we do for our clients. Tony Hughes recently completed a video interview with John Smibert extending Simon Sinek’s Start With Why philosophy to articulate you need to understand Your Client’s Why.

Then, John (if you haven’t noticed a theme, follow John!) followed this up with an interview with Tony Bananno who reinforced the fact that sales people today need to develop the skills to have Effective Commercial Conversations.

In the information rich digital age we currently live in – clients know more about our products and services than ever before. Gone are the days of simply connecting features and benefits and using ‘product sheets’ to wow clients with how great what we offer is. Now, it isn’t about the products and services we have, but whether we understand our clients well enough to deploy them effectively to help our clients meet their objectives. This starts wholly with both the themes raised by the two Tony’s (not sure if there’s something with the name).

These aren’t new concepts – every sales course and training regime is heavy on the concepts of open ended questions, deep discovery, active listening and other tools and techniques to help uncover the core needs of our clients. All espouse the need for sales people to spend minimal time talking about products and services and the maximum amount of time discovering why their clients need their help and what opportunities and challenges they are facing. Once understood, it is about wrapping what you do neatly around your clients to support where they are going. It isn’t about finding clients for your products and services.

However, here is where I wish to extend this conversation and say that it doesn’t end here. Simply knowing what you have to do isn’t the silver bullet. The real magic comes from why you do it. Simply asking these questions and finding out this information doesn’t help your clients, it is what you do with this information that creates magic for your clients. You must Ask with the intent to Act. And Act in your clients best interests, not simply your own.

Before you can act, you have to ask. So where are the pitfalls common in the sales discovery process?

Don’t Ask / Asking the Wrong Questions

The first mistake is simply not asking any questions followed closely by asking the wrong ones. This is what Tony Bananno touches on – having social or spurious conversations with clients that don’t actually go anywhere. You can’t act on information to help your clients if you haven’t asked any questions to get it. You are left guessing/assuming what your clients wants and/or needs. Similarly, and sometimes worse, you can’t act effectively if you don’t have the right answers/information.

This is a training/experience thing which most sales leaders can pick up and coach following observation. It can come down to inexperience/confidence or under/no preparation and can be resolved relatively easily once identified.Now, let’s assume you are asking and asking the right questions as most who read this will be.

Moving on to two ‘sales person’ centric issues:

Ask to Tell

Some sales people like being experts more than they like being sales people. Selling can be a great opportunity for this and, unfortunately, some sales people simply ask questions so they can demonstrate to their clients how much they know and that they are a subject matter expert. They simply use the questions as a means to directing the conversation to areas they wish to talk about. This can be an outcome of an overly prepared sales person (predetermination) or one, as mentioned, who wish to stand ahead, rather than behind their clients

Ask To Sell

As Tony Bannano touches on – some sales people simply ask questions to sell and press/push product on clients. The minute they get the sniff of the ability to shift a product or service line, they jump down the rabbit hole to sell it. Sure, sometimes they may make the sale, but often at the expense of the larger and/or longer opportunity. Or they can under/over sell and create a problem for themselves and/or company later when they realise they didn’t know as much about the client as they thought they did (significant issue in regulated industries like Financial Services).

These two are examples of the ‘old’ methodologies of sales and ones where some of the age old sales stereotypes reside. Sales people who simply wish to shift product/service.

Now, what else can happen that can disconnect the ability to ask good questions, yet not have an effective ability to act on the responses? This is where we get in to the sales person’s intent in the discovery process:

Don’t Care

It can be very easy for a sales person to learn to ask the right questions – but do they care about the responses? Are they genuinely asking these questions because they have an interest of understanding their clients position and improving it – or simply because they ‘have to’ or are ‘going through the motions’? This is one of the more nefarious issues in sales – a sales person who doesn’t care and, ultimately, needs a reality check or new career.

There is a real issue here when it comes to sales leadership. Some organisations have the view that certain fields in the CRM ‘must be completed’ or questions ‘must be asked’ – but unless you give the context of why these questions should be asked and what should be done with the information – you run the risk these questions are asked and the information collected – never to be referred to again.

No Active Listening

Asking one fantastic question usually leads to a fantastic answer. This answer usually leads to one or more fantastic potential follow up questions/lines of thought. The joy of asking great questions is you often get surprised by these great answers. Being able to follow these threads but stay on point is a real sales skill. Being able to follow up your client with insightful questions along their thought line leads to the real gold. As Tony Hughes identified, this is where you uncover the clients why. One fantastic question seldom makes the meeting – it is the ability to act on this within the meeting to drive the conversation deeper that does. This can be symptomatic of an overly scripted process. Sometimes this can be confused with the ‘don’t care’ issue – but they are distinct. A lack of active listening doesn’t mean the sales person doesn’t care, it can simply mean they are inexperienced or nervous.

No Record

Asking fantastic questions and receiving fantastic answers is great – but if you don’t make notes of the conversation you are doing your client and yourself a mis-service. Great conversations can change course quickly – and diamonds can be exposed in conversation only briefly. As good as your memory is, I guarantee it isn’t as robust as your pen. When you get back to your office without notes, it is almost a certainty you’ll remember the meeting in bullet points and miss some of the key points as the memory fades. It is hard to act on information if you can’t recall it. The next step is to ensure this information is captured in your CRM (or where appropriate) so you (and you’re wider team) can access this information later, whether tomorrow or weeks/months later. So it can be compared over time.

An aside, taking notes also slows thinking down, allowing time to a) better remove ‘unconscious bias’ (ie assumptions), b) reflect and connect thoughts/ideas along with c) a better spatial recollection of the meeting later.

Now assuming you’ve dodged all the bullets above – you’re gold, right? Here is where many sales people let themselves down…..

Not Acting On It

The fantastic information captured from your fantastic meeting after asking fantastic questions is meaningless unless you do something fantastic with it. Unless you Act on it. CRM’s the world over are littered with such information – sitting dormant, gathering dust. If we’ve done the above, we have immensely insightful information about our clients and, by giving us this information, our client hasn’t just empowered us to make a difference to their business, they’re actually compelled us to. Why ask the questions if you don’t wish to act on them? What is the point of asking questions simply to fill our a CRM? Why even bother meeting with your client in the first place?

Ask yourself – why do you meet with clients? What are you trying to achieve by having the meeting? What is your real agenda? If it isn’t to help them, improve their position, reduce their risk, help them realise opportunities or discover more about them so you can do any/all of the above and more – why ask the questions?

Acting isn’t an overly complicated process – but it starts with recognising that you often need as much time after the meeting as the meeting took to reflect on the outcomes of the meeting, plan ‘what next’ and execute. Effective action doesn’t happen by accident. Some ‘actions’ post meeting include

  • Definitely completing your CRM – thoroughly and usually within close proximity to the meeting itself. Bulk loading your CRM doesn’t work as you will find you will shorten your notes.
  • Following up your client with some immediate proximity to the meeting with an email/note reflecting on the meeting and some immediate value
  • Connecting them with people in your community who you know can help them with areas of opportunity/risk outside of your expertise, yet important to the client
  • Share information/insights/research with them which helps them on their journey as you have or come across this information
  • Invite them to functions/events which help them on their journey
  • Diarising future contact (and why!)
  • Follow up on key milestones/events identified in the meeting to see how it went

Then it is about, re/assessing whether you could and should do business with your client based on the information discover, and how you should move forward. You lead with your value as it relates to your clients situation. This is why you collect information – to allow you effectively deliver what you do to provide the most value to your client. It only works if you put the information you gather to work.

Asking insightful questions and collecting insightful answers is wonderful if that is all we are measured on – but ultimately we’re measured by our client on the difference we make to them and their business. This only comes from acting on the information we obtain, in their best interests.

Low Maintenance Clients – The ‘Silent Client’

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I hate the term ‘low maintenance client’.  It needs to be put to pasture in sales.

Sales is a high demand, dynamic industry forcing those in it to constantly make decisions around prioritising work/tasks to achieve their outcome.  Therefore, a low maintenance client appears to be nirvana to the sales person.  Especially a high profit, low maintenance client – high value clients that don’t ask for us anything.  Wow!

What then happens?  Your sales teams day is filled with the now – and there’s usually plenty of it.  Clients with deadlines you need to meet, problems you need to resolve, internal meetings that need to be attended, phone messages, emails, functions, new business targets that need to be achieved.  The list is endless.

They can quickly fall in to the rhythm of fighting fires and responding to what is screaming the loudest.  The ‘work in progress’ in our pipeline gets priority over strategically managing our portfolio.

This is particularly telling when we are busy because deadlines start looming and we usually have ample tasks in front of us which need, sorry demand, our attention.

Usually the first thing to go in this situation is our prospecting activity as, rightly or wrongly (definitely wrongly!), we view we have more than enough work so why pile more on just now, it can wait.

What then goes second are our low maintenance, silent clients.  Those clients that don’t have anything on at the moment.  That aren’t demanding any of our attention at the moment.  That we can always reconnect with tomorrow, or the day after.  At the moment we have a full plate.

This can be an outcome of how you measure or remunerate your sales team – and symptomatic of the very metrics you are using to impel your team to sell.  An acquisition mindset where we are so focused on new clients on our portfolio, risks doing so at the expense of those clients we’ve already made promises to.  A sale through product mindset, where your sales team is measured on their volume of sales (eg number of widgets sold) is also a risk as, invariably, new clients present bigger opportunities.  Even where you measure revenue growth (either net or gross) can present risks as often the trigger our silent clients aren’t happy is when they signal they’re leaving and we need to replace a hole in our revenue line.   We simply risk creating a defacto culture of ignoring our silent clients if we get these metrics wrong or don’t draw attention to those that may not be buying today, but could if we had the right conversations.

Examples of this are rife in the B2C space where existing clients feel unvalued in lieu of the strong acquisition programmes these businesses have and deals they offer new clients.  Loyal clients are neglected in the pursuit of new ones.  Their voice is silenced and they need to yell to be heard.

That client who doesn’t demand much, doesn’t ring all the time or isn’t consumptive of your attention today may very well be sitting in front of you tomorrow.   Because they’ve been a client of yours for a long time, they expect you know their business, the goals and their industry.

The other issue is, now they are sitting in front of you, you can guarantee that what they need is pressing or important, and usually time bound.  Suddenly, you need to deliver a compelling solution for an existing client you have not spent enough time with – simply because you’ve viewed them as ‘low maintenance’.  Your silent client is now yelling for attention and you don’t know enough about them.

How do they feel when they come to understand you don’t know them or their business very well?

Aside from the above situation where a client who was previously ‘low maintenance’ raises their head, there is another more nefarious implication of not addressing your low maintenance clients.  The above is predicated on your client contacting you.  What if they don’t?  What if your low maintenance client is viewed as a high value prospect of your competitors and they aren’t as apathetically managing their relationship with them as you are?  What if they don’t contact you, instead choosing to contact your competitor?  Your low maintenance clients are the breeding ground of competitive opportunity.

If you are managing your client relationships effectively, you should be creating the conversation not waiting for them to ring you.  You should be asking them questions to challenge them, to inquire, to provide confidence to act, to help them make decisions which lead them to their goals.

But when I try to contact them, they tell me they don’t need to see me?

Yes, this often happens in sales.  But this often doesn’t mean your client is low maintenance.  More often it can mean you’re viewed as low value.  Yes, you!  The sales person.  You haven’t demonstrated your value beyond delivering solutions to ‘transactions’.  You haven’t proven the value of your relationship, intellectual property and/or personality for them and their business.  Sorry, painful but the truth.

So what do you do?  Well, the wrong answer is to leave them alone.  The right answer is to challenge their thinking and reset their expectation of you.

How about saying ‘I appreciate you may not have anything on that requires our services at the moment, however when that does happen I want to be able to provide you with the best solution I can.  In order to deliver the best outcome for you, I want to understand you, your business and your strategic goals so when you do call with a pressing matter, I understand why it is pressing, how it fits in to your business and how to best structure a solution to deliver it.  This means, when you have a time bound opportunity or problem we need to solve, we can not just be responsive, but comprehensive in our solution.  Importantly, we may even be able to pre-empt it so it isn’t time sensitive. We may even help you identify opportunities or risks you aren’t yet aware of.

I obviously laboured the above to make a point.  The point is you are a professional sales person – not a order taker.  Your role is to help shape wise decision making in your clients business, not simply react to it.  If your clients don’t understand this – you’re the reason why they’re low maintenance.

So?

If you aren’t in regular contact with all your clients – this is usually the first area you need to address.   Yes, you need to deal to your work in progress and time bound client requirements – but as a professional sales person, all your clients should be contacted regularly.  ALL of them.

But it doesn’t simply stop there.  Simply contacting them isn’t a silver bullet.  Why you contact them is crucial.  Are you completing strategic reviews, discussing their goals or participating in or seeking the outcome of their internal planning?  Simply picking up the phone for a chat isn’t enough.  All your clients require a robust relationship strategy to deliver maximum value.

When looking at your clients, look at things like the below critically:

Look at each of your clients based on value and potential – and map your relationship strategy accordingly.  Also be honest – if you have low value, low potential clients – why?  Is having them detracting from the time and value you can offer to high value and/or high potential clients?  More often than not, the fires you’re fighting will be coming from these low value/low potential clients anyway.  It is not to say they are bad clients for your business, they just may need a different relationship strategy.  Wrap your strategy around your clients needs – now and in the future.

Low maintenance client should never be confused as no maintenance clients or, worse, no value clients.  The ‘they’ll never leave, they love us’ mentally is a sales death knell in your culture.  It may be the case – until someone else shows them what they aren’t getting.  What real sales value looks like.

Please stop using the term low maintenance.  Your sales team shouldn’t be putting out fires, they should be lighting them.  Under your clients.  ALL of your clients.  To make wise decisions that help them and their business.

What Do BDM’s Do?

Dan Symons recently wrote for KiteDesk’s Blog on the role a business development manager holds within the sales structure of an organisation.  From the obvious ‘hunting’ of new business, through to brand ambassadorship and internal sales capability and best practice growth within a company – a BDM can be a powerful sales force and voice within your sales team.

Read more of his article on KiteDesk’s Article What Do Business Development Managers Do?

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Sales As An Art

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There is a leaning in selling towards ‘sales as a science’ over an art.  The main thrust behind this is science provides us with some certainty as sales people, leaders and organisations that it being an art doesn’t.

Science is about facts, objectivity, repeatable outcomes and, important systemised processes.  All these factors provide certainty – certainty that if we do step A, followed by B, C and so on – we’ll get the outcome we want.  But the reality of sales is it as much an art as it is a science and it is the artistic side of sales which often makes the compelling difference to the overall experience and outcome the client obtains.

So why is sales arguably an art?

Layers 

303892944_32f95ff922_oIf you’ve ever taken the time to watch artist’s paint, they don’t simply try to paint the end result straight on the canvas.  They often pencil in the key outlines and then go about building up the picture in layers.  Layers of colour and area.  Eventually, once all tied together, the picture becomes clear.  They lay down both the big and small elements with the same amount of care and often in strange order, but it makes startling sense once the picture is complete.

Selling is no different, we don’t walk in to the client with a solution from the outset and, in fact, the solution may not even be in our minds eye when we commence talking with our client.  We have an idea of the outcome, but paint it as we go along.  We ask deep and shallow questions to help shape the picture of our client and their situation and goals.  We undertake small and large tasks to help build credibility and value for the client.  The initial process of discovery is iterative rather than linear.   It is through the layering of the sales process, like painting, that helps us develop the end picture.  Like the painter, if we simply tried to deliver the big picture at the outset, our solution would lack depth and substance – exactly like if an artist were to do the same.

As sales leaders, it is these layers that lay the foundation to great client solutions.  Whether engaging experts, client advisers, hosting clients, doing them favours, learning about their industry (or participating in it) – all of these soft and hard sales layers help build up the bigger picture to a successful solution.

Big Picture

downloadVery few artists start without a vision of what they wish to end up with.  They may not end up with exactly what they envisioned when they started or have what they wish to end up with identified in fine detail – but they start with some idea of where they’re going.

Selling is no different – if you sell aimlessly, you end up with aimless outcomes.  Sure, you may not know exactly how you’re going to help your client – but you should know you want to and, in turn, know broadly how what you offer them could help them.  It is then a matter of filling in the finer details to shape your solution to match the specific needs of your client.   It is very hard to build up the layers of the sale if you don’t know what you’re building up to.

As a sales leader it is as important to discuss and continue to redefine the end result as it is to focus on the sales stages and minute detail of progressing the proposal.

Small Details

Jatropha_hybrid_-_Leaf_detail_(129_DAS)_(4595559479)If you watch a good artist paint, you’ll see that it isn’t the big swaths of colour that make the difference how we view the painting.  It is the smallest of details which have the biggest impact.  The reflection in an eye or definition of a line.  Take the Mona Lisa – her ‘smile’ is feature that makes this painting famous (notwithstanding the artist of course).

Sales isn’t any different – it is the top 10% that makes the largest difference to the client.  The extra mile.  Your price can be matched by your competitors and is usually long forgotten once the sale is completed.  It is your ‘eye’ as a sales person which makes the key difference to your clients experience.   It is your ability to fine tune the solution specifically to the client where real value hides.

As a sales leader, it is often attention to the small details which can trip up a successful outcome.  Not engaging with the correct people in the organisation, spelling names incorrectly, using the wrong client logo, emailing rather than hand delivering and presenting the proposal.

Many Techniques & Perspectives

Art shows us that there are many ways to paint a bowl of fruit and many interpretations as to how that bowl of fruit should look.  Painters can use brushes or palette knives, charcoal or water colour.  Paint it in abstract or realism.  They will all see the original bowl of fruit, but their finished work can vary greatly.  Which technique is right?  All of them.

Sales is no different.  So is choosing one process with limited room for your sales people to choose their own style right?  Yes, you will end up in uniformity in your sales process, but at what cost does it come?  What if your client is abstract, but your sales process is realism?  A process should be a framework, not a rule.  If the same were to occur in painting, our art gallery’s would be pretty boring.  Case in point – our clients are now often knee deep in digital, does your sales process include digital?  Should it?

Also, two people standing in front of the same piece of art can have completely different interpretation of and feelings about the art.  I could love it and you could hate it.  I could see a cow and you and field of roses.  Regardless of what the artist painted, our perception is our reality.

The same goes in reverse; as sales people our perception of our clients situation is limited by our field of reference and, as a result, so therefore is our solution.  So engaging with our peers and specialists to widen our field of reference is crucial to delivering a deeper value proposition to our clients.

As a sales leader it is important to ensure our process and techniques are matched to the client, not the sales person/leader/organisation.  So it is therefore important to ensure the process is fluid and your sales team have the autonomy to use varied techniques to help their clients.   Equally, it is often your sales person the client ‘buys’, so driving their personality out of the sales process is to be avoided at all costs.

Clients Eye

4884006357_caa1fa6826_oAs a sales person, you can’t proclaim your solution as great no more than an artist can their painting.  Like Art and the patron – the only perspective that matters is that of the client.  Many artists have died before their work has found fame.  In sales, many sales people have starved because their clients didn’t find their solutions great.

At all times, when composing sales solutions, it is your clients perspective that should be at the forefront of your mind as they are the one writing a cheque out for it.   This is the unique situation of conflict before artistic flair and compromise.  In sales, you may actually have a fantastic solution but if the client can’t see it, to their mind it isn’t fantastic and therefore valueless.

As a sales leader, it is important to ask questions like ‘what would the client think?’ through the sales process.  No perception matters in sales more than the clients.  Therefore you need to understand their perception well and, where appropriate, manage it through out  the relationship.  Too often sales people forget this.

Shelf Life

Like the above, many artists haven’t seen the success of their work as their work outlived them.

Sales is no different, often the success of your work will be realised long after you put it in place.  Costs savings or efficiency gains will be realised, and therefore valued, over time rather than immediately.  In some complex sales situations, the ROI could be measured in months or years and, sometimes, long after the sales person has moved on.

Great solutions have long legs – much like great art.  They are appreciated and valued over time.  They become memorials to the great work of the artist or sales person and they depth of understanding they had of their subject matter as experts in their field.

As a sales leader, long term sales solutions and client value is what you should be driving your team to provide.  Great businesses usually have great supplier relationships supporting them – NOT great transactions.  They trust their suppliers with key and often commercially sensitive information to ensure you deliver compelling solutions to their business.


Sure, we aren’t painting the Mona Lisa in sales but the creative side of selling is as important as the scientific side.  As sales leaders, the scientific side is easy to measure – it is often reflected in a report or leaderboard but it only show us, at best, half of the inputs that go in to the entire sales relationship with a client.

In fact, I view that the artistic side of selling is where the real value sits.  This is born true simply by the fact that if sales were purely scientific, successful results would be easy repeatable and everyone would be successful.

Next time you’re looking at your sales process as a sales leader – consider how much scope your sales team has to exercise their creative flair and how you go about encouraging and fostering this.

Don’t Hunt Trophies

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I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it’s such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her― Ellen DeGeneres

Many of you will have watched the media & social frenzy around the US Dentist who hunted and killed Cecil.  Whilst the legalities of the hunt will be argued for a while to come – it shows that what could conceivably be legal to do, isn’t necessarily moral or socially accepted.

Hunting in general is often a polarising activity.  Once it was how we survived as a species – particularly until we learned how to farm.  In the modern era, farming has replaced hunting.  Yes, animals are still killed to provide food, but usually well away from mass population so all we see is the end result.  We rationalise it away given we need the food and, in a country such as ours, it also provides economic benefit through export value and employment.

Trophy hunting on the other hand serves very little purpose other than to satisfy the internal drivers of the hunter.  Their pride/ego.  This is seen through the pictures paraded on social media by trophy hunters, heads hung on walls and skins used as rugs.

And here we shift to sales.  Hunting is a term often used in sales.  Selfishness or self-serving along with it.  Unfortunately it is too easy to compare trophy hunters with rifles with the stereotypes many hold about sales people.  Instead of a piece of taxidermy to hang on a wall, we have commissions to put in our pocket.  We even use the term ‘trophy clients’ with alarming regularity.

Like hunters of old who provided food to allow their village to survive – hunting in sales isn’t simply about ‘winning deals’, it is about providing sustenance to your business.  What you successfully hunt is turned in to the energy on which your business runs.  It is the fuel that allows your business to survive.  Simply closing the sale doesn’t generate this energy – it is what happens post-sale that turns all the effort of the sale in to a meaningful outcome for the business.  In to energy.

How do sales people go wrong when hunting for new business and risk becoming trophy hunters?

Hunting the Wrong Target

Knowing who you’re intending to focus on in sales is the single most important step in the ‘hunting’ process.  Working to understand who your ideal future clients are allows you to better understand how to go about finding them (refer:Finding Your Ideal Client).  Fail to do this and you can spend a considerable amount of time looking for anyone and finding no one.  You can also spend a large amount of energy and time tracking a prospect only to find that they aren’t who you are looking for.  With no clear plan, it is easy to fall in the trap of hunting trophies.  Hunting those clients that look the best, biggest and brightest with no assessment of whether you could or should have them as clients.

Not understanding the Topography

Anyone who’s been hunting will understand the frustration of being ‘bluffed’ (being blocked by a sudden change in landscape – like a cliff) or, worse, being in the wrong place entirely.  Sales is the same; to hunt effectively, you need to understand where you’re hunting.  This starts with a clear understand of who they are.  Once you know this, you can work out where you are most likely to find them and therefore where you need to be.  This isn’t simply a matter of geography but also about what groups you need to be participating in, what your social media strategy needs to be and who you need to know.  There is no point walking out the front door of your office, if you don’t know where your future clients are.

Not respecting the Environment

Responsible hunters realise that in order to be successful, they need to think sustainably.  They honour quotas and respect the environment in which their animals live.  Selling isn’t any different.  It is about ‘how‘ you go about selling.

The blind pursuit of a target with a win at all costs, do whatever you need to attitude may secure you your target – but at what cost?  What bridges did you burn along the way.  The environment in sales is your ‘Integrity’ and your ‘Credibility’.  It means little what you think about yourself in sales, but rather what others think of you.  Respect that.

Trusting the Wrong People

The US dentist placed trust in those who were arranging his hunt.  It would appear he had misplaced trust in them.  In sales, trust is incredibly important, if not vital, to your success.  Blindly hunting a trophy can result in you trusting or associating with the wrong people, or hearing what you wish to hear.

How you build your network and who is in it is something to be managed carefully.  Who you have as clients, reflects on you.  Who you have in your network, reflects on you.

Leaving Value on the Table

In days of yore, hunting was about the sustenance the animal provided to the hunter and their wider community.  Trophy hunting is about a trophy – something to hang on a wall, put on social media and/or brag about.  Without understanding why you are selling, you risk simply hunting names.  Hunting trophies.  Winning deals because you can.  As a result, you often leave value on the table.  You are after the kill, not the relationship.  You want the client to say yes, not have a long relationship with them.  You, your client and your businessmiss out as a result.

Hunters of old can teach modern sales people much.  They didn’t hunt trophies because it looked good in their hut – they hunted because the meat meant life to their village.  They respected the animal because of what it provided them and their community.  They didn’t wantonly kill animals – they culled what they needed.

Hunting trophies in sales changes it to being all about the sales person, not the client.  It becomes about what the clients means to the sales person, not what difference the sales person can mean to the client.  It is important in sales that when we use the word ‘hunting’ we use it in the context of providing energy for the business and value for our clients.  Not simply ‘winning deals’.   Selling isn’t about hanging your clients on the wall…is it? 

Sell With Purpose, On Purpose

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There is an old marketing adage – don’t sell drills, sell holes.  Focusing not on your product, but on what your product does given this is what your client purchases.

But is this right?  Does it go far enough?

If you’re in retail and a customer comes in to your store, selects a drill and walks to your counter, pays and leaves – you’ve made a sale, but have you sold anything?

If, instead, that same customer engages with one of your staff members and asks about which is the best to drill through 1” ply – you would hope your staff member has the product knowledge to guide them to the correct drill (and bits!).  Again, you’ve made a sale and, in this instance, your customer this time leaves with some knowledge the drill and bits will work properly.  You also have the comfort in knowing what you’ve sold is ‘fit for purpose’ don’t you?

Is the advice you gave fit for purpose?  Sure, it will drill the hole in 1” ply – but what was your customer’s real purpose?

Now – what if you staff member approaches your customer in the aisle and asks ‘What is your project?’  Your customer may then tell them they’re building a Wendy house for their daughter.

This is the reason that customer is standing in your business.  Not because they want a drill.  Not because they want to drill a hole.  Not simply because they want to build a Wendy House.  But because they want to see the joy on their daughters face once it’s complete.

Your staff member can now really help your customer.   They will ask if they have plans.  They will advise them they may not need that drill as you can pre-cut and pre-drill all the timber off the plans so it will fit perfectly .  Have they thought about weather protection as they will want it to last and be safe?  What about the foundations so it’s stable?  All manner of advice can be given to improve the outcome for your customer and, importantly, their daughter.

The adage of ‘don’t sell drills, sell holes’ is correct though only goes part of the way to the truth.  In today’s era of readily available information on our products and services – clients can quickly assess what ‘drill’ they need to make their ‘hole’.  Where sales people need to focus is not just the hole rather than the drill, but the reason they need the hole in the first place.  Your clients purpose.

The first example where the customer walks in and walks out is an example of a sale – but not selling.  That sale happens by accident.  You’re open, you have drills, they need a drill and just happened to come in to your store for one.  You don’t know why that customer was in your store and, other than having the product on the shelf at an acceptable price, the sale wasn’t controlled by your business.

Success could easily be seen in the first example as the client has purchased a drill from you – you made a sale.  But, extrapolate this out.   Let’s assume that drill wasn’t fit for purpose, that it didn’t have enough torque to drill the hole they needed.

Now, you could assume it isn’t your fault because the client made their own decision and purchased without your consultation.  They had all the product information from the web.  But is this fair?  You had the opportunity to help them when they walked in to your store.  You even hire staff to be on the floor to help clients. Ask yourself whether you had the obligation to help them.  That customer buying the wrong drill was your fault, not theirs.

Even if the drill was perfect for the task – do you have any enduring relationship with the customer?  Do they feel better for having purchased the drill from you?  Do they feel you and your staff contributed to the successful outcome of their project simply because you sold them a drill.

Your clients will always have a purpose behind their interactions with you.  However, they won’t always freely tell you what these are.  It isn’t your client’s responsibility to tell you – you are the professional sales person.  It is your purpose to find out theirs and help them achieve it.  This is the simple rule of selling.

In this example, the purpose was to build a Wendy house, not to drill holes or buy a drill.  Knowing this, you can radically change your clients experience with you and your store.  By not taking the time to understand this, you simply sell a drill.

Success is about conscious selling.  About selling with purpose, on purpose.

With Purpose being selling with the aim of helping your client.  Not about selling to meet quota’s, earn commission or other selfish reasons – but about helping your clients meet their goals.

On Purpose being to sell in a considered manner.  Not about clients buying, but about intentionally selling to those that need it.  It is about being an advisor, not a transactor.  Not someone standing at the till waiting for clients to walk up, but about proactively seeking them out to help them.

Selling isn’t about drills or holes.  It is about Wendy House’s.  It is about daughter’s smiling.

Trust Me, I Know What I’m Doing

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If I walked up to you in the street and told you ‘I was a modern day William Tell and could shoot an apple off your head every time from 20 feet with a bow and arrow – just stand over there with this apple and I’ll show you’.  Would you trust me?

Of course you wouldn’t and I don’t blame you – the risk/return for you is too small – you don’t know me, whether I can do what I say and, of course, are mindful of what could happen if am more confident in my abilities than they really are in practice.

What if I placed an apple on a fence 20 feet away and shot it off successfully 20-30 times?  Would you then trust me?

What if I showed you video footage of me successfully shooting apples off peoples heads or got others whose head I’d successfully shot apples off to talk to you?  Would this persaude you to trust me?

What if I said to you, I’d be prepared to pay you a $10,000 to stand there and a further $990,000 if I was unsuccessful?  Would you now trust me?

Of course, given the personal risks involved, for most people, these risks are simply too significant to trust someone they know to do this, let alone someone they don’t know.  Very few would be prepared to stand under that apple.

Trust in sales is an area well discussed.  Complete an internet search on the keywords on sales and trust and you’ll see a myriad of articles on the topic of trust in sales.  Courses cover trust regularly as part of the sales process, but how does it work in practice within a sales/advisor relationship with a client?

From a sales perspective – the above techniques are often what we use to convince clients to trust us.  We tell them we’re an expert.  We show them examples of our work.  We get testimonials and client stories and we pay them to become clients either with inducements of discounts to reduce risk.

Of course, in sales your clients life is seldom in risk so the examples demonstrated above will often be sufficient to demonstrate to your clients your ability to be trusted in your advice or recommendations.

But here’s what few sales courses don’t tell you – trust is situational, analogue and dynamic.

Situational Trust

Let’s just say for a moment, I finally got you to stand there under that apple and, obviously, successfully skewered it with my arrow with no personal harm to you.  Then I turn to you and say ‘I am also a proficient axe thrower – stand there again under that apple and I’ll cleft it in twain with my axe’.  Would you?

I bet, whilst you eventually trusted me as an archer and your trust was validated, you would need to reaffirm my credentials as an axe thrower before you would be prepared to trust me, if you would at all.  Yes, I have built some trust, but this situation is significantly different enough by skills and risk, that this previous trust doesn’t carry over.

As a sales person, just because your client trusts you in a certain situation, it doesn’t mean they trust you in all situations.  In situations where they consider it materially different from previous situations where they’ve trusted you, they may have diminished, or no, trust for you in to this new situation.  You may be perfectly suited to dealing with this situation, but because the client hasn’t had confirmation of your skills here, you will need to build trust before moving on.

Analogue Trust

Trust isn’t on or off either.  It exists on a spectrum.  Like situational sales trust – clients can trust you up to a point and not beyond it.  For example, you may trust a carpenters labourer to work on your house with your carpenter – but not to build the entire house by themselves.

In sales, they may trust you up to a certain transaction size or complexity, but not beyond this.  They may not actually tell you explicitly where their trust boundaries end so you need to check where you sit on your clients trust spectrum.  Knowing how much they trust you is important.

Businesses often deal with this by having ‘layers’ within their sales/relationship teams based on the size and/or complexity fo the client.  Where this analogue trust becomes an issue in these situations is where clients grow in complexity and/or size, but the business doesn’t adjust the sales/relationship strategy.  This is reflected in client sentiment comments like ‘they just don’t know my business/situation’.

Dynamic Trust

Just like you can earn trust, you can lose it.  Sometimes it may be as result of nothing you have done but due to external events.  The clients own situation may have changed that suddenly makes them distrust advice they were fine to trust yesterday

An example may be a transaction they saw as a seemingly low risk or riskless transaction yesterday, may suddenly now be business critical due to changes in their business/situation.  As a result of their perceived risks changing, their levels of trust alter.  They may need more reinforcement of your ability to deliver the outcomes – they may need to you rebuild or reaffirm trust as a result.  Given trust is analogue – it can slide both up and down, so can’t be taken for granted.

Trust is, undeniably, an important facet of any functional relationship.  Building trust with clients is therefore often reinforced in sales training and discussions.  It is often a ‘step’ in a sales process whereby you build trust and rapport on your path to a successful sale.

What isn’t discussed is the fact trust is situational, analogue and dynamic as outlined above. To assume you have your clients trust because they trusted you in one instance can result in issues when you try to progress the solution if you haven’t reaffirmed that trust.  This is often the emotion underlying many sales objections.

Trust isn’t a step in a sales process – it is a fundamental cornerstone in every step of the sales process.  Whether getting your prospect to hear you, your client to understand how your solution improves their position or helping clients make buying decisions – it must exist through the entire process and be continually monitored and affirmed.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like’ button and also share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook social media platforms. I encourage you to join the conversation or ask questions so feel free to add a comment on this post. Please follow my LinkedIn post page for all my articles.

Thank you Keith Dugdale for input.

Your Clients’ Client: Selling Real Value

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It is an irrefutable tenet of sales that a client is central to the process of selling.  In order to understand whether we could and should work with clients, we need to invest considerable time in understanding our clients, who they are, why they exist, what they do and how they do it.  This discovery is the key to selling successfully in terms of adding tangible value to our clients.

So, if it is undeniable that our client is central to our world it becomes difficult to argue that our client’s client is central to their world and so this continues up and down the sales chain.

As mentioned above, we often focus on why our clients exist, what they do and how they do it, yet it becomes a natural, but often neglected part of the sales discovery process to understand who they serve.  The who behind why they exist.

Often in sales, we can be working with and selling to the people who aren’t charged with the sales side our of customers business.  Often this can be procurement teams or finance teams or similar, often inwardly facing, parts of our clients business.  As a result, we always focus on how what we’re selling them helps them improve their business – but how often do we consider how what we’re selling helps them improve their clients position?

Like we exist to improve our clients position, they exist to improve the position of theirs.  To be effective in delivering real value to your clients, you need to understand how they deliver value to their clients.  You need to understand their clients.  You need to understand the challenges your clients face in delivering value to their clients.

Even the seemingly simple and usually difficult conversation/negotiation around price often isn’t that simple for your client.  Yes, we often fall in to the trap of believing the client just wishes to ‘ratchet the price down’ – but how often do we explore the real reason?  For example – would we be aware that our client is suffering considerable competition in their market yet also suffering labour and other value chain price rises.  They can’t adjust the price to their customers given the strong competition and, as such, are sitting in front of you in an attempt hold their price to their clients to protect their competitive position.  Yes, we should, but do we?

Understanding your clients’ client and how your client goes about improving their position is a crucial element to long term successful sales.

Often when presenting in sales, we talk about and to the benefits our product or service means to our client.  This may be represented in efficiency; such as time saving.  But if you know your clients business well enough, you can actually translate this in to client service improvement.  Increase in numbers of clients onboarded/serviced.  Time to answer or turnaround reduced.  Suddenly the ‘efficiency’ not just becomes meaningful to your client, it becomes meaningful to their client.

To use the example of pricing above; instead of talking in terms of ‘cost savings’, you can translate this in terms of held gross/net margin or the possibility of improved pricing to their client to accentuate competitiveness.

Translating our benefits in this manner helps alter the tone of the sales conversation.  It focuses the conversation not on what the client is buying but how it improves their relationship with their client.   Understanding who our clients sell to and how they improve their position are two crucial questions successful sales people want to know the answer to.  This not only helps us sell meaningful value to our clients, it helps us refer and introduce people in our network who can support our clients’ quest to improve their clients position.  It positions us as an adviser, not supplier, to our clients.

We are trained to focus so heavily on our clients, we can become myopically focused on them.  We can have cursory conversations about their clients (mainly ‘who are they’), but can neglect to comprehensively understand how our clients improve the position of their clients in our quest to simply improve our clients position.  It sounds similar, but the outcomes are drastically different.  Most clients will make decisions based on how the outcome improves their ability to serve their clients.  Failing to understand this results in selling with only half the information.

Even if at the outset of the sales process, you ask your client ‘How does/can what I can offer you improve how you can work with your clients?‘, you’d be surprised with the answers.

Next time you are working with your clients and prospects to assess how you can help improve their position, ensure you take the time to understand their clients and how they improve their position.    When you do this properly your value to them, becomes their value to their client.

Sales Sentiment Model: Choose Your Battleground Wisely

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There is much rhetoric around satisfaction and loyalty in sales and the difference between the two.   Satisfaction is a sense of fulfilment or the pleasure obtained from needs or expectations being met.  Loyalty is the giving or showing of firm and constant support.

As Shep Hyken said:

 There is a big difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal client

Or, as Jeffrey Gitomer was quoted saying:

Customer satisfaction is worthless.  Customer loyalty is priceless

Customer loyalty allows you to weather service failures and competitive threats.  Satisfaction is more of a point in time perspective and can quickly be dismissed if subsequent service doesn’t follow suit.  To give some perspective – if you partner said you they were ‘satisfied’ with their relationship with you – how would you feel?

In a sales sense, both are important.   You can have loyal, but dissatisfied clients – especially at a point in time such as a service failure.   Of course, were you to leave them in a dissatisfied state for too long, their loyalty begins to come in to question – so acting to promptly to reinstate satisfaction is important.

Similarly, you can have satisfied but disloyal clients – such as when pricing arguments arise.  You can have a client who wins a battle of price and is satisfied with what you have offered, but actually isn’t loyal.  This can happen where you have clients with significant barriers to shift to new suppliers (such as contracted obligations) and can remain disloyal but satisfied with what they have.  Here, the focus is around leveraging the satisfaction to drive loyalty.

As a disruptor to this situation – a sales person who wishes to form a relationship with these clients should be looking at whether their prospects are both satisfied and loyal to their incumbent suppliers.  As a sales person, you are looking for clients of other suppliers who are sitting in a position of questionable loyalty or satisfaction.

Recently, I wrote about relationships where clients love their suppliers and suppliers love them back.  These are very difficult relationships to displace simply for the reason that the client is both satisfied and loyal.  Something significant needs to change in this relationship for you to displace it.  Accordingly, you have to honour this loyalty to make head way in forming a relationship with them.  It isn’t about selling in a relationship of this status; it is about learning and patience.

So what are the wider states that exist in client/supplier relationships?  If you consider sentiment as an important driver to whether clients are mobile or not – you can generate a client sentiment model as follows:

In this model, the A’s are those expressed above.  Those who have a mutual loyal and satisfying relationship with their suppliers.  I’ve covered them previously here.

There are three other states of relationship which can help you form your sales strategy once you can identify them:

C:            Mutual Disloyalty

Here you have clients who have a low feeling of loyalty to their supplier and it is reciprocated by the supplier.   They want to be left alone, but want the supplier to jump when they need them.  They won’t speak highly of their incumbent supplier and usually not of any suppliers at all.  They usually just want the cheapest option but all the bells and whistles for it.  It isn’t uncommon for them to express their disloyalty by constantly shopping their incumbent on every transaction or jumping from supplier to supplier.  As is their right, they don’t feel this is an issue and it is always the suppliers fault.  As a result, their supplier isn’t loyal in return and the client receives mediocre service.

Tread carefully here as you can be acquiring an issue – however don’t dismiss it immediately.  Some times these pieces of coal can turn in to a diamond.  Sometimes this is the result of a situation – it can be driven by a supplier who has done a significantly poor enough job that they taint the clients view of all suppliers.  I won’t spend much time here as it is an area best avoided until you’ve exhausted the below.  The ROI is just too poor.

B:            Misplaced Loyalty

These are clients who have learn to accept average/mediocre service as good service.  This is exampled by them saying things like ‘when I ring them, they answer the phone’ or ‘they always do want I ask’.  This is responsive service that the client has been unfortunately conditioned to think is good, or even great, service.  Asking questions like ‘how often does your supplier come out and visit you’ is a great question.  Or ‘does your supplier introduce you to potential clients’.  These will quickly highlight the supplier side apathy in the relationship.

There is significant uncaptured value in this relationship.  A proactive sales person can quickly identify this value.  As a disruptor to this relationship you should be looking to open their eyes to what they aren’t getting.  Ask them their strategic goals, challenges and opportunities.  Connect them with people who can help them realise and mitigate them.  Advise them.  Provide them with opportunities to educate themselves.  Host them so they get to understand what a proactive, consultative relationship should be like.

In short, show them the love they should be getting from their supplier.  It isn’t about price – it is about value and advice.  About caring.

In sales – these are the most likely clients to displace as you can add the most value.  Here you have clients who are loyal, but often not as satisfied as they realise they could be.

As the incumbent, you need to be careful as a disruptor who is smart and attentive, can quickly point this out to them.

B             Apathetic Loyalty:

Here you challenge is the client sentiment is ‘why jump from the frying pan to the fire’.  This client was probably, at one point, loyal to their supplier and it is highly likely that the supplier was/still is loyal to them.   They are usually easy to pick up because they literally will say things like ‘you are all the same’ or ‘why change, you’re as bad as one another’.

The challenge here is different from the above as here you often have a client who has ‘given up’ on their supplier.  The situation here is they are often dissatisfied, but loyal.

As a disruptor to this relationship the focus isn’t about questioning their loyal, it is about addressing their satisfaction.  If you can satisfy them, the loyalty will follow.

Often they will have become apathetic because there is an unrealised or unexplored disconnection between what they want and what they are getting.  Their supplier may be incredibly loyal and eager – but they haven’t explored what is important to the client and, hence, they aren’t being satisfied and, as I mentioned above, eventually their loyalty wanes.  As the disruptor, you need to connect the dots between what they reallywant from a supplier and then deliver to this brief.  Drive their satisfaction to obtain their loyalty.

Your Battleground Is The B’s

As a disruptor to an incumbent supplier relationship – your battle ground is on these last two client groups which is why they’re grouped together as a B.  Sure, the A’s will and should always receive a focus – but these are long game clients.  However, the most consistent results will be achieved in dealing with those with either Misplaced or Apathetic Loyalty to their incumbent.  These relationship states are where the most unrealised value exists.  It is the process of realising this value that generates the opportunity to create new client relationships.

Next time you are talking with your clients or prospects, remember what Ross Perot said:

Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face.  You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers

This model applies to both the incumbent and disrupting sales person/business.  You need to constantly explore and confirm that you client is both satisfied and loyal.  This should be articulated in your CRM as it is these two sentiments that drive how you manage the relationship.  Both of these sentiments are the best defence to someone usurping your position as the incumbent as but a crack in either can give them a handhold to grasp on to.

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