Category: How To Sell

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.

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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.

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? 

The Goldilocks Client

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We’ve all had them (or have them).  Clients for who nothing is perfect.  You’re too slow to respond, the pricing is too high, your solution is full of holes, they object to every piece of advice et al.

As sales people, they are the source of many avoided phone calls or rapid succession of expletives post call.  We end up not enjoying working with them and, as a result, they don’t like working with us.  Two things happen:  a relationship of mutual detestation develops and then (or your client may jump to this point), they leave.

For many, the departure of the client is one of relief.  ‘Thank heavens they’re gone’ is the exclamation from the relationship manager.

Some of you will also have witnessed the situation where a client, who was previously perceived as a terribly difficult client by one relationship manager, is transferred to a new relationship manager and they get on like a house on fire.  A previous difficult client becomes tame and amiable.

What happened?

It is easy for the sales person or relationship manager to blame their client.  ‘They are just difficult and hard to please!’.  This is easy because it externalises the problem however, more often than not, it is better to look at yourself in this situation.  Yes, there are a handful of truly demanding clients out there – but it is rare to come across a client who doesn’t want a solution and relationship which is ‘just right’.

So, how do difficult clients get created?

Lack Of Understanding Of ‘Just Right’

As sales professionals, we spend an extraordinary amount of time in discovery to seek to understand the problems and opportunities our clients face and how we can create solutions to improve their situation.  This is selling.

Do we go through the same discover process to understand what a clients’ expectation of our service proposition is?  If a client tells us they want us to be ‘responsive’ – do we know what this looks like to them?  Or do we make assumptions based on our view of ‘responsive’.  Often a demanding client is a factor of us making assumptions as to how they wish to be served.  Wrong assumptions.

You have to have an open conversation with your clients around what is expected and offered in a sales relationship.  If your clients are judging you on the service you provide – you owe it to them and yourself to explore the criteria to which they are judging you.  What does excellent service look like to them?  Not just the terms, but what delivering it looks like.

The offer/expectation model is used extensively in employee/employer relationships and works brilliantly in sales too.  Understanding what a client expects from you (and you from them) at the outset and where this diverges from what you’re offering allows you to discuss the gap before it presents itself as a problem.  Before the client feels let down.

Be warned, you can also over-service your clients.  We always worry about under-servicing them and because of this, in certain situations we can over service them.  Service being ‘too hot’ can be just as damaging for some client relationships.  You see this with call cycle – often relationship managers will call clients on a set cycle because their business says ’90 day call cycles’ – but have we asked the client if this is what they want?

Consistency is similarly important here.  If you serviced a client well and then your service drops off – expect them to become demanding.  You set (or reset) and expectation with them.

Setting the expectations at the outset, like any good relationship, allays many future issues, but is irregularly undertaken in sales.

Lack of Spine

My favourite topic.  It is drummed in to sales people that ‘the customer is always right’.  Well, they aren’t always right.  If this was the case, they wouldn’t need you and would buy your services in an e-procurement model.  If they always knew what they needed and were correct in their decision, advice based selling wouldn’t exist.

Too many sales people create demanding clients by allowing themselves to be steamrolled through fear of offending their clients.

A demanding client exists because they have learned, from you or prior sales people, that the way to get action is through being demanding. Sales people have coached them in to this by being order takers, not advisors.

As sales people, we can’t be afraid of saying no to our clients when what they’re doing isn’t in their best interest.  Telling them that what they want, isn’t what they need.  We have to understand our clients well enough that, when we have these difficult conversations, we can substantiate why what we are proposing is in their best interests.

Free giving is a good example.  Some sales people, to avoid difficult situations, heavily shade pricing or waive conditions to smooth the path and pre-empt any objections.  They then let themselves down by not explaining to their customer what they’ve done and, importantly, why they’ve done it.  As a result, what is a highly negotiated deal for the sales person, is now normal deal for the client.  This may help you win this deal – but will often create a future demanding client when you, or the next sales person, can’t match this later.

Too often, sales people act subservient to their clients.  You are the expert in your field!  However, if you don’t lead your client, they will lead (or leave) you. If you know your client well enough – you should have the fortitude to have the difficult conversations with them when it is in their interests to do so.

Goldilocks didn’t have someone to ask her how hot she liked her soup or how firm she liked her bed – so she had to try them all.  But your clients have you.  Don’t let your service and selling be a trial and error experiment for your clients.  Understand them – especially how they like to be managed.  Suddenly, demanding clients will be a thing of the past.

Source: LinkedIn

3 Reasons To Not ‘Compete’ With Your Clients

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Sales is often viewed as competitive.   It can easily be seen as such as we talk winning and losing sales.  Sales people compete with one another.  We talk strategies to overcome objections, strategies to close sales.  We measure conversation rates.  We ‘ring a bell’ when we get back to the office as a sign of success.  Everyone high fives and congratulates the sales person – very few ask about how the client felt.  Ask how the sale improved the clients situation.

There are some key issues where this competitive focus can become detrimental to client satisfaction and, ultimately, sales success:

Adversarial Mindset

What can happen is this creates an ‘adversarial’ view of our client.  Someone we need to win.  To conquer.  This can create a ‘win at all costs’ sales approach where the victory of the sale is more important than the satisfaction of the client.  Sometimes resulting in a sales person winning the battle of the sale – only to now have to wage war with a client they never should have sold to, or sold to incorrectly.

Our clients aren’t adversaries.  They’re the lifeblood of our business.  Without them we have no reason to exist.  Why compete with them?  Especially when we need to work with them the following day.

Size versus Impact

We see this in sales regularly – situations where the most celebrated sale is the biggest sale of the month or the sale that generated the most margin/revenue.  However, do you stop to consider that your smallest sale of the month could have been the one that have the most significant value to your client.

This thinking can result on the effort you put in for smaller sales.  The care.  Choosing to dig in for the big sales at the expense of the smaller ones.  With little regard to the value of that sale to the client and their business.  We can forget that for our clients that single interaction is the only one they may have with our business that month.  To us it is one interaction of many on the way to our monthly target.  Do we risk demeaning that interaction as a result of scaling our effort to match the value of the transaction to us?

No Sale, No Interest

Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them. ~ Kevin Stirtz

In fact, that client interaction may not even be a sale.  Because of this competitive mindset, you can run the risk of losing interest where there isn’t a sale.  Relationship management is often about administrative tasks that don’t (directly) contribute to your sales results.  It is easy to lose interest in these tasks in lieu of winning deals.  We can get annoyed with clients calling or emailing us for ‘mundane tasks’ that take our attention away from ‘selling’ (do you see the irony?).  Again, we not only forget that this may be the only (and possibly last) interaction our clients have with us this month – but seldom think that it may be next month we’re selling them something.

It is when sales people realise that, in fact, they are on the same side as the client, working in their mutual interests, that genuine selling occurs.  Sure, they need to meet the needs of the business they’re working for – but only do so where it truly meets the needs of the client first.

Sales isn’t a tug of war with your client.  Sure a competitive sales culture isn’t a bad thing – but sales is much more rewarding and sustainable when you walk with you client, rather than feel you’re competing with them to win.

Fries With That?

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If you are an advisor to your client – you understand their challenge or opportunity, you work with them to assess the solutions and you assist them in procuring a solution.  You sell to their needs.

Yet, in business sales we continually encounter the term ‘cross sale’ and ‘cross selling’ – why is this? Cross Selling is often defined as:

It is often defined as ‘the act of encouraging a client who buys one product to buy a related one‘ or ‘the practice of selling additional products or services to existing customers‘.

This sales term stems from 3 key challenges in sales:

  • Order taking v order making
  • Incomplete sales processes
  • Selfish selling

If you do your job properly as a professional sales person – it isn’t about ‘cross selling’ it is simply about selling.  You don’t add products or services on, you sell your client a top-class solution that meets their needs.  It isn’t about add-ons and extras – it is about comprehensive solutions.  It is about advice led selling.

Let’s look at the three issues separately:

Order Taking v Order Making

If you let a client come in and tell you what they need and provide them with this – your client is in control of the sales process, not you.  You are simply fulfilling their order.  As you aren’t in control of the sales process, you need to ‘cross-sell’ to your client.

A great example of this is Amazon, or most other online retail platforms (and is the challenge of many traditional face to face retail models).  Their customesrs come to their site looking for a specific book or item.  At this point, Amazon aren’t in control of the process.  But what they do to resume some control is present ‘Other customers who bought this also purchased….’ solutions.  They try to cross-sell.

But, clients are a little more cynical with cross selling of this nature.  They often see it as a vain attempt to ‘get more money’ of them.  To sell more product.

It isn’t actually cross-selling.  What it is is an attempt to shift the control of the sales process back to the sales person from the customer.

The point here is you can avoid the entire cross selling issue in a new sales situation by assuming control of the sales process from the outset and selling to your client.  Even if your client comes to you wanting to purchase a specific product, drive the conversation back to why before simply selling them what they ask for (doing this is professional sales negligence!)

Incomplete Sales Processes

The other area cross selling presents itself is where there were gaps in the original sales process.  Certain key products or solutions weren’t discussed with the client which should have been.  Value was left on the table unaddressed so businesses view they have to cross-sell to their clients to backfill these gaps.  Product penetration reports are a fantastic example of this where businesses and sales leaders focus on these and direct their sales team to ‘fill the gaps.  Gaps that shouldn’t exist if the sales process was done correctly in the first place.  The issue here is shrewd clients will wonder why this wasn’t sold in the first place and, for the sales person, you effectively have to go through the sales process twice.  A waste of your and your clients time.

Yet again, this isn’t cross-selling, it is simply going back to sell to your clients properly.  Doing what should have been done in the first place.  You can remove the need for cross selling by ensuring your sales team have thorough and disciplined needs based conversations with your clients from the outset.

Sure, there will be certain times when a client’s position changes and they warrant new solutions – but, again, this isn’t cross-selling…this is still just selling.

Selfish Selling

The best (or worst) for last.  It is this area that gives cross selling it’s negative connotations – both for clients and sales people.

If you look on Wikipedia – it is stated there:

The objectives of cross-selling can be either to increase the income derived from the client or clients or to protect the relationship with the client or clients.

Now, what many people forget to read is the subsequent disclaimer:

Unlike the acquiring of new business, cross-selling involves an element of risk that existing relationships with the client could be disrupted. For that reason, it is important to ensure that the additional product or service being sold to the client or clients enhances the value  the client or clients get from the organization.

Cross-selling is an often used internal sales term which is a defacto statement for:

  • Sticky Client – we’ll make it too hard for them to leave us
  • Increase Revenue – we need to make more money per client
  • Wallet Share – let’s lock the competitors out

All of these address the first point, but don’t address the second.  Too often cross-selling is done for the perceived benefit of the vendor, not the client.  Sales teams are regularly measured on products/client, revenue/client, and similar metrics and, as a result, can sometimes lose sight of the client value in the sale and sell because they have to, not because their clients needs it.

Undeniably, cross-selling is a useful strategy in certain industries – such as the aforementioned ecommerce space.  It is important where you have a client driven sales process.

However, cross-selling has NO place in advice based, consultative selling.  If as a sales leader, you are asking your sales team to cross-sell – you have a flawed sales process and it is better to spend time addressing why there is the need to cross sell in the first place.

The biggest issue with cross-selling is it is usually a sales person led initiative.  Because, if it were a client led initiative, it would simply be called selling.  It is a term that must die in advice based selling.

Your clients are engaging with you because you are a professional.  They are engaging with you to be sold a comprehensive solution.  Cross-selling is therefore counter-intuitive in this model because if you have done your job properly there is nothing to cross sell.

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.

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.

What Can Sales Learn From Gaming

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“To me, gamification is finding the way to incent the behaviors that you want your team to have.”  – Dave McDermott, Director of Sales Enablement, Kelly Services, Dreamforce 2013’s Gamification Forum

Gamification has become a buzz word in sales.  It drives off the combination of both micro and macro task competitiveness to improve outcomes – whether completely on a solo or social basis.  Gamers for years have had an innate satisfaction from both micro tasks (like completing a particularly difficult part of a level or a specific task) or macro tasks (like beating a boss or finishing the game).  Many game publishes provide ‘achievements’ within their game to recognise this and allow the player to compare their prowess with others or strive for 100% completion of a game.  This doesn’t just recognises the players performance; it encourages it.   It improves the playability of games – both in terms of enjoyment and duration.  It allows seemingly mindless tasks, like baking bread in Minecraft, to be recognised as an achievement.  If my daughter’s squeals of delight in the weekend were anything to go by – it works.

This gamification has come across to sales as a means of similarly encouraging and recognising the achievements of sales people.  But, I wonder if we’ve missed something in doing this.  Gaming is so much more than the achievements and there are many more important lessons we can learn from gaming.  As a gamer, the achievements are important and a great way to brag to fellow gamers – particularly when the achievement is difficult to obtain. However, there are many more parallels between gaming and sales.  What do gaming and sales have in common and what can sales learn from gaming and gamers?

Micro tasks lead to macro outcomes

In line with the gamification focus – gaming has recognising the successful completion of many small tasks can result in the achievement of a large one.  Also, and importantly, gaming recognises the incremental achievement, not just the overall outcome, as important and rewardable.

In sales, we often simply focus on the ultimate outcome of our efforts – the successfully closed sale (or not as the case may be).  As a result, we don’t always recognise that whilst we achieved the sale, there may have been some suboptimal components within the sales process that we need to work on. In essence, a pass is good enough to move on – we don’t aim for 100% completion.

Similarly, when we don’t close the sale, we view it as a failure yet there may have been some absolutely stunning discrete pieces of work within the sale at a micro level which are worth recognising, rewaring and most certainly replicating.

Social is better than solo

The current trend in gaming is the move to online, multiplayer games.  Whether playing against or with friends and other gamers – gaming is social.  It is best enjoyed together.  Leaderboards work because you are comparing yourself to other people.  Achievements work because your friends and others can see them.

But it is more than that competition.  It is also about collaboration.  Some games are just no fun (or impossible) to play by yourself.  You need a mix of skills to successfully, or optimally complete the game.

Sales isn’t any different – it is a skill best deployed with people around you.  People you can share both successes and failures with.  People who can help you achieve your tasks and who can accentuate your skills with their own.  Learning from the successful around you and helping others to become successful.  Competing on a healthy basis with your peers and on a vigorous basis with your competitors.

Despite what they say, it is always competitive

Gaming is always about competition.  If playing solo or cooperatively – you are competing against the AI and yourself.  If versus – it is about beating the other player(s).

Sales is no different – it is competitive.  Not necessarily in the mercenary sense against your colleagues or clients – but unless you’re in the unique position of having your market all to yourself, there is always competition for your clients businesses.  Never forget this.

Practice is essential

As much as it pains many parents the world over, you get better at gaming by playing it more often.  Hours spent staring at TV screens and monitors by people the world over as they master their gaming skills.  Sometimes you need to practice complicated movements offline before you can take those skills to the competitive arena to dominate your enemy.  If you play competitively or professionally, there are hours of contracted practice and scrimmage to work through to hone your team tactics and roles before you meet your competitors for a real match.

Sales isn’t any different.  It is a profession so we need to treat it professionally.  It is, like an eSport, a skill that needs to be practiced.   Yes this means role plays, video analysis, coaching, feedback and all manner of tools.  You will have a skill threshold which is naturally yours – surpassing this will require practice and external support.

New games level the playing field

You have a game mastered – you can absolutely dominate your peers and all comers.  Then the unthinkable happens – a new game comes out and all your friends start playing this.  You’re left with some of the best skills, but no one to play against.  You need to start playing this new game and you’re not good at it.  You’ve gone from the top to the bottom.

Again, there are lessons here for sales.  Competitive advantages can be wiped overnight.  Pricing benefits can be quickly matched by competitors.  New products or ways of selling can catch you stationary.

As a sales person, you need to be both multi-disciplined and adaptive.  You can’t hang your hat of a single sales skill/technique or on something you can’t control like price or product.  You can’t get complacent that you will always have competitive superiority to the market or ‘own’ a market niche.  Things change and can do so quickly.

There is always a ‘boss fight’ somewhere

All gamers know this pain.  Hitting a part in a level or game which is soul-destroyingly difficult to pass.  For me, I still recall trying to achieve full gold licenses in Gran Turismo or the hours I spent trying to beat Donkey Kong (yes, this shows my age).  Games have inbuilt skill filters.  They realise the next level is going to be difficult, so in order to be worthy enough to unlock it, you have to prove your skill with a boss battle of some description.

There are often boss battles in sales.  Whether it is dealing with objections from left field, a competitor who swoops in at the last minute, an incumbent who drops price to retain business after 12 months of you selling to their client, or a difficult decision maker who was previously amiable – skill challenges will present themselves in sales.  Your skills don’t have to just be good enough to deal with the day to day, they need to be good enough to deal with these boss battles.

You can always get better

These boss battles also highlight something else in games – what was seemingly impossible yesterday, can be simple tomorrow.  Like trying to work out fatality combinations in Mortal Kombat where, when you start, you almost turn your fingers in to pretzels and still only do a front kick.  A month later your fingers fluidly dance across the keypad and your opposing friends sits there in awe as your onscreen character destroys half their health bar in a 30 sec flurry of fists, feet and special move.

In sales – no matter how good you think you are; tomorrow you can be better.  There are always new skills to learn and old skills to improve.  There is always something you can fine tune, mitigate, or learn.  It is a matter of being good enough, or the best you can be – the choice is yours.

There is always someone better at it than you

This brings up another truism in gaming.  No matter how good you think you are, there is a 99.9% change there is always someone better than you and if you’re the best today, that person will come along tomorrow.  I’ll confess I’ve been both the recipient and provider of this learning experience in gaming.  Challenging players to 1v1 games because you think they need some ‘skooling’ only to find it is you who learns the lesson.

There is always someone better at you in sales.  And, if they’re not better than you as a whole, they may have certain skill areas which surpass you.  And, if they don’t, they could learn them and be better than you tomorrow.  Like the previous example, sometimes your best isn’t good enough to prevail over your competitor.  We just need to accept this as a fact and either improve ourselves to fight a better battle or appreciate that we aren’t going to win every encounter.  We could just ‘rage quit’ or choose to lose graciously to a better sales person.  Some of my best online friends now are people who previously destroyed me.  There is a strong learning opportunity here – especially if they are in your team.

Finally, People play differently

Gamers are very diverse and as a result, they all play differently.  You regularly encounter differing gaming styles which can upset your game play, infuriate you, make you laugh or marvel at their skill.  In games, there are many different ways to achieve the outcome – it could be stealthily slithering through the level without firing a gun or being seen, or (which is my style) running headlong in to the action with guns a blazing.  Both of these styles may work and, unsurprisingly, can also be a great compliment for one another.  Many a gamer as laid down their digital life so another in their team can achieve the objective.

Remember, sales is a people skill and people career.  As a result, people will bring with them their personality, attitudes and preconceptions.  They will do things differently to you in many cases.  This doesn’t make them wrong – just different.  You need to be adaptive to these differences.  Whether it is a client with an opposing personality style to you or a colleague with a different way of approaching a task or meeting.  It is these differences which make things interesting and these differences which can, in some situations, allow you to achieve a task which you couldn’t have completely by yourself if you work with them.

So, while we think about gamification in a sales leaderboard and motivational sense, consider the above.  Gaming can be seen as a ‘waste of time’ or ‘escapism’ and convey many other negative connotations at times, though there are many synonyms and lessons we can draw from the industry.  It is only growing and, we’re already seeing sales infiltrate gaming through product placement and sponsorship.  Hopefully, we can see more of gaming infiltrate sales.

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