Category: Mindset

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.

Reflect, Refine, Reset

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Life in sales is often frantic with many tasks competing for our attention. While we have the encumbrances of a ‘financial year’, seldom does this afford us with the real opportunity to sit back and reflect. There is a Zen saying:

We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see

And this plays very true in sales. It is usually when our clients are quiet that we have this ‘still water’ to reflect wholly on ourselves. This time of year around the traditional holiday season affords us with the stillness to reflect. Unfortunately, too often we cram it full of things which seem important (like tidying up files, organising email boxes, CRM etc) rather than taking the opportunity to personally reflect, refine and reset our mindset and processes for the coming year ahead.

In sales, there are 4 main areas we (whether from the perspective of a sales person or leader/coach) should be reflecting on where we will usually trip ourselves up:

Right Things

Results don’t achieve themselves – they are a factor of doing the right things. Whilst we often have KPI’s in sales which measure the outputs of what we do, we need to clearly define what the right things to do are.

The question here is ‘Are you doing the right things to achieve your results?‘. There will always be things we can identify that we should be doing but aren’t.

Naturally, the next question to ask yourself is ‘If I should be doing them, why aren’t I?‘. It could be as simple as lack of prioritisation or planning. You just aren’t setting time aside to do what you need to do and, as a result, other tasks are filling that void/time.

It could be that you aren’t confident in doing them or don’t know how, so avoid them. In which case, be honest with yourself. If you know you need to do them and know you don’t know how or feel uncomfortable executing them the next question should be obvious: ‘What I am going to do about it?’. Where can you go or who can you lean on to support you developing the skills and/or confidence to do the things you know you should be doing. There are many avenues open to your here once you’ve identified these actions – seeking peer support from high performers, using your sales leader, formal/informal training and practice.

There is another question which is far more difficult to answer yourself – ‘What should I be doing, but don’t know I should be doing it?’. Are those more successful than you better because they are doing things you don’t even know you could and should be doing? How do you find this out? Well, you ask them, observe them, shadow them. Often these people don’t know you don’t know. If you ask, most will be all too happy to help. They will also likely be the people who will help you when you can’t do something or feel uncomfortable.

As a sales leader, do you know the things your sales team should be doing? Do you know what is separating the great from the good from the mediocre and under-performing? If you don’t, how can you help an individual sales person become aware of what they should, but currently aren’t, doing?

Things Right

Obviously, if it were as simple as just knowing the right things to do, we’d all be superstars with this knowledge. I hypothetically know how a house is built, but would I build one?

The next question to ask is, ‘Knowing what you should be doing, are you doing them right?’. Are you executing these things correctly? This is a more qualitative question to ask yourself and one that requires you to be very honest with yourself. Often this can and is measured in sales through various conversion/success ratios, so can sometimes be quite obvious, other times it is degrees of success. A great example is where you ‘win’, but not everything. You leave value on the table unaddressed. So it looks like success – but is sub-optimal. Failure is easy to identify – we you can’t do something it is obvious. However, you can win poorly, inefficiently or despite your shortfalls. This is much harder to identify. We often ‘think’ we’re good at what we do (and blame failures on external influence), but the external perception can be vastly different. How do you better understand this?

  • Seek feedback and advice. Again, observe high performers in terms of not just ‘what’ they do, but how they do it. Ask them to observe you and provide feedback – and it goes within saying, be open to receiving it
  • Ask your clients. Ultimately, the single biggest perspective that matters is that of your clients. Analyse your wins and your losses. Seek feedback regularly – make it a habit. I observed a sales person ask a client ‘Is there anything I should be doing for you that I’m not currently?’ Brave question – but the responses were insightful. But it didn’t finish there. She then followed up by asking ‘Is there anything I’m doing now that is annoying you?’. She opened her Johari window with a whoosh.

If you’re doing the same things, in the same way and expecting different results, you’re definitely setting yourself up for disappointment. Just look at the evolution of digital/social sales, client available information and industry disruption. I would argue that even waiting to reflect annually may be too late given the speed of change in the sales industry. Not knowing is also not an excuse either. You can always ask, you just have to want to.

There is another factor here which can determine your success in doing things right which we’ll cover below – and that is the right reason; your why.

As a sales leader, you must actively observe your team to understand if they are doing things right. The analogy is to be the jockey on the horse, rather than the trainer in the stand – making timely, subtle and relevant adjustments and suggestions regularly to keep your sales people at the front of the pack.

If you find yourself struggling with your development plan actions – it is most definitely because you don’t understand the above. You have limited awareness of your current state and ideal state – so have no idea what needs development. This is something for sales leaders to keep in mind when they see their team struggling with development plans.

Right Volume

Assuming you have the above two locked and loaded – the next question is ‘Am I doing enough of the right things?‘.

In a nut shell, if you know the right things to do and how the execute them properly, are you doing enough of them?

This is often where prioritisation, distraction and apathy can set it. It is also where, as sales leaders, we need to be careful with targets. We often think this is about setting a minimum expectation for our sales team, but we also risk setting an upper limit on this performance as well. We can get to a situation where our high performers go ‘well, I think I’ve done enough’ based on where they sit against target (yes, hiring the right staff with the right mindset shouldn’t see this happening).

The volume question is quite simple and, in reality, is often what we measure first in sales unfortunately. As a result, we risk ending up with a sales team completing many of the wrong tasks incorrectly and lots of activity, without much output. But we look busy. When then try and fix output shortcomings by raising volume – but not always looking at whether we are doing the right things and executing them correctly.

Right Mindset

Last, but by no means least, is our mindset. As a sales person, the question to ask is ‘Why am I selling?’. This can be something both difficult to identify and harder to adjust. It can also be something that, whilst we blame the sales person, can be the influence of the leadership or organisation.

Are you selling because you ‘need the income’, ‘can’t do anything else’, ‘want to make lots of money’ and the list goes on? There is often one thing consistent with sales people who are consistently successful in the long term – they sell because they ‘want to help their clients’, they ‘want to improve their clients position’, they ‘believe what they offer can make a difference’. The key difference is where their purpose is centered. It is centered on the client, not themselves. Without a doubt, in delivering this, they themselves will be successful, but this is an output, not a driver. They know and trust this will happen, but wake up, put their clothes on and come to work thinking about their clients.

Getting this right means you will

  • use greater discretionary effort at work,
  • care more,
  • have better relationship with your clients,
  • seek out the right things you should be doing and
  • seek out the best way to do things things

As sales leaders, we need to tread carefully here as we can influence the ‘why’. Ensuring we are consistent in delivering the strategic vision of the business, that your team understand and agree with it, and we measure and reward against it is important. If we know what the right things to do are, how to execute them properly and how much of it should be done – our job is to sweep all the other dross and noise out of the way and both empower and motivate our sales team to get on with the job. Guiding them to be more effective at it.

This time of year is the perfect opportunity to reflect, reset and refine our sales mindset and processes – are you using it wisely?

No…

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The one word sales people often fear, irrationally.

Often perceived as absolute in its meaning; usually negatively at that. For sales people, it has the perception of the end. An inability to do business or continue doing business with a client and, emotionally, also strikes at the ego of sales people as it resonates with the client not wishing to do business with you. Ouch.

We encounter it regularly in life – and it is often a response we ourselves fall on unconsciously. Think about when you’re window shopping and approached by a sales assistant – you’ll probably say ‘No, I just looking thanks’ often without thinking; even if you do actually need help. Think about parenting and how we learn to say ‘no’ rather than ‘maybe’ so we don’t enter in to a circuitous debate or fall foul of the fantastic situational memory kids have.

The reality is you’ll struggle to find any sales person, no matter how successful they’ve been or are, who hasn’t had a client say ‘no’ to them. Sometimes repeatedly, even from the same client.

If you roll your memory back to school and your affection for your school crush.  Did you ask them out? If you didn’t – why not? I can pretty much guarantee you it wasn’t because you were scared they’d say ‘yes’.  Instead, subtle hints are planted in the hopes they notice you and something happens naturally. Nothing does and you’re left wondering ‘what if?’. Sometimes the most attractive opportunities go wanting as no one is prepared to ask for it – not only are we scared of a ‘no’, we actually grow to expect it so can avoid situations where it happens.

The problem with this fear of ‘no’ for sales people is the same. Through the fear of receiving a ‘no’, we can often stop ourselves from asking for their business because we don’t want ‘no’ as an answer.  Worse, we can often not undertake any actions to avoid receiving a ‘no’ in the first place. Think of cold calling as an example. However, in doing this, we also never get a ‘yes’. Instead, we dance around our desire to do business with them in the hopes the client asks to do business with us, or sit at our desks wondering why clients aren’t ringing us to do business.

Why do we often have as many closing strategies in sales training as we have for those to overcome objections? I wonder if is because the client isn’t the problem – but it is because sales people often never ask for the business, at the wrong time or poorly. One of the biggest flaws many sales people have is they don’t actually ask for the business. They can often do all the right things on the way through, but never come out explicitly and ask their clients to do business together.  You’re probably shaking your head…..how about this old sales adage then:

‘I don’t sell to clients, they buy from me’

Ask yourself when you hear this (from you or someone else) – is this just a euphemism for this very problem in sales?  Sometimes, this may as well say ‘I don’t like asking for my clients business, so I wait until they ask if they can do business with me’. Successful sales people sell to their clients – unashamedly.

The other issue with fear of the ‘no’ is we often wait until the end of the sales process to ask our clients if we can do business together.  We dither and delay around asking the question. Sure, we can convince ourselves that we are laying a ground work of value first before asking…but are we? Or do we just not have the confidence to ask our clients outright?   Successful sales people start closing from the outset. They are discussing with their clients what their buying drivers are from the beginning of the sales process and asking ‘if I can deliver these for you, could we do business?’.  They close on a ‘conditional’ basis from the beginning of the sale, knowing what the client values and that they could and should do business.

Why is this important? Both your clients time and your time is expensive and finite.  Unfortunately and surprisingly, some clients will spend time in the sales process with no intention of actually buying unless explicitly asked. Excuse the crude analogy – but it is like flirting and never asking for their phone number. You have fun at the time, but go home alone. So if you don’t ask, you’ll spend a fair amount of time going no where. Yes, this does happen more often than we realise. Meanwhile, there are far more motivated clients who you could and should be doing business with, but aren’t.

One of the biggest issues with the fear of the ‘no’ is that it isn’t actually the end….if you’ve sold properly on the way through the process.  Most, if not all, successful sales people will have examples of clients who have said ‘no’, only for them to go on and do business together later.

Why? A ‘no’ doesn’t scare the successful sales person off. A ‘no’ puts a stake in the ground and provokes the conversation to change tone. It allows the sales person to explore the hurdles between the current state and them doing business with their clients.  Clients say ‘no’ for many reasons and are often, unless you’ve truly destroyed the sales process, a point in time decision. Some clients, like our shopping example, saying ‘no’ instinctively.

They can be a reflection of the fact you haven’t addressed all their needs, or address them properly. They can be resultant from a change in thinking mid-way through the sales process. There are a plethora of reasons which you can find out, if you’re willing to stay in the game. The absolutely wrong things you can do as a sales person when a client says ‘no’ is to a) run off with your tail between your legs (woe is me) or, worse, b) throw your toys (&^%#$ the client).  This is almost certain to burn a bridge with the client.

The right thing to do is to explore why, determine whether it is end game or simply pause and form a strategy to move on. If it is a firm ‘no’ – knowing why is crucial in sales. It is where you learn and change. To simply walk away is dooming you to repeat your past. Ask the client if you can stay in touch (things to change, and rapidly in this market) and agree to this (and don’t let yourself down by not following through!).

Also, even if their ‘no’ is completely definitive, it is still useful. It allows you to redirect your activity to other opportunities. You have qualified that client as one you can’t (currently) do business with. Whilst it is obviously preferable to do business with them, a no is still useful. It takes the ‘what if’ off the table. It is certain and therefore actionable. It saves you, and your client, from investing any more time and you can focus on more promising opportunities.

Successful sales people aren’t afraid of clients saying ‘no’ – sure they do everything in their power to minimise situations where it happens, but they appreciate the a ‘no’ can be as useful as a ‘yes’ in sales. They certainly don’t avoid asking for business through fear of receiving one.

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.

Step Back To See Ahead

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The past week of being sick has been frustrating. A desire to work, but an inability to execute.

What I have found is that by not being able to deliver on the micro, ‘now’ tasks – the macro ones get more attention.

My thinking becomes less about what I need to do today (given I can’t) and more about tomorrow and beyond.

Strategy replaces execution.

Sales is a highly dynamic professional life and one that easily sucks you in to ‘now’. The doing.  Sometimes and often at the expense of tomorrow.  The thinking.

Notes in your CRM from todays meetings seem less relevant today. Those clients who don’t have pieces of work on today are often shelved behind those that do. Looking at your business suffers in lieu of being in it.

High noise issues replace high importance ones.

Doing usurps thinking.

To be forced to not be able to execute today originally had me wracked with guilt. But what I now realise is I will be far more focused tomorrow. So, being sick has reminded me how important strategic thinking is.

Yes. Failing to plan does set you up for failure. But it can seem like you’re succeeding while it’s happening because you’re accomplishing things today.  It is only when you lift your head and see you’re not where you expected or wanted to be that you realise, unchecked, ticking off a to do list only works if that list is driven by your strategy.  No matter how many ticks you have.

To be more successful, step back to see ahead.

Discretionary Effort: Sales Secret Sauce

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Recently Dan Symons commented on how ‘discretionary effort’ is often the secret behind successful sales people.  Where sales people choose to deploy the fullest of their effort when working with clients rather than ‘just enough’ – stunning sales result can, and usually do, occur.

Read more on his LinkedIn Pulse Article

Discretionary Effort – LinkedIn Pulse Article

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.

Celebrate Happiness

065/365: Show us your smile!

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Hit the target, lift the bar, hit the target, lift the bar.  Live in sales can sometimes resemble ground hog day.

Sales is a constant series of small sprints within a long race.  We have targets, KPI’s, deadlines and a myriad of other external drivers to keep us focused on achieving both micro and macro goals.

How many times have you heard, or used, the phrase ‘I’ll be happy when….’?  We usually think that we will be happy once we are successful.  So we chase success in the hope we’ll then be happy.  But does this work?  Refer this video by @ShawnAchor:

‘Success’ is a usually a moving feast.  We achieve it and recognise it for the briefest of moments before we either reset our expectations or the next ‘race’ begins.  An example of this most of us can relate to is a month’s end/beginning.  We may have had a fantastic month and recognise this success in a fleeting moment.  However, what is laid out in front of us is the next months quota to fill so any happiness garnered from the success of the last month is quickly overtaken by the focus on efforts needed to achieve the coming months targets.  And, if we don’t worry about achieving our target, we will worry about something else.  Whether it is client satisfaction, margins, retention, etc – we are conditioned to worry about achieving some metric or KPI.  As a result, it is difficult for sales people to be happy and, if we are, even more difficult to hold on to.

The weird thing is, we can often manifest this happiness in front of clients – but do we live it in the office?

Stress is counter-productive in sales.  Worrying about achieving target can make you do things you shouldn’t.

  • It can make you focus on transactions rather than relationships.
  • It can make you focus on short term gains rather than long term successes.
  • It can make you focus on any client, rather than the right ones.
  • It can make you distrust your plan

As sales people and sales leaders, we need to make sure we take the time to honour success and celebrate happiness.  The trusim is that if we are looking for our happiness to be driven by our success and our measurement for success is constantly lifting – how are we ever going to be happy?  We actually have to focus on being happy first.

If you’ve hired the correct sales people/team – as a sales leader, you shouldn’t have to bang on to them about their targets and other metrics.  You should be focused on providing the environment & motivation for them to be successful.  Maybe that focus is on making sure they’re happy first?  There is little argument in sales circles that happy staff will lead to happy clients.

If succeeding is something we do to be happy as a sales person, maybe we have the equation around the wrong way as Shawn Achor suggests.  Maybe success is actually driven from happiness?  Maybe a fun work place is a key to success?

Rather than driving happiness from success – maybe happiness is a key skill to being a successful sales person and creating it to successful sales leadership?

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. Pleasefollow my LinkedIn post page for all my articles.

Are You Average?

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“By definition, it is not possible to everyone to be above the average.”  James C. Collins

The ‘great’ people and personalities we immediately think of didn’t become iconic through doing what every one else did or just meeting expectations.  Sir Edmund Hillary is great example – his feat many years ago is even today difficult for people to achieve despite the considerable advance in technology supporting them.

Why then, in sales, do we often refer to someone doing what was expected, normal or promised as great service?  Is it great service?

If we take ‘great’ to be defined as ‘above average’ and take this in to the sales arena – by that same definition, doing what everyone else is doing isn’t great service – it’s just service.

Also, extrapolating out that definition, anything above ‘average’ could be construed as great service couldn’t it?  Well, yes it could – however, by who’s definition?  The customers of course.  This is an important distinction as in sales do you know what your client expects from you a sales person?  Do you know what their ‘average’ is?  If you don’t – how can you exceed it?  How can you provide great service?

Providing great service needn’t be about grandiose gestures, massive expense or ceremony – more often than not, it is the regular undertaking of small, meaningful actions which provide great service.  Stressing the words, regular and meaningful.  Great one off gestures quickly lose their value if not repeated and, in fact, can ultimately diminish client sentiment if they get to briefly experience great service and only receive ordinary service there after.  Similarly effort placed in to significant service activity which is valueless to the client is misdirected as the clients often think, but seldom say, ‘what a waste of time’.

In our personal lives, we go the extra mile for our friends, yet so many sales people don’t do this for their clients.  For example, if you see a concert coming up and you know your friend likes the artist, you’ll remember to tell them.  Would you do this for a client?  Do you know the artists they like?  If you know your clients like crayfish and you’re a diver, would you get them some?  Do you know enough about them to be meaningful? Why not?  We care enough to know what is important to our friends – but do we for our clients?

So now you’re inspired to provide great, distinct, meaningful service.  Now think about this:

  • Do you think you can be great once or twice and this is enough?
  • If you do it all the time for your clients, does it become ‘average’?  So does the ‘great service’ benchmark drift upwards?

Greatness is relative to the service level they’re used to receiving and, more importantly, greatness is about consistency, not about one off gestures.  Continued great service lifts your clients service expectation – hence the need to make a decision to be either consistently great, or consistently average.

The key to being able to provide great service to your clients is simply a matter of executing two things:

  1. Ask them at the outset of your relationship with them what is important to them in a sales relationship.  You need to understand what they value highly and what this looks like (eg respond quickly is good to know – but does quickly mean within the hour or within the day?)
  2. Sense check this understanding with them at regular intervals.  You need to know if what’s important to them has changed and, of course, ask them whether they believe you’ve delivering against it.

Of course, then you have to make a conscious decision to be great knowing and acting on the above.  Greatness isn’t as difficult as we think – but it requires us to think about others and what’s meaningful to them.  It requires us to ask what is important to our clients so we aren’t guessing whether what we do is meaningful, and therefore great, for our clients.  And then it requires us to act great.  To care enough about our client to provide them with a service experience second to none.

As James Collins was quoted everyone, by definition can’t be above average. It requires you to be willing to be above average.  Willing to differentiate yourself.  Willing to care about your client.

Are you average?

Luck Is A Skill

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‘Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor’ H Jackson Jnr

As it’s St Patrick’s Day – let’s focus on luck. Luck is often viewed as an external, mysterious force that appears at random. But is it?

Lotto is a great example – you could buy only one ticket in your life and win. Most will see you as lucky. However, you can completely take luck out of the equation by purchasing tickets for every conceivable number combination and be guaranteed to win. Luck is no longer a factor. However, depending on your point of view, luck still exists. If you didn’t tell anyone how you won, they would still view you as lucky.

The reality of this situation is; in order to be lucky, you have to buy at least one ticket. With each subsequent ticket, you improve your odds. Cover the spread and you remove luck entirely from the equation (albeit materially affecting any ROI on your winnings).

Luck features regularly as well. Sure, sometimes sales people do genuinely experience good fortune. A client can just walk in the door and be incredibly valuable to your business. However, far too many sales people rely on this as a means of making their target. They hope luck will shine on them. Luck should make a great month fantastic, but never be relied upon to hit target. They only buy one ticket – or, worse, some times none and still expect to win.

Successful sales people are often seen as lucky. However, like the Lotto example, they often undertake a number of conscious (and, sometimes, unconscious) activities to improve their odds of being ‘lucky’. To buy more tickets.

It is no coincidence that diligent, positive sales people are repeatedly more successful (or lucky) that those that aren’t. Whilst they can’t entirely control the sales outcome, they can improve the odds through the right behaviours and mindset.

‘Luck’ is often used by lower performing sales people as a way of marginalising the success of those better than them. It is way of rationalising that it was just good fortune so it could happen to them without having to address the fact that they may have to change what they do.

The reality is, luck is usually a small factor in successful sales people’s results. In fact, really successful sales people try to remove luck from their outcomes entirely.

How Can You Improve Your Sales Luck?

The real answer to being sustainably successful in sales isn’t luck.. It is about healthy disciplines and healthy attitudes. Luck becomes a skill because successful sales people know how to manifest it. How?

Robust Sales Process

A disciplined, consistent and tenacious sales process is usually behind successful sales people. They use their tools (diary, CRM etc) effectively to ensure that they capture all material information, schedule follow ups and execute their sales activity efficiently. They set time aside to undertake all the core functions of successful sales activity – whether it is researching new targets, following up prospects, completing administration work. Their diary is booked with meaningful activities and they even schedule their time at their desk. They are almost mercenary about how the regiment their diary to ensure all opportunities are captured.

No or Little Limiting Beliefs

Good sales people learn from their experiences rather than use them to set future expectations that can hold them back. They remain positive that there is always a successful outcome in the sales process. They are open to new ideas, new relationships and don’t judge opportunities and situations until the fully understand them. They don’t just see the acorn, they see the oak tree.

They look to improve rather than criticise situations – this isn’t to say they don’t find fault, they do, but they focus on how they can solve it rather than use this as a reason to give up.

Passion

Good sales people are passionate about the success of their clients as they understand that, in doing so, their own success should follow. They are selfless. It isn’t about selling products and services – it is about helping their clients capture opportunity and mitigate risks. They are genuinely interested in their clients and look to add value to them and their business where ever possible. They are energetic about their work with their clients and those around them.

Network

Successful sales people build strong networks with like minded people who can help them and their clients and who they, in turn, can help. They use their network effectively to improve their odds – whether asking for referrals, offering them, obtaining intelligence, seeking testimonials & endorsements or having them work with them to provide an optimal solution. They use their network to solve other problems their clients may encounter to become an enabler to their client.

Action

Successful sales people don’t wait for the opportunities come to them. They know who their ideal clients are, who they work with and they actively look to engage with them. Not to seek transactions, but to form relationships. They spend more time in the market than unsuccessful sales people. They attend industry events, they invite their clients to functions, they connect their clients with those of value.

Ask

As obvious as it sounds, good sales people ask for business – outright. They don’t leave it unsaid – they say it. They say that they’d love to work with their client and ask them what they need to do to make it happen. They discuss real tangible business with their intermediaries. This isn’t about being brassy, this is about letting their client and their intermediaries understand explicitly that they wish to work with them.

Learning

Good sales people learn. They hone their skills and knowledge to improve the value that they can add to their clients and intermediaries. They take the opportunity to ask the humble questions when they don’t know something, but realise that they need to. They seek best practice and eager consume it and surround themselves with it to improve themselves and ultimately the solutions they can provide their clients. Good sales people lose like anyone. The difference is that don’t use this to form limiting beliefs. They use these losses to fuel future successes. They aren’t fearful of asking their clients what they could or should have done to win their business. They look to stay in touch – they realise that you can lose today, but win tomorrow.

Luck is a sales skill and effective sales behaviours are about improving the odds in your favour. Like the Lotto example, successful sales people try to ‘buy as many tickets as possible’ and where possible look to remove luck or uncertainty from the situation.  It is of little surprise that increased effort usually results in increased luck.

As Benjamin Franklin said

I am a strong believer in luck and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

Sales: A Conscious Career Choice?

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The two words ‘ information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. – Sydney Harris

It is this time of year when girl guide biscuits are on sale. I love it – not for the biscuits – but for the fact it is teaching our children sales skills. There is one example I always smile at. I passed it 2 weeks before the biscuits were on sale – a sign on the side of the road saying ‘Girl Guide Biscuits For Sale Here Soon’. An enterprising young lady has regularly set up a stand in a beachfront carpark on a busy stretch of road in a local suburb. It’s so popular now, she has taken to advising her clients when to expect her back there. What a great example of sales and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, what an exception.

At some point in our young lives – our parents and family tell us we need to consider a career. In fact, in many countries, it isn’t an option to avoid education. We need technical skills to earn a living in our adulthood. We need information. Accordingly, we dive head long in to academia to learn these technical skills. Later in our education we make a decision as to whether we wish to pursue trade skills or further academic skills – but the learning continues.

So from the age of five to our late teens or early twenties we are fully immersed in furthering our technical knowledge to help us earn our living. We are seeking information to serve us well in our career. We learn how to build houses, reconcile financial accounts, design bridges and all other manner of career skills.

But, after all is said and done, we exit our academic life to a work force. A work force where our work isn’t presented on a projector or screen. Where the task is seldom laid out in front of us in explicit detail. We exit to a workforce where we aren’t accountable to a teacher trying to help us learn. We exit to work force with a customer wanting us to help them grow. To help them learn. To help them solve problems and capture opportunities. We enter to a workforce where we have to sell. First, we have to sell ourselves to a future employer to get a job. Then, sell ourselves to our work colleagues so we can work together. Ultimately, we have to sell to clients.

What happens for many is we go in to a sales void before entering our careers. Academic life is about obtaining technical skills – rather than sales skills. It is about giving you the skills to do your job, not to work with clients. Your teacher is there to critique the technical aspects of your learning, not your ability to sell what you’ve learnt to a client. Ultimately, we seek information rather than the ability to communicate it.

These technical skills have long identified us. Our job titles have long been a description of what we do but not why we do it. The titles are functional descriptions of the process – not of the outcome. We are panel beaters, carpenters, lawyers, etc. As a result, making these decisions early in life focuses us on what we do, not on the benefit the client enjoys.

We exit to a workforce after 16-25 years of life often having forgotten and/or neglected any sales skills we naturally had because we just didn’t need them through our academic life. We were so focused on our technical skills, we now have to (re)learn our natural sale skills.

However, it by this point we have often learnedthe stereotype about sales people. As a result, we don’t often sell because we don’t want to be THAT person. No one told us we’d have to sell in this career – I’m not doing that! The prime example that reinforces this is the fact often organisations don’t use the world ‘sales’ in role titles. So if we hide ‘sales’ from our clients, what do our staff think?

There are many careers being taught which are client facing and/or directly involve selling – yet sales and selling skills seldom features in their curriculum. The focus remains on the technical side of the role. There are also many careers being taught which naturally result in people being in business for themselves, again sales and selling seldom features in their training.

Sales isn’t taught as a subject and most certainly isn’t taught as a career path. So how can children entering and in academic life choose to pursue sales as a career? Do they? Most don’t – they choose a career based on their technical aptitude and desires, not because they wish to sell. They become accountants because they are good with numbers – not necessarily because they wish to wish to help clients. They become builders because they are good with their hands, not necessarily because they wish to help clients build the home of their dreams. Many are surprised to find selling features highly in their career choice. Technically, they can be brilliant – as this is what they’ve been learning for so long to do.

It is often the business that has to teach them the skills to translate this knowledge in to a language that is meaningful to their clients – of for the person to learn these skills themselves.

As we move through the modern era of technology – many of these technical skills we value so preciously will be automated. Its often cheaper, quicker, more accurate and consistent. Those houses could be produced in factories by machines in modular form (and, in fact, already are). Accounting is and will continue to be revolutionised by technology, bridges will and are being designed by computers. Many other industries are being challenged by technological automation. However, despite all this technology, someone still has to work with the client to understand where they are, where they want to be and advise the best solution(s) to get there.

We are seeing an interesting dynamic happen in social media. LinkedIn is a great example – people are changing their fucntional job/role titles to identify not with their technical skills but what this means to clients. They are moving towards being advisers and offering solutions and away from being technicians and providing products.

So, is it now time to consider sales as an important career skill and start incorporating it amongst the technical knowledge we learn? Or is it even time to consider it as a career in its own right and start formally offering sales training in an academic sense?

Some of us are naturally entrepreneural. They don’t see a lemon tree, they see thirsty customers on a summers day and a solution in their back yard. But this is the exception not the rule.

Much is discussed around whether sales is learned or natural. We don’t enter this world with a desire to avoid the door to door sales person just like we don’t enter this world with a fear of spiders. We don’t enter this world thinking sales people are white shoe wearing, slick talking, self serving people. We learn them.

We enter this world with no knowledge of sales at all – but we enter this world with the ability to communicate with people. We enter with the ability to sell, just not the skills to do it. We learn those – but we have to choose to.

So why aren’t we fostering this ability as part of the academic journey our children embark on? Why aren’t we giving them the choice and ability to choose sales as a career?

Misfiring Sales?

Failure_to_eject_(FTE),_firearm (1)

Are you finding your sales generation activity isn’t working or has stopped working?

It happens to us all…sometimes it is just the ebb and flow of business cycles and this is normal. Other times it can be because some things have decoupled in how you go about your sales. Whether new to sales and you’re being asked to go out and find some business and what you’re doing isn’t working, or an old hand that has found themselves in a rut – have a look at the below as some common reasons why you’re sales generation has stalled or not fired:

No Clear Targets

When we’re told to sell, the first thing people often think to do is pick the phone up and ring someone. They ‘shotgun’ the sales process aiming to ring many to find the one that wants to work with you. They have no clear line of sight to their ideal clients.

In order to be more successful in your growth activities, the first place to start is to develop a list of those clients who you wish to work with and you think you can add value to.

Sales generation is much easier if, in your own mind, you’ve determined you wish to deal with the client. Your activity has more conviction and your message is more personal and relevant.

No Plan / No Process

Again, like the above, sales activity often happens in a scatter gun approach. It is done when we’re quiet, have some spare time, have the pressure put on from above, when we’re in the hole in our pipeline et al. A scatter gun approach gets scattered results!

The best approach is to treat sales activity seriously. Block time out of the diary regularly, plan who and why you’re calling businesses, research them, find the appropriate person to call, work out your approach and execute it. Schedule time to undertake your social sales activity – whether authoring, reading, commenting etc.

It is crucial to plan the follow up and tenaciously execute them. What’s the point in making the initial call if you cease to maintain contact. These calls must be a priority in your planning.

The old adage of ‘failing to plan’ is very true in sales. It is easy to find actiivty to replace prospecting/sales activity if you don’t discipline yourself to treat it as a vital activity.

Too Little

Many sales people do ‘just enough’ sales activity to keep the wolves at bay – but seldom go much further. Their manager or business tells them to make 3 calls – so they make 3 calls – no more, no less.

In sales, there is always the factor that the outcomes/results can happen some time after the activity but not always immediately afterward – hence the need for a pipeline. One thing is true through – results/outcomes don’t happen without the activity. If you’re sure you’re doing the right things and doing them right but still not getting results – it is highly likely you just aren’t doing enough of them. How much is enough is a question best answered by you – not your sales manager’s expectation of inputs.

More activity, if done properly, equals more results. More importantly, practice makes perfect, the more you do it the better you get at it. What may have taken 10 calls to get 2 visits, may soon take 4 calls as you become practiced. So with those same 10 calls, you’ll now get 5 visits. Notice though – this improvement doesn’t mean you can make less calls – it means you get more visits! Practice increases the success of your inputs – it doesn’t provide the excuse to do less of them.

As per the above when planning, block out enough time to do all your calls together. Sure the first call may be hard to kick off, but you’ll be on a roll by the last one. You get better by doing more activity – and, of course, you tend to get more results.

Your Why Is Flawed

Some people undertake sales because they view they have to, or they’re told to. Some people are in sales roles, but don’t like the sales activity. If you call or approach a client from this position – customers feel it. Sure, you can say all the right things, but do you mean them? Do you want to help the client and make a difference to them and their business?

Undertaking sales activity because you have to or are told to isn’t sustainable. It is human nature to resist being told to do something. You either need to adjust your mindset to want to do it, stop doing it, or leave your role.

When I say ‘want to do it’ – I don’t mean the activity of making the call/contact. I mean the act of connecting with a person and business to understand can you add meaningful value to their business. This is the why. The call is just the how.

When you get your ‘why’ right – sales is not only easier, but far more enjoyable. You ask questions wanting to know and act on the answers, you drive solutions to problems and create opportunities.

Its All You

Sales activity is demanding – especially if you try to do it all yourself. You can become task focused in sales – ring this client, ask for this referral, close this deal. The weight of targets can weigh you down – the blinkers start to close in.

Professional sports people have coaches – especially those at the top of their game. The people around you can coach and support you in your sales activity – often you just need to ask. They provide the opportunity to question the ‘usual’ and challenge your beliefs of what is or isn’t working.

Whether this is internal support like a sales manager or a colleague who’s knowledge can support a customer or proposal. Also, good sales people know how to use their network effectively. To gather information, introduce you to prospective clients, to solve customer problems or help capitalise on opportunities. Who you know is often more important than what you know in sales.

It is useful to review this regularly as often it is one or a few of these things de-railing which slows or stops your sales success. Some are easier to fix than others but, like many things in life, identifying the problem is the first step to fixing it.

Fence The Cliff

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The pace of work is increasing.  Our competitors are everywhere.  Our customers demand us to be nimble and responsive.  Our employers are looking for growth on growth.

All these demands we operate with momentum.  Moving forward to our targets – always acting.

In this situation – we often forget that sometimes we need to step back to move forward.  Manufacturing is a great example.  Mechanisation of processes like car manufacture has seen the ability to produce greater quantities and, arguably, greater quality of vehicles at a better cost.  Machinery can operate relentlessly.  Yet, manufacturers’ realise that in order to maintain that pace, they need to stop the machines.  They schedule periodic maintenance.  Not when the machine breaks down, but on a regular basis.  They check it is still running optimally.  It may be completely fine, but they still stop the machines.  They fence the cliff.  They realise the machine stopping unexpectedly is far worse than scheduled maintenance.

Sales isn’t any different.  We need to sit back and take stock periodically.  Not when we have a hole in our pipeline – not when we lose sales – but regularly.  Intentionally.

It is important for many reasons we, as sales professionals, ensure we schedule time to work on ourselves and overview our business.    These include:

  • To recharging our batteries
  • To reassess and review our plans and activity with a top down rather than ‘in the game’ perspective
  • To assess our own development – Wins/Learns/Changes
  • To ensure we are still heading in the right direction
  • To find new ideas and better solutions to existing problems
  • To engage with those around us in a strategic rather than operational capacity

No one can run at full speed indefinitely.    We are like that manufacturing business – we need to stop the machines periodically to make sure they’re running properly.  That they are producing what we want them to produce.

This is our maintenance period.  This is our chance to check that the processes are working properly.  This is our chance to check that the qualities of our outputs are still optimal.

This is our chance to fence the cliff.