Month: January 2015

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

By Dave Stein, Author, How Winners Sell

First let me say that I’ve seen many top performers, at one time or another, fall into a sales slump. I’ve been in a few myself over the years. Some last longer than others, but be assured that none last forever–unless you literally give up.

It’s up to you to accept responsibility for getting yourself out of the slump. You certainly should ask for and expect support and encouragement from management and your colleagues, but no one can get you out of your slump. You have to do it yourself. It takes time, effort and organization.

If you or someone who works for you is experiencing a slump, I’d like to suggest a few things to thing about and some actions to take to turn things around: Assess: The first thing to do is to admit to yourself that you are, in fact, in a slump. This isn’t easy. I find that many sales pros in this situation avoid thinking in those terms.

Once you’ve said to yourself, “I’m in a slump,” evaluate your situation. Objectivity is critical in doing that effectively. When I work one-on-one with a good salesperson who is in a slump, I ascertain whether the root cause is a direct result of actions the salesperson took (or didn’t take), or the cause is systemic. For example, if the person hasn’t prospected in a year, brought in no business during the last two quarters and is sitting with no qualified leads to pursue, at 50% of quota, that’s one problem. On the other hand, if they’ve done all the “right things,” but their company announced they were filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and no one wants to meet with, not to mention buy from that sales rep right now, that’s another situation entirely. (An argument could be made that the sales person should have seen this coming and moved on to a new job…)

By the way, I’m not a believer in luck having much to do with successful selling. Some good timing here, a bad break there, sure, but I’ve seen winners “create” their own luck too many times to be spiritual about it. “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Thomas Jefferson

Go for Little Wins: Once you’ve assessed the situation, you need to go for some little wins–achievable mini-goals–that will get you moving in the right direction. The message here is: take control. We know the “big win” is recovering and over delivering on quota. But that may be too daunting a challenge when you’re in the midst of that slump. Little wins contribute to finding your footing again in areas where you might have lost your confidence, or perhaps need to beef up on some skills. Here are some examples:

If your pipeline is weak, decide that you are going to prospect your customer base. Visit enough customers until you have three solid new business leads. Also, take time to revise your cold calling script. Use it to generate five meetings with potential decision makers in your target market or territory.

If you’ve been complacent, really get up to speed on that new product line. Perhaps your slump was the result of your reluctance to adapt to a new direction your company took. I’ve seen this happen too many times. Company introduces new product… salesrep continues to sell old one since it is within their comfort zone… leads and business dry up, leading to a slump.

If you can’t earn the credibility you feel you need to sell to executives, get the last three issues of the major trade magazines that cover the industry into which you sell. Read them cover to cover next weekend. Visit a customer or two and talk about the issues on which you are now up to speed. Then obtain security as well as industry analyst reports on the industry into which you are selling. Read those. Again, talk to some customers about what you learned. Once you’ve spoken to customers, try it with prospects. This is an incredibly powerful approach to building not only your credibility, but your confidence as well. If you’ve been outsold by a competitor, get a much deeper understanding of them. Talk to other members of your sales team, your marketing department, or some customers to get that insight you are looking for. Take the time to formulate a competitive sales strategy for any deals in which you are competing against them.

If you can’t seem to move deals along and get them closed, reevaluate and retool your qualification process and your value proposition. You may either be pursuing unqualified business or may not have a compelling enough business case to get the prospect to buy, or both.

Whichever little wins you decide to accomplish, create a plan: write your goals down, along with your strategies for achieving them, including completion dates.

Additional Tips:

  • This is really rule number one when you are in a sales slump: Get out of the office. Visit customers. Go to a trade show or industry conference. Network with sales reps from other, non-competing companies. Get into situations where you will get pumped.
  • Ask management for their support. Don’t wait until your boss comes to you. Present an honest self-assessment and request some coaching. An effective, experienced sales manager will not only have ideas to help you build positive momentum, but will give you the leeway you need to get yourself back on track.
  • Ask a trusted colleague for help. Mirror a skill or capability they have.
  • Buy a new sales book, or reread one that made a positive impact on you in the past. If it works for you, listen to your old Sales 101 or motivational audio tapes or CDs. Pick up a new skill and use it right away.
  • What skill do you need the most immediate help with? Negotiation, presentations, writing? Take a course, live or on-line.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives. If you’ve had some disappointments, or made some mistakes, accept them, learn something from them, and move on.
  • Accomplish something challenging that is not directly related to work. The confidence you will get from that will provide you the boost you need to muster the energy and focus to get back on track.

 

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Are You the Customer’s First Call?

By Dennis Sommer, Founder and CEO, Executive Business Advisers

How would you like to run a software sales organization that didn’t need marketing? Customers call you 24 hours a day nonstop, more business than you can handle and no need for a marketing budget. This can happen when you are the customer’s first call or what I call a ‘Household Name’ (a person/business that everyone thinks of when they have a serious problem that must be fixed). Are you that person or business?

If you are in need of investment help, does the name Charles Schwab and Peter Block come to mind? Do you think of Tom Peters and Stephen Covey when you are having management issues? If you are having real-estate development issues, does the name Donald Trump come to mind? You get my point. Do you think any of these business professionals really need to market their businesses? I don’t think so. How different would your business be if your name first comes to mind when your customer needs help? When you think about it, becoming a ‘Household Name’ should be your highest business priority.

Let’s take a look at how you can become a ‘Household Name’ in the software industry.

Superior Customer Service
Good companies provide quality customer service. Once you become their client, they will handle your issues quickly and professionally. The difference between a good company and a ‘Household Name’ is that the latter focuses on customer service even before a client becomes a client. By focusing on customer service from the first initial phone call or client meeting, you can eliminate customer complaints instead of reacting to them once they occur.

Follow these 6 tips for superior customer service:

  1. Focus on the Customer
    A ‘Household Name’ always provides superior customer service. Household Names focus on the customer instead of themselves and their business. The focus on great customer service turns satisfied customers into lifelong loyal customers.
  2. Positive Attitude
    A positive attitude, focused attention and commitment to resolving customer complaints will have a huge impact on customer satisfaction and the likelihood your customer will buy from you again and again.
  3. Offer a Guarantee
    Guarantee your offering and stand by it. Offer an unconditional money-back guarantee on all products and services.
  4. Focus on the Customer’s Goal
    Help customers achieve their goals, not yours. Your goals will be exceeded when you help customers solve their problems.
  5. Recommend Other Solutions
    Have the best interest of the customer in mind. Try to bring a customer with a problem together with an offering that helps them solve it. If you don’t have the exact solution they require, recommend other business solutions that could help them.
  6. It’s Okay to Disagree
    Customers are not ‘always’ right. Disagree with a customer, in a polite professional manner, in order to help them make a better decision.

Strong Communication
Take a moment and think about a ‘Household Name’ in your industry. Do they rattle off statistics, techno jargon and other mumbo jumbo that could only be understood by a NASA scientist? Do they go on forever lecturing you on incomprehensible topics and you never have a chance to talk? Most likely your answer is, “No.”

A ‘Household Name’ has the ability to sit down and listen to clients. Then, a ‘Household Name’ translates a very complex solution into terms that a six-year old can understand. They keep it simple.

A ‘Household Name’ focuses on improving written, verbal and listening skills. When dealing with customers you must become the master communicator.

Follow these 5 tips for building strong communication.

 

  1. Communicate Your Value
    Always tell your customer why they should buy/use your solution. Use plain English (no technical terminology) and describe the benefits. Example: ‘Produce a widget in ½ the time’ or ‘Services are performed in ½ the time and at ½ the cost.’
  2. Listen Naively
    Listen naively instead of defending and debating. Keeping an open, unbiased mind and allowing the customer to talk provides valuable information that you can address in the future.
  3. Tell a Story
    Customers will better understand information if told as a story. Instead of showing numbers, statistics and technical points, tell them a story about customer experiences with the offering, how they used it and the value they received.
  4. Use Simple Language
    You have a 50% greater chance of success by translating raw data into simple words, knowledge and wisdom that customers can use to make smart decisions. Turn raw data into a story.
  5. Demonstrate Your Solution
    Highlight and demonstrate how easy your solution is to use.

Tremendous Knowledge
Would you hire a professional or purchase a solution from someone who didn’t take the time to learn about his or her industry or products? Would you have confidence in his or her solution? I didn’t think so. So what impression do you leave with your customers? ‘Household Names’ not only become the expert in their own solutions, they also become an expert on their competitors and the customer’s industry.

Follow these 4 tips for building tremendous knowledge:

  1. Allocate Your Time
    Spend 60% of your time with customers, 20% learning more about your offering and tradecraft and 20% on other business needs like management and administration.
  2. Know Thy Competitor
    No one should know more about your offering and your competitor’s offerings than you. Build confidence by knowing both, both the technical specifications and their applications.
  3. Know Thy Industry
    Learn more about your industry. The more you read and learn, the greater your likelihood to be among the first to identify meaningful solutions.
  4. Talk about Your Competition
    Learn to talk more about your competition, what the customers like and what they dislike.

Build Strong Relationships
A big portion of my work with clients focuses on improving sales by improving their relationship with the customer. In this fast-paced world, many professionals and organizations are so focused on short-term goals; they have forgotten one of the most important success factors. People buy relationships not products. It’s hard to focus on the customer when you are dealing with monthly quota goals, internal politics, investors, organizational changes and the overflow of email and voice-mail requests requiring immediate responses. Unfortunately, if you ignore your customer, they won’t be a customer for long.

Connecting with customers on a personal and professional level will build a strong customer relationship turning them into lifetime loyal customers.

Follow these 7 tips for building strong relationships:

 

  1. Reduce Customer Stress
    The easier it is for customers to do business with you, the greater their likelihood of repurchasing. For example, make the selling process as easy as possible. A long, complex selling process will turn off customers and drive them to your competitors.
  2. Pay Attention to Detail
    Customers make a direct connection between attention to detail and competence. Pay attention to such details as spelling, what you say, out of place items, grooming or dress.
  3. Do a Road Show
    Do a 20-customer road show twice a year. Nothing beats going into the field and meeting customers face- to- face to better understand what they need and show them what you have to offer.
  4. Over Deliver
    Create a pattern of dependability by making small promises and over delivering on results.
  5. Be Honest
    Be an honest adviser. Present both the strengths and weaknesses of your offering. It is better for the customer to learn about your weaknesses now than to discover them later.
  6. Stay Upbeat
    Keep your tone upbeat. Make a point to elevate the moods of people around you. Hearing your name should lift their mood.
  7. Be Likeable
    Customers prefer to buy from people they like. Being likeable is as simple as helping customers feel happy, relaxed, and even feel good about themselves.

Are you ready to go beyond marketing and become a ‘Household Name?’

Are you prepared to become a leader in your industry?

The Top Ten Reasons Why Salespeople Get Outsold

 

By Dave Stein, Author, How Winners Sell

In order to help you diagnose why you may have lost one or more deals, I am sharing with you in David Letterman-style reverse order, the top ten reasons that salespeople (generally those employed by my clients’ competitors) lose deals. As you are reading these thinking about your own capabilities, successes and failures, strive to reach the levels of objectivity I discuss in chapter 2 of How Winners Sell.

Reason #10 that salespeople lose deals. They are depending on capabilities of their product or service to win. This is a prevalent cause of losing. Deals have been lost this way for years and will continue to be lost in the future, unless salespeople begin to understand the critical trap they are stepping into if they adopt this strategy. I don’t know of too many companies these days that truly have a unique enough product or service that they can depend on that offering to win. And even if they do have that truly unique product, it doesn’t take a desperate competitor very long to convey to their market that they have greater capability and a lower price. Once that happens, you’re in a capabilities “beauty contest” and your product or service is destined to be considered just a commodity. Winners differentiate their product or service in ways that convey value to executives while protecting that value proposition from attack — and they don’t count on their demo or presentation to be the ultimate death knell to their competition.

#9. They’re afraid. Unfortunately for the past few years, a lot of salespeople have been using the down economy and resultant changes in customer buying patterns as an excuse for not selling. Unfortunately, they’re coasting, using headlines in the Wall Street Journal as justification for a lack of activity and productivity. Some are afraid to get out of their comfort zones and assume a position of strength — to be more persistent, to negotiate for access to the real buyer and to be more persuasive. They’re afraid to say, “No!” Other reps are fearful of calling on executive-level real buyers or are completely intimidated by the very thought of selling against a tough competitor. Many others aren’t willing to take the risk to wrestle some control of the buying cycle away from the prospect so they can afford themselves some degree of competitive advantage. There are few comfortable places anymore for sales reps that don’t have the courage to figure out what it will take them to win and take appropriate action.

#8. They don’t know who their competition is. More often than you would believe salespeople plod along in a sales campaign without knowing whom they are competing against. It could be an incumbent, no decision, an internal corporate department (such as IT or Research & Development) or pressure to fund another initiative or project within their prospect’s company. Other times, sales people who get outsold simply don’t know anything about that person who is in contention for the same piece of business — not their name, how they sell, to whom they sell, whether they are new at the job or highly experienced or what that person is likely to do to win the business. That’s selling blind.

#7. They’re not flexible enough to meet New Economy customer/client budget and risk requirements. Companies are holding back on capital expenditures, cutting expenses, slowing down or delaying initiatives (and always looking for ways to raise the top line). Their holding back means fewer and smaller sales for us. I’m not suggesting discounting as a primary strategy here. What I have observed again and again is that vendors who are willing to adapt — and I mean really adapt — their typical terms and conditions of sale to their customers’ requirements (for example payment schedules and phase-in approaches) are much more likely to win business. Software companies are renting their software. Other companies are agreeing to shared risk contracts, performance bonds, service level agreements and percent complete clauses. Is your company ready, willing and able to adapt? If not, are you ready, willing and able to bring a business case to your management imploring them to change?

#6. They depended on ’80s or ’90s sales strategies, tactics and skills to win. Attending a two- or three-day class and learning about selling skills that worked five or ten years ago just isn’t going to do it for you today. Think about it: All your competitors have taken the same classes, from pretty much the same instructors. I see the all the same training programs listed on scores of resumes of salespeople looking that come across my desk. Where’s the competitive advantage for those reps? There is none.

In fact, the big name training companies have done a terrific job over the years growing their own businesses, but many of them differentiate themselves through complexity of approach and related account planning tools. That’s one of the reasons so few sales people use the very process they’ve been trained in. They are just too difficult and time consuming to use. I know. I get called in to pick up the pieces and get the sales teams back on track. And no matter what those training vendors represent, they can’t possibly be flexible enough to keep you informed about what it really takes to win today. Not with shrink-wrapped programs and teams of trainers who have to be re-trained and re-certified every time a change is implemented.

Tactic: Create a five-column by ten-row spreadsheet. The columns will represent deals you lost, the rows the ten reasons listed above. (Feel free to add more rows if you think there are more reasons then the ones I listed.) Now go down each column, one deal at a time and put a red “X” in every box where there is even the most remote possibility that that is why you lost the deal. Do the same for the three other opportunities. Keep this analysis with you as you read the rest of How Winners Sell and determine exactly what you are going to do to prevent yourself from losing any more deals.

#5. Those losing reps depended too much or too little on relationships. One of my clients, who is the CEO of his company, said recently, “Relationship selling isn’t enough anymore. If you can’t prove the value, all you’ll get from the person you’ve built a relationship with is an empathetic rejection, rather than a dispassionate one.” Sure you need relationships with key buyers and influencers, but if the business case isn’t there, there is often little they can do to help you win, especially if you are selling a big ticket item. After all, the CIO still has to go to the CFO or CEO to justify the investment he or she is looking to make, especially in publicly held corporations since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act went into effect. If all the answers to the inevitable tough questions aren’t right for the executives who have learned a whole new definition of the word “accountability,” then no sale. You can see that this new force within business has had a diluting impact on political influence.

On the other hand many failed to build a trusting win-win relationship with an influential ally. I said above that you can’t depend on relationship selling the way you once could. However, we do need allies in our accounts that can provide us with unwritten decision criteria, competitors’ strategies and tactics, additional departments who might avail themselves of our products and most important, allies who will sell for us when we aren’t there, which is most of the time. These days with the constrictive procurement and tender rules and with purchasing organizations all but preventing communication between users of our products and us, the suppliers, recruiting and building trusting relationships with allies is more difficult than ever before and for that reason, more important than ever before.

#4. They didn’t have a plan to win. What was once a straightforward, short sales cycle two years ago is now often drawn-out and complex, and maybe for a lot fewer dollars. What was a complex sale two years ago is now beyond the capabilities of even the best salesreps to plan for and manage by the seat of their pants. I work with companies who are pursuing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars and although the sales teams fill out the colored sheets, or fill in the fields in the sales automation software, they don’t have a comprehensive, competitive plan to win. They’ve given lip service to the plan, but haven’t done the planning.

#3. They counted on unqualified business. Salespeople really don’t lose these opportunities. They never had a chance to win them, since they were never opportunities to begin with. The buying environment has changed so much that new degrees of rigor are required to qualify and re-qualify opportunities. When a sales VP tells me his team lost a deal because they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) meet a competitor’s price, it takes me a while to convince them that the deal wasn’t lost at all. It was just never properly qualified.

#2. They don’t really understand their customer’s business. There are a lot of reasons this happens. The rep is working too many deals. They are working the wrong ones, squandering their time and resources. They aren’t business savvy, so they don’t understand what the real issues are. They don’t do their homework. They don’t think something that is important. They aren’t passionate about solving their customers’ problems. But these aren’t really reasons, they’re excuses. And when it comes to why a person doesn’t deeply understand his customer’s business, there is no excuse.

And the #1 reason sales people lose deals is… They didn’t have all the skills and traits required to win. When I work with my clients, I collaborate with management in building a specific profile of skills and personal traits that are absolutely required for their salespeople to win for that company, in that market, at that time, selling that product or service to the appropriate level of buyer. The profile is used for hiring as well as ongoing sales development. What has become apparent to me is that the skill levels and behaviors required for sales success in today’s selling environment are different from what they were even as recently as two years ago. Sales professionals (and their managers) whose everyday behaviors map to the profile win. Those who don’t, most often lose. And by the way, I see many salespeople who had the right skills but due to complacency or neglect, fail to use them habitually. A bit of coaching can generally bring them back on track.
I’ve given you a long list of things to think about and do. Again, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the more you exhibit of the skills, attitudes, and behaviors I’ve discussed the more successful you’ll be selling. The bad news is that no one is going to break down your door an force you into doing the right things. You’ve got to do it yourself.