SalesReformSchool

Today’s Lesson: What Stuck Most

A year ago, I had a full process-messaging-behavior engagement with a client that culminated with a full two-day workshop. They went on to have a terrific year. We are now rolling out an Account Growth process and met this week to introduce the idea in a quick team lunch meeting.   The team of account managers and sales executives is fully engaged – a credit to their management team.

Since I had them all in a room together, I asked during a pause:  Read More

Today’s Lesson: Can She Sell?

During or after coaching or consulting engagements, my clients often ask, “Do you think she (or he) can sell for us?”

Similarly, friends, colleagues, or former SalesReformSchool students often ask me whether they (or lately, their kids) should pursue a particular sales position.

When I think about it, I tend to use the same four criteria for both answers.

  1. Passion
  2. Requisite Intelligence
  3. Competitiveness
  4. Fearlessness

Read More

Today’s Lesson: Beatus Aures

Over coffee last Friday a coaching client of mine told me about an RFP he was excited to answer. “It’s in our wheelhouse, but I have to go soon so I can get the answer out. It’s due today and they are making a decision Tuesday.”

I responded that I could see why he was so excited and asked him a few clarifying questions including:

  • Who are your competitors? Um, I don’t know.
  • Do they have a prior relationship with the prospect? Blank stare.
  • How many individuals and what are their roles do you know at the account? Just my one contact.
  • Have you asked to meet with all the decision-makers before agreeing to answer? No, she answered every question I had about the work they need.
  • If there are competitors, how can the prospect possibly make a decision in one business day? Mouth agape.

Read More

Today’s Lesson: Receiving Feedback

Constant improvement is one of my bedrock principles for starting SalesReformSchool 12+ years ago. Recently, however, I received written feedback from a post accusing me of not modeling Active Listening in my public discourse like I teach my clients. It knocked me back on my heels.   Had I slipped or not really improved?

I immediately became defensive in my head.

“You’re accusing me? How dare you.”

“Who are you to write that?”

“No way, can’t be right!”

“You’re just an internet troll.”

I trashed it. Then, I took a deep breath.

“What if he is right?”

Another deep breath.

“No, wrong question.

Assuming he’s right, what do I do about it?”

Whenever we receive criticism, personally or professionally, our natural inclination is to either get defensive or shut down. It’s the fight or flight instinct. If our goal, however, is constant improvement then take the leap of faith. AGREE with the criticism and consider what you should do to correct the suggested flaw. See, there’s no downside in accepting the criticism, as long as it’s in line with your values.

How might this work in sales?

If your sales manager says you are interrupting your prospects too much, don’t argue the point. Accept it. The next time you are speaking with a prospect, take an extra pause before speaking to check whether you are interrupting.

If your subject matter expert says you are not preparing them enough for a conference call or demo, resist thinking, “Geez, all I do is talk to you about what to say and not say.” Instead, ask them, “How do you think we should prepare together?” Then create a preparation process.

If a colleague hears you on the phone and offers the unsolicited advice, “Man, you talk SO much on your calls,” don’t sneer at them to mind their own business. Be grateful for the feedback and start listening to yourself in conversations with an internal clock. Maybe you ARE too verbose.

Me? I’m going to try hard to make sure I am listening to my own advice whether I need to or not: Acknowledge, Clarify and Recap. And to improve even more I’d like to take Aaron Burr’s advice from the musical Hamilton: Talk Less, Smile More.

SalesReformSchool: Food for Thought

Sticking with the same theme of continuous improvement – I learned how to perform a meeting retrospective from a fabulous facilitation course I took from Leadership Strategies, Inc. At the end of each workshop or day within a workshop, I ask the participants to list out all the things they liked about the day we spent together. They can list anything ranging from that day’s content and processes to the lunch menu.  These are the ‘Plusses” or “+s.” I also ask for any gaps or things they didn’t like, appreciate, or understand or even agree with about the day or the day’s lessons. Everything is fair game.

These are the “Deltas” or “Δs”. Sure, it’s a little “Meet the Fokker’s-ish” to call them deltas rather than minuses, but the theme is improvement, and I can’t improve if I don’t know the gaps or deltas. Then I go around the room listing and listening to what everyone noted under + and Δ columns on a board for all to see. The rules for me: Document and seek clarification, but resist discussing or defending. I complete the process by reviewing the board, especially the Δ column, to see what I need to fix or improve. Please note though, that I am rarely responsible for the lunch menu.

My agile software development tools client tells me this is in line with the “Agile Sprint Retrospective.” I like that. Here’s an example from a workshop this month –

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SalesReformSchool: Extracurricular

“We are not working together as a team!” If you’ve received this criticism and are in the Atlanta metropolitan area, try an escape room at BRAINSTORM ESCAPEGAMES. These games are a fun way to check whether your team is listening to each other and collaborating towards common goals. I’ve secured the promo code SALESREFORMSCHOOL for you to get 20% off.

Good Selling!

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P.S.   Did you like this post? Any comments you’d like to share?  Please post a comment below or  email me.  Also, please consider sharing this post!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Today’s Lesson: Are You Good at Rapport? Are you Sure?

Many of us salespeople have a dirty secret. We hate building rapport especially with prospects or even just people we don’t really know well. Sure, we are expected to be the life the party and the meeting, the easy-going back-slapper flush with funny stories and anecdotes – the classic extrovert – able to make friends with everyone we meet.

Uh, please, don’t make me.

If this strikes a familiar chord with you it’s probably because you – like me – got into sales because we both enjoy solving problems and making people happy; and we truly believe in our offerings so we want to share them with the world. Selfishly, the thrill of the chase and the financial aspects can be real sweet, too.

But the cocktail party, networking, pre-meeting jibber-jabber – ugh. One client of mine told me he didn’t want to ever be “that guy… you know the guy in the plaid jacket.”

Me, neither.

Often, I dread having to build rapport, I am not great at it and feel it too dangerous when meeting people for the first time. Reflectively, this may be more about me than anything. I know I am an observer and a student at heart. With age, I realize I have a big mouth and not a big filter. A potentially career-limiting lethal combination.

I now have a standard piece of advice for “plaid-jacket-avoiders”, which I’ll reveal later.

My realization that I’m not great at rapport and that it’s too dangerous happened on an initial sales call in Kingsport, TN. I had driven up alone from Atlanta to see a new prospect and talk about his interest in our technology.

My prospect greeted me warmly with an easy-going smile at the reception area of his office building and immediately apologized. His usual conference room was booked, so we were going to have to meet in his office. His apology seemed weird. Why would I care? It was just the two of us getting together. I wanted to understand his business more so we could figure out if there was a fit between his challenges and my offerings. No big deal being in an office instead of a conference room.

I figured it out immediately upon entering his cramped eight foot by maybe 12 foot office. It was stuffed with all things golf. A Masters flag in the corner. Old clubs against the wall. Putters leaning against the desk. A bookshelf full of golf balls through the ages. Golf magazines, posters, signed memorabilia. An impressive array of golf stuff.

I, however, am not a golfer. It’s just not my game. Yet, before we even sat down, while I was clearing scorecards off my chair, I asked,

“So, you like golf?”

All energy drained from his face. His shoulders sagged. He sighed heavily. I’ll never forget his response. It’s why, to this day, I avoid being the one opening up with rapport building with someone I really don’t know. I let them go first.

“My SOB father-in-law died a couple months ago and my wife made me bring all his golf crap to the office.”

Whoops!!! Well, I guess I shouldn’t have gone there!! All energy drained from our conversation. We had our meeting. I wasn’t at my best; he was distracted. I got in my car and drove home. It may have been my worst sales call. A waste of a day.

Yes, his father-in-law’s stuff was the proverbial elephant in the room. But why did I have to be the one to bring it up? I should have let him lead the rapport part of the meeting. He likely would have apologized again, this time for the décor. I would have merely responded, “That’s okay.” And gotten down to business unless he brought something else up like the weather or the drive up or where I am from (usually something like: You don’t sound like you are from Atlanta or the south?).

What should I have done? Here’s my advice about rapport that I should have heeded and that I tell anyone not wanting to be “that guy in the plaid jacket.”

When you think the situation is going to demand rapport-building, especially when talking with someone you don’t know well, imagine yourself one step back over the shoulder of your audience in the conversation. Do not pass them. Do not play “who can top this?” like a 14-year old boy. Let them open.

If they open with comments or questions about the weather, give them the weather, but don’t pass them with comments about sports. Stay behind them. If they mention something about your background, go with it, but don’t then dig into their background unless they offer. Be pleasant, but during rapport, let them lead. It’s okay to be “Ginger” to his or her’s “Fred.”ginger-rogers-and-fred-astaire-dancing-the-e2809ccariocae2809d-in-flying-down-to-rio-1933

But…But…

  1. “But, I’m great at rapport.” Are you sure? Have your managers, mentors, friends and loved ones told you so? Unless you are 100% confident, please consider heeding my advice. You might go somewhere you shouldn’t.
  2. “But, I thought I am supposed to control the sales process.” While that is true, rapport is not a sales process step. I often say that sales process and preparation is about ratcheting up your probability of success. Screw up rapport and you risk decreasing your chances of a good outcome. By controlling yourself, aren’t you controlling the process?

So, consider what I imagine a director once said to Ginger Rogers, “It’s okay, we know you are truly the one in charge, just remember, one step back and over the shoulder.”

SalesReformSchool: Food for Thought

A lot of us procrastinate. We struggle to stay focused on the task at hand. Why do today what I can put off and to tomorrow? I struggle with this. The work for me often conforms to the time it’s needed. Give me a deadline too far away and I struggle with focus. I’d love to be the type of person who can get stuff out of the way now, so I can play later, instead of vice-versa.

To overcome procrastination – or laziness as some might call it – I try hard to break a large project into smaller do-able chunks. I mull over my morning coffee at least one thing I want to accomplish that day, one chunk, unless my schedule is already full. This Quora post on a one-minute life hack goes a few steps further.  Today’s chunk was this post. I have a couple other chunks today as well. How do you fight procrastination?

SalesReformSchool: Extracurricular

Sure, we know about the four food groups. What about the four drink groups? For me, my Mount Rushmore of drinks is coffee, water, wine, and well, if pressed for a fourth, spirits. Water is either flat or “with gas” as they say abroad. And my favorite is LaCroix. For spirits, I’m mostly a gin or vodka guy. So, I am thrilled to explore this list.

Good Selling!

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P.S.   Did you like this post? Any comments you’d like to share?  Please post a comment below or  email me.  Also, please consider sharing this post!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Can you Argue Both Sides? Think Like a Lawyer?

lawyer-icon

You may already know that I practiced law in a prior life. Some of my clients like and appreciate it, but I do get eye-rolls and my fair share of good-natured ribbing. I get it. When it comes up in conversation, I usually add that although the practice of law wasn’t for me, I absolutely believe, with no regrets, that I have benefitted a ton in my sales career from law school.

One story often comes to mind. When I was a sales manager years ago, I was reviewing an opportunity with a member of my team. We needed to figure out our next move. I asked her, “And, what do you think their reaction will be” to her suggested course of action. She replied that she had no idea. I made a prediction and suggested she do some research and put some thought into that expected reaction so she would be prepared.  We strategized some more and prepped for the next call.   Long story short, she won the deal, and I happened to be right with my coaching. When she told me she added, “It must be that law degree, you seem to always be able to think around corners on these deals.”

I took the compliment with a smile. She was right. For me, it was my law degree. For one thing, Law professors constantly ask students to be prepared to argue either side of the law when discussing a legal issue. That way, you can learn “the law” from all angles – seeing into every corner of an argument. Her comments have stuck with me over the years. I always tried to work this aspect of my legal education into my sales and sales management career, and for the last 12 years in my consulting business.

How do smart sellers think around corners and argue both sides?  They anticipate the next few and even several moves in a sales process, not just the negotiation. Smart sellers anticipate and prepare for roadblocks or objections prior to their arising. They know their processes cold and have unearthed the buyer’s buying and evaluation processes.

So, how can you hone this ability to “think around corners” like a lawyer?

Sellers need to constantly ask, “Can I advocate 100% for my proposal from my buyer’s point of view?” In other words, can I, as the seller, make the argument for them? Whether you are competing against the status quo or real competition, someone is advocating for another (or the same) course of action. If you can’t argue truthfully, with integrity, that the best course would be to buy your stuff, you have some work to do.

Below I’ve listed some questions to help you to figure out if you are selling like a lawyer; you may have some more:

  1. Have you unearthed what is truly going on that has led them to evaluate your stuff?
  2. Do you understand their current situation as well as or even better than their own team?
  3. In concrete terms, is there agreement that you are offering good value?
  4. Do they see your differentiators as game changers that will improve their present situation more so than the status quo or the competition?
  5. Do they see you as a good implementation partner?
  6. Have you explained how your team understands completely how your products and services will help the buyers achieve their objectives?
  7. Are you sure about the answers to all of the above? How do you know you know? Did you ask?

Please understand, though, that the lawyer-seller analogy is imperfect.  We often hear that good lawyers never ask a question for which they don’t know the answer, at least in court.  Good sellers, however, should follow Stephen Covey’s fifth habit:  First seek to understand, then to be understood.  How?  Ask open-ended questions for which you don’t know the answers.  By the way, they also teach lawyers that Covey’s habit is a good strategy pre-trial, just not in the courtroom.

SalesReformSchool: Food for Thought

Recruiting is not one of my offerings, I know plenty of folks that do a great job finding and filling sales openings.  From time-to-time, though, I have had clients ask me if I know anyone that could fill an open executive, manager or sales slot. Similarly, I often get calls or emails from individuals looking for their next gig.  These are usually past sales workshop participants or their friends or colleagues, or even loved ones. I’m more than happy to help.  While the economy seems to be good right now, there has been an uptick lately in people reaching out to me who are looking for their next gig. I’ve had several conversations with good people looking for something better: Sales VP-types, inside and outside sales managers and inside and outside sales people, and even some skilled in sales operations or enablement.  Are you hiring? Let me know. I may know somebody.

SalesReformSchool: Extracurricular

There really is only one meaningful extracurricular coming up.  Kickoff is at 6:30 PM eastern time. – Are you ready to #RISEUP !!!falcons

Go Falcons and Good Selling!

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P.S.   Did you like this post? Any comments you’d like to share?  Please post a comment below or  email me.  Also, please consider sharing this post!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Today’s Lesson: Start bcc’ing

bcc

Most sales managers I know have the best intentions. They don’t want to manage their reps, they want to coach them to achieve greatness – or at least quota. Many of them, though, struggle with where to start. The comfortable beginning is, “do what I did.” Soon, they realize, that doesn’t work. So, I get asked, “What can I do RIGHT NOW to make a difference?”

For these managers, here’s my response. I ask two simple questions regarding email:

  1. Are your reps sending out recap emails of their interactions?
  2. Are you reviewing your reps outbound emails on all forecasted or about to be forecasted opportunities?

If the answer isn’t 100% “Yes” to both questions for at least all reps who are below quota, then I suggest the following –

Set the sales team culture as one of support and coaching. Get buy-in on this. As a manifestation of those cultural values, require that your reps “bcc” you on all meaningful prospect and customer correspondence so you can figure out what is going on with their conversations and opportunities. Only then will you be able to “attaboy” or “attagirl” the good and coach the gaps.

The recap email is the artifact of any meaningful conversation. It should follow a simple format:

  1. What was the goal or purpose of the call?
  2. What is the current situation, with data points?
  3. What capabilities or proof or documentation does the prospect need to move to the next step in the buy-sell process?
  4. What’s the value of the above to them?
  5. How does the above fit into the buying process? Next steps?

If a sales manager is not getting bcc’d – or if correspondence is not automatically going into the CRM system, how does she know what was discussed on the last sales call? How does she know if the rep forgot to ask about a key data point or timing or a key player’s role? How does she know on what process step, messaging tool or script, or behavior to focus her coaching?

One last thing, I like bcc, regardless of whether the emails go into the CRM. I have found the reps prepare better and are more focused during the conversations and pay more attention to detail while writing if they know they are going to be bcc’ing their manager.

Try it, let me know how it goes.

SalesReformSchool Food for Thought

strunkwhiteWhat if you are worried that your sales team while good at selling is awful at writing? You’re not alone. I have two recommendations: 1) Share this essay on why writing skills are so important and 2) Buy this little book for everyone on your team.

 

 

 

SalesReformSchool Extracurricular

Winter is coming. No, really. This is not a fanboy plot to get you to watch Game of Thrones, although I do recommend it. With winter comes colder nights curled up with… Netflix.

Am I wrong?

This list is a fantastic compilation of old and new, artsy and mainstream. Really, something for everyone. How many have you seen?

Me? 41.  Don’t judge.

That’s all for today.

Good Selling (and watching)!

P.S.  I’ve had some interest lately in providing keynote addresses for year-end or new year kickoff programs based on some of the things I’ve written you about. Email or call me if you want more information.

P.P.S. Did you like this email? Any comments you’d like to share?  Please post a reply or  email me and consider sharing this post!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Today’s Lesson: Your Prospect’s Experience

I recently attended a Vistage presentation given by John R. Patterson entitled, “Creating An Extraordinary Customer Experience that drives Loyalty and Growth.” Patterson artfully related how the best brands recognize that great customer experience drives greater profits.

I had two meaningful AH-HAH moments that I want to share and relate to our jobs in sales.Back to School....

AH-HAH (1)  – Patterson described how customers want and I must deliver on the following:

  1. Make them smarter
  2. Respect their time
  3. Help them customize the experience
  4. Entertain them (through your offerings)
  5. Anticipate their needs
  6. Treat them with respect
  7. Never take your customers for granted
  8. Link your customers to your professional team or partners

AH-HAH (2) – Patterson relayed that customers expect you to:

  1. Understand them
  2. Include them
  3. Protect them
  4. Surprise them
  5. Teach them

And do it consistently.

Now, substitute the word “prospect” for “customer” and go down both lists asking yourself  –

  • Am I delivering and exceeding expectations in all of my sales cycles?
  • Are my prospects enjoying going through their buying process? Or,
  • Does it seem like they are merely going through the motions?
  • Am I just going through the motions?
  • Are they smarter because of me?
  • Do they feel they are collaborating with me on a solution?
  • Do I feel they respect me as an equal?

Your answers should lead to a much better experience… for everyone.

 

.wired-and-dangerous You can buy John R. Patterson’s customer experience book, Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About It here.

SalesReformSchool Food for Thought

One way to make your customers smarter is for you to get smarter. When I was in my 20s and starting out in sales, I realized that my history and law degrees did not equip me nearly enough to ensure a great prospect experience. So, I started a lifelong habit. I try to read the Wall Street Journal everyday. From the start, it was uncanny how I’d be in conversation with a prospect and something would remind me of an article I had read.  I continue to get smarter about business and to enrich my interactions. I highly recommend this daily habit.

And here’s a company that has embedded learning into its culture.

SalesReformSchool Extracurricular

My wife and two daughters often shake their heads at my son and my sartorial skills. I’ve recently ended a few disagreements with this awesome chart.

That’s all for today.
Good Selling!

P.S. Did you like this email?  Please post feedback to this note below oremail me and consider sharing it!  
Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Oh, Waiter. Want to Join My Sales Team?

One of the drudgeries of sales management is combing through resumes looking for that “Aha Moment.” Through real or virtual stacks of Curriculum Vitae, sales managers wait and hope for at least one spark to jump out as the reason to contact the applicant and start the interview process.   Even worse is the realization that can come some time later that the spark was false, a mirage, a masquerade.

A failed hire is like looking up into the sky and getting excited over the first star at night, only to see it move and become disappointed that it’s just an airplane.  Here’s an idea for increasing the chance an Orion joins your team instead of a 747.

Over coffee, I asked a colleague of mine how he has been so successful finding inside business to business (B2B) sales people.  His answer surprised me.  I expected to hear about a particular college major, experience in other business roles, or some sort of extra-curricular like team sports.  Instead, he said he loves and has had a lot of success hiring people who speak positively about their experiences waiting tables.

Don’t think Flo would have been a good sales executive? KISS MY GRITS!

Waiters.

Really?

Hmm.

Ever wait tables?  I did and I loved it.  Until that coffee meeting, though, I hadn’t connected it to my career in sales.  Here are my three reasons for enjoying being a waiter all those years ago:

 1)    Variable Compensation – As long as you provide the minimum expected service, you get 15% (usually).  Exceed expectations and the tip rate goes up.  Get real busy, turn tables, exceed expectations – JACKPOT.

2)    Teamwork – As long as I helped others – bar staff, hosts and hostesses, line managers, they helped me.  If everyone does their job well, we all make more money.

3)    Service – A lot has been written lately about Servant Leadership – the idea that you will succeed in business if you give priority attention to the needs of your colleagues and those you serve. While waiting tables in my teens and twenties, I wasn’t introspective enough to realize it, but I really did get jazzed by knowing that I had a role in creating a table full of content diners.

So, it does make total sense.  I certainly would want to interview an applicant who hoped for variable increased compensation, who’s resume showed the ability to function well as a member of a team, and who appeared to be happiest when serving others.

Further, according to stuckserving.com, the top three skills you need as a waiter and waitress are the ability to 1) manage your time, 2) multi-task, and 3) get along with people.

One at a time:

Time Management –

Stuckserving.com says sometimes you need to speed up your effort and treat your diners as if they are your only table. Other times you have to slow down aware of the pace your table desires. And “never keep a guest waiting more than 5 minutes (it feels like 20 minutes to guests) for anything, especially the check. You do want a big tip, don’t you?”

What if we re-wrote the last paraphrased and quoted paragraph with some minor substitutions and additions:

Sometimes you need to speed up and treat your PROSPECTS as if they are your only OPPORTUNITIES. Other times you have to slow down aware of the [BUYING PROCESS] pace your PROSPECT desires. And “never keep a PROSPECT waiting more than 5 minutes (it feels like 20 minutes to PROSPECTS) for anything, especially the AGREEMENT. You do want a big COMMISSION, don’t you?”

Perfect.

Multitasking –

Stuckserving.com explains why “full hands in, full hands out” is a guiding principle for successful waiter:  “A good waiter or waitress knows that the more productive they can make each trip to their tables, the easier the whole shift is going to go….Always think, ‘How much can I get done on this trip out to the floor’.” But it goes deeper than that.  A good waiter doesn’t just do that tasks he enjoys, like taking down orders and delivering the bill, collecting the tips.  He also knows that to be successful he has to check-in on his table to see if they need anything, keep tables clean of clutter, answer questions about the menu, etc. And sometimes, he has to pivot from one table to another clearing one, answering a question at another while delivering ketchup to a third. All with a smile and the right amount of enthusiasm.

Same with sales.

For outside sellers, “full hands in, full hands out” means maximize your time in the field asking yourself constantly whether there are other prospects or clients near the area I am going to that day or week.  For inside sellers, “full hands in, full hands out”  means asking themselves, “How much can I accomplish with this conversation? Or email?” Even though sales people try to plan out their processes and schedule their days, interruptions happen.  Multi-tasking also means that pivoting is part of the job description.  While you are researching a new prospect, you may get an urgent call or email from another.  A manager may request your assistance with another opportunity.  Top notch sellers can take on the extra tasks and juggle their responsibilities.

People Skills –
Curmudgeon’s need not apply.

Thumbs down to you as well – for a career in sales.

Stuckserving.com defines people skills as the ability to make total strangers like you by establishing rapport and finding something you have in common.  But do not be false.  People skills include being honest about dishes and possible menu shortcomings. “If the guest sees that you are really trying to take care of them, then they will take care of you. Be professional, but let your personality come out.”

Being extroverted, gaining rapport, being able to find common ground – this is not new ground for defining sales skills.  But the second part of the “People Skills” definition is enlightening.  Buyers, like diners, want to feel comfortable that the seller they ultimately buy from is genuine, cares about helping them, and treats them with respect.  Did the waiter push the special of the day because it was delicious and exactly what I wanted or because it was expensive and the restaurateur over-purchased that item that week? Sophisticated buyers (and diners) can sense when their needs and objectives are out of alignment with the sellers. It’s a big turn-off and can often explain losses to no-decision or a more “waiter-like” competitor.

I’ve had my clients (after I worked with them) toot their horns that they were told by new customers that they won an opportunity not necessarily because of what they sold, but rather how they sold it.  That they seemed trustworthy and respectful in the sales process, and the feeling was among the decision makers that if they were like that in the sales process, they were more likely to be customer focused in delivery and support.

Back to my coffee colleague. He hit on another extremely important similarity between inside sellers and waiters:  They both often have to deal successfully with different personas in a short amount of time. Their livelihood depends on it.  A the same time, a waiter may have one table of rowdy kids and harried parents, another with lovebirds that just want to be left alone, and a third with demanding professionals interested in the exact amounts of butter or salt the chef uses in particular dishes.  He has to treat all three tables well, respecting their different needs and circumstances. The same with sales people: Within the same opportunity, one key player may only be interested in long term product plans and high level descriptions, a second may be the financial buyer demanding a tightly described cost v. benefit analysis, and a third may be a previously burned technical buyer who needs to check copious references and fully understand your implementation scheme before coming on board.  The best sales person appreciates that all buyers (diners) are not the same, yet all need to be treated with respect (served).

So, who knew that your favorite bistro was also a crucible for developing sales talent?  That confident guy or gal that  greeted you with a smile and asked “where are you from?” or at the end of the meal asked “Would you like to hear about our delicious pie?”  He or she may be the next rainmaker for your company.

Good selling (and eating, this post is making me hungry)!

Success Story: In-Boarding

reprint from 2006*

Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company is a leader in facilitation training and meeting facilitation. With a network of over 200 facilitators under contract, LSI provides organizations with dynamic, professional facilitators who facilitate executive strategy retreats and problem resolution sessions and lead training classes in facilitation, leadership and consulting skills.

Despite the organization’s high quality products and services and its strong competitive position, early in 2005 several factors led Wilkinson to conclude that the organization needed to transform its salesprocesses and approaches.

  • Year-over-year revenue was stagnant.
  • Most of LSI’s new business was coming from Internet inquiries and call-ins rather than from proactive contacts by the sales team.
  • Too often the sales teams “winged-it” on conversations, which made turning lookers into qualified leads, hit or miss.
  • Product and sales training focused merely on the features of the offerings and not sales process or tools to use when working through an opportunity. Salespeople were left to their own devices to figure out a sales process.
  • With everyone doing their own thing, coaching reps was difficult. For example, some reps had trouble identifying where opportunities were or what steps needed to occur for opportunities to close. They would have great meetings or calls, but the opportunity just seemed to peter out. Other reps, though, needed help with prospecting. They felt they lacked the credibility to make calls outside their comfort zone of HR professionals.

Wilkinson recognized that LSI’s fast growth had come from “early adopters” and that the organization sales had stagnated because they had not successfully penetrated the major market buyers. While the “wins” were usually buyers who understood intuitively how to use LSI offerings, the “misses” were often losses to either an internal training team or “No Decision, Inc.” With these misses, his client relationship managers either had trouble positioning offerings in ways the buyer would grasp or had trouble cost justifying the engagements.

Wilkinson needed the following capabilities to ramp up sales:

  • A customized best-practices LSI sales process, from first initiation, through customer success. This process had to contain pipeline milestones, deliverables and needed to be 100% auditable for sales management in coaching sessions.
  • Sales messaging that would give the client relationship managers the tools to have quality, consultative conversations which would be mapped to the pipeline milestones established in the sales process. Since the core of the sales process is the sales interactions (conversations between client relationship manager and buyer), the core of the conversational, consultative messaging included:
    • How to obtain targeted buyer’s business goals and explore needs;
    • Actual diagnostic questions for each targeted buyer, that would help the client relationship manager extract the buyer’s issues that are currently preventing them from achieving those goals;
    • How to help client relationship managers build value by architecting the questions for them that would uncover the financial impact of the issues; and
    • Then, product positioning that would help the buyer build a vision on how the use of Leadership Strategies’ offerings would help them achieve those goals.
  • Tools and know-how for managers to review each client relationship manager’s documentation of their selling efforts in the form of customer correspondence. In doing so, managers would have visibility into each sales process and could monitor activity levels and competence in key areas with development in specific areas as needed.

LSI contracted with consultant Adam Shapiro to gain the above capabilities. In June 2005, Shapiro worked closely with the company’s sales and marketing leaders to develop the sales-ready messaging for LSI key products and services. A month later, Shapiro taught a customized workshop to all customer-facing personnel at LSI, using the actual sales-ready messaging tools the reps would employ post-workshop.

Wilkinson has been thrilled with the results. “We had an incredible September – the best in the company’s history. September was followed by the best October and November in five years.” One customer relationship manager who was having a difficult time closing opportunities and having executive interactions, “has been lighting up the sales board,” says Wilkinson.

“LSI has terrific offerings for increasing the organizational effectiveness of employees and delighting customers,” Shapiro says. “Their customer relationship managers just needed a way that described the offerings in terms of usage so the mainstream market would get it.”

LSI now has a repeatable, auditable sales process that gives salespeople confidence during their sales interactions and a roadmap for success.

“Adam has done a terrific job for us,” says Wilkinson. “By taking the first month to customize our messaging, he was able to deliver training that was far more impactful then anything we had experienced before. He has superb consulting and training skills and diagnoses issues quickly. Because he lives the selling approach he espouses, he served as an excellent model for our customer relationship managers and sales manager. We were so impressed with Adam’s skills, we extended the contract to have him sit along side our sales manager during the first month of opportunity reviews. Through the value he continually delivers, he truly serves as a trusted advisor for our organization.”

*NOTE:  Admittedly, this success story is a re-post from a few years ago.  It was lost in the transition from Typepad to WordPress.  I continue to work with Leadership Strategies providing strategic and tactical sales and marketing consulting and training.