Sales and Sales Management Blog

March 21, 2008

Book Review: Managing Sales Leads by James Obermayer

Let me start by disclosing my personal perspective—I’m a sales guy, not a marketing guy.  I mention that because when reading anything relating to lead generation I’m constantly examining the information, recommendations, and workability of content from a sales perspective, not a marketing perspective.  Reading Managing Sales Leads: Turning Cold Prospects into Hot Customers (South-Western Educational Publishers, 2007), by James Obermayer was not an exception.

As a sales trainer and sales consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work with salespeople and sales departments of a good number of companies and to see a wide variety of efforts to manage the leads generated by marketing.  Unfortunately, for the majority of these companies, using the term ‘sales lead management’ is almost laughable.  Not that there isn’t some effort—it is simply futile effort.

I often hear complaints about lead generation from all sides.  Sales complains about the quality and freshness of the leads; marketing complains that they send leads to the sales department and then never hear another word about them; executive management complains that they’re spending a great deal of money on lead generation but have no idea for what—marketing shows them a huge stack of leads, sales complains they’re worthless, and finance or accounting complains that the cost is unjustified.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t companies that have somehow managed to work through the problems and solve them.  I’ve been fortunate to work with some of them also.  Not many—but a few.

With that as my starting point, I was somewhat skeptical of Managing Sales Leads.  It would probably turn out to be either a pie-in-the-sky theoretical treatise filled with graphs and charts—and totally useless information in the real world or it would pontificate on how ROI on lead generation COULD be managed if it weren’t for the miscreants in sales screwing everything up through their refusal to cooperate.

I was absolutely wrong.

Managing Sales Leads: Turning Cold Prospects into Hot Customers aims to resolve three critical issues in lead generation:

Lead Quality:  One of the main objections salespeople have to working leads generated by marketing is the quality and freshness of the leads.  The single most common complaint I hear from salespeople regarding the leads they receive is that the leads really aren’t leads; they’re simply unqualified names and phone numbers.  Marketing, in the humble opinion of the salespeople, has no idea of what a real lead is.  For marketing, the salespeople believe, any piece of paper, phone call, or any other inquiry is a lead.  Marketing pops out a name somehow and it’s the sales department’s problem to find out if they are a genuine prospect.

Obermayer not only recognizes the issue, he sets out in detail how marketing can, through the use of inquirer questioning, not only pre-qualify a lead, but rate the lead’s quality prior to submitting it to sales.

In addition, he works through the lead distribution process, showing where leads get held up and, more importantly, how to uncork the bottlenecks that keep leads from reaching the sales force in a timely manner.  As he points out, sales leads are a perishable commodity, making freshness a major issue—and one that is the bane of many, if not most, companies.

Lead Cost vs Return:  The ever-present issue with upper management—why are we spending all these dollars on leads?  Although not a marketing only issue—sales is often put on the spot to justify what they do with leads, marketing is saddled with problem of justifying the money allocated to their lead generation efforts.  Whether through direct mail, cold calling, advertising, their web presence, or any other method they use, they are constantly under the microscope by upper management.

Most often, according to Obermayer, when marketing is asked to justify the investment the answer is, in essence, “trust us, it’s working, we just can’t prove it in terms of dollars and cents.”   When pressed further to specify where the leads are coming from and which channels are producing the best results, the answer is a blank stare.

Those blank stares and “trust us” responses no longer need be tolerated by management, according to Managing Sales Leads.  The book sets out a workable process for identifying and quantifying the return on investment of each and every lead generation channel marketing pursues.

This isn’t to say the process is easy, it’s to say the process is workable and realistic.  Relying on a software program to solve the problem—as promised by many software companies—is unrealistic.  Although Obermayer discusses the benefits of such programs, he points out what should be obvious but is so often overlooked—the data the program spits out is only as useful as the data marketing allows it to produce.  Then the data must be interpreted by someone who knows what to do with it.  Interpreting the data and making decisions based on that data is the real key to tracking lead ROI.

Yet, the final problem remains.  How can marketing track the data and make rational decisions—and justify the investment, if sales isn’t doing their part by giving full and accurate lead tracking information?

Marketing/Sales Cooperation:  Getting the sales department to follow-up on and track the final disposition of leads has always been a major issue for marketing.  Although earlier I mentioned that one of the reasons has been salespeople’s view that the leads generated weren’t worth the effort because the leads themselves weren’t qualified, Obermayer recognizes that simply beginning to supply qualified leads won’t solve the problem.

Even though the quality of leads given to sales is a serious issue, even more fundamental to gaining their cooperation is how marketing and sales interact.  The vast majority of salespeople I’ve spoken with in many, many companies have no interest in helping marketing track the disposition of leads because it’s a marketing issue, not a sales issue.  In other words, salespeople don’t feel any connection to the process—there’s no ownership on their part.  They are simply given leads and then the demand comes from marketing: “you will report on what happens with these leads.”

Demanding cooperation, complete with threats, achieves little to nothing.  Instead of demanding, Obermayer argues, a full and complete explanation of why a full reporting is necessary and why and how it benefits the salesperson—more and better leads in the future, meaning more sales and income—can not only gain cooperation, but gain buy-in by the sales team.  Once they have some ownership in the success of the program, their interest level and desire to see the process work becomes real.  Not that Obermayer eliminates the possibility of threats, because he doesn’t.  However, demanding and threatening by themselves won’t get the results that voluntary cooperation through a recognition of why reporting benefits the salespeople will get.

Certainly if you’re in marketing or sales management, you should read Managing Sales Leads.  Geared to mid to large companies, any company that generates leads—even the smallest company with any type of lead generation program—will benefit from the book.  Even individual salespeople who use direct mail, advertising and other lead generation channels can find enough benefit from the concepts and strategies outlined by Obermayer to justify the purchase of the book.

March 20, 2008

Guest Article: “Sales Management: How to Manage Independent, Tech-Savvy New Millennial & Help Them Sell Effectively, by Gregory Stebbins

Sales Management: How to Manage Independent, Tech-Savvy New Millennial & Help Them
Sell Effectively

by Gregory Stebbins

Independent, tech-savvy, social, and optimistic ? why are these “kids” so hard to
manage?

Seasoned sales managers are facing challenges managing new Millennial’s, also known
as people born after 1980. These new sales professionals have a different approach
to life. This greatly impacts their ability to sell effectively.

Understanding them and some key events that took place during their youth will help
you manage your Millennial sales team with shorter ramp times.

What is different about the new Millennial sales team?

Their work styles, motivations and view of the worlds, especially the corporate world.

For example Millennials:

- Demonstrate loyalty to their social network and specific managers and members of
the team, but not to the company.

- Grew up during a technology explosion. Their every day reality included video,
cell phones, laptops, and iPods.

- Are addicted to reality television, Google and websites like Myspace and Facebook.
In this world information is available for the asking. That’s why they believe in
putting everything out there for all to see.

- Faced school violence and global terrorism (specifically 9-11). This made them
wary about the world. It also helped them develop a global perspective

- Have the ability to find information about anything at a rate that far exceeds
expectations of management. What they lack is discernment about the accuracy of the
information. If it’s on the Net they tend to believe it must be accurate. They can
instantly communicate this information to their social network via Blogs, Instant
Messaging (IM), personal Web pages and cell phones. Some companies have found out
the hard way that their management mistakes are common knowledge within days, if not
hours.

- Do not know their own strengths and weaknesses because there have not been many
opportunities for self-evaluation or honest, constructive criticism. With hundreds
of possible activities, from soccer to music lessons, Millennials have been
over-committed and over-scheduled.

- Were smothered in praise with constant reinforcement about how great they are.
That’s why they expect recognition for everything, even the most mundane activities.

This creates your greatest management challenges:

- How do you help them understand that there are winners and losers in the sales
world?

- How do you provide constructive criticism without devastating their psyche?

This is new ground for both the sales manager and the new Millennial sales
professional.

Here’s My Simple 4-Step Process to Managing Your New Millennial Sales Team

1. The first time they approach you, work with them to think through at least three
options. Then make the decision for them. Having them consider options is the first
step of developing your new sales team’s ability to reason.

2. When they want your input, make sure they have created three options to discuss.
Help them understand the consequences of each option. Add in other options if they
haven’t considered all of the consequences.

3. Guide them toward the course to action you want. Essentially they will be making
the recommendation, which you are approving.

4. Cut them loose and have them handle a situation on their own. However, also have
them provide a written report. The report needs to tell you what the situation was,
the options they considered and the decision they made. This step won’t last that
long as their need for independence will kick in and they’ll just stop coming to you
with every little situation.

Keep in mind that these new sales professionals are going to need much more coaching
than their predecessors. Unlike other generations, they grew up protected. And, they
interacted with others largely through technology. This created a generation whose
people savvy is very limited. So, guide them and help them understand the nuances of
body language, the uniqueness of each person’s office and what the contents of that
office reveals about the customer.

And remember, when coaching Millennials your focus and approach may need to be
different from others you have worked with. Here’s how…

- Provide structure and give information in bite-size pieces.
- Praise them for their efforts
- Present mistakes as development opportunities
- Use technology freely before and after the session.
- Provide the rationale behind your coaching.
- Sell your Millennial sales team on the idea of discretion

Smart sales managers focus on developing their Millennial’s people savvy. They
understand flexible work roles and create effective virtual teams. They leverage
technology that will help Millennials become a valuable asset sooner rather than
later.  And, most importantly they meet the challenges of working with, not against,
the new Millennial sales team generation.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Stebbins.  Published with permission.

Sales Psychology Expert Gregory Stebbins has helped over 20,000 sales professionals
better understand their customers so they can outsell their competition. Now, with
his new book “People Savvy for Sales Professional” sales managers can help their NEW
sales team understand a simple, yet groundbreaking plan to winning your customers’
trust and business forever. Get your free sneak preview at

http://www.peoplesavvy.com/book.htm

Paul McCord of the Sales and Sales Management Blog may be reached at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com

March 19, 2008

Obama and Overcoming Objections

Yesterday Barack Obama was faced with the most difficult part of his sales presentation to date. His speech was far more than a speech. His goal wasn’t to rally the troops, although he went in that direction toward the end of the speech. It wasn’t to sooth a few disgruntled potential supports, although he surely recognized there were probably a few he had to bring back into the fold. It wasn’t even an attempt to quash the debate about his former minister.

Yesterday Obama had to begin the process of addressing objections. He had gone for months ignoring the somewhat minor objections from some accusing him of being a closet Muslim and from others who were insinuating he would be a ‘black’ president. Those he tossed off as objections from a small minority of rightwing extremists. But when his association with Jeremiah Wright brought his judgment, which he had spent a year touting, into question, all objections were brought to a head.

Yesterday Obama had to become one thing and one thing only—a salesperson. Yesterday he wasn’t a Senator, aloof and above it all. He wasn’t a presidential candidate sparring over policy or voting records. Yesterday he was just a salesman facing a purchasing committee, many of whose members had serious objections to his “product.” Certainly, the committee he faced was larger and more diverse than any purchasing or executive committee any of us have ever faced. Yet he faced the same task we face—identifying and trying to overcome their objections.

He could have chosen to anticipate and address those objections on his terms within his larger presentation. He didn’t. Instead, he made the mistake many of us in sales make—hoping the objections would never surface or if they did, he could ignore them and they’d just fade away. But they did surface and they didn’t just fade away. So, in crisis mode, he had to shift his presentation from seeking to meet wants and needs (hope and change) to handling serious and potentially sale killing objections.

Yesterday was just the beginning. He addressed the objections by trying to get his prospects to acknowledge a further, deeper need, to recognize a serious pain that needs to be resolved and tying that larger pain to the basis of their objections. In the months to come he will have to expand on his presentation and ultimately give some idea of a solution. As we salespeople know, you can’t simply seek to prick a pain or gain recognition of a need—you have to offer a solution if you want the prospect to buy.

So, politics aside, from a strictly sales presentation perspective—in your opinion, how did he do? I’d love to hear your opinions.

March 18, 2008

Guest Article: “The Rule of 45: Predicting Sales Results From Inquiries,” by James Obermayer

The Rule of 45: Predicting Sales Results From Inquiries
by James Obermayer

The Rule of 45 is the basic measurement premise from which you can measure the effectiveness of virtually all lead generation programs. It is a steady, reliable rule which simply says that 45% of all inquiries (not just qualified sales leads), will buy from someone. The timeframe for this purchase is usually, but not always within 12 months. The percent that buys in three months is between 10%-15% and the percent that buys in six months is 26%.

If you follow-up 100% of the inquiries, the biggest variable in this formula is the time needed to reach the 45% threshold. Every product has a typical average time frame for the majority of the interested parties to make a decision. For consumer products this could be a few months, for B2B products the Rule of 45 is completed within 12 months.

On average the following rules apply:

  • Within 3 months 10%-15% of business to business prospects will buy someone’s product.
  • Within 6 months, 26% will buy someone’s product.
  • Within one year 45% will buy someone’s product.

While time is a pacing item, the most influential issue for a company to attain it’s fullest share of the market place is the follow-up by the salesperson. Follow-up only 25% (a consistent number I hear from many companies), and you’ll only compete in 25% of the available deals.

How important is this variable? The following example shows what happens when sales follow-up dips to 25%. First, let’s look at the potential in a group of 1000 inquiries if follow-up is 100%.

  • 1000 Inquiries X 45%% = 450 potential buyers
  • X Follow-up of 100% and you still have 450 buyers
  • X 25% market share = 112 buyers
  • X ASP (average sales price) of $10,000 = $1,120,000 in sales

Reduce the follow-up to 25% and this is the result:

1000 inquiries, x 45% x 25% Follow-up X 25% X $10,000 = $280,000

Your own market share is projected as a percent of the buyers. I have been involved in over 100 Did You Buy Studies on a variety of products, and the Rule of 45 is consistent.

Pretty brutal isn’t it. Spend 2%-20% of yearly revenue on marketing and because of poor follow-up your sales will be 25% of what could have been. This calls for a mandate from sales management: 100% Sales inquiry follow-up is part of every salesperson’s job description. At some companies, this is a condition of employment.

Copyright 2008, James Obermayer. Published with permission.

James W. Obermayer is a principal in Sales Leakage Consulting, Inc., an Orange County, California based sales and marketing strategy consulting firm and a principal of Cerius Consulting. He specializes in helping small to medium-size companies identify sales and marketing leakage issues that stifle sales growth and waste valuable marketing dollars. Aside from consulting, his career has been equally divided between sales and marketing positions in business-to-business corporations. In addition, Obermayer is the author of “Managing Sales Leads, Turning Cold Prospects into Hot Customers” and “Sales & Marketing 365″, and co-author of “Managing Sales Leads, How to Turn Every Prospect into a Customer.” Visit his company’s website at http://www.salesleakage.com

Paul McCord of the Sales and Sales Management Blog may be reached at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com

March 17, 2008

Moving Sales Out of the Dark Ages

There was a time when marketing and advertising were viewed as seat of the pants processes, based on gut feeling, hope, and simply looking at the overall results to determine whether they were ‘working.’

Instead of trying to understand marketing as a quantifiable activity, the marketing department would simply generate a number of targeted activities such as direct mail pieces, radio, TV and print ads, and other such promotional pieces, then sit back to see what happened. If sales increased, the marketing was working. Which particular pieces of the campaign were generating the inquiries and ultimately the sales wasn’t known, but the overall outcome was known.

As marketing became more disciplined and as the marketing department was put under increasing pressure from upper management to justify expenditures, marketers had to develop ways to quantify and analyze the results of each marketing activity they engaged in. Marketing metrics was born. Over the years, the ability of marketing to track and quantify each and every dollar spent increased. Not only did the marketing department become more accountable for their activity, their results increased. By analyzing the results of their activity they became better capable of determining which activities would work, what return they could reasonably expect from any particular activity, and how to very quickly spot activities that were not producing sufficient returns—and equally important, spot new opportunities.

This isn’t to say that marketing has become a science. There is a tremendous amount of art and creativity in marketing. And certainly not every company has instituted sufficient monitoring systems to be able to adequately manage their marketing efforts.

Furthermore, the ‘science’ part of marketing is still evolving, as it always will. Managing the marketing function can never be distilled to numbers only. Nevertheless, marketers work in a fast-paced, evolving marketplace. They must be prepared to change as quickly as the marketplace changes, which can be almost overnight. Without real data, needed change to keep up with the marketplace cannot happen in a timely manner. Any marketing department that operates off gut feeling and instinct is going to be left in the dust by their competitors.

This combining of hard data with the art and creativity of marketing has yet to be transferred to sales. Despite the similarities and the interconnection between the two disciplines, sales has been left far behind marketing when it comes to understanding what is really working and what isn’t.

Certainly, sales has a basic set of numbers. Managers may get reports that show the number of sales, sometimes by product, of each of their salespeople. They get commission reports. Possibly call reports. They get reports that show how sales have increased or decreased over a period of time—a quarter or maybe a year.

Individual salespeople are expected to know some of their basic numbers, their closing ratio for instance—maybe even how many cold calls they’ve made. They may even know their appointment-setting ratio from their cold calls.

For most this really isn’t data because most of these ‘ratios’ are based on a guess, not on real numbers. Ask most any salesperson what their close ratio is and you’ll get an answer such as “45%.” Ask how many sales that is and they’ll say, “About 30.” Ask how many presentations they made and they’ll say, “Somewhere around 75 to 80.” Ask how many contacts they made to get those 75 to 80 appointments and they’ll say, “I don’t know, maybe 400.” Ask how many attempts at contacts to reach those 400 prospects and they’ll say, “Gee, I really don’t know. Maybe 900.”

Their ‘ratios’ are nothing but guesses and those guesses often have nothing to do with reality. In fact those ‘ratios’ are often purposely skewed up or down by the salesperson to match what they think you want to hear.

Without having a solid database of reliable information, salespeople and their company are left to guess. More importantly, their production, their development as salespeople and their future is left completely to luck and chance.

The consequences of not knowing the actual sales and production data of salespeople are costing companies billions of dollars a year:

  • Sales forecasts are grossly inflated because salespeople base their forecasts on hope, not reality
  • Sales training dollars are wasted because individual salespeople are not getting the specific training that will help them increase their production
  • Sales leads generated by marketing are not converted into sales because they are not being closed by salespeople
  • Sales opportunities are being lost because salespeople are engaging in ineffective marketing activities and pursing unproductive market segments
  • Sales managers are wasting thousands of hours a year trying to nurture salespeople in the wrong methods and the wrong activities
  • Turnover is unnecessarily high because salespeople don’t know what to do to become successful in their sales efforts

On an individual level, salespeople are suffering more than their company. Without real data about their sales and marketing activity, salespeople don’t know where to make changes that will positively affect their efforts. They can only guess and work by trial and error, often washing out of sales before they accidentally hit on the right things to do.

Yet, all of this wasted time, money and effort are needless. Sales production is predictable. A salesperson and manager can know exactly what changes to make to a salesperson’s activity and skill set that will have a positive impact on their sales efforts.

Although sales is an activity whose results are dependent upon a number of factors such as the individual’s skills, the amount of time and energy they invest, and their ability to find and connect with prospects, those items can be monitored, measured, and improved. However, without knowing what is happing in a salesperson’s business, effective time management change cannot be made, effective skill improvement cannot be made, and increasing their ability to find and connect with the right prospects cannot be made. At least not in a systematic, disciplined, rational manner. Without knowing what the root problem is and why it exists, you’re left with guessing, with costly and time consuming trial and error.

With proper and full data, a salesperson can know exactly what their production will be in the future; they can know exactly where and how to make real, results changing improvements in their business; they can know not only which prospects they connect with, they can know exactly where and how to find them and exactly how to approach them.

The typical data companies and salespeople keep are not only inadequate, they are almost worthless for making real change in a salesperson’s or the company’s future. A completely new set of metrics must be kept. Each salesperson must have a complete numerical overview of their business including:

  • Complete prospecting data including:
    • how many prospects they attempt to contact
    • how many were contacted, how many appointments were set
    • how many of the appointments were with qualified prospects
    • the demographic data on those prospects
    • how they found and contacted each prospect
    • how many prospects bought
    • exactly what each prospect bought
  • Complete marketing activity data including:

    • what market segments they marketed to
    • what marketing activities they engaged in for each segment
    • what the results were for each activity, not only which activities generated prospects but which generated sales,
    • what each prospect within each segment bought
  • Complete sales data including:

    • who bought
    • what they bought
    • why they bought
    • why those who didn’t buy didn’t buy

A lot of numbers? Yes. Will this take a good deal of time and effort? At first, yes. However, with a well-developed system in place, maintaining these numbers need not be overly burdensome for either the salesperson or the company.

Yet, despite the initial trouble of setting the system up on either an individual or a company basis, the rewards can be tremendous. With several months accurate data in hand the salesperson or company can accurately predict exactly:

  • what a salesperson’s production will be over a period of time
  • exactly what changes to the salesperson’s prospecting, marketing and sales process will increase production
  • exactly which market segments, marketing methods and sales process will generate the greatest returns for the salesperson.

Although it is important to institute a metrics system on an individual or company basis, a much quicker and equally effective process is to have each salesperson reconstruct their previous year’s (or at least 6 months) sales and marketing history. Whereas with instituting a system going forward you can generate highly accurate data in a matter of months, by simultaneously reconstructing a past history the analysis and changes can begin much immediately.

For millennia, salespeople and companies have treated sales as part art, part luck, part hard work, with little or no expectation that it can be a predictable and controllable process. Companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year using assessment tools to try to identify quality salespeople, then leave to chance the result of their hiring process. However, just as marketing has discovered that their efforts need not be left to chance, accident or instinct, sales need not leave their discipline to chance or instinct either.

Will salespeople rebel and feel they are being micromanaged with such a system? That depends upon how the system is instituted and used. If the metrics are used to help the salesperson improve and make more money, then no, they won’t feel micromanaged. If on the other hand, the system is used to beat and berate the salesperson, to spy on and ‘keep them in line,’ yes, rebellion will take place. Like any other system within the company, a full sales metrics system can be an asset or a liability, depending upon how it is introduced and how the information generated is used.

The marketplace is changing more rapidly than ever and change will continue at an increasingly rapid pace. Today it is crucial for salespeople and companies to know exactly what is working and what isn’t.

No longer can a salesperson or a company hope to operate successfully based on instinct. Competition is too fierce, prospects have too many options, and it is too costly to continue to work from trial and error. Combining sales, technology, mathematics, and astute analysis can and eventually will change sales. The question isn’t will it happen, the question is will you or your company benefit from it or be a victim of it?

 

Paul McCord is a leading authority on prospecting, referral selling, and personal marketing. He is president of McCord and Associates, a Houston, Texas based sales training, coaching, and consulting company. His first book, Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income: Sales Success through Client Referrals (John Wiley and Sons, 2007), is an Amazon and Barnes and Noble best-seller and is quickly becoming recognized as the authoritative work on referral selling. His second book, SuperStar Selling: 12 Keys to Becoming a Sales SuperStar will be released in February, 2008. He may be reached at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com or visit his sales training website at www.powerreferralselling.com or his highly popular Sales and Sales Management Blog at http://salesandmanagementblog.com

Copyright 2008, Paul McCord. May be reproduced without change, with proper attribution and brief bio. Notice of when and where article is to appear to pmccord@mccordandassociates.com

March 16, 2008

Guest Article: “Are You a Commodity?,” by Tessa Stowe

Are You A Commodity? 
by Tessa Stowe

Do you find yourself competing on price? Do you often talk to a prospect, think you have made the sale and then they decide to shop around and buy based on price?

If this sounds familiar, then potential clients probably perceive you as a commodity. They think the service you’re offering is much the same as the service offered by LOTS of other people. So it makes sense for them to shop around and buy the cheapest. Wouldn’t you?

I know you think your service is unique, and potential clients should be able to understand that and should be able to see your value. But if you’re competing on price, this is a red flag that your potential clients don’t see your unique value. Instead, they perceive you as a commodity. In this case, you need to do something about it — and fast.

The question is what do you need to do so you are not perceived as commodity?

The solution “seems” obvious: make yourself unique. This will take “shopping for the cheapest” out of the equation and instead, potential buyers must make a decision based on the value of what you’re offering. How can you make yourself unique? Here are three steps to ensure your potential and current clients see you as unique and therefore make decisions based on your value and not your price.

Step One: Determine the unique value (results) of your service.

Get really clear on the results you achieve for your clients. Then look at those results as a potential client would. Don’t cut corners doing this exercise, it’s crucial. Dig deep to find the answers. If you’re not clear on your own value how can you expect your potential clients to be?

Once you’ve done that, figure out what it is you offer that no one else does. I would suggest asking some of your clients these questions. Their answers may surprise and enlighten you.

Step Two: Determine the unique value of you.

What unique skills and strengths do you bring to what you do? What is unique about your approach and your interaction with clients? Again, I would suggest asking some of your clients these questions.

Step Three: Communicate your unique value.

It’s imperative that you communicate your distinct value in all of your conversations and marketing materials. It’s not enough that you know your unique value; you have to be able to clearly convey it to potential clients.
This is the key. Don’t leave it up to people to guess. If they have to, you’ve already lost them. The “how” of doing this is where most people struggle but it is a skill that can be learned as part of the sales conversation process.

If you follow these three steps, your unique value will be clear to potential clients. You will start having conversations with clients about the unique value you offer, and they will make a decision based on whether they want that value or not. Remember, if they want your unique value, they can’t shop around.

A funny thing will happen when you clearly articulate your unique value. You will find more and more people will be naturally attracted to you and they will be prepared to pay your price. You’ll also get a lot more referrals as your “unique value” message spreads. Chances are too that you can increase your price and potential clients will pay it.

If you go through the three steps and you still find yourself competing on price or getting price objections, then simply go back and repeat the process. It’s also a good idea to ask the person you’re talking with for their input as they could shine the light on your value gap.

Spend some quality time thinking about your unique value and how you can convey it. You will then start turning your sales conversations into more higher paying clients.

Copyright 2008. Tessa Stowe.  Published with permission.

Tessa Stowe is a sales trainer and author with over 20 years experience in professional sales.  Visit Tessa at her website http://www.salesconversation.com.

Paul McCord of the Sales and Sales Management Blog may be reached at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com

March 15, 2008

Guest Article: “Confused Sales Prospects Do Not Buy,” by Wendy Weiss

Confused Sales Prospects Do Not Buy
By Wendy Weiss

I received a voice mail from a sales representative:

‘The purpose of my call today is to introduce myself and take a moment to briefly describe for you two core-based technologies; laser Internet on-line office and an Internet broadcasting technology. I don’t know whether or not if any of these applications may be of interest to you, I would appreciate a brief moment of your time to review that.’

They weren’t of interest. I didn’t call back. Well, actually, to be more exact, I didn’t know if they’d be of interest. I am a techno-moron. While I use technology for my business, I only use technology when I understand the value of what that technology enables me to do. I have frequent conversations with my IT consultant and I tell him what I’d like to be able to accomplish and he makes recommendations, in very plain English.

Getting back to the message above, I have no idea what ‘core-based technologies’ and ‘laser internet on-line office,’ mean. While I have a sense of what ‘an internet broadcasting technology’ might be, I don’t know or understand its value to me. And that is the heart of the matter: What is the value? There was nothing in his message that enabled me to understand the value he had to offer. There was, therefore, no reason for me to call him back.

This same representative called me a few days later. Because I generally talk to sales people who call me, we did talk for approximately five minutes. I still didn’t understand what his product was, what it did or what its value to me might possibly be. I told him so. He still couldn’t make himself clear. Instead, he said he’d send an e-mail, which would miraculously explain everything. I never received it.

Instead, a few days later there was another voice mail. It was the exact same message that he’d left the first time. No acknowledgement that we’d talked (clearly he’d forgotten or simply didn’t check me off in his data base) and no mention of the promised e-mail. I didn’t return his call.

Today I received yet another voice mail from this representative. This one went: ‘Just wanted to follow-up on our conversation and the information I sent to you.’ Again, this message contained nothing about the value he had to offer. He gave me no compelling reason to respond and I did not.

So what are the lessons here?

Lesson 1. Keep good records. This way you will know whether or not you have spoken with a prospect, what you talked about and what is your next step.

Lesson 2. If you promise to send something to a prospect, send it.

Lesson 3. Always lead with value. ‘What is the value to me?’ That’s the question that every prospect is asking when they hear your message and/or when you get them on the telephone. It’s really your job to tell them. They will not guess, read your mind or figure it out on their own.

Lesson 4. Be crystal clear. You are the expert in what you do. You are the expert on your product, your service and/or your offering, your prospect is not. It is a huge mistake to assume that your prospect knows or understands the value of what you have to offer. You must make your message so clear that even a child would understand the value.

Confused sales prospects do not buy.

Copyright 2008, Wendy Weiss. Published with permission.

Wendy Weiss, The Queen of Cold Calling, is a sales trainer, sales coach and author specializing in cold calling and new business development. She started her business 15 years ago, representing clients on the telephone and setting new business appointments. While Wendy no longer “dials for dollars” (except for her own business), all of her workshops, seminars, products and individual sales coaching are based on practical, real-life, hands-on experience. She is the author of Cold Calling for Women. Visit her at http://www.wendyweiss.com or contact her at wendy@wendyweiss.com

Paul McCord of the Sales and Sales Management Blog may be reached at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com

March 14, 2008

Guest Article: “Accepting Responsibility for Your Sales Success,” by Dave Kahle

Accepting Responsibility for Your Sales Success
by Dave Kahle

That we live in a time of relentless and pervasive change is no longer news to anyone. There is one important implication of this situation that continues to be a challenge. That is that our employees need to continually change their behavior to adapt to the world around them.

My work of helping companies develop more effective sales organizations always involves making changes in the company. And sooner or later, that means that some of the employees must make significant changes in the ways that they think about, and do, their jobs.

This is particularly true of the sales people, who must decide to change their behavior and to implement the best practices that I teach. Beyond that, ultimately, helping people change is the work of every executive, manager, consultant and trainer.

Which brings us to the heart of this article. What is it that empowers some people to change smoothly and effortlessly, while getting others to modify their behavior seems like moving a mountain? What is the fundamental building block for individuals that, more than anything else, equips them to successfully implement change?

It is something that is becoming increasingly rare — a motivating sense of personal responsibility. That is, a deep and imbiding belief that one is responsible for one’s own behavior as well as the consequences of that behavior.

That seems so basic and common sense, yet I am constantly amazed by how few people actually exhibit it. Over and over in my work in developing sales people and their managers, I’m struck by how many people fail to accept responsibility for their own success or lack of it.

It’s far more popular to be a victim. We have all shook our heads sadly over some newspaper account of someone who commits some act of irresponsibility, and then successfully sues someone else. In our litigious world, being a victim often pays. That is an unfortunate consequence of an unhealthy belief.

As long as we view ourselves as victims, we’re unable to change ourselves or our circumstances and achieve better results. It is not our fault that we’re not doing better, we tell ourselves. Someone else caused it. And because it’s someone else’s doing, the power to fix it and make it better is with some one else. We’re powerless to fix it.

While few people admit it, or even realize it consciously, this “victim attitude,” the direct opposite of personal responsibility, is very common, and embraced to some degree by most of us. This is especially true of sales people, who could always do better if only something were different – something that someone else controls. If only… we had lower prices …our quality was better …the boss was more understanding …customer service was more responsive …you know the litany because you’ve chanted it.

My wife is a crises counselor. One of the biggest eye-openers for her occurred when she realized that she was counseling the same people over and over again. You’d think, as she did, that a crisis would be an isolated event. Not so. Many of her clients find themselves lurching from one crisis to another. Why? Because they don’t make the changes in their behavior and character that got them into the crises in the first place. At some deep level, they see themselves as victims, not personally responsible for their own character, their own behavior, and the consequences that behavior brings. Where there is no sense of personal responsibility, there is little hope for positive change.

I had a personal experience that brought this lesson home to me in a way that I will never forget.

I had been the number one salesperson in the nation for a company – my first full time professional sales job. I had it made: adequate salary, good benefits, company car, bonus potential, and the respect of my employer and colleagues. But the long term opportunities were limited, and I decided to move onto a job that was 180 degrees different. I took a position selling surgical staplers to hospitals. It was a leap from the secure job I had to one that paid straight commission, required you to buy your own samples and literature from the company, and provided only six months of a draw to begin.

But I was cocky, filled with the success of my previous job, and sure that I could make this work also. It wasn’t hasty. I looked at the amount of existing business in the territory I was slated to get, and determined that if I could double the business with in six months—a doable task, I was assured – I’d be back making about what I was used to. Then, as I increased the business, my income and life style would evidence the difference

It all sounded good, and I left my old job, and arrived in New York City for six weeks of intensive training on the new one. During the time that I was there, my district manager moved on, and was replaced. When I arrived home after the training, he was anxious to meet with me. In our first meeting, before I had a chance to begin working, he informed me that he had revised the sales territories. The territory that I thought I had — the one I was hired for – was not the one I was going to get. Instead, I was going to receive just a fraction of that.

The new territory only contained about 1/3 of the existing business of the previous one. This change meant my plans for making a living were shot. It now became an impossible task.

I was upset and angry. How could they do that to me? I immediately began to look for another job. Determined to quickly leave this unethical, uncaring company.

Things got worse. As I interviewed several companies, I discovered that they saw me as the problem. Instead of understanding what the company had done to me, they thought I was an opportunist who was looking for an easy way out. It became clear that no one else was going to hire me!

I grew more and more angry and bitter. In addition, I had little success selling the staplers. After six months, my temporary draw came to an end. I owed the company $10,000, was making almost nothing, and had no prospects for another job. I felt squeezed between the proverbial rock and hard place. I was a victim of a dirty deal.

Then, out of the blue one day, I had an inspiration. It was me! The problem was me! Yes, the company had treated me poorly. Yes, they had been unethical and uncaring. But, the product was still exciting, and the opportunity still great. The real problem was my attitude – my bitterness and anger were getting in the way of everything.

I was responsible for my own behavior, my own thoughts, and my own attitude. When I had the realization that it was me, I felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. If the problem was me, then I could change! If the problem was somebody else, then I was a victim, and powerless to do anything about it. What a motivational and exhilarating realization. I began to work on my attitude. I began to take control of my thoughts. I looked up Bible verses that were very inspiriting. Versus like, “If God is for you, who can be against you?” “If you have faith like a mustard seed…” I wrote them down on 3X5 cards. Then, as I drove into my territory every day along I-96 in Detroit, I held them in my hand on the steering wheel, and read them over and over to myself. Slowly I began to do away with my bitter attitude, and replace it with hope and expectation.

My results began to change also. Things began to go better. Six months later, I had paid off the debt to the company, and was making more money then I thought possible. The job became more fun, more financially rewarding and more fulfilling then anything I ever expected.

The turning point for me occurred at the moment I accepted personal responsibility for my circumstances.

Once again, the lesson is clear: When there is no acceptance of personal responsibility, there is little hope for positive change. Where there is a personal responsibility the future holds unlimited potential.

Your struggle to bring about significant change in your organization will depend on the depth to which your employees embrace their responsibility to make personal changes. Your efforts to improve the productivity of your sales force will ultimately depend on the degree to which your sales force accepts personal responsibility to make the changes in behavior that will improve their results.

Can you instill a sense of personal responsibility if it is lacking?

This is one of those aspects of character that is always easier to hire then to instill. In other words, if you hire people who already have a sense of personal responsibility, your job will be much easier.

However, if some of your current employees lack this characteristic in sufficient quantity, it is not hopeless. By understanding the importance of this quality of character, and regularly making it a part of your conversations, you can raise the awareness of this fundamental building block for implementing change. Talk about it, write about it, and preach it in company meetings in the hope that many of your employees will see the light, in the same way that I did.

Copyright Dave Kahle, published with permission.

Dave Kahle, a high-energy, high-content speaker, has a special gift for engaging his audiences and stimulating people to think. He’s a world-class speaker who has presented in 36 states and six countries. He brings a wealth of practical information to his clients. The author of three books and over 300 articles, Dave’s knowledge comes the real world of the sales trenches having spent over 30 years in sales. Visit Dave at http://www.davekahle.com or contact him at dave@davekahle.com

Paul McCord of the Sales and Sales Management Blog may be reached at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com

March 13, 2008

Can It Get Any Stranger?

We humans are funny animals.  We tend to do the same things over and over, no matter what the consequences.  Although we are admonished to learn from our mistakes, more often than not we continue to make the same mistakes time after time.  Maybe not the big obvious mistakes, but the little ones that we don’t notice we keep doing and doing.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if we’re doing something that has a negative outcome that we’d stop doing it?  Even more fundamental, doesn’t it seem reasonable that we’d notice that what we’re doing isn’t working?

Seems reasonable.  But strange as it seems, our lives are full of things that have negative consequences, yet we continue to do them.  Some we may be aware of and consciously choose to do anyway such as smoking, overeating, or taking a tad too many nips of the juice.

Nevertheless, there are whole hosts of actions we take that have negative consequences of which we are completely ignorant.  We’re ignorant of these negative consequence actions not because we’re blind, or stupid, or too lazy to see them.  We’re ignorant because we have never examined them to see what the consequences of those actions really are.  We do them because we’re ‘supposed’ to do them or because that’s the way we’ve always done it.  We do them out of ignorance.

Unfortunately, that same ignorance that invests other parts of our lives, worms its way into our sales careers as well.  We do the things we’ve been told are the right things to do or we do them in the way we were told was the right way to do them.  And when the outcome of those actions isn’t what it’s supposed to be, we blame ourselves or chalk it up to bad luck or bad timing.  Worse, we decide the answer is to do more of those actions.  If we do them more often and with more conviction, the outcome will definitely be better, right?

Can it get any stranger?  Yet, that is how the vast majority of salespeople run their sales careers.

Cold calling not working?  Make more cold calls.  Not closing enough sales?  Push for the sale harder.  Not meeting enough prospects at the networking events you go to?  Go to more events.  The direct mail piece you sent not producing results?  Send out more.

The answer is always more of the same.  Do more of what’s not working and it’ll work.

What a strange business we’re in.  What other business is there whose answer to the things that aren’t producing results is to do more of it?

Do you think that if the owner of a restaurant decided he wasn’t selling enough fish the answer would be to cook more fish?  Or, if the radiology treatment a physician has prescribed isn’t working they would just prescribe a larger dose?  Of course not.  The restaurateur would want to know why he wasn’t selling more fish and he would figure out how to generate more customers who order fish or he would change his menu to reflect the tastes of his customers because if he tries to continue to force fish on his customers, he’ll be out of business.  Likewise, instead of just prescribing a bigger dose of the same radiology treatment, the physician will seek to discover why the treatment isn’t working and change her prescription accordingly.

Neither the restaurateur nor the physician is just going to say, “oh, well.  What I’m doing isn’t working so I’ll just do lots more of it.”  We’d think they were nuts if that were their answer.

Yet, that’s the answer most salespeople come up with when their sales career isn’t progressing in the direction they want.  And the strange thing is few of their associates or their manager think they’re crazy for simply doing more of what doesn’t work.  In fact, they are often the salesperson’s biggest cheerleaders egging them on to do exactly that.

Can it get any stranger?

Why would a rational person decide the answer to correcting something that isn’t working is to do more of what isn’t working?

Although there are a number of reasons such as the advice they are getting from their sales manager, many of the sales books they read, and their associates, all assuring them that all they need to do is make more calls, push harder for the sales, send out more direct mail pieces, often the real culprit is that they have no idea what they are doing that is working and what they are doing that isn’t working.

Salespeople for the most part tend to work off gut feeling.  “I feel that my cold calling isn’t producing the desired results.”  “I feel that I’m my closing skills are really good, I just don’t feel that I’m getting to make enough presentations.”  “I feel that I’m getting a lot of referrals, they’re just not very good.”

Working off gut feeling is a surefire way to feel and be broke.

The problem is few salespeople take the time and put in the effort to examine their sales business in detail to discover what they are doing that is really producing the results they want—and what they are doing that isn’t.  Few salespeople know exactly:

•  What activities they are investing the majority of their time in
•  The characteristics of the prospects they really connect with
•  Where their sales–not their prospects but their sales–are coming from
•  What prospecting and marketing methods are actually producing sales and not just bodies
•  What they are doing in the sales process that is working and what isn’t, furthermore, most have no real idea of what
their sales process is
•  Or know exactly how many qualified prospects they talk to, how many of those prospects bought, what specific products
or services they bought, why the prospects bought—or didn’t buy

In order to run a business, the business owner must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of their income statement and their balance sheet.  Those two documents tell the business owner what’s really going on in their business.  They tell them not only how well they are doing, but where to invest more time and money, they warn of potential problems, and they reveal new potential opportunities the business owner might not otherwise have seen.  The balance sheet and income statement are the history of the business and the business’s history tells the business owner what’s going to happen in the future—good and bad–unless the business owner makes changes to the business.

Salespeople need the same roadmap as any other business owner.  Salespeople are not employees—despite getting a W2.  Every salesperson is self-employed.  They run their own sales company.  For those salespeople who are W2’d, it just happens they have only one client—the company they are currently selling for.  Like any business owner, they must have a historical document that alerts them to problems–as well as opportunities.

Rather than having a balance sheet and income statement, salespeople must take the time and invest the effort to reconstruct their sales and marketing history in numerical form.  They must create a document that informs them of not what they think or feel has happened in the past, but tells them exactly what has happened.  Such a document will tell them in no uncertain terms where they have really spent their time; what they have really done in terms of prospecting and marketing; who their ideal prospect really is; what prospecting and marketing methods are really working; what their closing ratio really is; and a great deal more.  And it tells them that if they continue doing what they’re doing, exactly what will happen in the future.  On the other hand, it will also tell them exactly what changes must be made in order to change their future.

If a sales history document is so powerful, why do only a handful of salespeople have one?  Although one of the most powerful tools any salesperson—and their manager—can have, reconstructing one’s sales and marketing history is tedious, takes a good deal of effort, and for many the results are very uncomfortable.

In my newly released book, SuperStar Selling: 12 Keys to Becoming a Sales SuperStar, I address in detail how to build a sales and marketing history and how to use it to make discoveries and changes to one’s sales business.  One’s sales and marketing history is, in fact, the basis for everything else in the book.  Yet, I hated having to make the sales and marketing history chapter the first chapter of the book because reconstructing one’s history is hard work.  I didn’t want to confront the reader with such a difficult task in the first chapter.  Ultimately, I had no choice but to put that chapter right up front.  It is simply too important and everything else in one’s sales business revolves around what they learn about what they are doing well and what they aren’t.  You can’t make rational, well thought out changes to your sales business unless you know exactly where you are and how you got there.

If you are serious about changing your sales business, you must learn to run it like a business and to take full responsibility for what you do, why you do it, and how you do it.  You can’t do that unless you know–and you can’t know by guessing or going on gut feeling.  You can’t change your career if you simply continue to do what you’re doing.

For salespeople, finding and selling quality prospects is how they make a living.  Yet, most leave their success or failure up to chance and gut feeling.  Can it get any stranger than that?  You don’t have to be like 85% of all other salespeople who meander along with no real idea of what to do to be successful.

March 12, 2008

Managing Underperformers to Sales Success

Most sales teams are overflowing with underperformers, from those who are consistently far below quota to those who meet quota but could be performing on a much higher level to some of the top salespeople who haven’t reached their full potential but who just can’t seem to find a way to step up another notch or two.

All of these underperformers are costing the company money—even those top salespeople who have reached a plateau they can’t seem to climb above.  Lost sales, wasted training dollars, discontent and anxiety, and turnover are just a few of the serious issues associated with underperforming sales teams.

Traditionally, managers have focused their attention on those salespeople who are not meeting quota, allowing those who are performing at a minimum acceptable level to continue without being challenged to stretch themselves, to maximize their performance.  Most managers are concerned about production quotas and goals, not maximizing the performance of each individual on their team.

Time is partly to blame for this focus on only those salespeople who are not meeting quota.  But it is hardly the only factor.  In reality, it’s not the primary factor.

Managers concentrate only on the non-quota achievers simply because they don’t know how to help their salespeople fully develop their potential.  That isn’t an indictment of managers—most have never been given a process to help develop their team members.  The average sales manager uses ‘motivation,’ the carrot of a reward, extra sales training in the form of sales books, tapes, or seminars, and anything else they can think of to get their bottom dwellers to reach quota, including the ultimate weapon—the threat of being let go.

Yet, it is the responsibility of every sales manager to work to get each of their team members to reach their maximum potential.  It’s their primary responsibility.  In a very real sense, it’s their only job.

Nevertheless, how do you get team members to maximize their potential if you don’t know how to do it?

Here are four ways to get the process started:

1.  Like any other salesperson, manager, or executive, sales managers need a coach.  The coach should be someone who not only can give guidance and encouragement, but someone who has been where they have been and knows how to get the most from each member of the sales team.  In other words, the coach has to be coach, trainer, motivator, disciplinarian, and confidant.  Hiring or having the company hire a coach for you who knows the process of how to develop sales talent and can help guide you through the process should be a priority.

2.  Whether you have a coach or not, sit down with each member of the sales team and help them create a comprehensive sales and marketing history of their past year’s activity (or any other reason time frame—the longer, the better).

Reconstructing their history will not be easy and it will be time consuming.  Give them guidance in how to construct it, review their progress and give help as needed, but have them do the actual research and reconstruction.

Once the history has been reconstructed, work with them to develop their actual historical ratios—their closing ratio, their marketing ratios, all of their sales ratios.  The more detailed, the better.

Once the ratios have been developed, look for patterns that show where they have been successful and where they haven’t.  A salesperson’s sales and marketing history is a key to discovering how they can radically improve their sales business in an amazingly short timeframe.  Without a solid history, it is impossible to make logical, realistic and significant changes in the way they do business.  In order to make changes based on reality instead of guesswork and hope, they must know how and why they’ve gotten where they are and why they aren’t where they want to be.

3.  Have each team member take a quality sales assessment.  Use the information from the sales history and sales assessment tool to help each salesperson identify their individual behavioral and personality traits, as well as their sales skills.

Each salesperson has their own unique behaviors, their own personality and their own set of developed sales skills.  Sales skills can be learned, changing one’s behavioral and personality traits is difficult, if not impossible.  Yet with a thorough understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, you can help each salesperson find those markets and marketing methods and the sales process that caters to their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses.  Once one has aligned the way they do business to maximize their individual strengths and minimize their weaknesses, prospecting, marketing and selling becomes natural, their success soars, and their self-confidence and job enjoyment skyrockets seemingly by magic.

4.  Again from the analysis of the salesperson’s sales history and the sales assessment, establish an individualized training program that addresses their sales skill needs.  Most companies and managers try to give ‘universal’ sales training.  Everyone will get X training.  Everyone read X book.  Everyone go to X seminar.  Not only is that an ineffective use of time and resources, it is self-defeating.  Training only works when it addresses a need and where the individual being trained recognizes the need.  Forcing salespeople to take training they don’t need or don’t believe they need is futile.  Far more effective in terms of dollars and time invested—and results, is training that is geared toward the specific needs of a specific individual.  The initial dollars invested in each salesperson may be more, but the return will be many times what the traditional training approach produces.

Developing your sales team’s full potential isn’t easy, nor is it without a great deal of effort for both the salesperson and you.  If it were easy, there wouldn’t be vast numbers of sales teams staffed with underperforming salespeople.  Because it takes time, money and a good deal of commitment and dedication, few managers and companies will make the investment.  However, those that do will see tremendous returns.  Not only will they increase their business, they will have a sales and management team with new life and vitality that will seep throughout the rest of the organization.

Finding a comprehensive process to help you or members of your sales team work through their sales business in a logical, systematic process to discover where they are strong and where they need to make radical changes to their business isn’t easy.  As a matter of fact, the only comprehensive guide I know of is contained in my just released book SuperStar Selling: 12 Keys to Becoming a Sales SuperStar which is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all fine bookstores.

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