Clients Deal With Companies0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

building

We are all familiar with the battle cry of many in sales: People Buy From People.  This is all well and good (if not always true), it does not always turn out the way some expect.  Specifically for sales people who believe they have such a tight relationship with their buyers that they tend to ignore things that can cost them revenue and clients.

In a more specific way, it does not translate when it comes to sales people who think they own the account, and that the account will follow them no matter where they go.  We have seen companies hire sales reps less for their superior selling skills, and more for their “book”.  Worse we have all dealt with sales people who jump to competitors, extracting concessions in the form of bonuses, or compensation based on the fact that they will bring their book with them.  But the reality more often than not, is that most of the book stays put.

I remember reading the results of a purchasing manager’s survey, which detailed that they, purchasing managers, prefer to deal with sales people who can demonstrate that they can access and deliver their company’s broad resources.  While this may bode well for some sellers, it flies in the face of lone wolves, or those who want to be the centre of the deal, rather than the facilitator.  Sadly a high percentage of those who would barter their “book” or think they are the pied piper their clients will blindly follow.

What it also highlights is that savvy buyers will usually put more stock in the company they deal with than the person parked in the territory at the time of the deal.  Again, this is not universal, but if they see more contact from the company in forms other than the sales person, they usually see themselves as clients of the company, not the rep.  Here is a reality, they get an invoice from the company every month, if the rep is present less than that, the relationship will belong to the company.

Someone recently shared an interesting stat relating to client habits, they cited stats that showed only that only 10% of customers will actually switch when given a rate increase due to the high cost of change.  That cost does not go down if the rep switches, the considerations remain the same, if they are benefiting from the service, they will stay.  While loyalty is big, that loyalty is greater for the company than any given individual, including the sales rep.  Let’s not forget that the same people who will tell you they can bring their book, are the same ones that tell you the Status Quo rules supreme.

While people buy from people, clients deal with and stay with companies.  Clients are not lemmings, they know what is in their best interest, and stay loyal to that, and that is rarely based on one individual or relationship.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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A Painless Decision2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Waiting room

Most sales people stay well to the centre of the road, and well within their comfort zone, leading to selling styles that are narrow and shallow, thereby often limiting their success. Some of this is due to “sales folklore” and mythology, some of which are broadly accepted as fact, often reinforced by the pundits, which just perpetuates questionable practices.

One that has puzzled me for a long time is the role of ‘Pain’ in selling, and its appeal to sellers, and always hanging around with their companion ‘Need’. Ask any group of sellers why people buy, and the vast majority will reply “to satisfy a need”. Not sure that is the best place for a B2B sales person to start, after-all, if they identified their ‘need’ on their own, doesn’t that just make the sales person the “demo person” and an order taker in the equation. When you further test the notion by asking “OK, what’s driving the need”, and they tell me “It’s to address or avoid a pain”.

Ouch!

Beyond the fact I don’t like pain, don’t like to give pain, it is such a limiting view point when it comes to professional selling. One that many cling to for no apparent reason, especially when you look at their results. Yet sellers continue to speak of “finding the pain”, I even had one “consultative sales person” describe his role as “finding the soft underbelly of the beast, stabbing it, then offering up the cure”. Seems like a messy affair, especially when better results can be achieved in easier and cleaner ways.

Pain is a hard habit to break, especially when so many pundits reinforce the concept. I recall debating this issue a few years back, and when I asked where was the pain for buyers looking to expand their business, improve a winning process further, or any purchase decision made for positive reasons, they told me “that they were avoiding the pain of not achieving their objective”. Would’ve been easier for them to say that those buyer were seeking the pleasure (the other motivator) of success, but the pain culture is so deep, they went to the dark side instead.

As result, sellers go out every day looking for pain, and you know how it is, if you go out looking for something, that is what you’ll find, even as you miss other opportunities around you. As the month goes on, if they can’t find pain, i.e. not enough opportunities in the pipeline, they turn to creating pain, and it all becomes an uneasy exercise.

There is no denying that many purchase decisions are rooted in people’s lack of satisfaction of their current state, and that needs to be explored and leveraged by sales people, but there is also the impact of being focused solely on pain, before and above other states the seller may be in. It is a negative place to start, and if you start off looking for the negative, it clouds your sight and ability to create action and value from positive developments in the buyer’s world.

Not to appear overly Pollyannaish, but why not start off by focusing on the buyer’s objectives, not only a much more pleasant start to things, but one with so much more potential. If in the end, their pain is involved in shaping their objectives, then yes, deal with it for what it is. But the reality is that there are as many objectives are rooted in the positive, they make for a more pleasant and better sale, people will spend as much for the positive as the negative; yes they’ll pay to avoid pain, but they will also pay to extend pleasure. I have sold to, and worked with clients not because sale were bad, or they were not making their numbers. Instead they were market leaders and wanted to expand the distance between themselves and the pack, their only “Pain” was that there wasn’t more distance between them and number 2.

One reason many default to pain is that they spend too much time with the wrong segment of the market. As we have discussed in the past, one can loosely split the market in to three:

  1. Actively looking (15%)
  2. Passively looking (15%)
  3. Status quo (30%)

Most will spend their time and effort on the first two, some 30% of the market. Clearly this group is approachable and susceptible to “Pain”, after all they entered or are considering entering the market of their own volition. Something took them to the point of considering an alternative to their current state. Sure, some of these buyers may be responding to and acting on a positive, but chances are the majority are no longer happy with the way things are, and are seeking alternatives. They took the first step, began the exploration on their own, and will look to vendors playing the “be found” game, to play the role of “demo guy”, then play you off your competitor, order taker.

The 70% Status quo, by definition is not looking, but that does not mean they are not looking. Every intelligent business leader is looking for improvement. And while the popular myth is that these status quo buyers are satisfied and therefore not looking, this is so wrong it is dangerous and costing you money. Consider what Bell & Patterson present in their book ‘Customer Loyalty Guaranteed’:

75% of customers who leave or switch vendors for a competitor, when asked, say they were ‘satisfied or completely satisfied’ with the vendor they left, at the time they switched.

Good news – presented with the right alternative, satisfied and completely satisfied buyers will switch.

Bad news – it will not be because of pain.

It takes work to uncover their objectives, work to initiate a discussion that is focused on achieving something good, rather than avoiding something bad. How you do this has been the subject of previous piece, and you can find more on my You Tube channel.

On the other hand, how many times have you “found the pain”, “worked it”, only to not get the deal?

Let’s leave pain to doctors, and focus on helping our buyers achieve or exceed their objectives.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

You Do It Now – They Can Talk Later – Sales eXchange 2010

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

radio1

Last Wednesday May 15th, I had the opportunity to be on the Charles Adler show.  We look at the potential fallacies in long term predictions, this on the heels of a piece I did for the Globe and Mail Report on Small Business, regarding the need for execution in sales, not long term predications, and the fact that in BC, the elections did produce a majority government, but not by the party everyone was “predicting” would form the government.

Have a short listen, then let us know how you’ve found action and results to be of more value than predictions.

 
What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

It Doesn’t End With the Sale: Managing Customer Relationships1

May13

The Pipeline Guest Post – Megan Totka

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, and attracting new customers while strengthening your relationships with existing ones is a constant challenge. The best way to do so, however, is a matter that often leaves your sales and marketing staff at odds. Your sales force is focused primarily on closing the deal and landing new customers, while your marketing department wants to nurture customer relationships before and after the sale. No matter what your role at your company, however, it’s to your benefit to continue to nurture customer relationships long after they’ve paid their invoices.

Why Long-Term Customer Relationships Matter

We’ve all heard the adage that it’s cheaper to retain a customer than it is to acquire a new one. After all, you’ve already done the wooing. They already love your brand. If you maintain the relationship, they’ll come back to buy other products or services from you, increasing their customer lifetime value.

A customer with whom you already have a relationship is more likely to refer more business to you. They’re happy to tell others about how much they enjoy your brand when communicating through social media, review sites like Yelp, and face to face with friends. A single customer can help attract business from friends and family if they’re happy. And the best way to keep your customers happy is by paying attention to their needs and staying connected.

Managing Your Customer Relationships

Customer relationship management tools like Insightly and Salesforce make it easy to create profiles for each of your customers. You can track critical data like purchases, each customer’s birthday, and communication preferences. Companies use this data to better engage with customers. If you have your customer’s birthday, you can send her a email with a special birthday offer. If you know she has looked repeatedly at a certain item on your website, you can offer her a discount for it. Building a profile is a great first step; if you are in regular contact with a client, take notes each time you speak with them.

Social media is another fantastic tool for staying on top of customer relationships. Since Hootsuite lets you set up custom streams based on your preferences, it’s a snap to set up a stream containing the social media content generated by all your customers. From there, it’s up to you how far you drill down. You could create streams for different types of customers, such as those buying women’s clothes in one stream, children’s clothing in another, and men’s clothes in the last stream. You could set up a search for a keyword that relates to your industry to see who’s talking about it, and connect with them. The possibilities are endless, but what matters is using the info you gather to enhance your customer relationships.

Once you’ve set up customer profiles, it’s simply a matter of paying careful attention to what’s being said, especially if it relates to your product or brand. If a customer’s unhappy with your company, they might not bother to tell you, but reach out on their social network instead. If you’re monitoring your customer Tweets using your new setup, it’s much easier to discover customer concerns—and address them—before the situation escalates.

From a more positive angle, if you notice a customer tweeting about her search for product or service you provide (that they may not realize you offer), your sales team has a fantastic opportunity to respond and develop that interest into a lead.

Email is another great way to stay on connected to your customer. Don’t bombard your customers with emails, but do make your emails frequent and relevant enough to remind them of why they chose to give you their business. Sending one newsletter and one promotional email at specific times each week or month is a good start, but with a little creativity and careful data management, you can create targeted email campaigns for special occasions or broken out by demographic. Using the data gleaned through your customer relationship management software, you can deliver even more sophisticated and targeted messages, such as discounts for a customer’s birthday for example. The better targeted the offers, the better your connection with your customers.

The aim is to keep growing the connection. With intelligent application of the information you gather, you can build real and lasting relationships with your customers that won’t end with the sale.

About Megan Totka

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

What if you could defeat the Status Quo0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

All this week I have posted clips from a recent interview with Ago Cluytens, for his Coaching Masters Series.  We dealt with a number of issues around selling to buyers who are traditionally referred to as being Status Quo.  Being the weekend, I thought it a good time to post the whole interview for your weekend lounging pleasure.

Always interested in what you think, and whether you are more prepared to go forth and sell where many sellers and pundits fear to go.  Take a look, and let me know.

If you enjoy this there are more on Ago’s site.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 

Be Provocative in Demonstrating Results (#video)0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

Monday I shared a clip from a discussion with Ago Cluytens, for one his Coaching Masters Series.  Today’s second clip looks at the need to be provocative in gaining traction with entrenched potential buyers.

The challenge many of in sales face is the entrenched buyer who is reluctant to look at new or alternative means of achieving his/her goals.  This is usually due to the fact that they are entrenched in how they are doing things now, feels there are too many resources needed to make a change, and a host of other reasons.  In order to get engagement, we need to demonstrate the results we can deliver and the positive and measurable impact we will directly deliver to their business and attaining their goals.  In a WIIFM world it is about the What, not how of how they get there.

Here is more:

If you would like to see the entire discussion you can either visit my You Tube channel, or go the Ago’ site by clicking here.  Always open to comments and views.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 

Plan Z – Sales eXchange 1831

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

target

I think (hope ) it is safe to say that every seller, especially B2B, has a Plan A.  A road map or process for how they plan to engage with a buyer, and work with them to mutually navigate the buy and sale process to arrive at a mutually beneficial situation, each party attaining their objectives.  Having said that, I still see many who wing it.

What surprises me is the number of sales people or organizations who have a game plan or playbook, that is totally one dimensional in nature.  It starts by completing a pastel coloured sheet, same info, same way, every time; some have a Plan B, they go to it based on the push back to Plan A.  Now this would not be a big problem if you are selling a commodity, in what can be described as a “binary” sale, but it is an absolute killer if you are selling anything that involves more than a price decision.

Rather than using a “plan” or playbook approach, it is more effective to use a mind map approach.  This allows you to evolve with the buyer as you uncover facts, opportunities and aspirations.  You can use Plan A to engage, and begin the process, but as each client is different (in big or small ways) you need to adapt rather than try to get the client to fit the plan or playbook.

The way to achieve this is to commit to two basic disciplines.  First, is to commit to reviewing all sales transactions you are involved in, whether you won them or not.  This will allow you to anticipate broad and narrow trends,  and adjust your game in real time.   Think of this like watching the game tapes.

To support this, you need to adopt the practice of follow through questions, not question, but questions.  Most sellers tend to stay narrow and shallow, they hear something that sounds like what they need to hear, and they go with it.  But if you develop the skill to ask several layers of “impact questions”, you not only get to the root of the opportunity, but differentiate yourself from those who stop at the surface or layer two.  Combined these give you the grounding to go beyond what you practiced with on the nice coloured sheet, while not meandering, because in the end you still need to bring home the revenue.

Mind mapDiscipline is one thing, rigidity is another, this is why we introduce the concept of fluidity.  Visually it may be easiest to think of this approach as a three dimensional “Sales Mind Map”.   It forces you to think, anticipate and respond based on client input, while leveraging market and sales experience.  It allows you to not only have a Plan A, Plan B, but a method for having options that may take you to Plan Z, all based on the buyer’s objectives and requirements.

Enter the Art of Sales Contest – Win Tickets

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Know The Why – Sales eXchange 17689

While the sales industry continues to improve and move the dial on “pitching” less, and asking more questions, adopting the “Don’t Ask – Don’t Sell” http://www.sellbetter.ca/?p=1938 philosophy.  But many are still asking questions that serve their purposes only, not so much for the buyer’s, and even when they do they seem to lack the skills or courage to deep enough with their question to truly make a difference for either.

Probing question most often concentrate on the ‘what’, ‘when, ‘where’, and the ‘how’ of the situation at hand.  No doubt these are important, but on their own, they fail to deal with factors that underpin value and foster a true relationship, one delivering mutual benefits for both seller and buyer.  Sadly one contributor to this shortcoming are sales experts in my own field.  Many actively tell their clients not to ask ‘Why”.  I have yet to get a good answer as to why they say this.

Most tell me that it is too intrusive.  What does that mean?  It is my job to be intrusive in that way.  Most present intrusive in a negative way, but being “disruptive” is part of my mandate to help my clients evolve, change and move forward for the better.  After all they don’t buy things to stay the same.

The main purpose for asking the why question is to get to the real underlying reason for them engaging with you.  Now it’s one thing if you’re one of those “wait to be found sellers”, the buyer is way ahead of you in their buying cycle, and you’re just one of a number of participants in the bathing suit contest.  But if you got to the potential buyer before they were even thinking of being in the market, you need to ask a whole bunch of ‘why’ questions before you are in a position to offer up a solution.  Unless you want to be a solution running around looking for a problem or pain, you need to get used to asking why, and even when the buyer answers the first why, you will likely have to ask follow up whys.

To understand the buyer’s real motivation, to get them to understand that you really do have their interest at heart, you need to park the product, and focus on the person.  It takes courage to ask a buyer why they are thinking of doing something or doing it in a specific way, especially if all the other sellers lined up and say whatever they think the buyer wants to hear to get the order.

I sometimes wonder if the main reason some are afraid to ask why is because they don’t know what to do with the answer they get.  They haven’t been trained again, because it is still about selling the product.  If only they accepted that more sales made when it is about really helping the buyer, even when the buyer initially thinks they need to go one way, but end up in a better place after a genuine and intrusive why.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Don’t Wait For A Bone!109

Nothing bothers me more than when a rep uses any expression relating to selling that includes a variation of “throw me a bone”. You hear this a lot especially in industries that are highly competitive, the buyers have viable options, and the risk of commoditization looms large.

Usually while discussing their prospecting efforts with an account currently serviced by a competitor, reps tells me how they follow up with and touch the client, in the hope that the buyer will “throw me a bone, and I can prove myself.”

You may say this is not prevalent, but it is much broader than most want to believe; especially when you look past the semantics, and focus on the underlying reality.  Many will phrase it differently, but the underlying attitude, is passive and lacks a cohesive action plan that permeates sales at all levels.

It certainly symptomatic of sellers who don’t understand the real value they can bring to a client, cannot articulate the value in a meaningful way, or both.  This in itself is not the worst thing sellers can face, as overcoming this is a question of will, learning and practice.  But the reps are not alone to blame in perpetuating this sheepish way of selling.  Many are left to themselves to figure things out, to define their value and how to communicate that to the various audiences involved in buying their offerings.  Many managers, who are really just old sellers with an “attaboy”, encourage their teams to do as they did, after all they must know what they are doing, they got the “attaboy”.

Some get no support from their marketing teams.  They produce lovely brochures, cool 3-D picture of the product, specs galore, not one line about business application, or how it may help the buyer beyond what the buyer already knows.  All culminating in the product comparing columns on the back page, with of course our product having the most check marks (even when no one cares about any of the features).

What angers me is the lack of willingness by many to do anything about the situation.  Not realizing that the effort to change it is not only less than the effort needed to continue to sell in this submissive and ineffective way.  Yes there is a learning curve that requires time and effort, and may at times cause bruising.  But once mastered, it require less ongoing effort to maintain, especially if you put processes in place.  Processes that include reviewing current engagements to understand, get a head of and respond to market trends and continue to be of value to the market and your buyers.

You may think this is only prevalent in simple, perhaps commoditized type of sales, not true.  I recently met with a counterpart who works with large ticket items, high six figures, what many may call a complex sale, and he sees the same issue, what he calls “bone catchers”.  Now I am all for relationships, but there has to be more to a relationship than a seller standing on his hind legs wagging his tail waiting for a buyer to flick a bone and some crumbs their way.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Customer Survey Says…81

A Failure To ACT!

One impact of technology on selling, are the increased number of ways of organizations and individual sellers can “connect with their clients”, even when they don’t have to.  A recent favourite is surveys.  After all, what better way to give the illusion of caring, than to send the client a survey directly to them, especially when they have just interacted with someone at your company.  It seems you can hardly get off the phone with a provider, and within seconds there is an e-mail in your inbox with the subject line: “Survey on your recent XYZ LTD. Customer Support Interaction”.

I get it, you love me (or my money), you want to know what I am thinking, what’s important to me, so you can do even a better job than you have been doing to date.  But the charade really wares quickly when the feedback leads to nothing, especially when the experience you had was not positive, your feedback was specific, and the organization surveying you repeats all the negatives over and over no matter what the feedback.

So it was with my recent experience with the support team at Sage looking after ACT!.  The product did not work from the start, issues with integrating with Outlook, which I have to do since they cannot synch with iPhones, (although I was offered the option of synching with Palm).  Several calls to their support team lead to little progress, the issues persist despite their questionable suggestions, it seemed we had reached an impasse, and end of the road situation.

But then a ray of hope in the form of a survey.  It was a good survey, thorough, offering me opportunities to provide direct feedback beyond the multiple choice questions.  I was frank, direct, outlining where I felt the shortcomings were and what led to my frustration.   I wanted them to feel my thoughts, several times I pointed out that I thought their product sucked, that I was sorry I bought it, and want my money back.  I didn’t expect my money back, just being complete in my response.

To be fair, unlike some surveys, at the end they asked if I was open to someone from the company contacting me directly to discuss my issues.  Joy, finally I will have a chance to resolve the problem.  Confirmed my e-mail, provided my mobile number, didn’t want to risk missing this call.  It turned out there was no such risk, as the call never came!  I guess they don’t care.  Or they spent my money, and thought I really wanted it back.

Sage is not alone, just the latest to survey hoping for good feedback, and ignoring the bad.  I have heard from others dealing with other companies who have had the same experience, they take the time to be specific and direct, and they hear nothing from the company in response.  To be fair, I have also heard where the negative feedback was acknowledged and addressed.

Shame, the ignoring type companies are missing a real opportunity to leverage technology to not only make a difference for a buyer, but more for themselves; to be proactive in responding to customers’ input, wouldn’t it be better to have a testimonial about how well they addressed a customer’s problem.  Someone at Sage, and all the companies who use surveys to look cool, but non-reactive, should ask themselves what the nature of this post would have been had they actually followed through as they pretended they would, addressed the issue, and gotten me back as a user.  Instead, here we are, sharing a negative rather than a positive.  And in light of what I do for a living, you think we need to survey what my response is when I am asked about this product?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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