There is no shortage of talk in sales about benefit and value. While it may have taken a bit of time to get sales people to focus on value, not as defined by a “value proposition” crafted by your marketing department, but value as perceived and defined by your buyer. This is why we teach sellers to use the Discovery phase of the EDGE Sales Framework as a mutual process; mutual meaning both discovering things about the buyer, and allowing the buyer to discover things about your offering and in the process mutually defining the common value.
I always struggle with the phrase and the delivery of “The Value Proposition”. I understand what is meant when people use the phrase, and what it purports to do, but in most instances, usually due to execution, it just ends up being a pitch, a higher quality or level pitch, but a pitch nonetheless.
In many cases the “the value prop” by nature are canned, are developed by marketing; while they may include input from ‘focus groups’ or actual clients, they are usually devoid of direct input from the actual prospects the sales reps is Engaged with at a specific point in time. By virtue of that fact it negates or limits the Discovery process so necessary to real Engagement and specific value the buyer may or may not realize.
This is not to say that sellers should not be aware or know the value they offer, and delivered to buyers, it is a question of how they use it in the process of a sale to specific buyers, rather than assuming that the same proposition will mean the same value to all buyers. The balance many sellers try to achieve while executing the sale, is one between presupposing and pitching and using their knowledge to Engage; to entice the buyer rather than overwhelm the buyer.
This is especially a risk early in the process when the seller is usually ahead of the buyer in their respective processes. While the seller sees and is genuinely excited about the possibilities, the buyer, having been approached may still be trying to weigh factors to see if they should Engage or not. At times we proceed to hit them with our “value prop” way before it is time, before they are ready or Engaged.
A better use of the knowledge of how we can deliver value is to use that knowledge to create questions that will drive the Discovery process and lead the buyer to the same point in their buying cycle that we are at in our selling cycle. Use the understanding of the value to develop questions that establish our credibility, and our expertise, so we can be seen as a resource by the buyer.
There is also the reality of self-discovery by the buyer; no, not discovering one’s self; but discovering by themselves how valuable our solution is based on their specific circumstances. We have all heard the statement: “Knowledge is the biggest barrier to learning”. So if we enter into the sale knowing the “value prop”, it may leave little room for “learning” the specifics of each individual buyer. While there are likely many similarities, there are also differences between buyers, not the least of which that each buys in their own way. By taking your knowledge and using it to create questions that involve and Engage the buyer, you’ll do a much better job of asking the type of questions that will get the buyer thinking, and give them the sense that you are an expert because “you understand” as demonstrated by your questions as opposed to you canned “value prop”.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
Selling at its best has always been a game of trading, a balance of give and take. This may be more obvious and used more often in the context of negotiations, especially price towards the latter part of the deal, but you can barter and horse trade throughout the cycle not only to achieve your objectives, but as a means of accelerating the deal.
As with most things in sales, execution is key, and key to execution is planning, an activity many in sales don’t much take to. I suppose you can succeed by reacting on the spot and trading something for another; but you can leverage it so much more if you plan it in advance. By planning and knowing it in advance you will be able to work towards it with the way you conduct your Discovery and Impact portion of the sale. By planning in advance you can set the flow and move towards objective with more conviction and velocity.
There are a bunch of subtle thing you can “trade” to achieve results. Many think it has to be tangible but it does not. One thing you can trade is “personal validation” in the form of an ego stroke. You can educate a buyer or you can lecture to a buyer, we prefer the former. To do that the first thing you have to do is open their mind and create the opportunity to learn. At times, the easiest way to do that is to allow the buyer to teach you something first, to give them the opportunity to be “the man”, to be right. You’ll find that when you do that they will be more open to “learning from you”. So plan ways to introduce subjects where you are willing to concede on so you can use it early to Engage and involve the client.
You can also trade access to either people, resources, or things like events. One simple example would be a trade to meet your executive in return to the buyer bringing executives from his/her (so PC) company. Other examples would be access to a resource, a buyer could use or has expressed interest in a technician or expert, of equipment, trade that for concrete solid commitment that specifically move the sale forward. Events would be industry or process events, not hockey or basketball games.
The obvious is trading related to price, but even here you can plan in advance and get not only forward movement, but accelerate commitment time, so even when you are put in a position to make concession, one gain is completing the deal soon, and being able to invoice now vs. the future. No matter what you choose to trade, make sure it is planned in advance, and moves your agenda forward.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
If you have followed this blog you know that I have always advocated that a front-line sales manager needs to lead from the front, not from the back or a remote location. This applies to all aspects of their leadership, while they may be managers, they are not above the fray. So it is disappointing to see managers who fail to lead and use their title or role as a justification.
While I may have a bias, I think the most egregious example of this is a sales manager who does not participate in sales training programs and workshops their teams are participating in. Most of the time they are sitting in their office, moving paper from one pile to the next, check some e-mail, do some real important things. Must be really important, other wise they would be in the room with their teams, participating, reinforcing, and generally leading the process in a hands on way.
What is the message to team members when a front-line sales managers does not participate? In effect he is saying that “I am not that invested in your development, things will not be that different after you have been trained”. This is even worse when the same manager is not even aware of the content, and has not prepared for the follow up needed to ensure adoption.
In most cases we work with managers in advance not only to help them get familiar and comfortable with the material about to be presented to their teams. We also use the opportunity to develop a structured Follow Through Action Plan, this integral to the success of the program as it goes to ensure adoption. Most managers see this as an opportunity to not only ensure that the learning experience is a positive one for all involved, and that they, their team and their company realize a real return on their investment and objectives; but they also have a chance to evolve their coaching skills.
But then occasionally you run into a manager who belies that they are the end all and be all, while their teams need all the help they can get, they are great and need no improvement at all. It will not surprise you to learn that in most cases these are the very managers who could use the most help, and usually are not serving their teams or leading them to improvement.
There are a number of reasons for this, usually it is a case that the individual was not suited to be a manager to begin with, likely got the job because they were a good rep, and got the pat on the back, and in an effort not to lose them the company promoted them. This usually leads to two problems, a territory that lost a capable rep, and having a manager who neither leads, coaches or manages the team, just plays the role.
At the same time lets not forget that the manager ha a leader as well, and the manager usually gets his signal from them. If training is just a check mark on a list of KPI, and is discussed in those terms at management meetings, it is likely that the manager will have a laissez faire attitude towards it, and reflect that to their teams. On the other hand, if improvement and development is part of the sales culture, supported right from the top, that is what will cascade down.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
A common debate at many sales conferences is whether sales is art or science, and as discussion evolves, it usually focuses in on what the optimal blend of the two should be and how to mix them for best results. While usually it makes for a good discussion, you always leave the discussion feeling that it was somehow incomplete or somehow it missed the mark.
The problem with the debate is that while the art does have some place in the sales discussion, science in many ways probably does not. Too many rules, too many must dos, can dos, don’t dos, and other limitations that do not fit or belong in sales. A much better framework for the discussion would be music.
I know you are going to say that there are rules in music too; but if you look closely those rules are there to be interpreted, broken and rewritten. What is unheard or unacceptable one day is mainstream the next. Soon that familiar mainstream fades in to the predictable and then oblivion; it is again resurrected some time later with a new name, same “new” rules but different colors. What was called “compelling events” in the 90′s or last decade are now “trigger events”. Selling, like music, allows for everything old to be new again, all driven by the need to discover and rediscover.
Rules, instead of being rigid and limiting as they may be in science, become starting points for creative sales people. In many ways this could explain the 80/20 rule so prevalent in sales. We have 80% of sales people who see the rules as things to follow and obey, not questioning the limitations along the way. Then there is the 20% who constitute the top performers, who see rules as a starting point, guidelines, or merely suggestions or milestones on the road to success.
This is not to say that some of the classic rules are not valid or relevant, but they often fail to grow and evolve with the market and technology, and as result yield less results or fail to help in winning business. Witness the upheaval caused by Web 2.0 and Sales 2.0, changing the rules for so many buyers and sellers. You can still win business without embracing the tools, possibilities and new rules presented by these developments, but chances are not to the degree you did before or could if you included them in the mix.
The other thing that makes music a better comparison is the ability to be creative, to improvise. Music allows that, at times demands it, as does selling, where science does not. If you think of it, Charlie Parker had to learn the eight notes, just like any other musician, but it was his willingness and ability to then play with the rules, to interpret and improvise that made him the great musician he was. It was his willingness to flirt, play and buck the rules that allowed him to excel. While I am not sure John Cage would have been a great sales person, his willingness to rewrite the rules would have made him more interesting and successful than say Einstein.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
Sales people are notorious for their egos, and while it may usually serve them well, often it also gets in the way, especially when it drives to behave in certain ways, especially when it prevents them from dealing with some obvious things. This usually comes down to two things, protecting their pride, and making assumptions about things they should not be making assumptions about.
As sales people we are often experts in the specific areas; after all we spend our time dealing with different people taking many different approaches to the same challenge. So we not only get exposed to a range of solutions, but we can usually identify which may fir a specific circumstance, and which don’t. The problem becomes when we don’t use our expertise to engage with customers, but instead make assumptions about specific situations and act based on those assumptions. The thing to remember is that the goal early in the sales process is not to be right, but to engage. So even when something is obvious, it is better to ask or speak about it to facilitate engagement, than to skip past because you’ve seen this before and “you know”. Even if you know, you may as well deal with it as a means of creating dialogue, which will uncover other facts and maybe opportunities.
Other time it is simply a case of pride, and not wanting to look stupid or to pushy when you are just curious. As an example, during our Proactive Prospecting Program, we talk about what happens when you cold call a prospect and they say “you know, give me a call in October”. To us the obvious question is “help me understand what will change between now and October so I can be prepared?” (This will be the subject of next week’s Saturday Sales Tip). But many are reluctant to ask, why, here what I hear a lot:
- Don’t want to seem pushy or salesy
- Don’t want to look like I don’t know
- It is not important, I’ll just call back
Not knowing is not the worst, missing a sale is. What if you asked, and instead of seeming pushy, you seemed thorough? What if you asked and you found out something that would allow you and he prospect to act now? What if you all your competitors call back in October, wouldn’t it be better to move ahead now?
Nothing is too obvious, except missed goals and an empty pipeline.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
There is a lot of talk in sales and in marketing about ‘thinking out of the box’; this is big with me because I am sure that when they put me in a box I’ll be dead, and that’s not good. But all too many in sales people are stuck in their boxes, they may say they think out of the box, even when they are too afraid to come out of the box. It’s so warm and cosy, easy to explain, not like outside the box.
Now being in sales, and having the ego to go with it, you’re probably sitting their thinking “phew, can’t be talking about me, I think out of the box, hey even that sales tech said so last week before I bought her lunch.” Well let’s test things and find out, shall we?
What’s one and one?
Write your answer here: _____
One more, what’s three and three?
Write your answer here: _____
So, what did you put down, 2 for the first one, and 6 for the second?
The first one is obviously eleven; and the second is thirty-three.
Absolutely it is a right answer, look, just step out of the box a minute, yes you can keep one hand on it for security if you need to.
Look here, 1 and 1, or 11, it’s eleven. Again, 3 and 3, 33, thirty-three, right?
Of course it is, if you said two, you choose to only partially listen to what I was asking. Thought you heard one plus one, right? this was amplified by the echo chamber that is your box, and bam, an answer that misses the opportunity presented. How many times do you face this same risk with customers and blow it?
In sales you must float or ride your experience, not be weighed down by it; like a surfer on a big wave, you can use it to be propelled forward, or be crumbled by its power. You need to interpret and react according to the specific situation, be creative in responding, not predictable with your comebacks.
You need to use and leverage language and imagination in moving sales forward. But if you insist one and one is two not 11, than you need to relax and open the lid a bit more, a lot more. By leveraging language and imagination you will not only challenge yourself to creatively resolve challenges, but also encourage your buyers to step up and step beyond their limits, especially in how they limit their view of their challenge, and things that limit their perception of “a” solution.
It is one thing to say you think or act out of the box, and then be as conventional as ever in an effort to conform to the buyer’s view. It is another thing to really step out of the box and take you buyer and success with you.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
As you know we have a big focus on conversion metrics and numbers. I have become accustomed to many front line reps and managers not being fully aware of key conversion rates, but there is one that most tend to ignore that severely impacts their success, and their ability to plan for success. That number is the(ir) churn; usually expressed as a percentage, it is the amount of revenue that disappears from the base year in year out. It varies from industry to industry, caused by various factors, and clearly fluctuates with real world events.
Most reps and front line managers are aware that there is churn; the problem is that they do not know what the churn is at any given time, year over year, or how the current levels stack up against the trend. By not focusing on this number, and not taking it into account durum their planning, they run the risk of missing their goals despite better intention. As a result they usually end up dealing with churn on a case by case basis rather than proactively in a holistic way.
Let’s look at an example where your base revenue is $2 million, if you are given a goal of 8%, you need to grow revenues by $160,000 for a year end target of $2,160,000. But if at the same time you are experiencing 15% churn, there is a hidden $300,000 you have to deliver by year end just to stay whole. The reality for the rep on the ground is that by the end of the year they have to generate $460,000 by year end. This is a dramatic number if you are not planning for it. Again the suggestion here is not that it is unattainable, but that if you are not planning for it, you could do well hitting you $160,000, even exceeding it and selling $210,000; your territory will still be under quota.
Of course one thing you can do is work on managing our base, thereby reducing churn, but the reality is that there is a point of diminishing returns. Companies go under, merge or get bought, or opt for a cheaper alternative, while would recommend you chase the price based loss, it is a loss nonetheless.
The key is to be aware and proactive, first understand that the elephant is in the room, and in your pipeline. Once you’ve done that, factor the impact into your planning, in to all your sales activities. It is not just a question of doing more; it is a question of being more strategic. You don’t have to settle to do more, I would much rather you plan to sell different accounts, selling more with your original sale, so you can leverage you efforts early.
You should also understand in great detail why certain accounts tend to leave. This will a) allow you to anticipate better; b) pursue accounts that have attributes of those that tend to have longevity; c) avoid those that tend to leave early. The more you can recognize this the better you will deal with it. One other opportunity once you become better at predicting who maybe at risk, is to fire them early; this usually has the effect of clearing the air and allowing you to create bandwidth you will need to make up for lost revenues.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
I want to start by thanking everybody who reads this blog regularly, not only for reading it, but for the regular stream of feedback and suggestions to improve. I take that to heart and work hard to incorporate suggestions. Key being that I work hard, as do other bloggers putting out a stream of original and creative content aimed at helping the sales community. I also want to thank those other bloggers and site owners who have reposted my pieces and those of fellow content creators and given us the proper credit and attribution. I, and as I suspect my fellow bloggers, welcome and appreciate when our work is recognized and properly credited.
So in comes, Michael J. Roman – - Time to jeer and boo the villain of out real life drama has made his entrance. He loves other people content so much that he adopts it to be his own, and in an effort not to confuse the readers of his “blog?”, he doesn’t credit the original author, but simplifies matters by pretending and resenting the content as his own. For Shame! While I could go on, I think you can get a greater sense of the crime by reposting two posts by two friends and sales authors who have been victimised by Michael J. Roman. At the end of Jonathan Farrington’s and Kelley Robertson’s posts, you’ll find links to other like minded bloggers dealing with this serious problem of intellectual property theft. So today’s Saturday Sales Tip is simple: Don’t Steal – Don’t Take Credit For Other People’s Work - not even mine!
Please tweet, retweet and spread the word about this form of Swine Flu!
Jonathan Farrington’s post, originally posted on JF Blogit
I would like to introduce you to Michael J. Roman – Michael who? Exactly. But after today, so many more people will be familiar with that name, as it flies around the “Blogosphere” and becomes the topic of much “Twittering”
Here is how Michael describes himself:
“Michael is a POLISHED BUSINESS EXECUTIVE with a proven history of success including nearly fifteen years of successful leadership experience.
Michael is highly skilled in effective, strategic management of sales, operations, administrative, and consulting professionals in addition to full operations and profit and loss (P&L) management…..” Etc. etc. You can read more here
You may also be impressed by Michael’s “core values” particularly this one:
“Integrity – The most important of all values. Michael’s belief is that integrity is not optional, nor is it situational.”
I always feel uncomfortable when anyone considers it necessary to promote their own integrity: In my experience, one’s integrity is gauged by one’s friends/colleagues/peer groups/clients – not by ourselves.
In the same way, when anyone begins a sentence with:
“To be perfectly/totally/completely honest with you …” It always makes me wonder if the previous communication/dialogue/discussions/conversations, have been less than honest.
Michael posts to his site virtually every day, and the articles are of a very high quality. He goes to great lengths to protect ” his” copyright:
“©Copyright 2010 Michael J. Roman. All rights reserved.
Except where specifically noted, no information within this blog may be copied, duplicated, stored in a retrieval system or reproduced in any form without the express written consent of Michael J. Roman. If you have any questions regarding this policy, please contact me at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Nothing unusual about that?
Well, yes actually. Why does someone go to such lengths to spell out their copyright statement, when they have total disregard for everyone else’s?
You see, Michael doesn’t actually write his own material – he steals it from other people. He just goes and copies it from other people’s sites and claims it as his own.
On his first page alone, there are seven of my blog posts, and in total, I found twenty!
Sometimes he leaves the title and the text wholly intact, other times he changes it to suit himself, here is an example:
I posted “So, Just What Are The Essential Leadership Qualities?”
” I have been “leading” since I was eight years old – my first soccer captaincy – and I have been leading for most of my life.”
He posts “What Are Essential Leadership Qualities” and changes the text to:
“I have been “leading” since I was twelve years old – being the lead drummer for my grammar school jazz band – and I have been leading for most of my life.”
I am not the only “victim” – several of my colleagues and friends have also had their work pirated, and to say the least, they are not impressed.
On Thursday, I took the unusual step of adding an additional copyright notice to my post – I placed this at the foot:-
“The moral right of the author, Jonathan Farrington, has been asserted. © Copyright 2010 All rights reserved. This article or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system or otherwise, unless this notification of copyright is retained.”
But that did not deter him – he not only stole my post, he also stole my copyright notice and replaced my name with his!
If that were not enough, he has now re-published an article, which I first published on Ezine Articles on October 27th 2006 -
And claimed it as his own -
This week, I celebrated my 900th post on this blog. Each of those posts took time and effort to craft. Each of the 200 articles that I have written and published on various sites over the last four years have also required a huge investment of my time. Why have I bothered – after all, I know lots of people who write so much better than me?
You know the answer to that question.
So, what to do now?
I am going to let nature take care of itself for a few days, then I will be in contact with Michael. Or maybe he will do the decent thing and contact me first.
Michael, I understand that this is the one post that you will not want to steal and re-publish – copyright violation is serious stuff, so please do get in touch with me before my lawyers get in touch with you. This is an early appeal; the later ones will be far less polite – you know it makes sense!
I would have willingly given him all of my work to re-publish, if he had asked – as long as he placed my bio underneath them, and not his own!
I will of course keep you fully updated as events unfold.
There is a chance that by the time you get to read this, he will have taken the site down, so you can download a PDF of the front page here.
Kelley Robertson’s post Originally posted on Fearless Selling
I suspect that you have heard the expression, “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” While that’s true in many cases, there are situations when this statement does not apply.
I, like many other trainers, speakers and industry experts, write and post articles on the Internet. We include our copyright and respectfully ask that proper credit is given when someone uses this article in their publication.
However, over the years I have encountered many people who have taken my articles and published them in magazines, newsletter, and blog and then had the audacity to claim them as their own. As much as I dislike it, I take action to ensure these unscrupulous individual’s either remove my copyrighted material or add the proper credit and issue an apology.
Well, here’s the latest plagiarist to rip off my intellectual capital. I would like to introduce you to Michael J. Roman. Here is how Michael describes himself:
“Michael is a POLISHED BUSINESS EXECUTIVE with a proven history of success including nearly fifteen years of successful leadership experience. Michael is highly skilled in effective, strategic management of sales, operations, administrative, and consulting professionals in addition to full operations and profit and loss (P&L) management…..”
Michael’s core values include:
“Integrity – The most important of all values. Michael’s belief is that integrity is not optional, nor is it situational.”
Michael posts to his site virtually every day and the articles are of a very high quality so he goes to great lengths to protect “his” copyright:
“©Copyright 2010 Michael J. Roman. All rights reserved. Except where specifically noted, no information within this blog may be copied, duplicated, stored in a retrieval system or reproduced in any form without the express written consent of Michael J. Roman. If you have any questions regarding this policy, please contact me at the following email address:
Needless to say, when it was brought to my attention that Michael may have posted some of my articles on his blog I checked it out immediately. Fortunately, only one of my articles was posted here but it was still enough to rile me up.
I have written and published about 500 articles since starting my business in 2002 and each of these required a significant investment of my time. To have someone else publish my material under their name and take credit for my efforts cannot go unchecked.
I am not the only “victim” – several of my colleagues and friends have also had their work pirated, and to say the least, they are not impressed. My good friend Jonathan Farrington discovered 20 of his articles on Michael’s site.
So, what’s next?
I plan to contact Michael directly and politely ask him to remove my article or give it proper credit. I know several other authors are planning to do the same in addition to making their readers aware of his less-than-ethical behaviour.
If you want to help you can:
1. Retweet this post to your followers.
2. Send an email to Michael and express your concern with his unethical behaviour.
3. Contact any author, trainer, speaker, expert in your network and let them know about this plagiarist.
4. Blog about this unethical behaviour.
I guess what really bothers me about this whole thing is that I would be more than willing to let this guy use my articles on his blog if he just had the decency to ask and give proper credit.
Other posts you can read and support in this cause:
Most sales people I know work really hard, and they are to be respected for it, but some work a bit harder than they need to. I am not here to bash them with the old cliché about working smart vs. hard, I think most are working smart. But sometimes they don’t connect their experience to leverage them, usually because of the things they have to juggle and all the things coming at them at a brisk pace. But if they did step back and connect some of their experiences they may be able to both move deals forward and create a bit of breathing space.
One easy way is to get ahead of common negative experiences, and take it away before it even happens. This can be applied to most situations where sales people begin to describe their experience by saying “they always say….”, or something to that effect. Well if you always hear it, why not cut it off at the pass.
For example, I was working with large well know manufacture that sold to the companies large and small. But the reps covering the small accounts complained that whenever they call on small prospects, “they always” said that “oh, we’re too small”. So I suggested that we change their approach and say “I am the small business specialist with…” What is prospect going to say “oh no, we are miniscule”. By putting it out front you negate the prospects ability to use it as an objection.
You know when you do send a potential prospect some material either by e-mail or snail mail, more often than not when you follow up they say something “oh, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Take it away from them by starting your call with “John, it’s Tibor here, following up to our chat last week and the material I agreed to send, you probably haven’t had a chance to read it yet have you?” Just the nervous laughter on the other end at that point is worth the cost of entry, isn’t it? But what are they going to say, if they say no, you can say “well that’s exactly why I suggested we get together, so I can walk you through it in less time….” If they did read it, well you are off and running.
The idea is not to get all out of shape, but to assimilate. The first time something happens it may be a surprise; the second you should take note; the third time it’s a trend, and you need to figure out how to deal with it; and one way is to take it away before it can happen again.
Last year everyone one tried to put me off by pointing to the recession. So I incorporated it in the approach. “I work with companies taking a proactive stand to making sales during the recession…” Not one VP of Sales said “Nope, we have made an executive decision to go down with the ship.”
What’s in Your Pipeline?