I had an interesting discussion with a VP of Sales whose company and team did really well in light of the fact that they are a manufacturer with about 20% of revenues tied to the auto trade. Because of what they do, they saw early signs of the slowdown and reacted accordingly.
They adopted a strategy that is a variation on an old sport adage or cliché, their mantra and plan of action was around the theme that in a shrinking economy the best offence is a good defense”. They set out to fortify their relationships with existing clients, and use that to grow those accounts, and then selectively hunt for new business based on certain criteria. Their visual was “once you build high walls around the account, you have a fortress from where you can see your enemy and defend but also through a form of gorilla war fare get some business from the others.
The wall they built was service. Their goal and plan and action were all geared to make sure that they provided unbeatable service. As he tells it for two reasons, first they wanted to so impress the client; the client’s decision is never to be based on price. Second, as buyers consolidated or cut back, they were above the fray, because their service had created a dependency.
They did have to provide more, and admit that they had to yield a bit on margin, but the over all gains in business and efficiencies gained made up for that.
So now with the economy looking up, what’s the plan? “Add more bricks to the wall, make clients happier, continue to stand on top of the fortress and defend the growing community. On yes, we more inclined to send out teams and hunt among the weary.”
On August 20, I posted a story about a friend, Trevor, who ran into a challenging situation; we asked if you can help Trevor in “Salvaging The Worst Of A Situation”. We did publish his resolution, but did offer a prize to the person offering the most creative resolution.
Well below are the various suggestions, the last one being less of a suggestion, and more of a comment, but hey, we are here to share the love. So take a read, give it some thought, and then vote below, and unlike some other media that want audience participation, there is no charge for voting. So vote once, vote often, and let’s see who you like best.
BTW, for all you English majors who kindly read and correct my grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, I did not edit any of the contributions, so you are going to either have to swallow any errors or write the originator rather than me, maybe just swallow this once.
Amy, August 20th, 2009
Trevor should have the phone number of his contact at the next appt. and give him/her a call to let them know that he is running late. Make sure he emphasizes that his last appt. was thrilled with the product that he/she wanted to sign immediately taking more time than anticipated. My thought, it will get the next prospect excited that the last guy bought and he’ll be ready to listen and most folks are okay with someone running a little late if they are notified.
Brian, August 20th, 2009
I agree with Amy. In fact I’ve been in a similar situation before and at about 30 minutes prior to my next appointment, i excused myself from the current appointment made the call to the next prospect, explaining i would be late and why i was running late.
When i finally arrived at the next meeting, not only was the prospect appreciative of me calling to inform of my late arrival but he was also more engaged than usual as to who the new client that i had just closed and if they could learn more.
Bruno Sireyjol, August 22nd, 2009
I agree with Amy and Brian.Giving a call to the next prospect is the bare minmum. But what about calling the first prospect, explain him the situation and ask him to place the call? Trevor will thus check the commitment of the first prospect and get sponsorship for his second meeting.
Dave Connell, August 23rd, 2009
I think your buddy should go old school, phone his next meeting tell them he got caught in traffic, and is on his way to the meeting. He could offer to set up an alternative time if they wanted, but he is willing to continue to fight his way through traffic to make the meeting.
Sue Jensen, August 23rd, 2009
I would have called the client and re-scheduled the appt with the decision-maker. As a past admin and current salesperson for over 20 yrs as well as knowing that 99% of execs are booked solid every day of the week–they always appreciated the salesman who suggested re-scheduling for another date so he could give them all his attn in an ‘un-rushed’ manner. I know this sounds like you would lose the sale–but the opposite would happen and the exec usually appreciated this move.
Chris Raymond, August 23rd, 2009
Don’t be a whimp, pick up the phone, tell them what happened, and tell them you’d be happy to spend as much time as it takes to serve their needs.
Eric R., August 24th, 2009
Most executive’s schedules are booked for weeks in advance. So, in my opinion, rescheduling could be costly to making the sale. Plus, who knows how long it took to get this appointment.
So, when he started to get the idea that there was a strong possibility that he may close at this meeting he should have made 2 calls.
1. To see if he could get someone from his team, or his boss, to go to the second meeting to cover while he closed the first?
2. To the prospect at second meeting to let them know that he understood how valuable their time is and how this is such a great opporunity for them he didn’t want them to miss out. So, because he’s tied up his boss/colleague was coming over.
As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is better then 2 in the bush. Also, this way he could make sure that the new customer was properly taken care of and the other prospect was also moving forward. Because didn’t you say that it normally takes 2 to 3 more meetings before a customer closed any ways? I’m sure when he called to explain that he was sending over someone to cover for him also shows that by being a customer of his, means that he will always give you the best service possible. As long as it takes to get the job done right. Win win everything moves forward.
Vernon Fraser, August 24th, 2009
What a bunch prim and proper people, how many times have prospects or customers come late to a meeting without as much as a real apology. How many times have they cancelled meetings last minute?
Trevor should drive to the appointment, tell them he is sorry, but he was looking after the needs of another customer, but “I am ready to focus on you now”.
So much talk about not such a big deal.
Bob Thornton, August 24th, 2009
You know I read with interest the situation that Trevor found himself in. I am really disappointed in the solution he came up with. I mean really, I thought he had some finesse and style, which he would teach us all a way to deal with a common sales challenge. Instead he delivers this cheap low life stunt of showing up a week later and his smoke and mirror.
While some of the suggestions submitted by others seem to be very client focused, put value on the relationship and prospects time, Trevor seems to only care about himself and the deal, not one consideration for the relationship, and the feelings of the buyer. Not really sporting at all, I think Trevor is the kind of slimy rep that gives the trade a bad name.
As you know I am a member of The Top Sales Experts, TSE brings you the most successful, innovative and inspiring collection of professional sales gurus ever assembled in one location. One of the great offerings TSE provides member is the ongoing stream of Masterclasses on a range of sales topics delivered by top global experts in the field.
This coming Thursday it is my turn, and I will be discussing the meanings behind and the answer to the oft asked question “What’s in Your Pipeline?” Join us on this mystique journey exploring aspects of sales that go beyond skill as we explore sales execution and a commitment to discipline required to win sales in any economy, easy or tough. Learn about the dark side of sales, where you have to work and accept sales for what it is, a blue collar position that is as much about work as it is relationship.
While there are the usual definitions for sales involving “relationships”, driving revenue and all that, you could look at as the constant pursuit of greater productivity. Sales are not alone in the corporate world to have to produce more year after year, but there is something unique in the challenge of sales. Increases in productivity and efficiency on one side of the equation, say manufacturing, is usually partially, if not entirely accompanied by a reduction in cost or spend for the manufacturer, and it is similar in other businesses. At the same time, in this same environment of shrinking cost (or spending), sales people have to go out and raise more sales, more revenue, better results.
The quest for efficiencies is not lost on the growing industry of providers of means and tools to help sales people and organizations deliver more. From CRM to SFA, palm computers to BlackBerrys, all promising greater visibility into accounts, knowledge of clients, and of course all more efficiently and in less time. But the promise is often not achieved, and it is not for lack of quality or the intent of the providers, but more the attitude of the user.
Let’s take the BlackBerry, I have one, I am writing this and many other posts on it, and do all the other things on it you would imagine. But I do believe that it is bad to unleash them on sales without some serious rules in place before handing them out, big boldly written warnings displayed every time they fire the thing up, and a life time supply of Ritalin.
To see things our way, you do have to buy into one basic belief we have at Renbor Sales Solutions, we believe that all good and great sales people have a form of attention-deficit disorder (ADD), or Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) if they are under 30, and, oh look squirrel! So when you take a group with reactionary tendencies with ADD, and you add the BlackBerry to the mix, you have the unnatural swirl of circumstances that make sales people lose sight of reality and become the human equivalent of a super ball locked in a gyrating 1 sq foot box.
We’ve all seen it, a rep doing something perfectly productive, say cold calling; they had scheduled a full hour, and have been doing good for 15 minutes. Then their BlackBerry rattles and shakes, and you can see the ADD kicking in, (Ooh new mail, gotta read, read now), and everything changes. Like someone possessed they drop everything, and get sucked into a vortex of reactionary waste land where there is a lot of hurrying, a lot of movement, but little productivity.
Well first we gotta answer that e-mail, then find out the facts, send an update to the e-mail, that we are looking into it, and then waiting for the answer. Can’t make any more calls till this gets resolved, just in case we’re on the phone when the answer lands, but this is important, wants to know if we will still be delivering on Thursday morning.
I don’t know how many times I have seen perfectly sane and calm sales people jump up in the middle of a meeting, run for the door and off to save the planet again. I always ask what the issue was, and not once has it been a life and death situation, or a deal or no deal scenario. Usually it is a distraction to the meeting they are in, and a chance for the rep to look productive, to seem responsive to buyers’ needs, and self-important. But rarely is it necessary, when you look at it, the odd time, the 1 in 100 times the planet is saved is a very small percentage of time, the anomaly that does not justify the negative impact all the other times.
Beyond the distraction to the others involved in the meeting, beyond what they may have missed while bouncing down the hall, disturbing one worker after the other; the fact remains that it is rarely productive.
While it would be easy to blame the reps, they are not at fault, they are told to do more in less time with less resources. They are not trained in the use of many applications beyond which button to push for managements’ desired effect, but not how to use the tool to improve workflow and productivity. So it is easy to conclude that they have asked me to do more, they have given me a tool that seems to do things, so if I use it a lot, use it often, and use in taking care of clients or client issues it should make me a better worker.
Management tells them to cover the market and client, build relationships and bring in more revenue, and oh, here is something that will help to make that happen. Can you blame the last link in the chain for the outcome?
Again, we love the tool, we do not blame the inanimate object; we blame the lack of training, leadership and direction. The power and confidence to tell the sales team, “This CRM or this handheld device is here to help you control and manage your workflow.” Instead where it leaves sales reps is a place where the tools are controlling and managing the sales reps and the outcomes.
On Thursday we posted a piece about Trevor and his dilemma, Salvaging The Worst Of A Situation; having stayed at one appointment so long that he was too late for the next one. We asked people to submit creative ways Trevor can make the best out of an awkward situation. We promised that we would reveal what Trevor did, and share the responses of others and have you vote for the best suggestions. At the moment we have had five people with some interesting suggestions, we would like to see a couple of more; so while we will share Trevor’s here, we will open the voting tomorrow for the best way to salvage things.
The way Trevor tells it, he did not want to make the second prospect feel less important or wanted than the first, so he ruled out calling them at 3:00 to tell them he ran long at the 1:00. As already pointed out, Trevor did not go to the stuck in traffic route as it leaves open the question as to why he didn’t call sooner. He did intuitively start driving towards the second location, but could not come up with a scenario that did not either make him look careless, sloppy or uncaring, nor was there a scenario that did not insult the client if he showed up that day close to an hour late. That’s when it struck him, he says, he had a moment of clarity, and he turned off the road and headed back to the office. At the end of it all there was nothing he could do that day that would help him come out of this without being behind. According to Trevor there was only one thing to do, wait. Wait for the day to be over, and wait for a chance to do it again. When will again come? For Trevor it was exactly a week later. The very following Wednesday at 2:55 Trevor pulled stepped into the prospect’s office for his 3:00 meeting.
The client seemed a bit confused:
P: Weren’t we supposed to meet last Wednesday? T: No, I had it for today, see! (He held out his Palm with great pride, there at 3:00 Wed. Jul 22, meeting with XXXX, the person now standing opposite him) P: I guess I must have marked in on the wrong day, I am glad one of us had it right, come on in.
Trevor tells me they are getting along famously now, and they have started what looks to be a lucrative and ongoing relationship.
If you are a regular reader of this blog (and thank you), you know that I am a big believer in recycling leads and lead management in general, some would call it lead nurturing. While there is an ongoing debate as to where marketing ends and sales begins, what aspect of lead qualification development should be done by marketing and when; all too many sales people miss opportunities by waiting for or hoping someone else will get things done or do things the sales rep can do regardless of how the role is defined. I do come from the school where at the end of the day the quota is mine, I can rationalize why I missed it or I can do what it takes not to miss it.
In our lead management process Touch – Contact – Engage, we recommend “touching” you lead base regularly. When we are asked we share the process and purpose for our monthly newsletter, also coincidentally called The Pipeline. Everyone in our database gets a monthly newsletter primarily focused on tips, advice and updates, plus a few announcements a year; all in all we touch everyone about 18 times a year. This gives us regular contact, a view on interests based on what different people read, be alerted to changes, and other benefits.
We encourage sales people to do this with their client/lead base; well to be accurate we encourage the company to do it on behalf of reps to ensure a level of quality, branding and standardization. But if the company is not in a position to do it sales professionals should take it on and do it themselves.
While many see the upside, there are usually two questions from sales reps. The first is about content, how can they make the content relevant especially when they are not comfortable writing. This is a valid point but easily resolved; you can reach out to your marketing group to provide content. These should be more about trends, industry development, process improvements achieved when using a product/service like yours, anything informative and is not blatantly promotional. You can also seek input from you service group, “how to nest maintain”, “3 Top Hidden Features”, etc. You can also access content from experts who place their articles on free news article website such as EzineArticles.
The other concern they have is money and or time. There are a number of commercial providers of e-mail services. They help you manage your data base, provide easy to use templates, and get reports on who is reading what when; once you have the basics set, you can reuse over and over and update as needed, so on a monthly basis it should take no more that 10 – 15 minutes to pre a blast. The cost is nothing, for a 500 name database you are looking about $30. A month, you do 1,000 for not much more.
Remember that money gets the mail out but more importantly gets you a lot of back end data, who when, which articles did they read, how many times, a lot of intelligence. I once had a fellow read an article on cold call 18 times in three days. So I called him, “Tom how are you doing?” I asked, “Tibor I was just thinking about you.” No kidding, like 18 times over the last three days, guess which program he bought a week later?
Yes, they take a bit of effort, but isn’t that what makes one a leading professional, that bit of extra proactive effort.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent and avoid legal fees.
I ran into an old friend, Trevor, who always has a great story or two about his selling or advice on how to deal with certain sales challenges. Trevor is a polished sales professional with a great balance and sense for what is right and what it takes to win a customer or a deal. While I took great delight in his story, I also wondered how many others would have done the same as Trevor, their reasons for doing or not doing it? I’ll let you decide and tell me; I’ll tell you Trevor’s story, but save his solution for a couple of days, enough time to have your say.
Trevor was having an active day, two afternoon meetings, the first at 1:00 pm, the next at 3:00 pm. Trevor usually gears his meeting to be an hour or so, and the distance between the two appointments was about a half hour that time of day.
According to Trevor, the 1:00 was a first time meeting, the start of an exploratory process that could take two to three meetings. But things began to heat up, prospect was really engaged, and about 30 minutes in to the meeting, he felt he could accelerate things and really make a go of it. At 1:50 things were really lining up, and it was clear that prospect was moving past talk and was ready to commit, and Trevor wasn’t going to stand in the way of that.
By 2:10 they were talking implementation, and by 2:30 they were close. Trevor figured he can wrap things up and be in the car 2:40, heavy on the peddle, a little luck and no speed traps he could make his 3:00.
Oops another question, a couple of details to nail down; 2:40 almost there, just some pricing clarification, and done. 2:45, on the way to the car “let me introduce you to our CFO, he is the one that approved the budget for this project”; “great to meet you too, of course we can invoice like that, looking forward to starting as well, anything you need to know just call me”…”Sure I have a card”.
In the car at 2:58, looks like Trevor is beat for his 3:00 pm. Or is he, what can a sales person do in that situation? I’ll tell you what Trevor did in the next “A Random Walk Up Sales Street” on Monday, but send in your best suggestions for how you think Trevor could have salvaged things, I’ll share the responses and let you pick the best of the lot, and the winner will receive a book prize.
I was asked what I thought was an odd question the other day, the question was “What is your view on taking notes during a sales meeting?” I guess I had just assumed that you could not have one without the other, like mac and cheese.
As a result I began exploring the issue, watching people in meetings, asking questions and generally getting a feel for who takes notes, what kind of notes, and in some cases talking to people about why they do, but mostly not take notes.
To me taking notes is a must for sales meetings for a number of reasons. First and foremost is I do not have a photographic memory, so the only way I am going to remember what went down in a given meeting is to have thorough notes. This is as basic as things get, but it pays off every time, even more in drawn out sales cycles with multiple players, or meeting with committees.
It is also a fact that the act of writing has two immediate positive impacts on the buyer. The sign of respect shown by marking down everything the buyer is saying to you is immense. You ask a question, you then give them your complete attention, and furthermore you are so captivated by the wealth of information offered by the wise buyer, that you mark down every word they utter; wow does that just not stroke the ego in every right way?
The second effect is that taking notes encourages them to talk more. The buyer in effect is thinking “hey this must be good stuff I am spewing, look at that boy lap it all up, and I best give him some more.” So they do, some great run on sentences, some observations but all adding up to more info to help you move the sale forward, or decide to leave this one and move to the next one. There are times that it takes them a bit to get going and get past the surface level information; at times I write unrelated things, my shopping list, the weekend football picks (only a couple of weeks away), doesn’t matter, because the physical act of me writing just keeps them talking and answering my questions.
It also has a positive impact on you as a seller, it forces you to listen, even as I write my grocery list, I am listening. As I am listening and writing, I am less likely to jump in and interrupt, especially in mid-sentence or mid-thought, I write down the thing that sparks the thought, and use it later, writing slows the reflex action that causes so many sales people to shut the buyer up at entirely the wrong time. As I am writing, I am also able to formulate questions to ask based on what the buyer just said. Straight Listening.
I found the people who were reluctant to take notes were also reluctant to have a plan. They were primarily from one of two schools. The first were the kind that went in with the same questions every time, no deviation, no following a line of discussion that came up as the buyer was answering. Just asked some questions, waited for the buyer to say the magic words, and then started pitching. The others were from the more relaxed school, “I am there to talk, build a relationship, and when the time is right we’ll do business.” I had one guy tell me “you don’t take notes on a date do you?”
I sometimes wonder what is the fascination sales people have for pain. They are always talking about it, “you want to find their pain”, or “you want to know their pain”. Not only is there something creepy and dark about it, but it also limits your opportunity.
First off I don’t like pain, don’t like to give it, and for sure I don’t like to receive it. That last point for me is key, why would I want to do something to others that I really do not want anyone doing to me. When you think about the people who you associate with pain, dentist, school yard bullies, that pale skinny woman at the lab who does your blood work; can you see it. Do you really want to be the next poster on that wall?
The assumption that pain is the key motivator in a sale is flawed in a couple of ways. One, it puts sales people in an order taking role, the simple implication and interpretation being that they either had pain, in which case it wasn’t you skill or talents, it was their need for relief and you just happened to be there with a pill. Or as I read in one book, if you bring latent pain to the surface, then you can sell to it. So now I have to probe, notice the weapon of choice, questions.
So typical and sad that an instrument of art in the hands of a professional, so easily transforms into an instrument of pain in the hands of an order taker. What’s worse, is unlike the clean surgical version used by the real professionals, the order taking pain giver uses dull, old sometime previously use instruments that add to the experience in to most stressful ways.
The other way pain limits upside is that it assumes that people only act, or react in the case of pain, based on negative motivation. But I am here to tell you, as would many others, that there are a large number of companies that buy things based on positive motivation. They see an opportunity to gain market share, so they invest, they have a strategy for a new product, region, you name it. These customers have no pain, and will look at you like you have two heads if ask what their pain is, and yes, some of the pain givers give pain by asking that exact question.
Don’t get me wrong, I do understand where they are going when they say that, and I think many just use it as a form of expression. But what you set your goal to be, often dictates the means as well, and if you are going to think about probing for pain, rather than probing to discover facts and opportunities you can impact, you will end up torturing some of your buyers, and losing a good number of others.
It is funny that when you ask pain sellers about sales they always say the same tow things, “people by from people”, and “it is all about the relationship”, wow, kinky no, the person you want to help, the one you have a relationship with, and it’s going to be based on pain, their pain? Sounds like Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb novel “Creation in Sales”, the story of an enterprising order taker who carves himself to Presidents Club.
I know it is not spring, especially with all the back to school ads, soon to be followed by fall specials, and we are just about to start our annual pool of when the first Christmas ad will hit; we have two categories, print and television, now that’s what you call a leading retail indicator. But you should be thinking about the spring, remembering how cold it was, all that talk about recession, depression, and for sales people all those sales that did not happen, just cast your mind back to Q1 2009.
If like most sales people we talk to, it is likely your Q1 had an unusually high number of “no decisions”, especially if you include those that may have thought about buying, but didn’t even bother looking around. Whatever the reason was, and this year budget was a top reason, they at least showed a degree of interest, need, or something. Well now would be a good time to revisit those people.
With things having settled, people thinking about how to salvage the rest of 2009, and position themselves for 2010, it is a great time to go back and reignite the conversation. A lot of the work is done, and you may discover some new things when you reconnect with them. If you were the favourite before the no decision, you want to be there as they rethink things. As they play with budgets in the planning cycle they may decide to accelerate things as your service/product could contribute to other parts of the plan. It will certainly be a shorter cycle than an opportunity started from scratch today.
If you have done what we advocate, which is to stay in touch with all your leads, former prospect, if fact anyone that may buy or influence, then you calling them should be just a natural extension of the process. This is not a difficult process, using social media eve as simple as a blog, newsletter, LinkedIn and Twitter, you can continue touching your base, keeping them aware until the time to contact direct comes.
Well, for those that were discarded in the spring, this is a really good time to try and see if they are ready to move now, find out what they are planning for 2010, or how have they responded to conditions since you were engaged. Whatever the reason, now is great time to take advantage of the summer lull, pick up the phone, talk to someone you know, and go after something familiar.