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.
It has always been interesting to learn how people choose to forecast sales results. There are a number of different approaches; some are crowd favourites, likely for their intuitive simplicity more than their accuracy and practicality. One thing that is clear is that there is no definitive method or there would not be such a selection. I’ll also state up front that I have never been a big fan of 30-60-90 day method. It allows for manipulation and feel good reporting and does not support accountability.
The key is to have a method that is reflective and part of an overall sales process that identifies specific steps which need to be executed to keep the opportunity moving forward. If for whatever reason it is not moving forward, than it provides a means of removing it. The key feature that helps it work regardless of the individuals involved is that the method should, and does, take the subjectivity out of the prediction and bases both actions and predictions on an objective set of constants.
There are those that use the probability numbers as a means communications the likelihood of closing. Often this method s very subjective and is based on the make up and mood of each rep, and usually disregards the length of the cycle and how long the opportunity has been in play.
Others use the time as their key indicator, accepting that the sale has a natural time cycle, and the opportunity will “time out”. With them the percentage tends to reflect the time elapsed in the sale, and the time left to complete the activities needed to succeed. On its own it has limited scope but is good for driving activity and seems to be better suited to less complex or layered sales, and is usually handy in commodity type sales.
I have worked with organizations where they used percentages to express the percentage of work completed in order to get the sale, again very much action or activity driven. Some combination of this and the above time related method will generally do well in a transactional type of sales.
Forecasting can always be improved by making it more objective and taking the emphasis off prediction getting to a magic number, and putting the weight on understanding the state of each sale in the context of the overall revenue being mined in the territory, level of activity and resources needed to close a given deal and the organization’s ability to deliver, and being cognisant of time and length of a sales cycle. It also serves as a barometer for change in the market based on three factors above, and as an indicator of the changes and adjustment individual sales reps and entire teams have to make to continue to consistently drive results. As with the sales process, perfection is not in having a particular method, but it’s role in consistently successful execution.
I was sitting with a software developer this week; we began to talk about his company, a small but thriving company of about 13 or so employees, about $6 million in revenues, a competitive player in a not so crowded space. He was one of three founders who were involved in the decision around sales training, and establishing a proper sales process.
He had no problem understanding the need for process; he had process in the development area of the company. His question was “why do we need sales people at all?” His view was that he was no sales person, and he went out on calls when the company first started, and “frankly the product sold it self.” Of course as you explored that you find that he had stopped going out on real sales calls sometime ago, and most of the meetings he attended now were either with existing customers looking to expand; or on calls where the prospect had been qualified and sold, and Jerry was the frosting on an already baked cupcake.
Jerry’s main issue was that he felt that in today’s Web 2.0 age, even in B2B, sales was obsolete, he was really upset that he had to invest some 10% -12% of revenue to sales commission. “Developing the software is the real challenge and skill, not selling”. He felt that sales was a potential negative, especially since they didn’t know how the software worked, they could not communicate with the IT areas on the buyer’s end, and they always ended up coming to Jerry for help anyways. “We may as well get rid of the sales team and hire some more developers who contribute to the bottom line rather than depleting it”.
There was nothing that the sales reps brought to the process as far as Jerry saw and he knows that through networking and proper web promotion the company could sell more. “The application sells itself” he kept saying, and his partners were afraid to be untraditional. Jerry did not have an answer to where clients had come from to date, how prospects had found them, how they would leverage referrals in his proposed approach.
My recommendation to the partners was that they make Jerry head of sales for three months, then we can re-engage once their pipeline is dry, and Jerry has been enlightened. I did ask them to set aside an amount equivalent to my fee now, as there would be “no money then for training”; if you ask, me not much money for much of anything by that point.
What Jerry Didn’t Know!
Sales people are the smartest people on earth, just ask anyone of us. But what really elevates sales people over other smart people is clairvoyant powers. Their ability to know things before they happen; the ability to read the minds of buyers, managers and sales trainers; just uncanny. Frankly I am at a bit of a loss to understand why corporations do not better utilize this untapped resource. But before we solve that, I want to understand why with all that power, foresight and clairvoyant mental prowess, why it is that as a group sales people continue to struggle when it comes to simple daily tasks and consistently making goal?
Everyday I am sit in amazement and listen to sales people tell me why someone is not worth calling strictly by looking at their business cards, and then as if by some strange power, the prospect that was not called doesn’t buy, (from you). Imagine how stupid that other guys was, how wrong he was when he called the prospect and then struck a deal, had he just consulted the cards first he would not have made the call.
The Amazing Kreskin would be proud of the sales person ability to know exactly what the prospect may want without even asking any questions. Just by showing up and soaking up the vibe, he is able to tell the prospect what the issues are, what the solution is and how to best implement it, and then to prove his prowess, tell you not only why the buyer did not buy, but that he “could have told you going in”. The Amazing Salesperson, laughs at the powerless sales people who toil with questions, wasting time understanding the buyers situation, and then even spending time to consider how to best deal with what has been uncovered. “Look how long it took him to get that sale, I saw six prospects in the time he saw three, and what does he have to show for it, we both got one sale each.”
While just the other day, as I was starting a workshop, a nice young man, who obviously had tremendous psychic powers, told me that he knew what the workshop contained, “I know all this stuff, and I have been to a bunch of these before, and I know it man, so I am just gonna hang and not get in the way.” Nice young man, at lunch he explained very clearly that if it wasn’t for his territory, manager, the economy, the lousy job marketing was doing, and the state of the company’s product, he would have made his number last year, and be on track this. But he is not, and apparently he told his manager in advance, it’s that Kreskin training.
I always appreciate the feedback and comments to the posts on this blog. When I saw Neil’s response to my “Shut Up and Prospect (Less Talk, More Output part 2)” post this past Wednesday, I liked it so much I asked him permission to share as a post rather than just a comment. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I think the problems you outline are a lot more evident when we’re selling in an established, mature market for an established, mature supplier. So it might also be beneficial for those teams to have a “pretend” 6 months that they are in entrepreneurial launch mode.
Pretend that you believe no-one has ever heard of your exciting new product or service. Pretend that you only have a statistical picture of who your prospects might be, and haven’t actually found out who the individual companies and buyers/influencers in those companies are. Pretend you haven’t spoken to them any of them yet. You’ll be amazed as you start an energetic new sweep of your entire potential market place just how many changes there have in fact been. (Hands up whose prospect database has been refreshed in the last 6 months?)
Also, even within the “same old, same old” target companies, there is also a sales person somewhere in one of your competitors’ offices who is sitting on that big, mature “off-limits” account dreading the fact that his/her main contact/buyer got made redundant in the carnage, and the new buyer hasn’t been available or expressed an opinion yet. So just because your record card says “firmly locked in to XYZ Inc” as of January 2009, does not mean that it is now.
And, in keeping with both of those angles, let’s have another look at our products and services. Are they the same as they were last year, of have they evolved a bit too? And would those exciting and beneficial advancements make any difference to our prospects? Are we sure that they all learned about them, properly, when we introduced them? I doubt it, and so we have another “new” element to bring to the party.
This could almost get quite exciting don’t you think!?
Here we are at the Dog Day of Summer, the pace of business seems moderate, and everyone is on vacation, what a great time to sell for a whole bunch of reasons. First, not everyone on vacation, it just seems that way, and that’s a good thing. Average sales people, (not you because you showed you’re above average by reading this piece), take this as a cue or permission to ease up on their intensity a bit, “preserving their energy for after Labour Day when people get back to business and it really counts.”
Thinking ahead you know that this is the time to engage with buyers, now is the time that they are reviewing their year and formulating their plans for the last four months of the year, and beyond, positioning for 2010. You know that for them to hit the ground running the day after Labour Day, they have to make decisions now, and take action, and make purchases, not Monday September 7, but now.
Now is the time to sit with those executives and decision makers who were on vacation last week or in town till August 28th. While it is true that there may be a lull here and there, these executives and decision makers are not sitting back enjoying the heat, they are hard at work reviewing, thinking and planning, thinking about what has to change, what has to go, like maybe one of your competitors; or worse maybe you.
I have spoken to a number of clients who confirm that they are very much in a reflective mode, reading for the fall. They also confirmed that they are very open to suggestions and broader insights from those they feel have and can help them. They all thanked me for the call, saying the timing was great.
Whether they are an existing client or one that you have been pursuing, give them a call. As an above average sales person, you offer a number of things beyond “product”; because you meet and speak with a range of people impacted by your product, you have market expertise they want to tap into. You are a conduit to best practices that buyers want to tap into and you can leverage to open up meaningful discussion with someone actively searching for ways to cement their action plans and decide their purchases.
In that environment, you have a great opportunity to go in and ask some very direct questions, and offer some very specific recommendations. Ask them where they are vis-à-vis their plans, if nothing else it has been a year of change, ask them not only what has changed, but what the impact of that change has been. What has changed forever, and what is just a reaction. What would they do differently, what are their current priorities versus March, still using the same metrics or new? You know what to ask to get them to open up, you are above average. One of my favourites is still, “Joyce, if we were sitting here next August, and we were talking about the team having hit a grand slam, what would that look like?” Just make sure you have lots of paper and pencils when you ask that.
Remember to take your time, it is not a race, after all everyone is on vacation, it is purely a two way information session, a chance for a long cold ice tea and some conversation.
You can also exploit the fact that the average sales people are in “summer mode”, and that many are really on vacation. This just improves the odds of you being one of the few making these calls. Things seem calm on the surface, when in fact they are very active below, plans are being finalized, and decisions are being made. Tools and partners are being selected, and some are being rejected, only to be told when they are back in two weeks, well actually on Tuesday September 8, because the decision maker is going on vacation the last week of August. Why not, he has made his plans, aligned resources, and comfortable that he is ready to roll right after Labour Day.
So with the weekend coming, why not sit down and pick three accounts you want to grow, and three competitive accounts you want to win, and go after them next week. I bet you even know a competitive rep that will be packing up early today for two weeks holiday, call him up, tell him to enjoy.
Continuing our quest to separate hype from advice on how to sell better, today we look at prospecting. Some pundits feel the focus needs to be almost exclusively on maintaining and retaining our customers, nothing new there. Rumour has it clients are closing ranks with current providers, making it near impossible for sellers to land new customers. While this may sound good on an intuitive level, it does not stand up to scrutiny. This probably was true when many companies were suffering from shell shock back in Q1of 2009, as they were trying to figure out what is going on, and developing a proper response. This is no longer the case; in fact now is the best time to proactively prospect for new clients and accounts. Let’s look at why.
As incumbent providers we probably benefit from strengthening relationships with clients, likely even picking up business as part of the consolidation process. Having said that it is also as likely that we will suffer in some cases where the “other” provider is the beneficiary. I have heard a number of “number 2” providers complain about having to make concessions or lose larger pieces of the business. Other clients will be cutting spend across the board further impacting sellers. Then there are the companies (clients) who have completely disappeared, taking their spend with them. All that contraction in the “new economy” is not just happing to others; it is hitting you, and me. So unless you’re into turning the other cheek, you are going to have to make up that revenue somewhere.
Now is also a great time engage with new ideas, there is something to be said for the status quo, but there is a great deal more to be said for proactive pursuit of business. Buyers are looking for new ideas, new ways to regain what they have lost, and innovative ideas on how to leverage and capitalize on the next turn in the economy. While these ideas need not be revolutionary, they need to be fresh, positive and forward looking. The disadvantage of being the incumbent is that it is easy to be labelled as the “same old, same old” when things change even slightly, like now. It is very true that in sales, perception is reality; what was comforting and comfortable during the free fall, is now open to challenge from an energetic and proactive new suitor.
Another important factor is human nature. While a large majority of people, some say about 70%, are risk averse, it means 30% are willing to take on reasonable risk to achieve their objective, and this can be stretched a bit if you can help them manage the risk. As we sit here in August 2009, with a number of indicators suggesting the worst is behind us, many of the latter group are looking for ideas on getting ahead of the trend, and are open to new and creative input.
A number of people I have worked with over the last month, new clients, say they are training their teams now to jump ahead of the pack. That same attitude applies to all their purchases and decisions. While many may have been reluctant to switch horses in the dark of winter, a good number of them are now looking to see how they can position for change. This is not to say that their tolerance for risk has increased, but they are open to exploring alternatives, this leaves a window open for new providers; new providers who can demonstrate that risk in staying the course. This can prove to be a challenge for existing providers who have continued the course they were on before and during the downturn.
New economy or not; my ideas, their ideas, or no ideas at all; old rules, new rules, or no rules; a couple of undisputed facts remain: First, Companies Are Still Buying. They may be buying less, or the same from less vendors, but they are still buying, in some cases the same amount. Fact number two and the more salient one for us selling: They Are Either Buying From You, Or Not!
There are several painful ways to know and rationalize when they are not buying from you. The only way to find out who is buying is to proactively engage with as many of the right type of prospects as you can in the time you allocate to prospecting. While methods, tools and ideas are fresh and updated, you need to look at past recessions for an understanding of how buyers respond and react to different phases of downturns and subsequent upturns is key. Which is why now is an absolutely great time to prospect in your base and but even a better time for prospecting new potential buyers. There are certainly fewer people on that road now, so prospect, have some fun, make some money, and make new clients, they are out there.
Yesterday in our Random Walk Up Sales Street – 7, post we wrote about how there is a lot being written by many across various mediums about the “new economy”, and things we need to do differently based on the “new rules”. We suggested that you don’t get distracted by the shiny twinkling noise, but instead focus on how you can productive in some fairly predictable times.
At its roots, being productive in sales as in most things, comes down to a choice of either doing more of something or doing it better, a variation on the old work smarter not harder. If you are like me, when it comes to work, I would rather do it better, and not have to do more. Depending on the motivation, I do at times figure out how to do it better, and then do a bit more for greater impact. One of the best ways to do things better is to actually step back, stop doing things and plan things out.
When we work with sales people, we always focus on how they allocate their time before we get down to how to improve the activities they allocate time to. (See Allocate Time – Manage Activities and Get It Done – Chunking – Blocking) We identify key activities that must be completed to succeed and then what is the optimal amount of time they should allocate to each activity, what is their individual mix. This is not based on an average work day, but rather a complete sales cycle or a quarter of a year. You get the usual things like prospecting, account management, admin, fire fighting, etc., usually all adding up 100%. I say usually because on a regular basis you have someone who is so eager, so wanting to impress their boss that they exceed 100%, like the hockey player going into overtime saying to the commentator “Well I’m going to go out there and give it 110%.
While every sales person can rhyme of the old saying “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, few if any do serious planning. There is a lot of incidental planning, whether it is an ad hock plan on the way to a meeting, or the thinking some do before a pipeline review. I have worked with many organizations that had their reps create a territory plan or account plan at the beginning of the year, review it quarterly or then dust it off occasionally when a director or executive would come to town. At the other extreme, I have seen organizations have reps prepare very detailed plans for each customer, that would outline not only the number of calls on a client, but when they would take place, and what would be discussed in great detail, allowing little room for the day to day realities of selling, and completely ignoring the client side of the equation, as it focused strictly on their need to sell product in certain volumes across a preconceived demographic.
The planning we see as working best needs to take place weekly at minimum, at time more regularly. It needs to look at and address the overall territory, followed by specific events that will impact sales. The planning should be strategic and tactical at the same time. One way to avoid winging it or doing things by rote is to plan. Look at the best way to move specific opportunities forward, based on the overall plan for an account or territory, what do you need to do now, and what based on new input and circumstances can be moved around and/or done later.
This approach to planning ensures a couple of things. By doing it frequently it becomes a simple exercise that does not consume a lot of time, but has immediate pay-off. Nothing turns people away from planning than spending a lot of time on things that will not impact them for some time. While long range planning is important, the reason these plans sit on shelves, is that once they done, the reps go back to dealing with the here and now. To avoid this do short term ongoing planning that support the long plan but allows you to tweak it based on realities on the ground. In turn this becomes a great learning mechanism, or coaching in the hands of the manager. By reviewing your plan at least weekly, see what works and what doesn’t, you are better equipped each time for the next round with all your opportunities and tasks.
Once you get in to the habit of planning, right down to the meeting level, including agendas, written down questions, primary, secondary and tertiary objectives with specific next steps, you’ll be more confident and better able to ignore the unimportant interruptions and noise of day to day selling. You will gain the confidence that comes from successfully executing and accomplishing those things you set out to do in the way you had planned. You can do all this in less than 5% of your time, and in the process free up a much higher percentage of time through focus and success.
A while back I wrote about a risk we as sales advisors, leaders, or whatever label we choose to wear bear. In order to stay relevant we must demonstrate that indeed we are leading rather that following or merely jumping on trends. In that piece I pointed out that since many of us did not warn of the economic downturn to come, we should at least attempt to help our readers ready themselves for the coming upturn in the economy. This is true whether you think the economic upturn has started; or we have merely bottomed out and are in for flat and stagnating times; or you are one of the optimists that think the boon train is leaving the station, and now is your last chance to grab and hang on to the last car as things pick up steam.
So it was with bemusement that I read a piece this week talking about the “new way to sell”, the fact that the time we are in are so changed from where we were less than 12 months ago, that unless we completely reinvent the way we sell, we are just minute from being an obsolete relic of the past, looking like a sales person from 2005 or 2004.
Those of us old enough will recognize phrases like “the new economy”, “new way of buying”, and hand in hand wit that is the ever popular “new way to sell”. Again all these things are presented in light of the dramatic, no even more profound, (and less accurate) “tectonic plates of the economy have shifted forever, shaking unsuspecting sales people in to the abyss of Sales 2.0.” (Hmm, a bit much, ha? but it sounds cool, like a movie trailer for “No Sale” staring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.)
Well if you are old enough to remember Steve McQueen or the movie Earthquake you are also old enough to have lived through the last or last few “Big Ones”, and know that at the core little long term changes happen to sales, good sales people and the way they continue to be successful, especially when reviewed over time. Wholesale short term changes maybe a good distraction and little more, and distraction will turn negative when the pendulum reverses and things return to evolving in their normal fashion.
The big problem with the “new economy thinking”, “things have changed forever” school, is that there is not that much new here. It is not like the invention of steam and the railroad, the cotton gin, or the seed drill in agriculture. In fact if you compare it to recessions in the 1990’s, 1980’s and 1970’s the current one has yet to make the grade. If you measure it by duration, level of decline or retraction in the economy or job losses both in terms of total job loses, percentage of work force laid off, or percentage of unemployed. Mind you the last measure is very much a lagging indicator, so we have yet to see the full extent. But the other measures, sorry unless you worked for Merrill Lynch, GM, or Lehman Bros, this has not been that bad. Just look at how fast Wall Street has shaken off the shock. So what has changed?
What has changed is that this recession is being played out 24/7 across cable networks, bloggers, Tweeters and You Tube jockeys across the planet who need something to misinform an ever knowledge thirsty public about. Between Presidential elections, dog selections and dying pop stars, what can be better filler than something they know just as little about? “Gee, what should I blab about today? The recession, sales, hey I can show case my ignorance of both in one post” The problem is any fool including me, can post what ever nonsense about sales and the new economy, and it becomes part of a larger and larger din that reverberates and builds on itself. And it is that constant compounding of nothing that has made this recession different, nothing else. This is why it is important to remember that selling is always evolving, growing and inviting adjustment. The basics will endure as long as one sticks to the core activities and principles; there is no need to throw everything out hoping that by proclaiming new truths, new beginnings and new rules you will some how be able to better deal with any market.
To close, I don’t mean to understate the impact and pain on those directly affected by the current downturn, but most will rebound or reinvent themselves this time as they did last time and the time before. But that comeback will not be the result of the “new economy”, “new rule” or any other “new”. In fact it will be as a result of something as old as the first sale, a focus on the customers’ reality and ones ability to enhance it. Remember based on the latest reports and all the way back to last year, over 90% of people are still paying their mortgages and living in their homes, over 90% of people eligible and wanting to work still are working.