Do You Listen To Sales Professionals

Note: This blog post was originally posted as a guest blog for Elinor Stutz, one of the most experienced sales experts on the planet. Please visit her blog.

More than 50% of all sales reps are not reaching their quota. At the same time, the sales process is rapidly changing. It requires an entirely new set of skills.

Recent reports tell us that over 70% of a buyer’s journey is done without connecting with a Sales Rep. Many buyers feel they possess greater knowledge of a company’s products than the Sales Rep himself. Buyers know a lot more about the problems they must solve than the Sales Rep.

Why has it gone this far?

We are getting better and better at setting up great portals of information on our company websites. Search engines serve the customers’ continual increasing need for knowledge. And they are becoming increasingly accurate in their results. Customers are much more confident deciding by themselves with available solutions to their problems. They see less need for being guided by a Sales Rep’s voice from the world outside.  Gone are the days leading up to the late 90’s.

Questions that come to mind:

  • Are Sales Reps needed in the future? (The pressure on them has already begun to prove to be devastating for their employment.)
  • How many of the Sales Reps are positioned today to be fired?

Fired

Let’s do something about the situation, I thought.

I’ve been a sales rep myself, and I cannot count the mornings I woke up with worries about not meeting my sales goal. If I didn’t, I’d get fired. Somehow, my career developed to become an experienced sales expert myself.  I wanted to pay back.

I started out writing a sales blog. But, I soon realized it was only my own perspectives I was writing and sharing. So, I reached out to some of the best sales experts in the world. They were asked if they would like to share their best sales tips ~ in one single place ~ for free.

Sales professionals: Just like Doctors Without Borders.

The experts loved to contribute!  The Sales Scenario Blog Radio was born. Similar to actively selling, we experimented to find the following:

  • The sales tips had to be in an audio format.
  • Insights need to be short enough to enable Sales Reps and their managers to acquire the knowledge at free time slots.
  • Efficiency is essential for listening to the podcast between meetings, driving the car, and commuting to and from the office.

Today, Sales Scenario consists of over 30 of the very best experts in Sales on the planet. You can tune in to hear well over 300 quality and easy-to-consume sales tips.

Check it out now: Please visit the Sales Scenario Blog Radio podcast. 

This is only the end of the beginning!

The Sales Scenario will soon invite all 300 million Sales Reps around the world to share their very best sales tip.

Each tip is to be reviewed and approved by certified sales experts. Together we will help each other. What a fantastic treasure chest we in Sales do possess! And what a waste if we don’t open it up and use it!

Now it’s the time to do it, or we’ll all die (or become unemployed at least).

Advertisements

Why you shouldn’t hurry your buyers’ decision

Recently I was involved in buying an apartment to my son. You know, being 23 it was time, thought his father, his son would have his own place at last. It’s not that easy to live at the same place, same house, with grown up kids.

However, my buying journey was not that easy. Maybe it tells something about living as a buyer, who knows? Let me tell my buying story.

the floor

Buying an apartment in Sweden is mostly done by an open bidding process. Estate agents set a sort of “group text platform” where buyers text their bid and thus receive text messages from other bidders. Buying this particular apartment was no exception.

At least from the beginning, in the end it turn out to be – well memorable – if not saying frustrating.

I and my wife were taking our son with us to the apartment display. It was colored in light nuances, the kitchen was small, but nice and modern. It seemed that the apartment had undergone some careful renovation.

So yes, we were interested. Really interested.

Let me tell you a little about us, as buyers. I can say we are experienced buyers. We’ve been through some bidding processes before and felt the pressured, nerve-thrilling process to end up with a victory or a loss. In all cases it had been an honest fight with other bidders, probable with the same feelings about the process.

During theses processes, we’ve found a great way to win such. You start by making it clear to the estate agent rep that you’re interested, but you never start the process yourself. You wait, wait and wait. Remember, you’re getting all those text messages so you are able to follow the bidding process really close. You’re not a hurry. Not at all.

So if you wait until you feel the frequency of the other bidders’ bids slow down to a pace when you can feel they’re thinking to stop – “this is my last bid, no more”, then it’s time for you to Enter The Arena.

But you shouldn’t put a bid just a little above the last bid. It has to be – if you are ok with the level – a massive bid. That will definitely shock the others and – in most cases – finish the bidding process to your advantage.

Back to the actual buying of an apartment to our son, the other bidders had making their bids and the process was slowing down. It was not really time to go into the process, but soon, very soon we felt.

Then came the crucial mistake from the estate agency. He texted as follows:

“We intend to close the bidding process tomorrow at noon. Please give me you last bid”.

Now. Hold on for a sec. What are the agency rep trying to accomplish? And why? But what impact does he on the buying process?

For sure, he’s trying to close the deal soon and by that force buyers to make up their minds quickly and put their last bid. He’s certainly also trying to make those bids to be higher, since “you’ve got only one more chance”.

And why? Of course to cash in his commission a soon as possible.

But what impact does he? Let’s sort it out.

  1. He stresses buyers to opt-out from the bidding process
  2. He blocks the buyers’ need to evaluate the others’ new bids, and possible put a new and even higher bid, refusing highest possible money to the seller
  3. He infuses irritation by introducing a “last minute process”, that no one more than he earns at

The agency rep became aware of, at least, our irritation when he called me just a few hours before his intended bidding process closure. I said I was just discussing with my family to put a huge bid tomorrow morning, I’d just wanted to evaluate some other apartment offerings, and naturally it’s a big decision and a lot money involved. We always, I said, consider very carefully our actions, but when we decide upon things, we’re honest about our intentions and just go for it, making it a success.

But he persisted, the bidding process would be closed at noon.

I was totally pissed off (excuses for my bad language) and opted-out instantly. The seller of the apartment missed out on a lot more money and my son a nice apartment. To whose gain?

Everyone talks about “customer is king” and “you’d better consider their buying process instead of your own sales process”. So what may we learn from my story? Are we still thinking demand is greater than assets and by that it’s the sellers’ market? Is the customer really in focus for you? Do you really understand the behavior and needs of your customer? Have you created your “buyer persona” by really step into his shoes?

I doubt. Especially when buying apartments.

Do you know your sales costs to reach your sales plan?

In an industrial society, sales costs were negligible. Sales was easy to perform when demand was ever-increasing and focus was on how to produce as efficient as possible to meet demand. Now, the paradigm shift is happening with full power where customer is the new king, leading to exploding competition and harder to sell. Not only new competitors through globalization have seen the daylight, but also new methods like e-commerce gain market share at the expense of human based sales forces.

For those organizations that stick with their sales force, sales costs are peaking. The problem is that they just don’t know how to attack them. To decrease cost, companies use the first weapon they see – to fire sales reps. That’s because salary is the only clear choice there are. But at the same time they do, revenues decrease as well.

My standpoint is, firing healthy sales reps is a totally wrong action. Why?

Because the cost of sales salary is minor compared to sales overhead costs. Before, in an industrial society, a product calculation consisted almost only of costs that directly could be connected to a specific product, such as salary for workshop workers and material needed for producing the product. All overhead costs, like the cost for sales, were very small compared with production salaries and direct material costs.

Now, in a post-industrial society, the situation is the reverse. Overhead costs, such as sales costs, are in many cases dominating the product calculation. Many products have over 80% defined just as “overhead costs”.

So, firing a sales rep for the reason of cost is not an efficient way to improve your sales department. To decrease your sales costs, you need to get into those “sales overhead costs” to really understand how to improve.

The challenge is that these overhead sales costs are hidden by a “cost fog” with no or very little transparency. But it shouldn’t be that way. I’m involved in the expertscenario initiative which propose a solution to remove the overhead fog and providing a way for your organization to implement continuous improvements and, finally, be able to attack the massive overhead costs.

sales overhead costs

The initiative, with methods like Post-Industrial Accounting Models and Management Models can be applied to all areas in your company, as well as value chain. Overhead sales costs are just one example. To make this example as clear as possible, the initiative has created an app where you may put in your sales plan – such as target revenue, average order size, no of sales reps, hitrate etc – and simulate your sales costs by the process stages Lead, Appointment and Quote, to fulfill your plan. You may also get into the details for each of the stages, to see how sales costs are distributed on different sales tasks, like meeting time, travel time, quote creation, segment prospect database, sales review etc. Very useful to start changing how to work with things in your sales process.

A certain sales plan gives specified costs not only per process stage, but also updates your product calculation, so are able to see how profitable (or not) your current products are, with sales overhead costs taken into account.

sales costs

The app is not yet launched, but you may get a great feeling how it will be working in a preview.

The app, as well as the models the expertscenario initiative provides, removes uncertainties about what costs that truly affect achievement of your sales plan. In the same perspective, you cannot overlook investments you do within your sales organization either. It may be investments in “soft” refinement such as strategy, process, human resources, CRM etc. Today, most of these investments are accounted upfront – the entire investment the first year – as an overhead lump sum. Instead, the right thing to do would be to spread the investment on several years the investment contribute to the value for the sales organization.

A clear picture of what sales costs you really have is still covered by the overhead fog. Why this is done, I don’t really know, but one clue is the fact that people sometimes don’t like to be measured too much. Better then, thinks leaders, to just spray those costs over entire organization than actually get the picture of what’s working and what’s not.

Believe it or not. It’s soon 2018…and still we are hiding from the scary truth…

The good news is that all I’ve written above is within the framework of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) and the models were already featured in The Hidden Treasure Chests (1993), written by Bert-Olov Bergstrand and Christer Lundgren. The Hidden Treasure Chest has the Swedish Association of Graduates in Business Administration and Economics signature.

 

 

 

Why you should say no if you don’t match 100% of your prospect’s need

In the good old days, sales people were able to fill their portfolio with stock items and hit the road selling those, without much preferences if customers’ needs fit to that product. But now, customers are demanding 100% solution of their problems.

Some time ago, in a world of never ending market growth, goods had to be produced cheaper and cheaper, driving competition harder and harder. All eyes were focused on how to source and produce to the lowest cost as possible, not what customer really needed.

Customers thought they were needed the offered goods – and for sure, they couldn’t find anything else. And customers were right, not much were changing from year to year or even from decade to decade. Globalization – as we now it today – driven by the internet revolution hadn’t started yet. Companies were pretty happy to source their business with goods available.

Then something happened. A great paradigm shift, from producers’ point of view to customers’.

The introduction of internet started a customer education process. First at slow pace, but soon accelerating. Customers started to get informed using available information and with social media introduction, they were also able to discuss within their networks about their problems and needs, just to get as informed they could before they engaged with a salesman.

Today, this paradigm shift is fully completed. The customer has made himself comfortable in the driver’s seat and decisions are made fully informed. But they still need help to match products with their needs, in detail.

On the selling side, we meet with fully informed customers, so it shouldn’t be any problem – if you are informed at the same level about your products. In my blog post Why Expertise Outperforms Process , I explain why being an expert on your own products or services is mandatory these days.

But my point is, if the salesman’s offer don’t fit 100%, the customer don’t solve 100% of their problems. The result on your customer’s side is not reaching their fully potentials and goals, leading to decreased competiveness. On the selling side, you may lose the deal to a competitor meeting 100% of the needs. Or, have a lot more work to get it. Work including persuasion, product customizations, discussions, motivations an much more hassle to eventually end up with the signed contract.

My advice is simple. Only go for opportunities you know you will solve 100% of your customer’s needs.

puzzle

In an efficient sales process, the first stage – qualification – secures no deal is allowed to pass if not a couple of qualification questions are having positive answers. Common questions are such as if customer has budget, if you talk to the decision makers, if investment is intended in reasonable time frame, if competition is not too overwhelmingly and so on.

“If your product fit” sometimes is one of these questions, but not too often the most important and never the only one. Why? It should be.

Think about the “good old days” when everything you produced could be sold, no matter what. The salesman was king and customers were trusted him as The Voice from the world outside.

Those days could be revived once again, if your product is solving 100% of your customers’ needs and most of your time is spent on helping your customer understand and trust that.

Doing so before you qualify your opportunity in your sales process, will save tremendous amount of hassle and time. But to afford to spend all your time on fit matching, you need to say NO to opportunities that not have any potential to pass the “Fit Test”.

Good luck!

Stefan

 

 

Being analogue take you further in sales

I’m just reading a book about the possible danger of always being connected. The innermost sentence of the book is to illustrate the importance of being offline – analogue – from time to time, in an online, digital world. More than having a sense when to disconnect and relax in these times of summer and vacations, you need to develop skills to float between being digital and analogue during your sales process, which contains elements of high pace, unexpected events and intense competition combat, just like rafting in white water.

20051009192726_rafting

The book is not in the category of business literature, but most of the book’s contents are definitely applicable in business.

The book points out that today’s standard of always being online is not necessarily good for your health. Nor in sales as well.

My thought is that if we go all-in and always use the internet, social media or e-mails for prospecting , as many sales experts nowadays are suggesting, and not feel when to switch from digital to analogue, then I think you would lose more deals.

I know, prospects are much more researching vendors online today, before they get in touch with you, leaving you offside of their buying process. The obvious answer on this has for some years now been the concept of social selling, where you’re supposed to create and nurture prospect relations. Social selling lets your prospect being able to make their investigations according to their extents, timings and relevance, without being distracted by intrusive sales people. Being an expert to them, you’ll become (one of) “the man to talk to” when it comes to an eventual procurement.

Using social media and other digital tools for taking care of your first selling phase is great, but not necessarily in all phases. My feeling is that the further you raft along the white water stream, your sales process, the more analogue you have to be. Much of the job in early phases of selling is to create visibility and existence, but not to provide solutions to complex prospect problems. That belongs to the upcoming phases where insightful discussions have to take place to be competitive.

To win sales deals, you need to get to the selling phases where “talking” takes place, and need to get much deeper in your conversations than you possible can with help of digital tools, such as social media or sending e-mails. Most conversations on those type of tools are mostly too general or too public to really manage helping your prospect solve his problems, but also for you to win the deal.

The phases of talking includes physical meetings, where emotions, body language and nuances are central things that counts. Here’s where the real sales takes place, even if it’s activities often are initiated as social selling activities.

In the phases of talking, you may be able to consider in-depth relations based on feelings that unveil situations and implications you really can help to solve and put yourself ahead of your competition. BTW, did you know that we are equipped with 24 different muscles in our face, optimized to express different feelings? To translate all these expressions, you need a lot of training which is only obtainable by plenty of prospect meetings.

The tricky part may be to get the feeling of how to handle a certain activity – digital or analogue. Social media is an excellent way of getting in touch and convey prospects through early phases of why they should invest and what, but seldom how to get the business value.

My recommendation is when it comes to more detailed questions from your prospect, always consider to switch to analogue tools, by just picking up your phone and call them. Start a more detailed discussion, and try to book an on-site workshop. Further on, use the opportunity to use efficient digital tools as chats or Skype sessions for additional minor questions, but always have your eyes open when to shift being analogue again – especially when it comes to deeper discussions. These discussions require an analogue approach to develop your deal forward.

You need to learn when to switch from digital conversations to in-depth on-site activities, and maybe back again, as the white water stream flows further on. Also, when you’ve made the switch, train your skills in empathy and body language, to get the discussion to a deeper level.

Sales managers also need to look for a new skill. They should look for individuals that master the combination of being both digital and analogue, to really drive your sales processes forward, and take the rafts and deals safely down the stream.

Why Price Is Becoming Everything In Sales

In today’s rapidly changing market landscape, buying decisions are made long before any sales rep is contacted. When you’re finally are being contacted, the only question still left to be answered is the one of price.

Price

My question is: If you’re a sales rep, why bother spending your valuable time on building any relationship if your prospect already has done all evaluation beforehand and only has this single question to you?

No reason at all.

Why not just publish your pricing on your web and you get rid of that last question as well?

Perhaps, I’m starting a revolution within The Sales Community. But I’ve got this topic on my mind for so long. Now, I cannot bear it anymore; I’ve got to start this discussion. My excuses if I’m tend to be a bit provocative.

Some time ago I was planning to build a sundeck to our house. I did my investigation; what type of wood, construction and other materials that we needed. Finally I called a couple of lumberyards for prices. Lumberyards offer exactly the same goods, so pricing was the only thing to compare. I had my favorite – where I used to buy this type of stuff – so I started to call them. It was a friendly and nice conversation, but I decided to buy from a completely new supplier where I hadn’t bought anything from before.

Why? The pricing difference was just a few dollars? Why was the change to a completely new supplier so easy to make, without any chance for my existing supplier to control?

I’m sure the increasingly importance of price is a huge trend, and it’s not just about selecting local lumberyards. Look at the global brands. Ten years ago, I saw major differences between brands. In phone industry a great example comes from the story of Nokia. Technology was more or less the same – the goods was the same – but companies like Samsung or Huawei was lacking the value of a strong brand, which Nokia possessed. You bought the Nokia phone to belong to a hip community. Now, the Samsung brand is one of the strongest on the market and Huawei is the third largest phone company on the planet. Nokia doesn’t even exist anymore.

Look at the Car Industry and you’ll find exactly the same thing; the brand image gap is decreasing very fast and it’s accelerating. KIA, the Korean car manufacturer, was some years ago considered to be cheap and deliver low quality. Today, KIA is one of the fastest growing car companies in the world. Why? Because they are still cheap but it’s brand has recovered to be much stronger diminishing the gap to premium car brands at an accelerating pace.

Another example is Microsoft’s e-mail client Outlook. Only a few years ago, it was considered to be unbeatable and any attempt to get market shares were completely unfruitful. What happened? Well, many companies are now leaving for Google cloud suites and even Windows operating system are now under fire – new Google Chromebooks are all over the marketplace.

Why? Lower price of course.

The last ten years, companies have learned their lessons. Focusing on design, marketing, efficient processes and brand have almost taken away the only weapons available for sales reps to differentiate. In a very near future there will not be any gaps left to work with at all.

The core question is; why would you pay more for exactly the same delivery?

Soon; no reason at all. For now; well, let me pick some reasons you still may come around with a higher price.

  1. Your prospect is lazy
  2. Your prospect is afraid of change
  3. The change itself is costly

Lazy.

Your prospect is not doing any great research on current available solutions and they trust you to be the one to deliver the optimal solution for them.

But the compelling question is: Are there still companies with space in their bottom line to be lazy? If you’re lucky finding them today, certainly you’re not gonna find them tomorrow. So, be aware to change your price level before they are forced to be proactive and reshape their profitability.

Afraid of change.

Most companies manage risks. Even if you’re promoting exactly the same goods but to a lower price than all your competitors, you may lose your deal. That’s because the prospect sets a price on the risk. If they discover any higher risk doing business with you, they judge the risk within a price span, and if you exceed that span it turns out as a price of that risk. That price is put on top of your proposal. If you still are lower in price, you will get the deal but if not, you’ll lose.

Costly change.

In the same mindset, your prospect may add a price of change on top of your quote. They may have to rewrite manuals, set new routines in place, train people etc when changing to your solution. Nowadays, companies take a good look into changing costs much more than before. These “internal” costs is a little harder to collect and estimate but companies are doing more than a guess.

The challenge is to force yourself being lowest priced solution but still earn money. You have to find other sources to get paid. You need to be innovative or you’re out. Great brand creators have followed the trails of making buyers belong to lifestyle communities, but tomorrow you can’t lean on a great brand, since low-price companies have captured and closed the gap of brand value.

You may survive for some years if you are lucky to find companies that are lazy, afraid of change or where the change itself is too costly. But why wait just to die?

Act. Now. Remember: Why pay more for exactly the same stuff?

 

 

3 stories that reveal if your sales attitude is out of date

It’s not easy to cope with all dramatic changes now happening around how to sell. High performing sales reps do, but my following true stories tell many people within sales and SMB’s still have a long way to go before they would be able to compete in the future.

outofdate

Story #1

In my garden there was until recently a huge red leafed beech. It’s height was almost 60 feet and due to that we couldn’t leave it for another year. We had to take it down. In my former life I certainly was a monkey or such animal, so I went out climbing up to the top, taking down one branch at a time.

One day later I was satisfied with my work. However, the tree trunk was still left. I scanned the internet after firms that could help me taking the trunk down. I called a few local firms and selected one that already the coming Friday was able to finish the work. Being an experienced sales person, I appreciate if a buyer comes back to me, even if it’s just to tell me I lost the deal, so I went out texting those firms that lost my deal.

Here’s the text dialog with one of them:

Me: Sorry, but I have to tell I selected another firm for the job. Thanks for your time anyhow 🙂

The sales rep: Now you lost a lot of money! We’re always 30-40% below our competitors.

Me: (slightly sarcastic) Ooops, then it certainly was a lot of money, maybe several dollars? But you didn’t check all of my needs when you called – I wanted to get the job done already this week… By the way; care about what you’re texting – just a small tips.

The sales rep: I always stand up for what I write or say. I’ve been in business since the 90’s and last year we got 96% of all jobs in your town.

Me: (increasingly upset) Think about if I had another tree I needed to take down? Regarding your attitude, do you really think I would be contacting you again? Blaming a potential customer is not a good choice. I’ve been in sales for a long time and teach sales reps, it might be a good advice to join one of my sales training classes…?

The sales rep: You should consider a training class in Foresight to earn some money!

End of story.

Lesson learned. Always accept a lost deal with a smile and a “good luck”. Look at it as a new opportunity that starts. We all know prospecting takes time and even if you lost this deal, you got in touch and next time it’s a warm call.

Story #2

This story is recently shared from my brother. He had some problems with his chainsaw (I know; you may think we are all in forestry…) and went to a retail store to get it fixed. He asked for service and the sales rep took the chainsaw into his repair shop. The brand was one of those they were selling in the store and the sales rep promised to fix it. But this was what happened next:

The sales rep: OK, I know what’s wrong, we’ll fix it. By the way, where did you buy it?

My brother: (little embarrased) On the Internet…

The sales rep: ON THE INTERNET????? Just go away and take your worthless chainsaw with you! People buying things ON THE INTERNET are not welcome in my store!!!

Lesson learned. Not adjusting your attitude and business to modern buying processes where customers using the internet and social media to educate themselves, buy things and compare, are just out of date. It’s a major threat for SMB’s but not aligning to reality is only stupid. Such aligning might be: “Great, we have a special offer for those buying on the internet, it’s a service agreement for only 99 dollars per year and I can make this included as the first repair. Would you like to fill in this form, please?”

Story #3

This story is a short one, also shared from my brother. His mower was not starting, so he called a local shop to get it fixed. However, the shop was closing at 4 PM and he knew he was a little late calling 4.05 PM:

The sales rep: (first thing saying) Do you know what time it is???

My brother: Well yes, I actually do, but I took a chance and called anyhow; and lucky me, you answered.

The sales rep: We’re closing at 4.00 PM, you cannot call later. Come back tomorrow! Then he hung up.

Lesson learned. Nothing is closed anymore. Business is always open, 24/7. Opening hours are restricting in itself, but here’s the worst thing about the short conversation above: The sales rep was actually picking up the phone. It’s not just missing the call if he didn’t answer, he also damaged his brand and that may be unrepairable.

Recognize any of these stories by your own? Do you have any more examples of out of date sales attitudes? Please tell in the comment line below! Maybe we all as high performing sales reps would get a big laugh at least 🙂