3 stories that reveal if your sales attitude is out of date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

 

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Barefoot Sales Process

In 1968 Nike invented the modern running shoe – Nike Cortez. One of the founders of Nike, Bill Bowerman, stuck a large lump of rubber under the heel of the shoe to, as he said, to stop the feet tiring and give them an edge. With the heel raised, he reasoned, gravity would push them forward ahead of the next man. Before this runners like famous Roger Bannister all ran with backs straight, knees bent and feet touching the ground right under their hips, using their toes as a balance. Their only shock absorption came from the compression of their legs and their thick pad of midfoot fat. Thumping down on their heels was not an option.

In addition to Bowerman’s experiments finding the new modern running shoe, he wrote articles and books about a new running style; and it was the ignition of the Jogging Wave .

The rest is history. Today Nike’s turnover is around $25 Billions. The running shoe industry alone revenues over $20 Billions yearly.

But is this industry one of the largest fake in modern times?

According to the book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall it may be. McDougall uncovers a frightening truth: since the introduction of the Cortez shoe the injuries from running have exploded. Leading experts agree it depends on the fact that the modern athletic shoes package the feet so much that they become too weak. The muscles in the feet prevents to be strong, the more they get packaged.

barefoot

And despite some thirty years, all multi-national brands of running shoe makers and their marketing suggestions, no manufacturer has ever invented a shoe that is any help at all in injury prevention. The more expensive, the more injuries.

Some years ago two Nike managers were watching one of the top athletics teams they were sponsoring. They were confused since the athletes seemed to prefer – to run barefoot. “Haven’t we sent enough shoes”, the Nike folks asked. The athletes told they could train a lot more without getting injuried when running barefoot.

If we translate this story to sales strategy and process, it hits me that it’s very near the same. We invest millions of dollars buildning support systems, analytical models, big data, strictly KPI:s to follow, expensive CRM-systems…but do we really solve the real problems? Are we really making more deals? Do we really land higher sales revenues? Do we really find the most profitable opportunities?

My conviction is that we package our sales organization so hard, like machines, that we lose our creativity. We don’t let our feet – sorry: our sales reps – look for the best opportunities, because we tie them up to follow our one-size-fits-all sales process, supported by strictly and detailed KPI:s. The result is that everybody are looking for the same type of deals – even if the market and competition changes very rapidly.

Why not going for a barefoot sales process?

Your reps are thinking people, experienced enough to radar where to search, using the best method, building the most fruitful relationships. You will definitely get a flexibility to meet changes, meet competition; it’s an agile sales process. What you need is a support for Catching Point. That means, it’s rather the beginning that is important, than the process itself. The focus task, with this perspective, for a creative sales rep is to recognize and catch needs, as clever as possible and based on his experience of the industry or as a business man. The only support they need at this point is a sort of easy-to-use app to register what the need is, to whom and when it’s time to take the next contact. Nothing more. When times comes, the rep heavily spend their time to detail the potential customer’s need and the solution to it, but not until then. It’s a Lean Sales Process – or what I call a Barefoot Sales Process.

And like in barefoot running; set your sales reps free and you would obtain a lot more creativity finding revenues and profits. Let them BE true sales reps, not prisoners in stiff shoes – or processes, KPI:s and organizations!

Checkout the Sales Scenario app for iPad, thanks.

Good luck and Best Regards,

Stefan

Sales Decision Making Revolution is Coming

When I first got in touch with sales management decision processes many years ago, decision making was a task for essentially an individual – the boss – based on a static sales report. It was up to his or her experience, management style or even gut feeling if the quality of the decision was high or low.

However, the lower quality of the decision, the longer implementation time for the decision itself. And the longer implementation time, the longer payback time for the anticipated good effects; if the effects at this time were relevant at all or out-paced in the fast moving business environment and hard competition.

Later, tools like tele or video conferencing systems entered the market. Those systems gave possibilities to discuss topics to decide upon. However, the basis for decision had to be prepared and sent out to team members in advance, providing actually no possibilities for alternatives to evolve.

Then came the internet based collaboration plug-ins like webex, teamviewer, gotomeeting, lync and many more. You now, all these softwares with their thousands of buttons, no standards, fuzzy Icons – all with one thing in common; you never remember how to use them. Yes, you may collaborate, chat, show your screen, but there is no context content with alternatives and you need all team members to be online at the same time. That’s a challenge even without time zones…

Now many talks about the social things; like LinkedIn, Twitter etc for collaboration. It’s not collaboration in my eyes, more like Inspiration. You can comment, share or Like, but It’s too open to get into your real sales problems.

Today, vendors like Qliktech, Cognos, Microsoft and IBM and many more provide you with sales reports showing the history, not the alternatives for tomorrow. The charts are colorful and you may understand them. They show detailed answers based on Big Data, but not to your questions. If you ask for the future, they will ask for your big bucks to prepare static alternatives to discuss around.

The worst thing is that you need to discuss your current situation and your alternatives several times a month, because things are happening so fast and you need to act – not react – to be on track.

There are modern solutions, that in one single tool let you run and elaborate among future sales specific scenarios as many times a week you need to, invite and chat with your management team, friends or experts – when they got the time to – and get inspiration from top sales gurus, to make better and more well-grounded decisions that are already implemented, so you can stay as the leader in your specific market.

Stay tuned – in the next days I would like to introduce the biggest news in the Collaborative Decision Making market history.

It will revolutionize the way you make sales decisions.

BR, Stefan

Big Data anyone? It’s time for Less Data.

Sometimes you need time to think. I’ve just read an interesting post by Maree Conway Slow Strategy that pinpoints “there are no quick fixes, no silver bullets to developing strategy that is futures ready”. People are so anxious finding the right answer, they may not have time to think to ask the right question.

If you are sure having the right question, the specific answer will be ready to serve you. If you don’t, you still will have an answer. As Maree Conway tells, there are multitudes of options to explore and it’s not one single answer. You can’t be sure having the right question until you invest enough time to explore those options. Exploring your options one after the other you will discover that every option are connected to several questions as well. If you got five options – or scenarios – you easily can ask at least three questions.

Examples in a sales environment.
Scenario A: You discover the half year sales revenues are not keeping the pace for the end year. Questions may be (1) what if we book more sales meetings? or (2) what if we put more money in TM lead generation? or (3) what if we try to raise the average order size?
Scenario B: A continued slow down in China (an important market to us) escalate next year. Questions may be (1) what if we layoff five sales reps? or (2) what if we decrease our prices to keep up the number of orders? or (3) what if we increase the hitrate winning the deals?

You see, it’s not that simple just asking one question. Which of the above six is the “right”? That’s the problem with hype of Big Data as well as with Google. For sure, the answers will be there. The databases are full of them, but the tricky part is still to figure out what question to ask. The Big Data database or Google can surely give you patterns for help providing guidelines in which areas to look. However, it’s only historical data – it would still not give you facts about tomorrow. It’s up to you to think about. You need to discuss within your team, and you need time, since there are several scenarios to explore.

Exploring your options to find your right question, of course you may need some historical data. But you don’t need exact facts provided by wrongly asked questions. Big Data consultants will tempt you to ask questions because their only delivery is answers. They are paid after the number of answers, not the quality of the question. I think you should consider not starting any Big Data projects until you are very clear about what you need to know.

In that process, you need Less Data. It’s typically figures about revenues, process efficiency, people etc. This type of information is often easily available from your internal systems. More important, you would also need information such as competitors and their products, macro economics, customer challenges and so on. Do not be tempted to read the consultants’ answers first; they belong to other enterprises’ questions, not yours. Begin with much less data, but much more experience – which is not in any Big Data machine.

This experience is certainly encapsulated in your team and organization already.

Use that experience, take your time, read the blog post by Maree Conway for inspiration and develop your right question tenderhearted.

Sales Tactics for Dummies – summary

While driving home for Christmas, I’ll just try to give you all a short summary from the post Sales Tactics for Dummies.

As you know, my defintion of Sales Tactics is the ability to act proactively on issues that are unplanned and deviates from the strategic plan or the possibility to reach it’s targets.

To establish that sales tactics ability to act, you need to:

  • Go for a Collaborative Decision Making culture
  • Introduce some sort of software that supports the above decision making

First, the Culture. I’d just read a great blog post written by Anthony J. Bradley, Group vice President in Gartner Research, that provides insight that it’s time to take advantage of social behaviour in our professional organizations, and not only in marketing. No-one these days can disagree that social media has made a huge impact to our businesses. Why shouldn’t the benefits be used in other processes as well?

A great start could be the sales process.

Even if a more collaborative decision making style may give some benefits, it’s not really any big effects if you don’t support that with a software. The software would in every aspect help you gather comments and bright ideas – from your management team or sales reps on the street. New truths you never would have been aware of may pop up – painfully honest. But take advantage of all new insights and make better decisions and communicate decisions with higher level of acceptance by those people that are affected. Not to take this opportunity – it’s reality today – is only stupid.

A software platform should include the following:

  • Possibility to define an objective
  • Run one or several possible future scenarios
  • Share a chosen scenario within your team, employees or external network
  • Have comments and ideas back
  • Improve your scenario
  • Communicate your decision instantly and clear

Looking forward to 2014, it seems to be the year collaborative decision making will blossom. The advantages are there. The softwares are on the shelf to grab. But is your organization ready?

We’ll keep in touch,

Merry Christmas!

/BR
Stefan

Sales Tactics for Dummies – Part Four

Long time – no see. I do need to aplogize. I haven’t come back to you in months. Really sorry for that. It’s no excuse, but I hope you may understand – it has been too much work and nobody has come to help, poor me.

Let’s recap previous posts. We were discussing a sort of correction system in sales to help when things happen on a tactical level. Remember? You set strategic goals and break down these to an operational level; what have to be done in your sales organization  – every day or week. Easy.

But things never go exactly as you plan. Lots of events occur; new competition, news, macro economy, etc, that force you to act. If you get insights often – for example every week – you are probably able to handle most events on the fly. This is the tactical level.

But is “on the fly” the right way to go? Are your decisions all the time well founded? If you’re experienced, maybe yes. But still I believe you can make better decisions. Think about the case Peter had in my previous posts. Let’s go on with Peter’s way to a well founded decision and the key features a tactical correction system has to be equipped with.

By setting up a few sales scenarios, Peter pointed out his Objective – meaning what problem or challenge has to be solved. In the example, the sales figures for BA Automotive in EMEA were dropping unexpected . Hence, Peter’s objective was: “Meeting the new competition and win the battle”. Help by hand, he presented scenarios he can think of as reasonable. The scenarios were elaborated in his management team to secure the quality.

What is the next step for Peter? In my mind, he’s got two alternatives:

  1. Decide supported by his own thoughts and experience (“my solution has worked before”)
  2. Ask a friend or expert

By definition, an expert knows a lot about one single topic, but may lack the overall picture. But since Peter himself has the overall Picture, why take the risk not to ask an expert to be really informed about his or her knowledge and experience in the topic? An expert may be a very educated person with University Grade and titles, but also an individual sales person facing just that challenge of the new competitor.

Useful information is typically how the competitor is acting in a lost deal, what arguments and sales pitches they are using, what discounts they are willing to give at what pressure, where they in detail are located, which customers they are attacking and so on. Detail knowledge that is too valuable to ignore.

This type of information provide the ability to set certain constraints of what can or can’t be done. For example, if the competitor is highly discounting the price – we may not be able to set our prices too rigid. When Peter decides, he have to be aware of these constraints and the only way to be that is to get people involved in an iterative Discussion. The individual sales person may say “if only the price is low, we will sell”, but the constraint may also be “the margin has to be on a high level” stated from the board or financal manager.

Do you understand what I’m looking for? People are experts in different areas and with different knowledge and experience. A software platform for Collaborative Decsion Making has to support a collaborative way of setting constraints and to let people honestly express their thoughts. Otherwise it’s not a collaborative way of making decisions.

In many organizations I have met, the middle levels of management are a bit afraid of what the levels below are saying. I mean, a sales rep may express thoughts that are a bit rough and may not be suited to be expressed in board meetings. My experience is that the middle management tend sometimes to hide uncomfortable truths for the management team or board. My opinion is that what you know, you are able to correct. If you not love what you hear from the grassroots, act upon it. Don’t try to think the problem don’t exist – it does. And as quickly you act, the better.

A software platform for collaborative decision making has to have the capability to be open enough not to filter out uncomfortable truths since in the long run it will even impact your brand and what values you stand for. A real collaborative decision making software platform also supports feedback from outside your company. Of course, sales figures may be sensitive in some extent to communicate outside your Company, but think of the upside value of having an outside view of your problem. For example, your customers. Having their view how you can reach your goals, isn’t that valuable information? Or what types of sales efforts they like or dislike?

It’s time to collaborate. Start within your own organization, but don’t be afraid to honestly ask for advice from the outside. Otherwise it’s still old truths.

/BR, Stefan

Sales Tactics for Dummies – Part Three

In my last post Sales Tactics for Dummies – Part Two I went through the decision model approach of Collaborative Decision Making in sales. The objective for using such approach in decision making is to make better decisions when you face a sales tactics problem occurring from an unplanned event. To accomplish that, I pointed out two components;

  1. Tactical decision model for sales
  2. Software platform

where (1) was discussed in the previous post. What about the Software platform then? Let’s try to catch up the sales tactics scenario in the previous post. In which parts did we have a need of support? Typically when:

  • Peter got information that the sales was dropping in the Report
  • …considering alternative Sales Scenarios…
  • …he sets an Objective, but
  • …there is a need to add and remove constraints (the price was such)
  • Then Peter wants to get people involved in an iterative Discussion
  • …to bring the Process going forward
  • Peter Decides the upon the adjusted scenario and turn it into an Action Plan…
  • …where the chosen scenario (eventually) gives new sets of KPI’s

Let’s start from the beginning in this post.

The Report and Scenarios
Peter got the information in some form of format; Excel, CRM, BI-tool, pdf-report etc or simply by phone or e-mail. The important is that Peter also get insights, not only order figures.

Why? Because he in the next step needs to establish an Objective to his organization. My point of view is that Peter need a tool to bridge the Report and the Objective in different alternatives – Scenarios. By respect, the receivers of the objective may not be exactly informed of the topic; in fact they rarely are – but they are the experts in their specific area and need a sort of prepared scenarios to consider to really help Peter.

Many BI-tools have the possibility to run scenarios. However, the use of traditional BI-tools require the scenarios to be prepared when they arrive to Peter. Somebody clever (Finance) guy or girl has to make the preparations in advance. But I’m convinced that the preparation task has to be done by Peter himself or a member of the management team directly with the real-time data. By elaboration, Peter and the management team starts to think of “why”, “what if” and so on. This types of thoughts and scenario comparisons are part of the decision process as well and I think this is not a VP Finance task, it’s a Business Executive task.

It’s important the management team take active part in the scenario elaboration process to secure the objective provided to the organization is the scenario the management believes in.

The scenario elaborations are also a way for Peter and his team to control that the strategic goals can be achieved. Case scenarios can be prepared determined by business constraints and criteria Peter, the team and Board see it.

Therefore, in a scenario tool you have to have the possibility to sketch up reasonable sales scenarios to be able to communicate them to selective parts of your organization in a way they can understand them and contribute to the decision process in a constructive and creative manner.

The time perspective is also an important parameter. If we are not meeting the budgets, when can we be on track again? If we are required to catch up in three weeks or in five months, is a complete different situation. Here comes the constraints in (see later blog post) – i e it’s impossible to do 56 sales meetings in one week, even if meeting the strategic goals would demand it. Catching up during a longer period would wait to see the results, but provide a more calm sales management coaching.

And by having the correct basic data directly from your CRM-system you later on in the collaborative decision making process can set up the proper measurements and sub goals – KPI’s based on the new business criteria.

Summary

In the best of worlds, the software platform should include a real-time connection to the source data. In the case of Sales, it’s your CRM-system’s database. The software platform should also present the information as alternatives – scenarios. Best is if the scenarios also show how different alterations impact the sales process. For example; to catch up a declining sales order revenue in coming three months, how does that impact how many sales meetings have to be performed every week or, as in my example in “Part Two blog” how many leads have to be produced to catch up?

Based on actual scenarios with fresh data, Peter easily can provide an distinct Objective, which are the foundation for the coming discussion.

Keep an eye – to be continued.

/BR