Improve Sales: Stop Creating “Snake Oil Salesmen”

 

making promises you can not deliver on

making promises you can not deliver on

 

 

The role of sales is a difficult one. You face more rejection than acceptance and have to break through the many roadblocks in connecting with potential customers you can solve problems for. We are paid to “make it happen” often in environments that are not conducive to sales growth both externally in our markets but also internally, in our own organizations. A common problem organizations face today is they are turning their sales consultants into “snake oil salesmen” because their operations is failing to do what they said they would do.

When you study why buyers buy as I have, you hear things like;

I buy from people, companies who take the time to understand my needs, the problems I am trying to solve, and who “do what they say they will do”.

… let’s boil this down a little more;

I buy from people who listen, hear, and I can trust.

We have seen many changes in our markets over the past 7-8 years in how buyers buy as I have discussed in past posts. The reality I hope everyone will agree with is that how buyers buy has changed. As I have shared ; If you have not changed your sales process in the last six months….it is broken and you are losing sales you should have won.

We have seen many changes within our organizations in the last 7-8 years;

Less People

Less budget

Less time to do our jobs

Less inventory of finished goods

Less product in work in process

Less inventory at our customers

Less time to deliver, just in time

…and more competition, often from competitors who are so aggressive it feels like they must not truly know their costs ( or they are that mush better than we are)

My challenge in this post is with all these changes do you really know , based on your capabilities and market realities of today, what your organization is able to do? able to execute regularly, consistently, predictably? If not your salespeople in the market working with you most valuable assets; customers and potential customers and making promises you can not deliver on. To put it another way;

When your company fails to do what it says it does and or will do, you turn your sales consultants into “snake oil salesmen” and it negatively impacts your trust factor.

Back in the days of the wild west there were traveling salesmen who would stop in a town and sell snake oil. When we Google the term “snake oil salesmen” we find;

” a snake oil salesman is someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods or who is himself or herself a fraud, quack, charlatan, and the like.”

Snake oil’s origins are believed to come from an oil the Chinese laborers brought to America made from a Chinese water snake believed to cure joint pain.  However the snake oil salesmen of the wild west were known to plant people in the crowd who would lie and say how the oil cured their various ailments. Snake oil salesmen had a sales process of basically traveling town to town and never selling the same people twice because once you bought the snake oil and found it failed to do what you were promised, you did not trust that salesmen.

When your salespeople serve customers , win an order from buyers it is based on a foundation of trust. Buyers naturally , because they have been burned so many times over the years ( by other traveling snake oil salesmen) do not trust salespeople. So trust must be earned and the simplest way of earning trust is execution. ( doing what you say you will do in the small things and the big things, over and over again) When your operations team fails to execute what the sales people have been told to promise, it immediately breaks trust and creates brand damage.  This is particularly a urgent problem when you fail to deliver on promises to new customers as we only have one chance to have a “good first date”. ( first order experience)

The unfortunate reality in the world your salespeople live in day in and day out is their buyer’s perception is the reality they must deal with. The buyer rarely talks to your shipping department, plant operations group, your purchasing department, quality, and they are not aware of the internal challenges your team may be facing nor do they care. What they do care about is buying from companies who consistently do what they say they are going to do.

So let me ask you again;

Is your current operational performance turning your sales consultants into snake oil salesman in the eyes of your customers? 

Are your salespeople making promises based on a dated information set that was probably true five years ago but not true today?

Is your team aware of operational issue but treating them as politically incorrect secrets you hope your buyers and salespeople do not discover? 

Are the competencies you share in your brochures and web site still true today?

What expectations do your buyers have, and how is your team performing to those expectations? 

If your team is not focused on understanding what your buyers need, what your salespeople are promising, and what your organization is capable of executing today you need to be and you need to reboot your business.

In my next post I will share how to quickly access if buyers believe your salespeople are snake oil salesmen and how to quickly repair this perception.

 

 

Increase Sales Quick Tip; Breaking Through the New Gate Keeper…No Gatekeeper at All

 

lobby

 

I was asked to share some quick tips that are in my seminars and coaching calls so once per month I will share what I will call; “Increase Sales Quick tips”. Keep in mind “I “did not make these up, these come from working in the market and observing what works.

 

The first quick tip is; how to break through the new gatekeeper; no gatekeeper at all. In this post I will share a technique for finding and connecting with the right buyer when you enter a prospect’s building and you are greeted by a few chairs, a phone and a call list.

 

If you follow my content you know I am not a big fan of “cold calls”. I feel with technology today there really is not excuse for a cold call. You can do some quick research on your smart phone, identify key contacts through linked in, and even send an introductory email or make a phone call prior to the traditional cold call drop by. But let’s say you are still not sold, and have grown your sales by “dropping in” on prospects in your market, often near appoints you have already booked. A new gate keep that keeps many salespeople from connecting with the buyer and or key contact is the lack of a person in the lobby.

 

You have decided to drop in at an account near one of your customers, you walk into the lobby and you are greeted with a few chairs, a phone, and a locked door…now what?

 

While working with a Gary, a salesman in Knoxville I observed a great technique; call the HR manager. If you do not have a receptionist to guide you to the right contact and buyer, one of the most helpful people in most businesses is the HR manager. When this salesman does a cold call and is greeted with a phone in a lobby, he finds the HR manager and in most cased the HR manager connects him directly with the right person. The right person picks up because the call is coming from the HR manager.

 

Although we all know there are no excuses for making “drop by cold calls” today ….we all still do them. If you find yourself greeted by an empty lobby, try contacting the HR manager to improve your odds of connecting with the right person.

 

What area(s) of sales, sales management, marketing, business development do you struggle with?

 

Please share the roadblocks you encounter to hitting your sales goals and I will answer them in this quick tip post format.

Professional Services Marketing; a Must Add to your Business Book Library

 

When I surveyed CEO’s years ago, I asked; what is it that worries you? A common answer was ; not knowing about something new that could help my business, help us grow quicker and more profitably. I have to admit that makes me anxious as well. What if what has my hair on fire today has already been solved by someone else (in my experience is always has) and I am suffering needlessly?Wasting time trying to solve a problem already solved?  I received a copy of of the book: Professional Services Marketing in the mail , second edition, and found it helps solve that common problem business leaders share as it relates to marketing.

 

 

I enjoy receiving new books, new thought leadership in the mail. I often have authors reach out asking me to read their book and talk about it in my network communities and in my blog. When the team from Hinge Marketing contacted me about their new book I could not wait to receive it as I follow their content on a regular basis and find it smart and easy to  apply. The good news when you love reading is that  you are always learning something new. I had a mentor at Frito Lay once say; remember Mark, Leaders are Readers, and that has stuck ever since.

 

 

A common problem in service businesses is marketing. I have served a number of service related businesses; marketing and advertising firms, a third party administration firm for retirement benefits, financial advisers, attorneys, the market leader in product management and marketing seminars for high tech companies, internet marketing and blog service providers, PR firms, a podiatrist, a chiropractor, a software company that helped doctor’s offices become paperless, and sat on church boards ( the ultimate service business if you ask me)…to name a few and marketing was always a struggle. The most ironic of those were the marketing and advertising firms as well as PR firms who sold marketing services and created strategies to help businesses grow for their livelihood, but they struggled to market themselves. This gives me pause ….why? and what can be done to solve this market problem?

 

You do not need to figure this one out on your own…

 

Read the book: Professional Services Marketing, How the best firms build premier brands, thriving lead generation engines and cultures of business development success.

 

The authors; Mike Schutz ( co-president of RAIN Group) , John Doer ( co-president of RAIN Group ) and Lee Frederikson ( Managing Partner at Hinge) are seasoned professionals who learned how to serve their clients in the trenches, out in the markets with the rest of us. They are not theoretical but practical in their approach and application of the principles they share in this book. Their content is research based and I have followed their thought leadership independently for some time.

 

I must say I was skeptical when the book arrived (sorry guys) as I am a huge fan of the first edition of this book and I wondered how they could make it any better. I still have my copy highlighted with notes to myself in the margins. I remember buying copies of it when it came out in 2009 and sending it to clients and would be clients who were are struggling with how to market their services. However what I found was this second edition was needed as the authors point out;

 

In the old days, professional service firms could survive without much marketing effort. Put together a team of good people, deliver strong services to clients, and you might get by just fine on repeat business and client referrals. ..today you also need smart, effective marketing and a culture of business development success to attract a steady stream of clients and grow your business in an increasingly competitive world.

 

The second edition continues their field tested , research based approach to providing advice you can apply but also adds content about social media marketing, the importance on line marketing plays and they share case studies by market leaders we all know and admire. In one chapter they discuss; The battle to attract and retain a quality workforce is a key success driver in many professional services firms. Having lived in this world, when the authors share their thoughts on topics like this it immediately makes them credible….they have walked in my shoes and their content resonates with me. In another chapter they share what I refer to as politically incorrect secrets of most service firms; they spend way too much time focused on their competitors and not enough time understanding their ideal client and their problems. Been there, done that, lived that, helped my clients through that.

 

After finishing the book I have only one criticism: what this book shares is not just true for “professional service firms” but all the companies I have served. Many industries face the same problems and all would value reading this book and applying its principles. I hear the authors saying; “what Mark did you miss the chapter on identifying and focusing on the best market?” No, I did not miss your point and I believe in what you are saying. However what I have found is businesses from large manufacturers of mechanical equipment in the B2B market to B2C consumer product companies would value the advice found in this book. The reality is none of us are in the widget making business, we are all serving our markets, solving their problems while identifying the new ones that arrive. The sooner businesses adapt to what I teach in my seminars; “serve don’t sell” the faster they will see rapid, profitable growth. I think every church pastor needs a copy of this book. You solve so many problems for people ….if they only knew….that’s a marketing problem that has already been solved in the wisdom in this book.

 

I highly recommend you add the second edition of Professional Services Marketing to your list of books within arms reach of your desk. You will find yourself reaching for it often for practical advice that works in the markets we serve today just like the book: Crtl Alt Delete that I shared a few weeks ago.

Increase Sales: Turn your “Sales Bucket” into a “Marketing and Sales Funnel” That Generates Revenue

Steve Patrrizi new sales funnel

Steve Patrizi new sales funnel

 

In my last post I shared what CEO’s and business owners often share about sales: Why can’t it be more predictable, more systematic? The good news is it can. The unfortunate thing is most companies believe they have a marketing and sales funnel when in reality they have a sales bucket. A “sales bucket” is when all your opportunities, prospects and leads are all floating around together and many dying because you lack a process to help them buy. In a sales bucket opportunities that should become sales make a big splash when they enter your system but fail to leak out the bottom as a sale.  In this post I will share how I have helped companies turn their sales buckets into revenue generating marketing and sales funnel generating revenue on a consistent and predictable basis.

 

When I hear a business leader say: What we need is a repeatable sales process. We need the sales guys to be more efficient at closing business and bringing in the revenue.  What I hear them saying is : Why can’t my sales and marketing be more of a science and less of an art form? …it is too random, too unpredictable and it drives me nuts that I can’t count on the sales forecasts I am given.” These made me want to do some more research and answer the question: What is science?

 

At its very foundation science seeks to identify patterns. Through identifying and watching patterns, scientists uncover laws that are ultimately translated into math equations. These patterns follow one of two interwoven features; physical laws and environmental influences. With the common pattern of as high as 96% of leads going unsold…what is the pattern and what can we do to improve?

 

For companies who lack a marketing and sales funnel over the years the current market has only made this problem even worse. It used to be, back in the day, back when sales was the “keeper of the keys of product information” , marketing just had to dump prospects and leads into the top of the funnel and sales was responsible for pulling them through to a sale. The funnel and the function of the funnel changed as Steve Patrizi points out here. Today buyers are more informed and as much as 60%-80% of the buying process is over before they contact you. I read an article recently that shared the most important number in B2B marketing is 60%.

 

What does this figure mean for Marketing?

  • 60% …  This is no man’s land: a gap in the purchasing funnel that neither commercial function currently addresses.
  • The 60% mark is in that part of the mid-funnel that is critical in terms of driving the buyers’ consideration of a supplier for a potential purchase.
  • 60% also means trying to build a dialogue with customers without having the advantage of a Sales rep’s one-on-one commercial interaction.
  • Finally, 60% means moving beyond the “qualified lead” mindset.  In essence, once we have moved past the early stages of the funnel, we need a strategy for persuasion and attention-grabbing mechanisms.

Our job today becomes understanding how buyers buy, what common problems do they have, and turn our sales bucket into a slippery marketing and sales funnel that helps buyers buy.  So how do we do that? What have I seen work? Below is the process I have used to help take the art out of sales and make it a much more predictable, forecast able, outcome.

  1. Establish a common language – what does your team mean by a; Prospect, Inquiry, Opportunity, Lead?
  2. Go into your market, ideally on four legged sales calls and clearly understand how your buyers buy and the criteria they need to make buying decisions.
  3. Identify market truth’s
  4. Map Buying journey
  5. Create a marketing funnel that helps buyers buy
  6. Stop the “sales insanity” and map a repeatable sales process that turns leads to sales
  7. constantly sense and refine, adjust , be agile as your buyers change their processes change with them
  8. Measure, measure, measure…
  9. identify “the canary in your coal mine”, your lead to close %
  10. Nurture your leads, improve your lead to close % by helping them slide through the funnel with what they need when they need it.

make sales funnel slippery

Do you have a sales bucket with opportunities that should become sales (leads you paid good money for already) dying?

Do you know why buyers buy from you and why they don’t?

What do your buyers need today to make buying decisions?

Do your sales people have the right sales tools to make the sales funnel slippery or is buying from you like sliding down a sliding board lined with sand paper and splinters?

 

 

 

 

 

What You should Do If You Report to a “Post Turtle Sales Manager” ?

post turtle manager

 

 

In my last few posts about different types of buyers and how to sell them, I shared advice about how to sell a “Post Turtle Buyer”. I had planned to keep sharing different buyer types I have worked with over the years. What surprised me were the emails and calls I received asking; what should I do if I report to a “post turtle sales manager”? The reason I started blogging was to share advice in hopes it helps and serves others. If you report to a “post turtle sales manager” this post is for you.

 

First we need to make sure we are talking about the right challenging sales manager. A “post turtle sales manager” is one that was placed in this role and does not know what to do there. Someone else put them there and they did not climb up there, earn this position on their own. When I spent some time researching why sales super stars leave, I found one of the leading reasons was their boss; their sales manager. However most of those interviews were about what I referred to some time ago as the “Ass Kicker”. The Ass Kicker is a jerk basically who subscribes to; the beatings will continue until the moral improves weekly. When something goes wrong, sales are not met they quickly look for an ass to kick or a throat to choke. They lack the emotional intelligence to manage themselves let alone a team of people. They often lead with fear and intimidation and if you are struggling with this type of sales manager I have some advice for you here.

 

A Post Turtle Sales Manager is different. They may have been a salesperson promoted. After all since they were so strong at selling they would be an awesome sales manager right?… WRONG. Managing and leading people requires an entirely bigger skill set than how to sell products effectively.

 

I have seen Post Turtle Managers also emerge from the owner’s rolodex of “smart” people and or relatives.

 

Just because you are smart is does not insure your success leading a sales team.

 

Just because you may have the same DNA flowing through your veins as the owner, it does not mean you have the training, experience and gifts to lead a sales team.

 

What should you do if you now have a post turtle sales manager?

 

  1. Make a decision – do you want to work for them? You now understand who and what they are and are you willing to sign up for this deal? If the answer is no, and it often is with sales super stars, start making your plan to exit now.
  2. Assuming you chose to stay, first identify how they will be judged.
  3. Help them achieve their objectives.
  4. Ask them to go on some four legged sales calls.
  5. lead up; you do not have to have a title to have influence
  6. Find them a raving fan account contact they can bounce ideas off of and learn about current market problems common in your business.
  7. Find them a Mentor, someone in your organization or someone in a similar role serving your industry but obviously not a competing company.
  8. Find them an industry association group to join, participate in.
  9. Help them find a local leaders organization like Vistage.
  10. Encourage them to subscribe to content, like my blog here at www.nosmokeandmirrors.com

 

 

Other sales and sales leadership content I would highly recommend includes;

 

 

Selling Power: http://salesleadershipblog.sellingpower.com/

 

Sales Benchmark Index: http://www.salesbenchmarkindex.com/bid/97712/Why-Slow-Sales-Leaders-Won-t-Survive

 

Top Sales World: http://topsalesworld.com/topsalesmanagement/

 

Insight Squared: http://www.insightsquared.com/2013/05/sales-leadership-vs-sales-management/

 

Salesforce Blog: http://blogs.salesforce.com/company/

 

Revenue Journal: http://www.revenuejournal.com/

 

 

 

Content specific to leadership would include;

 

 

Management Excellence: http://artpetty.com/blog/

 

Chris Brogan: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/

 

How to change the world: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/

 

Tom Peters: http://www.tompeters.com/

 

Leadership Wired: http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/

 

Brian Tracy’s Blog: http://www.briantracy.com/blog/

 

Leadership Now: http://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/

 

 

Some you tubes they could watch include:

You don’t have to go it alone; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kL03rvRxnys

 

This week in sales: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVpAu4jvvb8

 

Connie Podesta: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLhuFKCiX0A

 

 

A couple of great books;

 

 

Profit from the Core

 

New Rules Marketing and PR

 

Ctrl Alt Delete

 

Coaching Salespeople into Champions

 

First 90 Days

 

Your Brain at Work

 

 

 

If you now report to a Post Turtle Sales Manager you can moan, complain and participate in all those non value adding negative conversations with your peers,…or be a part of the solution. Offer to help your sales manager learn how to become successful and who knows you may find they are the perfect boss…and become a lifelong friend as well.

 

Have you worked for a post turtle sales manager?

 

What Advice would you give to others?

How Do You Sell a “Post Turtle Buyer”?

if you can sell a post turtle buyer you can sell anyone

if you can sell a post turtle buyer you can sell anyone

 

If you have been in sales for any length of time you have come across many different types of buyers. One of the most difficult buyer types is what I refer to as a “Post Turtle Buyer” as they really do not know what they are doing, do not understand what problem they are trying to solve and often can consume a tremendous amount of time, energy, and often produce little if any results if you do not understand how to work with them. If you have called on, or are calling on a post turtle buyer, this post is for you.

 

So what is a Post Turtle? As the picture implies it’s a turtle on top of a fence post. It did not get up there on its own abilities; someone had to have placed it there. It was elevated beyond its own abilities, function, and talent. It does not know what to do up there and when we see one we often wonder who was the idiot who placed it up there?

 

In a previous post I shared what it is like to call on Parrot Buyers, a buyer who basically is an information gatherer for others in power to make the buying decision. Parrot buyers know their job; they have a process and are very good at researching possible solutions. In the next post I shared how to work with this buyer type to produce golden purchase orders. The post turtle buyer is different, they really do not have any clue what they are doing, and they lack process, criteria, and do not clearly understand the problem they are trying to solve.

 

It was the early 1990’s and I was leading the sales for a company that produced mechanical loss prevention devices designed to reduce theft in music stores. They were/ are  awesome product solutions and not too hard of a sale when you produced an ROI based on reduced in store theft dollars compared to the one time cost of our product. In addition, sales data supported that having your music out “live” on the showroom floor produced much greater sales than what some retailers felt was a better solution which entailed putting the product behind the counter or in glass cases that required a store associate to help you when you wanted to purchase them. A somewhat sizable record chain in the mid west had failed to commit to our products and it was driving my regional manager and independent sales rep crazy, so I flew in to meet the buyer and figure out how we could help him.

 

When I met Kevin he was young, very young actually to have such an important job. As I asked him questions to better understand his experience I found this was his first “real” job. His father owned the music chain. Kevin had tried to find other work since graduating college but only could secure part time jobs in bars and restaurants so his father hired him and put him in a job to “learn the business” . Why my team was so frustrated was;

 

  • We qualified that he had a problem; his theft rate was between 7%-10% based on data their loss prevention manager shared with us.
  • We know based on a history of helping many customers like this one we could cut their shrink ( product stolen) to under 2% ( you will always have some theft from in store personnel that our devices could not control)
  • Our sales manager and representative did a great job of quantifying the problem and using our ROI tool.
  • Our sales team did an excellent job of identifying power in the account; the loss prevention manager, the owner, and the merchandising manager who all had a strong influence in the final purchase
  • Our team did an excellent job of positioning why our product that had the ability to store a loss prevention sicker tag inside our device so it could be reused and not accessible to consumers was a measurable value unlike our competitor’s  product.
  • We produced a list of happy other music stores with phone numbers ( we did not have email back then) , some of which were much bigger chains than than this one, raving fans if you will

 

So what did we do wrong?… and what are we going to do to win this order?

 

What our team failed to identify early on was we were dealing with a “post turtle buyer”. They were treating Kevin like he was a very skilled purchasing agent like we typically serve and in reality Kevin did not know what he was doing, and was so afraid of making a mistake he was paralyzed. He had gathered so much information that the more he gathered the more paralyzed he became.

 

Once I identified the real “why” we had not received the purchase order we developed a plan to win the order…solve their problem….and that became our focus.

 

So how do you sell a “Post Turtle Buyer”?

 

  • teach them their job
  • share industry best practices from others doing the same job
  • find them an industry mentor, someone in the same position who knows what they are doing and can answer questions
  • put a cost on doing nothing
  • share cost of doing nothing, ideally by the week , with all power influencers
  • position buyer for a win inside their organization to build confidence
  • teach don’t tell
  • serve don’t sell
  • be open, no question is a dumb question if it stands between you and a PO
  • build a buying road map for buyer to follow with timelines and expectations in each step
  • find the buyer’s  individual, personal pain , and solve it
  • speak to that pain and how you will make it go away in each follow up call and tie it to the daily, weekly cost of doing nothing

 

Within 30 days we received a large purchase order from Kevin. We took Kevin under our wing and we basically trained him. What was Kevin’s individual pain? Like many children working for a dominant successful business leader/ business founder like their dad, what he really wanted and needed was his dad’s respect and the respect of others in the organization. Those were hard if not impossible shoes to fill. His concern of failing his dad was more paralyzing than the pile of manila folders on his desk with the product data he gathered. We positioned him, allowed him, and enabled him to win. We did not need the “credit” for solving the problem because our focus was winning the PO.

 

Do you have any Post Turtle Buyers?

 

What techniques have you used to get them off center and to buy?

 

Is a current sale you expected being held up under the shell of a Post Turtle Buyer?

 

One of the huge benefits of selling a post turtle buyer is it makes you and your organization better. If you really want to understand something try teaching it. When you must teach something you are forced to dive even deeper into the buying process, industry standard buying criteria and clearly understand why and how buyers buy. Once you can sell a post turtle buyer you can sell anyone.

 

 

Sales Tool Helps Buyer Parrots Lay Golden Purchase Orders in Your Hands

golden egg hand

 

In a recent post about are your salespeople calling on power or parrots I shared how your sales success or failure may be in the hands of the parrot buyer’s ability to present and sell your solution to decision makers and influencers within their organization. Time and time again a salesperson reports back after “good meeting’s” that they will win the purchase order. Weeks turn to months and the buyer has gone dark. What is happening with the order we expected? What can we do to shorten this sales cycle? What can we do to insure we win the order? In this post I will share one technique to help you, help parrot buyers lay golden PO’s in your hands.

 

Buyers today are doing a tremendous amount or research on the internet. It is estimated that as much as 60%-80% of the sales process is over before the buyer contacts your salesperson. Now more than ever we must find ways to help our buyers buy. Often buyers are actually trained buyer parrots that accumulate and repeat information they have heard to key decision makers and influencers in their organizations who have the power to buy. Here’s the problem; do you want your sales results, your team’s ability to achieve your sales growth targets, your income at the fate of a buyer’s ability to present and sell your product and or service? Ya…I didn’t think so.

 

How can we equip and empower buyers to effectively present and sell our products and services to decision makers who have the ability and power to approve purchase orders?

 

One technique I have used in a number of industries is to provide the buyer a presentation slide deck that speaks to the specific buyer persona’s of those who do have the power to approve the purchase. So what is a buyer persona? Per one of the leading thought leaders in buyer persona’s Adel Revella;

 

“Buyer personas are examples of the real buyers who influence or make decisions about the products, services or solutions you market. They are a tool that builds confidence in  strategies to persuade buyers to choose you rather than a competitor or the status quo… insightful buyer personas readily inform strategies for persuasive messaging, content marketing, product or solution launches, campaigns and sales alignment.”

 

If you want to learn more about buyer personas I recommend you download and read; The Buyer Persona Manifesto.

 

In one company we found we were presenting buyers and those buyers had to gain the approval of the; CFO, CEO, COO, and Engineering. We spent some time interviewing these key decision makers and identified what was important to each, the criteria they used to make decisions, and what they needed from us to make those decisions. For example;

 

CFO– they made decisions based on number, return on investment, mitigating risk for the least cost, insuring the investment supports the strategic vision of the organization. They hope and plan to be CEO one day. They want to make smart business decisions that demonstrate their ability to move into this job when the time is right. They want to avoid decisions that jeopardize or could limit their plan.

 

CEO– frequently from an accounting and finance background with strong understanding of operations. Sets the vision and is constantly looking for anything that could be a roadblock in achieving that vision. Responsible to shareholders, often the owner, they are about growing the company profitably and investing in equipment and services that support that growth.

 

COO – operations focused, key words; efficiency, production, productivity. Often grew up through the manufacturing ranks as plant manager, may have had some purchasing and quality control experience. Focus is on meeting the needs sales has sold as effectively and efficiently as possible. In this example we kept hearing the desire to reduce manufacturing variance.

 

Engineering– They have a laser like focus, all data no emotion to solving the problem to be solved with this purchase. Needs to make sure you clearly understand the problem they are solving. They not only need to see and hear your solution but also see the information and decision process you used to make this recommendation. They want information and ideally open communication with your engineers to have the ability to speak with someone highly educated like themselves and not someone trying to sell them.

 

 

Based on the above we created a slide deck of 10-12 slides. The first two slides were basically a requirements summary sharing our understanding of the problem to be solved. The rest of the slides provided what each key decision maker with power needed to commit to purchase. In addition to the slides we provided an appendix that included product data sheets, engineering drawings, key content web links, engineer contact information within our team, and a deep dive in data should an engineer wish this information. For example, we provided a ROI on the product and shared expected returns. We provided testimonials from other well known companies in the same industry. We established a cost on doing nothing and a weekly cost of not purchasing. The last slides clearly mapped out the steps and expectations of how to commit, what they should expect when. Ideally we always asked to present these slides in person, via web conference, but worst case we have now equipped the buyer with a sales tool to gain funding to support the purchase.

 

What will surprise you most is we did not talk a great deal about us, if all as much as the problems we solve, who we have solved them for and provided what we have learned others have needed to make informed buying decisions.

 

How about your company….

 

Do you provide tools to help buyers sell your solution internally? Or do you count on your brochures to do that?

Do you understand who the power decision makers are in the buying journey your customers go through? If so who are they in your industry?

 

What tool(s) have you created to help educate and inform key influencers in the buying decision?

 

While the statistics show buyers and influencers feel 97% of their interactions with possible vendors are not worthwhile, isn’t it time your company becomes one of the rare 3% who proactively provides useful, relevant , insightful information in a way and language your influencers need to lay golden purchase orders in your hands?

Are Your Salespeople Calling on “Power” or “Parrots”?

parrot buyer

 

There are many “gate keepers” we must often pass through to close a sale. With technology today we have buyers who hide behind voice mail and email and send out RFP’s and we have little or no discussion with them. If we try to make a cold call we may be greeted by a “no solicitation sign” or guard house that will not let us pass without an appointment. If we make it to the lobby we may have a receptionist gate keeper trained not to let us pass, and not to share decision makers names. However one of the gate keepers sales must identify quickly is the buyer who has no purchasing power and is a Parrot.

 

So your salesperson has made it through the gauntlet of obstacles we now face in sales and finally met with the buyer. The buyer shared what they are looking for, what their research has told them they need and your salesperson has presented. When we ask your salesperson for an update, they say ; “we had a good meeting”. OK, great to know, but why don’t we have the purchase order? What is preventing the buyer from giving you the order? Why is this sale taking so long? I thought you said you thought you won the order two months ago…where is it?

 

If you find yourself asking your salespeople these questions and more, chances are your salesperson actually presented your solution to a parrot and not power. Parrots are tasked with finding the best product, service and price for a particular problem to be solved and they echo their findings to someone else or others with the power to make the decision to purchase. Rarely are buyers the users of your solution but they are the person who actually inputs the purchase order into their system and assigns the PO.

 

What should your salespeople do if a sale they thought they won goes dark?

 

What should salespeople do if they discover they are calling on a parrot?

 

How do we shorten the sales cycle when we never get to meet with power?

 

If you find yourself asking these questions there are ways to insure you win the sale. One of the leading ways is to equip and empower your buyer with tools to help them present your solution.

 

Good salespeople will always ask in their qualifying process: “who is also involved in making the buying decision?” Some buyers have already been assigned a budget and can cut the purchase order. However as the cost of the purchase climbs I have found others…often time many others will be involved in making the final decision. The key to winning these orders is clearly understanding the buying process, the criteria being used to evaluate solutions, and the buyer personas of those making or influencing the buying decision. I hear some of you saying; “Well Mark that is a lot of work to do on a PO that four other companies are also trying to win.” Yes it can be if you have not done the market work ahead of time. However if you know the buyers in your market, how they buy, who they need to get sign off from, and what is important to those influencers you can include it in your presentation.

 

I was asked to help a company some time ago and they had seen steady profitable growth for years and then as the economy changed their phones seemed to stop ringing. Sales dropped monthly to 1/10th of what they once were and their senior leaders were concerned. They heard through a friend what I do and hired me to solve this problem.

 

The first thing I always do is seek current market truths. After a series of win loss calls we discovered that our customers were also feeling the pinch of the economy tightening and their companies have tightened their restrictions on purchasing. Specifically purchases the size of the products our company was selling once were able to be approved of by the buyer now needed many other signatures. We now have CEO’s, CFO’s, various VP’s all needing to agree before a purchase order would be issued.

 

The trouble in this new reality was our buyers are great at buying and terrible at presenting, it’s not that they are bad people it is just not their gift. We asked if we could meet with and present our solutions to the key influencers and we were met with; “no, they are too busy and this is what I am paid to do”. So as we reviewed sales we lost we found one common “spin cycle” as I call them where the purchase seems to spin round and round and go no where was when a key user or decision maker challenged the buyer with a question or series of questions they needed answers to and the buyers were not prepared to answer. Once we understood this was occurring we created a presentation slide deck that specifically spoke to the common influencer buyer persona’s who needed to approve the purchase. In addition we added a new step early on in our sales process that involved a webinar with the buyer and the various power influencers to share our solution and ask questions to better understand what the influencers needed to make the buying decision at a time that worked for their crazy, short staffed schedules. Within three months sales were tracking back to historical levels and within eight months sales were up over 30% to their prior average monthly sales… in the worst economy this company had ever experienced.

 

 

 

How about your business…..

 

Are you calling on Parrots? Do you know?

 

Who do the Parrots repeat your presentation to?

 

What do those buyer personas need, require to approve the proposal?

 

What can you provide proactively based on your understanding of your customers’ process?

 

How can you adjust your repeatable sales process to adapt to how your buyers are buying today?

 

Yes, this market work takes some time, and you will definitely learn some things that will make you feel uneasy or even upset however the value you receive by adapting to these current market truths will far outweigh the time and pain.

 

(As a side note…while we adjusted our process and had record sales, one of our competitors doubled their advertising and eventually went out of business. Another downsized their operation and waited out the economic storm with plans to re-staff when business got back to normal. They are still in business, but have never re-staffed and have not brought their sales back to pre- economic challenge levels.)

 

 

“Lead to Close Percentage”, The Canary in Your Coal Mine for Sales Forecasting

knowing your lead to close percentage is key to improving sales

knowing your lead to close percentage is key to improving sales

If you want to get CEO’s talking, one of the hot topics is what I have referred to earlier is the “Great Disconnect” as it relates to sales execution. Some common burning problems that CEO’s often share with me on their drive home at night are about their frustration with regards to sales performance…

Why is sales an art and not a science in their organization given all the technology available today?

 

How can I get my sales team to operate like my plant?… more manageable, more predictable?

 

 

How can I tell quickly and early enough that my salespeople will or won’t hit their sales goals each month?

 

How can we drive the variability of sales forecasting out of our current sales forecasting process?

 

How can we get a greater return on marketing dollars invested?

 

The question I use that often makes the phone call grow quiet with that all too familiar pregnant pause is: What is your team’s “lead to close percentage”? Your lead to close percentage is the canary in your coal mine of sales and acts as an early predictor of future sales performance. When you ask salespeople how to grow their sales they will say; I need more leads. The reality is you do not need more leads you need to improve your lead to close percentage on all the leads you already have.

 

My grandfather grew up in West Virginia and his father like many men back then was a coal miner in addition to having the family farm. My grandfather used to share with me how miners would bring canaries down into the coal mines as they were a quick early warning sign that there were toxic unhealthy gases seeping into the mine and they needed to leave the mine quickly. Canaries are particularly susceptible to toxic gases like carbon monoxide and methane found in the stale air of mines back then. The life of a canary in a coal mine was often short but meaningful. Your lead to close percentage indicator is the canary in your sales mine.

 

So what is the “canary in your coal mine of sales”?

 

Your “lead to close percentage” is one of the best indicators of future sales performance.

 

57% of companies in a study indicated converting qualified leads into paying customers as their top funnel priority (Marketing Sherpa)

 

50% of leads qualified but not yet ready to buy (Hubspot)

 

Do you know your “lead to close percentage” for your sales team? …for each salesperson?

 

It is difficult to manage, fine tune, and improve something until you make it a Key Performance Indicator that you track. Once you start tracking your lead to close percentage for your team and each salesperson you will quickly be on a path to taking the frustrating variability out of your sales forecasting process.

 

In my next post I will share specific ways to improve your lead to close % one you have agreed to make it a key performance indicator your sales team will track and report on.

Want to Improve your Sales and Profits? “Reboot Your Business”… (and yourself)

crtl book

 

If you have been in business for a while like I have one thing we can always count on is “change”. Markets change, the way buyers buy changes, and how customers find you have drastically changed over the past 10 years. Like it or not, there has been a huge shift in power from the company and salesperson to the buyer who can now find more information about your company and products (and you) with a few simple mouse clicks. Has your business been agile and identified these changes and adapted? Or are you waiting for business to get back to normal as I hear so many say? Well, I hate to be the one to tell you, this is the new normal! If you are one of those business leaders that recognize changes have occurred but are having a hard time getting your head around what to do about it, there is a brilliant book by thought leader Mitch Joel titled; Ctrl Alt Delete, Reboot your business. Reboot your life. Your future depends on it.

 

 

My wife and I had a plan over the July 4th holiday. We invited all my wife’s relatives and my daughter’s college friends over for an old fashioned July 4th cookout. We planned a simple menu per my daughters request with hamburgers and hot dogs, baked beans, my wife’s aunt Shannon’s famous potato salad and my daughter planned to make another one of her creative desserts. I bought charcoal and decided to grill old school instead of over gas. We bought the supplies, invited everyone, and planned an afternoon out side that included some bocce ball, Frisbee, and watching the fireworks from the deck. We had a plan.

 

Ohio weather decided to change our plans with rain on and off all day. I hoped it would stop long enough to grill the food but around 4:00 pm I needed a plan B. So I moved the grill under the shelter of the front porch and although “no one grills on their front porch” we adapted, the food was great and everyone had a great time together.

 

porch gill

 

This experience reminded me of the book I just finished this week; Ctrl Alt Delete. It reminded me of how environments and business landscapes change and will be changing again and we must and need to adapt or we risk going hungry. I wonder why it is so easy, second nature for us to adapt in our everyday lives but in business we struggle to change, we fight the tendency to be nimble and agile. Why? Is it hubris, laziness, and or even fear? Or is it something deeper, something that was blended into my generation’s’ DNA? I was born in the early 1960’s and my father started out his career as a meter reader with the local natural gas company. His company sent him to college at night and after 25 years of moving up the corporate ladder  held a senior level financial position when he retired. This is the way we were taught how it works, how it was supposed to be… right?

 

So imagine how I feel, and how my dad must scratch his head with the crazy life I have led. I have served many companies over the past 30 years as you can see from my Linked In profile. My titles have included Account Rep to VP of Sales and Marketing, from COO for one assignment to Managing Director for another company. I have been a sales coach, entrepreneur,  marketing strategy consultant, author, and public speaker. I led a few start ups and turnarounds as President and CEO. However admittedly if I am being totally transparent with you (and myself) a part of me has felt there is something wrong with me. Why have not I not been able to do what my dad did and work for one company for 30 + years retire with a pension, benefits and winter in Florida like everyone else from Ohio? In the second part of Mitch Joel’s book he discusses how we as individuals must also adapt and change. He calls it embracing the squiggle. The squiggle is what I have done….a number of different roles based on the problems to be solved, many different industries and if you were to graphically plot it it would not look like my fathers straight line career trajectory, but would be a squiggly line with little if any ability to plot or predict the next data point.

 

Another area where I feel I do not fit in and quietly has made me feel anxious and sometimes guilty is… I like to work. I enjoy bumping into problems to be solved. I have developed over the years the ability to see around corners as I share with my children. I use this gift of pattern recognition and shape strategies that work. What I do for companies does not feel like “work” but more like my sport, play, my art. In the early 2000’s I even branded it “the art of thoughts” trying to explain the service I provided but quickly stopped using that description as my customers and market were not quite ready for it yet. This book shares how today and the future will challenge all those leave it to beaver work  life models we have had woven into our DNA and how there now is a blend of work and non work life. Technology enables us, affords and empowers us the ability to work anywhere, anytime, and because of this make more time for our families if we use it correctly. The future strategies that will drive explosive sales growth will not be developed in boardrooms but in coffee shops deep in the markets you serve.

 

Not since David Meerman Scott’s book: The New Rules of Marketing and PR has a book grabbed me like Ctrl Alt Delete and I wanted to share it with you. I highly recommend if you have been waiting for your  business to get back to normal, searching for a crystal ball that will give you some hint of what the future has in store you, or like me have seen and felt a blending of your work and non work life, …you  buy and study this book.

 

How about you…Have you too seen and experienced major changes in your business?

 

Have you adapted and embraced social marketing?…or do you still think it’s a fad?

 

Has your business raised the surrender flag and admitted you no longer have the power, or have you dug in like Colonel Custer who also had a plan?

 

 

The reality of today is buyers can now find more information about your company, product, salesperson, and the leaders of your organization with a few simple mouse clicks. How buyers buy, how consumers shop, and how employers search for and hire new team members has forever changed and will continue to evolve and change. Will you adapt and survive or dig your heals and do it the way we have always done it around here? ( and how’s that working for you?)  It truly is your choice; I hope and pray you chose wisely.