Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 31, 2009

Questions are the Answer

Filed under: Communication,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 9:42 am
Tags: , ,

“Everyone says to ask questions but how do I discover my prospect’s needs or problems without sounding like I’m interrogating her?”  I hear some version of that question on a regular basis.  The idea that questions are the key to uncovering opportunities is well established but many sellers have difficulty in applying the principle and some question whether questions are even the appropriate technique.

In a short article such as this we can’t delve into the topic of questioning in depth but we can address the basic issue of the overall role of questions as a tool in the needs analysis phase of a sale. (If you’d really like some in-depth discussion of questions in selling I’d refer you to Secrets of Question Based Selling by Thomas Freese, OPEN Question Selling by Jeff and Val Gee, or Questions that Sell by Paul Cherry.)

Even if we’ve done extensive research and believe we have uncovered an issue or a problem that our prospect may or may not know about but that they need to address, we have to speak with our prospects to discover what their needs and issues are; how important those issues, problems or needs are to them; and whether or not they are interested in investing time and money in solving the issue.

The above is the “needs analysis” phase of qualifying a prospect.  We can’t sell if there’s no need or want of our product or service.  Consequently, we either have to discover or create a need or want for what we sell.

That’s where questioning comes in.  For many sellers, that’s where the worry about sounding like a CIA interrogator comes in.  How can we use questions to discover needs or problems without making our prospect feel that if they don’t answer correctly we’ll pull out the rubber hose?

We’ve all been taught the difference between closed-end and open-ended questions. We’ve been given instructions on when to use which type question.  Some trainers have given us formulas; others have given us specific questions to ask.

It’s these detailed guidelines that seem to get many sellers in trouble–that gets their questions to resemble Gestapo tactics rather than a discussion with a prospect.

So how do you use questions without intimidating or badgering? 

The answer is actually quite simple—don’t interrogate your prospects.  Instead of trying to figure out whether to ask an open-end or closed-end question here or which specific question to ask now, just ask the natural questions you’d ask your friends if you were trying to understand their problems.

Certainly there are different uses for different types of questions.  Certainly there are times when an open-ended question will be more productive than asking a close-ended question.  But ultimately, the goal isn’t to ask the correct question type but to communicate with your prospect. 

Communication is an art.  We all can and need to improve our communication skills. 

That being said, I’ve found that if I am sincerely interested in understanding my prospect’s needs, my questions come naturally. They’re the same questions—delivered in the same tone of voice—I’d ask a friend or my spouse if I were trying to understand their situation, and those questions and that tone of voice is hardly that of an interrogator.

Rather than being perceived as an unwanted interrogation, my questions are viewed as a sincere desire to understand, to communicate, to help.  Rather than putting my prospect on the defensive, my questions usually cause the prospect to willingly open up more. 

If you find you’re uncomfortable with using questions for fear that you’re putting your prospect on the defensive or you’re coming across as a prosecutor cross-examining an unwilling witness, don’t give up on using questions because questions are the answer to understanding your prospect’s needs and how you can help; instead, give up on trying to use formulas or control the conversation and simply approach your prospect as a friend who has a problem you want to understand.  Ask the natural questions that come to mind and you’ll find your prospect will not only open up more easily, they will be more open to listening when it’s your turn to offer a solution.

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August 26, 2009

A Bad Customer Service Department Doesn’t Have to Kill Your Client Relationships

Filed under: Customer Service,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 8:42 am
Tags: , ,

We struggle to make a sale and then, after we finally succeed, our new customer runs into a problem and calls—oh, my God, they call Customer Service instead of us!  Panic.  Fear.  Our life flashes before our eyes.  Death would be a kinder fate than having a customer call Customer Service.

Hopefully your Customer Service department isn’t this bad.  If you’re really lucky, your company’s Customer Service department is great.  Unfortunately, if you’re selling anywhere in the tech industry, there’s a good possibility that your company’s Customer Service has a long way to go just to be adequate–and by no means is bad customer service only a problem with tech firms.

Two recent encounters have me thinking about how we as sellers must deal with the inevitable customer service issues that arise and especially how we must deal with them if our company’s Customer Service department is something to be avoided.

The first encounter was with a seller who has been through a couple of my training programs and is a subscriber to my newsletter.  He sent me an email asking my advice on how to deal with his clients when they have customer service issues. 

Dale sells for a well known company selling accounting and payroll software to small and mid-size businesses.  His complaint is that when clients have customer service issues they generally have a difficult time getting timely service.  Although the company has a phone number clients can call for customer service, the time on hold is excessive and few customers will stay on the line that long.  They then must go to the website and fill out a trouble ticket.

Response time for trouble tickets is typically 18 to 36 hours.  Typically the initial response from the support tech will not be an answer but more questions.  Once the client answers the questions the support tech has asked, they must wait another 8 to 16 hours for a response which may be an answer or possibly more questions.

Not surprisingly, clients aren’t impressed with this process.  Dale’s frustration is that no matter how much he complains, the company’s response is that they are no worse than most of their competitors and they can’t afford to invest more money in customer support.

The second encounter was with a software company that I was considering buying software from to build a new website for McCord Training.  Over the years we’ve used a number of programs and we’ve never been truly happy with any of the programs we’ve used.  I decided to search out another program for this build.  With a bit of research I found a program that I thought would work well and downloaded the 21 day trail version.

The trial version was touted as having all of the features of the purchased version as well as access to the Customer Support department.  I figured that we could quickly evaluate whether the program would meet our needs in terms of its capabilities and ease of use.

Over the course of a week or so we made significant progress in developing a new site—and invested a great many hours into the new site using the program.  Then a problem arose.  We had problems integrating one of the other programs we use within our website with the software.  We tried a number of solutions and nothing worked.  We had no choice but to turn in a Trouble Ticket to the manufacturer.  A day later we received the response—it was an unsupported question so we’d have to go to the forum and ask other users if they knew how to integrate the two programs.

Off to the forum we went only to find that there didn’t seem to be a way to ask a question.

Another Trouble Ticket inquiring as to how to ask a question in the forum.

A day later the answer—since we hadn’t purchased the software yet we weren’t allowed to ask a question because the technicians thought that opening the forum up to non-purchasers resulted in them having to spend too much time cleaning up SPAM in the forum.

So we can evaluate the software but if we have an issue the technicians won’t answer then we have no way to determine whether the software can work for us because the technicians have decided it takes too much time to clean up the forum if non-purchasers can have access to the forum.

Now, that may seem like a stupid stance for any company, but that’s the way this particular company’s Customer Support department works.  I sent them a Trouble Ticket letting them know that I thought that from a customer service stand point it was an idiotic position to take leaving me with no choice bot to make a decision to pay for the software because we had invested so much time and money building the site with it and hoping we could make it work or we’d just have to scrap everything and move on to another program.

The head of Customer Support for the company said he’d have a support person call me on my cell phone at a particular time.  At the appointed time I was on the phone with one of our clients.  I allowed voice mail to take the call knowing that I’d be off the phone within a minute or two.  Within a minute I was off the phone and retrieved the voice mail.  The technician from the software company informed me that I had committed to taking their call at X time, I didn’t answer so my appointment was cancelled, not to try to call him, and that if I needed further assistance to turn in another Trouble Ticket.  I then got a followup email from the tech letting me know that by not answering the phone I was being discourteous to him and other customers and that his time was far too valuable to be wasting on an unanswered phone call.  I could call and reschedule a phone appointment for a fee of $36.

This was just the beginning of my experience with the Customer Support department of this software vendor.  Although it continued to get worse, in many ways they were no worse than many other tech firms. 

The central issue with Dale’s customer service issues and the software company above is that the companies have no real concept of what customer service is.  Instead of service they view themselves as providing their customers a favor.  Some seem to view their customers as being much too stupid to use the product.  At the very least they view themselves as having the upper hand in the client/company relationship as demonstrated by one of Dale’s customer support techs who told him not to “worry about your customers, they need us too much so no matter how upset they get, they’ll always be back.”

In both instances above the Customer Support department is headed and staffed by technicians, not customer service professionals.  In many instances the technicians are individuals barely trained in the product themselves.  The focus of the department is on what makes life easy for them, not what makes life easy for the customer.  Case in point: preventing someone who is evaluating the software from asking questions in the forum because by allowing non-purchasers access to the forum, the technicians have to spend some time cleaning up SPAM entries.

So how do we as sellers deal with these situations?  How can we prevent these self-centered Customer Service departments from destroying our relationships with clients?

By being proactive and taking responsibility for being the go-between between our client and the support department.

I’ve had Dale redirect all of his client’s customer support issues directly to him.  He has found that if he gets the issue first he can often answer the question on the spot.  If he can’t, he can deal with Customer Support directly and usually get a resolution to the issue hours or days earlier than if the client had simply turned in a Trouble Ticket.  Most importantly, he saves his client aggravation.

Taking on the customer service issues of his clients is costing Dale time.  He has to become a better time manager in order to deal with clients and continue to bring in new business.  But a good bit of the time he is now devoting to helping clients resolve issues was previously spent listening to their complaints about the company’s lack of customer service.  Most importantly, his clients are happier.

The ideal is for your company to provide first class customer service.  But if they don’t—and there are a great many companies that don’t—take matters into your own hands.  These are your clients.  These are your future.  Be proactive in resolving their issues even if that means you have to become the go-between.  You’ll either spend your time fixing the problem upfront to insure a happy client or you’ll spend the time later getting chewed out by your client.  Take actions to fix your client’s issues—it’s the right thing for your client and for you.

August 22, 2009

Client and Prospect Communication–Some Help in Staying in Touch While Maintaining the Right Image

a brief noteKeeping in touch with prospects and clients can be a daunting and time consuming task.  Phone calls, newsletters, direct mail pieces, and emails can cover most of our communications, but sometimes a well crafted  card is the appropriate stroke. 

But where can you find high quality cards designed for the business community?

No, don’t worry; this isn’t another solicitation suggesting you view a video about SendOutCards.  I’m not trying to get you to become a member of my downline.

SendOutCards has their advantages—they’re easy to create and easy to send.  Someone else does most of the legwork for you.  Just point, select a design, construct a message, pay for it, off it goes.  But SendOutCards has its downside also.  They’re relatively inexpensive but they look like they were machine created, which, of course, they were.  For many sellers the ease of use and low cost overcome the obvious machined look of the ‘personal’ message and signature.

However, for some sellers and professionals, a mass produced image just won’t work.  They need the highest quality paper stock, the finest printing, the most professional image possible.  The inscription and signature must be genuine.  The message implied on the front must communicate the proper image while capturing interest.

A small company I’ve discovered that specializes in business cards of the highest quality is Corporate Papers out of Williaa great caddiemstown, MA.  The company has somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 to 200 designs in various categories such as Business Essentials, Golf Links, Sympathy, Thoughtful Notes, and others; most blank inside although a few do have an inside message and you can order the cards with your own message.

If you’re looking for high quality greeting and thank you cards designed specifically for business that will communicate the high end image you are seeking, take a look at Corporate Papers.  They aren’t going to be all things to all people, but those seeking the right image and who understand the critical need to truly personalize, they just might be a great source.

August 19, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “Five Ways to Make Coaching Professionals to Sell More Efective,” by Ford Harding

Filed under: Coaching,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 7:20 am
Tags: , , ,

Five Ways to Make Coaching Professionals to Sell More Effective
by Ford Harding

At professional service firms (accounting, actuarial, architectural, engineering, law, management consulting firms and their like) sales management is one of the many responsibilities of practice and office heads.  These people must also market the firm’s services, sell work, do billable client work, run their offices or practices, and do many other things.  Often, they are rainmakers, the word used in the professions to describe super salespeople.  They don’t have much time for coaching.

The people they coach are also not typical salespeople.  Generally, they are more highly educated, are initially recruited for technical or creative rather than sales abilities, and sell on a part-time basis while doing billable client work.  Not having chosen their careers with a desire to sell, they are only asked to do so after years of providing services to clients who respect their expertise and listen to them.  Expected to stand up to senior client executives when necessary, many are strong-willed.  In short, their experiences and interests are not designed to make them effective sellers.

It is hardly surprising, then, that sales coaching in the professions is often ineffective.  Having spent years coaching professionals to sell, Harding & Company suggests the following to get better results:

1.  Supercharge your marketing meetings: Weekly or monthly marketing meetings in most professional firms are deadly.  Deadly!  They consist of one participant after another reeling off lengthy and meandering descriptions of the work they are pursuing.  Fifteen minutes into the meeting, 90% of the participant’s have zoned out, thinking more about what they will say when it comes their turn or about the client deadline they are rushed to meet, rather than about what the current speaker is saying.  This is wasteful.  Wasteful of the participants’ time and wasteful of perhaps the greatest opportunity available to the practice or office head to coach.

Except in special cases, reports on current pursuits should be limited to 60 seconds each.  Time freed up this way can then be devoted to building morale by recognizing successes, drawing lessons from participants’ recent experiences and some just-in-time training.

2. Recognize that different people will succeed in different ways.  Rainmakers tend to feel that their method for making rain is the only or the best one.  They have their own history of success to prove it.  They sometimes don’t realize that what works for them, when they are at the peak of their careers with established reputations and client bases, is not necessarily the best for more junior people with different personalities and capabilities.  I recently heard one highly successful rainmaker advise more junior staff members to “nuke” clients who got in the way by going over the clients’ heads to their bosses and reporting the obstacle.  It worked for him, but few of the more junior people could have pulled it off.  There would be disastrous consequences had they tried.  I have often heard rainmakers say that a particular professional doesn’t speak up enough at sales meetings.  The person in question is often a great listener who becomes an effective seller exactly by not speaking up too much.

3.  Help them recognize small successes: Developing a client base and a consistent flow of new work is a marathon not a sprint.  Staying power over time determines success as much as anything.  Aspiring rainmakers often judge their success only in actual new business won, e.g. the big successes.  But business development is an area where big successes will not come less you have many small ones along the way.  By recognizing the small successes, rainmakers can see the progress they are making, and those small successes sustain them between the big ones.  When aspiring rainmakers learn to do the same, they have taken a big step towards their ultimate transformation to rainmakers.  Part of your job as a coach is helping them recognize and celebrate small successes as they occur.  Did the aspiring rainmaker meet the CFO at an important client?  That’s a solid small success.  The CFO doesn’t realize it yet, but he will know the aspiring rainmaker for the rest of his natural life.   Only death will set him free.  Did a client open up and share confidences with the aspiring rainmaker for the first time?  Or did he spend an afternoon on the golf course with her for the first time?  These are small successes, too, and the aspiring rainmaker needs to learn to see them as such.

4.  Help them depersonalize setbacks, failures and ambiguous messages from the market:   Professionals as a group are extremely hard on themselves.  In their client work most expect to succeed 100% of the time.  (Litigators and executive recruiters are examples of exceptions to this general rule.)  Though they logically know that they cannot expect to succeed at winning every sale, emotionally, lack of success feels like failure.   When something doesn’t go right, they quickly blame themselves.  When a prospective client doesn’t return a call, they assume that if reflects the client’s lack of interest or dislike..  If a client hires a competitor, they assume that is must be due to some personal failure.  Certainly, they must learn to evaluate their own sales performance, but instinctively beating oneself up after every perceived setback will quickly drive a professional away from selling.

Good sales coaches help aspiring rainmakers depersonalize those things which should not be taken personally.  Unless you do this, as many as half of the people you coach will give up long before they can expect to see results.

5.  Help them protect the time they need to develop business.  Professionals cite lack of time as the most serious obstacle to their rainmaking more often than any other reason.  Time can be a real problem or just a handy excuse, and often it is both.  Expected to make their clients happy and to achieve high utilization rates to ensure their firm’s profitability, they feel intense pressure to put billable client work before all else.  Indeed, they are often told to do so, both in so many words and indirectly in the way that many small decisions are made about how they use their time.  If they feel diffidence or aversion to selling, lack of time is an easy out.  Unless you help them overcome the time issue, you will be an ineffective coach.

As the preceding paragraph suggests, there are both logical and emotional aspects to the problem, and your coaching must address both.  So, you can suggest practical ways that they can get business development benefit from billable time.  For example, suggest that Instead of calling a client with an answer to a question that they go see him.  They will have a different quality of conversation if they do.  Suggest that while visiting a client that they drop by the office of one of her colleagues to say a quick hello.  You can help them find activities to unload to make time available for business development.  For example, some professionals need to offload assembling their travel expenses to an assistant.  You can help them organize their effort, so they can use scarce time more efficiently.  For starters, they need a consolidated and regularly updated contact list.

But these logical steps won’t remove emotional barriers.  To do that you must help the aspiring rainmaker reset priorities.  A conversation with one young professional revealed that his primary need to sell more work derived from a need to make partner so that he would have the financial resources to pay for the education of four children.  We took the picture of his children down from his bookcase and placed it next to his phone with the understanding that he would look at it, whenever he was tempted to avoid making business development calls.  He began to make his calls consistently. 

If your sales coaching is not as effective as you would like, perhaps you should revisit your priorities, too.  If you write a clear one-or-two-sentence statement of why developing more rainmakers is important to you, perhaps you will find it easier to find the time to focus your attention on the effort and to try these steps.

Ford Harding in the founder of Harding & Company which helps professionals make the transition from doing and managing client work to selling it.  He is the author of Rain Making: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field [Adams Media] and Creating Rainmakers [Wiley].  His blog can be found at www.HardingCo.com/blog and he can be reached at fharding@HardingCo.com

August 17, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “Coaching Sales People to Success,” by Steven Rosen

Filed under: Coaching,sales,Sales Management,selling — Paul McCord @ 6:06 am
Tags: , , , ,

Coaching Sales People to Success
By Steven Rosen, MBA

One of the most overused terms in sales management is sales coaching. Yet sales coaching is one the least understood activities that sales managers do. Many sales executives and managers talk about the importance of coaching salespeople and only a few truly understand what it is and how to effectively do it.

Most sales executives that I speak with agree that sales coaching is an essential  component of driving sales performance. Studies show that sales coaching alone contributes to a 19% increase in sales. How many companies would love to get another 20% more sales in this economy?

For the purposes of this discussion, here is the foundation for defining sales coaching and illustrating how sales managers can coach sales people to success

1. What is the role of the sales manager?
Sales organizations struggle with a fundamental question: What is the role of the front-line sales manager? Many sales executives define it  as driving sales results or “bringing in the numbers.” This is true, but the real question is how to do that. In my view the role of the front-line sales manager is selecting, developing and retaining top sales performers. If they are effective in this role they are truly maximising sales performance and results will come.

2. What is sales coaching?
Developing top performing salespeople comes from effective sales coaching. This is a dynamic process that is shared between a sales manager and a sales rep. It is specific to the individual salesperson and happens in the field: I coach sales managers in a simple four-step process for, in turn, coaching salespeople to success:

ü  Step 1: Observing, self awareness and diagnosing

ü  Step 2: Gaining a commitment to skills/behaviors to focus on

ü  Step 3: Developing a plan of action for improvement

ü  Step 4: Closing the accountability loop 

3. What does success look like?
You have all heard the adage:

“You fish for a man and he can eat for a day”

Or

“You teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime”.

The sales coach adage is some what different:

“You help a sales rep close a sale and he gets a commission”

Or

“You coach a sales rep to get better at closing and he gets rich”.

Coaching is different then teaching. Coaching is a process of developing individuals and incorporates self-discovery and self-improvement. Success in coaching is about developing your salespeople into top performers.

Success: One Step at a Time:
As a sales manager if you are able to develop just one important skill area from a 2 out of 10 to an 8 out of 10 in one year, I believe you have made that rep a better salesperson. Sometimes we try to do too much and end up having little or no impact. Self-discovery, self-awareness and self-improvement take time. With so much going on the key to coaching salespeople for success is to focus on just one skill/behaviour at a time.

I spend a good portion of my time working with sales managers and sales executives. In conversations with sales managers I will ask them who their bottom two salespeople are.  Then I ask, “What is the one skill/behaviour that will have the greatest impact on his/her success.”

The next set of questions I ask the sales manager is “Who are your top two salespeople” and then “What is the one skill/behaviour that will have the greatest impact on his/her success. “

Working with tenured sales managers who have been coaching the same salespeople for years, I will ask them “What is the skill/behaviour that will have the greatest impact on each of their salespeople.” I will also query to see how long this has been the case. If the same skill/behaviour has not improved over several years the question is, how good is the coach?

The point is, as a sales manager you should be focused on improving the skills/behaviors of all your reps. If you can make your top sales reps better, what happens? If you can improve the performance of your bottom performers, what happens?

 The key in coaching your salespeople to success is developing each of them to be the best they can be!

Steven Rosen, MBA is a sales management expert who helps companies transform sales managers into great sales coaches. Steven’s works with sales executives to; hire top performing sales reps and managers, develop their team into top sales managers and achieve greater personal and professional success.  He is the CEO of STAR Results, author of many articles in the areas of sales management coaching and sales management training. He is a member of Top Sales Experts. Steven’s mission is to inspire sales leaders, managers and sales people to achieve their full potential. He can be reached at steven@starresults.com or 905-737-4548.

August 14, 2009

Recession Buster Webinar

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Monday, September 28 through Thursday, October 1

Each day from 3 PM to 4:30 PM Central Time (4PM to 5:30 PM Eastern; 2PM to 3:30 PM Mountain: 1PM to 2:30PM Pacific)

4 of the Most Powerful Strategies to Find and Connect with Quality Prospects:

Monday, September 28
The PWWR Referral Generation System

You’ll Learn:

^ Why what you’ve been taught about referrals doesn’t work
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^ How to continue to get great referrals from every client every year

 

Tuesday, September 29
The Best Damn Networking Process There Is, Period

You’ll Learn:

^ Why networking at the Chamber meeting or at the leads breakfast group never
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^ How to create and execute a realistic, profitable, business producing networking strategy
^ How to work a networking room to maximize your time and create relationships with prospects fast
^ How to set a telephone or in-person meeting with every person you want at a networking event

 

Wednesday, September 30
Never a Cold Call, Always an Introduction

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^ Why decision makers hate cold calls
^ Why calling and fishing for a reason to meet with a prospect will get you nowhere
^ How to discover REAL issues your prospect has that you KNOW you can help solve
^ How to guarantee you get past gatekeepers and get voice mails returned without being deceptive, evasive, or lying
^ How to make using the phone to prospect far more enjoyable and productive for both you and your prospects
^ How to make more money by spending less time on the phone

 

Thursday, October 1
Get the Phone to Ring: Become the Expert

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^ Why if you don’t have the reputation and image of an expert you’re losing and will continue to lose in the marketplace
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^ How to totally eliminate price as an issue
^ How to get your phone to ring with people who want to work with you and only you

 Who Should Attend?

The Recession Buster webinar is designed for anyone who sells in a relationship driven environment such as:

^ Business to Business sellers

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Whether you are struggling to establish your sales practice or you’re established and simply seek to add more business–or maybe the recession has really devastated your current client base, this webinar will help drive your business to new heights.

These aren’t the same old worn out “strategies” you expect to hear. You’re not going to hear some worthless drivel like “ask for referrals,” or “tell everyone you meet what you do,” or “set a goal to make 50 dials a day and you’ll succeed.”

You know and I know, that’s crap. That’s the same old junk you hear from every “trainer” who doesn’t have anything of value to say.

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Why four strategies over four days? Wouldn’t it be easier to just lay out the one best strategy in one session?

It would certainly be easier on everybody involved. It takes commitment to take time out four days in a row.

True. But there isn’t one single “best way” to generate business. We have to have a business building matrix that gives us several avenues with which to connect with prospects. And in today’s marketplace where more and more prospects are rejecting the traditional methods sellers have used to connect with them, we need several ways to find and connect with them that they’ll accept, respect, and respond to.

That’s the power of the Recession Buster webinar
 

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August 13, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “The Secret Strategy for Meaningful Sales Meetings,” by Dave Kahle

The Secret Strategy for Meaningful Sales Meetings
By Dave Kahle

Oops!  Got a sales meeting coming up in two weeks, better get ready for it.  Let’s see, what should we do?  I’ll go over last month’s numbers, that’ll take a half hour.  Then…I know!  The credit manager has been complaining about the state of receivables lately.  I’ll have him come in and complain directly to the sales guys.  That’ll take about an hour.  Now what….

Does that scenario sound familiar?  All too often that’s how we plan our sales meetings.  The focus is on how to fill the time, what information we want to transmit, and who we want to present it. When the focus is on the agenda, it’s easy to wander off, to fill the time with needless details, and to end up with a boring and non-productive meeting. With a meeting like that it’s no wonder that most salespeople would rather be in the field, doing their jobs, than killing time at a sales meeting.

Here is a powerful strategy guaranteed to make sales meetings more meaningful for your salespeople, and more valuable for you.

Instead of starting with an agenda, start at the end.  By that, I mean focus first on the end result that you want from the agenda. Then, build the agenda to achieve that focus.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say you have a range of new prices on some of your current products. You are planning to spend an hour presenting them and answering questions.  That sounds good.  Who could object to that?

So, your sales meeting agenda looks like this:

1.  Present new prices.

Let’s dig through it to come up with the end.  Why are you presenting the new prices?  You might say, “So the salespeople will know them and understand why we are changing prices.”

OK, why do you want that?

“So they will be able to convey them to the customers.”

Why do you want to do that?

“So the customer will accept the new prices without too much objection.”

What you really want, then, is the customer to accept the new prices without raising too much of ruckus about them?

“Yes.”

And you want salespeople to convey the prices in a way that accomplishes that?

“Yes.”

OK, so let’s start there. In order to get what you want, the salespeople will need to make some commitments with deadlines as to when they will present the new prices, and then they’ll need to be trained in the best way to present them.  

 The question now becomes:  What can you do in the sales meeting that will ensure that your salespeople will convey the new prices to their customers in a way that will be acceptable to the customer?

 At this point, if it were me, I’d start at the end – having the salespeople make specific commitments to deliver the prices to the appropriate customers.  That’s the behavior you want.  But, you’ll also need to equip them to do that – that’s the training piece.  So, It’s about ending up with the salespeople filling out a document as to when they‘ll convey those prices to the impacted customers.

In order to ensure that they knew how to do that well, I’d think about doing some role-plays so the salespeople could practice conveying the prices.  The role-plays would also allow them to identify some common objections, and practice responding to them.

 Before I could do the role-plays, I’d have to demonstrate to them some of the best practices for communicating the price increases. 

 And before that, I’d have to describe the price increases, the rationale, and the best way to communicate them.

Now, I have my agenda:

  1. Describe the rationale for the price increases.
  2. Describe the best way of communicating them.
  3. Demonstrate the best way to communicate them.
  4. Organize a role-play so everyone can practice.
  5. Discuss what they learned in the role-play.
  6. Repeat the role-play.
  7. Have each salesperson create a list of which customers need to have the new prices. 
  8. Have each salesperson identify a date by which he/she will have communicated the new prices.
  9. Ask each to report, by a certain date, on how well it went.

Look at the difference in the two agendas.  The first is unfocused, and emphasizes the time and general subject matter.  The second is precisely focused on an end result, incorporates interactive exercises, and is very practical.

The difference was where you started.  Start at the end. 

One important observation.  If you are disciplined about this, you’ll soon discover that the end of every sales meeting is almost always expressed in some behavior that you want from the customer, and therefore some behavior that you want from the sales force.  In other words, you want the salespeople to stop doing something, to start doing something (like in the example), or to do something better.

Every sales meeting, and every item on every sales meeting agenda, ought to be designed to bring about some specific change in the salesperson’s behavior.

Let’s test this with some common sales meeting agenda items.  Let’s say you are going to present a new product.  Why?

“So the salespeople will sell it.”

The change is behavior in the salespeople selling something they have never sold before.  Start there and work backwards.

Or, you are going to have the president (VP, CFO, etc.) come in and present the new strategic plan for the company.  Why?  

“So the salespeople will know what our plans are.”

 “Why?”

 “So they will feel good about where the company is going.”

  “Why is that important?”

 “So, they will be more committed to the company.”

 “What will they do differently if they are more committed?”

 “I suppose they will be less likely to leave for another job.”

 “So, what you really want is for the salespeople to not look for another job while they are working for you.”

 “I guess.”

OK, start there and work backward.  You can still have the President talk, but now he has a focus on his presentation, will be much less likely to digress, and will speak to the practical needs of the sales force.

Here, then, is the secret for making every sales meeting practical, meaningful and worthwhile:  Start at the end, with a description of the change in behavior that you want in the sales force, and work backwards from there.

It will make all the difference.  

Dave Kahle has been the number  1 salesperson in the country for 2 different companies, in two distinct industries and selling situations.  He’s a high energy, intense, world-class speaker who has presented in  5 Canadian provinces, 7 Countries and 47 US States.  He has been in practice for  21 years, and in that time has authored  7 books, including Question Your Way to Sales Success , and 10 secrets of Time Management for Salespeople .  He has spoken to meetings and conventions of  86 associations, and has trained or consulted for 247 individual companies.  He writes and publishes an Ezine for salespeople and managers called “Thinking about Sales” which is distributed  48 times a year to over 30,000 opt-in subscribers.  Visit Dave’s website

August 12, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “How to Create a Productive Sales Team Meeting Environment,” by Jill Myrick

How to Create a Productive Sales Team Meeting Environment
By Jill Myrick

Sales Managers, picture this.  You are holding your Monday morning sales team meeting.  You’ve signed on to the conference line 3 minutes before the meeting is set to start and your entire team is already there greeting one another, discussing their weekend and laughing.  You join to the “hellos” and “how was your weekend?” from everyone.  You join the conversation and at exactly the start time, you let the team know it’s time to start the meeting.  You thank them all for their time and review the agenda they’ve each already received.  The agenda topics are all sales focused and you and your team know that at the end of this hour everyone will be more equipped to compete and win this very week.  You begin the meeting.  You lead some topics, team members have come prepared to lead other topics and each topic comes with lively, positive discussion, problem solving and sharing.  At the end, everyone agrees this hour was time well spent and they leave the call with new ideas and energy for the week. 

Did I just describe your sales team meetings?  If not, no need to worry – this can be your story in just a matter of weeks. 

Today, we are going to share 15 best practices for creating productive sales team meeting environments like the one pictured above.  Sales teams can contribute, learn and even have some fun – all this while becoming better equipped to compete and win every day.   Check out the list and use the ideas and best practices.  You’ll be amazed at how fun, interactive and productive sales team meetings can be.

  1. Have a “Kick-Off Meeting” to introduce your commitment to a new and improved sales team meeting format.  Signal to the team that unproductive, boring, motivation-robbing sales team meetings are history.
  2. As a team, set the ground rules for your sales team meetings.  Examples include, everyone should be on time, complaints must also come with solution ideas, stick to the agenda, etc.  It is important that the team, not the sales manager alone, set the ground rules.
  3. Have some fun by asking the team to describe the best and worst sales team meetings they’ve attended – or endured.
  4. Create some healthy conflict or debate. Introduce a topic on which the team is bound to have differing opinions such as the way to address a common objection, negotiation tactics on a live deal or the best way to break into a new client.  Differing opinions and debate open up the team’s creativity and stretch old habits – and keep your meeting interesting.
  5. Ask the team to plan around the weekly sales team meeting as if it were a customer meeting.  Once they see these meetings are adding value, they won’t want to miss them anyway.
  6. Start on time, end on time, and expect everyone to be on time.
  7. To encourage the team to interact and collaborate, Sales Managers should resist the urge to answer all the questions. If a question is raised, sales managers should say something like “I am happy to share my thoughts. First I’d like to hear what Sally and Joe think. Sally?”  Great ideas exist on the sales team and sales managers should facilitate meetings to encourage the team to share. 
  8. Ask each team member to “own” sales team meeting success.  It is the entire team’s responsibility to use this time wisely. Each week someone can be a timekeeper, someone a scribe, someone leads a topic, someone shares an article for discussion, someone shares a best practice and many other roles.  The Sales Manager should be the facilitator and expect the team to play important meeting leadership roles.
  9. Have an agenda and then send it to the team at least 3 business days in advance of each meeting. 
  10. Fill your agenda with relevant sales topics, discussions and exercises.  Ask the team to contribute ideas and, to say it again, lead topics, also.
  11. Invite interesting guest speakers – your CFO to build your team’s financial acumen, your Marketing officer to share industry trends or a top performer from another team to share their secrets.
  12. Pre-Work should be assigned occasionally.  It could be a simple as “please come prepared with some ideas for overcoming the following objection, _____________________” or “please read the article, _________________, and be prepared to discuss.
  13. Have an objective for each agenda topic.  For example, “At the end of this meeting I want my team to have more ideas on effective prospecting in this changing economy.” Then make sure the agenda accomplishes this.
  14. Stick to a 60 minute agenda and commit to using only 10 minutes or less per meeting on housekeeping items.
  15. Put appropriate effort and resource into planning and leading great sales team meetings.  This can be an incredibly powerful hour each week if planned and executed effectively.  If not, it can be an incredibly expensive hour.

Enjoy productive sales team meetings beginning this week.

Jill Myrick is the Founder and Owner of Meeting to Win, LLC.  Meeting to Win provides weekly sales team meeting topics and agendas for sales managers who want to equip their teams to compete and win every week. Jill has attended hundreds of sales team meetings, interviewed successful sales managers on the topic and led over 1,600 sales team meetings (that’s the equivalent of 28 years of weekly sales team meetings!) in industries such as printing & shipping, staffing, commercial real estate and, sales and leadership training. To learn more about Meeting to Win, visit http://www.meetingtowin.com.

August 11, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “Managers, Please Bring Value to Your Sales Meetings,” by Christian Maurer

Managers, Please Bring Value to Your Sales Meetings
by Christian Maurer

A lot has been written on how to lead effective sales team meetings. Still many of them seem to be of little use to salespeople. How else can you explain why attendance of these meetings has often to be declared mandatory to ensure the salespeople’s presence?

Why does it matter?
Sales managers in general are concerned that their people do not spend sufficient time with customers. Time spent in sales team meetings is time not spent with customers. So if salespeople do not get a sufficient return from attending sales team meetings, then it is a bad investment of their time.

What is the Problem?
Let me first give you my understanding of the term ‘Sales Team’ in the context of this article: A Sales Team is a set of individual contributors reporting to a manager. Having read “The Skilled Facilitator” by Roger Schwarz I asked myself: Is such a team a work group? Schwarz defines a work group as follows: ” A work group has a collective responsibility for performing one or more tasks and the outcome of the task can be assessed” He goes on explaining that a work group is a social system with boundaries distinguishing members from nonmembers. To qualify as a work group, its members are interdependent in producing their work.

Given these explanations, do you think a group of a salespeople reporting to a manager is a workgroup? I come to the conclusion that the answer is NO. There is though probably no other group than the salespeople, where the outcome can be assessed so objectively by numbers. Salespeople are also an easily recognizable group within a company. What is lacking for being categorized as a work group is the collective responsibility for the outcome. One might argue though that the team has a sales goal. But this is the sales manager’s goal which has to be reached through the team members. So the sales manager is dependant on the performance of the individual team members. Team members however are not interdependent to reach this goal. They are paid for reaching their individual quotas. So a sales team resembles more a set of people working on similar but essentially individual tasks. Everybody has to win his/her own deals. Or in the words of Schwarz “A set of people working on similar but essentially individual tasks is not a work group”.

Why is this relevant?
Seasoned sales managers might consider such reflections as pure semantics and of little practical value. However this understanding of the characteristics of a sales team has far reaching consequences.

Examples how team sport coaches lead their teams become of little help for sales leaders. So if we look for sport’s analogies, we probably should look, at coaches leading teams of individual athletes such as swimmers or skiers where the result of the individual matters most and the performance of the team (e.g. the numbers of medals won at the Olympics) is merely the addition of the performance of the individual members. These coaches have to work with the individuals on a one to one basis. An indication that this might also be a good approach for sales managers is the fact that salespeople usually see much more value in one to one meetings with their managers than in team meetings.

Understanding the team characteristics also influences the choice of agenda items for a sales meeting. How interesting is it to the individual contributor to know where the team stands with the numbers?  Some might argue that this has a motivational effect. Salespeople are competitive by nature. So this allows them to benchmark their own performance. But is it worth the time sales managers tend to spend on this subject in a team meeting? Remember time spent in sales meetings diminishes the time that can be spent with customers. There are more effective ways to convey this benchmark information e.g. publishing a list of who is ahead, on par or below quota on the sales portal is probably much more effective.  As long as salespeople are compensated on reaching individual quotas, the only one really concerned in discussing team results is the manager.

We can even go so far, to take this as just an example of the wider problem, that meeting structures conceived with workgroups in mind are ill fitting for sales meetings. This brings as to the question:

What is an effective sales meeting?
Sales managers working with the command and control model might have difficulty with the following definition: An effective sales meeting has to bring value to the participants.  If salespeople are getting value from attending sales meetings, they are more motivated. Effective sales meetings do not need to be mandatory to assure attendance.

There is also a role model effect in this approach. Certainly since Neil Rackham and John de Vincentis published their book “Rethinking the Sales Force” it is known that the salesperson’s task in today’s world is not to talk about value but to provide value to their customers in every interaction. Salespeople experiencing the benefits of their leader bringing value to the sales meeting   are certainly more inclined to do the same in their interactions with their clients. The principle of bringing value to the participants helps managers to determine

Topics to be put on the agenda of sales meetings
First, sales meetings are to be understood as an overlay to the fundamental one to one meetings where the manager coaches the individual contributor for maximum performance (as does the coach for an individual athlete such as a swimmer). One to one meetings are also the right place for the manager to ensure that business outcomes will occur as planned. These one to one meetings are also an important source for agenda items for sales meetings.  

As an example, let us assume that a manager is faced with an increasing number of salespeople voicing a concern of being ill equipped for negotiations with customers. Putting this challenge on the sales meeting agenda would already signal to the salespeople, that their voice was heard. The fact that it is put on the sales meeting agenda also signals to the attendees, having voiced this concern in their one to one meetings with their manager, that they are not alone with the problem.

In the sales meeting, a discussion could then be facilitated on the root causes for this perceived lack of negotiation skills. This might reveal that customers want to engage the salespeople into terms and conditions negotiations earlier in the sales cycle than salespeople were used to. The conclusion might then be to enhance the skills of salespeople to become better to sell first (understanding the customer problem and articulating value) before negotiating. How to do this would then make up the item for a next sales meeting.

Depending on the skill and knowledge level of the leader, an external trainer might be needed to handle that item. What do you think will be the motivation level of the salespeople and the success rate of such an initiative compared to a unilateral decision by the manager to put the team through one day of classical negotiation training?

Giving an individual contributor the privilege of having the collective wisdom of the whole team at his/her disposition to discuss how to move forward a particularly important opportunity (from the manager’s and the individual’s viewpoint) is another candidate for a topic on the sales meeting agenda.

So are also ‘After event reviews’ (win or loss).  For such session to be of value, the leader must however ensure that the focus is on lessons that can be learned from the case. This actually can be generalized. Only agenda items having a possible positive impact in the future are of value. Discussions on status quo or dwelling in the past are of no value und cause de-motivation.

As salespeople are situational learners, the leader must insure that attendees of sales meetings can relate agenda items to their current situation. Here is an example how this could be achieved. If there is a sales process implemented in the team, the leader could ask that each team member brings an opportunity to the next sales meeting. Selection criteria for the opportunities are: They must all be in the same sales stage (e.g. Qualification) and they pose a challenge to the individual contributor to be moved forward to the next stage.

In the next sales meeting, the collective wisdom of the team can then be used to address these challenges. Not all opportunities brought to the meeting need to be discussed for everyone having some benefits from the meeting. Being prepared, salespeople will pick up points made in the discussion of other cases that might well be helpful for their own opportunity. Some facilitation might be necessary to achieve this.

From this list of examples a checklist for attractive topics to be put on the sales meeting agenda can be derived.

Checklist for agenda items
The next time you put together the agenda for the sales meeting ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  1. What is the value of the discussion of the agenda item for the individual contributors?
  2. How can the agenda item be related to the situation of the individual contributors?
  3. What is the added value of using the collective wisdom of the team?

If you have difficulty finding answers, for a particular topic, then it is probably wise to not put this topic on the agenda.  That is if you care having inspirational and motivating sales meetings your people do not want to miss, even if attendance is not mandatory. The litmus test for effective sales meetings is when salespeople start to ask for them.

Christian Maurer, The Sales Executive Resource, is an independent sales effectiveness consultant, trainer and coach. He has a proven track record of helping  leaders of large, global B2B sales organizations to increase their productivity.

http://www.linkedin.com/in/camaurerconsulting  
http://ultimatesalesexecresource.blogspot.com/

August 10, 2009

Boost Your Sales: “Do Your Sales Meetings STICK?” by Nancy Bleeke

Do Your Sales Meetings STICK?
by Nancy Bleeke

A group of sales reps are heading down the hall to the conference room for a meeting with their manager.  Their steps are a bit slow, they stop for a cup of coffee, peek at the Blackberry and seem to be pondering something silently in their heads. 

Wouldn’t you like to know what is going on in their heads as they enter the room?  Me too!  So we decided to find out. We asked two groups of sales reps: “What reaction comes to mind when you hear there is going to be a sales meeting?”  

Group One responses:

•           Uh oh.  What are they going to make us do now?

•           Is this going to be another day we’ll have to blitz because we haven’t made numbers?

•           What did we do wrong?

•           What fire are we going to have to put out now?

Group Two responses:

•           Look forward to them.  Always learn something.  Starts my morning off good. 

•           My manager always makes it interesting.  We brainstorm and I learn something new.

•           I hope my manager doesn’t go off on a tangent.  It wastes my time.

•           I look forward to our Wednesday morning meetings because it is a time to hear success stories as well as some objections that each of us may hear throughout the week.  As well as some tips and advice for over coming objections as well as additional selling techniques.

What accounts for the different responses?  Group One’s manager does not have regular meetings.  Group Two’s manager does

Which responses would you like from your sellers?  Many will select Group Two.  Yet Group Two isn’t all good.  As a sales manager, how do you get the “talk” of your team to be positive when you ask for their time?  In two key ways:

1.         Hold regularly scheduled meetings

2.         Make them productive

Hold regularly scheduled meetings.  With the availability of teleconference bridges, even remote teams should be brought together regularly.  How often?  That is up to you!  Weekly or once every other week works, though quarterly is not often enough.  The keys to making the meeting regular are to:

•           Decide on the dates/schedule

•           Commit to the time 

•           Communicate your schedule including the expectation of participation (Yes, participation, not just attendance!) 

•           Stick to the schedule

Hold productive meetings.  The objective of time with your sellers should be to equip them to sell more.  Any information and discussion needs to stick in their heads and in their actions.

Sellers report that they will make the time for a meeting if there is something in it for them – developmentally or to help them sell more.  That means including more than operation and product updates in your meeting format.   

With stickiness as a key outcome, the STICK acronym provides a framework for planning a productive sales meeting.  Using these ideas will help remove the Teflon-effect (slides right out of mind) of a boring meeting.

  S  – Sharpen their skills, behaviors or attitudes.  Give your sellers opportunity to share experiences and best practices.  Don’t make the meeting just about information.  Use the time to BUILD your team for future success.  Incorporate 20-30 minutes each meeting for this proactive activity.

   T – Timely.  Is the information and the discussion relevant to what is important today?  Don’t hold all information you have until the meeting. If you have a lot of “little” things to cover, prepare a short handout to distribute at the end of the meeting or send an email prior to the meeting.  During your meeting do not READ the handout to them!  Save your meeting time for the most meaningful topics and discussion.

   I – Inclusive/Interactive.  Put more ask instead of tell into your meeting format.  Engage and involve their expertise in topics and experiences.  With involvement comes a better sense of ownership and team.  Most salespeople spend a lot of time alone, and realizing that their team has similarities helps them stay connected to the company, which leads to retained sellers.

   C – Communicative.  Sharing relevant information is important; asking for information back even more so.  Plan ahead and allow sellers to present information or lead discussion and activity.  Let the information be two-way.

   K – Kinetic.  Adults need to DO – to take action and build information into their consciousness and habits.  Help them make the information actionable.  End every meeting with each seller committing to ONE action they will take to apply the information discussed.

With a little planning and the STICK acronym followed, your sales team will willingly participate in your meetings.  They will skip down the hall on the way, bring YOU a cup of coffee, silence their BlackBerry and have positive thoughts in their heads as they join the meeting.  More importantly, the information will stick and result in higher sales after the meeting!

 

Nancy Bleeke, The Sales Pro Insider, helps companies set aggressive sales goals and achieve them while boosting profitability by hiring, training and retaining the best employees.  Nancy shares timely tips and insight in her blog (www.salesproductivityinsider.com) and her Timely Tips ezine.  You get a free eBook, 10 Timely Tips to Recession Proof Your Sales, when you sign-up for the Timely Tips ezine at http://www.salesproinsider.com. For more information on sales and sales management training, contact Nancy at 414.235.3064 or Nancy@salesproinsider.com

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