Sales and Sales Management Blog

December 29, 2010

Book Review: Make Every Second Count

Filed under: Book Reviews,time management — Paul McCord @ 10:58 am
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Time.  Almost every seller and sales leader has time issues.  There’s just not enough time to get everything done—especially at the end of the month with the pressure of getting sales in, getting paperwork caught up, and getting the pipeline beefed up for the coming month.

Many of us find ourselves spending a good deal of time trying to figure out how to squeeze out a few more minutes here, an extra hour there, or another day every week.  Our lives seem to be nothing but a continual struggle against the clock.

Robert W. Bly’s, Make Every Second Count; Time Management Tips and Techniques for More Success with Less Stress (Career Press: 2010) gives some relevant advice and guidance, yet so much of the book is simply filler that it makes it difficult to decide whether or not to recommend the book—at least half of your money is wasted due to the non-productive junk stuffed into the book.

That being said, there is valuable material here.  In the first chapter Bly gives 10 tips to help you work better and save time.  Although some of the tips are common sense, some such as not being a perfectionist and not trying to be an innovator with every project are not only valuable but deal with some of the biggest time management issues many of us face.  Perfectionism and innovation is overrated most of the time. 

Do we need to be competent?  Yes.  Do we need to be thorough?  Yes.  Do we need to be perfect with every task?  No.  Nevertheless, many of us believe that perfection is the desired goal in everything we do.  That goal of perfection limits both the amount of work we can accomplish and ultimately our ability to succeed.

Likewise, many believe that being an innovator in everything they do is critical to their success.  That insistence on innovation costs more time and effort than it is worth.  We lose by trying to win.

If like many sellers you travel a lot, Bly’s chapter on saving time—and money—while traveling is also helpful.  Again, although a good many of the tips are simply common sense and any experienced traveler will have figured them out, there are still a number of ideas that can help save you time, money and energy.  If you’re a relatively new salesperson or have just begun traveling heavily, Bly’s travel tips will be particularly helpful.

The chapters on delegation and outsourcing and the use of technology to increase productivity also have some useful ideas.  Again, as with the tips on travel, these chapters will be most useful for newer sellers and sales managers.

If you’re having time management issues and need some quick ideas to help you get organized and to get your clock in order, Make Every Second Count is worth the $10 or so you’ll pay.  If you really need serious time management help, you’ll need to look elsewhere as you’ll find this work to be too basic.

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December 27, 2010

Is Confusing Word of Mouth Marketing with Referral Marketing Costing You Business?

Log on to almost any site that has a large and varied library of sales articles or head over to Amazon and scan the books that come up from a keyword search of “referrals” and you’ll find one of the most common—and innocently destructive—confusions in the discussion of prospecting methodologies: discussing word of mouth marketing in the same context as referral marketing.

From sellers to business owners to sales leaders to some of the biggest names in sales training and coaching, word of mouth marketing and referral selling are discussed as though that are just two aspects of the same prospecting methodology.  They aren’t.  They are very, very different, and understanding the difference is important if you want to maximize your word of mouth and/or referral marketing effectiveness.

Word of Mouth Marketing is PASSIVE.  In word of mouth marketing the object is to have someone, usually a client, recommend people they know call you if they have a need for your product or service.  Your recommender may or may not give the person they speak to one of your cards or your phone number, but at a minimum they will tell the other person your name and give them a brief idea of why they should speak with you—usually an idea of what you accomplished for them, how great your service was, or how competitive your price.

Other than possibly encouraging them to pass along your information—and maybe giving them a few of your business cards—you have no control.  You are relying on other people to create business for you.  You have to rely on your client to mention you to those they speak to who might need your products or service.  You then have to hope that the person they spoke to about you picks up the phone and gives you a call or to walks into your office.  Seldom do you even know that your client spoke to someone about you.

Word of mouth marketing works.  It certainly isn’t the most effective prospecting strategy, but it has its place in the prospecting toolkit of many sellers.

Referral Marketing is PROACTIVE.  Referral marketing is the exact opposite of word of mouth marketing.  Instead of waiting for someone else to generate prospects for you, referral marketing demands that you take control of the process, including doing the referral work for your client.

Traditionally referral marketing has been taught as a semi-proactive process; one where you were taught to ask a weak referral question such as, “Ms. Client, do you know anyone else that I might help?”  Or, “Mr. Client, who do you know that might benefit from my products or services?”

When you ask a weak referral question such as one of these, you’re still relying on your client to do your prospecting for you.  Although more proactive than word of mouth marketing, you still have little control over the result—you may or may not get a positive response to your question, and even when you get a positive response, it may not be a referral to a quality prospect.

However, if you’ll do the work for your client by doing some detective work to figure out who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to, and then instead of asking a general referral question, asking for the specific introduction to the person you know you want to be referred to that you know your client knows, you’ve taken total control of the referral process.  You’re no longer relying on your client to come up with a quality referral for you, nor are you relying on them maybe mentioning you to someone who might need your products or services.  Instead, you’re asking for a direct introduction to someone you KNOW you want to be referred to.  You know you’re getting a high quality referral.

It isn’t a possible.  It isn’t a maybe.  It isn’t a might. 

It isn’t a maybe they’ll take my phone call.  It isn’t a maybe I’ll get to talk to them.

It is a direct introduction to someone you know you want to be referred to.  You know it is a good referral.  You know it is a quality prospect.  You know you’ll get to talk to them. 

You’ve taken all the maybe’s out of the equation and have taken total control of the process.

Referral marketing is not only far more effective than word of mouth marketing, it is also a far more predictable prospect generation strategy.

OK, so there’s a difference.  What’s the big deal?

It’s a big deal to understand the difference because it means you can substantially increase your business by thoroughly understanding how each strategy works and then employing both in your sales business.

I’ve had a great many sellers and sales leaders tell me that they either currently use referral marketing aggressively or they tried referral marketing and it was a total flop.  Yet when I question them about what they’re doing or what they did that didn’t work I discover that they were using word of mouth marketing, not referral marketing. 

Lumping word of mouth marketing in with referral marketing is an innocent mistake–but one that is costing sellers business.  And although they are very different strategies, by engaging your clients and others in both a proactive and a passive prospect generation strategy, you can quickly and substantially increase your pipeline.  It simply takes understanding the difference between the two strategies than then learning how to maximize their utilization.

December 23, 2010

Guest Article: “How to Differentiate Yourself When You’re Selling,” by Ian Brodie

Filed under: marketing,sales,selling,small business — Paul McCord @ 9:52 am
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How To Differentiate Yourself When You’re Selling
by Ian Brodie

We talk a lot about differentiation in marketing. Differentiation is something that sets us apart. Unique attributes of our services that are valued by our clients but that can’t be easily reproduced by our competitors.

At it’s simplest level, it could be a service we can deliver that no one else can. Or perhaps we specialise in working with a particular sector so we have more experience and knowledge in that field.

Differentiation in marketing can make us the obvious “go to” person for a client who recognises they need our unique skills and capabilities.

We talk much less about differentiation in selling however. But it’s just as important.

If we’re face to face with a client trying to persuade them to choose us over a competitor then unless we’re different in some way, the client will end up choosing on price.

Differentiation at this level is hard. By the time a client is talking to us face to face they’ve already discarded the firms and individuals who aren’t specialised in their sector (if that’s important to them) or who don’t deliver the services they’re looking for.

At this stage, the short list almost always comprises firms who can perfectly well help them address their problems or opportunities (or at least claim they can). They might do it in a different way to us. But at the end of the day, it’s highly likely that they’ll claim they can achieve the same end results.

If a client says they want to reduce their indirect procurement costs by 20% – all the consultants pitching to them will say that’s what they’ll deliver.

If a client says they want a smooth divorce that doesn’t impact the kids, all the lawyers will say that’s what they’ll deliver.

If a client says they want their accounts done quickly and efficiently with minimum hassle – then pretty much every accountant they speak to will say that’s exactly what they’ll do.

And if everyone is saying they’ll do the same thing – then the only thing that sets them apart in the client’s mind is their price, right?

That’s not good. Certainly not if, like me, you price at a premium because you believe you deliver a premium service.

So when it comes down to the crunch. When you’re sitting 1-1 with a client and discussing what you’ll do for them, how on earth do you differentiate yourself?

Well, the first thing you need to accept is that simply identifying the client’s needs and then telling them you’ll address them isn’t enough. Everyone will do that.

Here are some ways you can differentiate yourself in these competitive selling situations:

The “Safe Pair of Hands” Strategy

You may all promise you’ll deliver what the client wants. But from the client’s perspective, there can be major differences in how confident they are that you’ll make good on that promise. If you’re able to prove through testimonials, references, or just how much you seem to understand their situation, then they’ll feel more confident that you’ll be able to deliver what they want. And so they’ll pick you rather than selecting on price.

The “Relationship” Strategy

People choose to work with people they like and trust. They won’t pick you if they don’t think you can do the job. But once you’ve proven that, then they’ll almost always choose someone they like and feel they can partner with over someone they don’t.

The “Change the Game” Strategy

When you’re interacting with a potential client and talking about their needs – if you can identify problems or opportunities that they haven’t thought of themselves – then you can mark yourself out as being different. The quality of your diagnosis immediately marks you out as being an expert – and (rather fortuitously) can prompt the client to question the abilities of your competitors who didn’t highlight these new ideas.

It can be a risky strategy if the client has fixed ideas about what they need and doesn’t want to be challenged. But it can be a particularly powerful way of pulling the rug from under entrenched incumbents who have better relationships than you and are seen as safer pairs of hands.

What’s Your Strategy?

These aren’t the only strategies you can use in sales situations – but they’re good ones. Ones which I’ve seen work time and time again.

Whenever you’re in a competitive selling situation you absolutely must have a differentiation strategy in place. Just diagnosing the client’s needs and saying you’ll meet them is not enough. That’s the baseline – everyone will do that.

Unless you want to end up competing on price you must have a compelling reason why they should choose you. It might be different for every client – but you need one for every client. And that means in every competitive sales situation you’ve got to put the time and effort into developing it.

So for those upcomings bids, pitches and sales meetings you’ve got: what’s your strategy?

Ian Brodie has been helping some of the world’s leading organizations with their marketing and sales challenges for over 16 years. More importantly, he’s “walked the talk” and sold multi-million dollar consulting engagements across multiple countries and cultures. For more information, visit his blog

December 20, 2010

Guest Post: Transitioning to Sales Management, by University of San Francisco

Filed under: sales,Sales Management — Paul McCord @ 10:34 am
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Transitioning to Sales Management
by University of San Francisco

Whether you’ve just been promoted to sales manager or aspire to move into sales management, preparation and training are critical to success in your new role. This can be a difficult transition if you’ve never served in a supervisory capacity, as it will most certainly challenge the way you think about the sales industry. Your success is no longer solely in your own hands; achieving your goals depends on your ability to lead and mentor a team – which is why formal sales management training can be so beneficial.

There are several steps you can take to ease your transition into sales management and position yourself and your team for success: 

  • Clearly outline the role of each team member.  Now that you’re the boss and no longer a salesperson, you must define each person’s role within the new structure. Your team members need to know what you expect of them, and what they can expect from you. It’s important to establish yourself in a leadership role, especially if you are now in charge of your former peers.
  • Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for your team.  KPIs are another way to define your expectations for each member of the team. By setting attainable goals, you can monitor individual performance and provide constructive feedback at weekly sales meetings. In addition to holding team members accountable for their performance, KPIs allow you to track their progress and provide morale-boosting recognition when an employee has achieved success.
  • Adapt your behavior to your new role.  Once you become a manager, your relationship with your team will no longer be the same. To help them adjust to the new dynamic, you can begin with some simple changes, such as moving into a new office and modifying your social interactions. For example, rather than going for lunch or drinks with the sales force on a regular basis, plan an occasional outing when there is a team success to celebrate.
  • Complete formal sales management training.  Seek out formal sales management training, such as an online certificate program that is specifically designed to prepare you for the transition to sales management. Once you’ve mastered the essentials, you can move on to expert-level sales management training that will help you guide your team to new levels of success. Online certificate programs not only help you develop vital management skills, but they also impart valuable credentials that validate your leadership abilities to your team and your superiors.

 By setting expectations for your team, modifying your behavior and completing sales management training, you’ll be on your way to becoming an effective, influential sales manager and creating a winning sales team!

 University of San Francisco, which offers a sales management training program, is a ground-based university founded in 1855 and designated by U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Colleges”.  USF is also regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and was unconditionally reaffirmed for the maximum of seven years during its most recent review.

December 17, 2010

Thank You For Your Support: The Honors Belong to You Who Voted

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 3:28 pm
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Yesterday Gerhard Gschwandtner and Jonathan Farrington hosted the first annual Top Sales Awards ceremony.  During the ceremony Gerhard and Jonathan interviewed some of the top sales thinkers in world Such as Jill Konrath, Art Sobczak, Dave Stein, Linda Richardson, and many others. 

But, of course, the heart of the show was announcing the winners of the Top Sales Awards.  There were 10 award categories with a gold, silver and bronze winner in each category.

Thanks to those of you who voted for me, I am pleased and honored to say that I won a gold medal for the Top Sales Article of 2010 and a bronze for third place in the Top Sales Blog category.

Wow, a gold and bronze.  Pretty amazing.

Then to top the week off, this morning my most recent book, Bust Your Slump: A Dozen Slump Busting Strategies to Fill Your Pipeline in 30 Days was named one of the best sales books of 2010 by RainToday.  I’m proud the book was named as one of the 10 finalists for Top Sales Book of 2010 (the winners were Art Sobczak, the silver went to Jill Konrath, and the bronze to Tibor Shanto and Craig Elias for Shift), and thrilled to be named one of the best along with books by such notibles as Tom Peters, Seth Godin, John Jantsch by RainToday.

Two categories in particular should be highlighted:

Top Sales Personality of 2010:  Jill Konrath.  Jill has had an incredible year—one that few could dream of.  Very, very well deserved recognition.  Congratulations, Jill.

Top Sales Hall of Fame:  The first class inducted into the Top Sales Hall of Fame included: 

Bill Brooks
Zig Ziglar
Linda Richardson
Earl Nightingale
Keith Rosen
Jeffrey Gitomer
Neil Rackham
Dr. Tony Alessandra
Brian Tracy
Gerhard Gschwandtner

All are more than deserving of the honor and most are still working with thousands of sellers every year.

If you missed voting for your favorites or attending the internet based ceremony, don’t miss it next year.

You can find all of the winners in all the categories HERE

December 15, 2010

3 Major Issues Facing Sales Management in 2011

Even as the economy slowly recovers sales managers will be dealing with some tough issues in the coming year.  Rather than getting easier, the improving economy may make managing the sales function even more difficult than it already is. 

 Here are three areas that sales managers are going to have to work through this year:

  1. Improving marketplace, limited budget.  Although the market may be improving, the sales budget will still be on life support.  How can you aggressively attack when you don’t have the resources you need?
    Time management will be key to turning up the heat on sales while dealing with limited resources.  First, cut out all extraneous activities and meaningless busy work for both your salespeople and yourself.  Concentrate completely on finding and connecting with quality prospects.  Sellers should be in the field, not in the office.  Meetings and reports should be held to a minimum. 
    Second, encourage salespeople to purge their pipeline of deadwood and to focus only on real prospects.  In a strengthening market you cannot afford to have your sales staff waste time and energy on non-prospects.
    Third, encourage your salespeople to revisit their clients and seek referrals.  Referrals are not only the most cost effective lead generation strategy, if your sellers learn how to ask for introductions to specific prospects that they know they want to connect with and that they know their client knows, referrals can become your central growth strategy in 2011. 
  2.  

    Pressure to Increase Margins.  As the marketplace improves, senior management will be demanding not only that sales increase, but that the profit margins on those sales increase also.Unfortunately, many of your competitors will be more than willing to cut margins to the bone just to land business.  Do you get into a price war just to get business or do you concentrate of high margin business? 

    The decision may not be as easy as it may seem since senior management will be demanding high margin and increased sales—in an atmosphere where price cutting is rampant by competitors.  It may seem that their demands are unrealistic—and the pressure to increase sales will be very, very real. 

    Do you go for sales or profitability?

    Can you really do both?

    Yes, you can.  In order to see an increase in both sales and margins you must concentrate on high quality prospects while offering them more value than your discounting competitors.

    OK, that’s obvious.  So, how do you do that?

    a)    Don’t just sell a solution; turn your solution into dollars in your client’s bottom-line.  Where most of your competitors will sell a solution to an issue, you must convert your solution into dollars—what is the bottom-line value of your solution to your client?  How much will it save or make for your client?

    b)    As discussed above, concentrate on high quality prospects only.  If you want prospects who are seeking quality solutions, not cheap solutions, you must be highly discriminating in where you spend your time and effort.  Define in detail who your ideal prospect is and concentrate your time on finding and connecting with them rather than blasting away with a shotgun at anyone who breaths.

  3. Working with Remoteand Semi-Remote Salespeople.  More companies are hiring sellers who either work remotely from home or only come into the office when necessary.  Developing and cultivating a relationship with these sellers has always been difficult for sales managers and that will only become more of an issue as the number of remote and semi-remote sellers increases.

    Whether your sales team is housed in your office or is remote in whole or in part, coaching them is one of your primary responsibilities, and in order to do that you must understand their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to work and communicate with them.   Unless you really understand where your sellers need help, you can’t maximize your coaching and managing efforts.  Rather than relying on your gut feelings or the salesperson’s personal analysis of their needs, employing a 360 degree assessment tool such as Halogen’s 360 feedback will not only save a great deal of time, but give far more useful and accurate information that will allow you to both strengthen your relationship with your sellers and to focus on the real coaching needs of each individual in your sales team.
    As the economy continues to improve, companies will begin to add salespeople to their sales team.  Quickly determining these new seller’s strengths and needs will be even more critical as management will demand you get them up and productive as soon as possible, making assessment tools even more valuable and putting even more demands on your coaching time.   
 2011 will be a year of growth opportunities–but the very growth companies have hoped for will create demands on sales management that will be more crushing than they experienced during the business decline of the past three years.  For those managers who are prepared to address the upcoming issues, although it will be a difficult year, it can be a highly successful one.

December 3, 2010

Can You Build Your Business From Referrals? Depends on the Question You Ask

Over the past few years I’ve worked with thousands of sellers, helping them learn how to radically increase both the quantity and quality of referrals they get from their clients.  In the early stages of working with these men and women I usually hear the same comments and frustrations about referrals: from how asking for referrals is a waste of time because seldom do the referred prospects buy, to how asking for referrals makes the seller look weak, to how clients resent being asked for referrals.

There are dozens of reasons sellers have had less than great experience with referrals, and almost all of them are because the way they’ve been taught to seek referrals creates more problems than it solves. 

Most sellers have been taught that all you have to do to get referrals is ask for them after the sale has been completed.  Just do a good job for your client and then, after the sale, ask them if they know of anyone who could benefit from your products or services.  Depending upon the seller you ask, that simple referral question can take many different forms, such as:

“Ms. Client, who do you know that could use my products or services?”

“Mr. Client, who do you know that I should be talking to?”

“Mr. Client, who else do you know that I could help?”

“Ms. Client, if you happen to run across anyone else that I might be able to help, would you give them one of my cards?”

No matter how they phrase the request, seldom will these questions produce quality referrals because they don’t address the basic anxiety that many clients have about giving referrals, and worse, the seller is asking their client to do their prospecting for them, an unrealistic request and one that puts the client in an awkward position.

By waiting until the end of the sale to introduce the idea of referrals, sellers are making it very difficult to acquire quality referrals.  Most clients need time to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals and they certainly need time to think about whom to refer.  Furthermore, they need a clear idea of who would make a great referred prospect.  And since most clients do things for the same reason most people do things, because they see doing the thing to be in their own best interests to do, the seller needs to give the client a good reason to give referrals.

All of the issues above work to make getting quality referrals difficult.  But in the end, the single biggest reason sellers don’t get many high quality referrals from their clients is because the client simply doesn’t know who to refer.  We think it is obvious whom to refer—we want them to refer someone just like themselves.  It isn’t obvious to them.  Although we may think they do, our clients don’t really understand all of the things we can do or all of the needs and issues we can solve.  Consequently, they really don’t know who to refer. 

So if asking your client for a referral to someone they know who might need your products or services doesn’t work very well, is it possible to get a large number of high quality referrals from clients?

Yes, absolutely it is.

But instead of asking a silly, weak question like “who do you know that might be able to use my products or services,” ask to be referred to a specific person.  Although the typical referral question is simple, it is very ineffective. 

More difficult and extremely effective is doing a bit of detective work to discover who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to and then asking for a direct introduction to that person.

 This method demands more from you than popping off a throwaway question at the end of the sale, but it is powerful because:

  • You are no longer asking your client to do your prospecting for you, taking an unwanted burden off them because you’re doing the work for them
  • You are far more likely to get a positive response from your client because instead of asking them to rummage around their mental file cabinet trying to figure out who to refer, you’re asking for a specific and easy to fulfill action—an introduction to someone they know
  • The introduction you get will be to a quality prospect because it will be to a prospect that you pick and that you know you want to be introduced to
  • You will have a much greater chance of setting an appointment with the prospect by being personally introduced by your client than if you just get their name and phone number and call them out of the blue
  • Over time, you can get multiple high quality introductions from each client.  They become a never ending source of quality referrals by simply asking for additional specific introductions as you earn them

Top sellers have learned how to build their businesses from referrals, and for most of them, that weak referral question most sellers ask isn’t a part of their referral strategy.  They’ve learned that if they make giving referrals easy for their clients, getting referrals becomes easy.  Better yet, they’ve learned that if they control the referral process and get referred to the prospects they want to be referred to, their closing ratio from referrals doubles, triples, quadruples, or more.

Referrals can be the cornerstone of your sales business if you learn to do a little detective work and make it easy for your clients to give the great referrals you’ve always wanted.

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