Sales and Sales Management Blog

April 30, 2012

Book Review: The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out

Filed under: Book Reviews — Paul McCord @ 2:31 pm
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What are some of the most difficult challenges in social media in recent years that you can think of?  Would being put in charge of social media for a company in the middle of a death spiral like GM be one of them?  I’d sure think so—trying to help turn around the image of a company that everyone knew was headed for bankruptcy and that many, many people felt should be allowed to die and who received massive, unpopular government dollar, creating the new cynical name of Government Motors.

That sounds like a pretty tough gig to me.  And if one could even partially pull it off they’d be able to make a pretty good argument that they know a little something about how to successfully use social media.

The guy who successfully directed GM’s social media program during that dark and stressful time is Christopher Barger, author of The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out (McGraw Hill: 2012).  If you are in marketing or social media for a big company, consult with big companies about social media, or would like to do either, without a doubt The Social Media Strategist needs to be on your reading list.

And that’s the rub of the book.  Barger does a great job of laying out how to build a top of the line social media program within a large organization, but despite how good the advice is, an awful lot of it just doesn’t apply to smaller companies.  That doesn’t mean the book isn’t useful for smaller companies, it simply means you’ll have to really pick and choose what is appropriate for your situation.

Barger begins by looking at the need to get a champion for the social media effort in a senior position to clear the way for its success, to working with the company’s attorneys, to selecting the individual that will be the face of the social media program.

A good deal of time is devoted to finding and selecting the person who will be the key social media contact—what Barger calls the Social Media Evangelist.  Barger emphasizes the need for the focal person to be someone with real experience and not some young “kid” put in the place because they’re social media savvy.  According to Barger, the social media evangelist must not only be technically savvy, they must have the wisdom to go along with it—and that isn’t going to be some intern or someone with little business experience.

In addition, Barger discusses a number of “deal breakers” when it comes to finding the ideal evangelist.  Some deal breakers are:

  • ·         Overemphasizing their personal brand to the potential detriment of the company’s
  • ·         No formal marketing or PR background
  • ·         Professionally immature
  • ·         No proven previous results

Likewise, Barger advises those seeking a social media position to be aware of what should be their deal breakers such as the company not willing to allocate the necessary resources or viewing the position as a kiddy position or having no clear executive champion for social media.

For smaller companies, not to negate its importance to large companies, Barger’s discussion of the “how to” of social media will be most useful as he deals with how to work with bloggers, how to work conferences and events, and how to use working locally to have a much bigger impact.

And for all, his treatment of what to do when disaster strikes is excellent.  Of particular note are his six most likely causes of crisis in social media and how to deal with them, including when an individual in the company causes an issue, when someone decides to complain on the web, and even when the whole organization melts down.

Barger loads the book with real life examples that give a clear view of not only his point but what has created real crisis for companies in the real world.

If you’re in social media or want to be, pick up a copy of The Social Media Strategist—you can’t read it without learning and knowing you’re learning from someone who really knows what they’re talking about because they’ve been there themselves.


April 23, 2012

Sales Lessons from the Two Best Sellers I’ve Ever Seen

Filed under: career development,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 10:10 am

I wrote this post about four years ago and am bringing it back as a reminder that what we do really isn’t nearly as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be.  In essence all we need is a solid process and a good understanding of human nature, both of which we can learn a good deal about from Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe.

In just under 30 years in sales I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands upon thousands of salespeople. Some have been very good, many not so good, and a few phenomenal. But there are two that I know that are simply the best salespeople I’ve ever met. They work as a team and their closing ratio is well over 90%–most of the time with additional add-on sales to boot. I can honestly say that I’m not aware of a single serious prospect that they’ve failed to approach—ever. And they have an incredible ability to always be in the right place at the right time.

Many times we tend to overcomplicate things. We analyze things to death. We search for the smallest nuance, the tiniest little thing that might give us a bit of an edge, a little bit of an upper hand in nailing down a sale. We sometimes lose sight of the basic nature of selling which is to find a prospect, develop a relationship, make our case, overcome their objections, and close the sale. That’s the basics of a sale no matter what we sell. Of course there are twists and turns, some more complicated than others. But in the end, that’s what we all do.

Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe understand this concept better than any other salespeople I’ve ever met. More importantly, they don’t try to complicate it and they practice their craft religiously and are constantly honing their skills. And for their diligence, their highly honed skills, and commitment to being where their prospects are, they are rewarded with a fat income.

So, who are these top producers and what secrets have they learned?

Mr. B.J. is a miniature dachshund and Ms. Chloe is a miniature Yorkie. OK, yes, they’re dogs. Don’t let that fool you. They are also highly skilled salespeople with the highest close ratio I’ve ever seen, with a sense of timing we humans can only envy, and with a dogged persistence in asking for the order that puts us human salespeople to shame—rejection doesn’t bother or discourage them in the least.  If they fail with one prospect, they know another is right around the corner.

But our lessons come from their sales process. As mentioned previously, it is basic. No fancy tricks, no deception. (In the spirit of full disclosure I have to mention that in their sales process there is tons of manipulation which is unethical for human sellers but appears to be a perfectly ethical sales practice in the animal world.)

Their Process:

1. Going to where their prospects are: Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe are always prospecting. They have two prospecting methods—cold calling and waiting for the occasional walk-in prospect. Since they don’t like to rely on the happenstance of walk-ins, they spend a good deal of time cold calling.

Cold calling consists of keeping a close tab on the neighborhood for any prospect—prospects being anyone outside.

Upon spying a prospect both are eager to introduce themselves. They wait for an appropriate opportunity and approach for the introduction. Since our block is a favorite for walkers and joggers throughout the neighborhood, they are in a constant prospecting mode, meeting dozens of potential customers daily.

If they are in the house, they are ever aware of anyone going into the kitchen. The kitchen is where sales are made and they make sure that at least one of them has the kitchen covered at most times—but since they don’t trust the other to let them know if someone is approaching the kitchen, they are generally both positioned to keep an eye on that most important room.

2. Building relationships: Upon meeting a new prospect they concentrate on establishing a relationship, with the initial emphasis on understanding and addressing the prospect’s needs and wants. Relationship building typically entails a great deal of licking and kissing, demonstrating their sincerity and trustworthiness, as well as their eagerness to please.

They don’t rush the sale. They are content to move at the prospect’s speed, allowing them to become comfortable with the relationship before pressing for an order.

3. Making their presentation: For B.J. and Chloe, moving from the initial connection stage to the presentation stage can sometimes be a bit abrupt, somewhat like some of our less skilled human salespeople–although in this case it appears to be quite effective.

Their presentation tends to consist of sniffing the food or drink the person may have, smelling the prospect’s hands or breath for traces of food, or, if called for, dissolving into pathetic, irresistible sad-eyed looks.

4. Asking for the order: Once they’ve made their presentation, they ask for the order with lots of jumping up and down, barking and whining, and running around the prospect. No one ever fails to understand the request.

5. Overcoming objections: Neither B.J. or Chloe are willing to accept a no. An objection simply means they have not made their case persuasively enough. Upon hearing no they simply brush it off and their kisses, loving, jumping, barking, running around the prospect, and their big doe eyes become even bigger, their mournful looks become even sadder.

It takes nerves of steel to resist them and few do it successfully.

6. Asking for the add-on order: Once the prospect has bought and provided a treat, they have opened themselves up for the add-on sale. The add-on tends to be a more subtle sale than the initial sale, taking the form of nudging the bag the original treat came in or rubbing on the prospect’s leg.

7. Maintaining relationships: After they secure a new client, they make sure they follow up with regular visits and a consistent flow of kisses and leg rubs.

Their sales process is incredibly simple and straightforward. Their reward is a consistent flow of treats from our neighbors, walkers, joggers, and of course my wife and me. They’ve even managed to teach some of the neighbors what their favorite treats are (dried chicken strips, unshelled peanuts—they love to shell the peanuts themselves although it makes an incredible mess, and string cheese).

We may not be as cute as Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe. We may not be able to manipulate (and manipulation is never a valid part of selling for us humans) prospects as they do. But if a dog that can’t speak can follow this simple process and make tons of sales, we should be mindful that this isn’t rocket science. Their secret is simple—they meet lots of prospects, develop relationships, make a compelling presentation, overcome the objections, and ask for the order.

Yes, our sales are more complicated. No, we don’t have the cute factor working for us as they do. But we have the same opportunity Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe have. We have the same time to work with—they get all of their prospecting and selling done in about 6 to 7 hours. And in a bigger, more complicated form, we have in essence the same process. All we have to do is to be as committed to our success as they are to theirs.

April 11, 2012

Lessons for Sellers from the Unsocial Media

Filed under: Communication,Sales 2.0 — Paul McCord @ 4:14 pm
Tags: , , ,

Is it just me or are others finding that they’re getting more and more brazen sales solicitations of various kinds from their new “friends,” “followers,” and “connections” than in the past?

It seems that when I friend or follow or connect with someone I’m far more likely now than in the past to get a direct message or inmail or email thanking me for following and “as a special gift” they offer me a super duper deal on their services or books or whatever. 

Often I’ll get an inmail thanking me for the connection and since they know that I’d love to follow their company page on Facebook they’ve taken the liberty to provide the link. 

Other times it is an outright blatant solicitation to sell me something without even the guise of a special offer. 

And sometimes it’s more subtle with an invitation to get to know one another on the phone—that within 30 seconds becomes a hard-line sales pitch.

It may simply be because more and more sellers are using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media and they’re ignorant of proper social media etiquette.

But it might also be a symptom of something more fundamental–the hazard of using a medium that is inherently unsocial—a computer.

Rude and obnoxious anonymous postings on forums and blogs have long been issues, along with the occasional in your face attempt to sell from a new friend, follower or connection. 

I’ve always chalked up the clumsy sales attempt as simply an etiquette error.  The rude and obnoxious comments on blogs and forums I’ve assumed was simply a result of having the luxury of being anonymous combined with “talking” to an inanimate computer screen.

But I’m beginning to think that there is a deeper inherent problem with social media than simply learning proper social media etiquette–and that problem is the impersonal nature of the computer itself.

Even though intellectually we know our emails, direct messages and inmails are going to another human, we are interacting with an inanimate object to talk to someone we do not know and whom know little to nothing about. 

Our message is then received by someone who is looking at an impersonal screen while reading the words of someone they do not know and many very well have never heard of before.

That is not a humanizing combination.  In fact, it makes it easy to dehumanize the other person because in a sense we’re not talking to a person until we get to know them a bit on a personal level.

In addition we may have a tendency to misinterpret the other person’s meaning when they friended or followed us.  Maybe they were looking to make a connection not because they were chomping at the bit to buy our stuff. 

But when dealing with a faceless person who we do not know and who we only have the barest of connections with it is easy to forget about their side of the equation and go full bore to satisfy our wants and needs.

The  direct messages, emails, and inmails we receive from other sellers should teach us a couple of hard and fast lessons:

  1. Slow down and consider why the other person might be wanting to connect with you—and realize that more than likely it isn’t because they’re dying to buy from you.
  2. Use the same rules of engagement you’d use if you met the person at a social gathering.  People are looking to make connections for all kinds of reasons but no matter the reason, trust and respect must be earned and built and that takes time.

Forget trying to push your wares or your website or your Facebook page as soon as you connect with someone.  Don’t screw up your new connection by immediately sending an unwanted, self-serving sales piece.  You may be typing to an inanimate computer screen, you may not know much about the person you’re writing to, and you may be anxious to make a sale, but the one thing you can count on is that whomever you’re writing to won’t appreciate being treated like a dollar sign to be rung up on the cash register.

April 2, 2012

The Bittersweet Necessity of Tension and Conflict in Your Organization

“Donna, I’ve sat through three of your team’s executive meetings, one board meeting, and a couple of regional meetings.  One of your company’s biggest problems is there’s no conflict.  No one is challenging anything in the company.  Everyone gets along just fine, but it seems that everyone has taken getting along to the point that your team and your company are stagnant.  If you really want to see your team and your company grow, get some tension and conflict going.”

I believe that at first Donna, the CEO of a mid-sized financial services company was so surprised and disturbed by my statement that I thought she was going to throw me out of her office.

Then she slowly said, “Paul, I trust you so I’m assuming you have a good reason for saying something that I’d take as a pretty stupid thing to say normally.  Before I determine you’re not the consultant for us that I thought you were, explain that statement to me.”

I did–and now her company is happily engulfed in conflict.

If you want your company or sales team to grow, mature, and become strong, encourage conflict.  In fact, if you want to develop a company or sales team that dominates its market you’ll go out of your way to nurture and fan the flames of conflict whenever they arise.

Now, what comes to mind when you hear the word “conflict?”  Do you think anger?  Do you think arguments about personal territory and personal preferences?  Do you think jealousy, suspicion, and resentment?  Do you think of toes getting stepped on and egos getting smashed?

Those are certainly some things that are rightfully referred to as conflict.  And unfortunately those things arise in every business organizations—and those things have and will continue to destroy organizations.

But those aren’t the conflicts I’m talking about that are good, necessary, and helpful to your organization.

What conflict is good?  That which brings about strong, enduring, positive change to the organization and the members of the team.

Not to get religious on you, but let me begin by quoting a section of Proverbs 27: “just as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  Iron sharpens iron through conflict and tension, through one piece of iron striking another.  And as with iron, tension and conflict can and will sharpen our organization and team members.

How does conflict bring about positive change?  Positive change comes from challenging the status quo and tradition; it comes when men and women have the courage to question how the organization is conducting its business and how it is treating its customers, employees, and vendors; and when the lower ranks within the organization challenge the decisions from on high based on the reality they encounter in the real world that is often far removed from the executive suite.

For an organization to grow and mature there must be tension and that tension must be generated by conflict—the conflict of honest men and women seeking to improve the organization as a whole.

“Seeking to improve the organization” is the rub—most conflict tends to be “me” oriented in some fashion and, thus, destructive.  Consequently many organizations try desperately to eliminate all conflict.  They have conflict resolution specialists come in and present seminars and maybe even do one-on-one counseling.  They put up posters exhorting everyone to put aside differences.  Like Rodney King, the theme is “can’t we all just get along?”

Yes, on a petty, personal level conflict and its accompanying tension is very undesirable and destructive.  But in regards to business and organizational growth there must be some constructive tension and conflict.  Unfortunately that constructive conflict can easily get discouraged in the general atmosphere of trying to eliminate personal conflict and to generate harmony with the hope that everyone will sit around toasting marshmallows and singing Kumbaya. 

Yet the reality is that if no one is questioning no change or improvement is possible.  When people question, there will be others defending the status quo and tradition, and that is when significant growth and maturity can take place.

When policies, procedures, rules, regulations, old ways of doing things, and traditional perspectives are questioned good things happen.  Sometimes those existing items are determined to be right and good; at other times they are determined to be in need of change, whether just a mild adjustment or a radical tearing down and rebuilding.

Whether or not change is needed, the very act of questioning, of arguing, or looking at alternatives is constructive and profitable for forces the organization to evaluate who it is, what it does, and how it does it. 

Frankly sometimes the tension and conflict is uncomfortable.  And on top of as unfortunate as it is, with human nature being what it is, there will be times when egos and feelings get in the way and complicate matters even more.

As regrettable as it may be that people get the ego or feeling stepped on, you cannot afford to let that possibility stop the organization from benefiting from tension and conflict.

How can destructive ego and personal feeling issues be avoided?  There really is no way to keep them out of the mix entirely.  However, there are courses, seminars, and coaches that can help teach team members how to keep the conflict on a professional level, seeking the best for the company, and keeping their personal feelings and ego out—or at least to a minimum.

There is no way around the fact that tension and conflict is bittersweet.  Few actually like conflict and the tension that naturally comes with it; but the tremendous positive results that come from good, positive, constructive conflict are worth stretching the team and getting out of the company comfort zone.

I’m not advocating that your organization become a corporate version of the Golden Gloves, but if your organization doesn’t have some tension and conflict going on, then your stagnating and soon you’ll get left behind by competitors who are willing to raise, discuss, and argue those uncomfortable questions.


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April 1, 2012

Book Review: Power Questions by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas

Filed under: Book Reviews — Paul McCord @ 5:05 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Despite what many think, selling isn’t about being the guy who “never met a stranger,” or the person who’s the life of the party, or even the person that makes friends easily.  Selling is about connecting with people, listening carefully to uncover needs and wants, and then solving those needs and wants.

In short, selling is about communication.

It’s really that simple.

It’s also that difficult.

What’s so hard about selling?  Most of us have been taught, whether overtly or not, that selling is about talking, about telling, about overpowering the prospect with verbiage.

In reality it is about talking little and listening a great deal.

The question how do you get the prospect talking so you have something to listen to?  One of the truisms in selling today is that you listen to the answers to the astute questions you ask the prospect that gets them to open up and give you the factual and emotional information you need.

That is, actually, great guidance.  The problem is then, what questions?

Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas in their just published book Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (John Wiley & Sons: 2012) present the reader with 337 well thought out questions that will help you dig deep without offending and give you the information you need to really understand your prospect’s situation and goals.

What are some of these essential questions?  Here’s a small sample:

  • “How will this further your mission and goals?”
  • “Can you tell me about your plans?”
  • “Why do you want to do that?”
  • “What have we decided today?”
  • “What’s the most important thing we should be discussing today?”
  • “What prompted your interest in our meeting today?”
  • :”If an effective solution is found, how will affect your own job?”
  • “What does the company expect out of you this year?”

So, you say, there’s nothing new about any of these questions?  You’re right.  It isn’t the questions that make the book worth the investment; it is how Sobel and Panas address the core of the book.

Rather than simply tell you to ask a particular question, the authors give you guidance of when to ask, and for over 35 key questions they give you a number of follow-up questions to help you dig deeper and keep the prospect engaged.. 

Better yet, once you’ve worked your way through the first 30 odd questions and have learned how the authors follow up the initial question you should be well versed in where to go with the additional 293 questions in the back of the book.

The way NOT to read Power Questions is to simply skim through and pick out the questions themselves; if that’s your intent, save your money.

Instead take the time to learn how to ask quality questions and then listen to the answer.

Many, if not most, may think this too simplistic a book.  They’d be wrong.  Very wrong.

Get a copy of Power Questions, read it and then apply it and you will not only improve your sales, you’ll discover that questions can improve all relationships in your life.

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