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Aug 14 17

It’s Not About What Your Product Does….

by David Brock

Everyday, I speak with sales people who are struggling.  They’ve got a rock solid deal, the customer is qualified and interested.  These sales people are eager to educate the customer about their products–and customers are at the point in their buying cycles where they want to be educated.

But somehow deals become stalled.  Conversations continue, but things don’t move forward.

As I review the deals with sales people, trying to figure out how to break them loose, a common theme keeps coming up.  The conversations are all focusing on what the product does.  That is, the focus is on product capabilities, features, functions.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, these sales people aren’t just focused on pitching their products to marginally interested customers.  The customers are at the point in their buying process where they are eager to learn and sales people are eager to respond.

It’s a trap our customers fall into, and we go down that rat hole with them.

What our products do is important to our customers.  But what our products enable our customers to do is what’s critical to their ability to move forward in their buying process.

The reason they are buying is not because of what the product does, but because of what it enables them to do.  It may sound like I’m wordsmithing, but it’s an important difference–one that both we and our customers lose sight of.

It’s critical we keep refocusing the conversation.  The customer is buying because they want to drive some change or improvement in their business.  They want to grow, they want to solve a problem.  These are the fundamental drivers to making a decision and justifying it to their management.  This is where we need to keep refocusing the discussions.

What our products enable our customers to do is why they are buying.

The magic of focusing our discussion here, not only because it moves the conversation back to what the customer cares about, but it provides us a broader and stronger base to differentiate and justify our offerings.

If the focus of our conversations with customers is what our products do, it’s difficult to differentiate ourselves from competitors doing the same thing.

But if we change the conversations–while our competitors are still talking about what their products do, we are focusing on the customer and the outcomes they will achieve.

We also have a much broader platform for justifying the investments our customers make in our solutions.  As an example, recently a sales person was reviewing his deal with me.  He was struggling to justify his solution.  He was focused on the cost savings his solution would provide over the current way his customer was doing things.  There were savings, but possibly not enough to motivate the customer to change.  When we shifted the conversation to focus on his customer’s ability to retain customers (they were losing customers because of mediocre service levels).  All of a sudden, there were millions more in justification and motivation to change.

While this should seem obvious, we and our customers lose this focus.  We get so caught up in what our products do, we forget the real conversation needs to be about what they enable the customer to do.

 

 

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Aug 10 17

Using What You Sell……

by David Brock

Recently, a good friend, who’s a senior manager in a Sales Automation Tools company, asked me for help.  When he posed his request, I was puzzled, I responded, “John (that’s not John’s real name), isn’t that what your solution is supposed to help your customers do?”

While it seems obvious, that was a bit of an “Aha” moment for John.

Before, I go further, John is really an outstanding executive and his company has truly outstanding tools.  But the simple question I had asked got John to thinking more deeply.  While the solution his team sells is very broad in scope, it had some deficiencies in doing what John and hos team were trying to do.  However, this area was a major part of their marketing and sales messaging.

After discussing the challenge a little, John said, “If we are struggling to get what we need, imagine what our customers face……”

John’s discovery was important to the company.  They realized if they couldn’t get what they needed from the tool, it was a major problem for their customers–but alson a great opportunity if they could fix it.

I am amazed how many organizations selling sales, marketing, or customer experience tools or services, actually aren’t using the very tools they are selling.

My favorites are the marketing automation vendors.  They provide great tools for segmenting, personalizing, targeting, customers, as well as ways to refine future communications/content based on actions the recipients have taken and their scoring algorithms.  While their tool provides huge capability to the customer, supposedly improving response rates, engagement, and so forth—too often, they blast the same messages to everyone–never targeted, never personalized/researched, never segmented.  It’s just easier to send the same thing to 10’s of thousands rather than to use their tool to refine and target the audience.  And when that mailing of 10 thousand doesn’t produce results, they  double down, sending 20 thousand the next time.  It seems their approach to marketing would argue against the use of their products.  Afterall, you can do what they are executing, I suppose as best practice, with a simple mail manager.

Likewise, for many of the services or training companies–never using what the espouse in their own marketing and sales approaches.  Yesterday, I was speaking with a friend who owns a marketing agency.  We were commiserating about the bad practices in “influencer marketing” in her profession.  For example, I suppose, because I write a blog, that I may be considered an influencer, but I don’t know why someone thinks I should interview the CEO of a new Pet Food start up about innovations in pet nutrition—please send me a note if you want that kind of content here.  One would think these marketing professionals would understand concepts like targeting and segmentation.  Perhaps one might think they would eat their own dog food.   (Did I really write that?)

There’s a broader opportunity for all of us in looking at how we market, sell, and support our products/services.  How would you respond if you were the victim–I mean recipient–of your company’s own marketing, sales, and customer service initiatives.  Would you Spam the emails you get?  Would you not pick up the prospecting calls?  Would you get pissed off with not being able to get support easily?

In retail, there’s a concept of mystery shopping.  Stores hire people to visit there locations and report on their experience.

It’s an important concept.  We should find ways of seeing our customers’ experiences of our marketing and sales initiatives through their eyes.  In doing this, we need to put away our biases for our companies, products, and services; assessing what we inflict on our customers and prospects.

Perhaps if we could really understand things from their side of the desk, we could improve our impact and effectiveness.

I suppose it’s called being empathetic……

 

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Aug 9 17

Developing Management And Leadership Talent

by David Brock

I recently wrote, “The Sales Manager’s Job Is Different,” addressing the impact of making the wrong decisions in selecting Front Line Sales Managers (FLSM).  Too often, the “easy” solution is to take our very best sales people, promoting them into FLSM roles.  Usually the results are devastating, they may be great sales people, but they don’t recognize the FLSM job is different.

One of the primary reasons people do this is because they think it’s easier and faster to take someone internally, moving them into the leadership role.  After all, that individual already knows our company, our products, our customers.  Plus they have a track record of success as individual contributors.  With the exception of their track records as individual contributors, there is a lot of power in looking at internal candidates.

I’ve always been a huge fan of promoting from within.  Not just because of the shorter ramp time, but also because, if we want to retain our very best people, we need to provide growth and career paths within our own organizations.  Everyone wants to grow in their careers–not just compensation, but in level, work function, and other areas.  If we can’t provide those growth paths, then they will look for those opportunities elsewhere–as they should.

It’s a tragic loss to have talented people leave, because they saw no future in the organization.  We’ve invested huge amounts in developing them, and presumably they are producing great results—all of that is lost if we provide them no growth paths.

To be certain, however, not everyone wants to go into management and not everyone is qualified.  We do need to provide growth paths into other roles for those that want to continue to be great individual contributors.  Perhaps, it’s taking on more senior responsibilities, bigger accounts, strategic opportunities.  Certain strategic business development roles can be great career paths for very high level, talented individual contributors.

But there are some who want to and should be management material.  How do we identify them, and how do we prepare them to be ready to step into leadership roles when the time arises?

First, the identification process is pretty easy–that is if you’ve paid attention to the other posts I’ve written on developing the Sales Manager Competency Model.  In this model, you are developing the profile of your ideal sales manager.  The competency model should look at cultural fit, behaviors, attitudes, skills, competencies, experiences and other areas.  In assessing sales people who might grow into management roles, there will be some obvious shortcomings–for example certain skills, competencies and experiences.  For example, they may never have had the chance to be involved in hiring sales people, or coaching, or setting and managing performance expectations.  Obviously, they fall short in some of those areas.  But the most critical areas are cultural, attitudinal, behavioral fit.  These are most difficult to change or develop if they don’t have them.

The Competency Model is a way to identify people who have the potential of being outstanding managers in your organization.  Hopefully, their managers are having developmental conversations with them and the individuals are saying they would like to be managers in the organization.  Additionally, hopefully you are using some assessment instruments, have them take the assessments to see if there are any glaring issues that would disqualify them from consideration in the future.

For those that pass that initial screen, you can now start giving them developmental experiences, helping them grow and develop skills/competencies that will be critical to their success as sales managers.

We have to realize, these people still have their “day  jobs” as individual contributors, but we can give them additional assignments or exposures to help develop their capabilities to be good managers.

For example, assigning them to a key project–lets say you are launching a new sales productivity tool to the organization.  Make them part of the project group responsible for launching it to the organization.  Many of the skills they need in that project or that they will develop on that project are critical to their success as managers.

Perhaps there is a task force on some topic critical to the organization.  For example, I’m working with a client in changing and sharpening the focus of their sales process and their deal strategies.  Many of the sales people on the project are people the client is developing for future managerial roles.

Sometime, executive management, particularly in large organizations wants to hold round tables to discuss issues and get opinions from the field.  Make sure to include your future managers in those discussions.  In my own career, participating in those discussions were critical to my development.  I was not only flattered to be invited to participate in the sessions, but in the interaction, I got some exposure to how top management thought/acted/behaved.  It also gave those executives the chance to get to know me a little better.

When you are recruiting and interviewing new sales people, make these managerial candidates part of the process.  Have them interview candidates, ask for their feedback and views about the candidates.

Consider, putting them into mentoring roles.  For example, serving as a mentor to a new person being onboarded develops their skills and coaching capabilities, as well as helping the new person get onboarded more effectively.

In some cases, having the person “sit in” as an acting manager for a short period is very powerful.  For example, when you unchain a current manager from her desk and let her take a week vacation.  The sales person can sit in that role during the week.   Clearly, you don’t want them to be making critical decisions or addressing performance issues, but it does get them some exposure to the day-to-day function of a FLSM.

Finally, where you can get them some formal or informal training.  For example, get them to read some books (Sales Manager Survival Guide is a great start) and discuss them with them.  There are endless blogs, webinars, free or low cost seminars they can go to, to begin learning the things they need to be a great manager.

Remember, your goal isn’t to develop these people into experienced managers–only experience does that, but what you are trying to do is accelerate an shorten their learning curve for when the opportunity to move into management arises (remember, all managers need an onboarding program, as well.)

The other benefit to putting a development program like this in place is that you and the sales person get an opportunity to “test drive” each other—you get to see how they respond to the issues they are going to face as managers, they get greater visibility into what the job really is.

We owe it to ourselves, our company, and our people who have strong potential as future leaders to develop them, and where they can let them learn, so that when they do step into a leadership role, they are better prepared.

 

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