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Oct 8 15

Social Networking Annoyances

by David Brock
Social networking 01

Every day, I get dozens of connection requests through all sorts of channels.  Early on, as I was building my networks, I didn’t scrutinize the requests very closely.  If someone seemed nominally interesting, I was glad to connect.

Over time, I’ve become much more careful, primarily because accepting many requests opens a flood gate of unwanted emails, phone calls, and meaningless solicitations.

I’ve started developing these rough screening rules, but have a lot to learn, so I’d love to hear your tips

  1. I connect with people:  Somehow, I get a lot of requests from “companies.”  I don’t know how to connect to a “company.”  People are putting up profiles of their company, who their company is, what their company does.  I see some companies even have endorsements.  I’m interested in people, I want to know who you are, I want to see a picture, I want to know what you’ve done, what your goals are, and all sorts of things.  People connect with people, not companies.  If your profile is your “company” and you are hiding behind that, you are cheating your connections and yourself.
  2. I connect with people:  Yes, I’m repeating myself a little.  I’m amazed with the number of people asking to connect whose total experience can be summed up in less than 20 words.  They may have a few words, “I’m a sales person,” or “I work in this industry,” or “I can help you generate leads.”  That phrase represents the entirety of their profiles.  Like I said in the previous paragraph, I like to know who I’m connecting with.  If you don’t take the time to develop your own profile, how will you take the time to build any kind of relationship with the people you are connecting to?
  3. I like connecting with real people:  Yes, there are fake people trying to network with real people.  There are those with well developed, fictional profiles and stock pictures pulled from the web.  One week, I got two invitations.  The profiles were word for word identical, the names and pictures were different, but the pictures were stock photos.  Another time, I had just bought some picture frames, they were sitting on my desk.  One frame had one of those stock photo pictures in it.  I happened to get an connection request.  You guessed it, apparently that person has either licensed her picture to be used in picture frames or the inviter had purchased the same picture frame somewhere else.
  4. I like connecting with the real person  (not someone spoofing that person).  A couple of years ago, I was very flattered to get a connection invitation from an Under Secretary Of Defense.  The picture in the profile was that person’s, the profile matched, word for word, the bio at the Defense Department’s site.  There were some clues the individual was not that person came in the invitation to connect–1o spelling and grammar errors in the 2 sentences in the invitation.  Fortuitously, I happen to know another Under Secretary of Defense  (that’s why I initially thought the request might be genuine).  I forwarded the invitation to him, he checked it out.  Needless to say, that profile is no longer in LinkedIn.
  5. If you are a Greek Banker or a Middle Eastern Investor, don’t bother sending me an invitation, I won’t accept it.  I feel terrible about painting whole professions and nationalities with this image.  I happen to know some great Greek Bankers and have done some interesting deals with Middle Eastern Investors.  However, 100% of the requests I’ve gotten from these categories, after I accept the connection, come to me with pitch after pitch of the latest way they can put my money to their use.  So as a result, even if you are a legit Greek Banker or Middle Eastern Investor, I’m sorry, I won’t accept your request.
  6. If you are an Inbound/Outbound Lead Gen Person (particularly located in Encino, CA), and your profile only talks about how you can help me generate 1000’s of leads, then I’m not going to connect with you.  Yes, painfully, I connected with a couple, and got deluged with calls and emails about the 1000’s of leads they could generate.  If you understand my business, we aren’t a 1000’s of leads business, plus you never will be able to talk to the people I need you to talk to, regardless how pretty your picture is.  I’m cautious with lead gen people (particularly sales people) in general.  There are a lot that I’ve developed great relationships with, but if your first communication comes within a day of my accepting your invitation, and it’s a pitch about how you can improve our lead gen, you’re toast.
  7. If you are a LinkedIn Marketing Expert, I’ll be hesitant, I’m not likely to connect.  If you are a LinkedIn Marketing Expert sending the standard LinkedIn connection invitation——well then how can you be a LinkedIn Marketing Expert?  You’re toast.
  8. If you’re a LION, well, I’ve written about you before, Any Idiot Can Be A LinkedIn Lion.  Enough said.
  9. Twitter Follow/Unfollow/Follow/Unfollow:  I don’t know if it’s just me, but there are lots of people that I see repeatedly following me, then unfollowing me, then following me again, then unfollowing me again.  I’m not sure what’s going on, are they indecisive, are they trying to catch my attention and get me to follow them in return.  Today, I noticed a particular company account.  Since I know the company well, I take notice of them.   They’ve followed and unfollowed me about 4 times in the past 2 months.  What’s this about?
  10. Bad Twitter Prospecting:  There are a lot of people “pitching me” on Twitter.  You know how that works, @davidabrock, try this to get around gatekeepers [Link].  I wonder, “what do they know about me, do they think that I have problems getting around gatekeepers?”  More likely they are trying to attract a number of my followers to click through.  There are all kinds of pitches, I’ve learned to ignore most of them.  I did click on the gatekeeper one and tweeted that it was the worst method I’d seen–hope my followers saw that.  Maybe I don’t get it, but I struggle with understanding how you get real engagement in a 140 character pitch to a stranger.

What are some of the annoying behaviors you see?

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Oct 6 15

Sales Management Isn’t Simple!

by David Brock
Sales Management Simplified

Being a top performing sales manager or executive isn’t an easy job.  Sales managers live in a world of constantly shifting priorities, crises, and challenges.

Simultaneously, sales leaders must balance their responsibility in executing the company strategy in the markets and with customers.  They must respond to constant shifts in markets and ever changing buyer and competitive demands.  They must make sure their organization is prepared not only for today’s challenges, but for changes they know will come.  They have to maximize the performance of the organization–in the face of few resources, less funding, increasing expectations and no time.

Even for the very best it’s a huge challenge, but too often, those thrust into sales management roles, particularly first line sales management, aren’t prepared for their sales leadership responsibilities.

Given the challenges, it’s no wonder the average tenure of a sales manager is approaching 18 months.

But the challenges faced by sales managers aren’t only those that are imposed on us externally by our companies, customers, and our people.  Many of the challenges are things we inflict on ourselves.  Too often, the phrase, “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us,” applies in how sales manager approach their jobs.  Whether it’s not stepping up to performance issues, becoming desk jockeys or analysts of minutiae.  Some choose to inflict themselves in everything each of their sales people do, micro managing every deal and activity.  Others spend their time doing deals, thinking of themselves as super sales people rather than being sales leaders.

However you look at it, the job of a sales manager is not simple!

Having said that, there is much we can do to simplify what we do and how we work as sales managers.  Most of it is pure common sense.  Some of it is focus, discipline and pragmatic execution.  A lot of it is creating the right environment or sales culture to drive each person to the highest levels of performance.

The things we need to do to simplify sales management are well understood.   They are outlined in an extraordinary book by Mike Weinberg:  Sales Management Simplified.

Mike’s straight, often blunt, approach to sales management, is pragmatic approach to the real worlds that sales people and managers find themselves working in come through in simple messages about the job of the manager and how to drive top performance in the organization.

This summer, I had the pleasure of collaborating with Mike on Openview Labs Sales Management Series.  Mike’s focus, clarity came through in each of those sessions–just as it comes through in Sales Management Simplified.

I can think of no better gift a sales manager can give to herself that buying, devouring, highlighting, annotating the book.  It should be in arm’s reach of your desk, or on your tablet as you travel.  It is your guide to focusing on those things most important to your people, your company and your own professional development as a manager.

At least until I publish my book, the Sales Manager’s Survival Guide, early next year, Sales Management Simplified is simply the very best book on sales management available.  Next year, it will be one of the top 2 books on sales management ever written.   (Mike, I just couldn’t resist adding these last 2 sentences–I know you’ll forgive me.

As a final thought, Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”   Mike understands Sales Management!

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Oct 5 15

“We Can’t Justify Your Price……”

by David Brock
Price Slashing

We were debriefing a closing call.  Bill’s solution had been selected.  Bill had done a great job in competing and in justifying the value of his solution.

There was a strong business case demonstrating tremendous improvements in productivity.  In this case, the customer was growing faster than their ability to bring people on board supporting the growth.  Bill’s solution enabled the customer to support their anticipated growth with their current workforce.  As a result the business case was stunning.

The customer could capture revenue they would otherwise forego, and they were doing it on a much lower cost basis than they had done traditionally–driving higher levels of profitability.

Bill walked into the meeting well prepared.  They customer had signed off to the business case, he felt the implementation plan addressed and managed the risks, contracts/T&C’s had been reviewed and agreed upon.  He expected to walk out with a signed agreement.

After pleasantries were exchanged, the customer said, “I just can’t justify your price to my management team.  You need to hit this price target.”

Bill was stunned.  He didn’t know how to respond and took a few breaths to figure it out.

He started asking some questions:  Had the business case been reviewed with management?  Did they buy into it?  Were they concerned with any of the implantation risks?  Were they considering other options?  What would the impact be if they didn’t implement the solution—how would they be able to support the growth?  What would those costs be?  Would they be able to capture all the revenue?

The answers came back as Bill had hoped.  The management team signed off on the business case, the implementation plan/risks.  They understood all the issues and the results from  implementing Bill’s solution was compelling.

Confused and frustrated, Bill asked the exec, “I’m not sure I understand, what do you want us to do?”

The exec responded, “We just can’t justify paying that much for the solution, we need you to price the solution in this range…..”

I was proud of Bill’s next steps in the call, showed he had been listening to me over the past few months.

He probed a little more, he asked, “Why do you feel the price needs to be at that level? What would you do if we couldn’t provide the pricing you want?  Is it the pricing that you are concerned with or the ability to pay for it (Bill wanted to explore alternative financing.)?”

The customer clearly didn’t expect this, he expected that Bill would be so excited about getting the order, he would immediately match the pricing, or something in between.

Instead, Bill took him back through the business case, back through all the consequences of doing nothing, through the implementation plan, through alternative methods of financing the investment.

As you might expect, the customer backed and filled a lot in the discussion, he confirmed everything about the business case, risk, and so forth.  Paying for the solution wasn’t a concern, they just believed the solution should be a lower price.

Bill explored the competition with the customer.  Others could provide the price the customer wanted, but there were big downsides to each alternative.  In one case, the business case wasn’t as compelling.  That competitor couldn’t provide the levels of productivity improvement, the customer would not capture as much revenue as they would with Bill’s solution.  The other competitor had higher implementation risks and a longer delivery timeframe.

Bill’s customer wanted the solution Bill had presented, they just wanted to pay a different price.

80% of sales people would not have survived this long in the discussion.  They may not have done the business case as thoroughly as Bill.  They may not have addressed the implementation issues or risks.  Walking into a closing call with the anticipation of getting the order, they would have immediately matched the customer’s request or would have gotten as close to it as possible.  They would have been afraid or losing the deal that was almost in their grasp.

Bill hung in on this very difficult conversation.  He said, “I can meet your target pricing, but this would require me to modify the solution I’ve proposed.”  He went on to discuss solution that would hit the customer price target.  They would sacrifice some of the revenue/profitability gains in the business case.  But most of the changes had to do with implementation.  The customer would have to take much more of the implementation responsibility.  This significantly impact the time to have the solution in place (and the lost revenue/profits), as well as increased the implementation risk.

Bill was concerned about these issues and the impact on the customer’s success, but said he would be willing to adjust the proposal and solution to meet the customer price targets.

The customer asked for some time to think about the alternatives and present them to his managers.

I suspect you know the outcome–Bill got the order at his original asking price.

Now many people reading this would say the customer was trying to take advantage of Bill and was not negotiating in good faith.  Perhaps, some of that may be the case, but I think too often, we set up those behaviors in customers.  From the very start of the buying process, too often we make the deal about price.  Too often, we talk about discounting from the very start.

Even more often, we don’t do a great job of developing and getting customer buy in to the business case, risks, and implementation plans.  We don’t develop it–or leave the business case to the customers.  If we don’t have a business case they buy into, we have no basis for defending any pricing we present.

Finally, we do it to ourselves in the final negotiations, we want to win at all costs–so we win at a big cost to ourselves.

I don’t blame customers for this behavior.  Yes, some are arbitrary and have unrealistic expectations.  However, we’ve done a lot to condition them to doing this.  We’ve conditioned them to knowing that at the last moment, they can ask for concessions and in our desperation for the order, we will probably give in.

Bill did the best job of selling and of solving his customer’s problem that I’ve seen in some time.  Congratulations Bill!

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Oct 2 15

Are You Aligned With Where Your Customer Is In Their Buying Process?

by David Brock

A friend called me for advice today.  He’s a great sales person, a big deal hunter.

He wanted to review a deal strategy and call plan he was making on a CTO at a very large, fast growing prospect.  His colleagues had been working with the CTO’s team.  By far, they were the front runners for their first piece of business with this customer.  By itself, it was a big order, but his colleagues saw a lot more potential in the account.  That’s why they got my friend, let’s call him “John,” involved.

Reviewing the account, their growth, their requirements, John saw the possibility of much more business.  He was preparing his deal strategy and for his first call on the CTO.  He viewed it as a “Discovery Call,” and was seeking to understand the key business drivers, getting the CTO’s vision, his perspective on the key issues the broader organization faced, as well as the ability of the IT organization to effectively support the rest of the business.

As I reviewed John’s deal and call plans, it was very good.  Yeah, guys like me always have to find a reason to nit pick or get people to stretch a little, but John had done a good job in putting together the discovery call.

My “nitpicking” ended up being, “John, great plan–but it’s the wrong thing to do, forget discovery, ask for the order!”  Over the phone, I could almost hear John falling off his chair.  For years, I’d been drumming into him the importance of high quality discovery calls.  John had mastered these and leveraged them to produce stunning results.  He couldn’t believe I was telling him not to do it, and to go for the order.

As good as John’s plan was, it was totally inappropriate for where the customer was in their buying process.  The work that John’s colleagues had done had gotten the customer to the purchase decision stage of their buying cycle.  They had just about made the decision for John’s company, but John and his colleagues saw a far greater opportunity to help the customer, as well as greater revenue from the customer.

Had the team changed their approach, moving back into discovery, they would have been way out of step with the where the customer was in their process.   Forcing the customer back into discovery mode could have adversely impacted the customer and their perception of John and his solution.

It’s critical we are aligned with the customer and where they are in their buying process.  While our research is a little old, a number of years ago, we analyzed over 700 deals across a number of customers and suppliers.  We found for every stage of misalignment between the buying and selling process, the probability of winning the business decreased by 10-20%.  (See the figure below)  In John’s case, he was about 2 stages behind the customer.  As a result, his probability of winning would be significantly decreased.

Buying Cycle Misalignment

Without going into the research, it’s easy to understand how this disconnect happens.  Think of those calls you used to get around dinner time.  It’s always someone wanting to you to buy something (usually switching telephone/cable plans) that you didn’t want to buy.  The call would be an offer at some amazing price, with heavy attempts at closing from the salesperson.  But we didn’t have a need to buy!  So here the sales person was trying to close us on a problem/need we didn’t have.  They were way out of sync with where we were in our buying processes, as a result, the success of those calls was very low.

Sometimes, it manifests itself in a different way.  You probably know what I’m talking about.  It’s the 57-70 (or 92%–depending on the survey you believe) of the way customers are through their buying process when they first contact sales.  It’s that RFP that suddenly hits your desk, the one you know nothing about.

The customer has narrowed their needs, they are looking for a specific solution or a proposal.  Yet we are several stages behind, we haven’t even qualified or done discovery on the opportunity.  As a result, our probability of winning plummets.  We are out of sync with where the customer is in their process  (which is why I make the statement that I never respond to a RFP that I didn’t write.).

Sometimes, I liken this to being late to a party.  You know, you’re hours late to a party, all the little conversation groups have formed, people are well involved in discussions about all sorts of things and you try to join–but you’ve missed all the early conversation, you have none of the context.  You stand uncomfortably at the fringe of the group, listening, kind of getting it, but not quite, afraid to join in because you’ve missed so much of what’s gone on before.

Now here’s where it gets really complicated and confusing.

If we are to maximize our ability to win, we have to be in sync with the customer and where they are in their buying process.  Clearly, we’re smart enough not to try to close the deal too fast (at least the regular readers of this blog–the people that should be reading—well that’s a different story).

But what happens when we are late?  What happens when the customer has done their research, they’ve outlined their needs and requirements and want a response?

Are we supposed to skip all the stages of our selling process (i.e. Qualifying, Discover) and rush to a proposal?

Actually, it’s the wrong thing to do.  Qualifying and discovery give us critical pieces of information, deep understanding of what the customer is trying to achieve, why, how they have gotten to where they are in their buying process.  Without understanding this, our ability to be responsive, to create the maximum value and differentiation for our customers is seriously compromised.

Consequently, we have to go through our qualifying and discovery.  We have to recognize the customer may become frustrated and impatient.  They want to buy, they want to move on, we’re slowing them down.  Great sensitivity is required, we have to help the customer understand why we are backtracking and slowing them down, but why it’s important to them that we do this.

In reality some customers may be too impatient and unwilling to do this.  We may choose to disqualify and not compete in those circumstances.  If we can get the customer to take the time, we have to move quickly, but we do have to do a complete job of discovery.  Again, making sure they understand why we are doing this and the value they get from this is critical to our shared success.

Clearly, the best solution is to avoid being “late to the party.”  Getting engaged early, making sure we are in sync with the customer–in fact helping to guide and facilitate their buying process.  As much as we may want to accelerate our selling process, doing so puts us out of sync with the customer.  The only way we accelerate our sales process, without compromising our ability to win, it to help the customer accelerate their buying process.

Some of you are reflecting back to my advice to John.  You’re probably thinking, “Dave, you’ve really confused us.  John was late to the party, but you said we still have to do qualifying and discovery.  But you told John to go for the close.  What’s up?”

John’s situation is a little different (as everyone’s situation is–that’s why we have to pay attention).  John’s team had been engaged with the customer through their buying process.  They had reached the closing point, when they realized there was a far greater opportunity, bringing John into the situation.  In this case, it would have been inappropriate to backtrack for the bigger deal.  What John ended up doing is accepting the order and initiating a conversation about the next thing his company and the customer might do to improve their performance.

If we are to maximize both our customer and our success, we always have to align our selling process with where the customer is in their buying process.  The easiest way to do this is to start with them at the beginning, working with them through the cycle.

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