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Feb 22 18

Are Sales People Afraid Cold Calling Will Die?

by David Brock

My apologies, up front, I have been trying to resist plunging into yet another discussion about cold calling.  The proponents of cold calling (I’m one) and the opponents of cold calling are about as likely to reach agreement as the Democrats and Republicans in Congress are.  We each tend to be staunch in our positions, showing zero flexibility in looking at another alternative.

I had committed to extricate myself from these discussions, because they don’t seem to accomplish much.  But here we go—-again.

What provoked me is a very thoughtful article by Daniel Disney on LinkedIn:  Are Sales People Afraid Cold Calling Will Die?

My knee jerk reaction is that too many sales people are afraid that cold calling won’t die! 

I don’t disagree with Daniel’s premise, but I think we need to look at this issue in a different context.

One of the biggest issues I see with sales people is anemic pipelines.  They simply don’t have enough high quality opportunities to achieve their goals.  They will cling to the very worst quality deals, hoping, through some alignment of the stars , they can close those deals.  I’ve seen sales people with deals that are years old and haven’t moved in their pipeline, clinging to the view, “I’ll close it someday.”

Challenge them to abandon the deals and to start prospecting, they all of a sudden scurry around pretending to look busy.

Management succumbs to this, saying, the world’s changed, we need demand gen, we need inbound, we need professional propsectors, we need to free up our people’s time so they can work on qualified deals.

But they still don’t have enough qualified deals and, as good as it may be demand gen, inbound and an army of talented SDRs isn’t feeding them with enough opportunities.

Sales people have to prospect!  Sales people have to cold call.

One of the problems I have with Daniel’s argument is the theme, “Customers prefer to engage digitally.”  That’s absolutely true.  Customers are letting their fingers walk through Google.  They are searching our web sites, they are looking at alternatives, they are participating in discussion groups.  They are self educating, as they should, through the web.

The data is overwhelming–not just at the beginning of their journey, but throughout their buying journey–even when they are well through their buying cycle.  As a result, we are responding.  We are investing in SEO, Influencer marketing, websites.  We are trying as much as we can to “show up” in the customers’ digital journey.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult with the sheer volume and noise on the web.

Customers are getting frustrated, they are limiting their search, they cast narrower nets, just to manage the information overwhelm.

But it’s a reality, digital sources, self education is increasingly important in their journeys.  Sales people are getting engaged later and later in the cycle.  They were 53%, now 67%, by some surveys, 90% through their buying process.

And sales people wait, and their pipelines are still anemic…..  but God forbid we change the process, the customer has to be at least 67% through their journey before we engage them.

In addition to the anemic pipelines, there’s another problem–as big for the customer as it is for sales.  Sometimes, they don’t know what they should be looking for  (I’m trying to write customer journey lyrics to the soundtrack of “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places…”).  We may miss opportunities because they don’t know what they should be looking for, what the right questions are.  They may be going an entirely wrong direction.

We need to reach out, we need to intercept them earlier, we need to help them better define and understand their problem, to help them ask the right questions and challenge us with the right issues.

We can’t wait for them to find us, we have to reach out to find them.

That shouldn’t be difficult, we know our ICP, we know our target personas, we should be able to reach out find them, engage them  (Oops, I’m back to making an argument for cold calling and prospecting again).

But there’s still a problem with that, we’re only addressing a very small part of the opportunity—customers who have recognized the need to change and are committed to taking action.

But the majority of the market hasn’t even recognized this.  That doesn’t mean they don’t need to change–and with some urgency.  They just haven’t recognized the need.  They may be so busy fighting the alligators, they’ve forgotten the swamp is filling  (Bad news if we sell pumps and swamp drainage).  They may just not be aware, or peacefully oblivious.

We can’t wait for our customers to start their buying journey.  Not only is it important to us, it may be vital to them.  We create the most value with them, when we help them discover new opportunities, new ways of doing business, more effective ways to grow and achieve.

As Brent Adamson says, “It’s our job to make the pain of doing nothing greater than the pain of change.”

Oops, I’ve stumbled back into it again, it’s cold calling and prospecting.  If people aren’t looking, if people don’t recognize the need to change, they won’t reach out to us  (Dugghhh).  The only way we can incite them to change is reaching out to them.

We owe it to them and we owe it to ourselves to find these opportunities and engage the customer.

The one final complaint I have about these arguments is the literalness with which we view the term, “Cold Calling.”

There are those who believe it’s blindly calling someone you know nothing about  (that’s their interpretation of “cold.”).  We never should do this–we always need to be calling target personas in our ICP.  There is no excuse not to do a few minutes research on the company and individual we are reaching out to.

Then there’s the concept that cold calling is on the phone–and the predictable argument, “Millennials don’t do phones–at least voice to voice.”

When I was just starting in sales, I talked to an “old timer” about prospecting and cold calling.  He said, “When I was your age, I went door to door, office to office…..”  For him, cold calling was not about the telephone.  Fortunately, for me, there was the telephone.

We can’t define cold calling by an implementation technology.  But rather we must adopt the technologies and techniques we need to engage people who may not know us, who may not be looking, and getting them to imagine new possibilities.

Some of it will still be door to door (I recently wrote about those results), some will include direct mail, some will include the phone, some will be messaging, some will be social.  In most cases, we are better off, leveraging multiple channels simultaneously.

Unless you have more qualified opportunities than you know how do deal with, and always will, we will always be required to reach out, interrupt, and engage people in conversations about their business and how to improve.  It is irresponsible to do nothing, point fingers at marketing, or make excuses.

Regardless, of the technology and channels we choose, cold calling is alive and growing.

 

Afterward:  I wish this is the last time I have to write something like this.  Inevitably, it won’t be.

 

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Feb 20 18

Is “Figuring Things Out” A Critical Sales Skill?

by David Brock

It seems much of the trend in sales is to provide our sales people all the answers they need to cover every situation.  We provide sales automation tools that instruct the sales person exactly who to call and what companies.

We script the conversations, providing questions that get the answers we want.

We provide playbooks, we provide endless amounts of content, new programs, ready to send emails.

All the sales person has to do is follow the playbook, stick to the script, blindly make the next call on the list.

We focus and instrument everything a sales person should do, striving for predictable revenue.

And it works until it doesn’t…..

Increasingly, it seems not to be working.  There is a disconnect between the customer and sales people.

Customers complain that sales people don’t understand them.  Sure, these customers are the target personas in our target ICP.  But each is different.  Their situation is different, their priorities are different, what they think and believe is different and will change over time.

In complex buying, they are dealing with very challenging problems and they don’t know how to buy.

Their buying group struggle with aligning their own agendas and interests in the buying process, they struggle with priorities, they struggle in a constantly shifting business and competitive market place.  What was true for them yesterday is no longer true for them today.

And their buying journey is constantly changing, and each different customer has a different buying journey.

Our sales people struggle to engage these customers in a dynamic environment.  Overlaid on the customer environment is the constant change in our own organizations, new products, changes in policy, changes in priorities, new programs, new resources for support, new hurdles we have to jump just to present solutions to our customers.

Everyday sales people face an infinite number of possibilities for which there are no pre-scripted answers.

But in all our help, we are dumbing the sales person down.   We are making it increasingly difficult for them to respond in this dynamic environment.

We think we are being helpful.  We think we are driving greater efficiency, but we aren’t equipping sales people with the ability to deal with the situations they may face in the next call, or the next deal, or in managing/growing their account, or in finding new opportunities.

The more it isn’t working, the more we pile on, in the spirit of enabling them, where perhaps we are really disabling them.

Perhaps a different approach is required.

Perhaps, if we prepared our sales people to “figure things out,” they would be better prepared to deal with that situation that is different from the previous situation.

Perhaps, if our sales people knew how to “figure things out,” they could create great value by helping customers “figure things out.”

Perhaps, if our sales people were skilled at “figuring things out,” we wouldn’t have to invest so much in doing things that dumb them down.

 

As sales performance declines and organizations ratchet up the volumes to try to stay even.

Customers are increasingly tough to reach.  Yes they are busy, but they are still searching for solutions, but dealing with sales people isn’t providing them what they need.

 

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Feb 20 18

Responsibility And Character

by David Brock

Every once in a while, I’m driven to write about something outside sales and business.  Today, I’m driven to comment on things that I’ve seen in the news over the past couple of weeks, months.  Unfortunately, sometimes it takes tragic events to wake us up, to help us remember who we are as human beings and contributors in building our society.

We are all shocked by yet another school shooting in Parkland, Florida.  We wonder, “How many more will it take until we take action to change?”  Our elected officials point fingers and make excuses, yet it is the actions of thousands of teenagers and children that will, hopefully, not let us do nothing.

We are shocked by evidence of an attack on the security of our country, yet instead of taking action and protecting our security, our elected officials choose, yet again, to make excuses and point fingers.

We are shocked by evidence of abuse, both physical abuse, sexual, abuses of power/position by people in both political parties, yet we are numbed because this somehow seems to pass for acceptable.

We were promised the swamp would be drained and America would be great again (I’m not sure it never has stopped being great), yet our elected officials won’t work with each other to make us great–whether it’s violence, attacks on our security, our economy, tax reform, immigration and DACA, healthcare reform, the environment……

Our elected officials, regardless of party, are so busy posturing, pointing fingers, assigning blame, they have forgotten that we elected them to do a job and that job isn’t getting done.

The media doesn’t help a lot, they just fan the flames of sensationalism, bad news and scandal sell.

This behavior isn’t limited to our elected officials.

Every day, we see and accept bad behaviors in the work place.  Whether it is abuse, exercise of power, ethics, greed, the examples are rampant.

Social media has become a wasteland of bad behaviors–people doing things that would be inconceivable face to face, yet in social media abusive behavior, preening, posturing flourishes.  Rather than creating greater sharing and cohesion, too often, it seems to sharpen divides and polarize.

Pummeled on all sides with that which, in the past, has seemed inconceivable we start becoming numb.

I suppose it’s a survival mechanism, we tend to retreat, we tend to disassociate, and unwittingly our lack of outrage enables others to continue to do the unthinkable.

Last night, watching the news, it was the actions of children that woke me up to my own numbness.

There are some that would say this is political and I (we) shouldn’t be political.

I choose to view this differently.  This is not an issue of political affiliations, it is an issue of governing, protecting our country and people, and being responsible.

We cannot be people who are responsible or people of character and choose to do nothing.

In our communities and workplaces, we cannot be people who are responsible of people of character and choose to accept that which is abusive, unethical, or wrong.

Silence and inaction becomes complicity.  It becomes acceptance.

In some sense, we deserve what we have gotten, because so many of us have let so few set the direction of our nation, our communities, and our companies through numbness and inaction.

If you choose to take action, hold your elected officials accountable.  Don’t let them point fingers, assign blame, refuse to protect the security of our people and our country.  Find out who your elected officials are at the national, state, and local level at How To Contact Your Elected Officials.

If you choose to take action, don’t accept abusive and unethical behaviors in your company.  Hold your management accountable.  Choose another place to work, or choose not to do business with those that seek to degrade our standards of behavior in favor of their power and net worth.

Responsibility and Character starts within each of us in how we behave, in the respect we show each other, in our ability to be open to (even if we disagree) to varying positions, and our willingness to resolve differences.

Responsibility and Character starts within each of us in refusing to accept that which is irresponsible and devoid of character.

 

Afterword:  I was struck by @PaulKrugman’s piece in the NYTimes:  The Content of The GOP’s Character.  While his focus is on the Republicans, we can equally apply what he is discussing to all our elected representatives.

 

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Feb 19 18

If Prospecting Is The Toughest Part Of Selling, Why Do We Put Our Least Experienced People In Those Roles?

by David Brock

Many people believe prospecting is the toughest part of selling.  I’m actually not sure I believe that, but I do believe prospecting is tough.

Our customers overwhelmed with just doing their jobs.  Add on top of that, the fact they are constantly deluged with messaging from innumerable companies competing for attention and their budgets.

Getting through all these barriers, engaging customers who may not want to be engaged, who may not be interested or care is a huge challenge.  Finding customers that may be interested and want to engage isn’t easy.

Too many sales people don’t want to prospect, it’s tough work.  It’s much easier working with those customers that express interest, have a real need to buy, and are engaged in a buying journey.  Given a choice, the majority of sales people want to spend time with these, doing everything they can to, simultaneously, find and qualify new opportunities.

For years, in the name of “efficiency,” we’ve restructured our sales organizations, developing “prospecting specialists,”  otherwise known as SDRs.  Or we hire appointment setting organizations to reduce the time sales people have to spend prospecting.

The problem is, most of these roles are “entry level positions.”  New sales people are hired as SDRs.  If they are successful, they more into the “real” sales jobs–AEs, BDMs, Account Managers.

But if prospecting is one of the most difficult parts of selling, why are we assigning our least experienced people to do our prospecting?

It seems ironic, the part of selling our people have the most difficulty with, the part that seems to be getting the highest attention—everyone needs more qualified opportunities in their pipelines, I’ve never met a sales person that says, “I have too many deals,” — is the part re give to our newest people.

Coupled with this is the importance of “first impressions.”  If we want to catch prospects’ attentions, if we want them to express interest in learning more, if we want to convert the disinterested into interested, why aren’t we putting our best people on these initial conversations.

Many will argue, “It’s too expensive, we can’t afford the cost of selling?”

I would tend to respond, “The opportunity cost is too high, we can’t afford not to invest in this phase of the sales process!”

Clearly, an experienced person will have a greater ability to engage a customer in the first call than an inexperienced one.  They have a greater ability to engage the customer in a conversation about their business and problems, because they have a deep experience base in working with others on these issues.  They will have a greater ability to challenge the customer, to get them to think differently because they know what customers face.  They can accomplish more in a short conversation because they not only  know what to ask, but they know what to listen to, how to dive deeper, how to engage customers in the things important to them.

The yield an experienced person will get from 100 conversations is likely to be greater than the yield an inexperienced person might get from those conversations.  It’s pretty easy to understand this, because of the for the reasons outlined above.

Recently, I read one of “those” articles promoting high volumes of calls.  The best performer had 150 “conversations,” averaging a little over 1 minute apiece, producing 3 meetings, or a yield of 2%.  Clearly, given the average duration of these conversations, there was not a lot of discovery or qualification going on, so one wonders about the quality of the meetings being set up.  But let’s say they were great quality meetings, let’s go further to say, the 150 calls were to the right companies and people.  After all, why would we ever call anyone outside our ICP?

But what if we reimagined this.  Clearly, these people were more focused on volume of conversations.  What if we focused on quality of conversations–with people that had the experience and capability to engage customers at a much deeper level.  What percent of those 147 conversations might someone be able to convert to high impact meetings, simply because they were able to and took the time to engage the customer more deeply?

It’s pretty easy to see how we can produce far greater results than the less experienced person.  Yes, it would take them a longer period of time, because they are engaging in longer, more in depth conversations–but if the yield is far higher, wouldn’t the cost of selling be far less.

Or we can look at it a different way.  What if  in the same amount of time, and experienced person was able to produce 2 or more times the number of high quality meetings as the inexperienced person?  The experienced person wouldn’t have the same number of conversations, but they would be getting more yield from each of those conversations.  We can imagine even further, that experienced person costs 2 times as much as the inexperienced person.  It’s not hard to imagine, in the same period of time, the experienced person having a far greater yield than the inexperience person.  To break even, they would only have to schedule 6 follow on meetings, but in reality, they might produce more or the meetings they produce might be of higher value.

If prospecting is the toughest part of selling, if sales people are opportunity starved, don’t we owe it to them and our companies to put our very best people into those roles?

 

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