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May 25 17

Killing The Conversation

by David Brock

Over the past couple of days, I’ve participated–at a distance–in an interesting conversation.  Let me clarify, the conversation was interesting, but the dynamic of the conversation and what destroyed it was more interesting.

To provide some background, the conversation was on LinkedIn, I had gotten involved because it was about an article I had written that a friend had shared.  It stimulated a lot of comments–both pro and con.  I could have easily imagined the conversation being a voice to voice, or face to face conversation.

What was fascinating was to watch the “visual dynamic” of the conversation.  Without even reading the comments, the visual map of the conversation was fascinating—the number of people participating, the length of their comments, the responses to comments.  Visually, one could see a lot of engagement, people mixing it up, sharing of ideas.  In actually reading the comments, there was great information and you could see people learning from each other.

And then, “Chris” joined the conversation.

Chris’s comments started like others.  He presented an interesting point of view, reinforcing and building on much of the prior discussion.  As with prior comments, others started engaging with Chris’s comments.

Without reading the content, the visual dynamic was fascinating.  Initially, the length of comments and the number of people involved in the exchange was pretty balanced.  After a few comments, the length (not to mention the ALL CAPS) in Chris’s comments increased substantially–often overrunning LinkedIn’s comment limitations.  The number and length of the responses, as well as the number of participants plummeted.

As Chris started commenting more and more, longer and longer, the engagement plummeted until Chris was talking to himself.

I could watch this dynamic, without even reading the content of the discussion.  Looking at the overall comment stream, Chris’s comments occupied over 40% of the comment stream.

One didn’t have to read the content to understand the dynamic, the visual representation of the exchange told me everything.  When I read the content, it only reinforced what I saw visually.  Chris had entered the conversation to share his point of view.  But he wasn’t listening, he wasn’t open to other points of views.  He wasn’t learning and he wasn’t contributing to others learning.

In the politeness of LinkedIn discussions and the written conversations, Chris’s engagement was “Yes, but…..” where everyone else was seeking “Yes, and…….”

Visually, one could watch the death of the conversation.

The fact this was a written discussion enabled one to visually observe the dynamic of conversations and how a conversation gets killed.

The same thing happens in our verbal conversations, but it’s more difficult to see how it happens.  If we sit back, we can think about, “How much time does each person spend talking?  How balanced is the discussion across all participants?  How engaged is each participant?  Is there a point where they disengage (for example, one person starts dominating)?”

Then we can think about and analyze the content of what is being said.  “Is there a balance in questions and statements?  Are we open to different points of view?  How inclusive is the discussion and does the inclusiveness building through the conversation?  Is each person learning in the discussion?”

As these elements get out of balance in the conversation, it shuts down.  Conversations become lectures or diatribes.  Engagement plummets.  Barriers grow, learning stops.

High value conversations that engage our customers (and everyone involved), conversation in which everyone learns is the currency of sales.  When these shut down and stop, we fail to achieve our objectives and the other participants fail to achieve theirs—or move to a conversation where they can achieve their objectives.

Try and experiment.  Go to a LinkedIn article that has a number of comments–make it a meaningful article, not one on “How many sales people does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

Look at the comment stream–initially don’t read the content.  Look at the number of people participating, look at the responses, look at the balance of length of comments, look at the engagement–do people stay with the discussion, is there a balanced give and take?  Try to detect the engagement of the participants by the visual cues you see in the comment stream.

Then read the content of the comments.  Is there listening and sharing of ideas, is there openness to changing points of view, is there learning?  Or is one person dominating?  Is it becoming a diatribe?

Repeating myself, high value conversations–whether face to face, voice to voice, or in a message stream are the currency of sales people.  Make sure you are a conversation builder, not a conversation killer.

 

 

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May 24 17

Future Of Selling, Glass Half Full Or Half Empty?

by David Brock

There seem to be a couple of prevailing schools of thought promoted by self proclaimed experts on the Future of Selling.

An increasingly dominant one has a very negative view of selling (ironically, promoted by many who sell their products/services to the sales function).  While I may be overstating it, their view is the majority of sales people are mediocre to outright bad.  It seems to have the premise, “we can’t expect substantive improvement in sales people performance, so let’s focus on the tools and techniques those mediocre sales people can use to drive revenue.”  In this world, the strategy is less on improving the capabilities of these people, but leverage tools, automation, content, and higher levels of specialization to drive or maintain levels of performance.

At a fundamental level, it appears to be driven by an internally oriented, operational efficiency point of view.  There is a rich array of metrics that enable these people to monitor each element of the process.

I’m betraying my bias, but the customer seems secondary in this world.  The customer is the target of the efforts of this sales organization, but we engage with the customer in a way that is most efficient for us, but may not be efficient for the customer.  Most often, as much as the process that can be automated is good.  As much as we can drive content and support through the web and other self educating tools is good.

Largely, it’s a response driven focus, when the customer reaches out, we respond to them, but we have engineered our process to maximize efficiency of the process, moving the customer from one person to another to another.  Automation of as much as possible is critical in driving consistent performance in this world.

In fairness, those promoting this approach say each person involved in the process must be an expert at their stage, they must be knowledgeable of the customer, of their solutions.  They must personalize the engagement process–that is to the individual.   But even in this, much of the thinking seems to be dumbing things down for the sales people (of course I’m betraying my bias.)

Most of the applications of this approach seem to be focused on simpler to transactional oriented sales processes.

The other camp, one in which I unashamedly position myself, has a different view of the future of sales.  This camp tends to look at sales people differently.  Perhaps we agree the majority of sales people may be mediocre.  We would probably agree there are a large number of “sales people,” who probably should not be in sales.

However, we refuse to believe these sales people can’t be developed and their performance can’t be improved.  This camp focuses on raising the bar of performance for sales people.  We are equally impatient with the quality of sales execution, yet believe that sales people can and must improve their performance and ability to execute.  Our basis for this belief is the example set by outstanding sales professionals.

We see data the performance of these great sales people consistently out-distances others.  We would argue it is within the realm of possibility and the responsibility of sales leaders (as well as we pundits) to raise the level of performance and execution of middle of the pack.  We are not naive, we know the majority of sales people will not achieve the levels of performance of the great sales people.  But, we can begin to approach the levels of performance of the best.

We put sales management at the center of responsibility for driving performance–selecting the right people, setting clear performance expectations, providing the systems, processes, tools, programs, training, coaching to enable people to achieve higher levels of performance.  I suppose our view of these is a complement and enhancement to great sales execution rather than a replacement to great sales execution.

We are eternally optimistic about the need for great sales people because we recognize the difficulties our customers face.  We recognize that our customers need and want great sales people.  These sales people recognize that customers struggle to buy, while they actively self educate, they may not know what they should be looking for or how to translate what they have learned into the specific application to their needs.  As a result, these sales people become the differentiator.

From a revenue generation point of view, we recognize there is more untapped opportunity available to be captured by proactively engaging the customer earlier in their buying process, even provoking them to buy–rather than waiting for the customer to choose to buy.  If we are driven to maximize our own company growth, we must proactively create opportunities, incite customers to change and drive their buying process.

Inherently, this approach is mandatory in highly complex B2B buying processes.  It is an outward in process, that its design point starts with the customer.  Optimizing the customer experience and our ability to engage them.  At the same time we recognized that a customer-in design is not incompatible with operational efficiency.

Perhaps somewhat grudgingly, I recognize there is a place for both points of view.  But somehow, I feel we have a greater responsibility to our customers, our companies, our people.  It seems unacceptable to think the way we improve results is to accept mediocrity in our organizations and people, designing around this to achieve the results we want.  Perhaps naively, I believe the majority of people want to perform, they want to improve.  It’s our jobs as managers and pundits to help them do so.

We are starting at the same place, but one’s point of view is important.  Is the sales glass half empty or half full.

 

 

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May 23 17

Are You Selfish Enough To Succeed?

by David Brock

Let’s face it, we care about what we care about–usually, it’s about ourselves.  Are we achieving our goals, are we getting the things done that are important to us?  It’s our highest priority.

Not that we are bad people or don’t care about others, but we are fundamentally driven by what is important to us and our abilities to achieve our own goals.  Each of us is different–some are driven by recognition, some are driven by money, some are driven by power, some by contribution.  The list goes on, each of us is different.

The one common thing is we focus on ourselves and what we want to do/achieve.

You’re probably getting uncomfortable at this point.

If you are a long time reader, you’re thinking, “Dave, have you flipped out?  You always talk about being customer focused, or focusing on your people…..”

Alternatively, while you might quietly agree, you recognize that it’s really socially inappropriate to be so blatant in focusing on self interest.  We know our own reactions when we encounter someone who is blatantly narcissistic, demanding to be the center of everything, ignoring all others.

Hopefully, you are a little uncomfortable with the blatant self centeredness I’m focused on.

But here’s the secret to high performing pragmatically selfish people.

They recognize they are dependent on others for their own success.

As sales people, if we can’t help our customers achieve their goals, if we can’t help them learn and improve, we won’t be successful, we have no way of achieving our quotas and goals.

As managers, we only achieve through our people.  If our people aren’t performing at the highest levels possible, we can’t possibly achieve our goals.

As organizations, we are focused on growth, profitability, shareholder value, and results.  But we are dependent on our people, suppliers, customers, and markets to achieve those results.

Our customers are selfish as well–as they should be.  They’re focused on achieving their goals and dreams.  They are busy with what they care about.  Anything that distracts them from that is wasting their time.

Where we go off base with our self centeredness and selfishness, is we think it’s only about us.

As sales people, we think it is about us and our products.  But our customers can’t translate it into what’s in it for them.  Or we think it’s about achieving our numbers–but if customers aren’t buying, we can’t achieve our numbers.  The only way customers buy is if they see how what we do helps them achieve their goals.

Likewise as managers, we are completely dependent on our people.  Our goals are basically a roll-up of their collective goals.  It’s impossible to achieve our goals unless we have the right people.  If we don’t equip them with the right tools, systems, processes, programs, and training, they can’t perform–as a result, we can’t perform.  If we aren’t coaching them to maximize the performance of each person on the team, we won’t be achieving our goals.

As organizations, we focus viciously on customers that have the problems we are the best in the world at solving.  We don’t waste time on customers outside that sweet spot–we don’t help those people–it’s not our job, they aren’t our market.  We’d be wasting their time and our time, because we can’t do anything for them.  We focus viciously on the people and organizations have the need for what we do.  We want to focus on customers that value what we do–because it helps them–who we can serve profitably.

Pragmatic selfishness becomes a win win, solely because we recognize that we need others to achieve our goals.

Stupid selfishness, is clueless, we think it’s only about us, not recognizing we achieve nothing until we help others achieve.

Which kind of selfish do you choose?

 

 

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May 22 17

“94% Of Buyers Research On-Line…” SO WHAT!!

by David Brock

As a warning, I’m on a rampage and am channeling my inner Keenan, so I’m likely to explode and use strong language.

I’m seeing all the tired old statistics circulating again.  The numbers are all over the place:

  • Customers are 57-92% through the buying process before engaging sales.
  • 72-94% of buyers are B2B buyers are researching on line.
  • 68% of B2B buyers now purchase goods on line.

There are endless amounts of data saying that B2B buyers are letting their fingers walk through Google at some point in their buying process.  There are endless research studies talking about B2B buyers are completing their purchase transaction on line.

My reaction is:  Who Gives A Damn??!!!!  (I know Keenan would have chosen another word)

I also think, all those numbers should be 100%!  100% of our buyers should be leveraging the web!  100% of the purchase transactions should be completed electronically!

All the people making these statements are trying to establish a causal effect around the death of sales people or the changing job of the sales person  (In reality, I think it’s really driven by people wanting to shift focus and spending out of sales into marketing and web content,  or sales people wanting to hide behind social selling.).

The problem with all of these analyses is a fundamental misunderstanding of what sales people do!

The implication is the primary role of the sales people are to be walking/talking data sheets and order takers!  That’s the smallest part of the sales person’s job–and it’s been that way in my whole career in selling (which spans 3 decades!).

If that’s the real job of sales people, then line them up and walk them all off a cliff into the ocean.  There are cheaper, faster, more effective ways to produce revenue.

These studies, pundits, and researchers misunderstand what professional selling is.

Yes, a small part of it is being an information concierge–providing brochures, data sheets, case studies, educating customers about feeds and speeds, features and benefits.  But there’s so much more.

Great sales people help customers identify problems and opportunities to grow and improve.

Great sales people help incite the customer to change by helping them understand the consequences of doing nothing.

Great sales people recognize the customer struggles to buy.  They know a high percentage of buying efforts result in No Decision Made.  Great sales people help facilitate the buying process, aligning diverse agendas, priorities.

Great sales people challenge the customer’s thinking about what they are trying to achieve, their needs, priorities, alternatives they could consider.  They also help customers understand risk and ways they can mitigate that risk.

Great sales people realize there is a “last mile” challenge as customers assimilate information from the web.  They recognize the customer struggles with “What’s this mean for me?”  They help translate what they customers learn about the solutions into what it means to them specifically.

Great sales people realize their customers have to create a business justification, they have to understand change management and create an implementation plan, they have to sell what they want to their management.  Great sales people provide customers great leadership in doing this.

Great sales people recognize the ultimate differentiator is not the product or solution.  In fact, the product is table stakes.  By the time the customer gets to a short list, any solution will do.

Great sales people recognize they are the differentiator, the difference between winning and losing.  The value they create in the buying process is what sets their offerings and solutions apart.

Great sales people recognize it is irresponsible to wait until the customer reaches out and engages us.  They realize, not enough may do this, so they go out and hunt, finding opportunities and engaging customers.

Great sales people recognize it is irresponsible to let the customer fail to recognize they can and must change.  They are compelled to seek customers succeed and grow, so they proactively engage people in thinking differently about their businesses.

Great sales people recognize that order taking has nothing to do with great salesmanship (or saleswomanship).  An order results from great saleswomanship.

Great customers know there is much more to buying than letting their fingers walk through Google, getting information.  They know buying is more than entering a transaction in a shopping cart.  Great customers know they need help and welcome the insights and value created by great sales people.

I hope we can stop all this friggin BS!

We should agree, 100% of customers should be leveraging the web to get information about solutions.  100% of the purchase transactions should be executed digitally (EDI has been around for decades, there are all sorts of purchasing solutions, web based solution–it should be a non issue.)  We should agree on the 100% as a goal so we can stop talking about this and distracting ourselves from the real issues our customers and our companies face.

Yes marketing people and consultants looking for funding will continue to use this as an argument to reduce sales spending.  And a fair share of sales people will use this as an excuse to not be great sales people.

But none of this has anything to do with the real job of great sales people!

If you want to talk about marketing content, online engagement, online fulfillment, please do!  These are all important in helping connect with and engage customers.  They are important complements to the things that great sales people do, but don’t displace the need for great sales people doing great jobs.

Let’s cut all the crap in these tugs of war between marketing and sales.  Forecasting or wishing for the death of sales is wasted breath.

Let’s focus on serving customers, helping them grow and improve, through that driving our revenues and share.

 

 

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