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May 9 17

“A Sales Person By Any Other Name Is Still A ……..”

by David Brock

In Act 2, Scene 2, of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says:

“What is in a name?  That which we call a rose…By any other name, would smell as sweet”

Which brings me to the discussion I hear too often, “What if we called sales people something other than a sales person?”

We see it every day with the proliferation of terms we use for sales people:  Relationship managers, Trusted advisors, Account managers, Territory managers, Business developers, Retention managers, SDR, BDR, Business development consultant, Solutions advisors, Customer service reps (Yes, there are those that do provide service and others that sell)….  The list of creative titles for people who sell and produce revenue is endless.  The foolishness extends to our executive titles, including the latest most fashionable title for Sales Executives, Chief Revenue Officer (CRO).

Most of the time, these titles are selected to avoid the “stench” of being a sales person.  These titles are used because of the negative perception so many have (including those who sell) to the word “sales person.”

The argument being, if we use a different set of words for these people, they would immediately become more accepted.  That customers would be more receptive to a call from a Trusted advisor than they would be from the same person with a Sales title.

Now here’s the rub……  (I thought, since I started the post with a quote from Shakespeare, I’d continue in that literary tone……)

Regardless what we call people who sell, if they display the bad behaviors typically associated with sales people, they will still be perceived poorly!

Stated differently, the aversion to sales people has nothing to do with what we are called, but everything to do with how we engage and work with customers and prospects.

We change how sales people—that is sales professionals—are perceived, not by changing titles, but by changing the way we engage and create value for our customers.

We become intolerant of charlatans, manipulators, those who care more about their success/commissions.

We are proud that we have the opportunity to change lives, helping our customers and the organizations they work for achieve, grow, and succeed.  We know it is through this success, that we earn the right to continue to do business with them.

We know the personal example we set makes a difference.  Our customers see it, value our contribution to their success, and reward it.  Our peers see it and emulate it, our companies recognize it as the most sustainable differentiation we can create.

We know what great sales professionals do, and are proud to be labeled as one of them.

We don’t fix the perception of sales by changing what we call ourselves.  We fix the perception of sales by changing what we do and creating value in every interaction with our customers.

Turns out Shakespeare knew a lot about being a sales professional:

“See first that the design is wise and just: that ascertained, pursue it resolutely; do not for one repulse forego the purpose that you resolved to effect.”*

 

* This quote is attributed to Shakespeare, but I can’t find the specific Act/Scene/Play, let me know if you recall it.

 

 

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May 9 17

What Do You Do For Your Customers, Not What Do You Do!

by David Brock

The moon must be in a certain phase.  All the prospecting calls I’ve been getting have been the same.

After introductions, they immediately launch into, “Here’s what we do…….”

I’d let the sales person finish his pitch, then reply, “I understand what your company does, but what can your company do for me and my company?”  100% of the time (OK, the sample size was about 5 calls), the response was, “Here’s what we do….”

I’d repeat my question, and they’d repeat the same answer.

As I reflected on the calls, I realized they aren’t too unusual.  I reflected on many clients, listening to the calls their sales people make.  All very similar to what I was hearing.  When posed with the simple question, “what can you do for me and my company,” sales people struggle–even though they should know better.

It’s no surprise sales people do this, look at much of their training.  Within their own companies, the discussions are  usually about their products and solutions.  I went into the eLearning site for a large client (thousands of sales people).  Their site had no business acumen, market place, or related training.  It had virtually no training on “here’s the problems your customers face and here’s what we do for them.”  The training was all focused on products.  But it was very product specific.  It focused on the features, functions, capabilities of the products.  I went through the 5 most popular programs, not a single program had a chart, “Here are the problems customers have, here’s how this product helps the customer eliminate those problems.”

And this is what creates the big disconnect with customers.  They don’t care what we do…..

Let me rephrase that.

Customers care about what we can do to help them achieve their goals.  And then, only if it is a high priority–or we make it a high priority.

This disconnect is primarily a contextual disconnect that we create.  We don’t understand or take the time to research them–as individuals and their organizations.

This lack of understanding and basic research creates a number of problems:

  1. We reach out to people we have no business reaching out to, because they don’t have the problems we solve.  We waste their time, creating a bad image of us, our company, and our solutions.  Imagine the challenge of re-engaging when they do have those problems.
  2. We initiate conversations with what we do—-leaving it to the customer to connect the dots themselves.  Do they have the problem that require what we do?  Are they urgent?  We all know the outcome of letting the customer try to figure it out.  They don’t have the time, so they don’t take the time—even when they should—but that’s not their fault.
  3. We don’t understand their business and them well enough to create a sense of urgency if they do have a problem we solve.  When we learn they have the problem, we immediately jump into what we do, completely bypassing the issue, “Why you must change now!”

There’s another case, where we jump into what we do far too early.  It’s when we get the call from the customer, it’s the customer initiating the conversation, “I’m 57% through my buying process, I’d like to talk to you about what you do……”  And we’re quick to respond, after all, that’s just what we always want to talk about.  But we’ve completely missed out in understanding why they are interested, what they are trying to achieve, what problems they are trying to eliminate, and why it’s important to them now.  As a result, we miss all the critical information we need to know about them, that enables us to position what we do and maximize our value.

When the customer calls to talk about what we do, we always serve them (and ourselves) better by pausing and asking, “First tell me about you and your business….”

Raising the results we create from our prospecting is relatively easy.  It’s simply about changing the context of how we engage our prospects and customers.

It’s so simple, it should be so obvious, but it’s the exception when I see someone do it in their prospecting efforts with me.

 

 

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May 1 17

Customers And Sales, We Need Each Other!

by David Brock

If I were to assess the worlds of buying and selling through much of what I read, I would come up with the conclusion that Customers and Sales people are on diverging paths, we are doing as much to minimize our interactions with each other.  The Holy Grail of these diverging paths is AI–from a buyers perspective, helping us buy efficiently and intelligently.  From a sellers perspective helping us  sell more efficiently.  Someday buyers and sellers will have their bots talking with each other, freeing human beings from the process of buying and selling.

Survey after survey discuss buyer dissatisfaction with sales–they don’t understand customer businesses, focusing on what they care about.  They don’t know their own products that well.  They waste buyers’ time.  We all know the data that customers often prefer digital research (why 100% of customers aren’t researching digitally is beyond me.).

At the same time, sales seems to be on a different path.  Yes, there are those Challengers and Insight driven sales people (I’ll come back to this later).  But more and more we seem to be focused on driving inbound–waiting for the customer to now they want something, yes, after they’ve completed their research.  We seek to automate and segment the process, focusing on our own efficiency.  Marketing creates MQLs, SDRs pass leads to BDRs/AEs who pass opportunities specialist and demo’ers, who pass them to account management or closers, all ultimately received by customer success who then go after retention, renewal, upsell, cross sell.  We seek to automate as much of the engagement process as we can–sure it’s efficient and potentially cheaper, but does it create meaning for customers?

I was recently speaking to a sales team about a big win, I asked, “What did you sell it for?”  Their response was “A little over a $1M.”  They missed my point and couldn’t answer when I clarified my question.  In another conversation with a senior sales person, I asked, “What do they do?”  He didn’t know, but he was busy trying to get them to buy.

It’s easy to see why we are on diverging paths.  We are each optimizing our own workflow with little attention to the other.

But customers and sales people need each other—at least in complex B2B situations.  Each buying decision is different–there are different situations, differing goals, differing company cultures, priorities, change/risk profiles.  No amount of digital research will help customers understand their own situation.  No amount of research will help customers know whether they are asking the right questions or oblivious to critical issues.

And then there are those customer who desperately need to change, but are so busy doing their work, they are oblivious to that need.

Great sales people offer great value to customers in addressing these along with a myriad of other issues they may not appreciate in their buying processes.

Sales needs these customers too!  Beyond the obvious need for orders and revenue, we learn from our active engagement with customers.  It helps us improve, it helps us recognize where we create and deliver differentiated value, it helps us learn how to compete.  Without deep engagement with customers, how do we learn about new and emerging problems that drive our own corporate strategies for new solutions, services, and ways to grow.

Customers and sales have a shared dependence.  What would happen if we started acting on this, designing our engagement strategies to build on these relationships and value?

 

 

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Apr 25 17

“Fixing The Compensation Problem…..”

by David Brock

I always worry when a conversation with a sales executive starts with, “We need to fix our compensation problem.”

The ensuing discussion usually focuses on, “We aren’t meeting our numbers, we need to fix the compensation/commission  system in order to make our numbers.”

At this point in the conversation, there is an uncomfortable back and forth:

Me:  “Why do you think your compensation structure is the problem in achieving your numbers?”

With relatively naive managers, the response is, “Well sales people are coin operated, if we want them to change what they are doing, we just need to adjust the compensation system.”  My response is, “Do you know what they should be doing—other than making their numbers?  Do you know what’s keeping them from achieving their goals, will fixing their compensation fix those problems?”

Others are, I think, less certain, but think compensation is the starting point to driving performance, “Well, if we don’t fix the compensation system, how will we make our numbers.”  My response is usually, “How do you know that compensation is the issue that’s impacting your people’s performance?”

Both of these groups of managers are right in some sense.  In general, our compensation systems are perfectly designed to achieve the results we are getting.  So the thinking is that changing compensation systems will change the results.  But here’s where the challenge starts—is redesigning the compensation system the right starting point?  Alternatively, “are we getting the results we are getting because of compensation, or are there underlying issues that impact our ability to achieve results?”

First, compensation is only one of many levers sales management can use to impact performance.  Since it is usually the most expensive, and since we want to minimize changes to compensation systems, it’s probably the last thing you want to do in improving performance.  There are so many other tools that have greater impact in shorter periods of time.  Setting clear performance expectations, having clear leading metrics, coaching/developing your sales people–understanding the specific issues impacting each person’s performance.  Even the training, tools, systems, processes, programs we provide are important levers to fixing sales performance.

But compensation is seldom the root cause of sales performance challenges, particularly if you have low voluntary attrition, (i.e. very few people leaving because of compensation.).  Where do we start if we are really going to improve sales performance?

Well, usually, at the beginning…..

It really requires us to understand, “what are the things that contribute positively or negatively to sales performance?”  Understanding these, focusing on the root causes and real issues are the only way we can hope to drive sustained improvements in sales performance.

The issues are very broad….

What’s our corporate strategy and priorities?  Since the sales person is responsible for executing the corporate strategy with customers, we have to be very clear about what that means.  Who should we be selling to?  What is the size/opportunity in those markets, is it aligned with our performance expectations?  What customer experience do we want to create?  How do we create value and differentiate ourselves to the customers?  How do we want to balance performance across the sales function–for example new customer acquisition versus customer retention/growth/account penetration, new market expansion, product line mix, and so forth.

How do we effectively reach and engage our customers?  Actually, this isn’t just a sales question, it’s a corporate question—certainly, we know marketing plays a key role in creating visibility, awareness, interest, and developing demand.  Customer service plays a key role if we want to keep and grow those customers or get positive referrals.  Strategy and product management come into play because we need to develop solutions that solve our target customers current and future (even unanticipated) problems.  And I can go on to each function in the organization, but you get the point.

The “reach and engage” question also has important implications to our overall organization and deployment model—but the way we begin to answer these questions is by looking at how our customers buy.  If we are selling to individuals or small groups, or if we are selling transactional products/services, there are a variety of models—Web sites with shopping carts, the classic inbound approach with SDRs/AEs.  High volume/velocity outbound models with SDRs/AEs.  Complex product/solutions may require overlays and product line specialists to work with account/territory managers.  Complex buying processes may involve a team approach, both with complementary skills and maybe geographic dispersion.  And often, leveraging partners or other channels is the best way to reach customers or to effectively cover the opportunity potential.

These overall design/deployment questions then spawn a number of other issues:  What are the right people, skills, competencies needed to execute the strategy?  How do we recruit, onboard, train and develop them?  How do we maximize the performance of each person on the team and of the organization as a whole?

Then there’s what we do every day, how we engage our customers, perhaps igniting the need to change and initiating a buying process.  We can start with prospecting—are we finding the right customers in the right volumes to support our business requirements?  How do our people prospect most effectively?  What levels of performance do we need, how do we assure they are effectively executing?  Then there’s qualifying those prospects, are we finding high quality deals where customers have a high sense of urgency?  Do we have a sales process aligned with the customer buying process–are we executing the process as well as effectively as possible.  Are we creating value in each interaction with the customer and creating superior business justified solutions to their problems?  Are the customers realizing the value we sold, can we grow that value?  How do we stack up against all the alternatives the customer considers.

But do do these things, our sales people need the right systems, processes, tools, programs, support to execute these as effectively and efficiently as possible.  As the complement to this, we need to understand the road blocks, internal and external that impact performance, doing everything we can do to remove these and maximize performance.

Embedded in all of these is the concept of, what are the expected activities and behaviors, stated differently, what are the performance expectations, we have of our people in doing all these things?  What are the expectations in prospecting, in deal management, pipeline management, value creation, account management, time/territory management?  How have we communicated these to our people and assured they “own” them.  How to we monitor, coach, and develop the capabilities of our people in performing at the highest levels possible?

Oh, and yes, there’s the compensation system.  But designing the compensation plan only makes sense, once you have addressed these other issues.  Then you design your compensation system to reinforce the things that are critical to driving performance.

Our compensation system is an important element in driving sales performance.   Basically, it’s one of the means we leverage to focus people on what we want them to be doing.  But until we know these things, it’s impossible to design the compensation system that reinforces the attitudes, behaviors, activities critical to sales performance.

If we want to improve sales performance, we have to understand all the things that impact performance.  If usually starts with fundamentals, if those aren’t in place, then nothing else will impact them.

 

 

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