What’s Next in Communication?

Most people agree, communication is among the most frequently-used tools in today’s business world; and it is a critical component of success, whether selling, managing, marketing or just trying to get along with others.

One Simple Little Habit…
While there are obviously many facets of communication, there is one simple habit that, if well developed and consistently executed, will improve your business communication and success level in a BIG way!

It is the practice of specifically identifying and scheduling the next steps that are consequential to your communication — consequential to your discussions, your meetings, your teleconferences, your interviews, your sales calls, and so on.

The act of setting a date and time for the next step is simple, but not necessarily easy. But once you make it a habit, you’ll be able to enhance your productivity as well as the productivity of others… you’ll save countless hours of trying to connect with others to finalize plans for next steps after sales calls, meetings, or conversations, because you will have already done it!

One Hurdle to Jump…
There is one obstacle of which to beware. This hurdle is often referenced as being the “thief of time,” and it can make it difficult to accomplish this habit and many others. We refer, of course, to the bad habit of procrastination.

If this seems too simplistic, please read on…

Sales Leaders – Do You Qualify?

Just as qualifying customers and prospects is a critical step in the selling process, it is also a necessary component of prudent sales management.

Many believe sales management consists of leadership, management and a higher level of selling — that is, sales managers must often sell to the sales force.

And in so doing, so too must they continually qualify and assess members of the sales force, who, in these instances, take on the role of “internal” customers.

To point out a few parallels, consider that successful sales people qualify and assess their customers and prospects during the early stages of the selling process. While the qualification can cover a wide range of issues, key areas involve:

  • Confirming interest, motivation and urgency levels, and that the overall needs are real; this step might also involve determining if the buyer is giving us serious consideration
  • Identifying priorities or special needs, such as quick delivery or modified payment terms, that can often make or break the sale
  • Confirming that each customer or prospect has the budget and wherewithal to acquire the products or services
  • Confirming the basis on which decisions will be made and how the evaluation process will work. This includes identifying decision makers as well as other stakeholders who might influence the process.
  • Assessing each buyer’s knowledge level with respect to product and service offerings and his or her ability to properly evaluate proposed solutions

Now let’s look at the similarities that exist in a sales management scenario.

Prior to setting sales strategies or assessing a sales person’s portfolio of pending business, a sales manager must qualify the overall situation.

The first step will involve a discussion on how thoroughly the sales person has qualified his or her customers / prospects.

Next, regardless of a sales person’s tenure, he or she must be motivated; and self-motivation can only go so far. The prudent sales manager always checks motivation levels, and is ready to provide the necessary incentive, guidance, or inspiration.

Of course people’s attitudes and motivational needs fluctuate on a regular basis; so as part of the ongoing qualification process, sales managers must also determine the best motivational strategy for each situation.

And speaking of attitude, does the sales person have confidence in our solution? Does he or she have the proper sense of urgency? Do we have their buy-in on company policies and procedures? The company mission?

It’s also important for sales managers to confirm the actual steps that have been taken to facilitate the sales process. Have our strategies been properly implemented? Similarly, sales managers must continually assess the team’s knowledge level. Do we have the skills to carry out sales plans? Are selling skills consistently applied?

Do we need additional product or systems training? Are we focused on benefits and solutions or do our presentations simply tout features?

Do we know how to qualify and assess our customers and prospects? How about qualifying and assessing our sales people on an ongoing basis too?

Try, Try Again

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Like most of us, you’re probably familiar with this phrase… but if you’re wondering about the validity of the statement, or about the value of persistence, then read on.

Babe Ruth was the home run king with 714 home runs to his credit. What few people know is that during that same time period he also held the record for striking out at bat more than anyone else with 1,330 failures.

R.H. Macy failed seven times, before his store in New York caught on.

Author J.K. Rowling had her Harry Potter manuscript rejected time after time. Today, after successful books, movies, toys, clothing, etc., she is one of the world’s richest authors with a net worth of $1.0 billion dollars and 400 millions books published.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. His coach justified the cut by pointing out that Michael had little or no potential.

Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

The Take-away?
So, what’s the point of these lesser-known examples of perseverence? I suppose it is to realize the absolute importance of persistence… the value of staying the course; of not giving up too soon.

In our previous newsletter we referenced data indicating that, on average, it takes five-to-twelve contacts to make a sale; yet 80% of sales people make three-or-fewer attempts and then give up. Thus, the vast majority of opportunities are siezed by just 20% of the sellers.

The persistent ones.

Evolution?
Let’s also think about the buyers and how they may have evolved. Based on the statistics above, most sellers make one or two attempts to reach a potential buyer, and then they move on (give up!).

So, has the potential buyer “evolved” to somehow realize that by simply ignoring the first couple of queries from a seller, there is an eighty-percent chance that seller will simply go away?

Hmmm… food for thought?

If you’d like a few more surprising examples of the importance of persistence, consult this list of 50 well known successful people who didn’t start off quite so well.

The Cost of Disengagement?

Employee engagement has been the topic of several posts, including our previous one; and according to recent data, is on the priority list for most organizational leaders.

But it is less common to hear people speak in specific terms about the real, often hidden, costs associated with disengagement.

In a recent blog post, Conway Management Company shared data indicating that “disengaged employees create a negative and expensive ripple effect throughout an organization, and drive-up costs in five specific ways.”

  1. Higher turnover
  2. Lower productivity and profitability
  3. Little or no process improvement
  4. Higher pay
  5. Lost opportunities

Read the full article…

10 Things Engaged Workers Tend to Say

Data presented by Gallup during a recent event was very compelling, and might well give organizational leadership some clear targets for better-engaging their workforce.

Based on the research shared, here are ten things that engaged workers tend to say:

  1. I’ve been recognized for my work in the past 7 days
  2. My supervisor seems to care about me
  3. Someone at work encourages my development
  4. My opinions seem to count at work
  5. In the past 6 months someone has talked about my development
  6. I know what’s expected of me at work
  7. I have the opportunity to learn at work
  8. I have the opportunity to use my strengths at work
  9. The company’s mission, values and goals make me feel that my work is important
  10. I have a best friend at work

Based on this list, a few questions we might ask ourselves include… How many of our team members might say some or all of these things?

Might there be a plan for promoting such thoughts or feelings?

Can specific activities on the part of our leaders at all levels be targeted to implement such a plan?

The opportunities for improvement are significant!

Call a Lot of People?

Arthur “Red” Motley was known for his conciseness and, true to form, each section of his famous definition of the sales process says a great deal in only a few words:

“Know your customer, know your product; call a lot of people, ask all to buy.”

In a recent post we shared some thoughts on the first three words of his definition, and today’s focus is on the third component of the quote, “call a lot of people,” which refers to the total number of sales contacts – i.e., telephone calls, personal visits or appointments, and emails – that we make each day; and which brings-about an important question: when involved in professional selling, does call volume matter?

We believe the answer is a most definite, “Yes!”

Making a sufficient number of sales calls is important because without an adequate call volume we are likely to miss opportunities and leave ourselves vulnerable to the competition, which might well be making a stronger impact on our marketplace.

But “call a lot of people” does not mean we should call, email or visit lots of people on a haphazard basis, and it doesn’t mean we should contact a lot of different people once or twice.

In fact, too much focus on top-of-the-funnel call volume can be costly, and it’s important to recognize that “call a lot of people” encompasses “all” sales and follow-up calls – those made to unknown prospects, known prospects, and customers!

To optimize results there are four additional factors to consider.

The first of these factors is targeting, as we must contact those who are likely users of our products and services, and who are in a position to evaluate and buy them.

Then, as the data in the text box shows, in addition to call volume we must also pay close attention to call frequency.

If we make only one or two attempts to reach unknown prospects and then move on, we will be missing-out on most (80%) of the opportunities! Further, if the average frequency needed to make a sale ranges between 5 and 12 contacts, then we must contact “known prospects” multiple times after they are entered into the top of our sales funnel in order to advance these opportunities through our sales process.

But calling the same people over-and-over-again or with too much frequency is not effective either, as we can quickly alienate these prospects or customers.

Thus we must also make every call value-added. Simply making calls or just “showing-up” is never enough; the quality of our sales calls is critically-important, and we must have a value-added message and a value-added agenda for each contact.

This will require a degree of pre-call planning.

Finally, we must keep score! As sales professionals we should establish a goal for exactly how many sales contacts we would like to make, on average, each day – and we should maintain an awareness of where we stand with respect to this goal throughout each business day. In addition, it is wise to maintain data on the various types of calls we’re making, such as prospecting calls, assessment calls, presentations or demos, etc. These metrics are the true measures of our productivity.

Yet surprisingly, a multi-year survey indicates that a high percentage of sales people cannot definitively answer the simple question, “On average, how many sales calls do you make in a day?”

In some cases this lack of awareness is due to over-reliance on CRM systems, which are very effective at managing call frequency, but do little to keep a sales person aware of the actual number of calls they are making as each day unfolds. Similarly, in many inside-sales environments the telephone system keeps track of inbound and outbound calls, but this data tends to be shared with the sales people after-the-fact, thus resulting in the same lack of real-time awareness.

In other cases, an absence of proactive front-line sales management is the problem.

Regardless, the best course of action a sales professional can take is to set a personal standard for call or contact volume, and to also maintain personal accountability for maintaining that “successful” average as well as a successful standard of quality and frequency.

As author and founder of makingthenumbers.com Jack Falvey often says, “This is how the best get better at sales!”

60-Second Success Tip for Better Outbound Sales Calls

If making outbound sales or prospecting calls is part of your job, then you know it is important to continually improve your approach so that you will:

  • Stand out from others in a positive way
  • Increase conversion rates

You might find this short video a good place to start:

We might also suggest that you measure the “4 C’s” during implementation:

  1. Call volume
  2. Connects
  3. Conversations
  4. Conversions (i.e., # of conversations that convert into next steps)

Know Your Customer?

I don’t think it was by chance that Arthur “Red” Motley’s well-known and frequently cited fifteen-word definition of the selling process begins with a reference to customers.

“Know your customer, know your product, call a lot of people, ask all to buy,” Motley said. Fifteen words that are as true today as they were back in the 1940’s when he was a nationally-acclaimed sales trainer and motivational speaker.

Certainly, knowing our customers is critical to long-term sales success; it is also a never-ending process, as customer knowledge should be accumulated during each and every sales call.

At the start, we get to know our customers by building relationships. These relationships are built with individuals and organizations, and are nurtured over time by learning their respective personalities, values, communication styles, interests, concerns, understandings, misunderstandings, evaluation protocols, policies and procedures; by learning about what’s important to them.

We get to know our customers better through comprehensive and on-going need assessment  identifying needs both recognized and unrecognized, short-term needs, emerging needs, longer-term objectives, priorities, changes, and related needs.

We get to know our customers more each time we deliver the solutions to their needs in the form of our products and services. If all goes well, this too is a never-ending process!

And we come to know our customers even more by following-up after-the-fact to ensure they are satisfied, and when we provide customer service and support.

In all of these instances the primary tools-of-the-trade are probing and listening, as we will never get to know our customers through sales presentations, advertisements, promotions or talking at them; and regardless of what type of business we’re in, knowing our customers, i.e., nurturing relationships and gauging on-going needs  requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Here are five proven best practices:

Proactively work on customer relationships. Start by adding a “relationship component” to all pre-call plans and meeting agendas; incorporate specific actions, behaviors, questions, and comments. It’s important to remember that the strength of customer relationships plays a major role in their decision-making.

Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. While we might have a number of long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still nuances that warrant our attention. The best practice is to always ask clarifying questions with respect to each situation, and to go the extra mile toward accurately assessing all the circumstances associated with each customer’s recognized and unrecognized needs.

An effective method for implementing this approach is to focus on what each customer is trying to accomplish rather than what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that test customer requests or that relate to each customer’s overall objectives we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a service or specialized solution about which they were unaware.

The more we learn about our customers and their needs, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances unanticipated issues with respect to company policies, affiliations, and buying practices might make a difference in how we configure our offer. In other cases, there might be personal needs to consider, such as a need to satisfy a demanding boss, a special need for responsiveness, or the need to feel more secure about our competitive position as a supplier.

Develop and use a consistent method (in writing) for uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Not only is this a good way to ensure success, but also an effective way to help us pay closer attention to each customer rather than on whatever it might be that we intend to ask or say. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the little things that result in long-term customer loyalty.

Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence before order fulfillment can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements.

Diligent post-sale or post-delivery follow-up can help us avoid many unpleasant situations, and also helps us to send a strong implied message that says, “We care! We’re professional!”

True to his reputation for conciseness, Red Motley said quite a bit with only three words: Know your customer.

Selling Change

It’s all new!

The latest… new and improved!

It’s an updated, enhanced formula, just released!

Hot off the press, the newest style!

Less fat, more protein, superior quality, finer taste…

Easier to use, better, more comfortable, more efficient…

At one time or another all of these phrases have been used to sell products or services, and they all promote the same thing — change.

It would seem the marketplace must like change or marketers wouldn’t flaunt it; change, therefore, must be good — right?

What’s Good Can Be Bad — “If it ain’t broke…”
But of course change is not always perceived as being good.In their daily quest for new customers, sales people constantly struggle to overcome buyers’ comfort with the status-quo.  In organizations of all types people tend to look with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the FUD factor!) at new policies and procedures, and look with deep concern at new compensation plans or updated benefits programs; and people at all levels regularly cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

In the day-to-day real world, change most often promotes uncertainty, doubt, fear, resentment or loss, and this is not news.  The concept of “creative destruction” — an economic theory based on the premise that new ideas inevitably bring about the demise of older (more comfortable) ones — was popularized way back in the early nineteen hundreds by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter.

Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss. Current-day examples include Xerox in copiers or Polaroid in instant photography, each experiencing significant declines in market share and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

The cassette tape replaced the eight-track, but was then outdone by the compact disc, which was undercut by MP3 players… and the list can go on.

If we’re to learn from these examples, then we must accept the fact that change — either in the form of innovation, continuous improvement or both — is a critical component of growth and ongoing success. Without innovation and change we run the risk of losing our competitive position, or worse.

“Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future,” said the late Hewlett Packard CEO Lew Platt.

But if people tend to resist change as previously noted, how might managers or business owners best go about getting the team to accept it — to buy in? How can we help people more readily embrace improvement programs, try new protocols, accept new pricing models or generally believe in the up-side of change?

Simply stated, we must sell it!

Just like the sales and marketing experts who create the “new and improved” ad copy, slogans and selling presentations, we must sell the concept of change to our team members and sales force before trying to present or roll-out new policies, procedures, campaigns, programs or plans.

And just like any sales mission, this will require forethought and planning.

We might start by identifying how the team will benefit from a proposed change. What’s in it for them? What are the consequences of not changing? What will it cost? What opportunities might we lose?

What’s the competition doing?

The next step is to determine how to properly position a proposed change. Since we know there is a tendency toward defensiveness, it’s important to make people understand that they are not the problem.  In other words, a change in policy or approach need not mean that the team has been doing things the wrong way.  Rather, it means the world is changing and we must change too, lest we fall behind.

Finally, once the presentation is made and the new “whatever” is launched, there must be follow-up and assessment. Has everything worked as we’d hoped? Should we modify the new plan? Are there unforeseen consequences?  While we don’t want to send a message indicating we’re not resolved to the new program or approach, it is also a good idea to let everyone know we’re fair and open-minded — that at the end of the day we’re all on the same side.

Change may be unsettling, but without it our futures are at risk; and there are clearly ways to minimize the negative effects. It will require effort, planning and persistence, as behaviors and attitudes are not easily influenced.

Margaret Thatcher may have summed it up best when saying, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it!”

Sales Leadership

The culture of any given enterprise is most often a reflection of its leadership, and the sales force tends to mirror that culture when interacting with customers and prospects.

“I’ve never seen a company that was able to satisfy its customers that did not also satisfy its employees,” said Larry Bossidy former CEO Allied Signal, Inc. “Employees will treat your customers no better than you treat your employees.”

Others suggest that an organization tends to sell in a fashion that is directly related to how the organization buys — in other words, if the organization evaluates suppliers and makes buying decisions based primarily on price, then they also tend to sell at lower margins; and vice-versa.

Either way, as leaders, we have a profound impact on how our sales people interact with the marketplace each day, because the direct and implied messages they convey to our customers are based upon their impressions of our position on a range of issues — from how we evaluate and buy things, to how we talk about and treat customers.

Similarly, if the sales force is not enjoying high-levels of success in the marketplace, our cultural approach to improving their approach — i.e., building upon strengths versus focusing on weaknesses — can significantly impact their success or failure.

So what can we do to positively lead or impact the selling process?

Here are 5 steps you can take…

Read more…

"Helping people sell more & communicate better"