Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sell Me, Don't Tell Me - Introduction

During my 23-year career I’ve had three great mentors who have helped shape the sales leader I am today. 

The first was my college football coach.  He truly cared about my development not only as a collegiate athlete but also as a person.  If he pointed to a wall in a room that was white as snow and said it was black as night, I believed it to be black.  When we lost a game I was more disappointed that I let him down then I was for losing the game.   I’ve emulated my management style after him.   Truly care about the development of talent and make sure they have the tools and resources necessary to be successful.  I only have two reasons for being in any organization; develop my team and deliver results.  It’s really that simple.

The second mentor in my life was a very charismatic, larger than life person.  He could tell a story, sell a vision and inspire you to do the impossible.  The job of selling isn’t easy but he made it fun, he made you believe in yourself and what you could accomplish.  There was no goal that was unachievable, no buyer too difficult and no objection you couldn’t overcome.  That summarized how you felt when you left a sales meeting he gave.  Every opportunity I get in front of my team is an occasion to share my vision, inspire them to win and get them excited about what we are doing and where we are going as an organization. 

The third mentor in my life taught me the value of big data, how to use it and make smart business decisions with the limited resources available to deliver profitable growth.  The knowledge he introduced opened up a whole new world for me.  For the first time in my career I wasn’t blind.  Understanding this data is a complex process involving time, practice and mental ability but it’s a process that only works one way, through experience. 

I realize most people haven’t had one great mentor in their career much less three and it is for this reason I want to share my experiences.  Over the next 12 months I will be writing on a variety of topics that I’ve experienced throughout my career with an underlying theme of sales and performance development.  Some of these topics include (not in any order):

·         Continuous Sales Training.
·         Preparing to Sell
·         Action Oriented vs. Results Oriented
·         Building a Sales Team
·         Who Can Say “NO” but Can’t Say “YES”?
·         Becoming a World Class Sales Coach
·         When to Ask for the Sale
·         Understanding the Customer
·         Understanding the Opportunity
·         “Mark” the Poor Performing Salesmen
·         What Does a World Class Selling Team Look Like?
·         Articulate Your Value Proposition in a Way That is Meaningful to The Customer.
·         Asking Questions.
·         The Lebron James Effect.
·         A Tale of Two Salesmen
·         Live and Breathe Your Company and Products.
·         Big Data and How to Use it, A Story.

I encourage you over the next 12 months to follow this weekly publishing; give me your feedback, and share your stories so that we can all learn and grow.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Continuous Sales Training

It wasn’t until I mastered a selling process that I realized I wasn’t as good of a sales person as I once thought.  It is this undeniable fact that has driven me to institutionalize and lead sales training in-house and ongoing sales coaching in the field. 

The role of the sales person is more critical today and tomorrow vs. yesterday.  Volume is driven through the selling efforts of an organization, customers tell us they want good people to help them grow their business and if you’re small, you must develop talent, work smarter.  It takes both a strong leader and willing sales team to recognize this need for constant training and reinforcement to be really good.  Great selling companies are committed to training, delivering against a vision and have a clear understanding that people are their best investment option; yet I rarely see this.

It takes practice and dedication to learn the skills required to communicate with the customer to both gather information relevant to the sale and give information to gain support in pursuit of the final deal.  The most important thing a sales professional does is communicate with a Buying Influence.  Therefore, preparation by the sales professional is imperative.  Without the understanding of the customer it is impossible to Explain the Solution, How it Works & the Benefits while Linking the Solution to Customer Opportunity / Need in a way that is meaningful to the buyer. 

I like to say SELL ME DON’T TELL ME.  - TM

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Mark" the Poor Performing Sales Rep - Part 1

When I join a team in a leadership role, there’s a learning period. The most vital information to gain during that period is an assessment of the talent on my sales staff. I believe the most effective method of doing this is a two-pronged approach.

1.  Have an employee assess themselves: To do this I ask them, plainly, “What are you good at?” That question comes with a stipulation: the responder cannot say they are good at building relationships or solution selling. I’ve heard one good answer in my career -- “I’m really good at understanding the customer and how the buyer defines success for themselves.”

2. Assess the employee myself: To do this I go out on a sales call. A true sales call -- a sales person is pitching a product to a client – not a meeting designed to discuss a successful promotion or customer service issue.

The anecdote I’m going to share with you today took place during one of those initial sales calls with a staff member on a visit to Chicago.

The circumstances

On my trip to visit a marquee client, a member of my sales team invited me to join him on a call. For the purposes of this story, we’ll call him Mark.

My overall view of Mark prior to this call – which was taking place about 90 days into my tenure with the company -- was that he under-performed.  His internal reputation as a solid relationship manager created a perception that he was thriving. Mark’s numbers didn’t back that up.

On this day, Mark was calling on a mid-sized Midwest restaurant chain that had shown encouraging growth. It was Mark’s opinion that three of our products had appeal – ice cream to serve to patrons who were dining in, a recently launched ready-to-drink ice coffee mix and cup yogurt for carry-out customers. Mark also gave a reason for optimism: He had tested our soft-serve ice cream mix with the chain previously (but they called him to ask about the product) and the test went very well. They were currently buying that product from us.

The more you know … 

We arrived for our appointment about an hour early, during which time, I became aware of the fact that Mark had never visited any of this chain’s restaurants. Fortunately, there was one near by and we were able to take a look.

Here’s what we saw:

• It’s a Panera-like fast-casual dining experience. You order your food, pay, sit down and someone brings it out to you.

• A vast majority of the patrons are sitting down to eat, so there are no grab-and-go coolers.

• The drinks are self-serve and the beverage dispenser is located in the middle of the seating area.

• The dessert offerings were very limited and required no prep (prepacked cookies and whole fruit) 

That landscape offered reasons for some trepidation. As you’ll see in Part 2 of this blog, when the sales call began, my fears were confirmed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"Mark" the Poor Performing Sales Rep - Part 2

Part II
In Part I of our blog about Mark the poor performing salesman, we laid out the undesirable circumstances he created prior to beginning his sales call with an up-and-coming Midwestern restaurant chain. He didn’t do the work in preparing for the sales call to succeed, and without that, making a sale would be a virtual impossibility.

The pitch
Mark began by pitching our newly launched ready-to-drink iced coffee product. It was easy to use, tasted great and he had a sample. What he also had was a lack of awareness of the situation. He didn’t know the retail price point, serving size or cost of serving materials (lids, cups, ice, etc.) therefore he couldn’t articulate revenue potential.
He didn’t understand the buyer’s thought process: how they feel about their current situation; their outlook; what business results they are trying to achieve; and their personal drivers. Without understanding this first you cannot achieve a true customer connection.
The buyer explained that he knew the trends in ice coffee, but all beverages were self-serve and it would be impossible for him to serve it. That fact was evident from our visit.
The reaction from the buyer wasn’t much better when it came to the cup yogurt idea, so Mark moved on to ice cream tubs.  He explained the key product feature -- this ice cream had a higher butter fat content and was formulated in such a way that it didn’t melt quickly. But he never connected what the benefit of this product was for the buyer. Was melting ice cream a problem for him? 

Surprisingly, the buyer gave Mark all the time in the world, and politely stated that he might be able to use ice cream for his catering business if a customer requested it. At this point, I spoke up, “how often do you use ice cream in your catering?” To which he replied “almost never.”   This was the first and only question asked during this entire call.

The call ended with the customer saying, superficially as a courtesy, that he would take Mark’s thoughts under advisement and get back to him. It was, in my eyes, an obvious “no.”

As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I silently reflected on what happened. I’ve seen this time and time again.  Sales reps who think selling is explaining every feature and benefit without knowing how (or if) they apply to the customer.  Or selling is dropping off samples and hoping someone will place an order or even better yet that selling is asking for the sale using some clever closing technique at the end of every meeting even if you haven’t earned the right yet to ask them for their business.

As we drove off, Mark said, “I feel pretty good about that sales call, I bet you he ends up buying something, what do you think?” 

I looked at him in dismay, “If he buys anything, I will trade paychecks with you for a month.” 

Why it went wrong

In this instance, Mark’s lack of understanding about this customer made any sort of favorable result an impossibility.

First of all, in spite of the fact that they were buying our ice cream mix, Mark had never sold them anything. They called him and asked for a sample of our mix to test. It went well, and he got lucky.  As a salesperson this will happen to you and we welcome the easy layups but let’s be clear, in these situations we don’t do much “selling”.

He didn’t go in to this meeting with an understanding of the customer’s outlook, personal or business drivers; increase menu offerings? drive traffic? increase revenue? increase per check average? (the list could go on and on). Most significantly, he didn’t understand the customer’s needs and goals and so he couldn’t link a single selling opportunity based on the understanding of the customer.

I see this everywhere I go.  A sales person isn’t prepared for the call simply because they don’t understand their customer. Therefore, they cannot articulate the value in what they are selling in a meaningful way.  It was obvious that I needed to train my team on preparing for the sales call.

Feel free to comment, share your similar stories and check back next week when I’ll discuss Preparing to Sell.

Friday, December 23, 2016

"Preparing to Sell" Part 1


“The key is not the will to win… everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” - Bobby Knight

There are two things about sales training and development that I share with my team as we embark down the path of becoming a world class selling organization.  In the spirit of Sell Me, Don’t Tell Me I begin training with a simple question.  “Who is your favorite athlete?”  Answers, over the years, have varied – Clay Matthews, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, etc.

Those names are at the apex of their profession. But, as I point out to my trainees, they don’t stop honing their craft. In fact, as time goes on, many of the great athletes seek out additional coaching. Tiger Woods has a swing coach; Madonna has a voice coach; Tom Brady has a half dozen coaches.

For athletes and performers practice is part of the job. That same logic should apply to sales people.   Sales training is an opportunity to sharpen your skill sets and pick up new techniques. But when I try to press this logic upon my staff, I am often met with resistance.

I often hear from staff members during trainings that an exercise “isn’t what it’s like in the real world.” It’s true. Drills and exercises aren’t real world simulations. They aren’t meant to be. It’s like when I played football in college, the drills we went through every day, time and time again, weren’t what it was like in a real game.  The drills are magnified, deliberate and meant to build the skills necessary to react naturally during a real game situation.  The same holds true for sales training. 

Companies that have a true selling culture take a structured approach to training and selling; they are very good at the basics.  They create professional sales people that seek to understand the customer’s needs and relate those needs to products or services.  One of those key fundamental basics is Preparing to Sell I put sales teams through a training exercise meant to give them the skills necessary to prepare for a sales call and provides a framework to drive success every time.

When it comes to preparing to sell training I share very well-known concepts, ideas and tools that come from training and implementation I’ve received from blue chip companies.  I have taken the most effective lessons that were passed along to me and put them in a training session I call Preparing to Sell.

In Part II of this blog, next week, we’ll go over the specific concepts and tools that I cover in my sales training.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Preparing to Sell" Part 2

Part II: Preparing to Sell - The Concepts and Techniques

In this first part of this blog we covered the importance of sales training. In Part II, we’ll take a look at the key concepts I have been taught and use during “Preparing to Sell” training.

The E.D.G.E. Concept
 The basic four steps in Preparing to Sell we call “Pre-Call Planning” starts with the acronym
E.D.G.E. I learned how to best utilize the edge program while working for a major brand in the beverage industry. The acronym breaks down as follows:

·         Establish the Sales Objectives
·         Determine and Assess the Buying Influences involved with this sale
·         Grade Your Competition
·         Execute the Selling Action Plan

This process helps you to create opportunity, win more projects, drive efficiency and get deals done faster by creating a sales objective, assessing your customer and preparing an action plan.

The Sales Objective
A Sales Objective isn’t just a simple pitch. It has to be solution-oriented, focused on one selling initiative, clear, concise, measurable and tied to a timeline.  Here’s an example:

Strengths and Opportunities
Building a strong selling approach require you to identify strengths and opportunities.  What are strengths?  Areas that differentiate you from other options, valued by the customer, things used to improve your position, must be relevant to the current sales objective and solve a customer problem.

What are opportunities?  Critical information that is missing or unclear, new or uncontacted buying influences and uncertainty about any information.  There must be at least one action to leverage or reinforce each strength and at least one action to reduce or eliminate each area of opportunity.

Determine and Assess the Buying Influences involved with this sale
There are four buying influences involved in every complex sale as introduced by Miller Hieman:

Economic Buyer - Gives Final Approval
User Buyer - Evaluates Impact
Technical Buyer - Gatekeeper
Coach - Your Guide

The key to success is understanding the role a Buying Influence plays in approving your solution.  Focus on the high influence people -- ask yourself who can say “no” but can’t say “yes.”

The way a Buying Influence views their current situation will tell you how receptive they are to your solution. There are four types of outlooks:

Growth - Business is good, but there is room for improvement.
Trouble – Sales/revenue are subpar
Even Keel – Sales/revenue are on track, why make a change?
Over Confident – Numbers are great, who needs your proposal?

Determine and Assess Business Results and Personal Drivers
When I come to a customer for the first time I ask them two questions.

1.       What is important to your company this year?
2.       How do you define success for yourself?

Those questions are an asset to the sales person because customers make decisions based on what is good for their companies and what is good for them personally. A good sales person is looking to produce a business result for a customer that can be personally satisfying.

Grade Your Competition
Competition doesn’t necessarily mean the same product. If you’re selling ice cream to a restaurant chain – as Mark was in our blog Mark The Poor Performing Sales Rep – your competition probably includes other dessert items like cakes, cookies and fruit cups.

There are four types of competition for every sale:

Only Alternative: You are the only one being considered
Front Runner: There is competition, but you are in the       preferred position
Equal Chance: There is competition and the decision could go to anyone
Very Low Chance: Your competition is firmly positioned

Applying the lessons
When all is said and done, technique must be used correctly in the field. My training culminates with a real world case study that my team can use to apply these well-known concepts. 

As an example, “The Quickie Burger Case Study.” This exercises lays out the foundation of the customer – the buyers, the product, the competition. To assess the specifics of the sale, trainees complete several work sheets and produce a selling plan based on the information.

It’s interesting watching each of the trainees come up with a different method by which they want to approach the customer. None of the conclusions are wrong. There are different approaches, but the true objective of the training is to understand what and how you are selling to the customer and why. There will be gaps in information, and that’s on the salesperson to find them out.

After training is complete, I require every sales call to have a pre-call planning meeting. (I attend about 80 percent of them.) The point of this meeting is a salesperson sits down and lays out a selling proposition and the methods by which they’ll implement it.

Execute the Selling Plan – The Tools

He is an example of a real world case I created and the tools used to complete the case study in the training, “Preparing to Sell”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Does a World Class Selling Team Look Like?-Part 1

A world-class selling team is assembled over time. The best sales people add value by understanding the customer, they call on the right people within an account and can articulate the value of their solution depending on who they are calling on. 

They understand everything about the product they are selling and most importantly they ask questions and listen. I’ve been on thousands of sales calls and meetings over the years. I’ve seen what a world-class seller looks like, and I’ve seen the missteps that prevent a sales person from reaching peak potential.

First, let’s begin with the right way to sell … by describing an individual and a situation that embodies a world class selling team.

Prior to calling on one of the largest manufacturers of lighting in the world, this Account Executive utilized a Key Account Planning tool as a road map for success.  He established relationships with the marketing team, sales team and the procurement team.  He knew how each of these individuals defined success for themselves.

  • Marketing defined success as creating programs that helped drive brand awareness and sales.
  • Sales defined success by hitting their revenue goals in each of their assigned retail accounts.
  • Procurement’s goal was to reduce overall spending by 5% but increase overall marketing support for the brand and their retail partners. 

The primary objective of the sales call on which I joined was to glean new information about the direction this company was taking for the upcoming year. To do this, we asked two simple questions that created a dialogue that lasted well over an hour.

  1. What consumers are your trying to reach? There were three customer bases this company was looking to engage or build upon. It was looking to increase spending amongst its current customer base; compel consumers who were aware of the brand but didn’t purchase it to buy their product; and educate consumers who knew nothing about the brand about what its products in the connected home category could do for them.
  2. What other retailers were they trying to gain distribution to sell their connected home products? We learned they weren’t actively trying to increase distribution. Instead, they wanted to know in which additional spaces this product could live within their current retail partners stores. The goal there was to drive awareness and sales.

I’ve said it time and again, you don’t need to ask for someone’s business to build a mutually beneficial relationship going forward. With that, we left this meeting without attempting to sell anything. Upon returning to our offices, this Account Executive met with our design and engineering team to communicate this account’s strategy and execute a plan of action based on this new information.

The engineering team and the AE visited three retailers selling this brand’s products. Following these store visits, the teams came back and presented solutions to myself and the AE on how this customer could reach each of the three consumers they were targeting. They presented three concepts for each of the three retailers visited and ideas for other places these connected home products could be merchandised with compelling consumer insights and facts to support this additional account penetration. 

Armed with a plan designed to meet our client’s needs, we then had another sales call. That’s when the real selling took place. We walked away form this meeting with three unsolicited new projects.  

Next week in Part 2 of What Does a World Class Selling Team Look Like? I'll discuss what it doesn't look like by describing two individuals and situations that disembody a world class selling team.