Jul 17, 2012 9:00 AM
This month I’d like to share some of my observations about the sales world.
- It is filled with extraordinarily nice and caring people eager to help and please their customers
- In their eagerness, they leave too much money on the table for their competitors to scoop up
George is calling on a customer to sell a particular product or service. He schmoozes for a few minutes, then asks two to three questions, figures he’s got the whole story, and can’t wait to tell the customer all about the brilliance and perfection of the product or service he represents.
To George’s confusion and frustration, his customer’s eyes start to glaze over and the call is over without an order and certainly without clear next steps.
Well, a lot of things went wrong, but the scenario can probably be summed up in two words: Premature Explanation.
It happens all the time in the world of selling, and customers hate it.
Here are three tips that could have saved George, and will save you. They are not rocket science, but are tough to master and do consistently well.
1. Get it into your bones that your customers do not care about your products and services, so don’t talk about them. Really, stop boring your customers and explaining prematurely.
What should you do instead?
2. Slow down and ask six times as many questions. For every two questions you now ask, ask 12. This sounds like a lot of questions, but it’s not, because once you get the customer talking, you can become very curious and nosy about what they’re saying. And they love this kind of intense interest!
What kind of questions should you ask about their business?
Ask about their strategy for the next 30/60/90 days, and for the year . . . and why they decided to follow this route.
Ask about the trends they are seeing, and the implications these trends have on their business.
Ask what challenges they’re facing and why these issues have turned into challenges.
Ask how your customer defines success, and what signposts they look for to know they have reached their goals.
Ask about their decision-making process, and how they reach consensus when people disagree.
There is so much that you can get curious about, and none of it is about your product. You will sell so much more, so much more easily, if you just put your curiosity on steroids.
Remember, your products and services are merely tools to help your customer achieve results. They’re not interested in your products; they’re interested in their business. Focus your conversation there.
3. Repeat Steps 1 & 2.
You’ve probably heard these strategies before, so why are you not doing them? Or not doing them as well as you’d like?
The answer is easy: they’re challenging to master. The athletic world offers a good comparison. What is the difference between someone who wants to run well, and someone who wants to run well and win races?
The winners pay strict attention to the fundamentals, follow disciplined practice and are accountable to someone (probably a coach).
You will stop premature explanation if you are accountable to someone (perhaps your coach, boss or business partner) for improving your ability to have meaningful conversations that give customers lots of space to talk about what’s important to them.
When the George’s or Judy’s of the world stop premature explanation, they typically see big results: cracking into larger accounts, increasing revenue by 25% - 450% in one year, or increasing margins by 37%. And they experience a lot less stress.
What are you waiting for? Make this your best year yet.
Jul 12, 2012 9:00 AM
Thank you to my new friend Dave Carson for his wisdom and inspiration on this topic.
No event produces more uncertainty and aftershock than a senior-level management change.
Decision-makers usually breathe a sigh of relief when a senior position is filled, expecting that the new person will make the transition smoothly and quickly. But the new senior manager faces formidable challenges such as learning to deal with new players, a new environment, a new corporate culture, or even a new business. As well, he or she could face resistance, anxiety and competition from subordinates.
There is a way to help new senior managers and their teams through the transition. In formal terms it is called the “assimilation technique,” but what it really boils down to is “grilling the boss.” The process helps the new leader make the change quickly and effectively, cuts his or her learning curve in half, and creates a foundation for acceptance and cooperation within new teams.
Setting The Stage For Assimilation
A VP of sales at a large manufacturer I work with leads a sizeable team. Through a reorganization, he “inherited” another team and needed to accomplish four goals quickly: integrate the two groups, gain the trust of the new members of his team, calm the fears of his current team, and create fast results.
When we discussed his options, we decided that he would not hold a typical meet-and-greet/planning session, but focus instead on allowing himself to be grilled by his troops. We also decided that the meeting would be facilitated by an outsider (me!), because if he ran the meeting we feared the salespeople might not be candid, or he could get burned.
Get The Team Ready to Grill The New Boss
One e-mail whetted the appetites of the whole team. In it he said he wanted everyone to come to the meeting prepared with questions about:
- His perceptions regarding the company’s most pressing business and organizational issues
- His personal life, his values, his experiences, ANYTHING (politically incorrect questions welcome)
He requested that people send him questions ahead of time to give him time to prepare. To help the team get the flavor of how outrageous and personal he was willing to be, we designed a list of questions and attached it to the email.
- Why were you selected?
- What are your business objectives? What is your management style?
- Here are some of our most critical problems in the next six to 12 months. How will you solve them?
- What do you consider acceptable behaviour - in the office, on the road, etc.
- How do you give rewards?
- What did you learn in your last job that will help us move this organization ahead?
- How old are you?
- How did you meet your spouse/partner? Tell us about your family/personal life.
- What do you do in your time away from work?
- How will you handle a situation in which you are pressured to deliver something that we don’t have the resources to deliver?
- How should someone approach you if he thinks you are making a big mistake?
- What makes you a bit irrational or crazy in a business environment? How do you show anger? How will you talk to others about us when you’re pleased? When you’re displeased?
- What were you told about us?
- What do you want to know about us?
- What kind of support can we expect from you? What kind of support do you need from us?
How to Get Yourself Ready For the Grill
If you are planning one of these conversations, take time ahead to prepare yourself. Take the staff-generated questions and think about your leadership style and how you intend to operate in your new role. Think of the ONE question that you would most dread being asked and prepare an answer. After that, there’s nothing scary.
During the Grill
At best, this meeting is a dialogue and an exchange, not a lecture, and your answers generate new questions. Respond directly to the questions and tell the group openly what you can and cannot do for them. You don’t have to know the answer to every question; you just need to be honest and vulnerable.
Hopefully, no one (especially you) got burned during the BBQ.
The VP of Sales who went through this exercise found it was a valuable experience. The new members of his team transformed from, “I’m not sure I like or trust you” to “OK, now it makes sense why you’re here and why we’re here”. He said the team was more positive and trusting and that the rumour mill quieted down.
Follow up is important: reps will be evaluating you to see if you delivered what you promised. If you don’t deliver, you will lose credibility. Reconvene in three to six months to compare what is happening with what was discussed during the grilling.
Given the many stories from my courageous and open clients, this assimilation process dramatically increases a new leader’s chances of success. In fact, many organizations have made changing-of-the-guard conversations mandatory for all new leaders.
Talk back: If you’re thinking about having a changing-of-the-guard conversation and you want my help to prepare, please contact me. I’d also like to hear your stories.
Jul 10, 2012 11:25 AM
I hear the same lament over and over from salespeople. They crave coaching from their managers so they can work on improving their performance. But instead of receiving helpful coaching they are:
- Told what to do
- Told what they’re doing wrong
- Receiving feedback that focuses on weaknesses, not strengths
- Having sales calls taken over by their manager
Sales managers aren’t nasty people intent on malicious treatment. The more than 100 I have talked to really want to be good at their jobs, and their wish lists include learning how to be more effective leaders and coaches. They just don’t know how.
Most sales managers don’t really know what it means to coach because they haven’t had role models through their careers to teach them.
In this issue, I’d like to give a short Coaching 101 to help managers develop the coaching attitude that will help you unleash extraordinary performance in your sales teams.
Rule 1: Coaches don’t deal with problems by telling people what to do. They empower and enable others to solve problems on their own, to tackle new challenges, and to learn from their experiences.
Rule 2: Coaches don’t just see their reps as who they are today, but who they could be in the future.
Here are some suggestions, adapted from Keith Rosen’s Coaching Playbook, for shifting attitudes from those of a manager to those of a coach.
To help managers adopt this “coach approach,” and become the leader you want to be, you might also want to consider hiring your own coach.
|1. Keeps reps dependent on them
||1. Lets salespeople be independent and self-driven
|2. Doesn’t ask for accountability from reps
||2. Empowers salespeople to be fully accountable
|3. Gives the answer or solution to a problem
||3. Draws out the answers through questioning
|4. Focuses on the result
||4. Focuses on the process
|5. Gives little follow-up or follow- through; support is inconsistent
|5. Provides consistent coaching to reinforce changes in reps’ behavior until the desired result is achieved
|6. Emphasizes what reps do
||6. Places emphasis on who reps are and who they want to be
|7. Looks solely at reps’ actions
||7. Observes and is curious about reps’ actions, behaviors, and attitudes
|8. Assumes reps possess current knowledge and sales acumen
||8. Makes no assumptions; questions everything; draws conclusions based on facts and evidence
|9. Engages in conversations that have agendas and desired outcomes
||9. Lets conversations with reps evolve collaboratively
|10. Stresses the symptoms of poor performance, such as a reluctance to make cold calls
||10. Digs deep to get to the source of the issue or problem
|11. Gives hollow advice when a problem is identified
||11. Has the rep identify the solution; and offers real-life advice on how to change thinking
|12. Doesn’t provide a consistent new-hire orientation program
||12. Provides a 30/60/90 day new-hire orientation
|13. Shows inconsistency in taking accountability for team performance
||13. Takes full accountability for team’s performance
|14. Tolerates excuses
||14. Develops an excuse-free culture
15. Only focuses on coaching underperformers, not the whole team
|15. Coaches those committed to improving, including top performers
|16. Shows frustration and emotion during coaching conversations
||16. Coaches all reps with a neutral tone and curiosity
What is one thing that you can do differently- right now - to shift from manager to coach? Let me know what you’ve tried and whether it worked, belly flopped, or something in-between.
I’d love to hear what you’re learning!
Jul 10, 2012 11:13 AM
"Life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party." Jimmy Buffett
In this issue I've culled some of the best conference networking tips from books that have made the rounds on my nightstand. My current favourite is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.
A conference is a huge opportunity to build relationships with people who might have significant impact on your professional or personal success. To make sure that you maximize the return on your (and your organizations) investment of time and money, you can't afford to be a conference commoner. You have to be a Conference Commando.
Here are 12 tips to help you
1. Remember the 7 Ps
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. Military strategists know that most battles are won before the first shot is fired. The side that determines where, when, and how an engagement is fought usually gains an insurmountable advantage.
Weeks before the conference think through and write down why you are attending. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to meet? The more clearly you articulate what you want and need from the conference, the more likely you can plan and execute your mission.
2. Know your targets
Obtain the list of conference attendees somehow: call the conference organizers, ask your friends who are going if they know of other attendees, or whatever it takes. Then go through the list and note those people you want to meet. Keep that list with you at all times during the conference (including social events) so you know who youve met and who you still need to meet.
3. Gather intelligence
If you want to get to know someone, figure out how you can help them. First, Google them to find out their business interests and then do some deeper research to learn about their lives outside work.
Then figure out what you can offer to make them more successful: your experience, knowledge, contacts or resources.
Take note: the best part of doing your homework is that it doesn't have to be a secret. When you meet your target contact, say, "Ive been looking forward to meeting you. Ive learned a bit about you through my research and would like to learn more about what you do. Can I ask you a few questions?
Inevitably, people are flattered. Wouldn't you be?
4. Strike early
A week or two before the conference pick up the phone and call at least the top three people you want to DEFINITELY meet. (And no excuses about not being able to find their coordinates. This is the information age!) Begin your conversations now or arrange a time to talk during the conference.
If you cant get past their gatekeepers, surprise them with a fax or a voice message waiting at their hotel when they arrive: Ill be in the Crown Room at 8 with a few people for drinks and dinner. Would you like to join us? You might save them from spending the evening alone in their rooms, and they will be grateful.
5. Never just attend a conference
Make sure your voice is heard during the conference, even if you arent a scheduled presenter. Just as keynote speakers receive the opportunity for an hour-long infomercial for their brand, you can acquire a 30-second commercial for yours by asking a thoughtful question during Q&A.
Stand tall, say your name and what you do, and then ask a great question. Enjoy your temporary celebrity status after the session, since people will be eager to approach you once youve gone public.
6. Find a wingman
Just as people lose weight more effectively if they have a workout partner, you can meet more people if you team up before the conference.
You and your buddy can give each other motivation, guidance, and assistance by sharing your real reasons for attending the conference, whether youre looking for a new job or filling your sales pipeline.
7. Hang around with the leaders
Get to know some of the best-known folks at the conference and hang with them. Other important people will drop by sooner or later and youll be there ready for an introduction.
8. Work hard on break
Dont run off to eat or check e-mail between sessions. Attend to your bagel and BlackBerry during boring speeches so you can get out there and meet people during the breaks. You came to the conference to make connections, didnt you?
9. Forget the weather
When you engage a target contact, don't you dare talk about the weather! Skip the small talk and dive into the stuff that really matters to you and them: interests, passions and struggles.
Youll have to push yourself to open up first so your acquaintance will follow. Then listen, listen, listen warmly and sincerely.
And if you are able to help them, do so. Intimacy and giving are the two keys to making quick connections that jumpstart lasting relationships.
10. Master the March
Once youve successfully connected with a new acquaintance, secure an invitation to reconnect later. Then march!
Move on and meet more people. Dont be like the co-dependent ankle hugger who thinks the first person he meets is his best friend forever. You've invested too much time and money in this conference not to take the opportunity to meet many different people.
You have a lifetime to build relationships with people at the conference, but only a few days to meet them.
11. Take names (and notes)
Before you move on in the March, be sure to get a business card. Of course, you should quickly scan the card and say the persons name aloud to help commit it to memory. Then flip over the card and jot down a few words to remind yourself about what you two discussed, any relevant personal details, and when and why youre going to follow up later.
12. Follow up or fail
Don't wait until you return home from the conference to connect with people whose cards you collect. Shoot out follow-up e-mails each night of the event or write them during your flight home. That is, unless you want that same rubber-banded stack of cards on your desk a year from now.
Best of luck!
Jul 5, 2012 8:09 AM
Both of my sons are teenagers: one is 13, the other almost 18. This means that I, by definition, am an incompetent. They frequently think I’m an idiot, that I often have unrealistic expectations of how they should act (loving, respectful, good grades, physically active), and that what they’re up to is none of my business.
It’s hard being a parent of teenagers. Especially for someone like me, who is naturally nosy and bossy. I regularly worry about the quality of their friendships and their personal safety.
Whenever I need to figure something out, I grab a pen and paper, and start writing random thoughts about the quandary at hand.
Among my scribblings about parenting and teenagers, I found myself writing “You need to be unattached.” I wasn’t quite sure what “unattached” means, so I looked it up.
1. Not joined, especially to surrounding tissue
2. Not committed to or dependent on another person or group
I love this notion. There’s a certain freedom in not making my sons’ issues my issues, not being dependent on them to define my worth and success as a parent, yet still being available for support.
To me, “unattached” means being caring and compassionate, yet also keeping in mind that my sons are on the long, hard road to maturity. This is their road, not mine. Being stuck in the potholes with them is too exhausting, and doesn’t help them grow up. I need to let them know I’m sure they can make good decisions, and then give them the space to learn to drive.
What does this have to do with business? Picking up my pen again, I wrote down what happened to me last week:
- An $80,000 project went away. Perhaps it will morph into something smaller later this year
- A $30,000 project is on hold . . . indefinitely
- A $17,000 project died
In my world, all of these projects are significant, so I was surprised at my reaction:
That’s $127,000 of revenue that I was counting on, and all I can write down is, “Oh well?”
In the past I would have gotten scared, anxious, and been stuck in a funk. I would have spiralled into thinking that no one likes me (my usual version of hell) and that I would continue to lose business. But this time I didn’t. I was unattached to the outcome. I was disappointed, for sure, but not distraught. Why?
I kept writing . . .
Unattached to the outcome, faith in the future
It seems like a paradox to be unattached to the outcome when there are numbers to make, new doors to open, people to manage, bills to pay, payroll to meet, and business to conduct.
It’s about unhooking wanting from getting.
It just makes sense to me that even though some projects aren’t going forward, if I stay open, meet new people, notice opportunities, serve my clients well, stay curious, hone my skills and business acumen, practice gratitude and stay optimistic, business will continue to come my way.
We are not puppets nor captains of destiny
Destiny is a relationship. It is a play between invisible hands, divine grace, synchronicity, whatever you want to call the Force that is bigger than you, and your own effort. Half of it you have no control over; half of it is absolutely in your hands. We are neither entirely a puppet of the gods, nor entirely the captains of our own destiny. We’re a little of both.
There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under my jurisdiction. I can decide how I spend my time and with whom, how I interact, how I market, how I sell, how I converse, and who I collaborate with. I can decide how to respond to disappointment.
Currently, I’m enjoying my business despite the curve balls. All my eggs weren’t in those three baskets. Sure, they would have been nice eggs to hatch, but the fact that they’re not going to happen will not ruin me. In fact, I’m confident that something else will show up in their place.
Unattached and practicing gratitude go together
When that $127,000 worth of business I was counting on went poof, it helped me to look at what is working. Here’s what I wrote down:
- My business is busy
- Some people are, in fact, saying yes to me
- My husband’s business is doing well
- I work with a coach who is looking out for me
- I feel good about the work that I do
- I love my customers . . . really, there’s not one jerk in the bunch
- I collaborate and network with wonderful people
- I have a few stretch goals on the horizon, and working towards them makes me happy
Even if you’re struggling in your business right now, you have a lot to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude will help you turn into the skid the next time you hit an icy patch.
Jul 3, 2012 8:00 AM
I’d like to dedicate this article to all hard-working sales managers, and to give you some ideas about how to ratchet up your effectiveness.
I recently conducted an ad hoc survey in which I asked a number of salespeople what they thought about the managers in their company. While many said they like their immediate manager, and other managers in the firm, they reported that, in general, all managers are too busy doing other things (selling, administrating, reading reports), and do not take the act of managing (developing people) seriously.
The replies were not encouraging; those who work in large companies were particularly harsh in their criticism. The survey respondents craved a culture of accountability, in which managers who proclaim their commitments to standards of excellence and mission statements follow through on their pledges.
If you want others to perform their roles at a higher level, you must ensure that they know and believe that you accept the responsibility to perform your managerial tasks and duties effectively.
Here are four powerful ideas that could help you radically improve your and your team’s performance (and revenue generation) in the coming year:
1. Create a questionnaire
Examine the following statements, one by one, from your sa1espeople’s point of view. Do you consider each of these principles of good management an important part of your role?
As a manager, you:
- Act and live by the principles you advocate
- Act as a role model that people want to copy
- Are a person of integrity
- Enforce the company values
- Are ‘part of the team’ as opposed to a detached boss
- Motivate your people to stretch to meet performance goals
- Are concerned about long-term issues, not just short-term profits
- Provide timely, balanced feedback that helps your people improve their performance
- Are a source of creative ideas
- Help your people grow and develop
- Have regularly scheduled, one-on-one meetings, with each of your people every two weeks
- Make your people feel that they are members of a well-functioning team
- Emphasize cooperation rather than competition between work groups
- Are prompt in dealing with underperformance
- Arrive on time for meetings, and expect others to be prompt
- Keep your people informed about things they need to know to perform their jobs properly
- Encourage your team to initiate tasks or projects
- Are more often encouraging than critical
- Are fair in dealing with all employees
- Consult others when making decisions
- Run interesting, results-oriented meetings
- Act more like a coach than a boss
- Are publicly generous with credit
- Are an excellent listener
- Ask thoughtful, curious questions
Examine your priorities seriously … and slowly. Carefully think through which of these principles could really help you make a difference, and how effectively you currently practice them.
Then check your assessment against the opinion of the people with whom you work. Create a questionnaire on which people can rate you from 1 to 5 on how well you deliver on your management goals.
2. Circulate the questionnaire
Give the questionnaire to everyone you deal with in your organization. Have a third-party (can be someone internal) tabulate the results and calculate an average rating.
3. Publish the average ratings
Circulate the combined ratings to everyone who filled out the questionnaire.
4. Call a meeting of those you manage and give the following speech
“I have sent you a copy of your current collective assessment of my managerial performance. We will repeat this survey a year from now. Meanwhile, I promise to get better at the management priorities for which I am responsible. Don’t expect me to be perfect. Perfection is not a standard you can hold me to, and it’s not a standard I expect from you.”
“But here is my commitment to you. If I have not improved in my management performance over the next year as identified in these priorities, then I will step down as manager of this group and I will find you a new one.”
“You have a right to expect that I will get better at the tasks and duties that are my responsibility. And I have a right to expect the same from you.”
Transparency and accountability go together and create tremendous trust in an organization. Good luck with this!
Jun 22, 2012 1:54 PM
Has one of your salespeople recently made you angry or frustrated?
The answer is probably yes. Friction frequently arises when people depend on one another to get work accomplished. If co-workers don't get something done on time, or somehow drop the ball, you feel “something” – anger, disappointment, frustration – and you may feel that “something” very strongly. Of course, the first step is to talk about what happened and to try and resolve the issue. However, if you are finding that the work of one employee in particular frequently raises your emotional temperature, you might want to consider that he or she may be having troubles outside the job. Those troubles may be marital, financial, alcohol- or drug-related, or perhaps the employee has suffered a loss or is dealing with a sick relative.
In the past few weeks I have learned about these situations:
- Cynthia, Lisa and Steve lost their fathers recently, and all three find they can’t focus on their jobs. Cynthia is often weepy.
- A long-time salesperson in Robert’s team is having tremendous difficulty working because his spouse is ill with breast cancer.
- Debra is coping with a clinically depressed husband.
- Sonya holds a full-time job and is also the primary caregiver for her ill and disabled mother.
- David’s 18-year-old child recently died of leukemia.
These personal heartaches are not uncommon in any organization. While you may not know the details of your sa1es team’s lives, you may have noticed a decline in one employee’s work that does not improve, even though you’ve tried to address it. This decline may be a tip-off that you’re dealing with someone who is struggling.
What you can do:
Don't go it alone.
Most of us can’t sort out difficult situations by ourselves. We need help. (And many of us forget that asking for help is a powerful leadership quality.) Consult with someone who knows how to compassionately untangle messiness, perhaps an employee assistance counselor, an HR specialist or a coach.
Helpful hint: Before diving into the nuts and bolts of how to work with the issue, talk with your helper about what an ideal relationship with this salesperson would look like:
Imagine your best hope for the situation.
For example, Robert’s best hope was that his salesperson trusted Robert enough to open up about the kind of help he needed, and that this salesperson would be an active contributing member of the team.
Then look at what already exists that could make that hope a reality, for instance, you usually like the salesperson's work and you mutually respect each other.
Then talk about your worst nightmare.
In Robert’s example, his worst nightmare would be that his salesperson would drain the energy out of the team, that Robert would feel helpless, and that he would have to fire this salesperson. The conditions that could lead to that scenario coming true might be: Robert is getting pressure from above for results, he is uncomfortable giving balanced feedback about poor work, the salesperson is unapproachable and there is no improvement in behavior.
You are in a good position to talk about next steps.
Some possible next steps that could arise might be: role playing the conversation beforehand, acknowledging the salesperson’s struggle and their accomplishments, asking them about what is possible for them given their difficulties, and alerting senior management about how you are handling the situation.
Don't ignore a developing problem.
Ignoring a problem doesn’t solve it. In fact, doing nothing just might make the situation worse. Pick up the telephone and get help at the first signs of trouble. Early action will frequently eliminate the need for discipline.
Be a role model.
Support the individual who is struggling, while continuing to promote office morale and productivity. It may be helpful to ask your employee what the office can do to relieve some of the work stress during this difficult time.
Knowing the "right thing" to say to someone who is struggling or grieving is not critical, but a few guidelines are helpful. Saying nothing is worse than saying the wrong thing. Appropriate words are: "I am sorry to hear about your loss/difficulties;" "You are (or have been) in my thoughts;” "How are you doing?" or "I don't know what to say, but if I can be of any help, I'm here."
Offering time to listen can be helpful, or temporarily taking over some burdensome tasks. Managers also can show appreciation to team members who may be carrying an extra load due to the situation.
Most employees can and will resolve their problems, given time and support.
Talk Back: I'd love to hear your tips about working with troubled employees. Please leave me a comment below!