Don Corleone – Without the crime, death and stuff

A Networking Strategy

Don Corleone gained the trust of his network and made a mark on his industry by employing a simple philosophy.

If you do for others, you will get something in return. It’s only a matter of time.

When networking to generate business for you or your company, providing an introduction, reviewing and critiquing a document, or simply providing a sounding board for an idea costs little to nothing. Helping out someone in your network or even a colleague of someone in your network is always a good thing.

Identifying and contacting executives who may be decision makers is critical in Sales. One strategy that has consistently worked for me was offering my experience, contacts and expertise to my colleagues when asked. Perhaps someone wants an introduction from me. Or they have an idea in which they want a salesperson’s perspective. I’m always happy to provide whatever I can reasonably do to help. Reciprocation is usually available when requested.

I have found that, for the most part, professionals understand the Don Corleone brand of networking. Negative responses when requesting similar acts from colleagues are few and far between.

Don Corleone’s empire was built on this premise along with some questionable business practices. Still, we can learn a lot from his networking skills.

Are you a Sales Manager or the Top Sales Rep?

Firefighter NetYou manage salespeople. A component of your job is to go out on sales calls with your sales representatives. It is your job to sell if you are in the sales call, right?

Not necessarily. Through untold ride-alongs I’ve experienced with sales reps it has become apparent that sales reps sometimes lose control of sales calls during a sales manager’s ride-along.

Watching the dynamics between sales management and their salespeople for 20 years has caused me to stop talking on ride-alongs. As a sales consultant I spend hours in sales calls assessing the performance of the rep.

As the “coach”, most sales managers would agree that managing a sales organization can sometimes be painful. It’s reminiscent of a baseball coach watching his star hitter swing at a pitch that is obviously a ball. So does a sales manager get that queasy feeling in their gut when a sales rep misses a buying sign or starts doing a data dump without tying product features to the benefits of the product?

Sales Managers must understand that they are both Top Sales Rep AND Sales Manager. Sales Managers should view themselves as a firefighter’s net. When the fire starts moving towards the mother in the window on the fifth floor, the net comes out to catch her before she gets hurt. Similarly, does the Sales Manager save the sales call when the rep appears to be heading for a professional crash and burn.

Imagine if you will a sales call that is lost. Dead. Buried. There is no chance of a save. As painful as this may sound, it is OK to sit back and watch your rep fall flat on their face. I witnessed a few flame outs in my time. Some I saved. Others I used as a learning experience. The conversation in the car afterwards went like this:

Me: “So how’d that feel?”

Rep: “Not so good. Why didn’t you say anything?”

Me: “Will I be here next time? The time after that? Probably not. Let’s replay it and figure out how it went wrong.”

Just as it’s OK to let you child fail sometimes to learn how it feels and understand what went wrong, it’s OK to let your sales rep feel the pain of a really bad sales call. Now you wouldn’t allow this to happen with an important client. But a prospect who you determine to be a lost cause, for whatever reason, can be very useful as an educational exercise.

Sales reps inherently get better as they increase activity over time. Every sales call should be a learning experience. Your role is to make sure they learn something each time. This may come from their own success, you taking over the call demonstrating best practices or having the rep fail miserably. In every case, you’re the coach.

How personal are your business relationships?

Four pairs of feet in a bedWhen has a business relationship gone beyond business? If your mind has just gone into the gutter as you read this, please crawl out. That’s not the kind of relationship I’m referring to.

Are you so close to your business contacts that you can’t ask hard questions? Are you so close to your direct reports that you can’t put them on a Performance Improvement Plan?

Some sales reps fall into a trap of going beyond the rep/prospect or rep/customer level. When this happens, transactions become favors. Going to a prospect’s boss is nearly impossible. Negotiating contract terms can turn into a spat rather than a professional give and take.

A more dangerous scenario is when a Sales Manager becomes “friends” with their reps.

Business relationships need to walk a very fine line. Keeping a relationship both professional and personal at the same time is critical to actually doing business. The personal aspect of your business relationships should help you in business, not hinder the progress of a business transaction.

If you find yourself challenged by the personal relationship you have with a business contact, think about how you can begin to distance yourself a bit. The depth of your relationship will dictate your ability to do business and affect your level of success.

Is your weapon loaded?

GunYour vocabulary is the greatest weapon you have. The power of the “word” is extraordinary. When used properly, a phrase or even a single word can make all the difference in your success. The key to harnessing this kind of power is simple, “think before you speak”! Arm your mouth only with words which are compelling and impactful when presenting, meeting or simply conversing.

How do you respond to the question, “What do you do for a living?” Do you say, “I’m in ad sales” or similar? Or do you say, “I’m responsible for the success of businesses in my community”.

We have all heard a salesperson trying to set an appointment in this manner: “Hi Bob, we’ve got a new product that you might find interesting. Do you have a few minutes for me to come by and show it to you?”

Now compare that to: “Hi Bob, we’ve just launched a new and dynamic tool which will dramatically and positively affect your bottom line. I’m sure you’ll agree as soon as you see it. As quantities are limited, I’m accepting appointments on a restricted basis.”

Or how about this one for subordination? “I know you’re very busy, so I’ll only take a few minutes of your time.”

Versus, “I have a brief and extraordinary presentation prepared specifically for you. As I highly value our time together, I will take 30 minutes, no more and no less. I’m sure we’ll be able to mutually agree that it was time very well spent.”

And of course, there is that endless slide presentation. The audience is not told the number of slides and is therefore in limbo. When you notice that half way through your presentation that they are looking at the clock, you begin to use phrases such as “well this slide isn’t very important so I’ll skip over it.”

Once you’ve begun to speak in that manner, you’ve relegated yourself to “unimportant and unprepared”. You’ve lost the sale.

So take the time to prepare for every meeting. Think carefully about the kinds of words you will use to assure your audience of your competence and importance. Eliminate weak words and unimportant slides. If you’re not sure of a word, don’t use it. Terms such as “irregardless”, “nucular” and “for all intensive purposes” will sink you.

Load your weapon and use it carefully.

Salesforce is a round hole!

Square Peg Round HoleAre you still jamming your square peg business model into Salesforce?

Same stuff, different day.

Every time I speak with a contract Salesforce Administrator they tell me the same thing. “My client bought and implemented Salesforce and I’ve been hired to make it work.”

If you read this Blog regularly, then let me apologize for repeating myself. But there are many Salesforce customers who need to hear it multiple times apparently.

Salesforce is no different than any other computer application your company uses to automate a process. Therefore, processes need to be defined before implementing Salesforce.

It is imperative to take your well thought out sales strategy, create a sales plan that includes a sales process, and only then write a customization specification for Salesforce.

If your Salesforce implementation is not meeting your expectations, you need more than a Salesforce Administrator, you need to re-examine and document your strategy, plan and process.

So what about Bob?

What about bob

Bob is one of your Sales Managers. When I ask you to tell me what you think about Bob as an employee, what will you say?

I’ve been to more than 100 client sites over the years and have asked this question of as many VP’s of Sales. The typical answer is, “I like Bob”. Why? Because “Bob has been here a long time, knows the company and the culture and is a hard worker. He is also very responsive to my needs and never misses a reporting deadline.” So this is how you assess the competence of your managers…by gut feeling?

I say “nay, nay”. There’s a much better way and it’s Q&A! There are 5 critical areas which when rated on a scale of 1 to 5, will give you a realistic assessment of Bob.

1-Results:

Q: How is Bob performing? Does he consistently overachieve?

A: “Bob usually makes his numbers although with the economy lately and a Tsunami in Japan, he’s struggling. He’s also lost 3 of his best reps because we don’t pay enough.”

 2-Strategy: 

Q: Does Bob have a written plan to achieve goals?

A: “Things change so much around here that writing up a plan is useless.”

 3-Leadership:

Q:  Is Bob viewed as an inspirational and motivational leader? Does his staff respect him?

A: “The staff that is left really like Bob. They think he’s a great guy to work for. Those who didn’t think he was a fair manager have already left the company.”

4-Employee Development:

Q: Does Bob coach and mentor his staff? Has he developed some to the point that they can take over when Bob gets a promotion?

A: “Bob’s way too busy for this. He provides whatever training the company offers, but he’s got to make sure he gets to the number.”

 5-Recruitment:

Q:  Has Bob been able to anticipate attrition and recruit satisfactory replacements?

A: “That’s really not his job. We have an in-house recruiter who handles that. When they find a suitable candidate, Bob will set up interviews. And besides, we don’t pay enough to attract great talent.”

So, if Bob works for you and these answers ring true, it’s time to make some changes.  Knowing and understanding your managers from an objective point of view is critical.  Start by setting up criteria for each of these questions and rate your managers against them.  If you don’t think you can be 100% objective, get some help.  Create internal relationships with other managers or go to outside consultants who are objective by default.  The worst thing you can do for your organization as well as the managers themselves is to allow emotions to get in the way of an objective evaluation.  The primary function of your Sales Manager is to “lead, coach and mentor”!   Help them, your company and yourself by ensuring objectivity in your evaluation process.

 

What Do Software Development & Sales Have in Common?

Technical Debt

Technical Debt you keep using that wordI’ve had an epiphany. I attended a presentation on Technical Debt. As I listened to the speaker discuss how software code development processes can cause Technical Debt, I thought that the topic was interesting, but not really relevant to SalesClinic or our clients. Unfortunately, I’ve worked with companies that have had significant Technical Debt without even knowing it. My epiphany hit on the drive home from the event.

Wikipedia defines Technical Debt as “a neologistic metaphor referring to the eventual consequences of poor system design, software architecture or software development within a codebase. The debt can be thought of as work that needs to be done before a particular job can be considered complete or proper. If the debt is not repaid, then it will keep on accumulating interest, making it hard to implement changes later on. Unaddressed technical debt increases software entropy.”

So what does this have to do with Sales? Everything.

Think about your Salesforce automation (SFA) system. In most cases we find that Sales or Sales Operations departments identify and implement these applications rather than making a request of the CIO. In implementing a SFA, screens are customized, reports are written and processes are defined. These implementations usually don’t keep up with the evolving business model or sales process learnings that are realized every day.

At some point in the future, use of SFAs by the Sales Team start to decline. Managers find that their reports don’t accurately represent reality. Things start falling through the cracks. That’s when the Technical Debt comes due.

Because the SFA has not kept up with the changes that the company’s market has dictated to the revenue generation process, it is forced to embark on an expensive and time consuming project of updating the SFA. To complicate things further, the user community needs to be resold on the use of the SFA and re-trained. This effects on-going adoption and has its own costs as well.

From a non-technical perspective, Technical Debt can be applied to Sales Strategy and Sales Processes as well. Even before considering the effect of change on your SFA, you must consider if the steps a sales rep takes to sell your product are still valid. Has the market moved forward but your sales process hasn’t been adjusted to meet the market’s demands?

Consider a newspaper sales team. From the late ‘90’s to today newspapers have evolved into media companies. They provide multiple marketing opportunities for local businesses that may have nothing to do with a print advertisement. Digital marketing solutions should now be part of every conversation between a sales rep and their prospect.

This evolution changes the Sales Process and therefore the SFA implementation. Not keeping up with your process changes and associated SFA customization equals debt. Take the time to start servicing that debt yourself or with outside help. Don’t have the same epiphany I just had when you can’t afford to pay the interest and principle.

Why “visionaries” are leaders and others are “managers”…

No matter how much effort you expend, if you don’t know where you’re going, you will likely never achieve your goal.

Imagine a 26.2 mile marathon. You’re at the starting line and jogging in place awaiting the gun. You know you’re in shape; you know you can make it…but make what?

You surely can’t see the finish line, yet you can see it as clear as day in your mind’s eye. Why? Because you have a vision.

Despite the hundreds of other aspirants ahead, aside and behind, you can picture what it will be like when you cross that line. You are not thinking about pain or injury, simply success. You are passionate about your pending Facebook post telling your world that you are “26.2”. You can’t wait to place that sticker on the rear window of your 4-wheel drive shouting “26.2”.

This is a vision driven by passion.

Corporate visions often sound like dispassionate “marching orders”. We are asked to believe in shallow wishes couched as visions. “We will be the best in the market because we have a world class product and world class sales people.”  Hardly inspirational; hardly motivational.

When you evaluate your management team, ask yourself if you’ve provided a genuine, passionate vision for them. Have you clearly demonstrated why the team is in the race, where the finish line is, how to navigate towards it and what the rewards will be for reaching it?

If you have, then you are an inspirational “leader”. If you have not, then you are a “manager”.

“But you’ve never sold a product like mine.”

Does a lack of product knowledge disqualify a sales candidate?

Product Knowledge Have you ever sold a building escape parachute? Ever try to hire a sales rep that has? Well I’m available if you need one.

Right after 9/11 I worked with a manufacturer of a parachute that occupants of high rise buildings (above the 10th story) could use to exit the building should there be an emergency. My job was to get the parachutes on retail shelves for sale to the general public. I was marginally successful. Not because I didn’t know the market. Who did? But there were other concerns retailers had about the product including who’s liable if someone dies after jumping.

But this experience confirmed once again what I had learned very early in my career. If a person knows how to sell, they can learn the product.

In 1986 I interviewed with a company that developed and sold computer based training for IBM mainframe software. I had no idea what an IBM mainframe computer did or the software that someone would use. During the interview the sales manager asked me questions about terms I had never heard before. SAS. MVS. And other acronyms that were meaningless.

At some point I asked her if she thought I was the right person for the job. I was a sales rep. I had to float a trial close. She said she was very concerned that I didn’t know anything about the product questions she asked. She was absolutely right.

Then I told her that my current position was selling electronic test equipment to engineers who worked at the major defense contractors. My title was Applications Engineer. I was a theatre major for goodness sake. I didn’t know what a spectrum analyzer or micro-processor development system was when I got the job. When I went to my 10th high school reunion a number of people asked me how I got an engineering job as they snickered and laughed. They knew I hadn’t taken a higher level math class.

Ultimately the product didn’t matter. I was a trained sales rep with a track record of exceeding my quota. Within six months I was the number one sales rep selling computer based training. And although I knew the product, to this day, I still don’t know what MVS or SAS does other than it is software that runs on an IBM mainframe and there are people in the world that can learn it using that product.

SalesClinic has worked in the enterprise software, metal distribution, print and digital media, product container, travel and food service space. We may not know your product, but we know how to sell it.

Good help is hard to find…

Wanted-Good-HelpI say, “Nay, nay”.

It’s great leadership that’s hard to find.  Good people want to work for inspirational leaders.

Good help is in fact, easy to find.  It’s convincing them to work for you that’s difficult.  I have found that sourcing, hiring and retaining good talent is directly proportionate to the level of leadership in the company.  Great leaders understand that “greatness” is fleeting and therefore know how to inspire greatness when needed.  Talented staffs are motivated to do great things.  None of us are “great” every day.  Think of those who were farmers one day and then heroes on the battlefield the next.  They were inspired to be great by circumstance, dedication to a cause, and great leadership. No soldier ever enlisted because of the pay.   Sure, everyone goes to work for a buck, but motivation and inspiration trump compensation every time.

When I was a young man of 15, I went to work for a McDonald’s franchise for $1.65 per hour.  Sure, I needed the money for summertime fun, but there was much more to working there than donning a crew hat.  McDonald’s strived to build a culture of competition, a culture of understanding.  For me, it became a challenge.  Why?  I can attribute it to one inspiring leader… Lou G.

Lou G. was a regional manager who came to me one day and said, “Son, thank you for working so hard for us.  I want you to understand though, that we want you to work ‘smarter’, not ‘harder’”.  That one inspirational exchange led me to understand that the culture of the company valued my thinking more highly than my ability to “flip burgers”.  From then on, I went to work every day trying to impress Lou G. with my creative ideas.  The notion that my “mind” was the reason they hired me made me feel incredibly valuable.  Of course a raise every now and then was helpful, but what I really craved was Lou G.’s nod of approval.

So before you hold that meeting giving your sales team the “what for” because of underperformance; before you chastise your recruiters for sourcing sub-par candidates, take a closer look at your sales management team.  If they are more comfortable submitting reports; more at ease with attending meetings, they will likely never lead anyone to greatness.  If you can’t identify inspiring and motivational leaders among them, then you have discovered why good help is hard to find.

Urgent Care for your Sales Organization