Archives: August 2010

Catches Win Matches

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It’s great to be able to coincide a stint working from home with the cricket on in the background. The final England Pakistan Test at Lords is set to be a cracker, and is our last preparation before Brisbane’s electric Ashes opener.

The one commentator that is not a natural by some stretch is Botham. So it was a relief as an early game-making sitter got grassed to hear him quote a good stat.


His delivery so mumbled that key figures were jumbled, he luckily repeated them later. Albeit in an equally bumbled manner, you could piece together the punch. It ran something like this, kindly credited to Sky’s statistician, Benedict.

This Series’ Tests that Pakistan lost, they took only 56% of their chances.
In the one they just won, they caught 87%.

Of course, a seven-from-eight success rate transferred across would not necessarily guarantee result reversal, but it does add weight to the adage that “catches win matches”.

What, I naturally wonder, is the solution selling equivalent of a catch? What activity, indicator or outcome that when it occurs, leads to your selling victory?

Meals Win Deals? When you get to take the prospect CEO for supper?

Borders Win Orders? When you manage to erect impenetrable walls keeping competition at bay?

Nails Win Sales? A compelling business case accepted by all nails every campaign?

Kids Win Bids? The old ‘k-i-s-s’ approach to making sure what you propose can be understood by a five year old?

On Tracks Win Contracts? Stick to your tried, tested and trusted sales process and you’ll prevail every time?

Lenders Win Tenders? An Evaluation Close means a free pre-sale play with the product always lands a signature?

Fun-filled food for thought anyway, don’t you think?


Most Revealing Sales Stats

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Here’s the meat on a mailshot promoting a September seminar sponsored by a mindmap software house. The figures are credited to a CSO Insights survey on 2009 performance.

The percentage of salespeople making quota dropped from 58.8% to 51.5% last year. Despite this drop, 85% of surveyed firms indicated they were raising quotas again this year. In addition, less than 50% of forecast deals are resulting in a win. What’s needed to turn this alarming trend around?

Whilst you can’t help but wish well any endeavour to improve sales performance, nagging away at me is the thought that they’ve chosen the wrong figures with which to bait.

I know plenty of relatively large sales teams. How many people in them make their number? It surely is no shock that only half of all sellers hit quota. In any case, how relevant is this as a barometer? How often is the desired sales topline conjured with little regard to corporate transparency, merely adding say twenty percent to what the bean counters demand?

Likewise, is it really news that 85% raise targets? The surprise is rather that this figure isn’t 100%. What on earth are the other 15% doing? Perhaps they simply forgot to answer this qu. Maybe there are sales operations you know that have cut quotas out there, but I’ve never come across one. Keeping the level constant, yes, especially over recent years. But reduce? Oh no.

And the final push. Only half of all forecasted deals come home. Well, that says more about forecast categories and politics than any meaningful guide to sales success. It’s hard to imagine a survey landing on anything other than the prominent centre of a bell curve for such query.

I think alternative factors would make for a more compelling case.

The obvious one is with commissions. How many sales people saw their bonuses fall? I suspect this one would really hit home.

Then there’s indicators that should more closely reveal economic patterns. Total pipeline value falls, sales cycle lengthening and key account or new business shrinkage all spring to mind and are also fairly straightforward to capture.

If you use figures, not only should you make sure they stand scrutiny, but also test that they are the right sets to use in the first place.


Nudge Choice Reminder

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I’ve blogged about choice architecture and the joys of nudging before (in 2008 & 2009). For 2010’s reflection I’ve just come across four delicious further examples from a Brand Republic blogger worthy of echo.

They’re tales of how schoolgirls stopped putting lippy on bathroom mirrors, more visitors saw more of a museum, people recycled old clothes and kids no longer dropped litter.

For the uninitiated, this concept is at its best when creating lateral, inexpensive ways to stop people acting in undesirable ways.

To adopt such mentality and thrive through it, here’s a possible framework. Think first about which behaviours you do not like in your customers.

It could be putting your contract up for tender, reducing it even or buying a cheaper item than you’d want.

What nudge could stop them from doing this, through their choice rather than your overt diktat?


Continuous Partial Attention

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I’ve long been contemptuous of people that break-off mid-conversation to answer a random mobile call. Similarly, anyone replying to an email the instant it lands for no other logic than it has just flashed on their screen I hold in equal disregard.

The latest Economist Technology Quarterly highlights how people aware they fall into this trap can wean themselves towards former levels of higher productivity.

The article offers relief by way of policing software to remove this unlimited scope for distraction.


Linda Stone is credited with coining delicious terms like email apnea. Continuous partial attention was her first signpost in this arena and sums up neatly what you’re up against if you follow the constant connection creed. In her own words,

“Continuous partial attention is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of simple multi-tasking.”

There’s two points here. Of course, any salesperson that recognises they are suffering from this malaise needs to sort it out sharpish.

Perhaps of greater consequence, where would your prospects or customers say you figure on avoiding continuous partial attention towards them? Worse still, are they being treated to “an artificial sense of constant crisis”?


Curbing Wastrels

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There’s a big difference between spending money, and wasting it.

How often do you discuss a prospect’s previous investments with a buyer?

Hopefully they’ll be able to trot out a long list of wonderful projects that helped make both a ton of cash and everyone’s lives easier.

But my experience is that this is not usually the case.

People most typically buy a ‘solution’ to solve a problem.  That very word has connotations of avoiding mishap and conjures images of fixing something broke.

So how about asking them what investments have not paid off as hoped?  A tricky subject for sure, but if you frame it in the context of wanting to not fall into a similar trap, or making the same mistake again by learning the lessons, you could be onto a winner.

It’s true that you could trigger negativity by slight association, but I feel that if you position your proposal to prevent the things that caused previous problems, you’ll be more likely on to a winner.

And no-one wants to be seen throwing money away again.


Yeah, But…

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I was in the company of lawyers the other day.  Yes, I did need a few cheeky whiskies to survive.  I enquired of them exactly how pitiful must legal training be when it comes to objection handling.

Despite the supposed level of intelligence necessary to enter their brethren, and the obvious ability to expose the contrary on any given subject ingrained in them, each time they disagree with your point of view they basically start off by saying,

“yeah, but…”

No empathy.  Zero exploration.  All confrontation. Plenty of disregard.

It might be a tiny lesson, but one with far-reaching consequences. Never answer a prospect in this manner.

As for a remedy, classic objection handling training is a start. Without the time to indulge that in its entirety here,  if you’re in any way unsure, just be certain to politely fire back a question. It helps if your query seek expansion of a particular element of what’s just been espoused, yet it almost doesn’t matter what it is, even if just to say “Really…?” and pause.

I guarantee you’ll go farther, with greater smoothness, as a result.


Please, Use A Quote I Can Relate To

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It was lovely to be able to work from home yesterday afternoon and have the cricket on in the background. England Pakistan is finely balanced at the Oval. When the camera panned to the England dressing room, also Surrey home quarters, a huge quote is plastered in capitals on the balcony wall.

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” Thomas Jefferson

I was immediately appalled.

Thomas Jefferson? Who on earth is he? Realistically, he is nobody. You see, this is the ground of an English team. Say that again, an English, team. Not some upstart premier league club owned by arrogant Americans. Straw poll: how many of the current Surrey squad even know who is? Supplemental question: how many even give a monkeys?

What do they care about a third president of America? Would they even know him? Should they? What does it say about homegrown inspiration? Is there really such a paucity of local sages that they must dredge at such level for motivation? What the Dickens were Surrey thinking?

Think about putting yourself in similar shoes to officialdom there in Kennington. You’re giving a talk to rally the troops. You’re somewhere with an audience oceans away, mentally and physically, from the USA about to present. You pull up the slide with your favourite quote. What would really be the reaction to using one like that?

Good on America for evidently owning a lasting quote in this field. Shame on Surrey. I’m actually on their mailing list (I used to live nearby and went to a few games) so I’m emailing them for their side of the story. Bottom line, make your quotes relevant.


What Do You Think You Do?

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I got chatting to a couple of people in a coffee shop yesterday as we moved tables around to provide elbow room for barista maintenance. After a few minutes of entertaining asides, one asked me what I did for a living.

It made me realise what an incredibly revealing question this is for anyone involved in selling. In so many ways, a person’s immediate reaction can unwittingly lay bare their inner self.

How do you respond when someone asks you what you do for a living?  Imagine it happening at both a social function or a business conference, and in either case, you’ve not met the questioner before.

I have a scientifically unproven yet cast-iron hunch that most salespeople would answer by naming their profession first, along the lines of “I sell ….”. The second most frequent class of response I further suspect to be waffle about the product they’re connected with.

Some may be cocky, and elaborate with how successful they themselves are.  Others may be more reserved, extolling the merits of their company and its wares.

What about the one in ten that might say something like this, “I help people to solve the problems of ….”?

What odds will you give me that these few outperform all the rest combined?


Web Conferencing Checklist

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I spoke to an old compadre of mine that I’ve not seen for a few years the other night. I was delighted to hear his selling enthusiasm remain sky high, as he raced home to do a WebEx call with a prospect in a timezone 9 hours behind.  WebEx was the early player in ‘webconferencing’, deemed such a fine idea that Cisco paid $3.2bn for them a couple of years back.  Their kit enables any two people to look at the same screen, wherever they may be on the planet. It’s allegedly ideal for demonstrating software. He adopted WebEx in preference to Microsoft’s NetMeeting.

The benefit of this across continents was clear, but a throw-away aside he made about no longer wasting time by flying/driving a few hours there and back, especially to a prospect ultimately going nowhere, got me thinking.

My friend feels that 95% of his first prospect meets are now WebEx, coming from a base of zero three years back. Does this mean that complex solution selling is being turned into a telesales endeavour? And if so, then surely there’s huge ramifications?

It seems altered close routines now apply in my friend’s world. Web conferencing is an opening tool, rather than a closing one. Anything that aids qualification is definitely to be applauded. On the grounds that a top salesperson should always seek to qualify out at each stage, rather than stretch the facts to keep a deal on the forecast, the key issue revolves around what commitment you need from the prospect to continue.

Of course, solution selling is not about persuading people to do the unwanted. So perhaps the lesson to learn from the rise of webcam encounters today, is simply to qualify harder. Think more about what your preferred, or optimum, second meeting looks like, and laser in on making that happen.

If it’s a winner to have a series of discussions with lots of separate people in a number of different meeting rooms, then tee them up. If the next step is to create some kind of ‘champion test’ activity, then put it in play. If it’s to propose a statement of requirements (SOR) with the budget holder, then get crafting. Whatever it is, make sure that pre-meeting meeting works for you.

My own experience of video conferencing is primarily with software demos. I didn’t like it. The best demo is always one where you show as little as possible. Indeed, I used to take pride in making progress towards the eventual order by only showing a single screen. An online forum renders this exalted state virtually unattainable.

I realise in current climes the pressure to avoid distant, speculative face-to-face trips is high, but I still think that video/web conferencing should be used better to extract, rather than deliver information. It is a qualifier rather than a pitch medium. You should introduce yourself through it, not talk resolutions.

In summary, here’s a starting point of an outline checklist should you be about to embrace webconferencing:

  • detect where and how your sales process may change
  • pinpoint how a real world meeting and cyberspace encounter will differ
  • re-draw up your ‘next actions’ most likely to precipitate eventual success
  • re-assess your qualification criteria and routines
  • work on setting a prospect’s expectations more explicitly
  • ask existing customers if they’ve experienced the medium and what they thought of using it
  • if in account management, try out with a client first, on a non-essential task

Top Sales Outfit Secrets

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Here’s a steer from a recent Selling Power article. The writer contends that the following five traits identify a world class selling operation. How do you fare on these?

Buyer Enablement – your focus is client goals rather than sales cycle gateways
Outbound Lead Ratios – your leads are in the main not brought in by the reps in the field but by support efforts
Pipeline Ratios – a touch ambiguous perhaps, but you should apparently have way more in the funnel than your target
crm/sfa Utilisation – they find that winners “boast a 70 percent higher utilization of these systems than average organizations”
Sales Rep Training – and here they provide an incredible 160% more than their also-ran brethren

I feel certain they’ve left out a couple of other equally significant biggies though. Clearly the presence, adherence to and matching of a repeatable sales process cannot be under-estimated. Likewise the cultural impact that living a shared vision creates is a must in every team that is going somewhere special. This may be because their list as presented seems to show more a tactical rather than strategic bent. Still, it’s a pretty good starting point for analysis.