3 Part Formula for Sales Success

As a consultant, I see a lot of companies, teams, and sales people struggle with how to sell more and to do it consistently. Many books have been written about the subject and millions of dollars spent on “training.” But like a lot of things in life, the answer is much simpler than you think.

Early in my sales career, I learned a few truths that stuck with me for 30 years. One of those aphorisms was that every salesperson has only two assets: his time and the good will of his customer. If you want to be successful in sales, you must immediately start placing the highest value possible on how you spend your time and improve the ways you interact with your customers. The 3-part advice I’m about to dispense follows this reasoning very closely. Part 1 has to do with former and Parts 2 & 3 with the latter.

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1)    Who to Call On

Achieving annual sales growth of 6-8% is for weenies. If you want to enjoy 20-30% annual growth, you’ve simply got to stop calling on so many customers. You must wake up and understand the 80/20 Rule is not only real; it’s the absolute key to becoming a Rainmaker in sales. One third of your success as a sales person comes from the understanding that not all customers are equal and, in order to achieve high levels of sales performance, you must sharpen the focus of your time and activity to only the most attractive and responsive accounts. When time, money, and people resources are limited, you must aim precisely.

 

My firm, and our tech partner, Equinox, specialize in the wine, spirits, and beer business. We wake up every single day completely perplexed why more companies aren’t taking advantage of the sea of data that exists nowadays. Zeroing in on the exact accounts you’d like your product(s) to be placed in is not only possible, but also compulsory if you want to build quality distribution and lots of it. And for Pete’s sake, do not leave this up to your distributors! They’ve got enough on their plates and you might as well get used to this fact: if it’s important to you, you’ll have to do it yourself.

2)    How to Call On Them

Here’s where I will lose most of you. Most of you, but not all of you, thank goodness. There’s a very good reason too many companies are selling less than they’d like: their salespeople are doing it wrong. Let’s see how many of you stick with me after I unleash this truth on you: “The more you act like a salesperson, the less you will sell.” If I’ve already lost you, read this book and get back to me: To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. For those of you still with me, repeat after me: “A sale is merely a by-product of a much larger relationship.” If your salespeople haven’t been trained to create that “much larger relationship,” we should talk soon.

You can either keep treating every customer interaction as a “transaction” to be executed (ending in a “close”) or you can follow a slower but much more effective process where, by adding true business value to each relationship, you build distribution that “sticks.” Most, if not all, of your salespeople (and maybe yourself) have never been exposed to let alone trained in the more modern methods of achieving sales success. You don’t have to believe me. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s a free country. But, if you’re ready to take your sales to the next level, this shift in approach is critical.

3)    Everything Else

Have you ever heard anyone say that the “real work” begins once the sale has been made? Ever heard the expression, “service after the sale?” For certain, making sales is only part of long-term sales success. Keeping the sales you’ve made is the other part. Salespeople are notoriously bad at providing service after the sale and it’s not entirely their fault. Thank goodness technology has made it easier than ever to maintain great customer relationships. Leveraging CRM tools help you monitor, track and engage with customers as often as you’d like. What good is making lots of sales calls and selling lots of product if the carpet just keeps rolling up behind you? Where’s the value in achieving 100 new points of distribution and losing 30 off the back end due to lapsed usage? As they say in the world of finance, getting “rich” is not about how much you make but how much you keep.

In the wine, spirits, and beer business, there is no shortage of things to do to provide great customer service. The “Everything Else” of which I speak includes maintaining inventory consistently, shipping product at the right price, training servers and wine stewards, and investing in promotions. It also includes the old-fashioned practices of being highly accessible and supremely dependable. Just doing what you said you’d do helps you beat out 90% of your competitors! And all of this is so much easier today thanks to technology. For further reading on this topic, click here.

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t already noticed, it’s getting tougher and tougher to build a wine, spirits, or beer brand in the US. There are way more brands vying for attention from fewer and fewer distributor partners. A good place to start turning things around for your brand is to take a hard look at your own company’s sales culture. Then assess how well you are taking advantage of data, technology, and best practices – services that are just a phone call away. The “great separation” is about to begin. Take steps now to make sure you’re on the winning end of it.

3 hard punches to give your wine brand a fighting chance

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Put down your wine glass for a minute and pick up your calculator, your P&L and your cash flow statement instead. Unless you start paying as much attention to the business of wine as you do what’s in the glass, you might find yourself drinking alone.

Years ago I heard it said the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large one. If it was true decades ago, it is even truer today.  The United States is both the single largest wine market in the world AND the most competitive. More than four times as many wine companies sell their wares in the US (8,800+) versus 20 years ago. To exacerbate the degree of difficulty, there are less than 1/3 as many distributors (700 or so compared to 2,000).

I recently attended the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association convention in Dallas. In the trade expo, there were many booths showcasing expertise in grape growing and wine making but very few on how to sell and market your wine. At our booth, we met a lot of new, small winery owners just getting into the business. A line from an old Eagles song came to mind, “…with starry eyes and dreams no one could steal.” There was a definite, “If I build it they will come” attitude in the air. But, as someone who’s been on the sales side of wine for 30 years, I could have told them all no matter how great your wine is; you still face the Herculean task of getting people to buy it. Making great wine is not nearly enough in today’s environment.

When it comes to tools and strategies about marketing and selling wine, most of what’s available centers around the direct-to-consumer space (DTC) Very little is offered in a business-to-business (B2B) context. Yes, I know, we have this thing called the 3-tier system and we always will. But, it’s 2016. There’s only so much distributors can do for you. It’s not like it was 20 years ago.  We find ourselves in a new reality, which will only get worse as distributor consolidation accelerates.

A great separation is about to occur in the wine business and the winners will have learned how to “box above their weight class” by implementing the three powerful new strategies outlined below.

1)    Take responsibility for the quality of your distribution

One of the most popular metrics in our industry is “Accounts Sold.” The thinking goes that if your Accounts Sold numbers are growing, you’re growing distribution and you’ve got a healthy brand. But, this is a rather “hollow” metric. You need to go MUCH deeper into the data. It’s also important to know which restaurants and wine shops are buying your wine and how they are using it. But even that isn’t nearly enough.  You also have to know who should be buying your wine. Which accounts offer your brand the best exposure to your target market? Which accounts are capable of the most volume? You need to learn how to target these customers and you need to know how to market and sell to them.

But, wait: isn’t this what you pay the distributor to do? At one time, it might have been. But, we are in a hyper-competitive environment- much more so than any time in history. You simply cannot afford to leave something as important as the quality of distribution up to someone else. Distributors have too many other brands on which to focus and they expect you to do your part. A good rule of thumb for the modern age is: the best you can expect from a distributor is to match your efforts. The distributors can help you achieve your business objectives but only you, and you alone, are responsible for it. The good news is with the right data, the tools to use it and the right set of best practices, you’ll be well on your way – even if your sales team is very small.

2)    Invest in a CRM system specific to the wine business

Why does anyone “invest” in anything? They put their capital to work because they want to earn a return on their investment. Too many wineries look at only one side of this equation. I’ll make this is as simple as I can for you: before you hire one more salesperson, give your wine company a fighting chance by investing in the technology that has become absolutely essential in today’s competitive wine market: cloud-based CRM. In a nutshell, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) gives you the power to control your own destiny like no other sales & marketing tool.

You need a CRM system that is specifically designed for the B2B end of the wine business. It doesn’t replace your distributors’ efforts; it augments it. The best is GreatVines. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.  Saving a few bucks to try and do it your self is like stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.  And don’t think you can retrofit your DTC CRM system for B2B. It’s a whole other tool meant for an entirely different purpose. You need both. The reason so many wineries have invested heavily in DTC tools is because there is very high return on investment. In other words, it’s worth it. Well, there’s an even higher ROI waiting for you on the B2B side!

3)    Start buying your own RAD (Retail Account Data)

You need to buy it and then use it. I’m talking about from a company like Trade Pulse. Uploading your own data into your new CRM system will allow you to fully exploit and leverage it in ways you never dreamed possible (see “Quality of Distribution” above). Yes, you can get “free” RAD data from your distributors but it’s highly fragmented.  Even if you do have the time and manpower to string it all together, using Excel to crunch these numbers will never yield the insights you need to rise above your competitors and have meaningful conversations with your distributors. Why rub two sticks together when you can use a blowtorch? Push a button, get an answer. Welcome to 2016.

If you think investing in these two areas is only for the “large” wine companies, I have two exciting bits of news for you. First, most of the large wine companies are using only one of them right now: RAD data. Second, the cost of cloud-based CRM is on a per-user basis, which means small wine companies can leverage the same technology at a proportionate price!

If you invest in CRM and RAD data now, you’ll be able to do many things the big wineries can’t. But, the window of advantage will close, soon. You also have to remember; you’re competing with ALL wine companies- not just the big ones. 8,800 of them!  So, as Andy said to Red at Shawshank prison, “You can either get busy living or get busy dying.”

 

Ben Salisbury is the founder and President of Salisbury Creative Group – a wine business consulting firm focused on sales effectiveness. Their client base includes Gerard Bertrand (France), Sacred Hill (New Zealand), and Fetzer (California).

 

3 Not-So-Obvious Benefits of CRM

Whenever I ask people if their sales team uses CRM, I typically get one of two responses: “Yes,” or “What’s CRM?” If you’re actively leveraging the power of CRM at your company now, you already know the many benefits. I like to say CRM helps you, “box above your weight class” because you get far more done in less time. But for those who have not yet jumped on the bandwagon, this post may prompt you to take a closer look.

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So, what is CRM?  “Customer Relationship Management” is both a technology tool and a sales strategy. At its most basic level, CRM allows you to capture, store, and organize highly detailed Customer and Account information and share it across the entire organization. Today’s CRM got its start in the 80’s with the advent of digital rolodex tools (also known as Contact Management Software or CMS) like Act!, Goldmine, and Time & Chaos. The big leap forward came in the 90’s when companies took many features of database marketing, automated them (SFA), and combined them with contact management systems. CRM continued to evolve throughout the latter half of the 90’s and into the early 2000’s.

In 2007, Salesforce.com created the next big change by introducing the world to cloud-based CRM. These systems are subscription based, continuously updated and highly customizable.  Fast forward to today, there is a full array of very powerful CRM systems – Salesforce.com holding the largest share of the market with over $4 billion in annual revenue.

There are many benefits of utilizing a cloud-based CRM system in your sales process. Some of them are quite obvious like improved business relationships, better retention of your best customers, and driving steady sales growth. But here are some “not-so-obvious” benefits you may not have thought about:

1)      If you want something done right, do it yourself

Take, for example, the wine industry where you must use “middle men” or distributors to execute your sales and marketing plans.  It can be very frustrating to rely on a third entity -especially if that entity is serving many masters. Taking a page out of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) playbook, sales organizations can now manage relationships directly with restaurants and fine wine shops in a B2B fashion via email and social media interactions. The work of distribution still gets done (and expertly, I might add), but the brand owners themselves assume responsibility for maintaining and keeping those key customers by fostering strong, personal relationships.  I know several wineries, both large and small, who leave nothing to chance because they have a system for managing all interactions, conversations, events, and commitments with their best customers. A CRM strategy helps brand owners take full responsibility for the quality of their distribution while improving the “sticky-ness” of their top customers.

2)      For once, Sales & Marketing are pulling on the same rope

Profitable, healthy brands get built because sales and marketing work together seamlessly. Sometimes Sales teams lose sight of the importance of brand equity and, in the aggressive pursuit of volume, the temptation to lower price wins out. Marketing pros are often accused by the Sales team of being too disconnected to the “real world.” When a Marketing team’s campaign fails, they blame Sales for poor execution. When a plan succeeds, both Sales and Marketing want the credit. More often than not, these “disconnects” are caused by poor communication and lack of collaboration. Enter a cloud-based tool whereby everything is visible to everyone in the organization 24/7 and mobile, too. CRM helps facilitate a unified social engagement with customers plus provides full collaboration of “corporate knowledge” (read: no silos). And thanks to the abundance of hard data, there’s only “one version of the truth.”

3)      The Need for Speed on Steroids

Speed has become such a differentiator in today’s competitive marketplace. The need to adapt, respond, and innovate has always been around. But companies with both the will and the ability to accelerate the pace of doing business (well beyond their competitors) have a huge advantage. Huge! When people tell me they don’t have time to use CRM systems, I’m just astounded. Why walk when you could run? Why drive when you could fly? And why fly when you could interact in real time on your mobile device? It’s like when people ask me to give them directions or send them a link or “get back to them.” I’m like, are you kidding me?! This is 2016, there is no “getting back” to anyone! I can get anything and everything I need with a couple of taps on my phone – including any piece of Customer or Account info in my CRM database. I spend zero time waiting, inquiring, or wondering. Get out a pencil and see what your sales team is costing your company. Then ask yourself, what kind of return on capital could I realize if I could double or triple the speed at which things get done?

We are in the midst of a glorious era in the world of business – especially for industries behind the curve in the adoption of cloud-based technology in their sales & marketing process. Real, meaningful, and significant advantages await those who make the leap now. Within 5 years, everyone will be using CRM and, looking back, will wonder how they ever got along without it. I urge you to get out of the stands and onto the field – today! I can’t promise someone will “get back to you.”

5 Ways to Stop “Heat Loss” in Your Sales Process

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Last summer I was doing some research for a speech I was giving about the role of technology in the “flavor experience.” I was fascinated by the latest advancements in commercial cooktops. With the old way of cooking, you light a gas burner and place the pot or pan on the flame to heat the contents. In the new way of cooking, vessels are heated via magnetic induction. Not only can you achieve rapid increases in temperature, but there is virtually zero “heat loss” and more “thermal efficiency.”  It turns out when you use an open gas flame, 70-80% of the usable heat is lost into the environment. Only 20-30% of the heat makes it to the pot or pan.

Ever since I’ve learned this, I’ve been relating this phenomenon to “heat loss” in the context of selling. Just stop and think for a moment how much energy is wasted by the average sales team: by pursuing low value customers, by failing to keep track of every last detail, and from poor follow up. What if the same “heat loss” percentages that apply to conventional cooktops also applied to conventional sales teams? That got me thinking about the importance of identifying (and then drastically reducing) the “leaks.”

If you want a 1-to-1 return on your time, money and energy, (zero heat loss), you need to first identify the specific areas where heat loss is occurring. Here are five of the most common ways to stop value leakage in your organization and maximize the high cost of having a sales team.

1)      Stop treating all customers as if they had the same value to your organization.

Failure to embrace the 80/20 rule may be the single biggest source of heat loss for a sales organization. You must put in the time and research to identify the most attractive and responsive accounts. Focus the majority of your time and energy where it will make the biggest impact to your organization. Identifying the best prospects should never be a matter of opinion or “gut feel.” The DATA will tell you where to aim so aim precisely!

2)      Set specific goals and have a system by which to measure progress against them.

One of our firm’s strategic partners is GreatVines, a CRM provider with over 10,000 sales users. Tim Jones the Co-Founder likes to ask, “What 3 strategic initiatives must we execute to ultimately achieve our goals?” Tim goes on to say you need KPI’s that are true leading indicators (as opposed to lagging indicators). Eliminate heat loss by making sure your goals and key measurements are perfectly aligned with your business objectives.

3)      Track every last detail of ALL conversations, activities, events, and commitments- with your mobile device.

Let me be 100% clear about something. It is 2016. If you are not using a cloud-based CRM system in your organization, you are experiencing major heat loss! Maybe you are currently keeping track of details but how are you doing it? In Excel spreadsheets? In Outlook? God forbid, on a legal pad? Even if you’re diligent about it, it’s impossible to share that information across your entire organization. Meanwhile, your competitors are doing all of this seamlessly – with their cell phones and tablets. We live in a world where nothing should ever fall through the cracks. Zero heat loss. Feel free to join the rest of us at any time.

4)      Systematize collaboration across your organization.

Ask yourself this question and give yourself an honest answer: “Is teamwork elevated to an exalted status at my company or is it seen by most as a hindrance to productivity?” Do people share info & resources or hoard it? Great gobs of heat loss occur every day because companies have neither the culture nor the technology to collaborate across functional lines. I challenge you to take 1 hour of your day to research two things: a) why so many companies utilize popular collaboration apps like Slack, Base Camp, and Chatter and b) the benefits of having a cloud-based CRM system. The ultimate goal here is to pursue and retain the best customers faster and with greater ease – with zero heat loss!

5)      Don’t step over a dollar to pick up a dime.

One of my favorite sayings is “You can’t save your way to prosperity.” I see many companies paying the equivalent of $100 per hour to a top tier sales pro and then asking him or her to do $20 per hour administrative work. Much heat loss is experienced when salespeople do not have adequate tools and support to do their jobs. I’m not talking so much of admin support people as I am providing your sales team with the latest technology tools (and the training in how to use them effectively). These tools not only cut down dramatically on the amount of time spent on administrative tasks but they provide rich, actionable data to everyone in the organization. Why should a salesperson spend an hour preparing reports and updates to his manager or his marketing team when the info can easily be only a few mouse clicks away? Is CRM expensive? “Expensive” is a relative term and the only way to answer the question is to ask a another question: what is the return on capital invested?

I hope this post has caused you to think more deeply about ways to identify “heat loss” in your sales organization. Identifying them and taking steps to reduce them is a very cost effective way to do more with less. There’s an old Vaudeville joke about a guy who goes to the doctor complaining about a sharp pain in his eye every time he drinks coffee. The doctor replies, “Take the spoon out of the cup.” Start looking for the spoons in your organization.

4 Signs Your Company’s Sales Culture is Stuck in the 80’s

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Let me say right off the bat I have no problem with the 80’s. I was in my 20’s all through that decade and I look back fondly on the era. Perhaps you do, too. But, if your (or your company’s) sales approach, tools, and processes are still the same as when Madonna ruled the airwaves and you carried a Walk Man everywhere, I suggest take a good long look at the calendar. It’s been 30 years for crying out loud. What worked then won’t work now. So, here’s a quick test to see if YOUR sales culture is stuck in the 80’s.

1)    You focus on products and product knowledge

There’s no question every salesperson should have a solid working knowledge of all the products in their portfolio. But if your company’s sales training places a heavy emphasis on product knowledge (along with the accompanying belief this will improve sales), you’re seriously delusional.

There are two problems at work here. The first is that many buyers see the things they buy as commodities, meaning completely interchangeable. This is why there’s so much pressure on price. If all products are the same, the only differentiation is price.

The second problem is buyers don’t need sellers to tell them about their products’ attributes. In 1985, they did.  But, thanks to Al Gore, any savvy buyer in 2016 can (and does) conduct his own research – right from his desk. The idea that buyers need a live person to fly to their city, rent a car and hotel and then appear at their desk in person just so they can talk about their products is insane. What an incredible waste of time and resources!

2)    You use phrases like “push” and “pitch.”

Whenever I hear the word “push” in the context of sales and marketing, I reflexively expectorate in my own mouth. Are you kidding me? High achievement in sales has nothing to do with exerting force or being aggressive and everything to do with building relationships and adding value. If I have to explain this to you, I know what to buy you for your birthday: a calendar. The year is 2016. And for heaven’s sake, read Daniel Pink. Read Seth Godin. Read Malcolm Gladwell. You’ve missed a lot of great books in the last 30 years. I suggest you get busy. And unless you’re presenting a major business deal to a group of angel investors or you’re a guest on Shark Tank, you’ve got no business using the word “pitch.”

3)    You measure number of sales calls made

Whatever you measure, you’ll get more of.  Which would you rather have: more sales calls or more sales? Beware of the lame assumption there’s somehow a correlation between activity and achievement.  Nonsense. Fiction. Healthy, profitable sales are the byproduct of a much larger relationship. Why not measure the number of engaged customers you have? We’re talking about people who repeatedly use your products on a regular basis. Do you know how many of your customers have been with you for 2 years or 5 years or more? Do you know the lifetime value of each customer? Do you know what it costs to acquire a new customer? Now, these are great things to measure. Stop measuring sales calls. When the horse stops breathing, it’s time to dismount.

4)    Lots of time spent preparing presentations

Whenever I rail on about the futility of presentations, I always receive wide-eyed responses of indignation- but only among those that are “stuck in the 80’s.” The fact of the matter is most salespeople just don’t know any better. No one has ever taught them differently. I like what Jeff Thull says in his brilliant book, Mastering the Complex Sale. Jeff says that most presentations are a waste of time because they’re plagued with three fundamental problems: content, timing, and audience. They present too much, too soon and to the wrong people. It’s amazing how much time some salespeople spend preparing presentations. Just like I mentioned above about the focus on products and product knowledge, there’s this mistaken assumption that success in sales is about giving people information. It might have worked in the 80’s but it’s virtually pointless in 2016. That time would be better spent discovering needs and designing solutions collaboratively with the client. The “modern” way of selling is not about peddling information. It’s about engagement and adding true business value.

If you’re bothered by anything I’ve said here, it’s not entirely your fault. Well, most of it is your fault because you haven’t taken the steps necessary to improve and hone your skills in order to keep up with the times. But, it’s not entirely your fault. Most companies who employ sales teams not only perpetuate the outdated sales methods of the past but reinforce them. The good news is it’s never too late to “upgrade” your skills. I’ll leave you with this one final thought: “If you can’t change the company you work for, change the company you work for.”

5 Ways To Ensure Your First Appointment With The Buyer Will Not Be Your Last

We all know that first impressions are truly lasting. That all-important initial meeting with a buyer can make or break the relationship in the long run. Here are some tips to help make that introduction a springboard for future success.

  1. Do your research

This is so obvious you might be insulted I even brought it up. But knowing you should do something and doing it habitually are two different things. A good rule of thumb is never waste the buyers time asking her something you should already know. Thanks to the plethora of information available online, you have no excuse for not thoroughly searching for everything there is to know about the company and the buyer.

  1. Respect the buyer’s time

Stick to the agree-upon time frame. Let’s say the buyer gives you 30 minutes. Some buyers will let you ramble on with your small talk for ten or fifteen minutes. But just because the buyer allows it, does not mean you get to increase your allotted time. 30 minutes is 30 minutes. If you’re foolish enough to burn up too time much on small talk, that’s your problem. Showing respect for a buyer’s time will separate you from the pack in the buyer’s mind. It’s up to you to manage the clock, not the buyer. Get to the point, leave on time, and you’ll make a very good first impression.

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  1. Take lots of notes

Buyers love to see you taking notes.  It is not rude or disrespectful to write while the buyer is talking. It’s amazing how many salespeople  “wing it” and trust things to their memory. Buyers are not impressed by this technique. They know darn well you’ll be back next month asking the same questions and wasting their time because you didn’t write it down the first time.

  1. Do more listening than talking

Again, seems pretty basic but I know how salespeople think. Got to make the most of this opportunity, right?  Thomas Jefferson said it’s better that something be well started than quickly finished. Think long term. Patience is essential to becoming a rainmaker salesperson. Another quote but this time from Blade Runner  “the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”

  1. Don’t talk about yourself, your company, or your products

That’s right. You heard me. First meetings with buyers are not the time to present anything. You have to earn the right to present and much work still lies ahead. Nothing has more impact on your first impression with a buyer than making it clear you value his needs above your own.

First meetings are about three things: 1) making a good first impression; 2) learning as much as you can about the buyer and his preferences; 3) laying the groundwork for future interactions. Don’t fumble the ball because you can never get those opportunities back.

5 Tips for Curating Your Social Media Feed(s)

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I got to thinking lately about people who still struggle with keeping their personal lives and business lives separate- especially when it comes to social media. In my mind, the “struggle” isn’t so much with how to do it as why you would even think there’s a need for it.

For a long time I carried two cell phones. More specifically, and to tell you how long ago this was, one flip phone for personal use and a Blackberry for work. My thinking was I needed to keep my work life separate from my personal life. I didn’t want to be having a quiet dinner with my wife and have my “business phone” ring. Sounds good on paper, right?

When social media came along, I kept the same system. I used my Facebook account for family and friends and Linked In and Twitter for “business.” When I look at how I use my smart phone, tablet, and social feeds TODAY, I can’t believe this was ever even an issue for me. It certainly isn’t anymore. But, the fact is, it was an issue and perhaps it still is for some people so if this blog post helps even one person, I’m glad I took the time to write it.

It’s understandable when I stop and think about it because, let’s face it, I was in business before cell phones and computers came on the scene.  I’ve had to live through several “eras” of the technology learning curves. It’s like when I first got a car phone and they installed a little pig’s-tail antenna on my back windshield. I rang up enormous bills because I didn’t realize it cost much more if I called someone (outgoing) than it did if they called me (incoming). Yup, a learning curve. When I finally got a “cellular” phone, I still carried a pager because everyone had my pager number but very few had my mobile number. Here’s how it went. My wife would page me. I’d call her back from my cell phone and then hang up after one ring. This was her signal to call me back because incoming calls were cheaper.

Fast forward to 2015. I have no landline in my home. Cell phone calls are free. My smart phone knows what time I typically leave my office and, without prompting, tells me what the traffic is like and suggests the best route. I hear they’re working on new fabrics for clothing that generates electricity while you move around in order to supply power to your cell phone. No biggie.

So why in the world would I think there is any hope (or need) to keep my personal life separate from my business life? News flash, dear readers. You have only one life and we can all see it anyway. Might as well let your freak flag fly.  Therefore, the curation of your social media feeds should reflect this reality. If you scroll through my Facebook feed today, you can learn a lot about me. Even better, I can learn a lot about you (or anyone else). So let’s just all be our authentic selves and let the chips fall where they may.

As a business owner and entrepreneur, I’m very thankful there is so much data available on FB, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, Instagram, and other sites. Networking and research are the lifeblood of my business! I’m always amused when I see someone who’s Tweets are on lock down. If neither the Pope nor the President lock down their Tweets, what makes you think you are so special? The only people who need their Tweet’s protected are under-aged children and what the heck are they doing with Twitter accounts anyway? But, I digress.

The key to doing all of this correctly is in how you curate your feeds. I love the word curate. It describes perfectly what you are doing. Like a museum director, you are making decisions about what is valuable enough to “display” for the entire world to see. The “value” in social media, I believe, is content that’s meant to inform, inspire, and entertain. At least that’s a good place to start. There will always be people who want to use social media to bully, provoke dissent, and otherwise harass. But you don’t have to be one of those people, do you? I like to be intellectually challenged as much as the next guy but putting the verbal equivalent of a “kick me” sign on my back is just not going to endear me to your feed. Sorry. I digress again.

So here, at last, are my 5 Tips for Curating Your Social Media feeds:

  1. Just be yourself. I mentioned this above but some of you just skipped right down to this list, I know. I spent most of my life in the corporate world and I wasted so much energy trying to “be” a certain way and project a certain image. I see a lot of you doing this right now. Please, just be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you care passionately about something, let it show. Nothing draws people in so deep as authenticity.
  1. Share/post other people’s great content. I, like many people, get all my news and happenings on my iPhone and iPad. I love great blog posts and when my “friends” post great content on their feeds, it makes my life easier. So, I try my best to reciprocate. Whenever I finish reading a particularly enjoyable piece of writing, I share it to one or more of my feeds. This is one of the easiest and most valuable ways to curate your feeds.
  1. Use hashtags correctly. I’ve wanted to do an entire blog post rant on this one and maybe I will but, for now, let this short tip suffice. Get your Google on and spend ten minutes researching what hashtags are all about. They are powerful and useful – IF they are used correctly. For example, when I use a tag like #socialmedia, thousands of other people who are monitoring this subject have the potential to pick up my content. If I use the hashtag, #truth or #me, I’m joining literally hundreds of millions of users and just making useless “noise.” Conversely, if I use a tag like #whydoesthisalwayshappentomeonSundays, NO ONE (and I mean no one but you) will see it.
  1. Be kind. Does the world really need more anger? Didn’t your Mom teach you if you don’t have something nice to say, keep it to yourself? Didn’t she also teach you about getting more flies with honey than with vinegar? Hey, I’m all for free speech and social justice but its Facebook and Twitter, for Pete’s sake, not the UN.  Lighten up. If you really want to change the world, by all means go for it. But there are far better vehicles and places than your social media feeds.
  1. Engage with others. OK so some people post too much and others not at all. Can’t you strive to be somewhere in the middle? It gives people great joy when you “Like” and Comment on their posts. It gives them a total thrill when you share their post on your feed (see # 2 above). For more on this subject and the power it represents, do yourself a favor and get a copy of The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk. There’s a reason they call it “social media.” So go forth and be social.

So, you see, there’s no need to waste time and energy trying to keep your personal and business lives separate. This is the internet age (with more “scary stuff” coming, believe me). We already know who you are, where you live, where you went to college and where you vacation. There’s no point in trying to hide. But, here’s the good news: we like you, anyway. S0, please, show us more of your authentic self.

The Future of Selling is Already Here

the-future

I’m halfway through Daniel Pink’s book, “To Sell is Human” and enjoying it immensely for two reasons. First, it’s the book I wished I’d written. I have all these ideas running around in my head so it’s very affirming to see someone else express similar concepts in such vivid detail. It validates so much of what I believe and how I think about the profession of selling. Secondly, the book does a fantastic job of something I’ve been struggling to do lately, which is to articulate the big shift that is taking place right now in the world of sales. I can feel it. I try to warn others about it. But I struggle to explain it. So, thank you Mr. Pink. You’ve emboldened me to press on in my attempts to convert traditional sales pros into what you so artfully call, “non-sales sellers.”

 

I also recently attended Dreamforce 2015, the giant, global convention for Salesforce.com and it’s users. During a seminar called, “The Evolution of Technology,” I made a note of a powerful prediction. The most important force shaping the future of enterprises and what disturbs C-level managers most is technology. The second most important force is “customers.” Now, just stop and let that sink in for a second. The good news for most of us in sales is whenever you hear the word, “customer,” you can be sure our jobs will be secure for some time to come. The bad news, however, is unless we keep up with technology; we’ll be obsolete by the time the summer Olympics kick off in Rio.

 

Now, what I’m about to say is super-hard to grasp for most people making a living in sales today. In fact, if you’re in your forties or fifties, odds are high you may have neither the desire nor the willingness to go down this road with me.  Feel free to just pass the link to this blog post along to your younger counterparts because they need this info too, and might already be way ahead of me.

 

I recently heard a factoid stating, in today’s world, a working engineer needs to spend at least 7.5 hours a week for 48 weeks per year reading and learning just to keep pace. So, just because you’ve graduated from college does not mean you’re done studying. It’s simply the reality of the world we live in today. Technology is advancing at an increasingly rapid rate while, at the same time, the half-life of facts is shrinking. I reel in horror when I think about the tens of thousands of sales pros running around the country who have not read a non-fiction book since college. They are literally stuck in the 80’s.  Many of them may be working for your company. You might even be one of them. So here is your big wake-up call.

 

Sales people of the future will look and sound nothing like the “traditional” sales people of today (and yesterday). In fact, since the future of selling is already here, I’m going to use the present tense for the rest of this blog post. The mobile phone is now the most powerful piece of business equipment. Cloud based CRM and analytics tools provide data-driven action steps for sales pros, at their fingertips. Data about your customers, their usage of your products and services, and even their attitudes about their engagement with your company (via social media feeds) are all now, quite literally, in the palm of your hand. Data and analytics for sales teams used to amount to little more than, “What happened.” Thanks to today’s technology, we now know why it happened, what is going to happen next and how to make it happen again.  News flash to all you stuck-in-the-80s sales folks out there: data helps you perform better. It helps you be more precise about whom you target and what you target them with. Yes, the future is here now but are you here, too, or are you getting left behind? Here’s a quick test. If you’re using legal pads, Excel spreadsheets, Outlook address book, and your email inbox to manage your customer data, you are getting further behind every day.

 

In “To Sell is Human,” Daniel Pink says, “What salespeople do and how we do it must change. What an individual does day to day on the job now must stretch across functional boundaries. We are now in an era of non-sales selling.” Salespeople today need to be part I.T. pro, part customer service pro, part marketing pro, and part social media pro.

 

Most reasonable people would agree when I say the way people sell today has changed a lot in the last 20 or 30 years. What keeps me up at night, however, is how little awareness there is about how much the way we sell has changed in just the last year. Wake up, my friends. You’re in the future!

5 Things I learned About Sales from Bass Fishing

At of the writing of this blog, Kevin VanDam is the winningest professional bass fisherman of all time. Known simply as “KVD,” he’s earned just over $6 million in the course of his storied career. I used to think spending the whole day fishing and getting paid to do it was just about the most perfect career imaginable. That is, until, I learned more about the cold, harsh reality of the sport. Grueling hours on very little sleep, driving hundreds of hours a week (typically in the dark of night), long days standing up flailing at the water in all kinds of weather, and sometimes working a “real job,” too, while you build up your skills. But, my time spent dreaming of and reading about waterfront glory provided me with some valuable wisdom. You see, in observing the ways of professional anglers, I learned an awful lot about being a better salesperson. So, for whatever it’s worth, here are five things I learned about sales from studying professional bass fishermen.

  1. Time is the most precious asset

In fishing tournaments, the amount of time each angler has to catch fish is very tightly controlled. There is a starting time and a deadline (weigh in). If you are late for weigh in, you are disqualified. In spite of almost everyone’s illusions to the contrary, time is finite. Fishermen and salespeople everywhere: ignore this truth to your peril! To maximize the amount of time spent fishing, bass boats are equipped with 300 horsepower engines that can exceed speeds of 90 mph. The idea is to not waste any time traveling from one fishing spot to the next, spending every available minute casting for bass. Professional salespeople approach their selling time in the same way. Time spent driving long distances between sales calls is a waste. Smart salespeople know how to concentrate their selling time into highly productive “pockets.” In fact, efficiency is one of their top priorities. The difference between a salesperson who makes average money and one who makes outstanding money has far more to do with efficiency and time management than it does their selling ability. Hashtag: TRUTH.

  1. Leave nothing to chance

The best and highest paid professionals, regardless of chosen field, know how to stack the deck in their favor. Observe, if you will, the deck of a bass boat and you’ll find an array of more than a dozen fishing rods in various weights and lengths matched with the perfect lure for each use. Even the fishing line has been carefully paired with the rod and lure to perform at an optimal level. Bass pros use a term to describe throwing the right lure at the right time in the right circumstances using the right tools: it’s called, “presentation.” Now, how ironic is that? Great sales people approach their work in a similar fashion. They never use a one-size-fits-all approach. The needs of each client is carefully considered and perfectly paired with just the right solutions. The highest paid salespeople leave nothing to chance. They stack the deck. Always.

  1. Preparation is the key to winning

Bass pros spend 5 days of practice for every two days of tournament time. Oh, if we could only embrace this winning formula in our sales approach! We’d find our success rates would skyrocket. Fishermen also spend countless hours studying critical success factors like water clarity, water temperature, solar-lunar tables, the contours and structures of both the lake shore and lake bottom. Likewise, professional salespeople spend time studying every facet of their territory and customer base in order to discover which accounts promise the highest results. They learn about each customer’s buying preferences and unmet needs so that, when they are in front of customers, they have exactly what they need to make the sale. Fishermen are there to please the fish, not the other way around. You might want to read that twice.

  1. Fish where the fish are

Professional fishermen know exactly where the big fish hang out and they spend all their time in only those locations on the lake. Yes it is true the action is much “slower” in these deep holes and the fish are far more difficult to catch. But, they stay there nevertheless because they know it will be worth their while if they persevere. These same principles apply to the world of professional selling. Stay in the deep, slow-moving water and let the amateurs cast about in the shallows, filling their nets with the small fry.

  1. Not all fish are equal

In bass fishing, there is a five-fish limit. The highest combined weight of the five fish in the “bag” wins the tournament. With a five-fish limit, you can be sure the fisherman will focus all of their efforts on catching only large fish. They are not interested in quantity but, rather, quality. They are constantly “culling” which is continuously replacing the smallest fish with bigger ones. Great salespeople, too, also focus only on the largest fish. Average, run-of-the-mill salespeople get their thrills by making lots of quick, small sales. It takes both discipline and courage to pass over dozens of easy-to-catch small fish and, instead, work long and hard to land the “lunkers.”

Any idiot can put a worm on a hook, toss it off a bridge and then hope and pray for some “fisherman’s luck.” But nobody earns $6 million dollars fishing without a tremendous amount of planning, practice, analysis, and sacrifice. Wherever you are in your selling game, resolve today to put in the “time on the water” to take your skills to the next level. We could all learn a thing or two from KVD.

Eight Traits of Great Salespeople

Ben Salisbury headshot

I didn’t set out to have a career in sales. Like many people, I just happened into it. But I stayed with it for thirty years. And for just over half of those years, I was a leader and coach of salespeople which, for anyone who’s done it knows, is an entirely different ball of wax and requires a completely different set of skills than being an individual performer.

Just as in any other line of work, there are varying degrees of proficiency in the field. You’ll find a wide assortment of great salespeople, horrible salespeople and everything in between. Unfortunately, the general stereotype of a salesperson is not a positive one, which is a shame because the vast majority of people who make a living in sales are darn good at what they do. It’s not fair to them that all salespeople are lumped in with the hacks of our profession. I feel especially bad for great used car salespeople (and I’ve met many) because the bad ones ruin it for everyone else.

So, what separates good salespeople from bad salespeople? Another question is do bad salespeople even know they are bad? I’d say a big part of the reason salespeople get such a terrible rap is because their own companies have trained them to do the wrong things (if they bother to train them at all). They simply don’t know any better. It’s like when I get bad service in a restaurant. I don’t blame the server. I blame the management.

I’m reminded of what really bad salesmanship looks like whenever I walk into my neighborhood big-box home improvement store and I’m welcomed with the universally loathed greeting, “Can I help you find anything?” Not only are these unofficial greeters NOT store employees but they are the world’s worst salespeople. It’s the classic bait and switch. Drape a standard-issue apron on your chest, masquerade as a store employee and attempt to “hard sell” any hapless fool who walks through the door on the features and benefits of your windows (or attic insulation or whatever super-high margin product is being pushed that day). Wait- you mean you weren’t really serious when you offered to help me find something? Of course you weren’t. Hack.

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about what makes a great salesperson so extraordinary. I will, therefore, happily focus the rest of this space on the eight traits, I have found, to be universal among the very best salespeople. A quick side note: As many championship teams have proven time and again, you don’t have to be a great basketball player to be a great basketball coach. I take no small comfort in this truth because I was never a very good salesperson myself – maybe just slightly above average. But as a long time coach of salespeople, I’ve learned to spot a great one when I see one and understand entirely what makes them so special.

So, without further ado, here is my list of eight traits of the greats:

 

They are supremely dependable.

Great salespeople keep their commitments. Period. They always do what they say they’re going to do. Always. Whenever buyers are given the opportunity to rate, rank or otherwise recognize their best vendors, this quality of “dependability” is universally at the top of their list. I mean, look at it from a buyers’ perspective. Most salespeople over promise and under deliver. In response, buyers tend to steer the bulk of their business to the most dependable, trustworthy salespeople. It’s not rocket science, but it is oh so hard to find people like this!

 

They are hard working, self starters

I always chuckle (audibly) when I hear sales managers ask how to “motivate” their sales people. Here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice: don’t worry about how to motivate the members of your sales team. All great salespeople hold themselves to a much higher standard than you could ever dream up for them. Hire people who are selfmotivated and then get the hell out of their way. Want something to do? Look for ways to make their paths as smooth as possible.

 

They excel at building and maintaining relationships

We’re talking, here, about genuine relationships. Not the highly manufactured “hi-how-can-I-help-you?” nonsense you get from the apron-clad store greeters. Great salespeople truly do care about people in general and their customers specifically. You can tell because they are also great listeners. When I’m on this topic, I always think about a one particular person on my team (who, eventually, succeeded me as the leader). When Lou (his real name) talks to you, he gives you his total and complete attention. He looks you right in the eye and makes a deep, sincere connection. When you talk to him, you feel like you are the most important person on the planet. You feel like he really cares because – guess what? – He DOES.

 

They keep good records and are very organized

Great sales people take a lot of notes. In order to deliver on the first point above (being dependable), they know they can’t trust anything to their memory. Whenever I hire someone for a sales role, I do my best to test and probe to find out what their organizational skills are like. I know, from experience, that being a salesperson is a very tough job with a lot of details to track. Only a super-organized person can perform well in the role. To be fair, there are certainly lots of great salespeople who are not very organized but they are no picnic to manage. Go for the organized ones if you can.

 

They are very disciplined in the use of their time.

Here’s where we really start to separate the wheat from the chaff. Bad salespeople are notoriously “all over the place.” They tend to measure success in terms of hours worked, number of sales calls made, and the size of their to-do list. In fact, you’ll know you’ve got a “dud” on your hands if they’re always complaining about how hard they are working. Great salespeople have a lot to do too, but you won’t hear them complaining about it. The salespeople who get the most done are very stingy with the use of their time and allocate it in a way that will provide them (and their company) with maximum return. They never confuse activity with achievement. They want to be measured by results, not methods. They are the measure-twice, cut-once types (credit to another former team member, Colleen B for this gem). To great salespeople, time IS money and they are thrifty stewards of it. And, lastly, they know when & how to say, “no.”

 

They are highly coachable

You can always tell a bad salesperson because they already know it all, their sales manager is a moron, and they’re always talking way more than they’re listening. Truly great salespeople, however, are intellectually curious. They are always looking for a better, faster way. Humility in a person is such an attractive trait not because it makes them a more pleasant person to be around (which it most certainly does) but because it puts them in a constant state of readiness and openness to new ideas. The good news for sales leaders is this one is very easy to ferret out during the interview. Just get the candidate talking about themselves and their accomplishments. If you can’t get a word in edgewise, then cut the interview short and move on.

 

They are great team players

Most people don’t consider sales a team sport. But it’s very rare to be a professional salesperson and not also be part of a sales team. Most companies have many salespeople grouped into teams of five or six with a common manager. Great salespeople not only enjoy being a part of a team but also thrive among like-minded peers. They feed off each other, support each other and, together, elevate the atmosphere as well as the performance. Great salespeople are very others-minded and look for ways to cheer on the group. Sales leaders carry a great responsibility to not let the locker room be poisoned by a non-team player. Like cancer, it will kill the team from the inside out. Do your best salespeople a favor and learn how to spot this trait during the interview process. It’s your job to keep these bad apples off the team.

 

They have a positive attitude

I probably could have listed this one first since it is so important. Glass-half-full people make better salespeople every single time. Positive people lift up everyone around them. Being a salesperson is a very tough job! You can’t survive, let alone thrive, without keeping a positive attitude. Great salespeople are also very supportive of both the team leader’s and the company’s policies. They don’t take things personally. They bounce back from failures and setbacks. They wake up every day just knowing it’s going to be a great day.

 

So that’s my list. Are there any other traits of greatness? Absolutely. And I’d be thrilled if you’d add some of your own thoughts and experiences to the comments section below so we can all benefit from your perspective. Or, feel free to email me at ben@salisburycreative.com

 

One final note to all the wonderful salespeople out there who are shining examples of how to do it right: keep up the great work!