Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come

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It’s worth noting most people incorrectly quote the signature catch phrase of the movie Field of Dreams as, “If you build it, they will come,” but – as any devotee of the seminal flick knows – the precise quote is, “If you build it, HE will come,” referencing the disgraced and footwear-challenged Joseph Jackson. But I digress.

This post is about the all-too-common misconception that filling gaps in a product portfolio will solve any deficiency in your sales results. While this is sometimes true, it is more often than not common sense interrupted by thinking. Some salespeople love to blame everything and everyone but themselves for failing to achieve their sales goals. One certainly shouldn’t discourage the new product development team from creating the next big thing, but salespeople get paid to deliver the number regardless. Rainmakers accept NO excuse for getting the job done.

I’ve sat in many sales & marketing meetings over the years, listening to sales leaders lament the lack of innovation: “If we only had ______.” It is the job of the sales team to generate profitable new revenue no matter what. A “rut” is a grave with both ends kicked out. Get over it. While you’re waiting around for someone else to create something new and exciting, you’ve still got a job to do: selling what’s already on your plate.

Now, in all fairness, salespeople aren’t the only ones who fall into this trap. Just because you DO create a new product or service does not mean it’s automatically going to sell. It might, and that would be great – but it’s not a given. Too many companies have an anemic sales culture because the power and value of a great sales team is discounted in the misguided belief that any fool can sell a great product. Heck, it might even sell itself.

This “if you build it, they will come” mentality can be a genuine trap. One should instead heed the warning, “be careful what you wish for.” Some marketing teams take the sales leaders at their word and create new products as requested. Now, it’s up to the sales team to execute. If you fail, you have no one to blame but yourself. Is it the chicken or the egg? Is it better products that are needed or better sales execution? In a perfect world, you’d have both great products and great sales execution. But if this was easy, every company would be doing it.

Since most of what I write in my blog is directed at sales teams and sales leaders, I want to address them directly here. Instead of focusing on what’s missing in your portfolio, concentrate on the things you can control. Find ways to bring real business value to your customers through great service, dependability, and trust. If you are accessible to your customers, always do what you say you’re going to do, and put your clients’ needs before your own, it won’t matter what products are in your sample bag.

It’s a great day in the life of a salesperson when they finally realize they already have everything they need to be successful. Strive to become the person your customers can’t live without. Figure out how to execute in spite of your company’s shortcomings. The very best way to differentiate yourself from all the people with whom you compete is to become habitually dependable. You don’t need anyone’s help building that.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Hiring a Sales Person

I know of no more challenging aspect of being a sales leader than making good hiring decisions. Leading sales pros requires very different proficiencies than just being a top sales performer in your own right. One of those skills is the ability to assess talent.
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Before you can be great at something, you have to be good at it. Before you can be good at it, you have to be bad at it. And before you can be bad at it, you have to try. This pretty much sums up my experience in the hiring-manager dimension of my career. I became very good at finding, evaluating, and hiring outstanding salespeople only because I used to be so horribly inept at it. Experience is the best teacher.

Fortunately, I’ve had several mentors who’ve imparted their wisdom to me. This blog post is about paying that wisdom forward to you. My greatest boss, teacher, coach and mentor, Glenn Yaffa, was the Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates until his retirement. Glenn taught me to ask myself three questions as I considered a candidate for a sales role on my team.

1) Can they do the job?
Yes, skills and experience are important. However, the bigger idea here is “Can they execute? Can they deliver results?” Being effective in a sales role requires the aptitude to get the job done year after year without excuse. Certain challenges will always be present like unplanned price changes, inventory shortages, inconsistent quality, gaps in the portfolio, and competitive pressures. Even so, when you reach the end of the fiscal year, will this person offer up every excuse in the book to justify their failure or will they exceed all expectations because that’s who they are?

Don’t hire “Talkers.” Only hire “Doers.” Let me illustrate. I recently had a coaching session with a salesperson employed by one of my consulting clients who, for three consecutive years, had fallen well short of expectations. I asked him to make a list of the things keeping him from reaching his sales goals. As we stepped back to look at his lengthy catalog of “obstacles,” I pointed out that not one single item was within his control. His mindset, in essence, was, “It’s not my fault.” This is exactly the type of person you do not want to hire. Without further intervention, this guy would always be categorized as a “Talker,” not a “Doer.”

Contrast this with some of the stars on my former sales teams. These rainmakers saw the world from a completely different perspective. Their attitude was, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me” and “My job is to ‘find a way’ no matter.” What a contrast! There are people out there whose internal “will to win” far exceeds any external expectations. They are worth their weight in gold because they know how to execute. They take full responsibility for outcomes and never make excuses. Job number one for a sales leader is to fill your team with “Doers.” No amount of training, incentives, or threats can fix a “Talker.” You must learn how to discover the difference as you evaluate your candidate pool.

2) Will they do the job?
What you want to find are people who are hard working, self-starters, and able to operate with little to no supervision. The idea that you have to motivate salespeople is a fatal mistake. Find people who want to succeed because that’s how they roll, not because someone is compelling them to do so. To discover if a candidate WILL do the job, ask lots of questions about their achievements to date. Ask them, “To what do you attribute your success?” Get them talking about how they overcame obstacles to get the job done. What you are looking for here is the will to win, and asking lots of questions about how they have functioned in previous situations is the best way to discover it.

3) Are they a great fit?
Never underestimate the importance of “fit.” Sales leaders are the keepers of the culture and, as one of my business heroes likes to say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” The key to establishing and curating a solid sales culture is being clear with yourself and the team about the values and guiding principles that define who you are as a group. A great example of a winning team culture is the “work hard, play hard” mindset. Another one is “we like to win.” Do team members like each other? Do they respect one another? Do they value excellence? Are they committed to continuous self-improvement? Bringing a new salesperson into an existing high-performance team is risky business and an important responsibility of the team leader. Salespeople like to look around at the other members of the team and see similar values. Contrary to popular belief, selling is a team sport; there’s no place for lone wolves. You owe it to your stars to bring in other stars and nothing less. We’re not talking about everyone being exactly the same. On the contrary, there should be an array of diversity among team members so they can draw upon each other’s strengths.

Like so many aspects of the business world, practice makes perfect. Building a sales team that consistently delivers outstanding results starts with the hiring process. Take your time. Be patient. Don’t allow the pressure to fill an open role cause you to rush the process. Be diligent, ruthless, and thorough in judging the capabilities of prospects. Don’t rely too heavily on résumés and interviews. Above all, trust your gut. A good rule of thumb in avoiding hiring mistakes is, “When in doubt, don’t.” If you have any reticence about moving forward with a new sales person, that’s your gut trying to keep you from making a big mistake.

5 Ways to Tell If Your Sales People Aren’t Working

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Having lead dozens of salespeople and read thousands of sales call reports over the years, I have developed a highly receptive “BS detector.” Effective salespeople typically have winning personalities, which can be a double-edged sword. They have that perfect combination of being great listeners and smooth talkers with a highly persuasive way of interacting with other people. I’m not talking here about smarmy hucksters, but rather people who truly have a gift. An adept salesperson is often a very caring person. They can engage in small talk with ease and they make other people feel important. However, these same talents and tendencies often have a negative side. When things start to lean towards hyperbole and – in the worst cases – fabrication, you could be dealing with a completely different animal.

One of the jobs of a sales leader is to coach and teach people how to reign in some of these “gifts” and show a little restraint. It’s gratifying to see how time and maturity have a way of softening the edges and refining the nuances of dedicated salespeople. Exuberance is moderated with experience. The innate talent for moving others is raised to a high art.

But how can you tell if your salespeople are just plain full of it? Let me save you some time and trouble by providing you with five telltale signs you’re being taken for a ride.

1. Complaining about all the hard work.
Whenever I hear a salesperson blather on about how much work they have to do or how many hours they’re putting in, a big red flag goes off in my brain. Being a salesperson IS hard work. The profession is characterized by hard work and long hours. If you feel the need to tell me about it, you are most likely not doing it. This is a classic sign that a salesperson wants me to think they’re working hard. I’ve had the pleasure of leading some remarkable and highly successful people over the years and not one of them ever complained about how much they were working.

2. Making excuses.
You’d think this would be a little easier to spot but it can be very subtle so you must pay close attention. Excuses come in all shapes and sizes, but they all add up to the same thing: failure to take responsibility for your own outcomes. These people always have a convenient explanation for why something didn’t get done or some deadline didn’t get met. If you want to be a distinguished sales leader, accept results only – never excuses. Something either did or did not get done. No explanation needed. No explanation expected. I don’t need to hear why. Just come right out and say it. “I didn’t do it and I have no excuse.” Now, doesn’t that feel better? This can be used in all aspects of life, not just the profession of selling.

3. A vocabulary of empty buzz words.
Listen closely to the language of your salespeople. Do they have go-to phrases championing their supposed productivity? Such mendacities include “pushing for,” “trying to,” “waiting for,” and – my favorite – “working on.” Then, of course, there’s the granddaddy of them all: “hoping for.” For crying out loud, there’s a whole book written on this one! It’s called Hope is Not A Strategy. It’s your job as a sales leader to eradicate this baloney. What we want to see are words and phrases like, “met with,” “received an order commitment from,” and “closed the deal with.” Anything other than that is just fluff.

4. Lengthy call reports.
I’m really not a fan at all of sales call reports. Results talk; BS walks. “Are you on track to meet your sales goals?” That’s all I need to know. If you must have call reports, better to have a short & sweet but veracious one than the War and Peace of claptrap. As Shakespeare would have said, “Me thinks thou doth spew forth too much.” One of the most reliable signs you’ve got a slacker on the payroll is the flowery and empty chatter of a lengthy call report. Teach your reps to include only the most relevant info. Salespeople who aren’t’ working very much love to tell you how much they are and the call report is their favorite vehicle with which to do it.

5. They never seem to have enough time.
In his must-read book, The Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferris said it best: “Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant.” Wow, it’s hard to add anything to that! No one has any less time or more time than anyone else. Don’t use lack of time as an excuse for not getting things done. The profession of sales is one of the highest paid jobs around. According to US News, the average salesperson earns $65k per year. From my own experience, I know the very best make well into six figures as a base salary with bonuses as high as 25-30%. If you are being paid this kind of money, there’s only one thing your company wants in return: profitable results. Learn to manage your time well and prioritize. Narrow the focus of your activity on only the most important things.

All of this comes back to hiring the right people to begin with. Outstanding sales teams are built one person at a time. Get some training for yourself. Learn to be very good at assessing talent. Rely heavily on your HR team because this is their area of expertise. Beware the trap of falling in love with the job candidate in the interview. These same people who charm you from across the desk could easily be your worst nightmare. Don’t rely too heavily on resumes or even the interview itself. If there’s any truth to the adage that the person you interview is not the same person who comes to work for you, it is especially true of salespeople.

To Sell More, Stop Doing This

It’s very tempting to focus on trivial, easy-to-measure things like the number of sales calls made each day, week, or month. But routinely keeping a tally of this useless, hollow metric may be the single biggest mistake sales leaders make.

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Keep in mind whatever you measure you get more of. It’s seems simple enough but if you want to get more of something – anything- start measuring it. But, the idea that more sales calls equates to more sales is completely unfounded. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the primary reason most sales teams under perform. The false assumption being made is you can sell something simply by getting in front of someone one time and making a great “pitch.” If that were true, then yes, you should make as many sales calls as you possibly can. But, any salesperson of substance knows this is simply not how it works.

If you begin with the end in mind, the ultimate goal here is to have lots and lots of customers who are truly engaged with your products and brands. To get there, it takes multiple, high-quality interactions with customers before you can fully engage them. Building rapport and relationships is a time consuming process. By emphasizing a certain number of sales per day, you are actually inhibiting or working against this goal. Here are 4 reasons why:

The first problem with measuring the number of sales calls is it does not differentiate between high quality opportunities and low quality opportunities. Not all accounts are equal. This trite and tired metric of number of sales calls can really only measure one thing: effort. But, you can’t take effort to the bank. You can’t pay your bills with effort. You can only take revenue to the bank. “Effort” in and of itself is not a useful metric. What a great recipe for disappointing sales results: treat all customers as if they have the same value and measure the number of sales calls made on this homogenous customer base.

Secondly, the idea that making your salespeople work harder will lead to more sales is ridiculous. If you hired good salespeople to start with, they are most likely already working hard. Putting more pressure on your sales team or requiring a higher volume of work from them will actually hurt your sales – especially from your existing base of great customers which, by the way, is your best source of new distribution and revenue. Instead of focusing on the volume of work being done try looking for ways to improve your sales process and your sales approach.

Third, filling out call reports is a process-heavy task. By “process heavy” I mean time consuming. Time is THE most precious asset a salesperson has. Measuring results, by contrast, takes no time at all. Give your salespeople SMART goals, measure their progress against those goals, and stop worrying about how many sales calls it takes to reach them. There’s a name for salespeople who consistently miss their sales goals: unemployed.

Lastly, measuring the number of sales calls doesn’t tell you much about what’s really going on in the accounts or the marketplace. What if some of those sales calls you tracked were with the wrong people in the account? What if the primary buyer wasn’t present? What if the buyer was present but didn’t like your salesperson or her “pitch?” At best, this metric will give you a false sense of success. What good is a call report jam packed with a bunch of attempted and unproductive sales calls?

From the time you put an account on your target account list until the time they actually buy could be several weeks or months. We call this the “sales cycle.” There’s no set number of “touches” that it will take for them to finally buy (completing the sales cycle). Under-estimating the length of the sales cycle is a huge pitfall most companies make every day. “It takes what it takes” to get a customer to buy something. And whether or not that customer continues to buy from you regularly has everything to do with how they were treated along the way.

So what should you measure? Leading indicators like the number of customers who buy more than one SKU; sales per point of distribution (velocity) and how long a customer has been buying from you. Track real time sales results by sales rep, customer segment, channel of trade and product group. Thank goodness we live in an age when keeping your finger on the pulse of these powerful sales metrics is as easy as a couple of mouse clicks. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools allow you to do it 24/7– even on your mobile device. Things that used to be difficult to measure no longer are.

Isn’t it so much better to focus on sales activities that make the most sense rather than something that can easily be measured? Measure what matters. Ignore what doesn’t. Hire great sales people and let them do their job. Stop slowing them down with useless metrics and meaningless call reports. Focus on results, not effort.

Not all Accounts are equal. Not even close.

Very rare indeed is the salesperson and even rarer still the sales leader with the disciplined habit of ignoring most customers.

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They are also the best sales pros on the planet. I’d also say they are the bravest. In order to follow their internal compass and hold fast to their fervent belief that the good truly is the enemy of the best, they must endure a daily barrage of criticism from their bosses. But year after year, they receive their full bonus and grow sales at a greater rate than anyone else on the team so they stick to their guns and continue to prosper.

A quick story from my own experience. Early in my sales career, I took great pride in the fact that I “knew everyone” in the market – especially within my own sales territory. They knew me and I knew them. Lots of them. I would wake up every day with one mission: find a customer who wasn’t doing business with me and go “close” them. Opening up new accounts was the rush. Far more thrilling than the drudgery of servicing the accounts I’d already sold. I believed my sales manager when he said, “No one ever sold anything from the office.” I measured my own success by the volume of my work.

Then one day, I was on the phone with the big boss of a competitor who was thinking of hiring me. Sitting up straighter in my chair, I challenged the interviewer to “ask around about me.” Typical of my ego in those days, I volunteered the fact that I thought there was no better salesman in the territory than me. Unmoved, he replied, “There are better salesmen than you. Several of them.” It was like a punch in my gut and all I could think of was to ask, “Who? Give me a name?” And so he did.

Now, the punch line of this story is I had never heard of this man. Didn’t have a clue who he was. I then launched into a self-indulgent tirade slathered in righteous indignation. “How could he be such a great salesperson if I’d never heard of him? Why have I never run into him? I’m on the street every day!” That day I set out on a mission to find this man (we’ll call him Bob) and find out what made him, allegedly, so much better than me.

I did indeed find out why Bob was so much better than me and it caused a profound change in my selling style and philosophy that has stuck with me to this day. While the rest of us undisciplined fools were running around the marketplace like headless poultry chasing down anything that moved and naively confusing activity with achievement, Bob was in his office. He was studying, analyzing, and preparing. While I and my hapless peers executed a “fire now-aim later” approach, Bob practiced a ready-ready-aim-aim-aim-fire” style. Bob was a big game hunter. While I saw 10 customers in a day (and sold 6 or 8 cases), Bob saw maybe 2-3 customers a week. But since he had prequalified them as being the very largest customers, he often walked out with orders of 1,000-2,000 cases at a time. Bob understood that not all accounts are equal. Not even close. If fact 80% of the business was being done by 20% of the customers. Bob ignored the 80%, and, instead, focused his time (including preparation time) on the 20% exclusively.

I had never heard of Bob before that job interview and he had certainly never heard of me. Up until that time, I behaved like most salespeople do today. I placed a high value on things like effort, # of sales calls made per day, # of accounts sold, and hard work. I was the busiest person you ever saw. And, in case you didn’t notice, I would tell you about it.

Bob, by contrast, placed the highest possible value on his time. He was very miserly with his time because a) he understood it was limited and b) he expected the maximum return for it. By taking extra time to prepare to sell, his closing ratio was 8-10 times higher than mine. By narrowing the focus of his customer base to only the most attractive accounts in the market, he sold 10-20 times more than me. He blew away his goals every year and received his full bonus every year.

It is a sad (but true) indictment on the typical sales department that we tend to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity. We know this because we like to measure the quantity of work (# sales calls, # of days in the field, etc.) rather than the quality (the end result). How you reach your sales quota should not be nearly as important as IF you reach your sales quote. But, ask most sales people today and you’ll hear horror stories about being micro-managed by their sales leaders. I’ll save this for another blog post, but whatever you measure you’ll get more of. Want more sales calls? Measure # of sales calls. Want more sales? Measure results.

Ignoring 80% of the customer base is very difficult. No question about it. But it is the absolute key to dramatically accelerating salesforce performance! If salespeople are to sharpen the focus of their sales activity to only the most attractive accounts, their sales leaders will have to insist on it. Salespeople who operate this way on their own are extremely rare. Left to their own devices, most salespeople will behave more like the “Ben” in this story than the “Bob.” Moving from Ben’s intuitive approach that says, “Just do it” to Bob’s more systematic approach that considers account sales potential as a key determinant to success must be done intentionally. It won’t happen on its own.

We’re talking a major shift in sales culture and sales philosophy here. So, a good next step is to ask yourself: do you want good results or do you want great results? It is not only possible to accomplish more by doing less, it is mandatory. Time to start focusing on results instead of dedication. And, as always, I’m here to help if you need me.

To build a great sales team, start at the bottom

Some sales leaders believe the key to generating high levels of performance from their sales team is to threaten, bribe, cajole, and berate them. “Leading” by fear and intimidation is hardly what I’d call leading. In fact, if you are currently part of such a sales culture, I advise you to leave immediately.

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The idea that salespeople need to be motivated is preposterous. To watch some sales leaders in action, you’d think that salespeople are the laziest, stupidest creatures on earth and need constant supervision. If this describes your company, your problem is not the salespeople; it’s a lack of leadership skills and hiring practices. If you have salespeople who need to be motivated, you not only have the wrong salespeople, you have the wrong leaders.

The truth is great salespeople don’t need anyone above them telling them what to do or how to do it. Sales teams aren’t something that needs to be “managed.” There are really only two things they need from their leaders: stay out of their way and remove any barrier that prohibits them from taking exceptionally good care of their customers. Yes, I said “their” customers. Great salespeople are like franchisees. They take a winning product line and the proven systems of the franchisor and build a wildly successful business around it.

Oh, we’re really getting to the center of things now, aren’t we? To those sales pros and leaders who “get” this, no further explanation is necessary. To those who do not, no explanation will suffice. So, I guess there are really only two potential audiences for this blog post: salespeople who need to jump ship and find a company that “gets it” and business owners and executives who care about long term top line growth.

Great sales teams are built from the ground up; one sales pro at a time. One of the reasons this is not more widely accepted is because so many companies are doing it wrong. It’s a matter of perspective. Most companies are product focused rather than customer focused. The idea that if you build a great product, customers will automatically follow is only partially true. In fact, it’s a very small percentage of companies (think Apple) where the products are so exceptional they hardly need “selling” at all. For the vast majority of companies, there’s so little differentiation and so much competition (craft beer or wine, for example) that having a sales team is essential.

So you’ve got what you think is a great product or portfolio of products and now all you need is a hotshot sales team to sell it? Terrific. And, here’s where things go horribly wrong. I’m speaking directly to business owners and executives now: don’t believe the “conventional wisdom” of what a sales team is and does. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking sales are generated by whip cracking and carrot dangling. Don’t use a top-down approach to building your sales team. Here’s a common scenario: A company gets to the stage where they need a sales team so they find some “sales manager” type person and ask him/her to start hiring. But, unless this directive is accompanied by a solid strategy of what constitutes a great salesperson and how to hire them, what you typically end up with is a posse of old-school, transactional sales people who aggressively pitch products to customers. This is not the way to gain lots of customers. And the customers you do gain via this approach don’t “stick.” This is a top-down approach.

Run of the mill salespeople who have never been properly trained in the modern ways of selling are a dime a dozen and the turnover is very high with these folks. So, of course, the notion that they need to be “managed” just gets perpetuated. And since the customers you gain by using them don’t stick, you have to keep turning the heat up; quotas, commissions, bonuses, threats, and all sorts of trickery to “motivate” your sales team.

Instead, start at the bottom. What every business truly needs are customers. So, that’s where you should start. If you want to know what customers want, ask them. You could also ask a great salesperson. Start with one great salesperson and build up from there. Find salespeople who know how to deliver for the customers. Then find sales leaders who know how to hire and lead great salespeople.

If you’re not consistently meeting your sales goals now, consider this an invitation to start looking at this from an entirely new perspective. Taking the time to understand how great salespeople acquire and retain lots of customers could be a huge game changer for your company. And who knows; you might even find with 3 or 4 great salespeople on the payroll, you no longer need that high-priced sales manager.

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.