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 2018 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 2018. 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

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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

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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!

Twitter for Boomers

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Consider this an “intervention” or, at the very least, a public service announcement. This post is for the Baby Boomers who struggle with understanding why anyone would want to subject themselves to public scrutiny via social media. Now, full disclosure here, I am a Boomer myself. Born in 1960 and raised in the pre personal computer age. I didn’t even get my hands on my own computer until I was 33 years old and had already been in the business world for more than a decade.

Although I wasn’t aware of the term at the time, I was an “early adopter” of technology. I threw myself into training classes on Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. I also learned to use some of the early contact management software tools like ACT and Time & Chaos. For the last two decades, I’ve continually worked hard at keeping up with the times – technologically speaking. I taught myself to write databases with Access and I’ve become quite adept at CRM using Salesforce.com. Of course, my current repertoire also includes the major social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and Instagram. As proof of my affinity for technology, I rarely meet another mid 50’s person who has as many Twitter and Instagram followers as I do.

So, I feel very qualified to be the one to throw a lifeline to my fellow Boomers who, by all estimation, could really use the help. News flash, Boomers: technology in not just for young people! If you think Facebook is a frivolous waste of time and that Twitter is nothing but the narcissistic muse of pre-teens with selfie sticks, you are only partly right. Don’t throw the cyber baby out with the bathwater. FB and Twitter are also powerful business tools, which, in competent hands, are capable of providing significant strategic advantages in the marketplace. For every here’s-what-I-had-for-breakfast Tweet, there are a hundred, legitimate, high-quality posts and links. You’ve been sitting on the sidelines for too long and I’m here to help you get into the game.

As a proponent of the Jeffersonian saying that “It is better that something be well started than quickly finished,” I’d like to suggest Boomers begin their social media quest by becoming proficient in the use of Twitter. Because of its ease of use, small number of moving parts, and low maintenance, it’s the perfect place for a stuck-in-the-80’s Boomer to start. To help start you on your path, I’ve compiled a list of Ten Easy Steps to becoming proficient in the use of Twitter.

1. Open a Twitter Account

If you’re not sure how to do this, just Google “how to open a Twitter account.” There are also many brief, instructional YouTube videos. No need to go out and buy the book Twitter for Dummies. Remember, we are starting small, here. Twitter can be complex but it doesn’t have to be. And, if you are one of those Boomers who still don’t trust putting your info out on the Internet please consider if the Pope and the President of the United States aren’t worried about it, neither should you be.

2. Choose your Twitter handle

For the novice, a “handle” is the name by which you will appear on the Twitter feed. Since you’ve waited this long to get onto Twitter, you should know all the good names are already taken – including your own name. However, the kind folks at Twitter will recommend a handle to you that is not already taken. Unless you have a clever idea of your own (and an extra 25 minutes to see if each of your ideas are already taken), I recommend you choose one of the suggestions Twitter provides for you. The good news is no matter what handle you choose, you still have a chance to list your full name in your bio.

3. Fill out a short bio

Boomers are particularly prone to skip this step because here’s where it starts to look narcissistic. Get over it, please. Social media is, theoretically, about trading information and content not glorifying yourself. Let people know who you are, where you work and what your current role is. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to list your current role. This will come in handy later as you begin to connect with your peers, customers and – yes- even your competitors. Best practice here: study how other people are doing it before you write you bio. You can change it any time you like.

4. Upload a photo of yourself

Once again, many Boomers are hung up on this idea that there’s something sinful about promoting yourself. Again, please get over it. The purpose of this photo is so we can all make sure, when we search for and “follow” you (see below), we’ve indeed found the right person. There are most likely a dozen or more people who share your first and last name. Your photo is for OUR benefit- not yours. And for heavens sake don’t over think the photo. No need to wait until you’ve had a professional headshot done. Any old snapshot will do. If you can’t bring yourself to take a selfie with your smart phone, have your spouse take it for you. If you want to add a little cool factor, put a black and white filter on it before you upload it. If you don’t want to stare into the camera like the proverbial headlamp-lit deer, have your spouse snap your mug at a 45-degree angle that shows you staring off into the distance doing your best to affect an air of indifference and detachment. But, by far, the best option is to put a big smile on your face and look straight into the camera so we can all see what a nice person you are. No matter which style you choose, DO NOT leave this blank. In fact, if you can’t bring yourself to post a pic of yourself you are probably not ready for social media. Sorry to be so harsh but its for your own good.

5. Search for and start following all of your customers

By following your customers on Twitter and regularly monitoring their posts, you will, over time, become intimate with their marketing strategies and tactics. Monitoring the Twitter stream of your customers is like putting a wet finger in the wind of commerce to see which way the wind is blowing. It just makes good business sense.

6. Search for and start following all of your competitors

I know this sounds creepy but trust me, its very Kosher. Everyone is watching everyone so you might as well jump in with the rest of us. Why does everyone follow their competition? For the same reason your dog cleanses himself: because he can.

7. Search for and follow all the people you admire and look up to.

I think Seth Godin is a genius. So I follow him on Twitter. I’m also a big fan of Tony Robbins. Who are your heroes in business and in life? Follow them and hear what they have to say. While you’re at it, you might want to follow your favorite sports teams and the brands you love. And please, by all means, follow the Twitter feeds of the local businesses near you where you shop and dine.

8. Get ideas of whom else to follow from the people you follow

This part is both easy and fun. I like to see whom other people are following because maybe I want to follow some of them, too. All you do is click on the person’s profile, then click on their “following” list. Review the list shown and just click “follow” on the ones that look interesting. It’s a great way to expand the list of people you follow. Don’t be surprised when people start following you back!

9. “Listen” and learn

Now you are ready to start extracting value from the Twitter feed. Resolve to check your feed at least twice a day. You do this by downloading the free Twitter app to your smart phone and logging in. I suggest once right before or after lunch and again just before you quit work for the day. Give it some time. Try this for 30 days and see if you don’t come away feeling much better informed about what’s going on in the world and in your industry.

10 Contribute content

At last you are ready to start behaving like a genuine member of the 21st century, global community. There are two ways to get started contributing content in a low-risk way. The first is to “re-Tweet” a Tweet that you like that has appeared in your feed. It’s easy to do and the person for whom you are re-Tweeting will love you for it. Just make sure you use a “Quote Tweet” so the original poster of the content gets credit. The second way is, when you’ve finish reading an online article or blog post that you really like, post it to Twitter and share it with your followers. Almost everything you read on the Internet today is ready to post to Twitter. Start looking for the little blue Twitter icon at the end (or sometimes at the top) of the article. Just click that icon and it will cue up the post for your Twitter feed. NOTE: another way to do this is cut and paste the web address to your feed. Just make sure you use a URL shortening tool like Bitly because you’ll be limited to 120 characters and you don’t want to burn up those characters with a long web address.

Here are a few final tips and tricks to get the most out of your Twitter experience. First, if someone follows you, it’s generally polite to follow them back. The only exception is if the follower is just trying to sell you something or you have nothing at all in common with that follower. Check them out before you follow back. Second, keep your privacy settings very loose. Unless you are under 15 years old, there’s not much point in “protecting” your Tweets. Act like a businessperson and you’ll seldom have any trouble. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself (a very Boomer-like trait) if you neglect your Twitter account for a few weeks or even a month. Just come right back to it whenever the mood strikes. I, myself, have “seasons” when I’m very active and other periods of time when I’m not. Strive for progress, not perfection.   So that’s it. Welcome to the Twitter-sphere! Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. ben@salisburycreative.com

Selling is Dead

tombstone

Selling is Dead

Man, it feels good to say that! I have wanted to say it for a long time but, you know, when you work for a big company and your business card says, VP of Sales, you have to be careful about expressing such decrees. Someone might get offended. One of the nice things about owning your own company is you’re completely free to say what you believe. Even better when you’ve got a blog…

So, yes, what you might call “traditional selling skills,” if not dead already, will continue to die a slow death. I don’t plan to dive into all the reasons here so I will name just a few: the unlimited access to information via internet, the attitude of Millennials buyers/consumers, the power of Social Media, Big Data, etc. Techniques like overcoming objections and closing techniques will become even more obsolete than they are already.

I remember the first time I came across the following statement in the book, “1ndispensable” (not a typo) by Joe Calloway: “The old days of getting the appointment to make your presentation and then waiting to overcome objections are so yesterday’s news it hurts.” It hurts. Yes, that is totally it. When you finally mature enough in the sales profession to see how “yesterday’s news” this selling style really is, it literally hurts to watch. The sad part is it happens a million times a day right here in the year 2015. Well, I’m sorry but someone has got to say something and it might as well be me. Spoiler alert: many of you will not agree with me because you’re married to an outdated and dying paradigm.

What I offer you, instead, is a more modern way of selling (if you even still want to call it selling). It’s more like co-creating than it is selling, really. Let me explain. It takes an incredible amount of arrogance to launch into a speech about your company and your products when you have not yet taken any time at all to learn what is important to the buyer and what their needs/pain points are. This is one of the reasons I’m so thankful for CRM systems like ZoHo, Salesforce, and SUGARCRM. These tools train you to collect lots of details about the Accounts and Contacts you’ll be approaching later. Key word is “later.”  The modern sales game is more about seeing how much you can learn about someone rather than how much you can teach them about your products’ features and benefits. (BTW, I’ll have to leave this to another blog post but, companies who over-invest in product knowledge training for their salespeople are failing to see how the world really works. Nobody gives a rip how much you know about your product. Yes, it is important to know about your company’s products but that only gets you to the starting gate. Product knowledge alone won’t lead to more sales. Unless it’s coupled with modern selling philosophies, it’s potentially a waste of time and money.

I feel a rant coming on. Be careful not to confuse activity with achievement. Whatever you measure you’ll get more of. Go ahead- measure how many sales calls a week your sales team is logging. You know what you’ll get? That’s right, more sales calls. But if you want to get meaningful, sustainable results, start measuring the number of truly engaged customers each rep has. How many raving fans of your products has each sales rep cultivated? (Don’t think this is measurable? Let me guess: you’re not currently using CRM in your sales processes). Show me a salesperson who is “just-so-very-busy” and stressed out and I’ll show you someone without a disciplined system of operating. Lots of sales calls rarely equate to lots of sales. It just feels that way because you’re so darn busy and sweaty.

High quality, well-qualified, “sticky” sales are a byproduct of a much larger relationship. And relationships are formed by learning and inquiring about people. That’s right- real people. People with opinions and preferences and prejudices and experiences and influences.  You don’t learn about people by talking and presenting. Acquiring and then keeping customers is not easy and they both take time. Study your customers. Take the time to learn about them.  Don’t even think about approaching them until you’ve done your homework.

Here’s some good news: it is easier than ever to learn about your customers and what makes them tick. Between Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, it’s amazing what you can learn about people if you put your mind to it. If you have a CRM system, not only can you use it to help with your research, you can record everything you’ve learned. So what kind of tidbits should you be looking for? Some of it is obvious. Things like where they went to college, how long they’ve held their current position, what they used to do and where they used to work. You can find connections and contacts they have in common with you. You can also learn about their hobbies and interests. To go much further, however, you’re going to have to start reading between the lines. What do they read? Who do they follow? Who/what are some of their key influencers (both people and ideas). And, of course, nothing is more valuable than what people say. Read through their Twitter and FB feeds. See what they are saying and doing.

Now, let’s get this out of the way. Some of you might say, “So what? Just because you have this information doesn’t mean it will help you make a sale. What’s the point? Sounds like a giant waste of time to me.” To this I say, “Thank you.” Thank you for helping me make my point that traditional selling is drawing its last breath. The fact that you don’t “get” what I’m sharing here puts you squarely in the midst of a dying breed of “salespeople.” But, it’s not too late for you! Keep reading.

Once you’ve done your homework and you’re ready to make your first sales call, be aware that it may take many “touches” with this customer before they are ready to buy anything from you. The goal of that first sales call should be to learn even more about the Account and the Contact(s) – things you were not able to find out on your own prior to the call. There will be plenty of time later to talk about your offerings and solutions. But, the first or second interaction is hardly the time or place to do it. First and second sales calls are about asking questions, listening, and taking notes. These notes, of course, will be logged into your CRM system for future use.

Now I know that many of you reading this post are thinking, “You don’t know my situation. I have a lot of pressure on me to make my quota. I don’t have the time to sit at my computer all day and research potential customers. While you’re sitting there Googling, I’m out on the street selling. No one ever sold anything sitting in their office.” As a former leader of scores of salespeople, I’ve heard this refrain many times. I guess the kindest most respectful way to respond to this is to simply say, “You’re quite incorrect.” Apart from the fact that you most certainly can sell things (and lots of them) from your desk, the evidence for what I’m suggesting is overwhelmingly stacked in my favor. Sales made in the traditional way (presentations to strangers focusing on your products) do produce the occasional sale. However, those sales don’t “stick”- let alone, reproduce. The proverbial carpet is always rolling up behind you! Sales made in the modern way, not only stick, but give birth to other sales. The great NBA coach Pat Riley famously said, “The will to win is important but, the will to prepare to win is vital.”

And that’s all I’m really talking about here. “Winning” customers and sales is all about winning over people. And, to do it right; to do it effectively; to do it in a way that makes your efforts compound upon themselves over and over again is to accept the idea that “traditional selling” is dead. Allow yourself to, at the very least, become willing and open to the modern ways (and tools) of professional selling. We’ll save some room for you at the top.

Too good to be true can still be good

Marlborough 20

When I was young, I remember my Dad telling me that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Wise counsel, indeed, but it sets you up for failure in one particular way: not everything that looks too good to be true is. Its just that its “newness” spooks us because it’s so unfamiliar to our existing frame of reference. I just finished reading David McCullough’s book about the Wright Brothers. Here were two guys who everyone truly thought were bonkers – even AFTER they’d proven all skeptics wrong! There’s just something in human nature that won’t allow us to accept “new” ideas readily.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from a personal business hero, Howard Schultz, the venerated Chairman and CEO of Starbucks. He advised, “Don’t just give people what they ask for. If you offer them something they’re not accustomed to, something so far superior that it takes a while to develop their appreciation for it, you can create a sense of discovery, excitement, and loyalty that will bond them to you forever.” Chairman Schultz was a man of great vision. He created something people didn’t even know they wanted.

All of this brings me to my point which is in order to make great leaps forward in your business, you’ll have to suspend some of your current (and often deeply held) beliefs long enough to entertain new ideas that don’t fit neatly into your up-to-this-point experience. I guess the good news here is since most people won’t do this, it makes success easier for the few of us who will. I have a vivid memory from my early days in sales, working for a wine & spirits wholesaler in Houston, when I first saw a Bell Curve being drawn on the blackboard. I loved the concept immediately- that there were basically three types of people in the world: the few people at the top, the few people at the bottom, and the vast majority of the people right smack in the middle. I have desperately tried to stay out of that middle ever since.

Another favorite quote comes from Timothy Ferris’ book, The 4-Hour Workweek: “Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” Again, super good news for those of us willing to take some risks and blaze new trails. So, if you’re one of the few at the top of the Bell Curve, please read on. Otherwise, please hit “escape” or delete and go back to your comfortable world of business-as-usual so I don’t waste any more of your time. You will certainly never be lonely there.

If you’re still with me, I’d like to ask you a few questions: How good of a job are you doing keeping your existing customers engaged with your brand (and by “customers,” I mean restaurants, fine wine shops, etc)? If one of your products gets a great score in the press or your company is launching a new brand or line extension, do you have a way to quickly and easily let ALL of your existing customers know about it? To what degree are you augmenting your existing sales efforts and investments with technologies like CRM software (Customer Relationship Management), Email Marketing and Key Account Targeting?

Among the many things I’ve learned after 30 years in sales and sales leadership, is the fact that most salespeople confuse activity with achievement. Flying and/or driving from customer to customer and conducting face-to-face meetings, albeit expensive,  will always have value. Always. But guess what?  It is not the only way to sell.  Yet, for hundreds of companies in the wine & spirits industry, it’s still the only way they do it (outside of the burgeoning DTC market). This is 2015. We live in an age of big data and instant accessibility to just about everything. There IS a way to extract serious value from the data and corresponding insights but it requires a willingness to accept new ideas.

What I suggest is keep doing what you’re doing if it’s working for you. But, consider there is something you can do in addition to what you’re currently doing that can dramatically accelerate your sales performance (and at a tiny fraction of the cost). I mean, why not leverage every available sales vehicle instead of just a few of them?

Our industry is very much behind other consumer products industries when it comes to sales automation and leveraging technology. Ironically, our industry (especially the wine business) is far more competitive than any other CPG category. So, the industry that needs it most is also the most reticent to adopt it. I guess it’s because it looks too good to be true.

 

 

National Pricing Shell Game

Having just spent the last 21 years dealing with, among other things, the mess that is on premise national accounts pricing for the wine & spirits business, I feel I have a pretty good handle on what the problems are surrounding this seemingly unmanageable shell game. Someone needs to come right out and say it so it might as well be me: the Emperor has no clothes. There are several reasons for this knotty quandary and I have yet to see anyone wholly and completely articulate it- until now.

First, the people who are, primarily, responsible for managing the pricing for every state in the US (supplier national account managers) are not very comfortable with the task and do not receive the support they need inside their own companies. This is, virtually, a universal problem. To compound the insanity, the distributor national accounts sales people are in the exact same boat. The fact of the matter is the control and management of pricing is highly decentralized by geography – at the state level. Both for the supplier and the distributor, the pricing “belongs” to the people who run each state. A “dirty little secret” of the wine and spirits world is that most state level managers could give a rat’s behind what goes on outside their own state.

This sets up an incredibly unworkable dilemma whereby assembling accurate national accounts pricing is nearly impossible. I think it is fair to say that, in almost every (supplier) company operating in the US, the senior management of the organization lends very little support to this predicament. It is left up to the hapless national accounts salespeople to fend for themselves as best they can. So what are the chain restaurant and hotel operators to do? To whom can they turn for a lifeline? For the moment, at least, no one.

The second challenge is the false and highly misguided notion that national on premise pricing can be reduced to two deal levels: wine list pricing and by-the-glass pricing. There certainly does exist a model for this but that model is only valid in twenty four states. What, then, of the other half of the country? Any attempt to collect wine list and BTG pricing for those other states renders the collector doomed to utter failure. Game over before it has even begun. What always shocks me about this ridiculous stalemate is how few people are even aware of it! Unschooled national accounts managers, desperate to make a sale, never question the buyers when they ask for only these two price levels for all the states in which they operate.

So, is it any wonder that, armed with inaccurate pricing, chain restaurant buyers spend half their time chasing down national accounts managers (and their distributor accomplices) tying to write the wrongs that have been foisted upon them and in which, they themselves, have perpetuated?

If any of this resonates with you and you would like to get a preview of what is coming down the pike to stop this madness, please give me a call at 469-265-2210 or send me an email at ben@salisburycreative.com Whether you are a supplier, distributor, or chain operator, I would love to chat with you about a solution we all can live with.