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.

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.

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.

Selling is Dead

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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.

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.

When Sales Contests Are Bad For Your Business

I recently went to an RV superstore to pick up a few things for my camping trailer. A polite and friendly salesperson approached me and asked, “Can I help you find anything?” When I said, “Just looking, for now,” she proceeded to launch into a sales pitch to join their frequent shopper club. When, a few minutes later, a second “helpful” salesperson approached me, I knew instinctively a sales contest was underway in this store.

Why is it a sales contest brings out the worst in salespeople? Aren’t there enough bad salespeople in the world without adding desperation and greed into the mix? Could you be any more obvious that you’re running a sales contest?

While sales contests might be good (in the short term) for, um, sales, it is one of the worst ways to treat your customers if your execution is clumsy and self-serving. Sales contests, by themselves, are not inherently bad, but when the focus is on what you want versus what the customer wants, it’s a recipe for disaster. In the short term, you’ll have a few extra sales. But, in the long term, you will have fewer loyal customers. What we are talking about here is doing a bad job executing a good idea.

The only way sales contests are good for your business is if they are accompanied by a polished and professional sales approach. By “approach,” I mean how the salespeople interact with the customers. Here’s a cold, hard fact: the more you act like a salesperson, the less you will sell. That’s right, you heard me. The very best salespeople do not act like salespeople – using such obvious techniques as overcoming objections and attempting to close. You know the old lawyer joke about how you can tell if a lawyer is lying because his lips are moving? Well, guess what, sales guys and gals, we can all tell when you are selling because you are doing all the talking.

Executed properly, a sale should be a by-product of a much larger relationship – a relationship whereby the focus is on serving customers and meeting their needs. You can get anything you want in life if you help enough people get what they want. It’s just that simple. In the case of the RV Superstore, I very well might have joined their loyalty club if the salespeople on the floor hadn’t been so heavy-handed and obvious. I don’t fault the salespeople as much as I fault the management team who never bothered to train their salespeople properly. The cost? One less RV enthusiast will be shopping in their store. If you think sales training is expensive, just think how expensive NOT providing sales training is.