3 Part Formula for Sales Success

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

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

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1)    Who to Call On

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

 

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

2)    How to Call On Them

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

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

3)    Everything Else

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

1)    You focus on products and product knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

3)    You measure number of sales calls made

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

4)    Lots of time spent preparing presentations

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

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

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!

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.

Too good to be true can still be good

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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.