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Considering Hiring a Sales Leader — WAIT !!

Over the course of a long sales career I have seen many situations where management felt they needed to bring in a sales leader and many times did not think it through.

I know a CEO who had 3 salespeople reporting to an over worked COO. Although the sales team was mature and well managed, he thought perhaps he simply needed a sales leader.  Simultaneously, he heard of a sales executive he knew who was looking for a new opportunity and so he hired him as a VP, probably without fully thinking through what his objective was.

The new VP did not have a background in the particular industry, but we all know that the industry knowledge doesn’t matter (not!) as long as the leader knows how to sell. So his first task was to get up to speed on industry and product knowledge.  The logical place to get that would be from the established sales force and the marketing officer. For some reason, he was reluctant to engage with the sales force for learning and never took the time to understand whatever sales processes were in place.

The demands of senior management were focused on making accurate forecasts and the new VP quickly got wrapped around the axle of making sure he could provide for this need. As he tried to bring clarity and accuracy, he found that the forecasting processes  that were in place did not seem to be working. He therefore went back to his years of experience and started changing processes. Because he did not understand the processes in place, his proposed changes created some issues with the sales team.

I believe that sales is a “mentored” profession and no matter how mature the sales force, leadership needed to provide some front line training and strategic assistance. This VP however felt it was more important to perfect the forecast rather than perfect the sales force. His only interaction was the “Monday Team Call” at which he went through the pipeline account by account, simply asking for target close date. Each week, the call was  the same drill with (often) the same answers from the sale folks.

Eventually the original COO left the company and when the CEO brought in a new COO, it was clear from day one that the sales org was not being managed. The new COO started working with the VP to make certain that he understood that you can’t manage the forecast without managing the sales force.

The scenario I just described resulted in a downturn in revenue for the first year the new VP was in place. Had the CEO taken the time to determine what his objective was and tested the new VP on process management, they would have had a different result.

My recommendation for senior management is to have a prospective sales leader do some research and provide a proposal on how he would bring value to the organization.  In my own past, I have done this without being asked and it has always assured me of being hired and assured management that objectives and processes are clear.

I recently read an article by Tamara Schenk (One of my favorite sales leaders) which gave me the impetus to write this Blog. You will find value in reading her article and following her. Here is the link http://www.integritysolutions.com/coaching/make-time-sales-coaching-everybody-wins?platform=hootsuite

More later….

Todd

My Notifications of the “death of selling” may have been premature

There is an interesting debate going on in the sales industry blogosphere about whether selling is dying. What we are really discussing however is “will we need salespeople in the future and what will their role be”.

I used to publish a quarterly newsletter (Spare on Sales and Marketing) back in the early nineties… I was recently doing research for an article I am writing and came across the newsletter published in July 1993 in which my lead story was “Selling is Dying”.
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From the Article…

There are essentially four elements that drive a salesperson’s success. These are a.) Selling Skills, b.) Knowledge (Product and Industry), c.) Time and Territory Management, and d.) Relationship Building. I used to hire salespeople based on their selling skills because that was the most important driver. That is no longer true. Today’s top salespeople are the ones who have knowledge. They fully understand the product or service they are selling. They fully understand the needs of the prospect and the marketplace.

The closing line in my article back then was “for selling in the nineties (1990’s) the name of the game is how do we deliver the most knowledge (added value) to our customer.”….

According to Selling Power Magazine, Gartner Research analyzed the market and projected that we will downsize from twenty million salespeople today to four million by 2020. This projection is based on industry trends and the growing sophistication of software applications (to deliver knowledge) and the continuing acceleration of computer power and social media.

At a Sales2.0 conference in 2010, Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of Selling Power asked the audience to raise their hand if they have ever purchased anything from Amazon.com. Almost everyone raised their hand. Then he asked “How many of you have ever spoken to an Amazon salesperson?” Nobody raised their hand. The exercise demonstrates that a lot of products are being sold through automation.

I believe at some product levels, we don’t necessarily need outbound sales personnel, but at higher levels, we will always need them.

As technology improves, more and more products will be sold automatically in the Business to Business (B2B) arena. It’s already happening in many acquisition areas like office supplies and some forms of printing, computer purchases, etc. Many state governments and large corporations have initiated on line requisitioning where an RFQ is published and the best respondent (best price, highest quality) can win the bid and the buyer and seller never talk face to face.

So who will need the four million salespeople that are left? Many of them may be situated in call centers rather than outside sales positions. The balance will be working for companies where the buyer cannot capture the knowledge or comfort required to make a good buying decision.

There are a number of industries where the customer will need additional help in his research and decision making process and there will always be a role for the salesperson in these situations. The role may become that of the differentiator or negotiator.

Industries where you are selling professional services or highly technical products will always need salespeople. Often in these industries there is a technical consultant available to assist the salesperson and the customer in understanding what he is investing in.

So, ultimately, we are really discussing the question of “what’s the value the salesperson brings” I believe the salesperson’s task at hand is to be become much more informed about the prospect’s business and industry and their strategies. Then the salesperson needs a full understanding of the potential his product or service offers to assist those strategies.

To some extent very complex (highly engineered) products will require salespeople as well. I don’t see countries and companies buying Boeing aircraft on the web in the near future.
So the salesperson of the future will need to be a “knowledge broker” more than anything else.

The competencies (drivers) required for this position will include:
Knowledge of  
—General business 
—The Prospect’s business
—The industry
—The competition
Questioning and Listening Skills
Strategic Thinking
Conviction, Confidence and Integrity

So, perhaps selling (as we once knew it) is dying.

If a salesperson wants to be one of the remaining four million, he/she will need to grow the above skills, work continually to increase their education and begin looking for sales opportunities with companies whose products are complex and hard to sell.

Thoughtfully yours

Todd

What’s The Future of Business – A Commentary

Are you interested in where business is headed and how to prepare the future. You may want to consider Brian Solis newest book “What’s The Future of Business”.

My initial disclaimer is that I have been impressed with Brian Solis since we first connected two years ago, so a natural bias is implied. His perspective on the future of the marketplace extends well beyond that of most of the business experts writing today. I recently tweeted  “@BrianSolis is the @Tom_Peters of the future of (social) business #WTFofBusiness.  His prophecies are based on sound logic and an exceptional understanding of social media.

I read the book and then immediately read it again. For me it took two readings just to (partially) understand the import of the book. I considered writing a multiple part commentary here in order to give you the essence of the book, but decided it would be best to tell you what my impressions are and let you read it for yourself.

Before you even get into the book, you are struck immediately by the design. It is square. The Table of Contents lists seventeen chapters (not including the surprise at the end). Each chapter header has a list of 17 bullet points and an arrow at the particular chapter you are reading. On a separate page is a relevant quotation that matches the chapter theme. Solis believes that design is a critical part of future communication.

The book walks the reader step by step through a process of learning how to (try to) understand today’s empowered customer. The objective is to understand the “experience” that your customer expects to have with you.

Solis breaks the customers into Generations (age categories) but focuses on Gen C (the “connected” customer).  Gen C is primarily made up of Gen Y’s (millennial born between 1980 and 2000) who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, but may also include boomers and matures (that’s me). The differentiator is how they connect and includes those who have crossed over to the digital divide. How they connect effects how you create their experience.

Most analysts agree that customers often go through 60-70% of the sales cycle before connecting with a salesperson. He personifies this process as the dynamic customer journey and helps us understand the buying process from the perspective of the customer. One of the most interesting chapters is a discussion of the psychology of social commerce.

As he leads us through the process of why the user experience is critical to customer relationships, he offers guidance on how to work through the path to understanding.  This is hard work and he makes no bones about it. He also makes no bones about how important it is for you and your company to understand where the customer is headed. He discusses how lack of innovation destroyed many companies that were household names only years ago.

If you are involved in business, I believe you will find a this book an excellent resource for managing your way through the evolution of Digital Darwinism. I also believe you will find value in connecting with and following Brian Solis on any social media platform you use. You can connect with him initially through his website http://www.briansolis.com/

I hope you enjoy the book and the journey into the future of business. I highly recommend it.

Thoughtfully yours

Todd

Small Business Folks Don’t Understand the Value of “Likes” on FB

Are you interested in maximizing your sales revenue?

Every Summer I plant raise heirloom tomatoes.  I “like” doing that.  This past Sunday, Landreth Seeds, the oldest seed company in the US (and a company I “like”) held a sale of their tomato plants. Since it was only an hour drive I went down and picked up some plants.

When I went to pay, the clerk handed me two pieces of paper and suggested I read them. The information was not relevant  to this post, except for the page marked “Friends of Landreth. On it they asked us to visit their page on Facebook and “like” them.

They had one great sentence in the request that I believe sums up the small business  impression of the value of being “liked” It read…”Though we cannot pretend to understand why, the number of ‘LIKES’ a commercial Facebook Page has is a very very important indicator of how good the company is. Please ‘LIKE’ our page.

I have talked with numerous small business folks regarding social media and many of them don’t understand what it is all about and where the value is. I don’t want to generalize, but often it appears  to me that, the older the company (and perhaps their management) the less they understand the process and the value.  They are often under the impression (as Landreth is) that “likes” are an indicator of goodness or value.. What they don’t seem to understand is the “social” part of social media. And so they ask…Why?

In my view “likes” are a kind of connection comment…..I enjoy doing business with this company or I love their products or…whatever. It is an indicator that they are willing to have a social interaction with your company, but the next step is up to the company being “liked” . The folk’s that “liked” you are really waiting for a next step in the process.

The next step can be an informational comment about the product or the industry. It may be an offer or a coupon response designed to engage the “liker” and to demonstrate that there was value in ‘liking” them. It should be the beginning of a continuing (2 way) conversation. If the next step does not take place, the liker will not be back to like you again. And so you will have lost an opportunity to have a social relationship that has value to both liker and likee…..

If you are a business leader and you are struggling with the value of social media, you may enjoy following Brian Solis (http://www.briansolis.com) . I believe he is one of the best thought leaders in this field today. He writes articulately and understands how all this stuff is supposed to provide value. His latest book “The End of Business as Usual” is a hard read, but if you read it, you will find the path to value in social media.

If I can be of assistance in simply helping you understand how social media can contribute to value and help in maximizing your sales revenue, please let me know.

Levels Of Selling “Revisited”

Are you interested in maximizing your sales revenue?

Years ago I wrote a feature article for a sales magazine in which I discussed levels of salesmanship. The levels as pictured below were based what type of sales person one might be and how they would interact.  I went into detail regarding the various types and what their position and roles were and most importantly that there was more margin and revenue if you called at a higher level and had an implied higher skill set. (If you want a .pdf of the article request it and I will happily send a copy).

I have gone back and reviewed this article and tried to figure out how the levels may have changed over the years and the change has been dramatic. I think the world of the “commercial visitor” type has pretty much disappeared. I am not sure if anyone walks up and down main street prospecting anymore save a few “energy consultants” and “point-of-sale specialists.

There are still “vendors” who respond to purchasing agents hoping to get orders based on product, price and availability; however their margins have dropped significantly.

There are still a fair number of “consultants” who are selling products and services to fill an implied need and in fact, it is my personal belief that the vast majority of salespeople working today fall into this category.

We have learned over time from the marketplace and from all the sales consultants working today that survival in the world of selling will require that you become a “counselor” type. This role has been well described by many Bloggers  and commentators and is described more fully in the hot new best selling book “The Challenger Sale” ( http://www.executiveboard.com/challenger/index.html) by Dixson and Adamson.

As part of my analysis of the old article I attempted to find any possible trigger points that may have caused a paradigm shift in these levels. I started with the art and science of selling before there were railroads and cars and telephones, each of which created a shift of sorts. The fax machine slightly changed our approach to selling. The computer had a major impact, first on marketing using huge databases of information and later with laptops which could be used to conduct presentations and generate proposals on the spot.

The advent of the internet however began the major paradigm shift because suddenly the buyer did not have to start at the beginning of the sales cycle and depend totally on the seller to describe the solution. As more and more information was published to the web, the buyer became more independent.  It is estimated today that the buyer is nearly 70% of the way through the cycle before the seller ever gets engaged.

If you have followed any of my recent posts, you will know that I am an advocate for sales and marketing folks to become “knowledge brokers” in order to survive. In order to bring value to your prospect and customer today, you need to understand the buyer’s business, his industry, your product or service and how they all relate to each other. You then need to take this body of knowledge and counsel (or challenge) your customer to use it to his or her best advantage.

In my article written years ago, I ended by asking the readers to decide “what level you are”. Today, the question is meaningless, because in reality, if you are not at the counselor level, you probably will not survive the next five years.

Good Selling!

CRO [ch-ief rev-en-ue off-i-cer]: (noun) 1. An executive coming soon to preside over your sales and marketing.

As a business person, would you agree that “maximizing” your sales revenue is important?  If it is, you need to make certain you understand who is in charge of managing the “buyer’s journey”, because if you don’t manage it, you will lose prospects customers and revenue.

As technology continues to take over more and more business processes, it has had a tremendous effect on how customers search for and find us. Recent studies have confirmed that buyers today are often 70% of the way through the “buyer’s journey” (http://bit.ly/tvENtn) before they engage the salesperson. This means your marketing process needs to become focused on delivering relevant information, rather than simply creating awareness.

This means the prospect moves much further down the sales (process) funnel before engaging a sales person. This also means that marketing has a much deeper role to play in developing the relationship with the buyer prior to sales engagement.  Marketing has become much more important than CEO’s used to believe. Unfortunately, many marketing managers either have not yet figured this out or they have figured it out, but don’t know how to get the CEOs attention.

The sales organization typically does not want to give (funnel) ground to the marketing folks because the relationship between these two groups has been in conflict for years. Likewise, we are finding sales manager’s who don’t want to give up this position either. They often have the CEOs ear because sales are the lifeblood of a company. Companies today are bleeding however. The number of sales people not making quota has dramatically increased and prospects are being lost because they cannot get the information they need to select you as a supplier.

There is no time or place any longer for internal arguments between sales and marketing and their respective roles. There is no place left for complaining about the quality of the leads (from sales) and the quality of the selling process (from marketing). It is time to become aligned and jointly engaged in the process that delivers a “customer”. This situation also means that management of the process must be shared by the sales manager and the marketing manager and in time we will begin to see the new role of Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) take the place of these two positions.

The CRO will be someone who has worn both a marketing hat and a sales hat in their career. They will need to fully understand the new shape of the “buyer’s journey”. They will need to be able to lead both teams and meld them into one over time. In large companies, the CRO will have sales and marketing managers reporting to him/her instead of the CEO. In smaller companies the role of CRO will allow the business to operate with separate managers and in fact may reduce the cost of sales. Finding people with the right skill set may be a challenge.

If you are a sales manager or a marketing manager today, I suggest you start trying to understand this paradigm shift in the buyer’s behavior. Further I suggest you attempt to work more closely with your counter point in the other department so that you begin capturing more prospects as they search for your solution. Finally I suggest you position both teams into a single partnership focused on the end result of capturing more revenue. While you are doing this, you will be getting the background and education required to become the new CRO. If you don’t take the initiative to do this, you will soon meet the new CRO when he is hired.

If you truly want to “maximize” your sales revenue, you can begin by understanding your “buyer’s journey”, and reassessing your sales and marketing team’s process based on the discussion above.  If you are not sure how to do this or don’t have the time, there are professionals available to guide you through the process, confirm your present impressions and provide a roadmap for change.

Please let me know if I can be of assistance.

Is your marketing process delivering “high quality” sales leads?

As a businessman, would you say that “maximizing” your sales is revenue important? If it is, you need to make certain your sales and marketing folks are “knowledge brokers”.

In my previous post I wrote about the need for your sales team to become “knowledge brokers”. Recent studies have confirmed that buyers today are often 70% of the way through the “buyer’s journey” (http://bit.ly/tvENtn) before they engage the salesperson. This means your marketing process needs to become focused on delivering relevant information, rather than simply creating awareness.

The power of the internet has clearly changed the buyer-seller dynamic and a new approach to sales and marketing is required. The buyer suddenly does not need to rely on the salesperson any longer for much of their information gathering. They simply go to the web and conduct research. They communicate with peers about solutions and ROI. They read informative articles in trade publications. They utilize social media. This means that the marketing effort must extend much further down the sales funnel then ever before.

Up until five years ago, marketing’s role was to create awareness through advertising, PR and other conventional means. Their goal was to find prospects that might fit the customer profile and then pass that contact information to sales. These are still important functions of a well designed marketing process. Today however, the buyers are looking more and more to gathering product and supplier information through an informal research process without contacting the supplier’s sales organization. This means the marketing message needs to be smarter, deeper and more directed at creating the customer relationship. They need to help deliver high quality sales leads.

There is no time or place any longer for internal arguments between sales and marketing and their respective roles. There is no place left for complaining about the quality of the leads (from sales) and the quality of the selling process (from marketing). It is time to become aligned and jointly engaged in the process that delivers a “customer”. This situation also means that management of the process must be shared by the sales manager and the marketing manager and in time we will begin to see the new role of Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) take the place of these two positions.

When I say that marketing needs to become a “knowledge broker”, I am suggesting that the marketing process needs to deliver more and more of the product and service information that the salesperson used to deliver. The marketing team needs to extend their reach. They need to create awareness just like they always have. They need to advertise in less traditional ways (search engines, ads on web pages, etc). They need to publish product and corporate information brochures but more in an electronic form rather than paper. They need to conduct PR campaigns, but cannot limit them to trade and newspaper print media. They need to create highly informative web site content and ease of navigation that will capture the reader’s attention and provide a deeper level of knowledge about products and services. But all of that is what was always done except in a different form and process.

Now product and service information needs to be much more about how the product or service fits into the buyer’s business, how it works for other industry leaders. It is about how to implement it quickly easily and with as little business interruption as possible.

But the real change is how the marketing team engages the buyer on his journey. Marketing needs to develop new ways to track the buyer’s activities, learn more about their needs and more about how (and by whom) decisions are made. The final outcome must be that the sales “lead” that is passed to the salesperson has already become a highly qualified prospect. The lead must include “in depth” information about the buyer’s needs and process and hopefully an established relationship.

In order to accomplish this, management must be willing to extend the marketing budget (some of which may come from the sales budget since the work requirement has shifted). Management must make certain that the sales and marketing teams are fully aligned and understand the corporate strategy. And finally there must be solid agreement on the definition of what constitutes a quality lead. If you have the lead defined properly, you can work backward through the process of delivering knowledge to the prospect that turn him into a customer.

If you want to “maximize” your sales revenue, you can begin by assessing your marketing team’s process based on the discussion above.  If you are not sure how to do this or don’t have the time, there are professionals available to guide you through the process, confirm your present impressions and provide a roadmap for change.

Please let me know if I can be of assistance.