Brain-food for a New Year

holly-sprigHere’s wishing you a happy and healthy festive break and a successful 2017.

As you will soon be thinking about winding down for a well-earned break at Christmas we thought we would provide some food for thought some of which might help you hit the ground running as soon as the new business year starts.

Following are a range of business tips, many focused on sales and marketing, which we hope might help you and your business.  Some are based on topics we have previously covered while others will be expanded in future newsletters throughout 2017.

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Most businesses are doing well these days but it is unusual to find one that doesn’t want to do even better.  If this is you, why not do something different or try doing the same thing differently?  Try something counter intuitive; what is there to lose if what you have been doing isn’t working as well as it did …

to keep doing it hoping for a different outcome was defined by Albert Einstein as insanity.

Has someone “moved your cheese”?

The question relates to the idea put forward in Dr Spencer Johnson’s book “Who Moved My Cheese?” that the source of whatever feeds you (in business; customers and new opportunities) may dry up at some point.  The book draws a parallel between the fruitlessness of continually returning to the now shrinking source and the alternative proactive approach of going out and looking for new sources.  If you have all the business you need to grow to plan don’t give this a second thought, but if new business has been tight in 2016 perhaps you need to look somewhere new.  Read more here

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Why wouldn’t you respond to RFI/RFPs?

If they come from/via a known source, a prospect you have been working with for some time or an established customer, you might choose to respond as you have enough information to assess the risk of losing.  But, if it has come from a company that you barely know the received wisdom suggests your chance of winning is 1:20 or even worse so I recommend you invest your time elsewhere.

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Do you have customers or clients – does it matter?

Many businesses use the word client in the misguided belief that it adds some sort of professional gloss to their image through an implied association with the real professions such as the law. The problem is that client relationships are typically infrequent or transactional being built around specific event(s).  In our view using the term client may say the wrong thing about your brand image and what your business stands for.

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How do your Account Managers stack up as Hunters?

A common model these days is account managers who manage and “farm” established customers while hunters take care of new business; a good model that I have seen work well in many companies but there is one potential big weakness.  Your customer is, in the eyes of your competitors, a new business opportunity so their hunters will be trying to steal “your” customer.  The risk for you is that if your account managers use a “passive/re-active” style to manage the customer they are matched against a hunter who will be assertive/pro-active.  This is not a fair fight so you need to ensure your farmers also know how to hunt. Read more

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Empathy

We all understand this word but not everyone considers it when planning how to engage with a prospect or to maintain a continuing relationship with a customer.  Simplistically; you must communicate with your prospects and customers in a manner they can understand. Discover more here

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Cold is not the same as unsolicited

There is a lot of negative chat these days about cold calling and while some of it is justified it is a mistake to confuse cold and unsolicited.  Every time you approach someone for the first time it is unsolicited – fact!  I see a dangerous trend these days that people are so fearful of being seen as one of those horrible cold callers or spammers they have backed off completely from all forms of proactive one-to-one communication with prospective customers.  So how are you going to find new customers? The key is to ensure your unsolicited communications are warm not cold. More on cold calling here

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Warm up your calls and other first touch points

How do you feel when you receive a call from someone you don’t know, offering something you either don’t need or have already got?  To earn time for a conversation why not use the wealth of data publicly available to learn about your prospect, their business, the problems they may have, the problems in their business sector, etc., etc.  Take that data, process it into useful information and use that to empower your contact strategy – ask pertinent questions so you can talk about the benefits and value they will gain from the solution, rather than the products and services you provide.

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How reliable is your sales pipeline as a source of forecasting information?

If 2016 has been littered with delayed decisions and prospects disappearing off the radar you may gain value from reading this article.  The key message is that you need to put in the work to qualify your prospects and to quantify the opportunities before you can use the sales pipeline as a source of reliable forecasting information.

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AIDA – attention, interest, desire, action

The oldest documented sales and selling philosophy but as true today as it was when first published almost 120 years ago.  The sequence is key and all too often these days’ sales people assume because they are in a meeting with a suspect that they have achieved AID so they focus on action; shall I do a proposal, would you like a quote or demonstration?  The sales person may be ready to do these things, and the other party will probably agree as it is free information for them, but until the suspect has been developed into a true prospect free consultancy such as proposals will almost certainly be a waste of effort as you may have their Attention but you are mistaking courtesy for Interest and Desire.

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Sales proposals – a good or bad thing?

Assuming you have arrived at the right point in the cycle and there is genuine interest and desire then a proposal may be a good thing provided you use it in the right way.  A proposal should only ever document and confirm what has already been discussed and ideally acknowledged and accepted by the prospect. A proposal can be a very dangerous thing if it contains information, conditions, costs, etc., that the prospect was previously unaware of.  Think about it; you inform the prospect there is a delivery and installation charge calculated at 10% of the selling price, but you are not there to see the response, justify the extra cost or deal with the inevitable objection!

Read more …

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RAF

No not our wonderful air force but a mnemonic for the way sales engagement should be pursued – Ready, Aim, Fire.  Sadly, all too often what I observe is; fire, aim, ready.  The sales person feels good because they are doing something but doing the wrong thing or in the wrong order is worse than doing nothing at all.

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Questions – our most powerful communication tool

Many sales people think it is their role to talk so they can tell the prospect how great their product or service is.  Problem is, while you are talking you are not learning and the most important thing for you is to learn about; your prospect, their challenges and above all what you need to offer them in a solution that they will buy.

    1. Ask open questions, listen carefully and empathetically, ask your next question based on what you heard not what you had written down before the meeting or call and continue the cycle until you have all the information you need.
    2. Ensure you ask questions appropriate to the engagement stage.  While it is perfectly reasonable to ask, for example, about the performance impact the prospect is suffering due to using old equipment, it may be seen as impertinent if you ask this at the first meeting.  Questions should be structured and layered so you build up a complete picture over successive conversations.
    3. Asking the right sort of questions is a demonstration of your knowledge, e.g. “How often do you have to close the warehouse to allow maintenance of the high bay lights?”  This says you understand a small part of their world and when they answer you can assume you have moved a little closer to them trusting and respecting you.
    4. Don’t answer unasked questions. “Your price is too high” is frequently heard but it is not a question so don’t answer it and definitely don’t defend or justify your position.   Instead ask a question – “How much of an issue is that for you” and once answered “Will this stop you doing business with us?” For more on this take a look at this article.
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Polite persistence

A term used in the film Door to Door which is one of the greatest lessons in effective sales and account management techniques I have ever seen.  It is common that suspects and prospects will say no or, just ignore you, innumerable times so how can you keep calling without offending?  Two things; make every attempt to connect different from the last so the prospect keeps seeing/hearing something new, and always be positive and polite hiding your impatience or disappointment.

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Process matters

Being systematic is the best way to gain a predictable outcome.  I have often heard it said that sales people won’t follow a process; they are free ranging, creative people who want to do their own thing. Don’t kid yourself, the best sales people have their own process running in their heads like a background computer program and if they refuse to follow the company process it is because theirs is better.  Find out how your most successful people work and build that into your process for all to follow.

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Never finish a step in your process without agreeing at least one more with your prospect

When a sales person tells me about the great meeting they had with a prospect that then becomes un-contactable, it triggers two thoughts:

    1. They think they have a prospect but the other party probably doesn’t see themselves that way so they have no reason to respond to the sales person.
    2. At the end of the meeting the sales person should have agreed explicitly with the prospect what will happen next and ensure the prospect puts this in their calendar.  At this point some will decline to agree the next event date which is a good indication that they are not a real prospect. This is an example of a technique known as the trial close.

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The trial close

A very effective classic sales technique that is little used these days. Simplistically the technique involves asking the prospect, at logical points in the engagement cycle, whether they are ready to go ahead and purchase from you.  If they say no then it triggers “why not?” and the answer will give you early insight to the reasons or objections the prospect might have that will stop them buying from you. Knowing early enables you to more effectively deal with the objections and a better chance of winning the deal. Give it a go; what can you lose?

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Get your competitors to help your prospecting

In the majority of cases your prospects are someone else’s customers so part of your prospecting run must involve exploring why your prospect may be dissatisfied with what they are already getting, what they might like in addition and what needs to happen for them to change supplier.  So, rather than knock your competition, ensure you highlight all of your strengths and in particular those that trump the incumbent suppliers weaknesses.  All is fair in love and war!

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Product, Service or solution?

Whether what you are selling is a product, a service or a blend of the two you need to present it in terms of the solution it delivers.  You need to help the prospect or customer visualise what they will gain from trading with you. Read more here.

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People

The crucial component in all aspects of business performance and in particular customer facing roles such as sales and account management.  Here is a very brief introduction to four crucial aspects of people performance.  We have written much about this in the past so there is plenty more for you to read if you wish.

    1. Recruitment.  Recruit only the people that meet the criteria for the job. Do not take the best of the bunch as if they are not really right for you, you are simply storing up a problem you will have to solve further down the line. Making this mistake in sales can be very costly both in direct expenditure and worse still lost opportunity.
    2. On-boarding and induction.  You have put in the effort and recruited the right person but they are still “raw material” for your business and unless you invest time helping them to get established it could take them months to get on top of everything they need to do the job effectively.  Each case will be different but they need to understand exactly how you do things; methods, processes and who to ask for help.  Just like recruiting the wrong person failure to induct properly is another great way to waste time and money.
    3. Training.  Sorry you are still not finished. Unless you were extremely lucky and managed to recruit someone who knows how to sell in exactly the way you want it done you will have to train them in your sales and selling techniques and this needs to be done in the context of your methods and processes so you should consider in-house or bespoke training in preference to a public course.
    4. Coaching.  Nope, still not finished.  There is a body of evidence that to perform at consistent peak levels most sales people need regular coaching and this is a primary responsibility for whoever manages the sales people.  The good news is this is one of those things where a relatively small investment produces a very high return. If a sales person produces say 85% of their target they have already covered all their costs and delivered a contribution to the bottom line and anything above that 85% will be very profitable as the CoS is effectively zero.

sales people who receive as little as four hours regular structured coaching per month outperform those who do not by 17% on their sales targetssource: Sales Excellence Council 2007

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Technology enables sales people to be more effective

Possibly but; it is a mistake to make the assumption that deploying technology will automatically deliver effectiveness or even efficiency.  If the sales people spend a day a week populating the CRM is that really a good use of time?  Do they actually sell 20% more by spending a day a week in this way?

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Price, cost and value

News just came in that the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix is to cease in 2018 due to poor attendances (40% of capacity) and the reason cited is ticket prices but as they were pretty much the lowest of the 21 races in 2016 and had been stable for a couple of years is that really the reason?  Many of us who follow the sport are becoming disillusioned by what is now very poor entertainment.  So; is it not the price that turned Malaysian fans off or is it the value, or lack of, they gain from the experience?  The price is what you pay, the cost is the price plus all other expenses required to use the purchase and the value is what you get – make sure your customers are VERY clear on the value they will gain by buying from you.

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Managing Objections

The typical approach to objections is to wait until they happen and then react which generally puts the seller on the back-foot. Managing objections is about being pro-active and pre-emptive; raising the issues, before the prospect does, by answering the questions they have yet to ask.  All businesses have a set of common objections so you should use these to build standard rebuttals that the sales people can use pre-emptively.

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Social media and its role in sales engagement

Many claims are made for the role of social media in sales and I even see the term “social selling” being used.  I will make just two observations on this and leave you to mull over whether your use of social media in sales is likely to work.  Firstly, while social media is clearly a useful marketing tool, can it really be considered to be a selling tool?  Secondly, because of the nature of social media is it possible your sales people have slipped into the mode of broadcasting a message then sitting back waiting for the answer – this is what we call a passive reactor approach and it is dangerous as your competitors who are proactive hunters will have eaten your lunch before you even knew a meal was being served.  There is a time and place to broadcast a message but this can only ever be a marketing activity not selling.

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Cut your cloth … (to suit your ideal customers and your individual customers)

When promoting or selling what you do it is important to address the question the potential buyer will have in the back of their mind “what is in it for me?”  There is no point telling them about your features as that just tells them about you; you need to tailor your messages for their ears so they can fully understand the value they will gain if they buy from you.

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Snakes and Ladders anyone?

It’s the festive season and a time for games; but what game will your business be playing in the New Year?

Snakes & Ladders was a family favourite at one time but I am sure it won’t be played in many homes in 2015. However, it is still seems to be a firm favourite of many businesses. snakes-and-ladders-games2-e14495011718631You know the feeling; you work hard, get warm feedback and seem to be progressing up the ladders but suddenly the decision on your proposal is delayed with no new date set; you’ve hit a square with a snake’s head, you slither down a few layers and have to start climbing back again.

Such interruptions to progress can manifest themselves in many parts of the business but we are focusing on three leading areas of the business where landing on the snake’s head not only retards your progress but can also have a domino effect:

  • Relationships with prospect or customers; seem to be developing well but at some point suffer a sudden reversal that proves difficult to recover from.
  • Proposals; seem like the final stage in a smooth bidding process but suddenly the prospect is incommunicado or stalls about making the decision.
  • Sales recruits; had great promise but fall short of your expectations once they are doing the job.

There is one common factor that applies to all of these; you think you know how you are positioned but unbeknown to you the other party has a different idea. There is a closer link between the root cause of this issue and Snakes and Ladders than you might think.

It is easy to feel out of control and blameless when playing Snakes and Ladders as progress through the game is dependent on the way the dice fall which is of course random. All too often the approach to developing customer relationships, pursuing opportunities and recruiting sales people is conducted like a game of chance. Imagine how easy things would be if you could determine the score that would come from each throw of the dice; fortunately such certainty is achievable, not with Snakes and Ladders, but in the aforementioned areas of business performance.

Customer relationships

The key to creating solid customer relationships that will endure and strengthen over time is to base them on what the customer needs from the relationship rather than what you need. Of course if what the customer needs fails to deliver something that is acceptable to you then the relationship will not last and should therefore not be started. You need to ensure that your engagement process enables you to spot these situations early enough that you don’t waste a lot of time before deciding to abandon the pursuit.

Getting customer relationship building right is relatively simple but it does bring with it the potential for conflict and this is something that many people avoid. In my experience, rather than avoiding conflict, appreciating the potential for it to arise and managing it successfully will always deliver a better result and it is a crucial commercial skill to employ when building relationships.

If your objective is to avoid conflict this also means you will be avoiding asking important questions. For example; in the process of building a relationship with a potential new customer you will need to discuss and agree the commercial terms for any business that you might do together so you will need to ask questions. But all too often suppliers do not ask the questions early enough to effectively handle potential objections for fear that it will create a disagreement that might damage their chances. Surely it is better to get this topic out of the way early, before it becomes the primary deciding factor, than do a lot of work before discovering business that you might do will be unprofitable or will involve unacceptable commercial terms?

A few tips on relationship building:

  • At an early stage ask the punchy questions. Here are few examples to get you thinking. Do we meet your criteria to become a supplier? How likely are you to ask us to tender for business? Is there anything about our company, our proposition, or the people you have met that might put you off working with us?
  • Ensure you fully understand the decision making process and landscape; who gets involved in decisions and what process do they have that you will be expected to align with? Once you understand the full list of those involved in decision making ensure you meet all of them. This will equip you with multiple lines of communication that will help you if the primary point of access becomes difficult to contact at some point.
  • Don’t confuse relationship building with pursuing specific pieces of work. If you start to pursue a piece of work before you have a complete relationship your chances of being successful are diminished. Many companies have a sales approach whereby sales people do not spend time with a prospect until there is an opportunity to bid for and while this may seem like an efficient use of time it is not an effective way to maximise your success rate for winning new work.

Following these steps will help to ensure the dice falls more favourably and you are better prepared to avoid the squares with snakes’ heads.

Proposals getting stuck

We have discussed this issue in other articles so I will just provide a refresher on the key points of the approach we recommend.

  • Picking up from the previous topic; don’t bid for work until you have a sufficiently established relationship to understand the dynamics of the customer’s decision making process and what will motivate them to decide. Understanding your customer and what matters in their business will help you to craft winning proposals.
  • The right time to present a proposal is when the customer is ready to evaluate what you have to say in the light of a decision they are trying to make – not when your sales process says it is time. All too often I see sales people who have a first meeting with a new prospect and they close the meeting by saying “would you like a proposal?” – few prospects will say No either because they are too polite or because they would like some free research and insight.
  • A quotation is not a proposal. A proposal is “A plan or suggestion, especially a formal or written one, put forward for consideration.” The whole point about a proposal is that it should provide a vision of what the future will look like if the prospect goes ahead with what you are proposing. With a quotation the only thing the prospect can consider is the price you are quoting in which case they are likely to haggle.
  • Before presenting a proposal ensure you have an agreement with the prospect for all the steps and stages from proposal presentation through to final decision. If they cannot tell you what is going to happen it probably means they don’t have a real intention of making a decision at all. Don’t be shy to politely decline to bid – they will respect you for this, it will probably strengthen the relationship and you are more likely to be told when there is a real opportunity to bid for.

Again, the above steps will help determine the score you get on the dice.

Sales recruits falling below expectation

I regularly hear complaints that recruiting good sales people is very difficult these days. As we undertake recruitment projects for customers I can confirm that it is tough but it is still doable. Early in 2015 we undertook an assignment to recruit 12 account managers and completed the project in just under six-weeks – so it can be done.

One of the main difficulties arises because the investment in training and development in sales and selling skills has been progressively cut since the mid 1990’s. So; finding well trained and qualified sales people is difficult and as a result a lot of recruitment decisions are made on the basis of taking the best of the bunch rather than just the people who meet the standard you are seeking. In effect, the seeds of disappointment have been sown even before the person joins you.

If you want sales people to be successful you need to create a fully integrated contiguous process that consists of ALL of the following steps:

  • Create a job definition that truly matches your expectations for the role – don’t try looking for a ‘Superman’.
  • Create an advert or other candidate sourcing techniques to match the nature of the job.
  • Ensure your evaluation and selection process is rigorous and independent of any influences other than the desire to recruit people that fully match the job profile. If you use external agencies to source candidates use different people to help in the final selection.
  • Once you decide you are recruiting someone prepare thoroughly for their arrival. You need to consider on-boarding but also a comprehensive induction into your company.
  • During the selection process you will have identified their strengths and weaknesses; ensure their manager is fully briefed on the particular support they will need and an appropriate training programme is scheduled early in their tenure.
  • Ensure that all tools and collateral they need to do the job are ready for their arrival, but more particularly ensure that they understand the nuances of what you provide that makes you different from competitors.
  • To be truly successful sales people need to operate within a regime of proactive sales leadership where the most important facet is regular one-on-one coaching by the line manager and periodic training/refreshers.

Regardless of experience or track record a newly recruited sales person is raw material to your organisation and the responsibility for turning them into a fully effective employee rests with you, the employer. This may sound like hard work but it is much less effort than will be expended struggling with under-performance, or staff churn and the need to regularly re-recruit. Doing all of the above goes a long way to helping you to dictate the score on the dice.

In summary

If you want to load the dice in your favour and avoid the snakes’ heads you need to create the right foundations as outlined above. If you get all of this right you can begin to play with a reasonable expectation of winning as you will progressively be able to accurately forecast the outcome.

Itec Connect logo

Itec Connect

The Outcome:

A transformed sales operation where the focus has moved to an Account Management model enabling the company to grow its business through a process of cross and up-selling to its substantial base of satisfied customers while still adding new customers.

“I just wanted to write formally to thank you for delivery of a first class project. In every step you have been a pleasure to work with and have delivered on everything you offered – and more.” Nick Orme, Chief Executive, Itec Connect

The Challenge

Two main factors led Itec to consider a change of direction in its go-to-market approach. Firstly, the company had grown a substantial and very satisfied customer base from its long established sophisticated Managed Print services and Document Capture & Workflow solutions and realised they needed to stay ahead of the game. Secondly the company had recently invested in another organisation that provides a range of Cloud based IT solutions which gives Itec a whole new range of services and solutions that it can offer its customers. Combining these two factors led to the conclusion that the selling model needed to be re-engineered to focus more on account management; enabling the better servicing of customers with established services while also taking the opportunity to offer new and different solutions to those same customers.

The Performative Solution

We undertook the design and delivery of an internal Sales Academy for Itec to recruit and train a cadre of new Account Managers. Before commencing the project we completed a process of “Discovery” using the Performative Sales Maturity Assessment as a foundation. The output from the discovery phase informed the design of the Academy which was developed using the established Performative Academy Framework.

Recruitment of Account Managers

The Account Managers would be fulfilling a new role, focused on the existing customer base. It was an ideal opportunity to bring in new talent and create opportunity for internal candidates to convert to sales. To acquire a new team of 12 required:

  • Sourcing of candidates both externally and from internal transfers
  • Initial filtering and interviews before passing selected candidates to customer for interview
  • Conduct and analysis of the results of an on-line sales capability assessment
  • Design and delivery of a comprehensive assessment process leading to the selection of the final 12 successful candidates who were then offered positions.

Product Manuals – Sales Enablement material

With a broader range of product and service offerings to take to market Itec recognised the need to create collateral to provide a consistent sales and customer oriented resource to support the selling efforts of the new account managers and existing sales staff.

The challenge here was to turn technical excellence into commercial superiority and equip the account managers with effective sales enablement tools.

The subject matter experts knew their products inside out, but they were mainly used to conversing with their technical counterparts. They worked in virtual silos and thus were likely to miss opportunities to cross-sell the offerings of their new colleagues.

The first job was to crystallise the Chief Executive’s vision of the documents into useable templates which provided both structure and guidance on the aims of the content of each section.

The authors were then brought together for an intense 4-day workshop to flesh out the templates. Performative provided briefings for the authors to orient their thinking in terms of Sales and Customer perspective, use of language, and consistency of style.

As the documents took shape, Performative provided collaborators and reviewers for key sections to influence the content style and consistency of terminology across the document set, challenging technical phraseology to replace it with jargon free information to help customers differentiate the Itec offering from that of other suppliers and competitors.

After the initial drafts were produced during the workshops, Performative then took on the role of editor to maintain the sales/customer orientation and consistency within and between the documents, prior to their release to the Itec staff.

On-boarding and induction

Itec already had an established induction programme focused on its recruitment of technical apprentices, but it was not suited to the task of introducing the cadre of new account managers to the wider organisation. Hence we:

  • Designed comprehensive on-boarding and induction programmes for delivery primarily by the customer’s management team
  • Undertook delivery of sales related aspects of the induction programme.

Comprehensive account management and sales L&D programme

Custom designed and delivered by Performative specifically to meet the needs of Itec and the planned mode of operation of the account managers. Some highlights of the training included:

  • Teaching the principles of “Empathy Styles” selling, psychology and body language
  • Creation of a structured account management methodology including research and profiling techniques
  • Sales skills such as; the effective use of the telephone, making appointments, conducting first meetings and delivering presentations
  • Territory, account and deal planning processes including qualification and quantification
  • Relationship management
  • Sales pipeline and forecasting process
  • In addition to the classroom activities we also undertook one-on-one coaching for the account managers at several points during the programme.

Following the training programme, periods of self-study and practical work the account managers went through a process of accreditation which included written and practical examinations of the knowledge they had acquired. We designed and adjudicated all some of the exams. All passed the first level accreditation and they moved into the full role of working with their portfolio of customers. Further accreditation levels will be undertaken later.

Additional activities

In support of the Chief Executive, as he moulded the organisation into its new identity and culture, we provided:

  • Initial design of the compensation scheme for the Account Managers
  • Design of the Account Management process and responsibilities
  • Design of the Account Managers’ reporting process
  • Design and delivery of the support and coaching programme for the Director of Account Management

Following successful completion of the main programme we continue to provide reactive and pro-active support as required.

Are you planning to grow your revenue?

Most businesses that we work with are trying to expand to enjoy the increased opportunities offered by the recovering economy. However, most also report consistent challenges with; finding enough new and repeat business, missed targets, unreliable sales forecasts and margins being eroded by discounting.  The answer that many seek is to expand the sales team but further challenges come in the form of; difficulty in finding good candidates, getting the good ones to join and then retaining them long enough to get a RoI on the recruitment, induction and training costs.

A recent article from Alinean reinforces the cost and delay factors mentioned in our April Newsletter . The article cites information from CSO Insights which said most salespeople take ten or more months to become fully productive.  The same article quoted Forrester as saying it can take as much as 36 months in certain industries.  This, despite the fact that most new sales people are hired from similar industries.

Some turn to technology in the hope that it will make sales people unnecessary.  This can work in some businesses with straight forward propositions and shorter selling cycles but for most businesses sales people are still an essential part of the way they find and win new customers and new business.

So, if you need sales people, but cannot find enough well qualified capable people what will you do?

Internal Sales Academies – an answer to; “where have all the great sales people gone?”

We would suggest if you cannot find them; grow your own – this is precisely what our tailored Sales Academy is designed to deliver.  Our approach will also shorten the time required for new recruits to become fully productive.

Read more …

Sales Led Revenue Growth

If you expect your sales team to drive growth, perhaps you should ponder the latest sales research to see how your plans might be impacted?

  • Only 14% of salespeople are professionally trained – in another 10 years this figure could be as low as 5%.  Two thirds of sales reps miss their quota; is there any correlation?
  • A new sales recruit can cost £80,000 [1] a year in sales support costs alone.
  • A likely timescale to allow for a new sales recruit to become fully productive is 10 months or more [2] , however if you’re in industries such as technology, medical solutions and complex business services you can reckon on up to 36 months to effectiveness [3] even if they come from a similar industry.
  • Less than half of sales reps believe in their own pipeline predictions; could this be attributable to lack of objective criteria, structured process, or meaningful reporting?
  • The optimum level of coaching for reps who are struggling to achieve their targets is 3-5 hrs per month [4] but on average most receive less than 2 hrs.

So what can these figures tell you, apart from the need to plan well to avoid the cost of failure?

This is not just about recruitment or training , it needs a fresh view and a complete change to the established way of doing things.  Your people may have the knowledge to put the necessary change programme in place but, it will put severe additional load on their management of day to day business. Our academy solutions are designed to support you in your growth plans by delivering an outsourced resource integrating your existing successful process into a seamless service:

  • Tailored recruitment to reflect the nuances of your culture, industry, market, brand, customer, etc.
  • A comprehensive induction programme to ensure the new recruits become an integral part of your organisation so they can deliver your proposition, your way to your customers.
  • Basic and advanced (soft and hard) skills learning and development to create a customer centric, commercially aware, adaptable sales force.
  • Coaching and mentoring to embed the learnings through real world examples.
  • Development and support of the sales leaders so they can in turn leverage and enhance the productivity of the newly trained sales force, and ascertain leading indicators for a reliable pipeline forecast.
Basic scope of an academy

Basic scope of an academy

Once the academy solution has been successfully piloted it can be brought back in-house or remain (partially) outsourced according to your on-going needs.

Request a call back to explore how our tailored Sales Academy solution can help you grow your revenue and margin.

Sources:
1 Qvidian quoted $135.000
2 CSO Insights
3 Forrester
4 CEB

Improving Sales Force productivity during a renewal or growth phase

As the economic turn around is allowing companies to think about growth once more, the same old challenges of growing and maintain an effective sales and selling operation are still there to haunt you. The improvement in the jobs market may well increase your staff churn which makes the job of creating a stable or expanding sales and selling platform even harder.

  • Do you foresee your growth plans being limited by the capacity of your sales force to keep pace?
    No, really!?
  • Is dealing with churn in the sales force distracting you from achieving your business goals?
  • Do new recruits resist the switch to selling “your way”? Are you showing them your way
  • Are you getting payback on budget and time spent training the sales team?


New intake intake cannot become your staff, working your way, unless you put in the effort to develop consistent selling and sales management skills, closely aligned with your operational environment, for all customer-facing staff.  An essential foundation for this to be successful will come from the introduction of your own sales and selling methodology and associated processes.

The essential components in the creation of a successful sales team are; a well executed recruitment & selection process, thorough induction/on-boarding process, commitment to on-going development based on systematic training supported by regular coaching, and committed sales leadership that recognises its primary responsibility is to help their direct reports to perform more effectively with continuous improvement being the driving principle. The final components that help to ensure success are a fully integrated sales & selling process, and a customer centric proposition.

If Sales isn’t your primary strength our Sales Academy offerings are designed to equip you and your company to recruit, train and develop a sales force with professional selling and sales management skills capable of powering your growth plans. For companies with an established sales capability the Academy can provide new and original ideas and approaches to super charge what you already have.

Drawing on talent from either raw recruits, experienced sales people from other industries, or those who wish to be cross-trained into sales from other disciplines, the service covers the complete sales organisation from basic telesales through to senior account managers, sales managers and directors.

Basic Scope of an Academy

Delivered initially as an outsourced service, you have the option to take the functioning academy model in-house at an appropriate future date or continue to use us to provide the service.

“I just wanted to write formally to thank you for delivery of a first class project. In every step you have been a pleasure to work with and have delivered on everything you offered – and more.” June 2015

Let our experts help you through the challenges of recruiting, inducting/on-boarding and developing your ever evolving sales force.

Contact us now to discuss how we can help
you!

People performance improvement – “getting the biggest bang for your buck”

Or should it be “getting the biggest quota for your quid”?

Anyway, within any normal selling operation a typical performance mix would see 20% of the team routinely averaging 120% of the target, 60% averaging 80% of target and the other 20% well under at 60% or less of target and perhaps being considered for the exit door. So, if you were going to invest in some time and money to help improve performance where should you focus your efforts and what should you do – where and how can you get the best return in terms of performance improvement?

The answer might seem obvious; sack the under-performers, leave the middle/average performers alone as they are “doing OK” and focus on the top performers as you cannot afford to lose them so they need to be spoilt!

Consider this:

  • If the top performers are exceeding target by 20% they are probably close to capacity and they are demonstrating that they already know how to do the job effectively. Also as they are only 20% of the workforce an improvement of say 10% would only provide a 2% improvement across the whole company. So this is not the first place to consider.
  • What about the bottom 20%? Before making any decision about terminating their employment you need to consider whether they have been recruited, trained and coached properly. If they are good people, apparently right for the job, but not performing then you need to properly explore the issues before deciding what to do. If there are issues with the way you recruit, induct and support new people you need to fix that before recruiting anyone else. So, for this group we suggest:
    • Potentially half may simply be wrong for the job so assigning them to a role which plays to their strengths or, as a last resort termination, is probably the best option for all concerned.
    • Those that you identify as being right for the job, but who have been let down by your systems, deserve some special treatment to turn them around. This will be a win-win for you and them.

If the performance of half this group can be improved by as much as 30% this would amount to just 3% across the company. So, while the remedial work does need to be done, as a matter of urgency, this group will not provide an immediate or huge boost in overall company performance.

  • So, what about the middle 60% who are averaging 80% target achievement? Performance suggests they are generally good at the job and they seem to have found their way around any obstacles created by your systems. Therefore they should respond well to some focused effort to help them improve their performance. The great news is that a 20% improvement in target performance in this group will amount to almost 12% improvement across the company so the return is good and should be achieved quickly.

Because the middle group will give the quickest return, the increased margin they contribute will quickly grow to fund the whole improvement programme. For a team of 10 people targeted to achieve £1.0m margin in a year but only achieving £840k the potential improvement gain is at least £160k. This will cover the cost of the performance improvement programme, leaving a significant amount of change that will improve the bottom line. Perhaps of greater value is the fact that you will now have a higher performing team who will deliver more this year, next year and on into the future.

Recommended approach

  • Review the whole team to establish your top, middle and bottom performers.
  • Analyse your process for recruiting, inducting, training and managing people and act to fix problems you find before bringing any more new people on board.
  • Now you must remediate issues with existing people created by problems identified in the review and analysis stages:
    • For the bottom group decide if anyone needs to go or whether a restructure of your selling team and adjusting their role in your business might be a more productive way forward. For the remainder, put them through an intense programme designed to remediate issues caused by your previous approaches. This may involve a process of “re-recruitment”, revisiting the induction and training (both soft and hard skills) followed by a period of focused coaching. You could create a “boot camp” to provide the focused coaching until the sales people have demonstrated they are performing at a higher level. Use of external agents for the boot camp may allow unbiased discussions and reveal additional opportunities for performance improvement. This will also leave your own Sales and HR managers free to do their day jobs.
    • For the top group, decide on an individual basis whether any additional development would be beneficial. They will also benefit from any improvements in your systems arising from the review and analysis stages.
    • The middle group will require similar attention to the people that you retain from the bottom group. They probably won’t require the depth of attention that the bottom group will need but you will still need to revisit issues that have arisen from poor recruitment, induction or training and inadequate management and coaching. It may prove that the boot camp approach is right for this middle group meanwhile there are development benefits to be gained from mixing people from the two groups.

At the end of the process you want to have one integrated sales team so a part of the process will involve some team building activities that are applied to the whole team. Although you will have identified the top, middle and bottom performers through this process such terms should not be used openly as this will make the job of creating one integrated team harder to achieve.

To bring this together we would recommend the creation of an internal Sales Academy which will be the umbrella function for; improved recruitment, better induction, meaningful training and development, and powerful management and coaching.  By creating a series of “qualifying” steps you can offer sales people a career ladder that sees them develop from basic sales through, intermediate and senior levels as well as a stream that will identify and develop sales managers for the future.  Your internal Sales Academy will become a vehicle for staff development and will provide outcomes that people will aspire to achieve, all of which will make them more effective ambassadors and sales people for your company.

£26,959: The cost to an SME of one bad recruitment decision

Most of us can calculate the direct costs of recruitment and we will probably come up with a few hundred pounds or more realistically one to two thousand but the real cost impact comes from the time and effort required to get a new recruit up to speed as a fully productive employee able deliver at an optimum level of performance.  Unum’s latest study,  produced by the highly respected Oxford Economics, sets a figure on the cost of staff replacement at £26,959 so you need your new recruit to last.

“£26,595 is a startling amount, and I would encourage SMEs to place more emphasis on retaining talent and developing good staff to reduce the cost of staff turnover.”  Peter O’Donnell, CEO of Unum.

£26, 959 is a not insignificant sum, just a fraction of which would provide a budget that could be used on more effective employment practices thus reducing the risk of future waste.  More positively, this will deliver more motivated and productive employees.  In many cases, with a sales person for example, the cost of replacement could be significantly higher and therefore the benefits gained from solving the issue are also much higher.  Whilst dealing with the immediate financial consequences is very important, the really important gain to be made with a sales person comes from the increase in their sales figures and the revenue and profit generated.

From our own research, the key contribution to this issue is the perception that employing someone new is just a recruitment activity when in reality recruitment is only one of four essential dimensions required to deliver a complete employment solution.  Those four dimension are; recruitment & selection, thorough induction, on-going learning & development, and appropriate management, leadership & coaching.  By locking these four together you can deliver an environment of continuous improvement in staff performance and productivity.

The simplistic cost calculation most often utilised considers only the direct costs of recruitment; agencies, adverts, temporary staff to plug the gap and the time taken by HR and management in the recruitment process.  However, in reality the calculation should also encompass the cost of lost production and productivity, and opportunity and reputational cost; almost no one we have met has considered these extra costs.  Taking the true cost into account, is £26, 959 just the tip of an iceberg?

So let’s look at those four dimensions in turn.

Recruitment & Selection

This is where it all starts, this is where the foundation is created, so investing the time and effort required to get this stage right will always more than pay you back in kind.

The first step is to carefully define and agree the requirements of the job including what you expect the new recruit to achieve for the business.  This should then drive the complete recruitment and selection process; what you will pay including incentives, where and how you search for candidates, how you will interview, other section methods you will use including profiling & psychometrics and finally referencing which should include their use of social media and other public platforms.

Then there is the matter of the final selection process; don’t just choose the best of the bunch, choose only those who match the full requirement.  However, if you cannot find the perfect match and you are considering a candidate who is a near match to the job specification, then you must work out what you will need to do to support them to fill whatever gap they have.  Discuss the gap with them as part of the job offer process, tell them what you will do to help them address the gap and agree with them what they will be expected to do.  Make it clear that failure to do what they have committed to could become a performance issue.  If they are put off by this process you will have saved yourself a deal of cost and potential heartache watching them fail.  When you take up references ask the referee what they think about the person’s ability to learn and adapt in line with filling the gap.

Thought: Don’t be afraid to recruit people who are better than you; be afraid not too!

Induction

Treat each new employee as raw material that will need to be moulded before they can deliver their part in your finely tuned engine.

No matter how experienced someone is when they join you that experience is only a reflection of their past and it may not be a relevant indicator of how they might perform with you.  Past successes may have been a function of a specific environment where they worked or it may even have an element of luck.

You must allocate time and resources to thoroughly induct the person into the company and their role in it, including an introduction to how technology and other tools are used in their role.  You must help them to understand your history, ethos, culture, principles and business objectives; where you are going, how you plan to get there and where they fit* into the scheme of things.  * Consider giving them a taste of each additional role /department/function so that they have a context for the impact of their role in the overall scheme.

If during the recruitment process you have identified gaps in the candidates’ skills or knowledge required for the job, the induction should also commence the process of plugging the gaps.

At the end of the induction ask your new employee to present back to you what they now know about your company and their role and also what they think they still need to learn.  For recruits into more senior roles such as management, sales and selling, invite them to present to you their ideas for their next 30/60/90 days.

Thought: One week of induction will typically cut three to four months off the process of “learning” the company and the job, which means the recruit will become fully productive much faster.  This will save a significant slice of the £27K.

Learning & Development

The development process commenced with the induction but you now need to focus more on the individual and their specific learning needs to achieve the ideal role competencies.  Technology will be a significant area to consider and in many cases this will be IT related.  The world of IT based business systems is one of constant change and if you fail to keep your people up to date and engaged with their use you may well be handing an advantage to your competitors.

We recommend that companies create a development programme for individual members of staff and even for departments or functions.  The purpose is to create a regime of continual improvement which should be a combination of formal and informal training, refreshers and updates plus, as discussed in the next section, coaching and mentoring from management and colleagues.

By making this a permanent feature of the way you operate your business you can create and ring-fence a budget for staff development.  All too often training is seen as a nice to have and in tough times the training budget is typically one of the first casualties.  However, there is sufficient evidence that companies who invest in training and development during periods of economic difficulties invariably emerge stronger than competitors who failed to invest.

Thought: The FD asks; “what if we spend money training them and they leave?”  The HRD asks “what if we don’t train them and they stay?”  This is the classic debate between cost and value – we recommend you go for value every time as it will ultimately cost you less!

Management & Leadership

The most important element for a successful and progressive employment environment is the leadership, coaching, mentoring and on-going development of teams and individuals across the business.  Having recruited the right person (perhaps with some gaps) and equipped them with the basics through induction and development programmes the real difference will come from good quality committed management.

This is true in all areas of the business but will deliver the most significant performance improvement in the sales and selling areas of the business.  Imagine a sales person tasked to deliver orders that will produce a margin of £150,000 and they under-perform by 15% (not uncommon) that represents a loss, every year, of £22,500.  A good committed coaching manager will get that back for you in no time so the investment justification is simple.

Thought: if your sales managers spend most of their time in the office with spread-sheets they are simply studying history when they could be changing the future.  They need to be out with their people helping them to become more productive and effective.

Bringing it all together

One model for delivering a co-ordinated approach to the four dimensions; recruitment, induction, learning & development, and leadership, is as a process focused on continuous improvement and thus increasing levels of performance and productivity.   The process was once fashionably illustrated by sales schools or sales academies, and as with any fashion it can enjoy a revival at the appropriate time.

Resource bandwidth and skills availability may be a challenge to any company in times of change or planned growth and who might be considering embarking on this approach, however, if you wish to convert that £27k cost into rewarding benefit, now is a good time to plant those seeds.

Contact us to find out how we can help you cultivate and reap the rewards.

 

Developing professional selling and sales management skills for all your customer facing staff

Maintaining productivity in a dynamic Sales Force

Creating and maintaining a sales team with enough good staff to achieve your plans and meet your forecasts can be a problem particularly if you are growing or staff turnover is disproportionately high.

  • Do you foresee growth which will challenge your internal organisation to grow an effective sales force?
  • Is dealing with churn in the sales force distracting from your business goals?
  • Do new recruits resist the switch to selling “your way”?
  • Are you getting payback on budget and time spent training the sales team?

New intake will not be your staff, working your way, unless you develop consistent selling and sales management skills for all your customer facing staff

If Sales isn’t your primary strength our Sales Academy offerings are designed to equip any company to recruit, train and develop a sales force with professional selling and sales management skills.

Drawing on talent from either raw recruits, experienced sales people from other industries, or those who wish to be cross-trained into sales from other disciplines, the service covers the complete sales organisation from basic telesales through to senior account managers, sales managers and directors.

Delivered initially as an outsourced service, you have the option to take the functioning academy model in-house at an appropriate future date or continue to use us to provide the service.

Let experts help you through the minefield of recruiting, inducting/on-boarding and developing your ever evolving sales force. Contact us now to discuss how we can help you!

Can you distinguish a sales candidate who will serve you well?

Finding the right sales recruit for your business:

While the modern world of business provides many new ways of doing business, most companies are still dependent upon “sales people” when it comes to engaging directly with customers to sell what you do or make.  Times may have moved on but the principles and practice of selling remain the same.  The most important elements of a successful selling operation are still the people who perform the roles such as; lead generation, new business selling, account farming, management and leadership.

At one time, many large and medium companies such as; Olivetti, Xerox, IBM, Burroughs, NCR, Siemens, and Mars, would take, train and develop many hundreds of new sales people every year and when these people moved on, they created an ever growing pool of well trained sales people and sales managers.  Most companies ceased this practice during the 1980s and the supply of those experienced sales people is shrinking.

If sales isn’t your primary strength,  the minefield of identifying the underlying qualities of a salesman and recognising the ones who will succeed in your business can be daunting.  Use the assistance of a qualified third party to provide an unbiased perspective on what’s needed and who fits the bill.  Third parties may charge based on a percentage of recruit’s salary or for time & materials, so you need to decide which approach is most likely to deliver the most accurate result and then select accordingly.

Each recruitment challenge is different, there is no “one size fits all solution”, but key steps include:

  • Ensure any “agent” thoroughly understands your company.
  • Fully understand the job itself and where it fits in the context of the wider organisation; create a job specification and candidate profile.
  • Choose the candidate generation process e.g. on-line recruitment, print media advertising, head-hunting, then create the appropriate “advert”.
  • Initiate the search and identify a quality shortlist based on your ideal profile.
  • Ask probing questions in the interview process, perhaps aided by tools which gauge the candidate’s  “fit”.
  • In the final selection process draw out their abilities and attitudes, e.g. through some sort of practical selling activity including a presentation against a challenging brief.  The nature of a sales person makes it more challenging to uncover the real person because of course they can “tell a good story”, and past performance is not necessarily a reliable indicator of how well they will succeed for you.
  • If you can only find the “best of the bunch”, think hard about whether it is better continue to search for a true match.
  • Once you have found your potential future employee(s) you still need to take up references, make job offers, design the employment contract and commission plan.
  • Prepare a thorough induction programme to ensure they truly become your employee working your way to achieve your aims.

We have successfully helped others, why not let us help you?

“Having Performative involved in crucial sales appointments gave me peace of mind to leave the UK and build our US operation.”