Sep 072016
 

You read it correctly. The title is not a typo.

In an article that was sent to my inbox this week the author reports that it is ten times more effective to train your sales managers as opposed to your frontline sales people. The article, which seems to be based on a slightly older talk by Neil Rackham the author of the famous SPIN selling books and program for an organization called the Sales Management Association, also cites a study with the same organization. The study surveyed 161 companies about their sales budget and found that those, which allocated more than 50% of their training budget to sales managers saw the greatest increase in sales and hence the most return on investment. The degree of return increases the more of the training budget is directed at the management team.

This assumes sales managers are concentrating on being teachers and given time and mandate to transfer their knowledge onto the frontline.

Naturally, the study does not suggest or target a complete abandonment of training for salespersons. For instance, sales will still be trained upon hire and be introduced to new products or versions. Importantly, the coaching will be administered by sales management. However, if one chooses to give this premise credence, one could justify its veracity by remembering that the concept of leverage applies here as it does to maintaining a partner or reseller channel for example. After all, companies maintain a reseller channel in order to scale in a way that they could not on their own. A sales manager works with multiple salespersons at the same time. More importantly, and again if you believe this study and I always recommend examining every piece of data meticulously, the proof is in the pudding i.e. the facts speak for themselves.

It would be useful now to get some feedback or thoughts from those affected – sales people and sales managers – and from sales trainers here. The implications are important as the sales budget and companies’ revenue depend on it.

Do you agree that a more effective training budget is better deployed on sales managers than on the frontline? It is certainly novel and food for thought.

manager-training

*Things That Need To Go Away: Obligatory Sales Training With No Follow-up Or Carry-Through

Jul 022016
 

An earlier article addressed job interview questions and what to do from the perspective of an applicant.

Here we consider the interviewer and the hiring company’s perspective. If you have not read it review this article first. It speaks to the imperative of having a process and judging candidates against it.

As mentioned in those posts, asking the right questions during an interview, having a method that is followed and designed with the company’s needs in mind helps make the most fundamental decision to any company’s survival, growth and sustainability a more scientifically pertinent one. There is no more an important decision that a company makes than who to hire.

Unfortunately, too many people short-change or neglect processes and either ‘wing’ the interview, colour it with multiple biases or both. Things are so bad that an article notes how, for certain hiring decisions, machines are better than humans. This speaks to either a lack of process or the introduction – or better put: not suppressing – of personal and institutional biases.

interviewing

 

So what makes hiring more effective, more aligned to goals and speeds up the process for both?

To start, and as part of the suggested systemic interview process, here is a list of questions one should consider asking and situations one wants the applicant to shine in:

Q: Tell me about your previous (‘relevant job description’) success.

A: Does the answer align with what it takes where you work? Are there actual examples culled from the interviewee’s past included in the answer?

Q: Tell me about an occasion of (‘relevant job description’) failure.

A: Does the answer take responsibility, show analysis and a modicum of learning from the candidates past mistakes. Is there an actual situation where the candidate admits to failure and offers a description of the resolution?

Q: Describe a good day.

A: The ideal candidate will give a thoughtful response to how he or she works. There is not a wrong or right answer here. There is, however, a star or two for the candidate who has process, introspection and logic and displays alignment with what you believe leads to success in the job at hand.

Q: Why you?

A: Can the person articulate a convincing reason why he or she has applied and why you should accept the person’s application.

Q: Do you have questions for me?

A: Any good candidate has legitimate and considerate questions. These differ from canned questions that are irrelevant to the particular job or are so clichéd that they obviously stem from a ‘how to interview’ article.

All questions and answers should be situational unless the interviewer specifically is asking for a ’yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Moving away from hypotheticals and into the realm of experience elevates the discussion.

Crucially interviewers must remove their biases, which includes the error of judging a book by the cover or the resume. A person’s appearance, their resume’s content, gender, age and race are not always indicative of their qualification one way or the other. Be aware of one’s personal biases and leash them as best as possible. Doing so would lend itself to the validity of the hiring/interview process. Ask good questions, listen carefully and impartially to assess the responses and you have done yourself, your company and the job seeker a favour.

past-future

 

 

*Things That Need To go Away: Haphazard Interview Questions Made Up On The Fly

Jun 082016
 

In an earlier article I wrote, “Analyse your expenditure and revenue sources. Do some customers/vendors/partners cost you more than they bring in? Now is the time to discover them and ditch them. Be brave about it.”

It is a simple concept. Business is in it for the revenue and, more importantly, profitability. It is not about the sale. It is about the profitable sale. If you agree then how do companies come across unprofitable customers? The customers who make more demands than they are worth, the customers who rather bankrupt their supplier than establish a partnership, the customers who find success mutually exclusive…

There is no one to blame, but us, the sellers, the sales managers, the shortsighted companies who are the enablers of the shortsighted customer.

How does one end up there? First and foremost, the culprit is selling on price. When a customer has nothing to differentiate a vendor on then the easiest fallback is on the vendor’s price. As discussed here often there are many other differentiators you should sell on – service, after-sale service, education, reliability, industry knowledge, you!, etc. – and if you do and the customer is uninterested then you have reached the definition of the undesirable customer.

You might have come across the following anecdote about a company’s sales force:

CFO: What happens if we train them and they leave? CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

Let’s turn that around to customers:

CEO: What happens if we do not discount and they go somewhere else? CFO: What happens if we do and they become our customers?

Companies need to shape up, get their chins up, become confident in their product or service and get a differentiator and acquire customers based on it. Otherwise, the cycle perpetuates itself. Is it a pipedream? Perhaps, but companies possibly have no choice either as natural selection will force their hands? Companies selling on price and acquiring customers at any cost are bound to go out of business.

Ask yourself: how are you serving your company by perpetuating a precedent-setting low, or no, profit transaction?

Then ask yourself: how are you serving your company by not understanding your customer and not articulating yourself based on it?

bad idea

Related articles:

Myth: Customers Value (The cheapest) Price Above Anything Else

Of haggling, discounting and price pressures

Not Competing On Price

*Things That Need To Go Away: Sales Managers Who Pressure Salesperson To Close The Sale At Any Cost And Salespersons Who Pressure Sales Managers To Close The Sale At Any Cost

Mar 062016
 

It is often noted that successful salespersons interact with the right employees of their prospects/customers.

What is less often discussed is with how many of these folk a salesperson should interact. The question is more and more relevant because decision-making is increasingly and more and more diffused.

IDC’s 2010-2012 survey has something to say about this question.

In a survey of IT buyers (see figure 8) customers/buyers report the following statistics when asked “How many people were on your buying team including yourself — that is, the group actively involved in influencing the short list of vendors considered and making the purchase decision?”:

  • Companies with 100-499 employees: 3 to 4 people
  • Companies with 500-999 employees: 4 to 6 people
  • Companies with over 1,000 employees: 5 to 7 people

multiple lanes

Noteworthy is that in two out of three scenarios the number of employees involved in making a decision is increasing.

What a salesperson needs to know is that buying is a collaborative effort. As such, not only a wider view of the process is needed the typical marketing funnel and CRM single-person view of leads is lacking in a broader view of how customers buy unless used by sales as a single strand in a larger weave.

sales funnel

*Things That Need To Go Away: Marketing and sales efforts, which focus on persons, contacts and a decision-maker and are not holistically geared at accounts i.e. multiple persons.

 

Mar 022016
 

You've Got Mail

There have been multiple articles and statistical reports in recent months and near-term years about the demise of e-mail as a mode of communication. Culprits vary according to the source who, nonetheless, reach the same conclusion about the depreciation of a mode of communication that for practical purposes is less than 25 years old.

Compare that to postal services, which have a history dating back 5,000 years, carrier pigeons which were in service for 1,000 years or telegraph/telex which lasted 150 years and are still in use in parts of the world.

Research and reports have e-mail dying because:

It is just “noise” according to one Facebook cofounder.

There are smarter ways to do the electronic communication thing according to the co-founder of Evernote.

The old, and by now famous, ‘teenagers are shunning e-mail in favour of Social Media and IM’ evidence or, to keep the ‘blame’ on teenagers again this study that shows six percent of teens use e-mail daily.

Finally, there is spam. According to a 2009 Microsoft study 97% of all e-mail is unwanted.

Otherwise, and obviously, e-mail is not conducive to instantaneous communication like IM, collaboration for large groups or invulnerable to forked offshoot conversations.

The aforementioned studies and citations have merit and, whether cause or effect, valid. I would suggest, however, there is another and more profound reason e-mail may be going out of fashion: a lack of an ability to construct a basic sentence. We all suffer from it and it is getting worse.

Your Better Than That

I am not taking about your run-of-the-mill ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re/you are’ (as in ‘your good to go’ or ‘your the man’) or illogical expressions of time in a sentence (as in ‘Every Monday, they play tennis’ as opposed to the correct ‘They play tennis every Monday.’) either. While these, and many similar sentences, have their order of words backwards the problem extends to nearly every aspect of written communication.

Many English teachers cannot construct a sentence correctly. Couple that with the increasingly multicultural society of ours where individuals’ mother tongues are something other than English and the situation is in fact, when one thinks about it, more dire than imagined.

That is the main reason e-mail is dying. How many times have you personally received an e-mail, looked at it, not been able to decipher it, reread and focused on it and given up? How many times has a colleague or family member asked you to come over only to show you an e-mail, which he or she has trouble making head or tails of (‘of which make heads or tails’) or you have had to begrudgingly pick up the telephone to speak to someone because their e-mail was simply incomprehensible?

pray for e-mail

Give me a call and let me know what you think.

*Things That Need To Go Away: Language instructors and there spelling and grammar mistakes.

Feb 152016
 

Sometimes it is a wonder how easily a percentage of sales management professionals forget or never learnt the fundamentals of sales compensation and motivation.

This is not a knock against the vital and, if the job is being done correctly, difficult sales management position. However, for different reasons sales managers act counterproductively to the desired outcome when it comes time to set goals and define compensation plans.

money bag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reasons may include:

  • Sales managers forget what being in a sales (individual contributor) position was like.
  • Sales manager was never in a direct sales position.
  • Sales manager is junior and has not found his or her rationale or voice. This person would go with flow and not make waves.
  • The sales compensation model is of course derived from the company’s strategic plan for the year and is handed down from the office of the Chief Financial Officer and, by extension, board of directors. The sales chain of command was unable to wholly or partly contribute to the puzzle.

chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are examples of what I term counterproductive sales compensation modelling. Before doing that though let us remember that we are not dealing in absolutes. This is not a black and white edict. A compensation plan could very well lie on a spectrum between ‘good’ and the ‘bad.’

Sales professionals are often vocal, and correctly so, with sales compensations when:

  • The numbers are not what the company has in fact budgeted. By the time the sales manager has adds his 5%, the director had added her 10% and the vice-president has tacked on a discretionary 5% the number has ballooned by 20% and is demotivating the sales team. With the team finding the number out of reach sales people react in several ways. They check out when concluding that the target is not realistic. Worse, they become resentful believing the cards are stacked against them. Moreover, when facing a tough market and competitive landscape sales comes to fret a lack of friendly cover. You might be thinking how would the team know (that the numbers have been altered)? It is not the absolute number that poses a challenge, but the delta between numbers and the path to achieving it.
  • Sales numbers are based on one-offs or special circumstances. If a salesperson who happened to walk into a large sale or had a major sale based on a special circumstance that is not repeatable finds the new quota follow the (FY -1 Special Circumstance * FY0 Uplift%) formula he is likely to balk at the number calling it irrational along the way.
  • Similarly, salespersons with spectacular achievements are given congruently higher quota than counterparts based on last year’s success. The message is ‘Thou Shalt Be Punished For Thine Hard Work.’ Looked at conversely weaker salespeople were rewarded.
  • Under adverse circumstances, salespeople hold back – it even has its own term ‘sand bag’ – possible sales from one quarter to the next or worse from fiscal year to the next. Forget helping salespersons over-achieve; under such circumstances sales is actively not achieving.

It is important to not create sales compensation in isolation from the very salespeople who are tasked to execute it. It is also critical that salespersons do not be handed a disincentive and be demotivated by sales management and their compensation plans. Most importantly, managers must examine the compensation plan to eliminate any perceived or actual unfairness. Operating in an environment that is not a level playing field will have the opposite of the intended effect and lead to charges of favouritism or unprofessionalism.

Keep the numbers above board, uniformly applied and view the sales team as mature allies.

*Things That Need To Go Away: not soliciting the sales team’s feedback on the sales compensation model or, worse, soliciting and subsequently ignoring it.

bonus

Jan 252016
 


There have been predictions that gains in productivity, robotics and computerization will mean an increase in leisure hours, dangerous societal repercussions or alternately a dearth of jobs for human beings. As early as the 1960s both popular and scientific literature predicted that with the advent of automation and productivity future humans – they meant us – would be working minimal hours or be out of work.

The predictions turned out to be wrong. Firstly, advances in technology have been uneven. Secondly, change in technology has also translated into the need for more input, toil and income and thus requiring contemporary men and women to work more to be able to afford said technology. In plain English, we need to work even more to be able to buy all the things we want that we did not even know about fifty years ago. Sorry, Scientific American. Growth in productivity has been accompanied by a growth in technological Joneses.

Wrongly or rightly, predictions that human jobs will be replaced by technology and robotics has already partly happened. Telephone operators or typists are obvious examples. Now, let us assume for the moment that Replicants, Skynet or Cylons are either not going to come into being or, if they do, which is the likely scenario will not seek to usurp their short-sighted creators, but that did not stop Oxford University professors Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne from publishing a much-discussed paper on mankind’s employability resilience. They also hypothesized that advances in technology vis-a-vis human happiness and employment do not constitute a linear path from the 19th to 20th to the 21st century. Moreover, the composition of the employment market will change. They argue that employment will shift to industries where productivity is growing. Except, this time there is a caveat. The famous ‘knowledge worker’ will not be able to out-smart or out-knowledge computerisation.

cylonsskynet

What I find interesting is the discussion of ‘big data.’ This term could mean many things and refers to concepts as related, but diverse, as HADOOP, social media, IOT (Internet Of Things) or the digitization of all human knowledge. For once, computers or robots will not be asked to replace human activity in a specific environment or domain. They are being fashioned to do it all inclusive of tasks unforeseen. Think about it. This is not a robotic assembly line. This is a domain-less knowledge worker. The said ‘worker’ can do legal analysis, drive, conduct surgery or do something as mundane as find one a telephone number on the Internet.

Replicants

So, what do the researchers think about the chances of sales becoming automated and job losses in the occupation. We have all heard the adage that ‘people buy from people.’ Is it true or merely another in the long list of dated, or patently false, tidbits?

typewriter

Before answering it is useful to note that the researchers explain that there is a smaller chance that position which require “creative intelligence” (basically the ability to be clever and non-routine) and “social intelligence” (essentially the ability to understand others and react) will fall prey to obsolescence. In another cruel and Darwinian twist of fate, the model therefore predicts that lower paid jobs (included the dreaded McJobs) will be susceptible to automation more than higher paid jobs. Generally speaking, executive positions, business and healthcare jobs are at a lower risk of replacement. Construction, transportation and production jobs are in the higher risk category. More specifically for us, telemarketers (the single most endangered position in the Appendix), retail and insurance sales are highly likely to be replaced. Negotiators, which potentially might include, very experienced salespersons or management are not. Junior or mid-experience salespersons do not fare well in the modelling however.

In the meanwhile, whatever the pace of automation, it is important for salespersons to not be robotic, impersonal and uninformed.

*Things That Need To Go Away: low energy and boring ‘sales’ with no creativity, knowledge or appeal.

Jan 112016
 

Several years ago I wrote about Not Competing On Price. Sales organizations are in an unenviable state of affairs where competition is more fierce than ever, pressure on sales margins is unrelenting and, due to both information overload and borderline fantasy marketing by sellers, customers are either blind to what sets you apart or, more likely, do not want to pick up enough cues, which would set you apart from the competition.

I say “more likely” because customers are in fact more informed than ever. Partly as a result, Gartner believes that buyers see their interaction with sales as their least valuable part of their buying process.

How should organizations and sales departments respond? Put another way, the question is, how do organizations and sales departments differentiate themselves enough to hold a competitive edge? The answer should be simple. Have a better product and convey the strength to customers already suffering from cognitive dissonance. Easier said than done of course. Where it exists sales must know it and articulate it. Among other things a sales process must become

  • Better aligned to the contemporary buying process, which means not being strict about the pipeline and funnel milestones as defined in your CRM
  • Offer more domain knowledge,
  • A much better understanding of vertical KBRs is a must because you would want to align it to the customer’s purchase
  • Moreover, support and maintenance are tangible factors that remain dissimilar across companies.

Notice that, given our dilemma, these are still non-product differentiators. To keep our feet firmly planted in reality we are not going to see sales managers measuring their salespersons differently. Why? Wall Street, Bay Street, whatever quarterly measuring street.

Where a competitive edge does not exist the price pressure is even more acute.

What to do when a customer sees you as a commodity? What to do when a customer sees you as one of many? The answer is ‘disruption.’ A seller has to disrupt current customer thinking through one or more of the below:

  • Know yourself. If you cannot educate your customer to your differences then you are at a disadvantage. Do you have superior communication and articulation? Either way, you must get better. Do you have valid reasons, experience and stories? If so, maximize their utility. Importantly, be careful assuming that your customer’s knowledge of you is perfect. What they may know may not match what you know. Check and compare.
  • Know your competition. Educate your customer on the competition. Do you know their limitations? Do you know how they are processing their sales strategy?
  • Know your customer. This includes their hot buttons, preferred relationship parameters and interaction style preferences and big picture. The last item implies that the seller could go beyond the point solution and make truly constructive suggestions to customers. The triangulation of engineering, marketing and sales becomes more important than ever. Is this wishful thinking? Quite possibly. Selling organizations are as resource and time challenged as buyers. However, the extra effort and fastidiousness is worth it.

All products being roughly equal, or being perceived as such, something has to give. It will either be the price or your non-product differentiators.

*Things That Need To Go Away: companies and sellers who cannot articulate why they have a raison d’etre.

identical

Oct 182015
 

Sage is a UK-based software firm with annual revenues of £1.3 billion or $2.5 billion CDN.

MYOB is an Australia-based software firm with annual revenues of A$246.6 million or $230 million CDN.

MYOB is now owned by US-based Bain Capital (of Mitt Romney fame), but when in late 2011 the owners of MYOB initiated an auction to sell the firm the early winner was the aforementioned Sage. Why a legacy software firm would wish to buy another is another story, which might explain Sage brass ending up forfeiting the opportunity, but for readers interested in technology firm manoeuvers, corporate negotiations and handling of shareholders’ money or law and litigation Lexology, a website for lawyers, has a fascinating article on the lawsuit and legal deliberations that followed the tender.

The MYOB Decision

At my first law course at University the instructor and text book insisted that a handshake implies a legal agreement… apparently not.

 

 

Nov 152014
 

Do you want to ramp up your job search and potentially improve your chances at obtaining an interview? Consider creating a personal Value Statement or Value Summary to be sent and shared with your résumé.

Traditionally, the résumé is meant to get you an interview, while the actual meeting will allow you to progress to the next level to obtain the job.

Consider going the extra mile and incorporating the experience, skills and accomplishments you would convey at the interview in a Value Statement you would include and provide early on with your résumé.

It allows the hiring manager to expressly read what one hopes the résumé would convey. Moreover, it might even serve as practice for the actual interview conversation.

 

The content of the Value Statement would differ based on the résumé, experience and nature of the position of course; however, below is a technical sales sample of categories that need to be filled in with specifics.

  1. Sales Strategy (specifics are the sales process)
  2. External Customer Management (progress, commonality, building trust and commonality)
  3. Internal Customer Management (working with colleagues and departments within the organization)
  4. Relevant Industry knowledge (value propositions for SIC, Key Business Requirements and outcomes in targeted industries or product field)
  5. Business Acumen (timeliness, sympathy and care for customers, prospects and other people, propriety and EQ)
  6. Technical Acumen (knowledge of product, solution or other tools needed to do the job or mandated to be taught to others)

 

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