Tuesday, August 15, 2006

New Post after Long Hiatus

After a long hiatus I’m back. I recently, actually yesterday, started a new job. I won’t comment on the company just yet because I’m not sure where they stand with the whole blogging thing. It’s a technical company and in severe start up mode. It’s what I’ve been working on and what I’ve used as an excuse to not post here in some time.

So, I’m back. I May have one reader and even he may have abandoned me by now but I hope to offer some insight into the sales process and specifically into the technical sales process.

Good technology is a commodity in today’s market. It’s expected to be there. Most of the time it doesn’t deliver the expected results. Too many companies, whether they are technical start ups or consumer based product companies, believe their own hype. There is never any competition according to the engineering pundits internal to the company. The reality is that everything has competition and forgetting that, or worse, underestimating that, is the death knell for your product.

And while your technology may be the latest and greatest, if you don’t execute on the expectations you’ve built up it won’t matter. You’ll quickly become an afterthought and those key design wins will become dust.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Great Meeting Today

There are days when my practice is really rewarding and fulfilling. Today was one of those days. After a very trying few weeks, in which I met with people full of excuses and ineptitude, it was nice to meet with someone who is extremely sharp.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Chris Cheng this afternoon. He runs a MSP (merchant service provider) company and he knows the value of process driven sales. His success is pretty amazing and I think it is directly related to the processes he has put onto place to more efficiently run his company.

In a highly competitive business, he has managed to find a way to improve his profit, increase his sales and keep his valuable people. He has documented a variety of sales processes, among other processes in other areas of his business, in the past three years. He is one of the few companies that fall into the 15% of companies with a documented sales process.

The numbers he showed me today were a direct result of the processes he has put so much thought into. They are quantifiable and they provide him with a means to adjust his business as dictated by current market trends.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sales Calls

Seth Godin has a terrific post on the sales call and where it’s headed. Frankly, his observation is right on but I think he’s a few years too late with the observation. In the last five years or so in my career I’ve seen this happening to me personally. The buyers, or the engineers, don’t have anymore time available to them than the sales person does. They are being asked to do more with less just like you are. Couple that with the fact that decision makers are increasingly difficult to get too and you have a decreased ability to increase the volume of opportunities to sell your product or service. The sales meeting as we know it is dead.

Sales people need to be in contact with their customer base on a consistent basis in order to have a chance at the buyers need for a solution. Most companies drive by and hope they hit a decision maker at the time they want to buy. Unfortunately, the reality of this happening is practically nil. About 50% of the sales people will move on after one engagement with a prospect. About 79% of the sales people will move on after the fourth engagement with a prospect that hasn’t bought anything. On the buying side, they aren’t even taking you seriously until the 5th engagement. And by engagement I mean, a marketing touch of some sort; letter, fax, email, phone conversation, meeting, etc.

Staying in touch, keeping what Gil Cargill calls “top-of-mind-awareness,” is imperative in today’s business climate. In order to have a buy meeting as Seth Godin says, you need to be at the top of the customers mind when that need arises. You can do this in a variety of ways but it needs to be consistent, pertinent and specific to the buyer if you want to get the call when they are ready to buy.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Listen to your clients. They want you to help.

Over at Learfield Interaction , David Brazeal posts about press releases and a new technology to get them out. His comment at the bottom of the post was what drew my attention. He says, “Only by giving people information they care about -- information they want to receive, in a way they want to receive it -- can you ultimately connect with them.”

It struck me as relevant to the sales process as well. The content of our sales presentation needs to be about what our customers want not what we want. How can you connect with a customer if you aren’t providing relevant information?

Each client need is different. As the customer base grows more sophisticated so does their ability to identify the sales people that bring no value to the table. What has worked for me in the past is to talk to the customer and listen to what they actually want. It’s then my job to find the solution to their problem, need or pain. Sounds like a no brainer but talk to anyone who has recently had a sales person in their office and ask them if the account rep actually had a grasp of what they needed? Do they think the account manager actually listened? What do you think the answers would be based on your own experience?

Listening in a manner that makes me a trusted advisor allows me to identify a solution to their needs. I become an important part of their development and this allows me to help them with their business while doing the same for my company.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where Will The New Sales Force Come From?

The number one concern today of the CEO’s I speak with is the ability to retain and hire good people. In the sales arena, this is even more of a concern because everyone seems to think they need the superstar sales person with a tremendous amount of experience and a list of clients that will come with them. The other areas of the companies seem to have some sort of program that is provided to new hires. It boggles my mind to see the sales person “thrown to the wolves” so to speak.

OK, that comment is a little extreme with the “because everyone” part, but essentially, I find it to be true. But the reality is that the most experienced and the best people are not searching for jobs in your industry, regardless of what that industry might be. There are numerous reasons for this but what I find is that the most experienced people have found their comfort zone with regards to money, free time, comfort level and a host of other possibilities.

So, if we can’t attract the most experienced people how do we get a sales force that will accomplish what it is that we need to have them accomplish? We don’t have the time to bring on new bodies and train them. Schools are not providing an education in sales. Companies don’t have sales programs. And yet, the fundamental role of business is to sell product be it service, semiconductor, consumer goods, etc. We do that with a sales process.

The need to sell product is not going to change. Businesses have to do this if they want to be in business. What can change is bringing the sales force in line with the other divisions within the organization. Provide the sales people, managers and account people alike, with a sales process that allows them to grow into the best that they can possibly be. Sales people will be managed to a specific set of expectations and activity. New sales people can be provided with a roadmap to achieve their sales goals. Sales managers will have tools to manage the activity allowing them to adequately and intelligently provide their management with a forecast. A sales process, and the discipline behind it, will improve the ability of your company to manage the changing landscape of today’s market. It’s changing faster than we can imagine and the companies that realize this will attract the top performers whether they are experienced or not.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What Holds the Sales Force Accountable?

I met with a company the other day that seems to be on the right track when the numbers are brought in. That is, until you dig a little deeper.

Last year they had a record sales year but their profit was down close to break even and lower than expectations. As the meeting progressed it became evident that the sales force, while putting up good numbers as it related to their quotas, wasn’t really bringing in new accounts and no one could identify the profit average of each sell.

Lagging indicators are tools that tell us what happened in the past not what is likely to happen in the future. Last months sales numbers are history and they can’t be changed without creative bookkeeping practices. But by and large, sales managers look at numbers from last week, last month and last quarter to tell them where they are headed. The question to ask with these numbers is why they are where they are. The answer to that single question will provide the basis for improvement in the revenue dollars you’d like to see. Without a process, you are likely to have unsatisfactory answers from your management team.

A process provides answers that are factual and provides a basis for improvement. A process will allow you to define actual actions that led to the numbers you’ve seen and give you a much better idea of where you are going. Surveys indicate that 85% of the business to business sales forces have no documented sales process to fall back on when times are tough. In today’s business climate, every other part of your company has a process. Why doesn’t your sales force? They are being held less accountable than the cleaning staff. You know when your office hasn’t been cleaned because you see the results. And yet, the sales force, the group tasked with getting your product to the customer, is not held accountable to a documented set of standards. Without this, improvement is illusory, fleeting and all too often a frustrating waste of time.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Welcome to Sales Catalyst

cat·a·lyst: an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action

Welcome to the first post on Sales Catalyst where I’ll explain my theory on what’s what in the sales profession. My goal is to discuss the sales profession in today’s market. Along the way, I hope to learn some new and exciting ways to sell, discuss my opinions, tell you what has worked for me in the past and gain further insight into the sales process.

I believe in having a sales process and that every company needs one. A systematic selling process will yield consistent and profitable results allowing the company to find, acquire and keep customers at an accelerated rate. If you control your opportunity volume you will control your dollar volume. Contest more deals and you will book more business. That’s the foundation of my selling process and I want to share more on this in future posts.

I’m looking forward to what journey this blog will ultimately lead me to complete. It’s a work in progress and I welcome your comments. Let’s keep it civil with a meaningful discourse. You can contact me on my profile page via email or leave a comment here and let’s see what happens.

Wish me luck.