Sell Me This Pen. The Interview Question All Sales People Should Expect.

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Sell me this pen.  Pitch me as you would a prospect.  How would you sell our product if I was a buyer? Sound familiar? These questions, and more like them, are asked in most sales interviews. But should they be? If you’re the candidate being interviewed should you take the bait and answer? Or is there another way to respond that better showcases your critical thinking skills?

This question poses significant risk to the candidate.  Sure, you may have a perfect reply and wow the interviewer, however, there’s also a chance this question is a trap. Answer it and you could be perceived incorrectly.  Don’t answer it and you risk rubbing the interviewer the wrong way.  The problem with this question is that it doesn’t provide you, the candidate, with enough information to form an intelligent response.  You know nothing about the pen, and even less about the buyer.  Many companies sell pens, payroll, financial services, insurance, consumer products, accounting services, etc., but not all their buyers are attracted to that company for the same reason.  Every buyer is on his or her own journey.  Without understanding the motivations and behaviors of a specific buyer, your best response provides nothing but entertainment value for the interviewer. So how can you reply in a way that demonstrates intelligence and thoughtfulness rather than appearing aloof?

If you’re the candidate being interviewed I propose a different reaction to this question.  Instead of answering I would look at the person interviewing me and say, “Before I can sell you anything I need to understand your needs as a buyer. What’s important to you and why? Have you made purchases like this before? What happened?”. Turn the “sell me the pen” question into a dialogue to learn about your buyer.

Taking the bait and trying to sell the pen is risky.  Is it a Bic pen?  A Cross? A Mont Blanc? Or is it a new digital smart pen? A buyer who needs a pen to write down a quick grocery list has different buying needs than a buyer who attends a Board meeting and needs to record in detail everything that takes place in that meeting.  One buyer may need something simple, quick, cheap.  Another buyer may need something more sophisticated and advanced. Do you know what kind of pen it is?  Do you know the buyer?

For those conducting the interview I’d suggest asking a different question.  I understand the insight you’re attempting to gain by asking this question.  I’ve built many sales teams from the ground up and never asked this question.  Instead, I ask the candidate to tell me how they would educate themselves on the product we sell and the buyers who purchase it. Asking this question provides insight into the candidates critical thinking skills versus pure stage performance.  In some cases you may be selling a commodity where critical thinking skills are less important.  However, if that’s your belief I’d challenge it. Commodities can only go so far. At some point you will need a value differentiator to grow your business, and that differentiator won’t be found or identified by a performer.  It will be identified by someone whose interactions with your buyers are thoughtful and curious.

As buyers become more educated, knowledgeable, and aware of other options, an employers goal should be to fill their business with thinkers, while a modern sales professional should be focused on working for a company that demonstrates its commitment to understanding the customer and aligning value to the need.  Strong critical thinking skills will be essential as we continue our progress to a knowledge based society.

So will you take the bait and answer the question?

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An Execution Lesson for Business – Compliments of the Military

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Planning is important. Training is important. People knowing what the goal is, and the actions necessary to attain the goal is critical.  But great planning and training is not enough to beat your competition.  Companies spend millions each year doing both. The infamous “strat plans”, and training sessions, and off-sites all take time and money. Yet the list of companies that actually execute on their plans and achieve their goals is a much shorter list than those that fail. So what’s the lesson that business can take from the military when it comes to successfully executing a strategy? The answer is organization.

A well-trained employee (solider) can not be effective operating in an unorganized environment.  A fairly trained employee operating in a highly organized environment can be very successful.

Current military leaders suggest that an enemy who is well-organized – regardless of training – is the enemy to be feared.  Likewise, companies with strong organizations, processes, infrastructure, and culture of execution, will take the talent they have and win nearly every time.  This understanding is summed up by the great management consultant Peter Drucker who said, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it.  It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”

Are you organized?  Is your company?  Your department?  Do you have goals that are clear and understood by your entire team?  Have your “organized” your business around meeting those goals? Or have you simply created a new goal to execute within an existing organizational structure?

Goals change each year.  Sometimes more often depending on circumstances.  That’s the nature of business.  If all you do is change the goal without organizing you business around the specifics of that goal you’re bound to fail.  The old saying, “what got you here won’t get you there” will prove correct.  Take the time to test your goals against your current organization structure.  Chances are you’ll quickly identify gaps in your structure that may prevent or hinder the achievement of those goals.  Act quickly to identify them and address them.  Once you do…you’re on your way to successfully executing your plan.

Your Ability To Change Determines Success or Failure

 

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Our ability to change determines our probability to succeed. Of course success has many definitions. Success may look like a college degree, a new car, losing weight, obtaining financial freedom, paying down debt, finding a new job, rescuing an animal, raising money for a nonprofit, starting a business, or growing a business.

No matter what you’re doing in life, your ability to manage change, embrace change, affect change, and ultimately lead change will determine the outcomes you produce. When people fail to change they don’t grow. They don’t expand their knowledge, or insights, or perspectives. They remain static within a dynamic world. When businesses fail to change the results can be stressful and sometimes catastrophic.  Downsizing, layoffs, reorganizations, increased leverage, bankruptcy, and in worst case scenarios complete shut downs happen due to a failure in the ability to change.

How can you prepare for change?

  • Read more, and if you’re not reading at all, get started. Create a mix of categories including business, leadership, inspiration, fiction, and history. There is so much to learn from others who have come before us, as those who are currently on their own journey.
  • Conduct a personal self-assessment. What are your strengths? Stop worrying about your weaknesses. Play to your strengths. In baseball, pitchers are known for having a perfect pitch. Could be their fastball, curve, slider, etc. Perfect your strengths so much so that your weaknesses are irrelevant.
  • Find a mentor. Someone who will be brutally honest with you about you. A great mentor will help you become more self-aware. They can identify blind spots. Blind spots may or may not be weaknesses. The key is to understand what they are, where they are, and when they show up. A blind spot may be how your temper flares when things don’t go your way. Once you’ve identified the blind spot you can work on techniques that can help change your behaviors.
  • Accept who you are. Sometimes the changes required to go from Point A to Point B do not align with your “who”. Don’t settle. When you attempt to do things that don’t align with who you are authentically, you will create stress in your life, and in the lives of others. Be happy with who you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Once you’ve accepted who you are you can chose those situations or activities that excite you from a change perspective. If you love turnarounds but hate mature businesses, don’t force a change to work at a mature business. You love the excitement of turning something around. Chose to do that and whatever changes you’ll face in a turnaround situation you’ll embrace and thrive upon.
  • Reflection time. Build time into each day to reflect. Just 15 minutes each day will help you sort through what happened, how you acted, and the outcomes. More than likely you’ll arrive at the realization that a different action would have created a different reaction. It’s cause and effect. Take the time to think about your day, those you encountered, and what took place.
  • Ask for help. Change is tough. Even if you’re changing an area that excites you, inspires you, and motivates you, chances are it also scares you. Going through change alone is even scarier. Having a strong support network is critical. Family, friends, mentors, leaders and teammates can help you with change. I also personally believe that having a strong spiritual belief and faith provides a sense of calm during the storms of change.

Newsflash: There is no one-size-fits-all sales methodology

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Newsflash: There’s not one sales approach that works in every selling situation. While some may believe “there is one ring that rules them all”, I would suggest that believing this ignores your buyers behaviors.

There are numerous sales methodologies in the marketplace today that have real value.  Many sales leaders pick a specific approach because it “feels” right, or natural relative to their specific style and tendencies.  However, the sales methodology you select for your company, and your team, should reflect your buyer’s journey first and foremost.  If you haven’t taken the time to study, ask, and understand what motivates your buyer to buy, you’re missing big opportunities.

Not every sale is a one call close.  Not every sale has an 18 month cycle time.  Nor is every buying decision made by one person.  By studying your buyers you will identify what drives them, makes them tick, causes them to take action.

You can force a sale for sure, but it’s likely you won’t find a return customer.  Given the cost of acquiring new customers it would seem almost too obvious that sales leaders and their marketing counterparts would be striving to better understand their buyers.  Once you’ve identified the various steps or phases your buyers’ go through on their way to the cash register you can then begin to align a sales process to the buying process.  Always work outside-in.  Begin with your customer and create the process he or she will warm to.

I’m often asked which sales methodology I subscribe to.  The simplicity of my response may sound arrogant but hear me out.  The methodology I subscribe to is my own.  My own, because I’ve invested my time and money reading, testing, educating, retesting, and selling.  Because of this experience I am comfortable and confident in deploying a custom-made sales methodology to each individual sales organization based upon their buyer’s journey.  I take the time to learn the buyers behaviors first and then create a process that aligns to those behaviors…outside-in.

There is no one ring that rules them all.  It’s up to you to make the investment to expand your knowledge and apply it to gather learnings.  If you know when your buyer begins her journey to satisfy a need, you’ll know how to prospect her in a way that is non-threatening and value added.  If you know how many steps your buyer goes through before making a purchase decision you’ll know how to establish a contact strategy that touches him at the right time, with the right message, and the right tone.

Forget the one-size fits all, and take ownership of your buyers journey.  Once you do that your sales results will produce remarkable outcomes.

A Brief Thought on Leadership

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Leadership is a collection of experiences, ideas, values, beliefs, and opinions. Good leaders ask great questions. Great leaders apply what they’ve learned from those questions to their actions.  It’s not about having,or projecting an attitude, but rather demonstrating humility while acknowledging there is still more to learn. It’s not about being right but rather getting it right.

Leadership is a privilege.  It’s not a right, nor a duty as some may think. It’s a gift given to those who have earned it by demonstrating their desire to serve others. Those who have been given a leadership role without earning it are exposed rather quickly.  People are eager to follow those they believe in, trust, and care about.  That relationship can only be formed through the existence of a mutual trust.  It’s the leaders job to build that trust.  It is granted to the leader who demonstrates his or her genuine interest and caring for others, not because it’s in their title.

Leadership is on loan.  Every minute, every day, every week, a leader must continue to earn and re-earn their right to lead. Great leaders know when to lead and when to follow.  Even the best leaders have to follow at times.  Knowing when to lead and when to follow is an area that separates the good from the great leaders.

Leadership boils down to having the ability to add value beyond your job duties.  Leadership is always about doing above and beyond.  Doing just enough does not exist in a leaders mindset.   Striving, soaring, excelling, delivering, securing, discovering, exploring, and developing are the foundational characteristics of a great leader.  Are there any others you’d include?

 

 

Where are your buyers? How finding their hang-outs increases sales.

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Ah, prospecting.  The art of finding your next customer. The part of selling that makes even the most seasoned and successful sales people cringe.  Why is that?  What is it about prospecting that causes people to start twitching, flinching, gasping for breath?  It’s not talking to strangers that cause concern, nor is it hearing “no I’m not interested.” What really creates prospecting frustration is not knowing where your customers are hiding.

Networking is one of the keys to success in sales.  The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to sell something.  But networking for the sake of networking can be quite demanding and draining, physically, emotionally, and financially.  Time is your most valuable resource.  Time is more precious than the Hope Diamond or the Seven Seas (Steven Spielberg’s yacht). You have a finite amount of time.  You can never have more time, but you can always waste time creating a shortage.  Spending this precious resource wisely is your best chance to succeed in selling.

Imagine if you knew exactly where your prospective customers hang out.  You know where they will be, when they will be there, and for how long. Knowing their hang-outs is critical to maximizing your sales results.  After all, you can’t sell something to someone you don’t know how to find.  If your prospect is a restaurant owner, her hang-out may be at a state restaurant association trade show. If it’s a CIO, his hang-out may be CIO.com. No matter who your prospect is, he or she has some typical, and predictable spots they go to learn, question, and advance their decision making process.  Knowing where these hang-outs are reduces the number of networking events you need to attend.  If you knew that all your prospects were gathering at a specific venue every Wednesday evening from 6 pm – 7 pm, wouldn’t you be there?  Of course you would.

How can you find out where your buyers hang out?  Ask them!  What publications do you read on a regular basis? What types of events do you attend and why? Who are your trusted advisors? How do you research potential solutions for a business need? Sure, this is buyer persona work and it takes time. Sure, your Marketing department should be leading this work.  But if they’re not? Do it yourself. What you’ll discover will help you serve more buyers, more quickly.

These questions will help provide the answers and the insights into where your prospects are spending their time during their decision making process.  Once you know that, you can focus your energy on being visible at these hang-outs whether that means in person, or through content posted on a specific social channel.  There’s great power in knowing where your prospects go to learn and decided. When you know that you’re more than half way to the sale!

If this is something you’re interested in learning more about let me know.

Should You Clean House? The most difficult question you’ll face as a leader.

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Cleaning house is often times the first primary action a new leader takes upon his or her arrival; to fire or not to fire? If you’ve been recruited to fix, grow, turn around, or realign a team, there’s a strong chance you’ll be faced with this question shortly after you walk through the door.  It’s not an easy question to answer.  Turning over a team is physically and emotionally draining.  Yet, leaders are expected to make these difficult decisions in relatively short order.

The question of who, or whom, to let go requires a number of considerations.  Board expectations, executive management, the financial condition of the business, and company’s culture are all considerations when faced with this decision.  No matter what the circumstance, taking away an individual’s job is something that should never be taken lightly.  The reality is that many lay offs, reductions in force, or single terminations are decided upon from afar. But in cases where you are making these decisions locally you need to be prepared to act with confidence and compassion.

If you haven’t been specifically directed to change out a team, you’ll still need to evaluate your players to determine whether or not each individual will be able to make the transition.  You must recognize that the addition of you, the new leader, suggests changes have already been made, and more are likely expected.  Your personal style, philosophy, and work ethic are all new ingredients to this workplace recipe.  Will your team be able to transform?  Who will embrace the change and who will resist?  Remember all eyes are on you and your ability to lead change.  Resistors to the changes you plan to bring will become distractions, obstacles, and in the worst cases will strive for the workplace equivalent of a coup d’état. Your team’s alignment with your visions is critical. The sooner it happens, the greater the chance of you will succeed, and your company progresses.

A recent article in Fortune magazine, titled Should a New Leader Clean House?, author Geoff Colvin presents strong evidence that cleaning house produces better end results than those produced by leaders who attempt to work with the existing team.  The existing team is responsible for generating the existing results.  In many cases, a new leader is brought in to change those results, change trajectory, change outcomes.  Of course the focus is on the leaders ability to produce positive change.  The key is whether the probability of effecting positive change can happen with the existing team, or if the new leader needs to clean house first in order to start with their own team.

Noel Tichy, University of Michigan business professor, and former leader of General Electric’s Crotonville, NY training center, suggests “you need your own team.”  Your plans, ideas, and values will likely be realized by those excited to join the team versus those trying to hang on.  Reluctant followers ultimately become poison to the business killing results, morale, and the culture.

Finding the right path is up to you…the leader.  It’s not an easy decision, nor should it be.  You need to evaluate each member of your new team to determine their abilities and capabilities as they relate to embracing the transformation you’ve been hired to produce. Attitude is far more important at this stage that aptitude.  Perhaps the single most important piece to this puzzle is to ensure you have your boss’s support no matter what direction you make…keeping or cleaning.  Without his or her support your future starts out on shaky ground.  While this may be an uncomfortable discussion to have with your boss you need to have it…preferably during the interview stage, but if not then, immediately upon your arrival.  You’ll find alliances, allegiances, and “witness protection programs” in nearly every organization.  Knowing who they are, where they are, and the latitude you have to deal with them will determine your early and latter stage success.