3 Ways Selling Has Changed In The Last 10 Years

RotaryPhone

Most of us in Sales began our career with the Yellow Pages in hand.  Sales training consisted of two words – start dialing.  Call your family, then friends, and work your way down to those you didn’t know at all..  COLD!  You started with the “A”‘s and worked down to “Z” dialing the phone 150 – 175 times a day.  If you were lucky you spoke with a handful of potential buyers and perhaps made 1 sale.  Your success depending solely on a rapid fire approach.  Dialing as fast as you could, ending the calls that didn’t present an immediate opportunity and on to the next call.  No strategy.  No connection.  No value.

Today things have changed but many Sales organizations are still operating with a pre-80’s selling style.  They refuse to accept the reality that there is in fact a softer side of selling.  This side of selling acknowledges a great deal of strategy and includes the elements of education, communication, and value.  Here are 3 areas that have changed dramatically in the past decade with the flow of available information on the web:

  1. Gamesmanship versus Education.  Not more than 10 years ago a sales persons goal was to outplay or outmaneuver the prospect.  This is not to say that salespeople were bad people.  They did their jobs with the tools at their disposal and the direction given to them by their managers all of whom were trained the same way and advanced in their careers accordingly.   Given the scarcity of information buyers were completely reliant upon the salesperson.  While best case scenarios involved a sales person simply being viewed as pushy, worst case extremes included those sales people who mislead, misinformed, and misguided their prospects into making a poor purchasing decision.   Thankfully today there is an abundance of information available starting with the Web and including education content made available directly from companies selling their goods and services.
  2. Push versus Pull communication.  Remember direct mail with all those post cards that companies sent out through the U.S. Postal Service?  Or the letters that were sent out offering 3, 6, or 12 months free.  Urgency words and phrases like “For the first 100 callers”, or “in the next 90 days”, or how about “while supplies last”?  Sellers created a sense of urgency for the buyer that if they didn’t act quickly they would lose out on this incredible deal.  By stating the offer was only available to the first 100 callers, sellers attempted to manipulate prospective buyers into believing that there were swarms of ready-buyers who were crashing the gates to gobble up all product being offered for sale and soon there would be no more.  After all, we all need at least one if not two “gophers“.
  3. Discounts versus Value. Imagine Mercedes-Benz, ExxonMobil, Apple, or Goldman Sachs giving their work away at a heavy discount or even for free.  Premium brands only become premium by protecting their brand value.  Any offers that include give-a-ways do nothing more than diminish the value of your brand.  Think for a moment about your sales experience with a premium brand company.  You’re almost shaking with excitement to hand over your money just to say you own what they sell.  Remember your first iPod, iPad or Macbook?  You never complained that there were no discounts.  And what about the UGGs you bought?  Premium companies stand by the value of their brand, selling it for the price they believe is justified to not only make a profit but to also protect their brand’s value.

Respecting your prospect, your buyer, and your current customer is paramount to your continued growth and success in selling.  Taking the time to educate your prospective buyer through high-value communication will help position you as more than just a sales person.  The sales professional able to do this most effectively will be the one that the buyer can’t live without.  They will become an indispensable resource to the buyer and will become the go-to person for all their needs.  Said simply, the one who delivers the most value wins today, tomorrow, and the next.

Stop Trying to Fit In and Start Being Remarkable

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Everyone wants to fit in. To be a part of the crowd. Some people go to extremes to remain invisible whether at school, the office, the gym, or anywhere else in pubic. Blending in is part of our culture. Why do you think brand names like Nike, Levi’s, Coke, Asics, Hollister, and Target are so valuable? They represent the main stream. Sure they offer quality and value but they also offer a strong emotional connection to safety. I’m safe if someone sees me wearing Nike, shopping at Target, or buying a Diet Coke.

But success doesn’t come to those who play it safe. Success isn’t for the faint of heart, or those who want to be part of the crowd. No. Success usually comes to those willing to take chances, to challenge the norms of society, to stand out and be remarkable.

Are you remarkable? Do you stand out at work or are you one of the crowd? Do your co-workers look at you as a thought leader? A progressive thinker? Or are you one of the many doers that get things done but not the one “cutting the edge?” Do you invest in building your personal brand? Are you working to create awareness around your ideas and opinions or are you silent, laying back, waiting for the next set of directions to come your way?

History is a great teacher of the correlation between remarkable and success. Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and The Beatles all were remarkable for their time. Dimon, Reagan, Lincoln, and Gates made bold decisions, often unpopular, but remarkable in ways that led to great discoveries, financial stability, and peace through power.

We all have the ability to be remarkable. We may not all be Thomas Edison’s or Michael Dell’s but we each possess unique characteristics that if amplified make us remarkable. A great sense of humor, the ability to provide calm during turbulent times, or being able to rally people together for a common cause can be remarkable characteristics. What makes you remarkable?

A Few Thoughts On Change

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I recently had an interaction with a group of folks embarking on a new change.  Like most recipients of change there was hesitation and apprehension. Normal emotions that typically accompany change. When we are faced with change it’s human nature to question, doubt, fear, and distrust the impending change. First reactions are often negative with a sense of “OMG what now!”.

Years ago I had a boss teach me a method for adapting to change. I have used this technique several times and have found it to be calming, enlightening, and in many cases beneficial in helping me adapt to the change I was facing. It all starts with changing your paradigm on change.

Life’s biggest change-fests include getting a new job, a new boss, having a new child, getting married for the first time (and hopefully the only time), starting a new school, making new friends, or working with a new agency partner. All these changes bring a level of stress that includes many of the emotions I listed above. One way to eliminate those butterflies in your stomach when facing change is by asking yourself one question. Resist the urge to predict the future this change will create and ask yourself one simple question: What good will this change bring me?

A new job can bring new and exciting experiences. A new boss can provide new insights, coaching, development, and opportunities. Changing to a new school opens the doors to new friends, programs, activities. Getting married provides stability, support, love, and a safe place to land when you need one. All changes bring opportunities. Unfortunately, and most likely due to past experiences, we tend to immediately go to the negative when it comes to how we perceive change.

Remember this. Nothing improves without changing something. Tide, Crest, Cadillac, Apple, Wegmans, Nordstrom are all companies that continue to innovate and change, and it’s in these changes that these companies prosper and flourish. The same is true with people. Phil Mickelson changes his approach and improves his golf game. Peyton Manning changes his training routine and improves his passing efficiency. No matter what the case, change has to occur before things can get better. So next time you’re faced with a change don’t panic. Just ask yourself, “how will this change benefit me”. Not will it benefit but how. Assume it’s for the good and it will be.

What’s At Risk When The Government Shuts Down?

Caution

Let me first say that growing up I learned an important lesson from my father…“don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution”.  I’ve carried that philosophy with me throughout life and it has served me well.  That said, my blog today provides context on the problem as I see it with our Country’s current state of affairs.  Later this week I will post a blog that provides a solution, or at least a strong direction, that may be viewed as a starting point to making things better.

The U.S. government has now officially been shut-down for a week.  On Tuesday, October 1, 2013, after being unable to reach any agreement between the President, Republicans, and Democrats, the government was forced to shut down…at least partially.  From services required to fund small business loans, to passport processing services, and the suspension of Amber-Alerts,  many of the “Congress deemed non-essential services” have been stopped.  Unfortunately the one service that should have also been stopped wasn’t…paying Congress!  Instead, it is estimated that nearly 800,000 of the 3.3 million federal employees will be furloughed – the remaining employees being viewed as “essential”.

How did we end up in this situation again?  It seems we have reached this same impasse a handful of times over the past 5 years.  Gridlock and deadlock have plagued this 113th Congress and it shows in their “disapproval” rating which is currently hovering at 80+%.  Think about that…8 in 10 American’s do not approve of how Congress is acting…or not acting depending on your viewpoint.  Relative to the President, his approval rating is just a bit better at 50%…half approving and half disapproving.  No matter how you slice it, or which polling company’s data you prefer, it’s clear we have our work cut out for us as a country.

There are two issues looming on the horizon that will most certainly present additional challenges for the U.S.  The first being our debt ceiling, and the second being the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, more specifically the health exchanges.

Our debt ceiling is set to expire on October 17, 2013.  If no action is taken, what we risk, is the general default by the U.S Government to its bondholders.  And while the U.S. Treasury Department has some wiggle room as to prioritizing what and who to pay first, the reality is that because the numbers are so huge something or someone is likely to come out on the short end of the stick.  If forced to make a trade-off, the Treasury is likely to pay the bondholders before paying Social Security recipients.  Unfortunately there is no easy solution.  Some say just raise the debt ceiling…print more money, while others suggest slashing budgets and eliminating many of the current public or entitlement programs. It’s hard to believe that 536 (535 + 1) people can’t find some common ground that offers up a solution to benefit the country and its citizens.  This current win-lose philosophy if allowed to continue will only hurt us in the short and long-term.

Next up, the exchanges.  We saw this past week websites crashing, call centers overloaded, and millions of questions left unanswered.  To be fair, all new things have their bugs whether it’s Windows 8 or the new iOS7 platform.  We have grown accustomed to anticipating problems.  However, as forgiving as we typically are, there are some things that drive us to shop elsewhere.  As an example, many people I know are considering switching to a DROID-based phone after Apple’s recent iOS7 release that seemed riddled with problems.  Likewise, many folks still haven’t upgraded to Windows 8 as they are not pleased with Microsoft’s new platform.  But where will people go when not happy with the exchanges?  Perhaps a different exchange?  Maybe through their broker?  The fact is, it’s yet to be seen what choice we will really have if completely dissatisfied with the new way we need to secure our health coverage.

The next few weeks will test our patience, as well as, our prior held beliefs.  Those in favor of healthcare reform may have a change of heart and to be fair those opposed to its passing may find they actually like it.  Regardless, our government has some significant challenges it is facing over the coming weeks and given its recent history of being unable to work together toward a common outcome, the likelihood that we will actually get a solution to these big problems is slim to none.  Instead we’ll kick the can further down the road, place a temporary band-aid on our debt problem and more likely be forced to delay another aspect of the ACA implementation.

Perhaps the biggest risk of a government shut-down is psychological.  A loss of confidence, stature, and respect.  A shut down pushes us further away from our once-held position as the leader in the world, a country with great ideas, the best talent, and an unquenchable thirst for perfection and progress.  Shutting things down signifies giving up, and that’s simply Un-American.

Buyer Personas. The Key To Sustained Growth.

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In my prior blog, 3 Philosophies of a Great Company, I wrote about the importance of knowing your customer.  We’ve all heard this expression before but many companies still struggle with the essence and simplicity of its meaning.  Knowing your customer involves having a thirst for knowledge, the ability to confront reality, and dedicated resources including time and dollars.  Those that embrace this strategic component are those that excel and succeed.

Using a buyer persona process is a great way to get to know your customer.   Companies like Sirius Decisions and HubSpot have invested countless resources in the development of creating a buyer persona process that drives new customer growth while improving the retention rate of existing customers.  When used effectively, buyer personas can become a powerful P&L management tool.  How?  Buyer Personas help to:

  1. Improve target marketing by aligning your product or service to the right audience.  If your product is geared toward SMB (Small-Medium-Business) or enterprise-size companies, your buyer personas will provide critical insights into the buyer behaviors of these specific segments.  Having a deep confidence in knowing your customer helps to avoid wasting precious time, and money, spent marketing to the wrong prospect group.
  2. Provide granular detail around how your prospective buyer thinks and gathers information.  How do they make their buying decision?  This information helps improve your ROI on marketing investments by knowing what to say, where to say it, how often to communicate your message, etc.  Keep in mind that each business could have more than one buyer persona.  A CEO, CFO, Office Manager, General Manager, all make decisions differently.  Why?  Because each have their own perspective from which they process information.  This becomes extremely important when determining where each of these individuals go to find information.  Sirius Decisions concept of “watering holes” illustrates the importance of knowing where to place your message – where your customers and prospects spend their time.
  3. Convert your value proposition into a high-impact message.  The strength of your value proposition is dependent upon how well your message aligns to the needs of your customer or prospective buyer.  You cannot succeed if your value proposition is disconnected from the buyers needs.  Therefore, having a completed buyer persona allows you to take your value proposition and craft it into a specific message that addresses the needs or pain points of that buyer.  Being able to demonstrate to the buyer your understanding of their needs, builds their confidence and, ultimately leads to their conviction to select you as their provider of service.

Think about the companies that really seem to know what the customer wants.  Companies like Apple, Toyota, Cadillac, Samsung, Proctor & Gamble, and Victoria’s Secret are all companies that have taken a buyer persona approach to growing their market share.  They invest heavily in knowing their customer.  They understand that what worked yesterday may not work today given internal or external influences to their market.  The key is change.  Seek it, drive it, embrace it, demand it.  Change is what drives innovation and innovation, if done correctly, drives growth.

What’s happening at Apple?

With last week’s financial results posted by Apple showing a $1.3 billion decrease in year-over-year profits, is it possible we are about to witness one of the greatest rise and fall from corporate stardom?  What’s going on at Apple?  What are the employees thinking?  Better yet what is Tim Cook thinking?

Sure Apple returned a nearly $19 billion to shareholders via dividends and share repurchases, but their operating numbers raise some eyebrows.  While revenue was nearly flat at $35 billion this quarter, over the same period last year, what is more concerning is the drop in profit.  This year’s quarterly profit was $6.9 billion compared to a $8.8 billion profit a year ago.  And to make matters worse, sales of iPads dropped by more than 2.5 million units along with a 200,000 unit-sale decrease in Macs.

So what’s happening at Apple?  Have they lost their swagger.  Perhaps.  But why?  Is the answer fear?

Apple has been one of the most, if not the most coveted brand for the last decade.  People rush to buy their products, attend their conferences, and hope to work for a company whose founder is no doubt the greatest visionary of this generation.  Apple’s goals and desires rose above Wall Street’s performance expectations.  They operated with this notion that they could really change people’s lives…and they did.  And, as a result of changing millions of lives they in fact changed the world and how we consume information, use it, access it, and show it off.  Apple products carry a certain cachet with them.  All these accomplishments are the result of many things but perhaps the single biggest driving force behind their success was Steve Jobs.  A bold visionary who bucked the pressures of Wall Street and critics and moved in directions others wouldn’t dare.

Today Tim Cook is at the helm with some big shoes to fill.  It’s hard to expect a mere man, while a good man, to become superhuman like Jobs.  Cook may be a good operator but he’s no Jobs.  He may have walked into the worst CEO seat in the universe.  After all, following in the footsteps of someone like Steve Jobs would be difficult even for many of the greatest CEOs of all time.

Signs are already showing that Apple is becoming a “me-too” company.  After the strange introduction of the iPad mini, I began to wonder what was next.  Perhaps a gaming system like Xbox, or getting into selling flat screen TVs like Samsung?  Apple seems to be flailing about trying to find their way.  They’ve shifted their strategy in their retail stores from a laid-back, informative, fun experience to the typical “gotta sell them something” model used by all other retailers.  Unfortunately this shift has been noticed by consumers and they have voted with their feet as sales slipped to $4 billion, down slightly from a year earlier.

While the fear of failure affects people and companies differently, with Apple it may not have a positive result.  Companies throughout history have turned to visionaries when facing troubled times.  Chrysler turned to Lee Iacocca, GM turned to Bob Lutz, JP Morgan turned to Jamie Dimon, and Xerox turned to Anne Mulcahy.  Leaders that have clarity of vision along with a strong sense of conviction.  These leaders took bold actions, dismissed Wall Street, and focused their attention on the priority of turning their respective companies around.

Apple needs to find its hunger for innovation and market disruption once again if it expects to stay on top.  The out-of-the-box thinking driven by Jobs, along with his obsession with elegant, yet simple-to-use designs, created a Disney-like company where dreams are made of.  Let’s hope the dream is not over.