3 Big Learnings from the Digital Growth Conference 2016

DigitalGrowthConference

This week I attended the Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco put on by SalesforLife.  It was a remarkable event packed with great content, inspiring and thought provoking speakers and some of the industries most respected thought leaders in the digital and social selling world. The attendees listened, asked questions, pondered, and talked with one another about how to effectively interact with today’s digital buyers, all while grappling with the ever-present challenge of how to transform our sales people into social sellers.

Here are my 3 Big Learnings from the conference:

  1. Today’s buyer is far more disruptive to the buying process than technology. Social selling evangelist Jill Rowley said during her keynote, “The buyer has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100.” The disconnect between our buying habits and preferences as consumers, has not followed us into our businesses. Buyers are hyper-connected, plugged in, educated, informed, and knowledgeable. They are no longer waiting to be sold, but instead, they are controlling the sales conversation and process. This evolution begs a change to traditional sales processes. Your sales people today must be brand ambassadors both for your company’s brand, as well as, their own personal brand. Jill drove this point home by saying, “Your online digital footprint is how trust will be built before you meet your customer, your personal brand is so important.” The modern sales person sees this, embraces this, acts on it, and is constantly working to develop his or her personal brand. The question we should all be asking is, what about those sales reps who are not making the transformation to the modern sales representative? What to do?
  2. Since the buyer is now in control of the sales process, the job of the sales rep is no longer to sell, but to facilitate the buyers journey. Viewing a sale in this different light may be quite stirring…perhaps even provocative to many. However, the digital buyer is here.  There’s no going back. Sales people need to be socially engaged where the buyers are learning. It’s no longer enough to simply know where the buyer is.  The sales person now has to be interacting with that buyer before the sale in the places the buyer is learning and with those who are helping to educate and inform them. Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Strategist for Salesforce said, “How much of the journey they (the buyer) have gone through is irrelevant. It’s where they went in between that’s important.  Who are their advisors, where did they go to get info?”.  The sales rep is no longer leading with the sale, but leading the buyer to the sale. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to aid in this transformation from a focus on the selling process to a deep understanding and alignment to the buyers journey?
  3. While the buyer has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, business has been much slower to change. Sure, it may feel to many that things at work are changing at light speed, but our sales process is still the same. Fill the pipeline, manage the pipeline, close the pipeline.  We may have changed the words we use, going from prospects, to pipeline, to funnel, but it’s still the same message, and same management. A true transformation to a buyers journey-centric focus requires great preparation, training, knowledge and assets that provide Sales with the tools they need to align with this “new buyer.” According to Sales Enablement guru Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Strategy Officer at Strategy to Revenue,” The #1 reason sales people fail to make a sale is due to their inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.” This reason, and its #1 ranking, hasn’t changed in 5 years. Why? The reason can be connected back to the disconnect between what we expect from our buying as a consumer, versus what we expect as a business person. This has to change.  To make this transformation we need to begin with hiring the right talent, providing that talent with the most effective on-boarding and training, and build a process that acknowledges the buyers journey by focusing on “education, solution, and selection.” It’s all about enabling your sales team to maximize all of their buyer interactions, because what got us here, won’t get us there. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to better enable our sales teams?

As I reflected on my Conference take-aways on my flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I found myself thinking about the pace of change in our consumer lives and Moore’s Law – the speed of technology will double every two years. We all use technology to improve our lives, educate ourselves, inform one another, and buy things. The age of the customer has arrived.  They’re looking for an advisor. They want answers. And while today’s buyers conduct much of the buying process on their own, results of an Accenture survey presented at the Conference showed 65% of buyers still want a combination of digital and human interaction when buying.  This requires being there (where the buyers are), and being prepared (talent, training, knowledge, assets). Business needs to recognize and acknowledge these changes have happened.  We all need to begin to let our behaviors and expectations as consumers follow us into our jobs. Those willing, capable, and brave enough to make this transformation will be the companies that become the high-water-mark the rest will be chasing in the future.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Sales 13 Deadly Sins

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Whether you are new to Sales, or have been selling for 30 years, a true Sales professional must always guard against these 13 deadly sins:

  1. Winging it.  Don’t be too confident that just because you know your product inside-out, and may be working for a market leader, that the buyer will simply sign on the dotted line.  Plan, focus, and prepare for each sales interaction.
  2. Judging a book by its cover.  Never assume that you know the buyer before you’ve met her.  Sure, you may have sold 100 buyers like her in the past but no two buyers are “just” like another.  Take the time to learn what’s different.
  3. Careless.  No one likes a careless person. It takes several forms from sloppy hand writing, to inappropriate dress, to bent presentations…just plain old messy.  If you don’t care, why should your buyer? Be neat. Be presentable. How you present your whole self shows the buyer your respect for yourself and for him.
  4. Being late. Don’t be late…ever.  Traffic isn’t an excuse.  Sure there’s a late plane, train, or bus.  The unexpected accident you get caught up in.  But normal traffic is not a reason to be late.  Plan accordingly.  If you’re on time, you’re late.
  5. Being uninformed. Shallow?  Ugh. People don’t want to interact with a sales person who brings nothing else to the table other than the product they’re selling. Take the time to be aware of your surroundings and world happenings.
  6. Relying too heavily on your company’s brand.  Don’t assume because you’re the biggest you’ll get the business. No doubt some companies spend huge resources on building their brand. You can either leverage it and get the sale, or assume it, appear arrogant, and lose the sale.  Earn the buyers trust…you + your brand.
  7. Not identifying all the contributors to a buying decision. Your contact may not have all the power. Too often I have seen mountains of effort placed in developing one relationship only to find there were others providing input to the buying decision I had not met, or invested in.  Know those who will be a part of the buying decision.
  8. Unadaptable, inflexible.  Don’t let your presentation, or agenda, become an anchor. Years ago my boss and I traveled together to do a presentation to a big prospective partner.  Within the first 5 minutes the buyer changed directions. Much to my boss’s surprise I ditched the presentation, adapted, and won the business due to my ability to flex with my buyer’s changing needs. Have one, but don’t become married to your agenda.
  9. Stretching the truth. Just don’t do it. Don’t lie, embellish, exaggerate.  Making promises you, your company, or your product can’t keep is a sure way to kill both your personal brand and your company’s.
  10. Competition bashing. Never badmouth your competition…even if the buyer tells you they said something bad about you. Defend it but end it.  When working for Paychex, the founder, Tom Golisano, provided a stern warning for any sales person caught badmouthing its competition. He believed if someone had to sink to that level to win the business the company probably didn’t deserve to win it in the first place.  Take the high road…always, win with respect.
  11. Knowing it all. Don’t be a know-it-all. Buyers don’t expect you to be omniscient. A little humility goes a long way in earning trust and respect.
  12. Knowing little or nothing. Invest your time to learn what it is you need to know about your company, product, and industry.  Your company can’t, nor should, do it all.  You’re responsible for your knowledge, and accountable for your results. 
  13. Talking too much.  You can learn a lot more about your buyer by asking great questions and sitting back and listening to them answer.  We demonstrate respect, caring, and professionalism by listening.  Remember, two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Let me know if you have a deadly sin to add to the list.

Sales Enablement: A Sales Leaders Secret Weapon.

SalesEnablement

Every sales leader looks for an edge. They may have a dozen different levers they can pull in their attempt to improve results.  Some may provide a quick result, while others take time to build momentum.  The key is finding the right mix of short and long term actions that enable their team to sell more, in a shorter period of time. Introducing sales enablement can become the sales leaders secret weapon to achieve their goals today, tomorrow, and the next day.

The simple objective of sales enablement in any business is to maximize each interaction a sales person has with every prospect with the goal of winning the business. Said differently, it’s all about improving my team’s win ratios.  The major components of sales enablement include:

  1. Recruiting and On-Boarding
  2. Sales Training
  3. Team Development
  4. Conduit between Sales and Marketing

As a sales leader who has championed the introduction of sales enablement in a number of different companies I have experienced the following results:

  1. Improvements in selecting the right candidates – up to a 90% success rate in the first year.
  2. Significant decrease in ramp time – from 9 – 12 month ramp, down to 90 – 120 days fully producing sales representatives.
  3. More effective sales presentations leading to better outcomes – introducing sales training that focuses on providing a balance between knowledge and the application of that knowledge has created a 15 – 30% increase in close rates.
  4. A strong brand ambassador for the company – a better trained sales representative is more likely to project a sense of strength and confidence that likewise fosters confidence with the buyer.
  5. Great collaboration within the Sales team.  Sharing best practices that can be collected and put into a sales playbook creates energy, excitement, confidence and momentum for any sales team.
  6. Great collaboration between the Sales and Marketing teams. When Sales knows what Marketing is doing, and Marketing understands the outcomes of those efforts from a Sales viewpoint, alignment is created between the two.  Collaboration tears down walls and fosters a culture of learning, or testing.  When Marketing and Sales work together the business wins more than the revenue they created collectively.

I would love any stories you have on your sales enablement successes.  I’d also be interested to hear from the skeptics as well. There is a growing body of work on sales enablement that I’d be happy to share with those who are interested.

4 Tips When Selecting Sales Training for Your Team

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Sales training is one of the most important resources you can provide your team. With companies spending an average of $1,500 dollars per person each year on sales training, it’s no wonder sales managers continue to look for ways to justify the spend. Even more challenging, how do you measure the effectiveness of the training itself? How can you prove what, if any, lift was created by this training.

It is reported that less than 30% of the training sales people receive, is incorporated into their selling efforts. While sales leaders look for candidates who possess the ability to adapt and flex with changing circumstances, when it comes to how they sell, sales people tend to be quite resistant to change. Many believe, and operate, with the “what got me here…” mentality. If you’re the Sales leader, how do you decide what content you want your team to learn? What’s the best approach that aligns with your buyer’s journey? How will you distribute the training content? Online, classroom, a combination of both? Who will produce and deliver the sales training content to your team? These are just a few of the questions you’ll need to ask as you evaluate your options. Here are 4 tips to consider before selecting your training program:

  1. Your personal selling philosophy? What’s your background? How do you approach a sale? Are you a relationship builder? A challenger? Are you a scrappy, street brawler? Your own philosophy on selling, mixed with your ability to evolve and change, should be considerations as you select training for your team. After all, you’ll be accountable for your team’s results which will produce the ROI results you’ll be sharing with your CEO. A note of caution: it’s both challenging and frustrating to deploy a sales methodology  that is in direct conflict with your abilities to teach it and support it. This misalignment will create frustration for your team and for you. Take the time to do some deep thinking relative your personal selling beliefs.
  2. Sales CRM. Are there tools and a process in place to reinforce the sales methodology you plan to deploy? Do you have a sales CRM? If so, is it capable of being customized enough to track and report on the key metrics required to execute your selected sales approach? What templates or frameworks have been created for your sales manager’s to assist them in reinforcing this training? Training can only be effective if it’s able to be reinforced, and results measured.
  3. Buyer’s Journey. Have you mapped out your buyer’s journey? Do you know the steps your buyer goes through on their purchasing journey? How do they educate themselves? Where do they do their research? Who are their trusted advisors? Is the sales training you’re considering aligned to this journey? I have been exposed to dozens of different sales training philosophies throughout my career. Some I have liked, others not so much. As I’ve grown and evolved as a sales leader I have learned how to customize sales training, taking some aspects of one method, and blending it with others in order to arrive at a solution that will work with my specific buyer. Note of caution: I do not believe there is a silver bullet for sales training. One method may work with a specific buying journey while others will not. I realize this statement may create some controversy but none the less I have found this to be true throughout my career. Whatever sales methodology you decide upon as the Sales leader be sure to consider your buyer FIRST and then your team’s capabilities second.
  4. Current Sales team composition. Are you building a sales team from the ground up? Are you focused on improving the production results of an existing team? Do your sales people sell face-to-face or via an Inside model? Are you in the B2B space? B2C? B2B2C space? Is your solution sold directly to the end user or is it through a channel, an influencer, or trusted advisor? Are your existed sales people and managers continuous learners? Are they consistently reading, sharing new ideas with the team? What traits do they possess that suggest they can absorb, assimilate and practice new ideas? Do you have access to profile tools and assessments like the Caliper, DiSCForte, Kolbe, or Myers Briggs?  Once you understand how your buyer buys, understanding your team’s abilities to execute on a specific sales methodology is critical.

One last consideration, that I’ll explore in a future blog post surrounds Sales Enablement. Your sales enablement capabilities, or lack there of, should also play into your selection process. There’s a lot to think about and consider. With both time, and money at stake, sale training is one of the most important decisions a Sales leader will make for the company.

 

3 Ways To Be Remarkable And Win In Sales

Remarkable

So you want to make the sale.  You want the plaque, the commission check, the trip, the recognition…you want it all.  Great sales people know that winning a sale doesn’t happen by shear force of will.  Sure you need to be persistent, tenacious, focused and disciplined.  No doubt.  But there are 3 things that will make your sales presentations stand out and create a remarkable experience for your buyer.  These things that make you remarkable are the exact things that put you in a position to win. While you may think these are basic, I can assure you that I continue to be amazed at just how often these 3 things get overlooked, drowning out any chance of the sales person appearing remarkable.

  1. Be early.  Urban sprawl has created a great excuse for showing up late to a sales appointment.  I’ve worked in every major city in the United States over the past 20 years.  Whether its Atlanta, Philly, NYC, Boston, LA, Seattle, Phoenix or Dallas, traffic is the perfect excuse for being late.  But it shouldn’t be.  Plan your day to anticipate traffic. If you’re on time, you’re late.  I’ve been on ride-alongs with sales people where we’ve been late to an appointment because of traffic and it throws off the entire cadence of the call right out of the gate.  Get there early and it will give you time to focus on the buyer rather than focusing on finding a parking space because you’re already 20 minutes late.
  2. Be prepared.  This is a big one.  This speaks to everything from knowing some details about who you are meeting with all the way to having any materials you will be handing out ready, organized and crisp.  Do you know if you’re connected to the buyer?  Did you check them out on LinkedIn?  If what you’re selling requires an online demo?  Have you tested it? Will it work over cellular or will you need a WiFi connection?  If the latter does the buyer know you’ll need this when you arrive or is the plan to surprise them when you ask for the office password to log in?  Do you have an agenda for what you plan to cover?  Have you shared it with the buyer in advance? The better prepared you are, the smoother the conversation will go. And, in the event you are late due to some cataclysmic event, you’ll be better able to flex and adjust seamlessly with the buyer.
  3. Use the buyers name. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on sales calls where the sales person never uses the buyers name after shaking their hand.  It could be a 30 minute call or 3 hour call.  How can something so basic continue to be such a common miss amongst sales people?  Isn’t that one of the first things we’re all taught?  Smile, have a firm handshake and use the buyers name.  Here’s a quick test. Next time you’re with your family or friends pay attention to the conversation.  Listen for how often names are used.  It’s actually quite often.  Using someones name throughout a conversation builds a bond. It’s a sign of respect as much as it is a sign of caring.

Focus on doing these 3 things on every sales appointment and observe the change in your buyers behavior.