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Sales development focus

I intend to use this page to publish views and insights that occur to me on sales leadership development. I hope people who view this page will profit from the experience and develop quicker because they are using my experience to add to theirs.  I hope you find it interesting and that I get inspired to raise some enlightening topics. Thank you for reading.

The importance of attitude


7098871_mWell, today I want to revisit some work that I did a lot of years ago when I was head of the training department for Pitney Bowes. We trained over 100 new sales people year at PB and ran courses for initial selling skills 10 or 12 times a year, the numbers varied from 12 to 18 in each intake. The course would last for two weeks, the first week being about product knowledge, technical knowledge, customer knowledge, in fact all kinds of knowledge. The second week was about selling skills. The selling skills element was about all the usual things how to prepare. how to approach a potential customer, the skill involved in questioning to discover needs. The next elements were the easy bit in designing  and presenting solutions and finding a price that the client is willing to pay and then asking for the order, or closing the deal if you like. There is no such thing as the standard sale and each customer is entitled to their own concerns, therefore handling these concerns, or ‘objections’ as the sales manual puts it is essential.

At the end of the course the salespeople were pretty well pumped up, they  had just done their final role-play and always got the deal, so their confidence was sky-high. It was my job at the end of the course to give them an hour of a wrap up session designed to take them to even higher levels of confidence. I would talk about things like the numbers game, various approaches to customers, having fun in the field and anything else that I could think of that would make them feel good about doing their job. There was one part of the presentation that was particularly effective and that sticks in most people’s memories when I see them today and that was a piece that I did about the relative value of skill, knowledge and attitude.

The basic premise of this presentation is that a numeric value can be assigned to each of the three elements, skill, knowledge and attitude and that if you are aware of the value of each you can be in control of every sale and you can achieve fantastic success in selling. The  maximum value that I assigned to each element is as follows:

Skill – 5, Knowledge –  5, Attitude (because we all know that attitude is the most important element) –  10

So 5+5+10 = 20 gives you sell success?

Well not exactly!  That’s because you need 100% to be sure of success and twenty is a smaller number. Rather the sum works like this:  the 5+5×10 = 100 and this gives you the 100% chance of success.

It’s a very simple, and allows a lot of different angles just by playing around with the numbers, if you are low on skill and knowledge, but high on attitude you still have a better chance of success than if it were the other way around. Let me demonstrate:

If Skill = 1,+ Knowledge = 1, x Attitude = 10  this gives you a 20% chance of success.

Skill = 5 + Knowledge = 5 x Attitude = 1  Only gives you a 10% chance of success.

Okay, I hear the more discerning and scientific of you ask, ‘What research has got into the numbers?”  The answer is of course none whatsoever and if the doing the sum raises confidence and helps the new salesperson who hasn’t yet mastered the skills and knowledge to go into a selling situation with a good attitude, does it matter?

The true formula without any numbers is this:

Skill + Knowledge x Attitude = Winning behaviour.

Winning Behaviour is what it delivers!

So how much do you invest in creating a winning attitude? Sales trainers are usually good at teaching skills and knowledge, knowledge can be taken from a book from a computer screen or from your phone, or your iPad, skills develop with practice, attitude takes a bit longer and yet it is the most important element.

The reason why sales coaching is so important and why I emphasise coaching so much on my website and why being able to coach is so important to sales managers is because coaching is the only thing that helps to develop a winning attitude. Once the salesperson has found his/her motivation and they develop the right attitude it is easy to create sales success.



7949879_mWell, following on from last week’s article about strategy this week I’m looking at planning and I’m defining planning as, “The organisation of action, or a series of actions to achieve an objective”. So the subject is not “doing”, but planning to do, it’s not the action itself but the organisation of time and resources to achieve the objective and the objective, in the big picture, is already defined under the strategy you need to achieve. Of course planning could be something fairly small, like getting yourself to work on the morning, but if that’s an issue for you then this is not the blog for you.

The first thing you need to do planning is time, an appointment with yourself, a piece of closedown time when you can sit and think, planning on the run will always lead to gaps and then you will be improvising and fighting fires all the way to what may, or may not be your objective. In the famous book “Think and grow rich”,  by Napoleon Hill. which was published in the 1920s and has never been out of print since, Hill describes how he interviewed all of the successful people who were alive in America in his time. The purpose of the exercise for him was to find out what is the difference between highly successful people and people will just go along with their daily lives without achieving power of success. Now I’m not going to make an assumption here that what you’re looking for is power and success, maybe that’s an American dream that doesn’t apply to you, although I know a lot of people in this country (UK) who could do with a little more power and success. Hill discovered that they all had one thing in common and that was that they allowed themselves time alone to think through a situation, set strategies and make plans.

So, when you give the yourself this thinking time, what is it that you are supposed to be thinking about? I know the majority of people may sit in a room with a blank piece of paper and have thoughts coming into their head thick, fast and furious and won’t stand it for more than five minutes before going out and doing something, doing anything in fact to fill the space and the time. Well here is an idea for you, why don’t you invest in a little time travel? Did you know that your mind is capable of this? Now you may be making it up as you go along you may be using your imagination but think through a plan step forward into the future and imagine what it’s like, what you will need, when you will need it, what it looks like, what it feels like and be in the place where you need it. As a salesperson this is something that I did prior to every sales call and the objective was to get to the call 10 minutes before I was due. Now this may sound crazy, or maybe not, but I would sit in my car and rehearse the sales call before I went in. I would imagine what I needed to say, how I would say it and I would even rehearse the imagined responses that I get from the customer. What objections would I get? How would he receive the information I was giving him?  What did I need to change in order to avoid a negative response. 10 minutes for a sales call may equate to a full day for a ten-year plan.

So what is the purpose of planning? Briefly I would say that it’s about having the right resources to hand at the time when you need them so that things can flow smoothly and the objective can be met in a shorter time and in a more efficient fashion. The resources that you are organising the planning of all the things that you need to make a sale, the product, your prices and your price options, any promotions or tempting little hooks that you can use to build a compelling presentation and most of all if you’re a manager people.

By far the toughest thing to organise when you’re planning as a manager is the people element and at this point I want to talk about Bob. Bob is one of the most successful sales managers that I know, he worked with talented people, he develops them and they have a great deal of respect for him, because he helps them to achieve their goals. Now many managers would look at this situation and count themselves lucky to have such a wonderful team and expect that this team will stay with them forever, not Bob. Bob’s philosophy has always been “everybody is always leaving”, he is wise enough to know that if he develops a team of top individuals, capable achievers who can achieve great things, then they will not want to stay with him forever. They will want better opportunities, more challenge  and greater rewards than they can achieve working for Bob. So Bob was always recruiting, always developing, always coaching, always motivating and always aware of the timescale of the members of his team to inevitably move on.

if you are a sales manager reading this, or if you are an employer of sales managers reading this, how important is planning to you? What kind of training and coaching do you need, or does your team need to plan better? What kind of coaching and training your salespeople need to ensure that they only move when a better  opportunity is presented to them and they don’t just go for the next offer of a slightly higher basic or a bigger car. That’s not career planning, that’s job hopping.

If I can help you with any of these things, please give me a call, because I’m in business to help you, I would welcome the opportunity to work with you and I can do one-to-one coaching, leadership and sales training, and I can even teach your managers how to coach. Please go to the contact page and get in touch.

Next week I am going to get technical and talk about the elements of sales success, so please join me then and if there is a special subject that you would like me to talk about, please let me know. Oh, and while you are here, check out my site, I’ve done some work on it and I would appreciate your feedback.

Strategy and planning

Well! This week’s subject is strategy and planning and the two things are very different although they are closely aligned. They are so different in fact that this may lead to two separate blogs to fully cover the subject and of course we will start with strategy.

Like all disciplines the creation of strategy is about the use of resources, which ones you need and which ones are getting the way. The basis of a good strategy is vision and the resources you need our imagination and time. You need imagination to place yourself in a position where you have changed something fundamentally in your state. Present state is where you are now and future, or desired state is where you want to be and strategy is the tool that you use to bridge the gap between the two.

In order to build an effective strategy therefore, find yourself a nice quiet place, give yourself some time and imagining where you want to be. Give yourself a timescale, the strategy may work over 10 years, six months, or this half of the football season. Strategy is usually, but not always a longer term exercise.

Once you’ve decided where you want to be, what you want to have achieved and when you want it, then it you can imagine yourself in that place in that time and look back from and think about how you got there. What kind of things happened along the way that helped you? or got in the way? What are the opportunities that you have and the pitfalls that you have to negotiate.

If you are a sales manager and you’re thinking about achieving the most from your team ask yourself, “what do they want?”. Does your strategy help them to fill their ambitions, or will they leave you because you haven’t given them enough opportunity. In fact a list of strategy questions may be as follows:

1) What do I want?
2) When do I want it?
3) What is the absolute best I can get beyond what I want?
3) What other people around me want?
4) How can I help them to get what they want?
5) How can I get them to help me?
6) What do the competition want?
7) Do I need to stop them, or can I work with them?

These are very general questions and avoid things like swot analysis and marketing tools designed to analyse the market, the product range, the pricing structure and other tools that detail what you want to do. Strategy is about what you want to do and not at this stage about how you want to do it, too much detail at this stage will stifle your creativity and your imagination.

This brings us onto the stuff that you don’t need, and the things that you don’t need are common sense, perceived logic and obvious ways of doing things. Common sense will always tell you the things that you can’t do and will not inform you about the things that you can, common sense tells you that a steel ship won’t float, because steel is heavier than water, it will tell you the bumblebee can’t fly. The truly great strategists and achievers of the world rise above common sense.

Great strategy is about visualising the future and making it happen, it happens in moments of inspiration when the strategist is alone and thinking things through. Great strategy rarely involves in board meetings and think tanks and the reason for this is that the politics get in the way. The best way for you to formulate your strategy is to decide for yourself what you want to have happen and then use all of the resources around you to make it happen.

A short example before we go. In the late 60s the Japanese desperately needed growth and they needed to develop a automotive industry. The automotive industry at that time was dominated by American, British and German manufacturers and the market did not appear to be receptive to new entrants. If public opinion at that time was not quite hostile towards Japanese industry, it certainly wasn’t friendly and this needed to be overcome for the Japanese strategy to succeed.

The plan was to start in a small way with motorcycles producing well engineered vehicles at prices that domestic competitors could not match and value for money quickly overcame any preference for domestic product. Common sense here said that the Japanese could charge more for the product and increase profitability, but that’s not what the Japanese manufacturers did. They were in the game for the long term and to win the market.

With the success of the motorcycle industry Japanese manufacturers then started to fill the market with motorcars and through use of this strategy have now one of the largest and best respected automotive industries in the world.

Next week will make it happen when we talk about planning.

Winning customers – Is cold calling dead?

I think the question here is, how alive was cold calling in the first place? Of course before the onset of social media, sophisticated databases and other technological wonders there wasn’t that much choice if you wanted to reach your market. This is true certainly in the world of sophisticated “push” market products and services, that is to say services that customers are not immediately aware that they need. Of course even before the technology revolution you had a certain amount of information, albeit written on a small cardboard card. You knew the following:

  •  Customers you, or your company had sold to before
  •  An approximation of the contact, or in some cases, the decision maker
  •  The age of the product or the service contract
  •  The type of contract, whether it was a purchase, rental or a lease.

The only other way to gain information about your territory was to call on your customers, ask them questions and make notes in your log. Hey, and if you’re in the area why not call on a few customers who you don’t know about to see what they do!

I can’t say was ever the most effective way of getting business and the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) certainly applied. 80% of the business would come from 20% of your effort (enquiries and past users), and 20% from 80% of the effort which was cold calling. Daunting percentages, however absolutely necessary, because who wants to finish on 80% of quota?

In short, gaining new business is hard and you need to do it if your company is to grow, because up to 15% of your user base can be lost  per year through natural attrition  (closures and competitive action and this increases in hard times), therefore you need to add to your user base by more than 15% if you are to grow at all.

The argument always given for the amount of sales effort that is eaten up by cold calling is that the salesperson is on the territory anyway and even with a low return on effort it’s better than nothing. Salespeople are expensive, the transportation and fuel, training, recruitment costs, basic salaries and commission programmes and one of the major costs of any business. The resource should be treated like the family silver polished, used when necessary and brought out for the big occasions.

The sad thing is that many companies utilising technology for the improvement of sales may have a better delivery system, but they don’t give their salespeople much more information than was written on the card. With quality data effectively available and tailored to your market you can use it to increase your sales productivity target your customers better, get fewer refusals and reduce your costs. it pays dividends to invest in good market research, good database knowledge and effective first level contact through  telesales.  I would love to help you design your strategy, please give me a call!

Cold calling is not quite dead, but it certainly on its last legs.