Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Mastering Channel Sales Management - Part 1

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 @ 04:09 AM

13300026 s ChannelSales tugpullingboatWhat is it about managing sales in the channel that is so much more challenging than managing direct sales? After reading about the perils of sales management over the past several years, it’s hard not to think of it as the hardest job in the company (though not the hardest job on earth). If you disagree, you’re right! But never mind, it’s not far off.

Your channel partners are the folks who sell your products to customers further down the sales or distribution channel. They could be distributors, rep agencies, value-added resellers (VARs), retailers, brokers, etc. To make it even more complicated, often we hire a sales agency wedged in between our company and our channel partner to act on our behalf leaving us even further removed from our end customers. That might be the right sales model for you, but the challenges are magnified.

In any case, with a channel sale, the front line sales people don’t actually work for your firm. At first glance, the regional manager for your products might barely seem like a manager since he or she might not have any direct employees. Where are his or her people? Or this manager might have five or six direct employees, two rep agencies, and five distributors and their respective salespeople to manage. It gets complicated, doesn’t it?

So how does this person hold all these groups accountable? How does he or she motivate the sales reps on a daily basis? Incidentally, Dave Kurlan wrote this terrific article on motivation. It’s worth a detour to read it. And perhaps still more challenging, how does one effectively coach these people who aren’t really your people so that they consistently improve and sell more of your products and services? I submit that this takes a manager’s manager. They must do what sales managers do but with one hand tied behind their back.

Since the start of this year, I have had the privilege of coaching sales managers in over 180 one-on-one sessions or as live coaching demonstrations of their sales people. About half of these managers work with channel partners. In fact, one such person manages several distributors, rep agencies, and a half dozen direct employees in one of the most far-reaching and complicated management arrangements I have seen. He raises channel sales management to an Olympic sport. Look for it in Rio 2016.

So let’s look at what these people must do to be successful.

Among many functions, a typical sales manager must do the following:

1)     Motivate their salespeople.
2)     Coach their salespeople to make incremental improvements every day.
3)     Hold their people accountable to agreed goals.

However, the channel sales manager must do a complicated variation on the above:

1)     Motivate their channel partners' salespeople.
2)     Coach their channel partners' salespeople to make incremental improvements.
3)     Hold their channel partners accountable to agreed goals, both in the field and at the level of the distribution agreement.

Channel sales managers must have all the people skills and sales management knowledge of a standard sales manager, plus the business skills to negotiate with partners, if not on the original deal (though they are often involved there as well), then on an on-going basis to get the results on which they have agreed. And they must do all of this without direct control over the salesperson’s day-to-day activity.

Under normal circumstances, the channel sales manager doesn’t determine who the front line sales people are, because they were hired by their partner. They must work with what they have, often in cooperation with distribution managers who might possibly be less skilled than they are. Here’s another article by Dave Kurlan that includes the top 10 problems with channel sales and how not to be held hostage.

In short, the job is simply harder than normal sales management, and takes more skill. The most important requirement to success is gaining the commitment of the channel reps to listen, to get better, and to make changes where necessary. This starts with the quality and strength of the original partnership agreement, which leads to the commitment on the part of your distribution sales managers to use their leverage to ensure that their reps are supporting the sales effort and aligning with your growth objectives.

Distribution partners cannot use the excuse that they have other products to sell. That’s a given. The growth goals, time commitments, and accountability are a key feature of the deal. But none of that makes the sales manager’s job any easier. He or she needs to have the added skill of coming across as a helpful participant and not a threat. Do your people have that capability?

Do your sales managers have what it takes?

  1. Can they set up an effective environment of accountability?
  2. Can they coach their channel partner’s salespeople?
  3. Can they motivate the reps throughout the channel to push even harder?
  4. Are they well-received and not seen as a threat?
  5. Can they forecast sales and not just report history?
  6. Can they lead in a variety of circumstances without losing their eye on key metrics?
  7. Can they get CRM working regardless of the hurdles?
  8. Will they insist on coaching the reps for continuous improvement?
  9. At a higher level, can they manage the relationship with the partner and keep them in line?
  10. Do they have the sales management DNA to be successful in this context?

In Part 2 of this series on managing channel sales, I’ll explore the challenge of coaching the front line sales team of your channel partner, why it’s so important, and how to lower resistance so you can meet your sales objectives. If you have questions about sales management, channel sales, this series, or this blog, email me at dconnelly@kurlanassociates.com.

Incidentally, Hubspot’s INBOUND14 event is happening this week in Boston. Dave Kurlan, author of Baseline Selling, will be speaking there today at 4:15 pm. Malcolm Gladwell, author of David and Goliath and other great books, will be speaking later this morning at 8:30 am.

 

Photo Copyright: pius99 / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, coaching, sales management, accountability, leadership, Motivation, channel sales

Building Rapport - The First Step in Your Sales Process

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Nov 29, 2013 @ 03:11 AM

CrossFit 240 borderYesterday morning, for a brief 49 minutes, I wasn’t very thankful for Navy SEAL, Lt. Michael P. Murphy.  But today I am.  And I will continue to be, every day until the next time I subject myself again to the particular workout that bears his name, simply called “Murph.”  It’s a CrossFit exercise explained in this New York Times article.  He called it body armor, because it so effectively made you stronger and faster.  And yesterday morning, when I was in the middle of it, I wanted to have a word with this guy and tell him what I thought of it, given the pain and strain I was under to complete it.  But I couldn’t, because he was killed in Afghanistan, at the age of 29, in 2005 fighting for our country, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

In the United States, today is our holiday called Thanksgiving.  As you read this, it might not be today anymore, but think back not too long ago, if you will.  Many of my clients are not from the U.S., but this holiday is so easy to embrace that most seem pretty cheerful about going along.  There’s nothing necessarily religious or geo-political about it.  You get together with family and/or friends and eat.  Humans like eating. 

But of course, Thanksgiving is also about being thankful.  I’m not going to indulge in list-making today with all of things I’m thankful for, and it’s a long list.  That’s not the point of this blog.  But I will relate it to living sales excellence.

Thankfulness is a close cousin of gratitude.  Being thankful is about acknowledging what’s good in your life.  Gratitude comes from the good feelings you have for the people in your life.  When you meet someone new, try bringing both of those feelings to the surface.  Find a reason to feel thankful for this new encounter.  Find something about them to appreciate and feel grateful to them for sharing that part of themselves with you.  Isn’t that a recipe for rapport?

Now try it with a prospect?  See how your tone changes, how relaxed you become, and how your good feeling helps make the dialog more natural and conversational.  Your appreciation and understanding, born of a genuine sense of gratitude and thankfulness, moves the conversation in a positive direction, allows people to breathe, and opens them up to consider your offer of help where there might once have been resistance.  Isn’t that the first step in the sales process?

I’m sore today from the Murph yesterday morning, but I completed the exercise and made another incremental improvement.  I’m one day stronger, one day healthier, and one day closer to a personal goal.  I spared you my long list today, but it is worth remembering, on this day of Thanksgiving, that Lt. Murphy and so many others have died for the cause of our health and safety.  I learned about this man from Mike Collette, who owns the CrossFit gym where I work out. 

The good feelings generated by these and so many other great people in my life shape my attitude every day.  They contribute to an overall balance and sense of purpose that is the motor of my willingness and desire to help company executives achieve in sales, what Dave Kurlan calls “results they only imagined.” 

My gift to you on this day is to make you aware of a book entitled, Just Listen, by Mark Goulston.  I’ve included it on my book list, but I call attention to it today because it holds the secrets of rapport – of understanding and appreciating the world of others.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thanksgiving is a day that generates feelings that are just like those that help us build the kind of rapport that is so helpful in the early stages of the sales process, unless of course, you’re in the middle of the Murph.  But like any worthwhile effort, the pain of the exercise goes away, leaving you stronger and maybe a little better than when you started.

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales process, Rapport, Thanksgiving

Breaking Through a Common Sales Management Hidden Weakness

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 @ 08:11 AM

HighJumpBarbedWireFence 200pxWe often talk of “breaking through barriers” as an important step to getting unstuck, achieving goals, and reaching full potential.  As many of us know, entire industries have been created around this topic.  When we speak of “living sales excellence” (the purpose behind these blog posts), understanding and overcoming our barriers is an important part of that conversation.  This might surprise you, but I’m not going to cover the whole topic in this article, partly because my limited knowledge on that very broad topic would endanger you, and partly because my computer doesn’t have enough ink.

So, let’s just look at one common barrier amongst sales leaders:  Need for Approval from Salespeople.  This differs from Need for Approval from Customers as the titles suggest, but they do not necessarily go together.  When we assess sales managers (and we’re up over 150,000 in our database), we find every combination of one or the other, prospects and/or staff.  In smaller companies, sometimes the sales manager wears other hats (including CEO).  Without the bandwidth to focus 100% attention on sales people, there is often less understanding of how to manage them and greater fear of upsetting them.

First, here’s a short explanation.  Need for Approval means that one needs to be liked.  It means that one is concerned enough about being liked that certain kinds of questions are not asked, certain topics are not broached, and a theme of avoidance of difficult topics permeates every discussion.  It’s difficult to properly challenge a prospect when there is need for approval.  So, how can you be consultative in your approach?  Similarly, when it applies to sales staff, there is a fear that actions, statements, or demands might diminish how one is perceived and lead to some form of mutiny.  If you have this fear, how can you really hold your people accountable?

Recently, I was working with a sales leader who had this particular weakness, which the OMG Sales Manager Assessment clearly indicated.  In his case, he was particularly good at motivating people.  It’s analogous to having one bad knee.  You limp a little and make the other leg carry more load.  This could lead to a cascade of other problems including back pain.  Interestingly, his weakness in the area of Need for Approval led him to emphasize his ability to motivate, in an obvious but subconscious attempt to overcome the weakness.

In other words, if holding people accountable is hard, one might look for alternative ways to accomplish that in the thinking that it might alleviate the need to stand up to your people.  “Gosh, if I can get them fired up and performing, I won’t have to have a hard conversation with them for not performing.”  The root cause of this particular brand of Need for Approval might be fear.  The “back pain”, however, is the lack of respect and corresponding ineffectiveness in holding people accountable.

If you’re starting a new job as a sales manager, or if you have just hired someone with this issue to lead your team, here is a way through it:

  1. Like all barriers, the first step in moving past it is acknowledging it.
  2. Start out on the right foot and set an expectation that accountability will be enforced.
  3. Tell your people that you will be “tough, but fair; confrontational, but kind.”
  4. Prepare your people for “hands-on, constructive criticism when appropriate, all in the spirit of making them better”.
  5. Now, go live up to your words.  It’s easier once you’ve set the expectation.

If you’re not new, but know you have this problem, it’s trickier.  You must now make a change in your behavior, and people notice changes.  If you are already worried about how your people view you, this might make it even more difficult.  Sometimes it’s helpful to combine this change with other corporate changes, such as new demands for higher growth, greater margins, expanding territories, increased market share, new partnerships, or any other goal to which you can reasonably tie your change in behavior.

You might say something like this: “Our shareholders are demanding 10% growth this year coupled with a 25% reduction in overhead.  These are big goals.  We’re a motivated group of talented salespeople, but we need to elevate our game.  I expect to lead the way by elevating my own game.  You can expect, going forward, that I will do a better job of clearly defining what I need from you.  My goal is to bring out the best in you so you can achieve the goals of the organization.  At times, I might be tough, but fair; sometimes confrontational, but as kind as I have always been.  It’s going to feel a little different to you and that’s understandable because you won’t be used to that from me.  But know that my commitment to your success is unwavering and together we can be much better.”

Is your leadership in fear of the sales team?  Do you or they believe that upsetting salespeople will put the company in jeopardy?  Are there certain sales staff around whom you walk on eggshells?  Are you in control of sales staff or the other way around?

It might be time for a sales force evaluation.  Try this handy sales force grader and see if you might be ready for that step.  Take a look at this case study to see what happens when, instead of reacting to the need to make changes, you stop and assess to find out what’s really happening.  Sales force development is a broad topic.  Dave Kurlan explains it well in a video found at this link.  How much better can you be?  What will it take to get there?  What would you do if you had no fear of negative reaction from your sales team?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, coaching, sales management, Management, accountability, sales leaders, leadership, change, changing salespeople, WCSO

Retail Selling, the Role of the Salesperson, and Missed Opportunities

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Nov 17, 2013 @ 09:11 AM

LuxuryStore Mall 250pxJust yesterday, I was walking through the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle in New York with my son. After getting our free chocolate truffle from the Godiva store, we stumbled into a famous luxury goods store while we enjoyed our little confections. I should note that if you like chocolate, the Godiva membership is one of the few that gives away something for nothing. One need only wait until the calendar changes to the next month to get your yummy treat. You don’t need points; you don’t need to buy ten to get one; you don’t need to spend a nickel – ever. You just show up and get your free truffle. 

This isn’t a marketing blog but there’s something there worth noting. I know Godiva fully expects that I’ll buy stuff along the way. But that’s beside the point. While other companies work to build “relationships” with their customers with all kinds of strings, caveats, and quid pro quos, Godiva is acting more like a friend. “Here, have one. I ask for nothing from you.” Seth Godin writes copiously about this kind of behavior toward customers becoming increasingly important in a noisy, information-rich world of companies desperate for your narrowing spans of attention. And Frank Belzer, whose new book Sales Shift is in the running for Top Sales World "Top Sales & Marketing Book" of the year. Vote here.

But I want to talk about the luxury good store experience because we can learn something about selling. We walked in, turned right (just like the research showed we would), and started looking at stuff in the glass cases. Art deco lighters, fancy cigar holders, and thousand-dollar pens were among the items so you get the idea of the type of store we were visiting. The young salesperson walked toward us and asked, “Can I help you find something?” I replied, “No.” He said, “Okay,” and backed away. That was it. Poor “ol’ sport,” I thought, having just seen Gatsby and having not yet completely purged that phrase from my head.

How do you spend a fortune renting retail space at Time Warner on the ground floor, with carefully-designed layout (the result, no doubt, of all the latest in psychological testing), and the best in customer acquisition strategy, and still manage to neglect the part about actually getting the sale? If inbound marketing gets you 70% of the way to making the sale (their figure), in this modern era, the upscale retail shop is designed to go even further. It has to, after all, given the expense of all the bricks and mortar they took the time to assemble. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep building them. Humans, occasionally, like to get up from their computers and move around. We get cabin fever, eventually, and continue our voracious shopping habits in person.

The mentality that led to such poor salespersonship at “Luxury Store” reminds me of the approach that car dealers take, where the role of sales is misunderstood and misdirected. (More on that in another article.) The corporate executives undervalue the role of sales, rely on imagecraft, market positioning, aesthetics, and prestige, etc. and for the most part, it works. People walk into the Honda dealership because they already like Hondas, not because they have no idea what they want and lucky for them, the nice salesperson is there to help them figure it out. Gazillions are spent on advertising to help minimize the role of the salesperson, whose job is to get the person to stay long enough to experience the paper-shuffling, manager-approving Jedi tricks and sign on the bottom line.

The good ones don’t lose the sale. The lousy ones make people furious. Really, haven’t you had that experience, or know someone who has? Don’t you know people who will never buy a car from so and so till the fiery underworld remodels itself as an arctic getaway? But what about real salespeople? Can’t they make a sale where there wasn’t one? Of course they can.

Let’s replay that conversation with Ol’ Sport using a simple conversational technique I learned from TopSalesWorld Hall-of-Famer, Dave Kurlan. “Hi! Should I say welcome, or welcome back?” Me: “I haven’t walked in here before.” OS: “Then welcome. What made you walk in here today?” Me: “You were across from Godiva and I was too busy enjoying my chocolate to notice which store I was wandering into.” OS: “Perfect! If there were a reason to wander in here, what would it be?” Me: “I like cool pens.” OS: “Do you have a pen collection?” And so on, which might include questions like, What’s your favorite pen? Why? Is it sentimental or design or quality? Etc. “You know,” I might think to myself, “I wasn’t expecting to have a real conversation.”

Instead, OS stood back, afraid to say anything more, and eliminated the risk that he would lose a sale that he thinks might otherwise automatically happen. Why is this allowed? It happens because the leadership of Luxury Store, the manager, the marketing department, the board of directors, the finance team, and the sales staff are all on the same page. They undervalue the role of sales. Sales is increased, in their thinking, by the clever product creation, history, story, reputation, design, store layout, inbound strategy and marketing. The sales associate is there to open the glass cabinet, make light conversation, and ring up the purchase, right?

This is a missed opportunity because it’s possible to dramatically increase sales.

  • How many of your sales people are falling into this trap?
  • Is your company fostering the problem?
  • How much pressure do salespeople have to not blow the sale?
  • Do your sales people have the necessary selling skills?
  • Do they have the DNA to overcome their own weaknesses?
  • Can they listen?
  • Can they react in the moment?
  • Do they have the presence to be the added value themselves?

Maybe it’s time to evaluate your sales organization? Maybe it’s time to look at what you might be missing from your sales team. What are their current capabilities? How much better could they be? What would it take to make them better? And how long would it take?

Someday, I’ll buy a super nice pen because I like pens. When that happens, there was nothing about my experience at Luxury Store that puts them on the short list. But there could have been. It was a missed opportunity to make a sale much more than it was a careful execution to not lose one.

 

 

 

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales hiring, Baseline Selling, Sales Coaching, retail sales, retail, adapting to changing sales environments, roleplay, role play, alignment of sales and marketing, alienate the prospect, CEO, changes that sales people need to make, change sales behavior, developing better sales teams, gimmicks in sales, getting your foot in the door, dysfunction, improve sales, hard selling, losing the attention of the prospect, losing the business, sales competency, losing the sale, sales mistakes, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales strengths, SOB Quality, selling process, what gets in the way of selling, amazon, sales shift, frank belzer, David Kurlan, Kurlan & Associates, Living Sales Excellence, sales excellence

Inbound Marketing Part Two - Leads Are Up But Why are Sales Down?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 @ 15:08 PM

Inbound Marketing, Inbound13, sales, sales leads, Need for Approval, Emotionally Involved, Dennis Connelly, Hidden Weaknesses, HubSpot, SalesShift, Baseline SellingIn Part One of this Inbound Marketing blog series, I talked about how the fundamental nature has changed of what we traditionally think of as a lead due to the profound impact of Inbound Marketing.  Hubspot has played a huge role in both the service which they provide and in their thought leadership.  Their too-numerous-to-count, value-added resellers are helping to determine the outcome of that change on a global scale.

How do we cope with these new, very different leads?  Inbound marketing has cast the net much wider and dramatically increased the potential prospects with whom to follow-up.  We find, however, that most of these leads are not very strong.  That doesn’t mean that they cannot be converted.  Frank Belzer’s book, SalesShift, provides great insight on how to do that.  There was, after all, some reason why your prospect expressed interest in the first place, regardless of their level of commitment to solving any particular problem or desire to find some great opportunity.

I promised, in the last installment, to share with you two of the most important selling weaknesses to overcome in order to be successful with inbound leads.  First, I’d like to make an analogy about inbound leads versus traditional leads so that we can better grasp how important it is to handle these leads differently.  Think of a traditional lead as a prospect shining a spotlight at you signaling their interest, “Hey, I’m over here! And I’m interested in what you have.”  Think of an inbound lead as a firefly.  It’s much less bright, and it’s fleeting.  Look away, and you’ll miss it, “Just browsing, thanks.”

The firefly analogy goes a bit further when you add the fact that inbound leads burn out almost immediately.  So one rule of inbound leads is to jump right on them because they dissipate quickly.  Another rule is to use consultative selling as your number one tool - ask lots of questions, research their business, dig around, challenge and push back.

  1. The first hidden selling weakness which might get in your way when you take this approach, is what we call “Need For Approval” from your prospects.  To challenge your prospect, you cannot shy away from asking tough questions.  “At first, you said everything is great at Spacely Sprockets. But then you shared some problems which suggest to me that everything is not so great. Have you lowered your standards?”  Learn much more about this kind of questioning in Dave Kurlan’s bestseller, Baseline Selling.  Of course, to ask a question like that, you need to have some rapport skills. But it’s important to ask and show your prospect that you can be trusted to be straight, regardless of the interpersonal consequences.
     
  2. The second hidden selling weakness which might get in your way is the “Tendency to Get Emotionally Involved” in the conversation with your prospect.  Can you be open, present, and in control at all times?  When we get emotionally involved, we go into our own head.  When that happens, we lose control of the conversation.

To be a successful consultative seller, we must overcome both of these weaknesses: need for approval and emotional involvement.  It is through consultative selling that we cut through the clutter and find the opportunity to close new business with these fleeting, dimly-lit, passers-by, inbound leads masquerading as hot prospects!

  • Are your people asking good questions?
  • Are they asking enough questions?
  • Do they build rapport quickly?
  • Are they making presentations too early?
  • Are the uncovering the real reason to buy?
  • Do they know exactly how their prospect makes buying decisions?
  • Do they take certain information for granted?
  • Will they ask tough questions even if they believe it will put the relationship at risk?
  • Do they have the presence to listen intently and ask follow-up questions easily?

In Part Three of this Inbound Marketing blog series, we’ll explore three other hidden selling weaknesses which could cause your salespeople to get in their own way and lose more of these opportunities than they need to.  

If you are interested, have your sales force evaluated to see whether they can be effective at selling in an inbound world and whether they possess any of the hidden weaknesses which could be preventing them from succeeding.  If you’re heading to Inbound13 in Boston, please introduce yourself to us at the Kurlan Lounge on the third floor.

 

Topics: Dennis Connelly, Inbound Marketing, sales leads, Inbound13, sales, Need for Approval, Emotionally Involved, Hidden Weaknesses, HubSpot, SalesShift, Baseline Selling



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