Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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

Hiring Salespeople from Failed Competitor Carries Risk

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Nov 08, 2013 @ 13:11 PM

RatOnLineI was speaking with a ­­sales leader recently, discussing his experience of receiving lots of resumes from a recently defunct large competitor. His story reminded me of a related hiring practice that also almost never works.  His experience was a twist on the now proven idea that when you’re an industry small player, don’t try to hire away the folks from the big players. It simply doesn't work.  His experience was a little different.  He said that when one of those big players folds and every third resume that lands on your desk is from that company, don’t hire them either.

On the surface, this isn’t obvious.  But typically, when you hire the sales person from the big player, you tend to get the ones who don’t cut it.  If they had been truly successful there, why would they come and work for you?  Even if they had been reasonably successful at the big, well-known company, there must be a reason they're jumping ship.

Often, their success came from other less obvious factors which we call “intangibles.”  If IBM calls for an appointment, you’re likely to accept it.  And there’s an IBM in every industry, so maybe their success had something to do with this kind of “red carpet” effect.  Maybe they had a lot of support, or a team that helped to close sales.  At your company, they might have to do much more on their own, without a big team helping them, and they might struggle with that. Maybe they are used to selling a lower-priced product.

The big guy might chop prices to buy business or have greater economies of scale or some other reason why their prices tend to be lower.  If your candidate can’t build the kind of value that takes price off the table, he or she will not succeed.  In short, when the company is the primary differentiator, then without a highly-evolved, sales-specific assessment, it’s hard to tell who can make the switch to becoming the key differentiator themselves.

This sales leader was telling me that the large numbers of candidates from the recently failed, big player were not good candidates either.  Why is that?  Having previously worked for that same big player himself, he knew who the good players were and what made them different from the people whose resumes were decorating his desk.  The good ones had moved already to other companies well before the business failed.  They were smart, savvy and had many of the attributes which made them good at selling and understanding when it was time to leave. Those who didn’t get it beforehand, all need a job now.

How will you know the truly good salespeople from those whose intangibles are the driving factor?  The resume, and even the interview, almost never expose the hidden weaknesses which can be frustrating and costly after they are already working at your company.

This is one example of the kind of problems companies regularly face when hiring new salespeople.  They should also be concerned with the following:

1)      Can they and will they hunt for new business?

2)      Can they sell consultatively?

3)      Do they know why inbound leads are different?

4)      Are they good closers?

5)      Can they qualify properly?

6)      Are they trainable?

7)      Are they coachable?

8)      How much does their life get in their way?

9)      Can they make the jump to an entirely different selling environment?

10)    Do they make excuses?


If you want to learn more about the Science of Sales Force Selection click here. If you think your current sales team could be better, click here to learn about Sales Force Evaluations.

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales hiring

3 Common Myths About Sales Managers

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, May 24, 2013 @ 14:05 PM

sales force evaluation, coaching, sales recruiting, sales management best practices, consultative selling, sales force development, sales training, sales call, sales competenciesI’ve heard several CEOs in the past few weeks make assumptions about sales management and I would like to set the record straight. In fact, I've heard them so much that they are starting to sound like those annoying song refrains that get stuck in our head from time to time. I must make this unwanted noise stop! But how? Here's an idea that might work.  If these management refrains are in your head too, reading about them might be your cure as I hope writing about them will be mine. Let’s try it.  Here are three good ones:

Refrain #1:  Great sales managers are promoted from within the sales team.

That can happen and often does. However, the skill set required of a sales person is necessarily different than that of a sales manager. Dave Kurlan has written extensively on the required skills of sales managers. Most commonly, it is believed that sales people who are promoted internally to sales management know the industry, customers and experiences of the sales staff day to day. So they must be the best people to relate to and empathize with the sales team, right?

Well, not exactly. It might be counterintuitive, but empathizing with the sales team can get in the way. It is as important to challenge a sales rep as it is to challenge the customer.  Many of their assumptions are born of their knowledge and experience with the company.  Too much empathy might cause a manager to omit an important question that a less experienced manager might not have known "not" to ask.

Refrain #2:  Sales managers are most effective when they know the industry.

Really?!  Before I explain why this is a myth, let’s first point out that after assessing over 700,000 sales people (many of whom are sales managers), we now know that sales managers who come from outside the industry have a slight advantage over those from within.  How can that be?

The reason is that the best managers have a toolbox which is independent of industry. Industry knowledge can skew their viewpoint and distract them from the essence of great sales management which should be focused on Coaching, Motivating, Recruiting and Accountability, among others specific skill sets.  The latter three look like areas which might be independent of industry knowledge.  But the coaching skill set has an aura that makes it seem like it must work better with experience in the industry.

So often, however, we at Kurlan & Associates coach sales people without any specific expertise in their industry because we're asking good questions and challenging their assumptions. For example, if a sales rep says that his prospect will improve his margins to 14%, an insider might think, "that's not so great in this industry." But we need to hear that from them. Maybe it's not true for them. I once sold a product to a distribution company that was not satisfied with less than 17%. They bought it, and they got their margin. My next call was to a similar company that said, "This looks good, I wouldn't be surprised if we could get eight, maybe ten percent." He was happy.

When coaching, we ask, what is the strategy for the call?  What questions will be asked? Where do we think the customer might need the most help?  After the call, we might ask, how did the call end?  How did it get that far?  Which steps in the process were missed?  How are we going to do it better the next time?  None of these questions are industry-specific.  If you can accept this analysis, then you’re ready for the third refrain I've been hearing.

Refrain #3:  The best sales managers lead by example and sell more than the sales people.

I was recently talking to a sales leader who was describing how much he learned from his first manager a long time ago.  He said, “That guy sold more than all of us.”  Here we are in 2013 and he still had the sense that the sales manager needed to outsell the team.  I said, “You must have been selling Cutco knives or something like that. What was it?” And he said, “Encyclopedias.”

How similar is door-to-door book sales to what you do today at your company?  The fact is that people are more specialized than ever.  And in the age of inbound marketing, it’s no longer about getting Mrs. Jones to make you a cup of tea so you can tell her about your vacuum cleaner.  Frank Belzer shows us why inbound leads are different and how you can prosper in this new environment in his new book, Sales Shift.

Today, selling is more sophisticated, sales conversations are more consultative, business is more complex, and the best managers are full-time leaders with no time for selling.  And the best of the best spend fully half of their time coaching.  We know from the data that 85% of all sales managers spend less than a quarter of their time coaching.  Most aren’t even sure what coaching really means.  Interaction is not coaching.  Asking “How’d it go?” is not coaching. And coaching is not training. It's the hand-to-hand combat of real selling situations every day.

Are your sales managers too empathetic with the sales people?  Can they relate to the put-offs and excuses a little too much?  Do they know too much?  Remember how many crimes Columbo solved by not knowing anything and by asking a lot of questions. On his way out the door, he'd pause, look a bit perplexed, and then ask one more seemingly innocent question. Do you know what impact your sales managers are having on the team?  Maybe it’s time for a sales force evaluation to find out.

Topics: sales competencies, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, sales force evaluation, sales training, coaching, sales recruiting, sales force development, sales call

Seven Tradeshow Tactics That Ensure Your Return on Investment

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 @ 13:04 PM

Seven Tradeshow Tactics That Ensure Your Return

What happens when you walk into a large, expensive tradeshow booth stocked with company staff, but are greeted only by a young woman who was hired for the show to explain the products to attendees who wander into the booth?  The answer is that you get to witness a common tradeshow strategy fail.  This happened to me recently and I thought it was time to expose the folly of such a tactic and suggest what might be a better approach.

I walked into this booth to see five company representatives talking with each other.  They never looked up because they had hired not one but two young woman to greet me and anyone else who walked in to their well-constructed 30 x 30 island booth.  I don’t want to sound completely naïve, but these young women might have been hired for reasons other than selling skills and product knowledge.  She delivered a memorized script.  It didn't matter that I wasn't in the market for such a product.  She never asked.  The company staff never stopped their own discussion to find out if I was a prospect.  After a few questions, the woman confessed that she was hired the previous day and given a briefing on the product.  It showed.

Rather than bore you with what needed to be different in that booth, let’s examine what was happening and why.  Often, in the absence of clear objectives, companies default to what they have done in the past – whether or not it has proven to be successful.  The above experience is only one example.  It could be a flat-screen panel giving a running loop of product demos.  It could be a beanbag toss or mini-golf competition.  When uncoupled with purposeful conversation and good selling skills, the apparent tradeshow strategy is the following:

1)     Make a showing.

2)     Demonstrate your industry commitment.

3)     Attract attention.

4)     Get the product “out there” so you’re seen as a player.

5)     Collect a bunch of business cards.

6)     Have a good time in Vegas (or wherever).

Does this sound familiar?  Have you ever seen it lead to tremendous amounts of new business?  I mentioned in a previous article that Frank Belzer, author of the new book, Sales Shift, calls this the “Denial = Visibility Model.”   Companies who adopt this strategy are accepting the low standard of mere visibility and denying that there is another way that might even reap multiples of their investment.  So let’s unpack the scenario above a bit further.

The five company employees missed at least 100 people who walked by in 10 minutes.  That might sound like an exaggeration, but this was a show with 40,000 attendees.  It’s likely that this is how sales works in their office as well: “Let someone else attract leads. Call us when you’re ready for a proposal.”  It’s the easy route, and yet it’s a tough road.  Dave Kurlan described this paradox perfectly in this recent article.

And what about using this “attraction-distraction” method, as I like to call it, in a tradeshow booth?  That the hired booth personnel know very little about the product is not even the real issue.  It’s that they have no idea how to sell.

Instead of the strategy outlined above, maybe it’s time to update our view of tradeshows and what they can produce for our companies.  Here are a few tactics which compose a strategy that you might find more helpful:

1)     Have preset goals on the number of prospects which the booth must generate to be worth the investment. This is fairly simple math and it’s based on your critical sales ratios and margins. Email me if you need help with this.

2)     Only real sales people should greet prospects. A good salesperson knows how to lower resistance sufficiently to allow for a more in-depth product discussion. This is the art of sales. More on that in another article.

3)     Visitors should be asked questions to find out if they fit the customer profile, so that time is not wasted on tire kickers while real prospects walk by. You spent too much money in a short period of time to veer away from your tradeshow goals.

4)     At large shows, booth personnel should stand in the aisle to ask questions filtering the thousands of people passing by, rather than waiting for someone to wander in. This is an obvious point, but it takes leadership to get it done. Elect or appoint a team captain for the booth each day.

5)     The sales process is updated, reviewed, and executed. It should follow time-tested methods of consultation, discovery, needs-assessment, urgency, and qualification. Dave Kurlan’s bestseller, Baseline Selling is a great resource describing these skill sets in more detail. The sales conversation must leverage the many potential customers walking by your extremely short-term store front.

6)     Salespeople who stand out from their competitors know how to have a business discussion which can lead to how they can genuinely help a prospect through their product or service. This is the most consistently effective way to be seen as different, and is an especially critical sales tool in commodities or when differences are otherwise subtle. In non-commodities, the right kind of discussion can even eliminate competition from the mix altogether. If you want to understand how that works, send me an email.

7)     All salespeople should be committed to their share of the total prospects needed for that show by relentlessly pursuing attendees and maybe even competing with each other to make it fun.

Applying good selling skills to a tradeshow environment, setting clear goals for sales outcomes, and keeping everyone energized and engaged in the effort is the key to an effective tradeshow strategy, especially when so much time and money is invested.  There are many articles written on the subject of tradeshow etiquette and best practices, and they are helpful (e.g. don’t talk on the cell phone in the booth.)  I believe that the problem is even more fundamental and ties directly to the basics of sales effectiveness.

After drawing data from over 600,000 empirically assessed sales people in thousands of companies across hundreds of industries as Objective Management Group has, we know that 74% of all sales people do not have the skill sets and sales “DNA” to be effective.  Where could your organization make a sales shift to match the changing market dynamics?  How is management impacting salespeople and their effectiveness at meeting company goals?  Do you have the right people, systems, processes, and metrics to meet the expanding marketplace challenges?  Even if business is on the rise, is your boat rising faster than the others?  How can you ensure that will be true a year from now?

Improving the entire sales function in your company will carry over to the tradeshow floor.  In this dynamic and shifting business climate, with ever increasing time constraints, it’s no place for amateurs, no matter how good looking.

 

Topics: Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales force evaluation, sales training, sales and marketing, sales management practices

Lessons From the Tradeshow Floor

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 @ 11:03 AM

sales funnel, sales pipeline, sales management best practices,sales and marketing, sales management practices I recently attended a large tradeshow in the building materials space and wrote an article for a popular national trade magazine, Building Products Digest (Pages 30 and 31).  I’d like to share it with my blog followers because I think that it is relevant beyond the show and that the concerns, which I heard from many CEOs, cut across many industries.

I most often heard these two questions: 1.) Is our company capable of adding enough new growth to meet corporate objectives? and 2.) Can our current sales staff grow and keep pace with the changing demands of the market? I spoke with a company founder who was genuinely concerned that while their business was growing, so was the market in his space. He had a sinking feeling that they weren’t able to take business from the competition without lowering their price. Yes, all boats were lifted by the new tide, but he admitted that is ultimately not a success formula.

Outside of that common refrain, there were five great questions which came up that are worth sharing with all of you who will be impacted by your level of growth in 2013.

Five Questions from the IBS Show Floor

One: How do we know whether the improvement in the sales force is fantasy or reality? Yes, sales are up. But are sales up due to organic growth caused by better selling skills, stronger prospecting, perfect positioning statements, insightful problem-solving and needs analysis, thorough qualifying, well-timed proposals, and excellent closing skills? If you aren’t certain you know, then you might be along for the ride, and maybe even being taken for a ride. Maybe it’s time for a sales force evaluation.

Two: How do we take business from the competition without lowering the price?

This is the true test of our ability to stand apart from the competition. To have the customer pay more attention to us than anyone else requires an ability to have a conversation that is more than just ‘what do you need’ and ‘how much is your budget.’ To gain the full attention of your customer above all of the competition, one must have a business discussion where you drill down and find a hidden or indirect problem that your product will solve. To give one example, you could think about the price of, say, your decking vs. the lower price of the other guy’s decking. We’re all probably good at calculating the cost of the other guy’s decking problems and tacking it onto his price. But who is the person that is dealing with those problems at your customer’s company? What is that person’s regular job? And what is he or she not doing when distracted by and dealing with those problems? And how important is that job that he is she is supposed to be doing? And what is that costing you? Now you are onto a different discussion and that will help you stand out from the crowd. And now your higher price is less important.

Three: How can we fend off a full court press from the competition on our existing accounts without meeting their price?

This is an account management problem. Having long-standing accounts can lead to complacency. If you are like most building material sales people, you have hundreds of potential customers in your territory but perhaps ten of them account for the majority of your business. Have you ever seen a basketball team up by 30 points and go on to lose the game? The Celtics lost to the Knicks that way in one game which I watched way back in 1986.  You could see the meltdown happening to the Celtics and if you were a fan as I am, it put a pit in your stomach. They stopped having fun. They stopped taking chances. They stopped playing to win and starting playing not to lose. Don’t do that with your customers. Once a quarter, act like you’re competing for their business all over again. It is also incumbent on sales management to motivate the staff and hold them accountable to the goals of the organization. Click here to see the top ten sales management functions.

Four: Can all of our sales people leverage their relationships with existing customers to sell our entire product line?

The answer is that some can do that, but most cannot. The follow-up question is can those who cannot do that, learn to do it? Are there hidden issues causing them to get in their own way? Is the little voice in their head (let’s call it head trash) telling them that their customer needs to diversify, that we can’t be all things to all people, and that we’re good at some things and not others. Or is there another excuse you’re hearing? If your products are the right products for the market, then lack of selling skills might be standing in the way of growing sales within your current base of customers. Take this handy questionnaire to see if a sales force evaluation might help you.

Five: What are we getting out of this show?

That’s a great question. Some are getting lot out of it; others see little result. The difference was often found in the mindset of the staff and their understanding as to why they were there. If the purpose was merely to be visible and show support for the industry, then there was commonly disappointment. When people with whom I spoke were actively looking for new qualified opportunities, they had a different experience. Without an active, thoughtful show strategy, the default of using it as “visibility” results in the opposite effect. My colleague, Frank Belzer, calls it the Denial = Visibility Model. The denial comes from the preconceived notion that you cannot really sell at the show. But you can, quite successfully, which I will cover in a future article. Speaking of Frank, check out his new book, Sales Shift: How inbound marketing has turned sales upside down making it more difficult and more lucrative at the same time.

 Click me

Topics: sales management best practices, sales pipeline, sales and marketing, sales funnel, sales management practices



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