Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Aug 07, 2013 @ 16:08 PM

Inbound Marketing, sales call, sales force evaluation, sales and marketing, Frank Belzer, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Trust of Salespeople, sales leads, Sales, Social Media, Sales LeadershipIn Frank Belzer’s recent book, SalesShift: How inbound marketing has turned sales upside down making it more difficult and more lucrative at the same time, he convincingly demonstrates that the nature of the lead has changed and many salespeople are having trouble adapting.  It’s true that in an Inbound world, marketing must work in tandem with sales creating an information feedback loop which propels new sales.  That is also one of Frank’s points.  Where salespeople get into trouble is thinking that a lead is a lead is a lead.

The reality is that all leads are not created “equal.”  As different as a referral is from a cold call, an inbound lead is different than those generated through traditional marketing channels.  When marketing works well, it performs the first part of the sales function.  It generates interest, exposes a potential issue, and may even lead to someone picking up the phone and calling your company for a rep appointment.  When it’s done well, the sales department can get hooked on this approach, even to the point of developing an “order taker” reputation.  The prospect, in this case, is already interested.

But inbound leads are different.  They are born on a different continent.  They are ethnically and culturally different from a traditional lead.  A potential prospect might have been doing research on the internet, watching a cool video, or simply wandering around on the web when an opportunity presented itself.  Taking advantage of the opportunity might have involved a simple mouse click.  Then after typing in an email address and answering a couple of multiple choice questions where your computer usually fills in all the details for you - free stuff arrives on your screen.  Behind the scenes, a company is collecting that information and calling it a lead.  The “prospect” barely lifted a finger in this case, and might not have thought about it very much.

Now back to that lead that is sitting in the rep’s inbox. It has the look and feel of someone who wants your product - just like a traditional lead.  It looks "bigger and badder" than it is.  But it is fundamentally different.  The person on the other end actually might be stunned to get a call from you - “What?! You mean I triggered a sales call? I just wanted to see the video. I’m not in the market for anything.”  But this is exactly the point where the path forks.

What is this fork, you ask?  Yogi Berra said to “Take it.”  Okay, let’s take it.  And here are your choices.  You can continue reaching out to leads who appear to be deer caught in headlights, make assumptions, and watch them run away, or you can develop your selling skills, approach them differently, and convert them.  That’s why Frank said that it’s more difficult, yet more lucrative.  With a few critical tweaks, your sales team can convert more of these kinds of leads and outproduce the competition.  And isn’t that the point?  As the economy comes back and as it lifts all of the boats in your market, are you concerned that your vulnerability to the competition will be masked in the short run as sales increase?  The market winners will be those who outpace the competition or those who beat the competition relative to each other rather than where they were last year.

Throw away "solution selling".  Toss aside spin, dodges, and dropping five dollar bills.  (Reminds me of the Barry Levinson movie, Tin Men, about two rival aluminum siding salesmen!)  Read Dave Kurlan’s Whitepaper on Trust for additional insight in that area. Get rid of "technique" altogether and embrace a conversational and consultative style, like you might with a friend or an uncle.  Back off.  Don’t push.  Ask questions.  Assume nothing.  And most of all, slow down.

In Part 2 of this Inbound Marketing blog series, I will let you in on few secrets.  There are two key selling weaknesses, which most sales people have, that prevent them from having this consultative-style discussion.  Having or not having these two key weaknesses makes all the difference.  And there are three others which could also cause your people to get in their own way and lose more of these opportunities than they need to.  But your staff can overcome them with help, and open the doors to a wealth of opportunity generated by Inbound Marketing.  You may want to consider having your sales force evaluated to see whether the current team can executive your objectives and whether they can both embrace and be effective selling in an Inbound world.


Here is the link to "Inbound Marketing Part Two - Leads Are Up But Why are Sales Down?" 


Topics: Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Inbound Marketing, sales leads, sales, sales force evaluation, sales call, sales leadership, frank belzer, sales and marketing, Trust of Salespeople, Social Media

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.

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

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