Funny thing about applications of your products & services…

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Of course you already know that your sales team needs to maintain a “solving-customer-problems” mindset. “Sell the application not the product” truly is the only way to fly. All high performing sales professionals live that philosophy and high performing product/service development and marketing folks live it as well.

There’s a funny thing about applications though.

Sometimes we’re trying to solve the wrong problem – even if we have a truly great product/service to sell.

Edison_and_phonographConsider Thomas Edison who invented (among many other things) the phonograph. This world class product developer had one of the biggest winners of all time, yet his early sales efforts were absolutely dismal. He knew that the best application of phonograph technology was to record a voice message and then stick it in the mail so the recipient could listen to it.

I can imagine his sales pitch.  “How cool is that! Your customers, friends and family can hear the inflections, tone and nuances of your voice. You can communicate far more information than you ever could with the written word.”

Nobody bought. Not until somebody else came up with the “record music” application. Then sales skyrocketed.

Not Bell, but an AT&T actor AFTER they got the application right!

Not Bell, but an AT&T actor AFTER they got the application right!

Or consider Alexander Graham Bell. You may not know that his sales pitch consisted of explaining how his telephone mic could be placed in front of an orchestra and that someone many miles away with one of his telephone receivers could hear a live performance.

Nobody bought. Not until somebody else came up with the “have a live business conversation” application. Then sales skyrocketed.

Two of the greatest product developers of all time were dead wrong and worked like crazy to solve the wrong problem with the wrong application.

So keep those minds open, sales leaders. Your product/service developers and marketing teams will have beautifully prepared application scenarios for you. And they will make loads of sense. They might also be missing the boat.

Think “Lean Sales Process”

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No, the point of this first post of the new year is not about a resolution to lose weight. (Although, yes, I’m doing that again this year!) The point of this first post is to focus attention on what is arguably the sales manager’s most powerful habit; Process Thinking.

thinkRe-reviewing the fundamentals of lean management is most certainly in order for “new year action items,” and frankly is something sales leaders must do on a continuous basis. These fundamentals are simple. They make extraordinary sense. They are easy to understand. They are not so easy to implement. (Which is exactly why you as the leader need to be thinking lean, thinking process, on a continuous basis!)

  1. Value – Look at everything you and your team and your customers are doing.  If an action does not add value to your organization or your customer’s organization, stop doing it. Now!
  2. Value Stream – Look at the value-adding actions that are left.  Put them in the optimal sequence. You will be stunned to find obvious dumb sequences.  You will find, for example, proposals delivered before customer requirements are understood, elaborate sales strategies developed and executed before the prospect is qualified, huge relationship development efforts expended before the customer decision process is understood, and on and on and on…
  3. Flow – With the proper sequence of actions defined, do it faster! Think of your sales process as a river.  Straighten out the meandering curves. Remove the boulders. Get a bigger motor for the boat.
  4. Pull – Clue the customer in on what you’re doing. If it makes sense; if you have a compelling value proposition; the customer will pull you through your very straight, boulder-free sales process ASAP.  If you don’t have a compelling value statement and the customer is not pulling, rethink the priority of the opportunity and/or the customer and/or build a better value prop.
  5. Perfection – I can put it no better than the late great Vince Lombardi.  “We will pursue perfection, knowing full well that we will never attain it.  But we will pursue it.  And in doing so we will achieve excellence.

So constantly think “Lean Sales Process,” and go have a great 2015!

Milestones – so what?

Some things just plain make you think.  I was on my way to the Dreamland Radio Studio, stopped at a red light, glanced down at my dashboard and saw this:

mileage

My first reaction was, “How cool is that?”  Since my car is running great, I hadn’t really been paying much attention to the fact that it’s getting up there.  The fact that I happened to notice the odometer at such an opportune moment seemed to have significance, like some kind of omen.  “Grab the camera,” I thought, “this’ll make for a great blog post.”

Then I arrived.  Sat down to write “it” all out.  And nothing came to mind…  Nothing…  What the heck is the significance of 111,111 miles?  Most of them are business miles.  A good number of them took me to the beach, or to visit friends and family or to the Georgia Dome to watch the Falcons, or to other cool places.  But how does any of that relate to you, the readers of this blog looking for a sales tip or two?

Then it hit me.  It’s all about the miles.  It’s all about making the effort to get somewhere, to do something, to achieve some goal.  To make that truly awesome sales call.  Sometimes, getting there, wherever there may be, is a disappointment.  In fact it’s quite rare when getting there significantly exceeds expectations.

But the process of “getting there” is virtually always a positive experience.  It’s the anticipation of great things.

So here’s my conclusion.  111,111 IS a big deal.  It’s a milestone that proves I’m still trying.  Still expending effort.  Still thinking – knowing – I can make another big score.  That’s pretty cool.  That makes me feel good about myself.

And it shows that Robert Louis Stevenson was right when he said. “…to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

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(PS:  Please don’t squeal to the IRS on me.  I told them all the miles were business miles.)

 

The “Ideal Customer” Profile

Not having an Ideal Customer Profile is just plain nuts.  Can’t make my opinion any clearer than that.  So why oh why do sales teams and sales professionals still waste so much time chasing down leads and prospects that really don’t have much need of what’s being sold?  Maybe it’s as simple as not having a simple way to figure out just what an “ideal” customer looks like.

Not one who believes in re-inventing the wheel, I point you to the following list of questions, compiled by my friend Jonathan Farrington.  (I suggest you read his post on this subject.)

  • What size of organization would you prefer to deal with?
  • Typically, how many people will they employ?
  • What market sector(s) do these organizations operate within?
  • Who specifically will be buying your products/services and what are their job titles?
  • Where geographically would you like these organizations to be located?
  • What does your organization offer that is unique?
  • What types of organizations will be attracted by this uniqueness?
  • What do your best customers possess that you would like to replicate in others?
  • Which of your existing customers were the easiest and quickest to convert?
  • What similarities do these customers possess?
  • Are there any specific criteria that prospective organizations should have in place, so that your products/services can be optimized?

Your action items?

  • Pull up the list of your top 20 prospects
  • Ask and answer the above questions
  • Send me a note and let me know how many “prospects” you just eliminated

Discovery: BEWARE! It ain’t the same!

Asking deep, penetrating questions, then listening intently, really hearing the customer’s perspective, have long been the core best practices of great salespeople.  The context has always been “understand the customer’s requirements, issues, objectives and pain points.”  Personally, I’ve long been proud of my ability to ask good questions and to listen carefully.

Then I got to thinking about progress and obsolescence.  Is there a better way?

Listen to my musings and let me know what you think…

Discovery: BEWARE! It ain’t the same!

“Si no esta en CRM no existe”

YPS has a client south-O-the-border that provides a never-ending stream of insights along with new perspectives on proven best practices.  Just last week, I watched an exchange between their sales leader and one of the top reps that hit me (and the rest of the group) right between the eyes.  It played out during a meeting of their Sales Excellence Council.

A bit of background… This “SEC” team has been in place for a year and includes top-performing sales pros, the sales director, the marketing guy and the CEO.  Obviously, they’re quite serious about defining their sales process and sales best practices and using them to relentlessly drive continuous improvement!  They’re getting ready to roll out a major initiative, part of which is implementation of a comprehensive CRM system.  Antonio is going through a practice run of the presentation he’ll be giving to the other 60 or so sales reps.  Jose, the sales leader, stops him dead in his tracks.  He figures some coaching is needed.

Espera!  Mui Importante!  “Si no esta en CRM no existe!”

In other words, “Wait!  Very important!  If it’s not in the CRM, it doesn’t exist.”  Cue the big grin from Antonio as he advances to his very next slide.  Nothing on it but the words, “Si no esta en CRM no existe!” That is, the rep who doesn’t use the CRM, gets no help from anybody – ever.

This company is in the pigments business, which is a whole lot more complex than you might expect.  The color in the cloth, paint, ink, cement, beer bottle, whatever… needs to be extremely precise and consistent.  There’s a boatload of heavy-duty chemistry and manufacturing quality control needed to meet customer specifications.  That means very expensive sample development and testing needs to be part of their sales process.  What good is landing a big order if the customer rejects the 10,000 kilogram shipment because the red is not quite right?

Recognizing this, the Sales Excellence Council included a requirement to complete the checklists needed by the chemists and production folks into the mainstream of their sales process.  They also included a requirement for documentation of current customer costs – to lock in a basis for calculating a quantified value proposition; and a requirement to complete an “Opportunity Assessment” that produces a numerical score for the customer’s likelihood to buy, their own company’s ability to successfully produce and a competitive risk assessment.

In other words, they created a sales process that:

  1. Dramatically reduces the risk of a screw-up
  2. Reduces the cost of sales
  3. Ensures detailed customer involvement in crafting the value proposition

(Think about that 3rd point for a few minutes.  The customer is the primary author of the sales rep’s value proposition!)

Back to the main point of the story…  The only way to make sure all the checklists, etc. are properly completed, and the customer has already bought into the project’s value is to have all the information stored in one place and accessible to all interested parties.  Thus the phrase, “Si no esta en CRM no existe!”

These guys are doing their CRM implementation right.  The CRM is not some no-value administrative task-master, or method for micro-management of the rep.  It’s a powerful tool for the sales pro.  It saves time.  It increases quality.  It reduces risk.  It draws the customer decision-makers and influencers deep into the sales process.

Si no esta en CRM no existe!

Think About it…

Pull Opportunities Through Your Sales Process – Don’t Push

This post is second in a series about applying “Lean” concepts in sales.  Read the overviewThis post will also provide useful perspective.

The idea of “Pull” as applied to the sales process is very counter-intuitive at first.  And realize, by the way, that to really make it sing, you first need a “perfect process,” which of course none of us has.  So it’s not a silver bullet.  It is, however, a dramatically different way to look at your sales process, and:

  • It forces a customer-centric perspective
  • It relentlessly reveals wasted effort
  • It reduces sell cycle time

Humor me and assume the funnel portion of your sales process is:

  • Identify Opportunity
  • Meet With Decision Maker
  • Establish Interest In Investigating Your Recommendations
  • Conduct Discovery
  • Present Recommendations
  • Close

Think of yourself standing at the “Close” end of your funnel and pulling opportunities through vs. standing at the “Identify” end and pushing them.  Typically, if not enough deals are getting closed, we focus on cranking up the prospecting engine.  We get a whole bunch of opportunities stirred up and start “working” them.  Let’s turn things upside down.

If not enough deals are closing, focus on finding the flaw in your recommendations.  Why isn’t this customer pulling you to close ASAP?  If the recommendation truly is a good one; something that will save or make money for the customer; it must be poorly stated.  The value of the recommendation needs to be clarified.  It’s something the sales rep didn’t execute well enough.  It’s not that the customer is too busy or too dumb to see the value.

Not getting enough audiences to present recommendations to?  Why isn’t this customer beating us up to hear what we have to say?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s because we haven’t stirred up enough enthusiasm with our discovery.  What else needs to be done to get everyone in the decision network to clearly see the problem and what it’s costing?  (…or see the unexploited opportunity and what it could mean?)  It’s something the sales rep didn’t execute well enough.  It’s not that the customer is too busy or too dumb to see the value.

See where I’m going with this?  Let’s flip back to a push mentality.  Let’s say we’re pushing on 10 opportunities trying to get them from “Interest” to “Discovery.”  We get one of them to pop forward.  Now what happens?  Yup, we start discovering the daylights our of that one.  Oooops!  We lose focus on the other nine.  Which of those will go stale first?  Get lost to a competitor?  Every time, it’s the one with a customer pulling on it.  The one with the decision maker feeling pull from the rest of the buying network.  When you’re busy pushing, it’s really, really hard to feel the pull from somewhere else.  Especially if I’m pushing on a deal close to closing and the pull is way back at “Interest.”

Counter-intuitive?  You bet.  Effective?  Don’t take my word for it.  Try it for yourself.  Then tell me about how much more customer-focused you become; how much wasted effort disappears; how much shorter your sell cycle becomes.

Value, Value Stream, Flow, Pull, Perfection

Originally published at Dreamland Interactive.

Manufacturing executives said it didn’t apply to them. (They were dead wrong.) Software development executives said it didn’t apply to them. (They were dead wrong.) Business & technology services executives said it didn’t apply to them. (They were dead wrong.) Sales executives, managers and professionals KNOW FOR SURE it doesn’t apply to them. And of course they are right. Right?

Right off the top… If you already know that “Lean” management concepts don’t apply to sales, STOP reading right now and go do something else.

If you’re still with me, you have at least a vague inkling that a visceral understanding and application of Lean principles can have a dramatic effect on sales effectiveness. (…and, oh baby, can it!!!) Think about your sales process in terms of the 5 Lean basics:

  • Value – Answer two questions about each activity you perform. What value does it provide to the customer? What value does it provide to your company? If your answer to both is something like, “not much,” stop wasting time on that activity.
  • Value Stream – Write down the key milestones that must be reached to win a deal. Take it from identifying a potential opportunity through verifying that the customer is satisfied with what you delivered. Put them in the proper sequence. (In other words, write down the stages in your sales process.) Consistently follow the steps in sequence.
  • Flow – Identify the major factors that keep an opportunity from flowing smoothly and continuously through your sales process. Work with your colleagues to figure out ways to reduce the impact of those factors.
  • Pull – Identify a few situations where it was the customer that drove your sales process. Why did that happen? What caused it? What can you and your company do to re-create those circumstances? Does this thought process suggest any changes that should be made to your value stream?
  • Perfection – Repeat the above four steps until your sales process is perfect. (Obviously you will never attain perfection, but you just might achieve excellence if you do it well and keep at it long enough.)

As soon as you get comfortable with “Lean” thinking applied to your sales process, start applying it to the customer business processes affected by your products and services. Your customers already familiar with Lean will be impressed. You’ll be one of the few sales reps with that kind of knowledge. Those not already familiar with Lean will see in you a whole new source of value. They will see a sales rep that genuinely adopts a customer perspective and is dedicated to making them more efficient and effective.

Click below to get a copy of Lean Thinking by Womack and Jones. Read it. Apply its principles. Become more valuable to your customers.

Forget About “The Buyer’s Journey”

Don’t get me wrong. The notion of “The Buyer’s Journey” was a great leap forward – was. It remains extremely useful as a concept to prevent a “blinders on” focus on your sales process. Yes, you must have and follow a proven sales process; one that by definition is based on the customer’s decision process.

The trouble comes from a too-narrow focus in the definition of the word buyer. A better watch-phrase is “The Buyer Network’s Journey.” (I don’t know if Christian Maurer hatched the idea, but the significance of the distinction between buyer and buyer network first hit me while I was reading his stuff.)

Here’s a very simple example of a buyer network. The circle on the right represents what we traditionally called the “decision maker.” The other two represent the good old “decision influencers.” The first, and I trust obvious, value of thinking in terms of buyer network is the fact that in this example, the two influencers are not directly connected. In most cases, the sales rep will benefit by helping to forge that direct connection. At a minimum, the rep should consider and make a conscious decision about working or not working to connect them.

For most B2B situations, more (sometimes many more) individuals will be involved in the customer decision process. Maybe 4, or 5, or… The more who understand my value, the better my odds of winning the deal. The more discussions about my value flowing through direct connections, the better my odds of winning the deal.

For every major opportunity, map out your buyer network; get the right nodes communicating with one another.

The next thing to consider is the influence/power of each node in the buyer network. Some individual customer personnel have more influence than others. Sometimes they should have that influence. Sometimes they shouldn’t.

For each node, think through how much actual power it has and how much power it should have, it’s optimal power.

Let’s say Mr. X in the diagram to the right is the decision-maker. He has a lot of actual influence. (You might wish he had some more since he favors your recommendation, but hey, you can’t have everything.) Mr. X, unfortunately, is strongly influenced by Mr. Y, who never did like you very much. Uh-oh… Mr. Y has lots of power. He shouldn’t in this situation, and in a perfect world, wouldn’t, but the situation is what it is. You’re in trouble.

The good news is that Ms. Z sees the bigger picture and understands why your recommendation is the right choice. Whoops! X & Z don’t interact. Y can therefore easily screen out Z’s important perspective.

The rep’s job here is clear. Broker a direct relationship between X and Z. Demonstrate clearly to X why Z’s perspective needs to be much more heavily considered; why her influence on this particular decision needs to be greater. Also articulate why Y’s perspective while relevant, is not nearly as critical.

Got the picture? Build on your “Buyer’s Journey” best practices and knowledge base. Map your Buyer Networks. Judge the actual and optimal influence/power of each node. Connect the unconnected. Plan your sales strategy considering the “Buyer Network’s Journey.”

Anybody know of any tools out there to help map this stuff out? Maybe one that integrates easily with some CRM systems?

On Funnels, Incubators & Out-Of-Context Metaphors

I’ve been in a running debate with my colleague, Stone Payton, for about a year now regarding the value and continuing applicability of the “funnel” metaphor for B2B sales.  Stone emphatically states, “Forget the funnel!”  (See this post, especially point #5 and the comments.)  I just as emphatically disagree!

And I think I finally understand the nature of our disagreement.  He and I think of “funnel” in dramatically different contexts.  I’m guessing there’s a whole lotta’ contextual confusion out there.  I’m also guessing there’s way too much reliance on over-simplified and/or passé sales process thinking.

First key point…  Thinking about people and companies as prospects is obsolete and dangerous.  It can do all kinds of short and long term damage to your business relationships.  It reinforces a “me-and-my-company-centric” focus.  (Do I really need to convince anyone that an intense customer-centric focus is critical?)   Thinking in terms of “prospects” also leads to thinking about moving human beings through a funnel; rejecting some, keeping others.  That’s nuts!

Move opportunities through your funnel, not prospects.

This leads to the second key point; consideration of a few realities of context for 21st century business.  Today’s sales pro needs to think in terms of Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities.   An Account is defined as an organization that might, maybe someday have a need for what I’m selling.  A Contact is a person, a human being who works for that organization and potentially has some role in the decision process for buying or not buying your stuff.  An Opportunity is the potential for you and your company to deliver a very specifically defined value or set of values to the Account and (at least some of) the Contacts within.

(Note the symbols in the diagram.  For any account, a rep will have from zero to many contacts and from zero to many opportunities.  Over time, the number of contacts should grow.  The number and size of opportunities will fluctuate over time.)

Accounts and Contacts are forever.  Put them into your “incubator.”

Relationships and credibility with Accounts and Contacts are hard to establish and hard, not to mention time-consuming, to maintain.  They must be nurtured with a long term mind-set.  Think about it this way…  Career time spans are really stretching out and usually involve multiple employers.  Flush a “prospect” out of your funnel today, and that same human being at the same or a different account, might just flush you into oblivion ten or twenty or thirty or even forty years from now.

Opportunities, on the other hand, are dramatically different in three ways:

  • They’re things, not people (Think of Tony Soprano saying, “It’s not personal.  It’s business.”)
  • They have a finite, relatively short life span
  • They have an “expiration date” (…calculated based on the typical sell cycle for your products and services)

I’ll take it even further.  An opportunity should have a pre-defined “expiration date” for each stage of the funnel portion of your sales process.  You want a “leaky funnel!” One that “leaks” in a controlled fashion according to your rules.

The core responsibility of a sales rep is to identify value-producing opportunities for each of his or her accounts and contacts.  LOTS of value-producing opportunities.  Some will be losers.  Those loser opportunities must be flushed out of the funnel quickly.  Otherwise you’ll waste your contacts’ time and annoy the daylights out of them.  If you don’t even have an opportunity funnel defined, how can you possibly keep yourself from wasting their time by repeatedly pushing loser ideas at them?  And damaging the hard-earned relationships you’re nurturing?

Conversely, the “winner” opportunities must be defined, sold to all stakeholders and implemented ASAP! Without a defined sales process, i.e., opportunity funnel, how on earth could anyone possibly do that efficiently and effectively?  By winging it???

So am I right?  Or is Stone right?  What do you think of the funnel metaphor?