Playing Nice in the Sand Box

Haven’t we all heard from a very early age that you have to play nice with others? Parents, teachers, sibs, bosses, even your own kids make it pretty plain that being nice to others is the way to go. But aren’t there some times when you’d like to take that little bit of wisdom and chuck it? Oh my, wouldn’t it be awesome to tell the boss that he/she is about the dumbest excuse for a leader since the Ayatollah? But in business doing that can be and probably will be hazardous to your future. Burning bridges and all that kind of stuff.

However, there does come a time when I question whether playing nice does much good. Here is one example with others to follow over the next few posts.

Take the owner of a small plastic molding company. They put out quality product but the place was filthy-walls needed painting, floors were caked with grease, old parts and past molds were laying in dirt three inches thick. I’ll never forget two potential customers who visited the facility. They peaked in my office, looked out my window on the manufacturing floor and shook their heads in unison. It was over before it began. They were kind enough to carry through with the discussion but I never heard from them again.

I decided that being nice in this situation would do absolutely no good so I let the owner have it and hard. He agreed with my feedback. So, not playing nice paid off-the owner painted the walls himself and did a lousy job. Sometimes it makes no difference how you play, some people just don’t get it.

Here is an obvious bit of advice for company owners. Look at your company the way a prospect or customer would look at it. Better yet, invite your best customer in for an honest appraisal (no holds barred) of how you do business. Then change how you do business.

 

The Power of Five

I was asked to give a talk on sales not long ago. There are so many topics relative to sales that it is difficult to choose one that will appeal to everyone. Out of nowhere came The Power of Five. The five topics I covered were:

  1. Define Markets
  2. Create Personal Financial Goals
  3. Build a Prospecting Plan
  4. Own a Sales Process
  5. Get a Coach

I maintain that these 5 are the foundation of sales success. Are there others? I’m sure they are out there but for October 21st these will do.

Market definition, who buys from you, who you should prospect for, what does a perfect client look like are all pretty much the same thing at least in a general way. I started with this one because it helps to know who you need to sell to before you put together a prospecting plan. When I work with clients whether they are individuals or companies I ask that they profile existing accounts to determine if there are common characteristics among them. Again, not rocket science.

Here are a few characteristics:

  1. Industry
  2. Products they buy from you
  3. Company size
  4. Why the customer buys from you
  5. How did you get them as customers
  6. How often so they buy
  7. Do they buy an assortment of products or services

The other important question to ask is: What are You Good at? This has tremendous implications on market definition. What you are good at doing and who you sell to are flip sides of the same coin. Through trial and error (probably more errors than are necessary) I discovered that I am at my best when I work in a small company environment. That has played out over the last 10 years as I morphed from pure sales training to helping smaller companies grow their business. What I am good at also relates to what I like to do. Very large on my list of ‘likes’ is seeing people grow their talents. Nothing makes me happier than to see a salesperson or a company moves past obstacles that previously held them in check. And frankly, it is not about me! Providing the knowledge and experience and showing someone why that knowledge can propel them past their current level of mediocrity is more than enough for me.

Also, be wary of trying to be all things to all people! It is tempting to say “I can do that” when a prospect asks if you can provide specific expertise in an area you are not particularly familiar with. Dollar signs trump experience! My advice is don’t do it. Broadening your markets may mean that you are diluting your efforts and losing opportunities in your main market. And if you don’t succeed in a new market what does that do for your reputation and confidence?

Here’s the last question worth asking yourself: What are the Characteristics of What You do That Appeal to Potential Clients? It really comes down to the more you know about yourself, what you do and who your best clients/customers are.

Passion

Angela Ahrendts, the CEO at Burberry, created the following thought.  The message of the quote got to me, so much so that I just kept on reading it over and over. ‘Passionate, positive human energy can provide a counterbalance to the disruptive negative forces of an age of unprecedented change. Through it comes confidence, inspiration and the power to transform things for the better.’

There is so much power in this statement that you wonder where most of the power dwells. Confidence? Inspiration? Transformation? Your head starts to spin when you think of what is the most important component. Let’s face it, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all component that is the base upon which the rest of the statement sits. The beauty of Ahrendt’s comment is that every person can pick out the important factor that means the most to them.

Mine? Passion! I’ve been spending a significant amount of time thinking about how I want to spend the next 5 years of my life and how much money I want to generate within that time. The process seemed almost painful. Ever passed a stone? That painful! Then I read this quote and whacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. Duh! What’s my passion? Easy. Developing people.

How many people are buried in jobs that don’t challenge them, don’t pay crap, and leave them exhausted every night? I’d wager to say that over 60% of today’s workers. How many of that number know what their passion is? I’d say over half. If my math is correct we’re looking at 30% as the number of people sucking in air who know what their passion is.

Does everyone find their passion at the same time? No. A good friend of mine became passionate about “quality” in the workplace in his middle years. Now he practically sleeps with the Malcolm Baldridge award. A one-time client of mine found real estate sales and she routinely brings in over $300K annually. Don’t get her into a discussion on the topic unless you want to spend the day.

What is your passion and how can you bring it front and center in your life? Are you too fearful to even give it life? Have you really thought through what it will take to breathe life into the passion? Do you want to be on your death-bed, look back on your life and regret that you did not give your passion free rein? Don’t let it happen.

Drawing Assumptions Can Kill Ya!

How many times in the last 3 months did you think or begin a sentence with “well I assumed that…”. You know you have you used this phrase or one like it quite a few times. Like a lot of the drivel that comes out of our mouths assumptions can lead to a complete breakdown of communication. Assumptions can lead to profiling, stereotyping, hatred, and even death. Ask the parents of Trayvon Martin whether or not that’s true.

I think it’s about time that we wake up to the realities of 2013. Our country and our lives are undergoing sweeping changes that go far beyond the irrational hatred Jihadists have for America. We have a black man who is president and within the next 3 elections will probably have a woman elected as president. I’m pretty sure that will drive a lot of the remaining chauvinistic, old white guys stark raving mad. To whom I would say-your day has come and gone.

Caucasians will soon be in the minority. More and more gay couples will be raising children. The stream of immigrants will continue because America remains a land of opportunity. The color and gender of our politicians will continue to change hopefully bringing across the aisle common sense back to DC. This is reality without putting any spin on the facts. This is not the 1950’s when every day was pretty much like the previous one and identical to the one that followed. There is a generation of people who say that they would like those days back. That decade represented certainty, consistency, safety, and freedom from most activities that caused people to question who they were and what they believed in.

Let’s not wander too far from the gist of this post-assumptions can do you in. Assumptions are dangerous because they close off options, they narrow how we perceive life and people, they limit beliefs and personal growth. Let’s face it, George Zimmerman would have been better off staying home instead of prowling the neighborhood looking for trouble that wasn’t there. Or if he saw Trayvon he could have said, “hey man I love skittles. Can I have one?” A black guy in a hoodie does not represent a sure thing for trouble. Hey a white guy in a hoodie could mean trouble. Who the hell knows. Best not assume.

About the only thing you can assume is that change will occur. After the massacre in Colorado can you walk into a movie theater and not look around at people wondering if any of them are planning any mayhem? Shouldn’t we all be more alert to the fact that there are nutbags walking around who are mentally wrong? They are out there but that does not mean the person with over the top tats is one of them. I’m not a huge fan of environments that change often and harshly any better than the next person but change is a reality. For the sake of sanity and living a long life here’s a few suggestions.  Don’t assume; treat all people the way you want to be treated; prepare to react to any situation you are in because it could change immediately; enjoy the infusion of diversity; listen hard to other opinions.

When Are We Going To Grow!!!!!

I don’t know about you but I believe that the title of this post will be repeated thousands of times this week! I also believe that the size of the company will not make a difference as to whether that line is used. It might sound different, like maybe “our sales are flat” or “we are not consistent, one month we’re up the next month flat…”. Per usual this has a lot to do with sales or the lack thereof.

Sales is kind of funny. You own a company or are the CEO of the company and you make the assumption that the sales organization is in decent shape. The VP of sales or sales manager seems to know what they’re doing. He or she has been in the industry and/or with the company for a number of years and growth has been OK. If the company is smaller then the owner manages the salespeople he or she inherited. Maybe the owner has even hired several sales reps and things have moved along decently. Regardless of the situation the sales are flat lining.

So, what do you do? For sure one thing not to do is panic and jump into drastic changes. Oh brother, that happens a lot. Why? Because whomever has the power needs to look like they are doing something about the problem. Like my battalion commander once said to me after I had royally screwed up during a people problem I witnessed. He delivered his advice loudly enough so brigade headquarters heard it “take action even if it’s not the right action”. Good advice but will the advice work for the leader? Not necessarily if the actions are drastic. The theory that “for every action there is a reaction” applies. The more drastic the action the more emotional and haphazard the reaction.

K.I.S.S. Do you have the right salesperson or salespeople? Do they really know how to sell? Are they seeing the right people? Do they have a territory plan? Are they doing the right sales behaviors? Do they have a sales process? How are they being managed? Are they mentally and emotionally tough?

There are many questions within those questions that need answers but the answers are available if the owner/CEO/leader pursues the answers in a constructive and  organized manner. And each of those questions can be fixed if they are broken.

Hiring Your First Sales Rep

This is one of those frustrating events that drive small business owners nuts! Picture this. You own a company and you are the main salesperson. Of course you also do the books, clean the bathroom, take orders and anything else that keeps the company moving forward. And you have had it! Your doctor says that another year of this and you’ll be pushing up daisies. Your wife and kids would like to see you more often than Xmas, New Years, and major holidays.

So you decide to take the leap. You’ve never hired a salesperson before so where do you start? Part of this decision depends on the type of industry and product(s) you have. Do you get an order from a customer and hardly ever see them again? Do you get an order and the process demands constant follow-up on that order and future ones? Should the rep have X number of years of sale experience and/or experience in the industry? Is the sale technical? What can you afford? Do you provide a salary and commission or commission only?

As a sales manager I routinely hired people but it was still challenging to find the right people. One of the problems is that owners don’t prepare for the hiring process. It’s like the thought process from I’m overworked to I need a rep to hiring happens over a two-week period. Don’t rush into hiring even though your brain is screaming at you to get someone on board.

I’d look at the these as a to-do list:

  • What are the qualities that make you successful as a salesperson?
  • What do your customers expect from the person representing your company?
  • Research comp plans in your industry.
  • Should you hire the highest quality rep for the money or hire one that has experience in your industry?
  • Age has a way of fine tuning skill sets. Should you hire someone in their 30’s or 40’s or go after the mid-twenty rep?
  • Prepare how you want to interview candidates.
  • Document what you will need in order for the rep to be prepared to sell.

One final bit of wisdom. Never just settle for anyone because you’re flat-out tired and bored with the process. If you hire someone because you want to get it done that rep will not last more than 3 months.

CSR Number 7: The Most Important Job A Sales Manager Does?

This should probably be on my tombstone so that when people stumble upon it they’ll be forced to ponder the meaning of life and what a sales manager should do with their time. Sales managers can be a dull lot. When promoted from whatever they were doing-assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the president, worst salesperson, best salesperson-they sit in their new office and think wow, this is way cool! And is that an admin assistant I see out there? This is really getting better!!

Poor dumb clutz! Can you imagine how many managers there are that don’t have a clue how to answer the basic question-what is my role? Ah, I’m guessing somewhere in the vicinity of half. Ok, here’s the answer. Job number one for a sales manager is develop the skills of your salespeople. That’s it! If it’s Wednesday in Omaha and you’re traveling with Sam you had better focus on whether this cobber understands the mechanics of selling. And if he doesn’t then your job is to mentor Sam on selling skills.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Where do you start this process? How do you tell ole Sam that maybe he should back off the toothy grin, the break cartilage hand shake, and the latest one-liner about Nebraska football? Let’s face facts, Sam is on the brink of being a sales statistic. He’s getting by only by the thinnest of margins. Moving Sam from social butterfly to skilled sales professional requires base knowledge on specific techniques that apply to specific parts of the sales call. These are repeatable techniques, which means that the sales call on Wednesday in Omaha will be similar to the one made in Lincoln on Thursday. How simple is this? So simple that most managers don’t get it.

This is where I decide whether the post is going to have a 1,500 word count or 550 word count. I’ll stick with the latter. Regardless of whether you’re on day two of your management career or day five hundred you need to dissect the sales process for your company and your product. How do you start the sales call to a new prospect? How do you start the call to a regular customer? How do you probe for needs? How do you discover if there are multiple decision makers? How do you disqualify prospects? How do you cross sell? Wanna make a bet that you can break down the sales process into at least 50 or more components?

Here’s another way to look at this? Hasn’t your VP of manufacturing broken down the manufacturing process into definable steps? I guarantee that he or she has. Your mission as a sales manager is to do the same thing for how your product gets sold. Once that is defined then you can create the techniques to use during each step of the sales process and then make sure your salespeople use these techniques on their sales calls. If all of that sounds like a monumentally difficult task then ask for your sales job back.