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.

CSR 8: Prospects Won’t Buy Unless There is An Emotional Need!

This no doubt sounds like an over simplification but I’ve witnessed too many sales calls (many of them recently) where salespeople don’t understand this statement. Picture this. You are an avid golfer (defined as someone who plays 2-3 times per week with a handicap of 9) and you have just walked into a store specializing in golf equipment. You say in an excited voice to the salesperson who just walked up to you, “Hi, I need a new driver and I mean I need a new one in the worst way.” The sales dolt says to you, “Come on back with me I have just the driver for you and it’s cheap”.

What the hell is wrong with the sales dolt? In short he fails to comprehend the intensity of the need that you have for a new driver. There is pure unadulterated emotion oozing out of your mouth. One could almost see the weight of the emotion and the need! Our positively dull-minded salesperson only sees a potential sale of a driver; he never thinks even for a moment that there might be something really irritating that’s bothering the prospect. On top of that the sales dolt says c’mon I’ll fix you up with a low-budget club!

Do you know how many times this is played out in every industry by thousands and thousands of salespeople? The sales gods are bent over retching their disgust! PROSPECTS BUY FOR EMOTIONAL REASONS. Who knows what those emotional reasons are? Sometimes even the buyer isn’t completely sure of what those reasons are. You can look at practically every product on the market and find some emotional reason why it appeals to specific buyers. Picture this #2. When I buy a yellow lined pad I only want one specific kind. Know why? Because it tears evenly at the top. I hate pads where there are scraps still attached to the top of the pad after the tear. As insane as that is it is an emotional need.

Suffice to say there are many levels of emotional need. The golfer described above has lost 3 strokes off his handicap because he’s begun to slice every tee shot. (Along with being emotional the golfer is dumb because it isn’t the club that’s the problem.) A buyer at a two billion dollar company bought the wrong color of raw materials which threw off production by three weeks. His emotional need? He loses his job if it happens again.

Tip: When you hear a prospect say something like “We’ve been looking for someone to provide packaging for a new product line we’re introducing” don’t glide by that statement with a dumb ass statement like “Well you’re talking to the right person”. Don’t ever assume that you have all the information because nine times out of ten there is a hidden pearl of emotion that is driving the prospect.

Just for the sake of really believing this go back to several people who recently bought whatever you sell. Ask them if there was something else driving them to buy your product, determine if there was something emotional driving the process.

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.

CSR Number 6: Know What Your Closing Rate Is!

To me, if you have no idea what your closing rate is how do you know if you’re successful? Am I missing something here? Picture this. I’m your sales manager. You come strolling into my office and tell me that you closed the Larson deal for $125K. You’re excited because not only did you close a deal but you got a nice $5K commission check. Whoopdeedoo! I’m sitting there thinking to myself Big Frigging Deal! So What? Of course being the consummate professional and a manager with a semblance of a heart I don’t want to blow all your enthusiasm out of the water so I say congratulations, well done!

Underneath though I’m wondering about a few things:

  1. How many sales calls have you been on in X amount of time?
  2. How many closes do you now have YTD?
  3. What percentage of your sales calls turn into business?
  4. How many sales calls does it take on the same prospect before business is closed?
  5. How near to making target are you in terms of dollars and percentage?
  6. How many closes do you need for the fiscal year?

Sales is not completely a numbers game but certainly success on a continued basis has a lot to do with repeatable processes. Statistics are part of that. Why does the NFL have a combine in the Spring to evaluate college players? Baseball coaches evaluate potential fielders based on 5 key tools. There are statistics woven into both these sport situations. So why do salespeople blithely wander through their lives hardly ever thinking of a closing rate? Chances are pretty good that no one ever taught them the value of ratios. Nor have salespeople figured out that making significant money depends on performance, which will always tie into how many appointments, presentations, phone calls, connects, closes, average revenue of each close etc. are accomplished. And the coup de grace is how do sales calls relate to closes.

100 Proof Software even figured this out via the app Sales 2 Target. It’s not perfect but future iterations will improve the concept. I’ll make this wager. If you track your sales behaviors and create meaningful relationships between the behaviors (How many sales calls do you need to be on in order to close one sale as an example) you will increase your income by a minimum of 50%.

Have fun out there!

CSR Number 5: Adopt a Sales Process or Live in Mediocrity!

Someone close to me mentioned that my writing style is too in-your-face. It may be that “living in mediocrity” is a tad on the direct side, yet is it really all that bad if you are really driven to achieve and generate a healthy income? I’ve told this story before but it is worth repeating. I was having a networking breakfast several years ago with a gentleman. Since I’m always on the lookout for good salespeople I asked this person what he wanted to earn annually. He said, “oh, I guess, somewhere between forty-five and fifty-five thousand”. Bear in mind this is for a sales position! Sales!

Let me bring this back into the perspective of the title. I strongly believe that salespeople will never generate 6-figure incomes unless they use a sales process during their sales calls. Will my breakfast buddy make more than $55K with a sales process? If he doesn’t want more than fifty-five then I doubt it. Salespeople (everyone for that matter) need to create a goal income. Without it people have a lower sense of what they are worth, they will be satisfied just taking a job, they will have no sense for reaching lofty goals.

Would you hire a lawyer who knew law but didn’t really understand legal proceedings or jurisprudence? How comfortable would you be with a plumber if he or she showed up with a 6 inch thick book on common household plumbing repairs? Every individual attached to a profession has been schooled in the steps, processes, techniques that provide the professional with the knowledge to deliver the service to their client or customer. Then why wouldn’t a salesperson, sales manager, company owner want the same thing for the sales organization? This is a Duh!

I’ve worked with salespeople who make a sales call like they’re shopping for groceries without a list. Strolling down the aisle picking up items that look good, making impulse buys based on nothing more than emotion. Yet companies hire these kinds of salespeople. Don’t ask me why. Maybe they’re cheap, who knows.

Opening a face-to-face sales call, responding to a Request for Quote, handling objections, qualifying a prospect can be orchestrated based on specific principles that apply to those situations. Good salespeople don’t just “wing it” when they are faced with objections. They call to mind a method that deals with how to handle an objection and then implement a technique. When salespeople do this they are using a process!!! If this makes so much sense why don’t salespeople adopt a process? I’d give one month social security for the right answer!

Companies assume that the newly hired salesperson knows how to sell; they are OK with turnover if the first three reps don’t work out; they figure that they can survive with a “cheap” comp plan. CEO’s, company presidents, sales managers do not understand that investing in a sales methodology or process nets more sales. (The caveat here is that whatever training is done needs constant reinforcement. No reinforcement equals waste of money.)

Do you have the feeling that I am passionate about this? Salespeople need to be that passionate! Learn a sales process!

Common Sense Rule (CSR) # 4: Prospects Buy The Salesperson First

There are countless sales training programs available and I’m guessing that most of them touch on how important the salesperson is to the sales process. I’m not so sure, however, that enough emphasis is put on the importance. One of the very best salespeople I ever met was a chameleon and he understood the importance of adapting his style to that of the prospect.

The best sales call I ever went on was with “Jim”. We came face to face with a prospect most salespeople have nightmares about. This guy made a corpse look animated! He was the antithesis of “chatty Kathy”. If the room was silent enough you could hear the synapses clicking in his brain. There were times in the call that were honestly unnerving. It brought a whole new meaning to the phrase  “silence is deadly”.

Faced with a prospect like this most salespeople go into talk overdrive. Not ole Jim. This guy had mastered the ability to adapt to prospects. He let people dictate to him how he should act during the sales call. Do you know how hard that is to do? All of us tend to act as if we have one gear. You’ve seen most of them in sales. The person who always has a smile, the glib word smith, the technical genius, the hard closer, the joke teller, mister shifty. These are the gears and God help anyone who gets in the way.

During the sales call Jim’s prospect mulled every statement over like his life depended on it. Through all this Jim sat and waited for the prospect to make a statement. There were situations where minutes passed between interchanges. Try going 180 seconds without uttering something! Jim did. What happened was extraordinary. About 30 minutes into the call the prospect opened up. Hold onto your hats, folks, there was an actual dialogue taking place! Why? The prospect bought into Jim. There was trust!

Jim and the prospect were on the same communication page. The prospect had found a comfort level with Jim. In essence the prospect made a decision that Jim was like him and therefore he could let down his guarded method of communication. Both had reached a point where there was a bond between them and that bond allowed an openness that did not exist at the beginning of the call.

Mastering this takes time and the ability to accept being uncomfortable with people who are different styles. Enormous amounts of knowledge does not built trust; a sales methodology does not alone build trust; the ability to maneuver through a company’s decision hierarchy does not build trust; being mentally quick does not build trust.

Bonding happens for those people who have the gift of reading people quickly and adapting their style to the style of the other person.

Common Sense Rule (CSR) Number 3: Sales Managers Need to Be in the Field!

The sales manager who spends more time in his or her office instead of working with salespeople in the field does not understand their job! I wonder what salespeople thought when they were promoted to manager. Wonder how big my office will be? Finally I’m away from the daily grind of calling on customers! Come to think of it what will I do during the day? Uh oh, I’ve got responsibility for 8 salespeople! As Frank used to say on Everybody Loves Raymond-Holy Crap!

I am not a proponent of sales managers learning their trade through “assmosis”. If you’re thinking that’s the gig don’t apply for the job. If you are wondering about the job here are some ideas:

  1. Set expectations early with your salespeople. What do you want them doing everyday? What don’t you want them doing? How much time should they spend prospecting new customers vs. farming existing accounts? How do you expect the salespeople to interact with inside customer service, marketing, manufacturing personnel?
  2. Document how you want the salespeople to sell. If you have 8 salespeople each of them will have their own selling methodology. Some will ask questions, some will present the product first, some will wing it. Ask yourself this question: How do I want my salespeople to sell? There are plenty of sales methodologies to choose from. Pick one and adapt it to your company, product, and marketplace.
  3. Evaluate your salespeople to determine their strengths and weaknesses. Use the tools available. Google assessments and you can take your pick. If you have an HR department they might already use one. Review the completed assessments with each salesperson.
  4. Work in the field with each of your salespeople as soon as it is feasible to do so. Tell them what your goals are for the trip. People respond better when they know what to expect. Before making calls or at the end of the first day tell the salesperson what you expect of them and ask them what they want from you. (You’ll get major points here, believe me.)
  5. When you’re done working with a rep give them some verbal feedback on how they performed during the week beginning with the positives. When you get back to the office document this and send it to the rep with specific items they need to work on.

This is a minimum action list. The more you try to do in the first six weeks the less effective you will be at specific items. You’re in this for the long haul.

Almost forgot. If you’re gong to travel fifty to seventy-five percent of the time make sure your significant other knows this ahead of time. Promotions are great but they’re better when your partner or spouse understand this.