Latest "Pitfalls" Posts
I was talking with a good friend today and he commented on feeling a little “stuck.” I was feeling a little stuck too, so we commiserated for a minute as friends do. That kind of talk takes you nowhere if you give it much room…so we killed it quick and moved towards how to get unstuck.
How do you get unstuck in your head and get back to achieving? Some advice I got from a mentor of mine, Dr. Tom Hill, helps me and I used some of it today-
It starts with questions- you can’t get to the right solutions if you are trying to fix the wrong problems.
Who are you spending your time with? – There’s a belief that your thinking represents the combined thinking of the 6 people outside of your family with whom you spend the most time. Getting unstuck in your mind and spirit may mean spending more time with people who have energy, purpose and achievement. Hanging around those people breaks you free from your internal gridlock just by the osmotic pressure their personal energy exudes. I think that changing up your company for a few weeks will make a difference. Changing up that list for longer can change your life. Does that mean abandoning your friends and colleagues? Maybe, but probably not. It is an issue of proportion- getting the proportions right can change your perspective dramatically.
What are you feeding your brain and your spirit? – We get a lot of junk brain food in our daily diet.
I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this
- from “Lawyers, Guns and Money” by Warren Zevon
When is it time for the heavy artillery in the sales process? When do you bring in the CXOs and how do you use them?
I have found that companies typically use CXOs too infrequently in the sales process, not too frequently (or not frequently enough). Regardless of frequency, though, there should be some guidelines as to how to best use your CXOs in the sales process. Let’s focus specifically on the CEO and the CFO positions for the sake of this post. Using their clout correctly can improve your sales processes and your yield on big deals.
The Do List
A CEO’s greatest power in the sales pitch is in conveying the following:
- Cultural alignment. The CEO’s role in the conversation is to communicate that our organization and their organization have similar vision, mission and values. That our people and their people can work together well and that we can smooth out any of the natural bumps in a relationship. This communication occurs between your CEO and their highest level people in the sales process.
- Financial and organizational commitment. The CEO has to be the one who communicates the company’s financial position. Where it stands, its history and what the financial future of the company looks like. This is not so much of a discussion of the balance sheet as it is a discussion of the underpinnings of the business and its plan for the future.
Chasing….I hate chasing. Wouldn’t you rather have a fast “no” than an excruciatingly slow “maybe?”
Do you know what the difference is between begging and professional follow-up?
Three unreturned contacts to your buyer.
After three, you have to be honest with yourself—she’s just not that into you.
I call this endless follow up process the “Maybe Whirlpool.”
You know that you are in the “maybe whirlpool” when one or more of the following conditions happen:
- Slow response cycles. Any response cycle outside of 48 hours from your point of contact. When these are repeated with your key buyer or contact, then you either have a very weak contact, or you are very low on the list of issues they are solving.
- Long consideration windows, like when you receive a message that says that they will be considering their options over a period greater than 3 weeks. You may need to modify the period if there are engineering requirements, IT configuration issues or other technical compliance issues. However, there is a cycle that you need to define and then honor if you are going to stay out of the whirlpool.
- Vague political maneuvering comments. “There are a few things going on here that I can’t discuss. I need to line some things up and then I will get back to you.” Again, you have a weak contact who will not be making a decision in the near future.
- Two delays. When a fixed decision date has been moved twice.
“We’re getting commitments, but we’re not getting orders…”
“Some of the biggest companies out there are our customers, we just aren’t getting the volume…”
“The decision-maker is saying we’re going to get the business, but then her people order from their old suppliers…”
One of the most common problems I hear from clients is the problem of traction. They can get into the big companies, but they can’t get that “yes” to turn into dollars. I have touched upon this in the past in “Unsticking Stuck Deals (parts one & two) and “The Executive Sponsorship Agreement.”
I believe that sales people are pathologically optimistic, and it’s a good thing that they are. If they weren’t, how could they get out and face the rejection and frustration that accompanies the sales process? But that optimism carries with it some inherent dangers for their companies.
False positives, missed signals and ‘hope’ acting like ‘commitment’
Sales people are given a variety of “yes” answers over the course of a sales process that create the sense that a deal has occurred. In reality, though, there is at least one unseen step in the decision spectrum where the ‘maybe’ masquerades as ‘yes.’ You can probably spot it.
“If we get Microsoft, (replace Microsoft with your favorite iconic brand name), then it is going to be a lot easier to get other big guys. So what if you take a little bit of a haircut on that deal? It’s what we are going to have to do to get our name out there.”
When I work with small and mid-size companies, I often hear the siren song of the logo deal.
This is not a discussion I hear on occasion. In one flavor or another I hear this conversation in almost every company I meet. The promise of affiliated greatness for your brand because of someone else’s strong brand is very hard to pass-up, I know.
I’ve written and spoken against this practice at length. For the sake of context, I’ll just give a quick summary of why this is a dangerous temptation. Then I will outline the Trigger-Map Strategy we teach for companies that want to boost their brand through key brand affiliation.
I posted this blog some time ago, but in the past several weeks I have directed so many people to it that I thought it would be good to bring it back for a re-post. Enjoy!
I’ve been on the road the last two weeks with a number of clients and I have to tell you that the swagger factor in the marketplace is low. That’s right: SWAGGER. That quality of confidence that provides patience in the face of stupidity, no-blink nerve when looking into the eyes of challenge and the slight strut of knowing you’re the best. In talking to best-in-class sales leaders in a variety of industries who work with top-shelf branded clients, I discovered that they are still committing the following party fouls when approaching new prospects:
- Running test-proof cycles for the most basic products and services;
- Waiving engineering, design, drawing, setup and installation fees for first-time buyers on small orders;
- Fulfilling tiny initial orders so that “you can prove yourself”;
- Agreeing to long “try, wait and see” cycles.
Brando Don’t Audition. At some point in your company’s history of performance, serving demanding clients and developing your reputation, your company became good enough to answer this question from a prospect: Are you qualified to do business with me?
“Qualified” means competent and market competitive—in pricing, features and benefits—which further means that you should have the right to move past the first round (walking in the door). Prospects ask for samples, references, test-runs and little orders as a credentializing step in the process of doing business with you.
I liked your “Sales Challenge” answers so much that I am going to make “Sales Challenge” a regular part of this blog in the future. Great ideas from everyone!
Here’s the rest of the story…
The team improvised. The second-in-command eel exhibited classic “I don’t want to be here” body-language: he was slouching, his arms were crossed. He didn’t even bother to cinch up his tie when he came to the meeting. He could not have tried harder to project the “I’m here because I have to be, not because I want to be. Make it fast” attitude.
The first thing the sales team tried to do was break the ice and ask some questions about what the eel wanted. Nothing doing. He simply said, “Just make the presentation like you would if John Doe was here.”
Without much to go on, the team tried to change the expectations. Team: “John Doe’s not here, so the objective of the meeting is different. In fact, it’s wide open now and the presentation may not even be valuable. Let’s talk for a moment about the area we are looking at, what goals you have in that area and what you consider to be some of the pain points.” They got a little bit more out of him here, but not much. The eel was still closed off and defensive.
Third, the team tried to befriend the eel. Team: “Considering the time the team has been in place and what your group is trying to accomplish, our analysis is favorable.
It probably seems a little confrontational when I ask a prospect the simple question of “Why are you doing this?”, but really it’s just a more direct variation on a theme.
The other, less direct versions of this question are questions like:
- Why is this the right time for you to consider changing vendors?
- What performance threshold are you hoping to achieve by changing your provider right now?
- How have things changed so much in the last 6 months that you are now considering changing your provider?
- What will working with a new vendor give you that you are not getting from your current vendor?
In the end, though, it all boils down to wanting to know why.
I am working with two clients who have put this question into the early parts of their sales process and the answers they received are astonishing in their frankness. I assure you that all of these examples are real. I find some of them rather disturbing.
- “I have to look at other vendors every so often to keep procurement happy.”
- “The company we are working with says they can’t make any money because raw material costs are higher than what we pay in total price, so I’m looking to find someone who is cheaper.” (All providers in the industry buy their raw materials from the same source.)
- “We’re always looking to see what’s out there.” (The next question: “When was the last time you changed vendors?” Answer: “We’ve worked with the same company for 11 years.”)
These same clients would visit any company that would give them the time before even reaching the “Why are you doing this?” point.
Old men aren’t the first to die in shipwrecks.
You would think they would be since they do not have the strength or endurance of young men, but in maritime records, young men die first. Why? Because they flail about and waste precious energy while old men grab onto drifting debris, conserve their energy and wait for daylight to determine what to do.
Right now, one of my client’s business unit leaders is acting just like a young sailor during his first shipwreck. His biggest deals are finishing up with little backlog to absorb the headcount and he’s flailing, yelling into the darkness and panicking. He’s frightened and he has the right to be.
So what can he do?
1) Shut up. Quit talking to everyone about how frightened you are, how quickly the sky is falling and how new and different strategies need to be implemented. For the most part, this is not new news and does not serve a proactive purpose. Start talking when you have a consistent strategy and when you can articulate it clearly, often and with conviction.
2) Grab onto some driftwood. Just because you are frightened, it doesn’t mean that everything is not working. You have to define the core pieces that are working and start building a boat (your strategy) based on them. At the very least, you need to cling to what is working until daylight comes.
3) Quit kicking until you spot land. There are no silver bullet solutions. Changing the offering to the market on a 72-hour cycle confuses your people and your prospects.
My last post dealt with the “Problem” problems that cause deals to get stuck. There were quite a few.
As I promised in that post, there are other reasons that deals get stuck besides “Problem” problems. I call them “Us” problems.
These “Us” problems include:
- No Solution. There are times when we believe that a prospect’s aggravation with the current provider is so acute that they will switch to us at almost any price. But their frustration is really only enough to get us in the door and in contention for consideration. Research has shown that the usual threshold for changing out a major supplier, vendor, or partner is the potential for an 8-14% improvement, or there will not be a deal. This improvement is the aggregate of improvements in price, cost, friction and value.
- No Credibility. There is another side to the world of big claims: the TOO BIG CLAIM. When we claim that our solutions offer more than a 14% improvement, our credibility goes through the floor. The expectation of an 8-14% improvement comes from a Harvard Business School study, and I have found it to be in line with real world expectations. Though there are differences between industries, anything too far beyond a promise of a 14% improvement is likely to be seen by prospects as BS.
- No Chemistry. The prospect has to be able to see their people company working with your people. When they can’t, or worse, when they can but they hate the idea, you have a chemistry problem.