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I spend a lot of time on the road with a number of sales teams and I have to tell you… the swagger factor out there 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.
As I’m talking to sales leaders in a variety of industries who are absolute best in class and working with top-shelf branded clients, they are still committing these party fouls when approaching new prospects:
- They run test-proof cycles for the most basic products and services.
- They waive engineering, design, drawing, setup and installation fees for first-time buyers on small orders.
- They fulfill tiny initial orders as a way to “prove” themselves.
- They agree to long “try, wait and see” cycles.
Now, 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). The issue is that prospects ask for samples, references, test-runs and little orders as a credentializing step in the process of doing business with you. After you have credentialized yourself, then you get to the real issues of a potential business relationship, which means relevance and value at a scale past credentialization.
Why are you holding on to them? Are you scared of their relationships with key clients? Do you feel guilty that you haven’t given them all of the tools, training and attention they needed to be successful? Is the process of hiring new salespeople so painful that you would rather hold on to these people than go look for new ones? All of the above and more?
Never show fear to animals, children or sales people — they can sense weakness and they will take advantage of it.
Let’s get rid of the fears first:
You have more power than you think. Remember “Jerry Maguire?” Jerry gets fired and tries to take all of his clients with him — and almost none go. Why? Sales people have a distorted picture of the power in the relationship they have with customers. Just like Jerry’s boss, all you have to do is pound the phones – you’ll preserve the accounts, take over the relationships and move on. If you don’t have relationships with your company’s key accounts, fix that. Regardless of how good the sales rep is, you’re the CEO and you need to know your company’s key account contacts personally.
Forget about fault. You cannot own the issues of success and failure with your sales person. If he is not hitting his production goals, you don’t “owe it to him” to give him one more chance.
“He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing.”
- Muad’Dib as quoted in Frank Herbert’s book, Dune
In the 90’s, geeks owned the world. The rise of the uber-nerd was embodied in the power given to all things tech. CIOs and CTOs were included in most high-level decisions and rightfully so- with the installation of enterprise management platforms like ERP, SCM and CRM systems, the point of constraint was with technology. In addition, the promised performance for reducing waste, managing Six-Sigma initiatives, just-in-time inventory models and so on all hinged upon IT people. They were absolutely the most powerful people at the decision-maker’s table.
Things have changed.
It’s now the time of the bean-counters. The finance people have all of the purchase power. To think otherwise is to deny the simple fact that the power to say “no” trumps the power to say “yes.” In the modern complex sale, “no” always wins over “yes” at the final hour of decision-making. The biggest, most powerful “no” out there today comes from the CFO.
An interesting point of reference: Boards of Directors hire 2 people who both report to the Board, the CEO and the CFO. Everyone else in the publicly traded companies reports to one of these two people. The CFO no longer typically reports to the CEO.
For this reason, I advocate starting all large account sales hunts with the strategy for landing the CFO. It does not matter if that is your first point of contact or your last, he or she is the only decision-maker when it comes to signing the deal who will matter.
Why are you holding on to them? Are you scared of their relationships with key clients? Do you feel guilty that you haven’t given them all of the tools, training and attention that they needed to be successful? Is the process of hiring new salespeople so painful you would rather hold on to these people than go look for new ones? All of the above and more?
Never show fear to animals, children or sales people- they can sense weakness and they will take advantage of it.
Let’s get rid of the fears first:
You have more power than you think – Remember “Jerry Maguire?” Jerry gets terminated and tries to take all of his clients with him- and almost none go. Why? Sales people and you have a distorted picture of the power in the relationship they have with customers. Just like Jerry’s boss, you pound the phones, you preserve the accounts, take over the relationships and move on. If you don’t know the key relationships with your company’s key accounts, fix that. Regardless of how good the sales rep is, you’re the CEO and you need to know your company’s key account contacts personally.
Forget about fault – You can not own the issues of success and failure with your sales person. Your fault, their fault, no one’s fault- bottom-line is that they are not hitting their production goals- and I don’t care what your wannabe-a-social-worker human resources person says, we don’t “owe it to them” to give them one more chance.
When I was a kid, my dad would take each of the kids for one week each summer on the road with him as he was doing his sales trips. My dad was a territory sales rep in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. We would ride with him, talk on the CB radio to find out where “smokies” were, (I have already dated myself in a rather sad way), keep track of his appointment book, pull samples for his meetings and so on. We’d get chocolate shakes for lunch and go see movies at the movie theaters in the little towns we’d stay in at night. More often than not, he’d take us in the appointment and get to watch him sell and work with customers. I learned an amazing amount. Like most things you learn when you are a kid, I didn’t have any appreciation for what I was learning until I was much older.
One of the things he taught me was that success in sales is 90% process and 10% magic. “If you work your process, you earn the right to do your magic.” I heard that a thousand times. Nutty thing to say then, now I understand he was brilliant. The point is even more valid when it comes to sales management. Sales management is about process. Process, when done correctly, is boring. The 90% of the time that a sales manager spends on process creates the opportunity for him or her to be magical the 10% when sales leadership is necessary.
I recently sent this email to the head of sales for a company with whom we did our Accelerator 1.0 program. He is a new “Shaman,” (a little whale hunting speak from my book “Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company” with Barbara Weaver Smith), and he has decided to change the roles of one of his people to that of a “scout.” A scout gathers information and is the first contact lead qualification and interest generation.
Here’s what I sent:
- “As you get started in your first Shaman role over your scout, consider the following:
1. Keep him on a short leash. He needs you to set daily goals on information (dossiers), and eventually people and calls. This isn’t over-management, it is just holding onto the bike while the kid gets used to riding without training wheels.
2. Feed him. You need to be in the media information flow around your key markets. Do a quick Google search every day, and send him an article or a new key word to add. Do something that keeps you connected to leading him in the work he is doing in the market.
3. Take the first hits. If he is going to make his first calls to prospects, make them with him on a conference call. Let him listen to you. He needs to get confidence in this new space.
4. Keep your foot on the gas. At this point, you need to change planning into action, so keep the intensity up of your expectations.
Nothing beats the real world for reminders about sales process challenges. During a recent seminar when I asked people to name members of the Buyer’s Table, a participant chimed in with, “The idiot who thinks he knows everything and for some reason, everyone in the client company listens to him.” Of course, when we push down on this type of person just a little bit, we realize that they are the smartest kid in the remedial class. The rest of the firm turns to the only light of information they have and trust . . . one of their own. As the smartest person the client knows on the topic in question, they are trusted implicitly and completely. For this reason, the one-eyed man in the land of the blind really is king, and we better know what to do about him. We can:
1. Eliminate the expert from consideration. This almost never works unless your champion has always suspected that the expert was not that knowledgeable. Be very careful. An expert enjoys protected class status, and the attempt to eliminate them by showing them up can have consequences. The expert is on site or in the firm, and has relationships both professional and personal. The “nobody picks on my sister but me” mentality can take over and you will be shut out.
2. Ignore the expert. Sometimes this is wisest. Until you know the lay of the land, simply treat the expert as another member of the buyer’s table.