Feel Like This?
Does this sound familiar?
You have a Top Sales Performer that angers everyone in the organization; always demanding results yesterday from your internal people. She is never accountable when something goes wrong with the customer. She is telling you, Mr. Business Owner, that without her your business is dead. Yet some of the business she brings in, when you really analyze it, is not profitable. You are afraid to fire her, yet she is making your whole organization unhealthy.
When you take a closer look, this situation is holding you back.
As a sales consultant here are two situations I have personally witnessed.
Situation 1: George was a top performer. He had several large accounts and he used them as leverage. He openly told me, “If I go the account goes”.
The internal team responded to his every whim within hours; yet he constantly complained about their performance. He spent so much money wining and dining clients that when you looked at the true profitability, he had dwindled it away. He eventually started his own business thinking his customers would follow him and his ego. In two years George was out of business and the clients he had threatened to take were still safely maintained by us.
Situation 2: Allen was a top performer because his nephew was the owner of our largest account.
The other accounts Allen had never paid on time and he never considered it part of his job to help collect the money. His accounts were in the 60-90 day range payment, yet he never failed to ask for his commission check. I kept telling him the Sale is not made till the Bill is paid. He eventually left the company and he took his nephew’s account with him.
However, when the sales manager added it all up, we were a lot more profitable after he left. Oddly enough, he also started his own business and then complained to me that his customers were not paying the bills.
Why do small businesses see this so often? I think there are several reasons.
Tell me if one of these is your situation.
- You hired someone with experience who could bring in business quickly.
- Although there is a culture within your company, it is never discussed, written or followed.
- There are no processes or systems in place. You know someone sells, but you don’t know how they sell.
- The Top Performer has been with you for years and has worked hard to achieve success and you feel a certain loyalty to them.
In my roles as sales coach I have read many articles that tell you to fire these prima-donnas. In principle I agree, but I know that is easier said than done.
Let’s not be too hasty. Perhaps you feel you have let the situation go on too long to turn the tide, but you have to try.
Here are four steps a sales manager or business owner can take before firing the ‘Big Dog’.
- Spend some time considering what your sales culture really is. If you are a small business owner, the culture is you. That is those core values that you feel are most important for your company. Write it, discuss it, and live it. Tell your staff, especially your “Big Dog”, when he/she is not living the culture.
- Benchmark your Top Performer. What do they do differently than the others that help them get the sale? See if the positive points can be duplicated by others.
- Spend time with your sales people developing and implementing the sales process. Including your sales team in the development process helps to make sure everyone knows the process and has commitment to the process.
- Stop paying commissions based solely on revenue and develop other Key Performance Indicators that will drive success not only for the individual but for the team.
Contact me to get your sale process started.
Please comment: What else would you do with these performers?
A recent article, I recommend, from the Harvard Business Review unlocks the secret that many top performers have known for some time. Although the title End of Solution Sales, infers an end of an era and a needed change in the sales approach, it’s truly simply an adjustment sales people have always faced and top performers have been able to identify and respond to.
It’s finding the right problem and offering the right solution, even when the client does not recognize it themselves. The article’s premise is that today’s buyer has done the research, identified their problem, researched the solution and has made 60% of the purchasing decision before they speak to a sales person; so when the prospect is that far along then they are simply looking for a bid from your company.
Top performers have the ability to recognize the true internal need for the client and help the client meet the needs of the future. He can find problems or conditions of the solution the client thought met their needs and help the client understand the true impact their solution may have on the company, preparing them with better fit solutions for problems the client did not previously recognize.
Top Performers (TP) are masters at putting Solutions Sales on Steroids. I have seen an average sales rep uncover a problem and not even respond, but go right into the company’s typical feature/benefit sales spiel that so many companies focus on in sales training. Traditionally we teach our sales reps about the product, its features and benefits and send them off into the wilderness to find their target. The difficulty here is that a representative may have followed the sales process and never get the contract, because they did not adapt themselves to the situation. A sales process, when structured solely on products, features and benefits or problem-solution, lock and key fit to products, leaves little room for the creativity necessary to be a TP.
As sales managers, we need to give our sales team the ability to be more creative and allow them to be adaptable to all situations. Good sales managers and top performers both recognize that the sales process is a road map and NOT a railroad track. A TP also knows enough about business and technology to be creative.
Give your sales team the ability to be more adaptable and more creative by having the group list all the possible and typical problems or issues that top business positions have. Understand each position and each level and their priorities first, rather than focus on what your solution does. Write these down.
Here are some examples of top concerns by position:
- Keeping as little inventory in stock, while
- Keeping product in stock and
- Keeping within budget and
- Making sure the boss is happy
- Cash flow, cash flow, cash flow
- Remaining compliant and out of trouble
- Keeping all costs down
- Making sure the boss is happy.
- Generating revenue
- Controlling costs
- Motivating employees
- Remaining compliant
- All of the above
The next step of the group is to develop effective questions related to the issues and to develop solutions for each one.
Getting the picture?
Don’t stop here.
Keep going; there are always other problems and solutions your team has not yet thought of. Keep the list to work on at every sales meeting and seek out new problems. Help your team forecast problems for your business prospect.
What’s happening in their market we can help them prepare for?
How is the market trending?
What legislation, technology, tax, etc. will impact your client?
What’s happening in the world around them?
Let the creative juices flow. By creating a demand for a problem (opportunity) that was not seen before and helping the client to recognize the need, the deal will often close itself.
Get your new Sales Process and Road Map started today.
Every sales course talks about the two important aspects, asking questions and listening intently. I find that teaching people to ask questions is easy, but teaching them how to listen effectively is more challenging. In putting this article together my esteemed co-writer, Christine Kerr and I wound up arguing about the questions again and not the listening.
Many times not listening stems from the fact that people are too anxious to sell, and have little concern about the customer’s needs. In other cases, some salespeople just think that they have more control when they are talking and not when listening. When in fact listening allows you more control over the situation. Despite the popular belief, the best sales people are the best listeners, not the best talkers.
Listening is truly an art. It can be learned and it takes practice. I thought I was a great listener until took a listening assessment I am quite good but I can be better.
How vital is listening to negotiating and closing deals?
Have you ever found yourself doing the following?
- You are wondering when this guy is ever going to stop talking, so you can tell him how wrong he is.
- You’re cell phone just beeped, and you are sitting there with ants in your pants and are just dying to see who it is?
- You feel that you are talking 80% of the time, and why isn’t this guy asking questions or participating.
- When the prospect answered how you stacked up to competition, you give a stock answer, and don’t know why he is asking.
- You interrupt your client to give an answer or solution for everything that your prospect has objections or concerns about.
- You try to close the deal by offering price discounts, and it fails.
- You are preparing your response mentally before the prospect has finished.
- You find yourself in a debate with your prospect, rather than a conversation.
- You are always first to break the silence.
And the absolute worst, the prospect buys and the next day they cancel the order.
These are all symptoms of sales situations, where not listening loses business.
Listening is purposeful; it requires discipline, energy, and a total focus on the customer. To listen effectively you cannot have an emotional involvement, because you will tend to hear what you want to hear. You can think faster than someone can speak so your mind has a tendency to wander while someone is speaking.
To practice effective listening try these tips:
- Encourage the prospect to speak by asking relevant questions. Then stop, breath, and focus on taking in every word.
- If you find yourself answering each question as it comes up, try asking at least two to three questions before responding with a solution. You may find the answer to the next questions help you more clearly understand the customer and keeps you from responding with an incorrect solution.
- Give your undivided attention to whoever is speaking. Turn off the cell phones.
One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues.
- Body language is the most effective form of communication. Nod occasionally or smile to let your customer know you are actively listening and remember they are listening to your body language.
- Make eye contact to let your prospect know it’s them you are paying attention to.
- Take notes. Taking notes forces you to pay attention to what’s being said, rather than focusing on how you’re going to answer and gives you a tool to help summarize your customer’s concerns.
- Let someone finish their thoughts and do not try to formulate answers before the person is finished speaking, never interrupt your customer in mid-flow. It’s distracting and frustrating for your customer.
- Summarize and confirm what your customer has told you using your notes and your own words and ask for clarification to make sure there is no misunderstanding.
You’ll find that top sales performers are effective listeners; they have taken the time to practice their listening skills. Good sales managers also practice their listening skills with their sales staff because they realize their sales people are also their customers.
Tell me your story. When did effective listening make or break your sale?
“My sales people are not motivated.”
“They are not prospecting enough.”
“They want everything handed to them.”
“They’re fine as long as I develop the lead for them.”
I have heard these complaints so many times. In a recent coaching session with a Sales Manager, the repeating issue arose once more.
Why is this a familiar theme?
It’s not just sales people and it’s not just about the money.
I searched the internet to study ideas. The blogs I read are all missing the point.
You first have to look inward as a sales leader. What are you doing to motivate?
As a Sales Manager, I feared demotivating my sales staff.
I noticed if I was negative, they were negative.
If I was positive and upbeat, they were positive and upbeat, seems simple.
*Remember, they are masters at reading and reacting to emotions and attitudes. And they watch and listen to you, the sales manager or business owner, more than anyone else.
Let’s face facts; sales can be a tremendously frustrating experience if there is no support or help.
Are you too worried about the numbers, and not about the people?
If you are managing too much by the numbers, you are managing but not leading.
People want leaders.
“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”
― Abraham Lincoln
So what can you do to Motivate and Not De-motivate sales people?
1. Make sure your goal is to help the sales people and not beat them with numbers.
2. Have a vision and attainable goals that the salespeople can buy into. Everybody loves to fight for a cause. Make sure that the salespeople understand the direction the company is going, but more importantly WHY and HOW. If they don’t believe in your vision, or see it as unattainable, then how can they sell for you with conviction?
3. If you set the goals, make sure the sales people develop the strategies with marketing and management. There is nothing worse than being dictated goals without strategies and actions to get there. Have a joint responsibility to reach the goal, but give them the responsibility of carrying out the strategies.
4. Make a fair compensation plan. Profitability of industries many times dictates the compensation plans. However, I see too many companies who want to pay strictly on commission. Most salespeople would take less money in commission, if they had a solid monetary base to work from. It will not demotivate them to have a base. They are people. What is demotivating is working for a couple of months, making new contacts, and having nothing in the bank or to bring home to show for it.
5. Having sales tools is important, but giving great support is more important. Too many companies spend an inordinate amount of time teaching their sales people all the technical stuff and not enough time on the real reasons to buy a product or a service. Have you ever had a sales person dazzle you with their technical knowledge and not sell a damn thing? Having too much technical information can be a detriment. The focus has to be on how this will help a prospect / customer.
6. Collaborate with the top performers; manage and coach the others. Top performers do not like to be managed. However, they do like collaboration and creative strategy. To them it is a game. The others need to be managed more. Get rid of the bottom feeders.
7. Communicating with salespeople as someone that can and wants to help and support is very motivating. What better way to motivate and support a salesperson than to have a contest in which the internal people, like customer service representatives and technicians, share in the winnings. Then they are all pulling together to make it happen.
8. Treat them like business people. Share valuable information like gross profit and sales trends. If they cannot be trusted with this information then they should not work for you. Give them account information like year- to- date sales and sales comparisons.
9. Know what motivates them other than money and help them get there. It can be family, new toys, time off, notoriety (being known), position in the company, learning, security, or having their back.
10. Make sure they know the critical steps in the sales process like: * Advancing the sale * Learning to ask the right questions * Preparing successful presentations * Negotiating a winning agreement *
11. Listen and probe with questions. Your salespeople are Your customers. Learn to listen effectively to your sales force and hear what is truly demotivating them.
Tune in next blog to discover tools for effective listening.
I could hear both the elation and the frustration in my son Ben, a young competent attorney in Phoenix, as he shared his story. Impressed with Ben’s credentials, a prestigious company had approached him to ask about his legal services. The company, now with a well-known large law firm, was curious about Ben’s abilities and his fees.
Let’s not be naïve; they were also talking with other law firms.
Ben’s frustration resulted from his attempts to gain the trust and confidence in getting the company to deal with his smaller firm when they are used to doing business with a larger firm.
“Put the Skunk on the Table”, I told him.
My suggestion, say,” Let’s be honest. Mr. Company Person you want a better price, but you are afraid to make a change. It’s not only price, it’s trust. So, other than price, what other issues are you encountering that you would like improved, or what problems have you had in your communication with your current firm?
Many people would not feel comfortable being so upfront, yet as salespeople there are times when we must.
As salespeople, there are times where we feel that the customer is not responding or our negotiations to complete the sale are not going anywhere. I have seen many people get that “deer fear” in their eyes, thinking they are going to lose the sale.
Is it a time to back off, or is it a time to be more direct and “Put the skunk on the Table”.
Has this ever happened to you?
You are trying to sell someone your product or service, and they agree with everything, and say they are going to buy, yet never do.
Or, they give you the “Maybe” or “let me think about it”.
You have gone through all the classical sales techniques. You have cited the problem, shown the benefit, tried some closes, and the customer says “Let me think about it”.
Do you walk out the door, do you ask if it’s all right to call in a week, or do you put the skunk on the table?
What do I mean by “Put the Skunk on the Table”?
Skunks seem to know their power. It’s not as if they’re beckoning us to get closer-they warn us to steer clear.
The skunk: the underlying problem or issue the client is not sharing with you, but is keeping him from buying.
At some point in the process, you must be very direct, steering clear only means the issue (the skunk) has control. In trying to be nice or to avoid confrontation, many buyers will not be honest with you. In some cases, the buyers are just insecure about the decision and are delaying. You have to get to the bottom line by asking more direct questions.
Many salespeople fear being too direct. They are afraid to lose the sale or are afraid they will offend someone. Instead they try to start back at the beginning, reselling and restating what has already been said. This only alienates the prospect more. It is better for the buyer and the seller to be more direct.
Here are some examples of direct questions to help pull out the underlying issue.
v What do you really have to think about?
v On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the best, where are you in your decision to buy our product?
v Tell me what you perceive the benefits and/or concerns to be.
v What exactly is stopping you from moving forward?
v What aspects, other than price, would make you comfortable in buying?
How do you face the skunk without getting sprayed?
You can always preface these remarks with comments like:
- I don’t mean to be rude, or
- I don’t want you to feel pressured, or
- I want to make sure that we are on the same track and that I am not wasting any more of your time.
- My biggest concern is that this is of benefit to you and your business, so I have to ask.
My whole point is that you and your prospect will feel a lot better once you put “The Skunk on the Table”.
Before you know it, you’ll love skunks too. Your comments are welcome, and if you want to discuss further, please do not hesitate to call or write me an e-mail.
No one is perfect, and growth is stunted by pride, so set your pride aside.
A company sales position requires more reflection and focus on self-improvement than any other position. The market changes constantly and so must sales people, however, like most people, we are all apprehensive towards change, especially when we have been successful in the past.
We try to believe that what created success today, will create success tomorrow. What got you to the top before may not get you there in the future. Besides I don’t like to think of it as change; it’s about improving. I was just reading John C. Maxwell’s Self Improvement 101 and it reminded me that it’s not about change; it’s a way to improve.
Plan 1: Focus on self-development and not self-fulfillment. Reaching your sales goal is self-fulfilling. Has it really improved your sales skills? Have you reached your sales potential, if not, what will you do to get there?
Plan 2: Reach your potential by having the mindset of a continual learner. This is one of the first characteristics I look for when hiring a sales person. What books have you read about your profession? What seminars or workshops have you attended? No matter how many years you have sold you can always learn something new.
Plan 3: Take time to read, listen or reflect. Self-Improvement must be planned for; the same way you develop a business plan. Make an appointment with yourself every day or every week to take time to read about your profession, listen to webinars, or reflect on what good and bad things happened during the week, and what can be improved. Bullet
- point your weekly activities, and then bullet point lessons learned. If you learned nothing, you’re doing something wrong.
A great way to improve yourself is to teach your peers something you’re learning. Conversely you can learn a lot from your peers, even if you do not think they are as proficient as you. I will never forget my younger brother, a high school All-American wrestler, asking for my advice about wrestling. He not only asked me, he asked everyone. He could learn something from anyone, younger or older.
Do you have a mentor or coach that can help you improve?
Nobody likes to be criticized, and many of us love sales, because we like to be our own boss. However, we all need some coaching and/or mentoring. All the great golfers have coaches because they cannot see everything themselves.
Aren’t we the same?
Harvey McKay, author of How to Swim with the Sharks and owner of a $100M printing business stated that he had seven different business coaches.
Call me today to see how I can help you improve your sales.