Archive for category Sales
…and avoiding getting the door shut in your face
We know it’s tough getting appointments. It’s even tougher getting people to answer the phone; and then once you do get that appointment or that phone call you run up against a stone wall made up completely of attitudes of people who do not want to be sold. People are not only terrified of sales pitches, they out and out hate them. If a sales person comes anywhere near trying to get someone to buy something the person he’s talking to will turn off his mental hearing aid in a snap!
This is not only happening in our business, it is happening everywhere. I just read a book called the End of Advertising: Why it had to die and the creative resurrection to come by Andrew Essex, in which the author, who is in advertising, by the way, talks about the death of advertising as we know it. He points out that with all the ways of watching our favorite television programs fewer and fewer people are sticking around for the commercials. He points out that even those Super Bowl commercials aren’t cutting it any longer. Did you know there was absolutely no uptick in sales from the advertisers in the last two Super Bowls? Those companies who advertised, spending a combined $30 million on one big game each year got literally nothing for their advertising dollars. Actually,the only company that made out was Budweiser because after winning Super Bowl Fifty, Peyton Manning said that he was going to drink a “whole lot of Budweiser.” And he meant it! He wasn’t even getting paid to say it, he just planned to drink a lot of beer,
So, if the big boys are facing diminishing returns from conventional sales and advertising, what are those of us carrying bags for our companies supposed to do? First of all, don’t give up because there is hope, there is always hope and secondly maybe things are not as bad as they seem because at least in our world people are still using what we sell. The key is to sell something they need rather than to try to get them to want what we sell.
In other words, focus on exactly what potential customers need. A good sales person will be adept at finding out what they want, exactly, A great company will provide it. For those of you in the PCB industry, here are some of the things that our customers need at this time. And, if you and your company can provide these things, they will take your phone calls. They will take you up on your request for a meeting and yes, they will notice and read and heed your ads.
Okay, let’s get to it. Here are some of the most important needs your customers have:
- To get the obvious out of the way they of course need high Quality PCBs on time all the time.
- They need worry-free service from their PCB vendors.
Now lets’ get to the good stuff:
- They need PCB expertise. It’s not like it was years ago when our customers (OEMs) were the ones who were the PCB experts and they could tell us what they needed. No, not at all, those days are gone and those experts are gone so most of the people we are dealing with don’t have a working knowledge of our products and technology. That’s something they need and it’s something we must provide if we want to sell them PCB’s. We need to invite them into our facilities and show them how a board is built.
- They also need our expertise. They have to know they can count on us to provide them with the technical knowledge in PCBs they are going to need to build their products both today and in the future. We can provide this to them with manuals, DFM guides, webinars and seminars and lunch and learns.
- They need partners. This is especially true of those companies who are building “products of the future” such as rocket ships and satellites. These companies are sometimes working with technologies that are immature at best and not even invented yet at worst and they need partners to help them get there. Partners, who are willing to share in their mission with time and energy and yes, passion.
- And finally, they need to work with companies they can trust, companies who are going to keep their information secret, companies who they will feel comfortable sharing their vision for the future without fear of exposure to the rest of the market until the time is right.
Selling printed circuit boards is no longer what it once was. It now requires a totally new level of cooperation, dedication, flexibility, passion and trust. The old sales model is broken, the new sales model is the only way we are going to succeed in this new world order. We have to give our customers what they need…not what we want to try to get them to want. It’s only common sense.
So as that voice, make sure you get it right!
One of the greatest responsibilities we have as sales people is being the voice of the customer. This means that we must strive to always relay the customer’s message truthfully and most importantly accurately, because, very often the future of the relationship between your company and their customer is in your hands.
This means that you are the one person in the company who has the be the customer expert. It is your duty to learn everything about your customers and make sure that you convey that information accurately to the rest of your organization. Be careful to speak without bias so that you never put your “spin” on what the customer is thinking, or doing, for your own self-serving reasons.
Here are nine things to keep in mind when acting as the relationship manager between your company and the customer.
- Knowledge: Know everything you can about your customers, including the business they are in, the amount of your kind of products they buy, what their hot buttons are, and what their needs are both today and in the future.
- How to win the business: Learn what it takes to win their business. Find out who they are dealing with, who your competition is, and why that competition is successful. Learn what your customer thinks it takes to be a great supplier and then pass this on to your company.
- Be the news reporter: Keep your company up to date on any changes in the status of your customers all the times. Are they in trouble financially? Are they buying someone? Are they going to be introducing a new product? Are they going to be sold.? All this information is vital to the customer/ company relationship and it is up to you as the sales person to make sure your company knows everything and I mean everything.
- Mediator: When problems occur, it is up to the sales person to help solve those problems. This is when she really earns her money and this is when accuracy in communications is especially important. This is particularly true when things heat up, when the relationship hits the skids. The sales person is the one who must cool things down. She is the one who must do everything possible to sustain the relationship at all costs. She is the one who makes sure that the company does not win the battle but in the end, lose the war.
- Bearer of bad news: As they said in the Godfather, management needs to hear the bad news immediately! No matter how painful it is to hear, bad news should be communicated right away.
- Be an Armadillo: Yes, a true sales person must have skin as tough as an armadillo because there are times, especially hard times, when the company is going to want to shoot the messenger because they are so angry and frustrated about the news they are hearing. This means the sales person has to hang tough. He should be able to relay the customer’s negative message with clarity and without exaggeration. He cannot let his own feelings get in the way of conveying the customer’s sometimes insulting message, in a way that will get the point across but at the same time will not pour gasoline on the fire. This is a tough, but important one.
- Provide a live butt to kick: When the customer is particularly irate it is up to the sales person to go directly to that customer an offer himself up as the sacrificial lamb, to provide that fresh live butt for the customer to have the satisfaction of kicking. You’d be surprised at how often this works and how often it serves to diffuse the situation. A great sales person will show up and provide the customers the opportunity to vent. Believe it or not, the sales people who do this are the most respected in the business on their industry.
- Accurate and complete conveyer of all news: Sales people should make sure they know all the facts in any critical situation. They need to be able to correctly report any problems a customer is having with their company. If it is a technical problem they need to know all facets of the problem so they can convey it accurately to the people at their own company. They need to be able to anticipate the questions that their engineers and Quality people will ask to be able to develop the right solution to the problem as quickly as possible.
- Number one customer advocate: Always, the sales person has to put the customer first; and she has to make sure that everyone at the company does the same.
And finally, there is one more, under promise and over deliver, and that one is to never over promise and under deliver something that is often the case when it comes to sales people. Look, we know that a good sales person must be optimistic, but try to keep your rosy outlook in check. You are not helping your company out if you over forecast or if you let them know that everything is all good with that large customer, when it is not. No one likes surprises, especially negative ones, so no matter how much you would love to forecast that huge million-dollar order for this year. Make sure it’s in the bag before you do. It’s only common sense.
Getting your direct sales people to act as a team
For the most part sales people are lone wolves. One of the reasons they choose to be sales people is the independence, they like to run their own race. I have found that the best sales people are truly the loners. Think of Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glenn Ross. While all the other sales people were drinking together and figuring out how to screw the company to make their numbers, old Ricky just quietly went his own way always making those numbers and claiming his Cadillacs.
No matter how much your sales people prefer working on their own, it is not good for the overall company. We should find some ways to get everyone to work together. We are still sales managers and we still manage sales teams. Not Individuals. Here then are some ideas to get your sales team working together, cooperating, and helping one another so that they all make their numbers and yes, in the end, the company prospers.
Here are ten tips to help you unite your sales individuals into a strong industry leading sales force: (Please note these tips are designed for a sales force made up of direct sales people who reside in their individual territories)
- Hold weekly sales meeting. These meetings should be about an hour long and should have a strong and clear agenda covering not only what is happening at the company but also what is happening in each territory. This will give your sales team a chance to talk to one another, talk about their successes and challenges and exchange ideas for winning more business. This is also a great time for them to communicate with your operations and quality people and find out what is going on in the shop.
- Require weekly written comprehensive sales reports: These reports should be distributed to each member of the management team, inside sales; and, each sales person so everyone can see what each of them is doing. It will also provide everyone with an overview of what is happening with key customers
- Develop and keep an approved vendor list: This is a list of the multi-location customer you are approved to work with. Make sure that each sales person has access to it. If the company is approved at Raytheon in Andover then everyone on the sales team needs to know this and use it to win business at their own local Raytheon location.
- Share good tools: If a sales person finds a sales tool, albeit CRM or data base or research tool that they find useful it should be required that they share it with the rest of the sales team.
- Share good ideas: If a sales person has found an effective way to penetrate a customer, then they should be required to share that with the rest of the sales team.
- Sales is not a zero-sum game: Always be reminding the sales team that sales is not a zero-sum game. Everyone can win and everyone should be working as hard as possible to help everyone on the team win. The better the entire sales team does the better it will be for everyone.
- Discourage sales xenophobia: Don’t allow your sales team to hold their cards too closely, as stated earlier this is a team sport and sharing is a key to your team’s success. Yes, there is going to be some competition and yes, the sales people are going to have to fight to get their customers in line to make delivery dates when the shop is full. But you, as sales manager must demonstrate that at all times the company, and the overall health of the company comes first.
- Hold salesperson-only phone meetings: Encourage your sales team to hold phone meetings one their own. Invite them to use the company conference calls to have team meetings without you. This way they can share leads and solutions to problems they are having. This will go a long way in creating good team spirit.
- Take one for the team: Show them that sometimes they are going to have to take one for the team. Because they are direct sales people and thus employees of the company, their base salary is the compensation for doing work for the company. This means that things like covering house accounts and doing something to support a fellow sales person are part of their job and the reason they get a base salary.
- Create team incentives. Of course, each sales person has is or her own individual compensation plan but create some incentives that are based on the entire team making a certain goal. Nothing will create team spirit more than this.
And finally, one more, always under promise and over deliver, have an annual sales meeting at the company and I urge at the company. Don’t spend money going somewhere cool because that is a complete waste of money and a distraction as well. Once a year bring all the sales people in for a sales meeting. It will give them the chance to meet and talk with one another. To visit with the people in the plant, to take plant tours and check out the new equipment and improvements and to get briefed in new capabilities and technologies. It will also give the sales team and the management team the chance to review the company strategy and plan for the coming year. It will be beneficial and it will go a long way towards creating a strong bond between the sales people and the management team as well. Bring everyone together at least once a year and it will money the best money you spend all year. It’s only common sense.
Man, how many times I am going to have to say this? For those of you loyal readers who have been checking out this column for years I apologize in advance and won’t blame you if you want to sit this one out because you’ve read it all before right here and yes too many times. But I can’t help myself; every time I think that people have gotten the message I am proven wrong. Every time I think the times they are a changing I am disappointed, discouraged and then finally angry. Angry because some people still are not getting. So here we go…and I wish I could promise you that I am going to say this one last time, but I somehow doubt it. Instead all I can promise is one more time for now. Yes you need sales people! The biggest problem that every board shop I talk to has is lack of sales, not enough sales, not enough customers. Not enough new business, not enough backlog, not enough new customers. But then when I ask them how they are selling they say things like, “Oh word of mouth.” Or “People know who we are.” Or this beauty, “We’ve had the same customers for years they are not going to leave us.”
When I ask them about sales people they will tell me that they have had some in the past but they just didn’t work out. Or they don’t believe in sales people. Or my personal favorite as soon as they buy a drill or a router or a press they will hire some sales people. And then I sit there scratching my head wondering how that is going to work?
Let me see. You don’t have enough business so instead on spending some money on sales people you are going to buy a piece of equipment for the same amount of money of two or maybe even three good sales people for a year. Then I have to wonder, what are you going to do with the equipment? You don’t have enough business now but you are going to spend from a quarter to a half to three quarters of a million dollars for a piece of equipment that is going to sit idle because…can we say it all together you don’t have enough business!
Now you guys who sell equipment don’t get your knickers in a knot I am a great believer in investing in your company by buying new equipment. But you have to admit it would be nice if your customers had the right amount of business to use on that new equipment. Maybe your customer base would be up around twelve hundred like it was in the good old days instead of a little over two hundred a number that is so small that some of you are leaving and going to China and the rest of Asia like those proverbial rats of that sinking ship.
Look guys it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, and now that I think of it some of you are probably rocket scientist to figure this out. If you don’t have enough sales you have to hire some sales people…or at least one to get the ball rolling. And I mean a real sales professional a man or woman who has a proven success story a sales professional who is going to be able to get you some business. And frankly a sales professional you are going to have to pay like a professional. Don’t try to skimp, don’t try to convince them to work on commission only for a while until they get some business and then you’ll give them a salary….really?really? That is just plain stupid. Would you ask that of a production manager? Would you ask that of an engineer? Would you ask that of well of yourself? Then why the heck do you think a sales person would be willing to take that deal? It just doesn’t make any sense.
So now listen to me and listen very closely because if you do and you heed my advice I won’t have to write this one more time, maybe this even will be the last time. Ready? Okay hear I go, here are my pearls of wisdom:
You don’t have enough business. I to get more business you need to have sales people, feet on the street, people calling companies and getting them to buy your products. And the good ones costs money. They will not work for minimum wage, they will not work for commissions only, and they will not work at a salary for six months with the promise of it being cut in half in six months. No they are professionals, they need to be treated as professionals, they need to be paid as professionals and they need to be respected as professionals. And guess what if you hire a good professional sales person you will get some business… and yes that’s only common sense
I once worked with a company president who hired a salesperson in a new territory on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and fired him before the Fourth of July weekend. Befuddled, I asked him why.
He told me, “Look, the guy had not brought in a single order.” I asked if he had brought in any quotes, and he said, “Sure, he brought in all kinds of quotes but we didn’t win any of them. So what did you expect me to do?”
Guess what, folks? Four or five weeks is not enough time to try out a new salesperson. In fact, six months is nowhere near enough time to try out a new salesperson. It takes much longer than that for the salesperson to just get around his territory and introduce himself to your existing customers, and your company to all of his customers and contacts.
As sales expert David Brock says in his excellent book The Sales Manager Survival Guide,
- Recently I heard a great speaker say that from their first day on the job to the time they leave, the average salesperson’s tenure is less than 2 years.
- The average tenure of a sales manager is 19 months.
- 47% of companies say it takes 10 or more months for new salespeople to become fully productive.
- 67% say 7 or more months.
58% of all sales reps make quota.
Taken together, these figures present a frightening view of selling and of the cost of sales. Basically, we have to make our money from a salesperson in a little more than a year. That is, to get a good return on our investment in hiring and on boarding someone who takes 7-10 months to become fully productive, but who will leave within the next 14 months: we have to have them produce at least two years’ worth of business in those 14 months.
Obviously this is a serious problem that causes severe challenges, not only for our companies but also for our customers who have to train new salespeople to know what they need in a very short time. In fact, there is seldom enough time for the salesperson to earn the customers’ trust!
It gets even worse when we consider our industry, where we are selling a technical high-end customized product, since the above-quoted stats were for people selling ready-made products.
Then we have a situation where the salesperson has to come to his customers every two years with the next greatest solution, leaving those customers wondering what happened to last year’s greatest solution.
So the answer lies in patience. You must have patience to take the time to find and hire the right salesperson. Then, you must have the right amount of time to train that salesperson properly, making certain that he has the proper understanding of your products, your customers and your market, and how they all fit together.
It boils down to this: The first year is for learning and acclimating, and the second year is for really getting going. I advise most of my clients that a good salesperson should hit his desired annual run rate in sales by the end of the 24th month. And that’s the run rate, meaning that by the 24th month the salesperson will have reached the monthly sales numbers that when multiplied by 12 will equal what he should be booking annually. And then from there, his numbers should start growing at an industry-based logical rate. Then and only then will you get a good return on your investment.
Sure, there will be exceptions to these rules. You’ll find some hotshot who can deliver that huge account you have been trying to land, or the lucky guy who is in the right place at the right time. Yes, that can happen, but I warn you it rarely happens. Be very wary of the salesperson who brags that he will put you into some key accounts right away because those buyers love him and will follow him wherever he goes.
Really? Companies seldom, if ever, follow one salesperson. They do not jump from one vendor to another because a salesperson they like has jumped from one company to another. At best, this salesperson will get you some meetings, some introductions and even some quoting opportunities, but you will have to win the business on your own.
With most customers, especially the Tier One companies, you are still going to have to go through the entire gamut of surveys, qualification orders and customer visits, and that will still take a long time. Let’s face it: There are very few shortcuts in sales anymore.
So spend the time, find the right salesperson, hire him, train him, work with him and then have the patience to give the right amount of time to nurture his customer base and grow his territory. It’s only common sense.
Last week we spent a day with a sales manager, so this week it is only appropriate that we spend that same day with a sales person. This will be a sales person who has a territory away from the company, so she is operating out of fully equipped home office where she has everything she needs to conduct her business. Her required reporting is a weekly status report of her activities during the week as well as her plan for the following week. She annually develops account plans for her key customers as well as an account by account, month by month forecast that is actually measured on a daily basis by the sales manager so that by the end of the day she knows exactly where she stands.
For a sales person to know critical numbers is a key ingredient to success. I don’t understand companies whose sales people not only are not responsible for their own territory forecasts, but also have no idea what the company’s overall forecast is. How can you successfully play any game without knowing what the score is? How can any sales person or company for that matter, operate without some very public (intracompany, anyway) goals for the year?
The sales person should also have some action goals made up of the required number of live sales calls they are expected to make during the week. The key word being “live”.
So then, here is how a successful sales person should be spending his day:
- Lead generation: A good sales person is always be acquiring new customers. He should develop an ideal customer profile and use that when deciding which companies in his territory to go after. He should use a good sales tool like ACT! or SALEFORCE.com to track his lead generation efforts. I that is not available there is nothing wrong with at least using an Excel spreadsheet. The important thing is to keep track of his progress.
- Planning for the next three weeks: Yes, I hear you crying about how hard it is to make appointments, but sorry, it is part of the job, it comes with the territory, as they say. So, figure it out. Get creative. There are literally scores of books out there on making cold calls, leaving effective phone messages and other ways to get to potential customers, buy some and read them. If you have a smart sales manager he will be happy to reimburse for any sales book you buy.
- Strategy for winning new accounts: Once you’ve sunk your teeth into an account don’t let go. Develop and implement a strategy for winning that account.
- Relationship management for current accounts: In terms of current accounts, the sales person is the relationship manager. She is the one who is in front of that customer, the face of the company to that customers. She has to make sure that everything is okay at all times and communicate back to her own company when things need attention. She should know more about that account than people who work there. She should know the type of products they buy, when they buy them and what they are going to be buying in the future. It is her responsibility to be an expert on her key accounts.
- Territory marketing and social media: Although the company probably has a marketing plan a sales person should have one for his territory as well. He should develop a value-added newsletter for his customers and potential customers and send it out on a regular a basis. He should find the right local technical publications and convince his company to invest in advertising or at the very least submit content to those publications. He should be involved in local organizations such as SMTA and he should go to all local functions related to his industry. He should also be active on social media, from Linkedin to Twitter to Instagram.
- Daily reporting for the weekly report: The very worst question I hear from sales people is, “Do you want me out there in front of customers or do you want me to spend my time writing reports?” My answer to that is,” I want both, you are a well-paid sales professional you can do both, sales is not a forty-hour a week gig, and by the way ask me that one more time and you’re fired!” Work on your written report every day and it will be done on time, no big deal.
- Communicating with the sales manager: Communicate with your sales manager on a regular basis. Make your calls brief, concise and to the point. Tell her what you are up to and what she needs to hear. Ask her for whatever it is you need and move on. Be professional, count on her to take care of your needs but remember she is not the complaint department
- Communicating with the company: The same thing goes here. If you have to talk to someone in the company. Be brief and concise. Tell whoever you have called what you need and move on. Do not badger, hound or nag no matter what the problem is it will only get worse if you badger. Always be professional.
We should remember that sales is a profession, it’s a career not a job and those sales people who treat it as such and invest the right amount of time and effort into that career will always succeed.
It’s only common sense.
Yes, sales managers have to visit customers. In fact General Managers and Presidents and Quality Managers and yes, even owners need to visit customers whenever they get the opportunity. Why are we happy to just sit back and have our sales people do customer translations for us? Why are we happy or often unhappy with the information that our sales people bring back from our customers? Why are we okay with settling for communicating through our sales people?
Now don’t get me wrong sales people are very important, they are the face of your company, the front line if you will and yes it is vital that they act as the messenger between the customer and the management team. But that is not enough.
It’s not that the sales people don’t tell the truth about their customers because I believe that 99.9% of the time they do represent the customer in a clear and honest light. But often when their honest message is not to our liking we tend to shoot them they are after all the proverbial messenger. We tend to want to blame the sales person if she tells us that her customer is not happy or if she has to deliver some bad news from the customer. And by the way the biggest problem is that if the sales person is the only one to visit and talk to her customers they become exactly that, her customers. But as we all know they are not her customers or his customers, they are our customers and it is our duty as managers to have a good face to face relationship with our customers.
It is just too easy for a General Manager to rant about how unreasonable a customer is being for complaining that the boards got there a day late. It is just too easy for a Quality Manager to berate a sales person telling them that if they could sell they could get their customer to buy these perfectly usable boards even if they don’t exactly look great. It is just too easy for a company President to push his sales people into telling the customer he is going to raise the price even if the sales person tries to tell him that he will lose the business at this new price. It is just too easy for all of these “non-sales” people to live in a vacuum of customer ignorance and just push the sales people to get things done that well just are impossible to do.
But the most important reason for company leaders to get out and visit customers is to get to know them on a personal and first name basis. I love it when I talk to a company owner who has just come from visiting a customer for the first time; I am always amused to hear him suddenly become such a stalwart customer advocate. He comes away from that meeting enlightened and with a much better understanding of what customer is like, and what her specific needs are He goes back to the rest of his management team and uses his authority (authority that the front line sales people don’t have by the way) to make sure that the customer gets treated right, gets treated the way she needs to be treated.
The same applies to a GM or a Quality Manager for example. After even just one customers visit, the customers goes from being a hypothetical to a real life being. They learn what the customer actually needs and most importantly why he needs it that way. Once they have a better understanding of one another the relationship thickens and broadens and a long-term customer relationship is established.
All it takes is a little effort, a little time and a little patience to make sure you as managers develop a good understanding of your customers to the point of establishing a customer-vendor partner that will last a lifetime.
So Mr. President, Mr. GM, Mr. QA manager get out there. Hop in the car with your sales people and head out to your largest customer this afternoon and ask them what they need from you company and from you specifically. You’ll be amazed how that simple little act will improve everything between you and your customers.
And you know what? You’ll also have more respect for your sales people and the kind of issues they face out there on a regular basis. You get to know first-hand what your customers really think about your company, the good and the bad and yes the ugly. Remember what Bill Gates said, “You can learn a lot more from an unhappy customer than you can from a happy one.”
By visiting a customer you will also show him that you care about him. That you wanted to come in and meet her. That you took time out of your busy day to come to his office, sit down with him and ask him how you can help him. That is a very big deal. You’ll also be showing your sales person that you support her, that you respect him and that in the future you will have a better understanding of the support he needs from you and from the company, and that’s a good thing. It’s only common sense.