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No, I’m not crazy or obsessive, this is really the time you should start preparing for next year. September is just around the corner and September is when you should start planning for the following year. It’s time for you to get your sales team aligned and working on their forecast for 2018
Look, I know many of you out there don’t do this, but you should. I have worked with countless companies whose sales people have not made a forecast, or worse yet, the company has not made one. Or even worse than that, upper management has developed a forecast but not shared it with the rest of the organization, especially the sales people. Think about this, just for minute. It’s senseless. It’s as senseless as playing a baseball or basketball game without using a scoreboard. It’s as senseless as hoping to get somewhere but not knowing where it is you are supposed to go. It’s a senseless as…oh, never mind, you get the point. You need a forecast to plan where you are going to be in 2018. You not only need it for your sales effort, but you need it so that the rest of the organization can plan their resources for the following year as well.
So once again, and I know I’ve done this before, but too bad, I am going to keep doing it year after year until everybody I know does it.
Whether you are a VP of Sales, a Director of Sales or a Sales Manager, here is what you and your sales force must do to prepare for next year.
Account plans: everything begins with account plans:
- Create account plans for your top customers. Following the eighty-twenty rule develop an account plan for each of your top accounts. These account plans will include information such as:
- The customer’s technology
- How much of your type of business do they buy a year?
- How much of that business do you currently get?
- What do you have to do get more of their business?
- You don’t have to create account plans for all your accounts, just the top ones and the ones with the greatest potential. You should also include any what I call “investment accounts”, which are start-ups with great promise. I like to keep it at no more than ten accounts per sales person. But don’t forget the house accounts as well. There are many reasons for producing these account plans:
- It makes the sales person re-evaluate that account and update it based on what has happened in the past year.
- It educates the rest of the team on how that account is doing if it’s a legacy account and introduces them to the account if it’s a new one.
- And finally, it gets everyone’s sign in to either work with that account or not. This is especially helpful for new accounts. The old saying goes that you sell a customer twice and the second time is when you sell your own company on taking on that account. This is what you are doing now. One time, so that everyone on the team agrees that this will be a target account they are willing to work with.
- The account plan will also contain the month-by month forecast each account. This is key, because from this account forecast, the sales person will derive her complete annual forecast.
The forecast: The Key to success, heck the key to everything
If you are serious about running any successful business you must have a forecast. You must know how much business you are going to win next year. Operations needs to know not only what customers they are going to be dealing with? What technology they are going to have to be prepared to produce? What equipment they are going to need, and how many people they are going to need to build the enough products to meet that sales forecast.
To develop a successful forecast, you should do four things:
- Know what you did this year per customer
- Know if each customer is on an upward trend, and downward trend or staying the same.
- You should know timing of when the orders will be placed. This is critical
- And consolidate all your smaller accounts, the ones that do not have account plans into a category called miscellaneous, which can be forecasted as a single entity.
Once you know these facts you will be able to develop an accurate forecast. A forecast that will serve you well to manage your business in the following twelve months.
The sales manager should work with each sales person helping him to develop his own territory forecast. Then, the sales manager must consolidate everyone’s forecast into the company’s complete annual forecast, which he then turns over to the rest of the management team to make sure they have everything they need to do their planning.
Each company is a little different, so that the way you develop your account plans and forecast might vary a little bit. But if you follow these basic guidelines you will have a great set of account plans, an accurate forecast and a team with common goals on how to make 2018 a success, it’s only common sense.
Walk with the customer. Care about him. Make sure that you know what she needs and give it to her. Make sure that he knows that you care about what will make his life easier and provide it.
Look the hard sell is dead, if it ever was alive in the first place. Now we have to work to gain the customer’s trust. We have to work at making the customer comfortable with us personally, not just our products, but the way we deliver our products, the way we conform our products to the customer’s specific needs.
You have to give the customer what he wants not what you want to give him. Let me ask you, does it make sense to sell pork chops in a synagogue? Does it make sense to sell guns in a mental institution? Does it make sense to sell airplane tickets to a person who is agoraphobic? No of course not, what nonsense to even think of these things. Then why let me ask you, would you want to sell high technology HDI Microvia boards to a garage door opener manufacturer? Or sell single sided boards to a super computer company? That doesn’t make a no sense either does it? But we still do it all the time. Why is that?
I think it’s because we want to see some activity, we are sometimes so desperate for business that we’ll try anything. We just want to do something and so we substitute activity for accomplishment. We feel mistakenly that if we do something, anything, then something will happen. But it won’t, in our hearts we know that it won’t that we are really just wasting time, time that could have been spent more productively selling something that will work, something that we can sell and that the right customers will want.
Ah, that’s the big secret isn’t it? Yes let’s figure out what we do best, what we can do better than anyone else; and then find the customers who want to buy that thing. It is far better to do your homework and target the right companies that could be customers than to just go out there and with your head down fire in any direction that might hit a target.
No, the first thing you have to do is figure out what the target is and then and only then can you hit it.
If you are not having any luck selling to the market you’re selling to then change markets, find the right market for you and sell to that one.
If you’re ads and letters and solicitations are not getting you anywhere, change them. Don’t blame the customers and say that they are stupid and just don’t get it. Change your message so that it will appeal to the right customers.
Look in many cases customers are not logical. In many instances they do no care that you have the best product, the best delivery or the best quality, or the best value. Often what they really care about is what people around them are thinking. In many cases they are surrounded by pressures that have nothing to do with your product and how you present it.
He could be absorbed with office politics. His boss could like one of your competitors and your guy is not willing to go up against him. There could be some internal issues that have nothing to do with you. It could be as simple as location where they simply do not want to buy anything from the east coast or the west coast or wherever you are located. It could be a hundred little things and your job as a sales person is to find out what the obstacles are and figure out if you can overcome them. And you know, sometimes you can’t and that’s all there is to it. But if you can then figure out what that customer needs to change his mind and provide it.
It always bothers me that we try so hard at times to complicate this process. It should not be difficult to figure out. The customer knows what he needs and knows what he wants from you. If you cannot provide her that, then any kinds of sales pitch you try to use will not work.
One of the things I recommend to my clients is that they train their sales people to learn how to listen. The old cliché that you learn more by listening than by talking is solidly true. No matter how great a product you think you have it is worthless to the customer if it does not solve his problem, meet his challenges or make him better by buying it.
Once again this all boils down to just one thing and that is caring about your customer. Caring so much that you put her needs ahead of your need to tell about and sell your product. That’s what’s important. When you walk in to your customer’s office be prepared, ask the right questions and then offer a suitable solution. If you do that, you will make the sale and you will be successful in the long run. The better you listen, the more you will understand what your customer needs and the better your chances are of giving it to him. It’s only common sense
To succeed in business today especially a custom business where you’re making products based on not your designs but the customers’ designs you have to be flexible. You have to listen to what your customers want today and what they are going to need tomorrow and customize your offerings to meet those needs.
This concept is pretty straight forward you are in the business of providing your customers with the products they need, with the products that they have designed so that they can produce their end products. It’s not rocket science…er well in some cases it is when you consider our business. So its Important we don’t niche ourselves out of the market.
Winning new customers is a long, time consuming and expensive process. You have to invest lietrally thousands of dollars on every new customer you attain. So once you have that customer you have to do everything to nurture your relationship with him, you have to do everything in your power to keep that customer. The better you are at this the better your company will do. The more long lasting customer relationships you have the longer you will successfully stay in business.
So then why would you not grow with your customers? Why would you not do everything in your power to provide these good hopefully customers for life with everything they need to stay your customers for life?
And once again we get back to understanding what your customers’ needs are today and what they are going to be in the future and then adapting your company’s offerings accordingly.
This means asking them to share their technology road map with you. This means asking them to share their future plans for their future products with you. This means asking them what they are going to be looking for from you as a supplier in terms of Quality, Technology and other special capabilities in the future. If you are willing to do this and if with great honesty, sincerity and credibility you can express to your customers that you are in fact willing to do this, they will be happy to work with you helping you to set up your company to work with their company in the future.
This means that if whatever direction they are heading in you will be there for them
If in the future they are going to need boards with very fine lines you are going to be there for them.
If in the future they are going to need flex and rigid flex boards you are going to be there for them.
If in the future they are going to need boards with CTE materials you will be there for them
And if they are going to need something that is impossible for you to provide say for example large volume orders at the best value possible you, as their PCB expert provider will find a source for them and if you have a been a true partner they will want you to handle that source. Since you’re selling service, credibility and trust and solutions there is nothing wrong in fact there is everything right in your providing your customers with all the solutions they need even if you have to sub out the ones you do not directly provide yourself.
If you can do all of these things. If you can offer your very good customer partners on complete one source solution you will succeed, you will have customer for life and you will become your industry’s “go to” supplier for all of their PCB needs.
And here’s an added bonus, just a little secret here for you to consider; no one is doing this at this time. We are all so niched out that we are limiting ourselves in terms of what we can provide or should I say allow ourselves to provide to our customers. There are many cases right now where the customers particularly the high end customers are looking for some to handle all of their PCB needs. They just want someone they can rely on to handle our product for them. Now I warn you these high end customers and the current world game changers to they are very demanding and their needs hard to keep up with. In some cases their board requirements can be beyond what most board shops can handle but I don’t look at this as a stopper but rather an opportunity for a good open minded board provider to instill itself as their board supplier, to act as their true partner into the future and with great patience, deliberation and endurance find a way to meet their needs and help them to create the products that are yes in fact actually putting a dent in the universe.
Those PCB companies who are willing to do that are the companies who are going to be around for a while joining these companies of the future in that future. Its only common sense
So often we only talk about the obvious tools and tactics we need to be a successful sales person, so much so, that we overlook some of the smaller details that could help us be successful, those that could give us an edge over our competition. They say that the devil is in the details and in sales like in every other career this is true.
Here then, are a few of those “details” that will help you be a better, more effective, and yes, more successful sales person:
- Look the part. It seems that the only people who look successful these days are the bad guys, the lawyers, the bankers, and the politicians. Be honest when you see a man in a gray pinstriped suit, highly polished black lace-up shoes, and carry a fancy leather briefcase, the first thing that goes through your mind is that he is one of those guys. But, remember when we all dressed that way? Remember when all the men wore suits and ties to work? And the women, the few there were back then, wore their conservatively-cut suits as well? Now, I’m not saying we go back to those days, not all the way at least, but, we should always try to be the best-dressed person in the room. In these days of company logo shirts make sure that yours is the best pressed shirt in the room. Make sure your slacks are pressed and your shoes are shined. The same with women, well in the case of the women they don’t need my advice, the ones I know all dress professionally and are always much better dressed than the guys. Anyway guys, this simple detail is to always be the best dressed person in the room. It is an easy way for you to always be outstanding.
- Be an actor. I know this one seems out of place in our profession, but it really isn’t, if you think about it, in sales we are always asked to perform, whether it be a sales presentation or a one on one meeting with a new buyer we are always in fact, performing. By performing, I mean putting our best foot forward, making our presentations interesting and yes sometimes dramatic. You are going to get much better results if you are interesting and if you present your sales pitch or presentation in a provocative and dramatic way. Some of the best sales people I know have taken drama classes; and if you think about it for even a minute, it makes sense. Taking a drama class will give you the right skills you need to be a great sales person.
- Neurolinguistics: “What the heck is that?” I hear you asking. I first heard about neurolinguistics in a Tony Robbins book I read a few years ago, it’s just the art of coordinating your conversation with the person you are conversing with. If the person is a laid back slow-talker, you take on that characteristic. If she talks fast and is kind of brusque then you do the same. It’s an amazing tactic and it works surprisingly well. It can also be used to set the pace of any conversation you are having. Because it can work in reverse and you can set the tone of the conversation as well. If for example, the person you are talking to is anxious and irritated you can calm her down by slowing the conversation down and bring some calmness to the discussion. There are entire books written on this subject, pick one up and read it, I promise it will help with your sales effort.
- Listening and hearing: Yes, just learn, to not only listen, but to hear, and understand as well. How many of us have had a discussion with someone that did not go well and then a few hours later when we take the time to reflect on that talk, we realize that what the person was trying to tell us was completely opposite of what we thought at the time. Suddenly a light goes on in our brains and we realize that we completely mishandled that conversation we wish we could back and do it again. This situation can be avoided be carefully listening. Not only listening to what a person is saying but hearing what he means as well. Always remember that old adage that “no one ever learned anything by talking.”
- Be helpful: People like people who help them, so go out of your way to be helpful. Know everything you can about your customers and figure out how you can be the most helpful to them. Look out for your customers and in the end, they will look out for you. Simple as that.
As I said earlier, the devil is in the details and as good sales people on our way to being great sales people we should always be looking for just the right details that will help us be the great sales people we strive to be. It’s only common sense
A book review from Dan Beaulieu
Fail Fast or Win Big: The Start-up Plan for Starting Now
Author: Bernhard Schroeder
Stop aiming and start firing!
Every so often you find a book that ends up being more of a stimulant for ideas than just a book. This is one of those books. I want to call it the “Nike—just do it” book because that’s exactly what the message is. He claims for example that business plans are a thing of the past, that they take too long to do and that they are not as effective as well as just doing it.The business model, a short business model with the good and the bad and the ugly of just trying something is the way to go.
Schroeder gives numerous examples of entrepreneurs who gave it a go before most people would have thought their new product or service was truly ready for prime time. So many times, people have a great idea but they wait too long to execute that idea, and instead they spend their time writing long business plans to please those bankers who are never going to give them the funds to start the business anyway.
Schroeder tells us to just get going. He says that all we need is a great story, a story that will explain exactly what we are trying to sell and how it will work. He says that instead of a full-blown business plan, all we need is what he calls “the Lean Model Framework,” consisting of the following slides:
• Company Purpose
• Problem and Solution
• Why now?
• Market Size
• Business Model
• Revenue Model
• Team and Financials
And that is all you need to launch your new business. He wants us to develop a model as soon as possible with the understanding that it will not be perfect but that it will be good enough to exemplify what the product or service should look like, enough to get someone interest in the product and thus the company.
From the book: Lessons learned:
• Believe in your product, not foolishly, but with common sense
• Find ways to get things done
• Follow the trend
• Look at alternate sources of distribution if traditional sources don’t work
• Seek out other people or companies who have the same beliefs and look for either leverage or distribution opportunities
Schroeder ends Chapter five with this quote: You really don’t know if you have a company until you have created a product or service prototype and have sold it in the marketplace. That is, you can’t improve a product unless you get customer feedback. And you need to move faster than potential competitors. So create a prototype sooner rather than later.
If you are passionate about your career, then you will eat and breathe and drink sales. This also means that you will read every good business book you can get your hands on
Do you feel you are getting everything out of your rep team that you should be? Do you a full network of sales reps, reps all over the country yet you are just not getting much out of them? How about these problems? Try these on for size:
- You keep hiring new reps but you never get anything out of them, making you wonder why they even signed up with you in the first place.
- You use to have a great relationship with your reps but now, well not so much, they seem to only focus on a few accounts they brought in years ago and you just cannot get them to go out there and find you some new business.
- You can never get them on the phone.
- You get a lot of quotes from them but they are all from stuff you don’t want or cannot build.
- It just seems that things are stagnating and you are not sure what to do.
- You keep asking yourself what happened, why can’t I get these guys engaged?
Do these fit? Is your next move is to fire all your reps and start over. At least that’s what you’d like to do right? But you hate the idea of starting over, you hate the idea of losing all of that time not to mention money you have invested in your rep team.
You’re stuck and you feel that there is no way out right?
Bu wait there is, there is something you can do. You can talk to them. No, not argue with them, not whine at them, not kick them in the butt…I mean really talk to them find out what the matter is and start working with them to see if the relationship can be salvaged; or if it’s time to move on. Look you have worked with them for this long you can spend a few more days with them seeing if the relationship can be fixed or not.
Here is a list of questions you need to ask your reps. you can do this over the phone but I must say it would be a lot better if you went out to their area and met with them face to face. There is nothing better for revitalizing relationships than face to face meetings.
- Do you want to keep representing my company? (That’s right cut right to the chase, there is no point going on if they don’t want to work with you any longer. But also if they say no then ask them why. You might not save that relationship but you could learn something valuable.)
- What do you think of our company?
- Do you feel you are being treated fairly?
- Do you feel we are doing everything we can to support you?
- If not what could we do better?
- How about our products?
- How about our service?
- How do you feel about our technology?
- How do you feel about our pricing? Is it competitive?
- Do you feel like we are your partner?
- If there is anything we can do to improve our relationship what would that be?
- Tell me about your firm. How are things going for you?
- Is your firm healthy?
- Is there anything we can do to help you be successful?
- How can we work more effectively in the future?
- Would you be willing to work with us to make s plan to success?
- Would you be willing to give this relationship another try?
- What are your ideas on how we can proceed with such a plan?
- Okay are you ready to reset our partnership, carve out some new parameters, set some new goals and get to work?
See it’s not that difficult and most of the time it will work. If, that is the two of you really do communicate. This is key and with any kind of insight on your part, (just the fact that you are interested enough to be asking these questions shows initiative on your part) you’ll be able to gain a lot of understanding from this conversation. Now you have to look for the spark in your reps. If the reps is only semi-engaged in the conversation; if you feel that he or she is only being polite you’ll be able to figure that out. In on the other hand this conversation does what it’s supposed to do and re-sparks the flame of compatibility, cooperation I mean a true new spirit of cooperation between the two of you, you will have succeeded.
Now all you’ll have to do is follow through. Set up that plan. Hold regularly scheduled meetings with the rep. Visit his territory and your customers in that territory on a regular basis. In short pay attention to your relationship, value your relationship and finally always, always treat your rep with a great deal of respect and things will get better. I promise
I once worked with a very wise man who had a clause in all of his rep contracts that went something like: I always thought that was a great idea and of course it was only common sense.
One of the things I do in my business is work with sales managers helping them to manage, measure and motivate their sales people. This is not an easy thing to do when you consider that sales people are actually a very different breed from other people in a company. They are often, driven, motivated, and ambitious at some times and depressed and down at other times. The job of a good sales manager is to know when to drive his sales people to their own success level, encouraging them when they are on the way up and then picking them off the floor when they are on the way down. The motivational part of being a sales manager is probably the most important aspect, not to mention trickiest part of the job.
Sales people are often mavericks. The reason they wanted to be sales people in the first place was so that they could have their independence. They want to work on their own; make their own hours and come and go as they wish. Often they are hundreds even thousands of miles from the home office so they do have all the freedom they want. But of course it is the job of the sales manager to make sure they are at work as much as they need to be to get the job done. This means she has to institute a reporting system that will make sure that the sales person is always accountable. This system should consist of weekly status reports, as well as daily check-ins with the office. And what this all means is a heck of a lot of communications.
There is also another factor that a sales manager has to make sure of and that is that his sales people all feel that they part of a team. Those of us who have been out there know full well that it can get pretty lonely. The good news at times is that as a sales person you have freedom because you are on your own; but that can also be the bad news. It gets lonely out there on your own. You can start to feel isolated. You’re not in the middle of the office gossip and you can start to feel left out. It is the sales manager’s job to make sure that this doesn’t happen. He has to make sure that his sales people wherever they are located feel that they are part of the company, an integral part of the company. She has to come up with ways to make sure her sales people are included in the company’s daily and weekly happenings. One of the best ways to do this is to have a weekly sales call putting all the sales people on the phone as well as the sales manager and other members of the management team. In this way at least once a week the sales people get to talk with the management team and with each other, so that they can communicate with everyone, The GM can talk about what is going on in the shop as can the Quality and engineering managers. This gives everyone an excellent opportunity to communicate.
I often invite the sales people to have their own conference calls as well so that they can discuss some of the challenges they are having in getting business. They can exchange ideas and give each other tips and hints on how to win more business. They can also talk about what is going on at some of their large multi-location customers and develop corporate strategies for handling those accounts. And of course they can give each other leads. This kind of meeting is key to developing a true sales team.
Finally, I cannot recommend enough that you bring the sales people into the company at least once a year to have a sales meeting. I mean a real working sales meeting consisting of reviewing what the company did in the past year and where it is going in the coming year. The sales people should come in fully prepared to discuss their territory strategies including account plans and forecasts. The Sales Manager should be prepared to discuss the sales strategy and tactics for the coming year. The President should be prepared to discuss the company’s overall financial health as well as direction, the GM should be prepared to report in the company’s performance in terms and delivery, the Quality manager should be prepared to talk about yield performance, RMAs, ISO registration and audits and the Engineering manager should be prepared to talk about any new technologies that the company is investing in.
Although there should be some bonding time, a few dinners and maybe a sporting event the entire group attends together this meeting should be brief (just three days at most) and all business-like. Gone are the days of week-long sales meetings with skits and events and golfing. Those days are over, sales meetings costs a lot of money and the time invested in these meetings should be used wisely.
The most important thing is for people to get together and feel like they are all a part of the same team. This is critical for the entire team and vital to those sales guys who tend to get lonely out there.
Its only common sense.