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.
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.
Book Review – Career Courage: Discover Your Passion, Step out of Your Comfort Zone, and Create the Success You Want
A book review by Dan Beaulieu:
Career Courage: Discover Your Passion, Step out of Your Comfort Zone, and Create the Success You Want.
Author: Katie C. Kelley
This is a great book for all ages but particularly for those starting a career. If you have a son or daughter carving out a career path, this book is chock full of the right kind of advice for them. Or if you’re a person who started down one path, but are finding that it is just not you, this is a great book for you. If you’re middle aged and are looking to re-invent yourself, you’ll find this book especially helpful.
Writing with the insight of someone who has been there, Ms. Kelley offers a virtual handbook for finding yourself and what you want to do with your life. Not only will this book show you the way to get started it will also show you the way to accelerate your journey once you are on the right path. I especially appreciate the examples of real people that the author includes. Each chapter, on topics ranging from motivation and confidence to vision and harmony, expressively defines each step of the way, highlighting it with true life examples.
The book is filled with helpful, delectable little sections designed to allow the reader to participate in activities that drive the point of that chapter home. The book includes sections like “Coach’s Challenge,” which helps the reader to think things through by applying the challenges to his own situation; and “Game Time,” where the author wraps up each chapter with summaries of what we have learned in that chapter and applying them to our own situations.
This is one of those books that you don’t realize you need until you open it. This book stimulates your mind and makes you think about things you should be thinking about, from your career to your life. People of all ages can benefit greatly from reading Career Courage.
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.
Okay, you’re the sales manager for a 15 million dollar board shop located in the Midwest. Your sales team consists of 6 direct regional sales people and five independent sales reps; together they cover the entire U.S. and Canada. Besides managing the sales team, you also handle the company’s marketing and yes, you are also starting to dabble into social media. In short, you have your hands full, so much so that you could easily be overwhelmed if you don’t have good scheduling skills. Since I work with sales teams and specifically sales mangers I thought it would be interesting to talk about how a good sales manager spends his days.
First, a sales manager must manage just like a baseball manager, he should make sure that he is fielding the best team possible, let’s assume that has happened and that these sales people are good. Now that we have established this let’s move on to what the sales manager should be doing with his day.
Make sure that you reporting system is set up. This should consist of:
- An annual forecast: month by month customer by customer
- A weekly sales status report from each sales person. (reps are handled differently we’ll talk about them later)
- A daily dashboard which shows the sales people what they book that day and where they stand in terms of their forecasts both monthly and annually. This report needs to go to the company’s other managers as well.
Touching base with your sales people daily. This is just a quick phone call to see what they are up to. Ask each sales person what they will be booking today, what challenges they are facing and what you can do to help them. This does not have to be a long phone call, just long enough to get an good understanding of what they are up to. This will also serve to keep them on their toes.
Work with the rest of the managers communicating with them and passing on what you learned from your sales people. Remember as the sales manager you are the company’s number one sales advocate with everything that entails. You are responsible for making sure that the customer is always present at the table.
Check in with your reps. I don’t recommend you call them every day but at least once a week. I would urge you to set up a weekly call with each of your independent sales reps to go over their accounts. This is also the time for you to communicate to them what is going on at the company. The true value of keeping in touch with the reps is to make sure they are working for you. Realizing that they have other principals and products to sell, you are competing for their time. The more time you invest in your sales reps the more you will get out of them.
Work on your marketing. This is more important now than it has ever been. A few years ago when we called someone a Manager of sales and marketing it meant that they spent 99% of their time on sales and 1% on marketing and what they were really doing is working on a new brochure every couple of years. Now that has changed drastically. Now a manager of sales and marketing has to spend as much time on marketing as she does on sales. Besides making sure that the literature is up to date, she also must make sure that the website is as well. She also has to work on a value-added newsletter that should go out at least one a month. She also has to be more involved in social media, keeping up the company’s LinkedIn page and sending out frequent pertinent attention-getting tweets as well.
Get in touch with some customers. This is the one that most sales managers skip and arguable the most important one. Make it a habit to call customers and ask how things are going? It’s a good way to create a one on one relationship with your customers. A great sales manager will try to develop relationships with the customers’ upper management. This will greatly benefit both parties.
And finally, cheerleader in chief. A great sales manager is also the person who talks about hope and talks about the future of the company. She will be the company’s strategist helping to set the direction of the company based on her knowledge of the customers and the market.
A great sales manager will keep these plates spinning making sure always that the company is delivering great customer service, keeping its’ customers happy and its’ revenue growing.
It’s only common sense.