SALES EXCELLENCE AWARDS 2018, Sales Institute in Greece
Athens, 28 March 2018
Proud to be part of the Sales Excellence Awards 2018 that the Sales Institute in Greece and Boussias Conferences organize on six consecutive years. Back in 2013, heading ICAP Group and Huthwaite Intl, I participated in for being awarded with the Gold Award for Sales Training. This time, I was part of the judging committee, together with fine academics and senior sales professionals and I had the honor to give the awards for Sales Training and speak to a vibrant audience of more than 500 people, the crème de a crème of Greek sales professionals.
There, I spoke about the popular concept of Growth Mindset that has been developed and wide spread by the noted professor of Stanford University, Carol Dweck. Because it was a brilliant event made for people and corporations that develop people with Growth Mindset, encourage Growth Mindset and demonstrate Growth Mindset every day.
Greece has been experiencing turbulent times, economy and of course business wise. But in evenings like the one we lived last week, you get the feeling that there is hope. Things can change. This sales community can make things change. We all can make things change.
Awesome evening. Unforgettable experience. Happy to say: I was there too!!
Is the price right?
by George Pastidis
You have met with all the key players of your customer. You understand the needs and “buying agenda” of every single one. You delivered a presentation with the technical part of your solution and you’ve got the buy in. You are at the point that you have to submit your proposal, including costs. But one question bugs you: is the price right?
Here are few things to consider while reviewing your price:
Out-weight customer costs – with the proposed value. Sounds cliché but it is very true. Your price needs to be lower that the proposed value. And the proposed value needs to be quantified as much as possible.
Know competition’s prices – if you seem to be more expensive at first glance but your Total Cost of Ownership is better, show them why. Again, you must quantify that.
Avoid detailed price breakdowns – for being more flexible and able to bundle or de-bundle and trade things when negotiations come.
Few price options are good – but too many options can confuse your customers and make them indecisive.
Cannot make everybody happy – cause this is a two edged sword. If you meet the needs of all your key players, maybe you are about to deliver a monster proposal with a monster price that your customers might love but they won’t afford.
Save fat – this is good. Procurement will definitely negotiate you. But do not overprice, taking the risk to be eliminated at once.
Get in the customer shoes – think of any possible concern they might have and either redefine your pricing structure or prepare your counter-arguments.
Check with your sponsor – you must have a key player that you trust. A guy that you know she wants to see you winning this. Why don’t you share price informally, trying to understand how she feels about it?
Believe in your price – otherwise forget about it. If you are not convinced yourselves, you are going to convince nobody.
Out-weight your costs – we started saying that your proposed value should out-weight customer costs. It is equally important though, your price to out-weight your costs. Turnover is great but profitability is key today.
Can sales people afford playing Barcelona?
by George Pastidis
In football, Barcelona tends to refuse to change the style and system of its play. They refuse to abandon their favorite “tiki-taka” with short passing and ball possession for adapting in the situational conditions, demands and their opponent. Apparently, their success record usually justifies this decision.
Do other teams can manage to do so? Maybe very few football teams can but the vast majority of football coaches choose to radically change or fine-tune things and throw their opponents off. Often, they reshuffle their cards during the match. They sub players or they change their role, they get more offensive or they strengthen their defense etc. Coaches are on their toes before and during the match till they see their teams winning or making the desired score.
It is a great surprise to me when in our corporate world, I see sales teams that struggle to strike a winning deal and bring the numbers, refusing to change. I simply cannot understand what makes senior sales leaders to keep their team members on the field for trying the same “good?” old sales systems and models. It puzzles me big time when they choose to abstain from training, giving funny excuses like: “I want my guys on the field, meeting with their customers”, “we have no money for training”, “my sellers are senior and experienced”.
Experience is a lovely thing but it can be turned into a prescription for failure if you keep on doing right the wrong things. Or the things that for some reason or another work no more today. Putting time on the sales field and meeting with customers and feeding your sales pipeline is awesome as long as you don’t burn customers and business opportunities, having a sad success rate.
When sales teams fail to achieve their business objectives, they must change. They have to do different things differently till they do them right. They need to train, develop new skills and behaviors, try new ways to approach their customers till they start winning their deals. When scoring becomes a habit, maybe, they can lay back a little and play Barcelona.
Insource or outsource sales training?
by George Pastidis
I have a beloved uncle that I lived with when I was studying in the States long ago. He was a mechanical engineer before his retirement and when he was a student himself, he was earning his living working as a car mechanic. This together with being generally a handyman, allowed him to maintain and repair his cars on his own. He loved spending time on his cars and my motorcycle. It was a dream thing for me that I am never sure what is the right direction to loosen a screw and my pocket money was quite limited. But the more car technology was changing the less he could manage with. The more he would need sophisticated and expensive electronic tools. And little by little, he started being a frequent visitor and user of the car shops like everybody else.
The sales training industry is not much different. Everything changes rapidly and constantly: market, products and services, our own organizations, our customers’ organizations, customer needs, the way people buy, the way our customers buy, the way sales people need to manage their customers for cooping with change.
Internal sales trainers, no matter how experienced, gifted and knowledgeable they are, they cannot manage on their own for long. They need to coop close with global training vendors that have the expertise and invest big in researching on market changes, buyers’ behaviors and sellers’ optimum skills. In my opinion, the insourced design and delivery of sales learning intervention is out of question. It would get us very soon obsolete, isolated and outdated. The only dilemma that can stand is that between fully outsourcing sales training delivery or use internal sales trainers and buy intellectual property from serious training vendors that provide bespoke training.
If we choose to outsource in full, our external trainers most probably will be on the edge of things and we can achieve quick global rollouts. But we need to work close with the vendors and do some casting for getting the crème de la crème. We also need to work on customization and brief those trainers well so they understand our organization before they go to classroom.
On the other hand, if we choose to buy IP only and get our internal sales trainers accredited, we have to be aware of the higher payroll costs and the slower rollouts because our resources will be somehow limited. But the thing we should pay the biggest attention in is that the accreditation through one Train-The-Trainers program is not the end but the beginning. We have to make sure our people work close with our vendors and get constantly trained and updated.
Maybe the best way would be to have a small team of internal sales trainers, use at the same time external ones and occasionally pair them up and have them co-deliver trainings. This way, our internal trainers will be exposed on the new trends and the externals will understand better our organization’s issues. Grey often works better than black or white.
No people, no sales. No sales, no business.
by George Pastidis
I had the luck, pleasure and honor to actively participate and speak yesterday, 6 June 2017, in the Conversations That Win Sales Conference that was hosted by Corporate Visions and Association Professional Sales (APS) and took place in my birth-city London that despite the recent insane, coward terrorist attack never stops being a shining city.
Andy Hough, APS, shared with the audience his vision to create a community that will advance and promote excellence in the sales profession. I personally do share and support Andy’s vision with all my heart.
Tim Riesterer, CVI, described how and why sales people should become a selling “Triple Threat” by Creating, Elevating and Capturing Value.
Practitioners working for important multinationals like UPS, IBM, Henkel, shared experiences that link and support the “triple threat” concept that Tim introduced. I did learn a lot from my counterparts and I loved particularly interacting with Volker Roessler, UPS that we shared stage discussing how to Capture Value.
Dr Nick Lee, Warwick Business School, and Erik Peterson, CVI fascinated us with presenting their fresh counterintuitive fresh research insights that challenge many common sales best practices.
If I have to choose one top thing that I left with from the conference, that would be the Sirius Decisions research insight that Tim shared with us. Tim said that companies invest huge on better products, processes, technology, advertising etc. But in the end of the day the #1 reason companies manage to achieve revenue targets and win the key deals they are after is linked with the ability of their sales people to articulate value. 71 percent of respondents said that value conversations is the most important thing.
Surprise? Not for me. The heart of every organization beats in sales. No people, no sales. No sales, no business. And sales people need to understand this, respect themselves, believe in themselves. It is only them that can de-commoditize the commoditized today business world.
Once upon a time in door-to-door encyclopedia sales (New)
by George Pastidis
Every time I hear and see a professional seller wasting her time and her prospect’s time with dropping pointless features, despite the fact that she is familiar with all the necessary related sales research and models that have been talking about identifying and answering the customer needs for several decades, I cannot avoid remembering my very first sales experience and training I had, back in 1984.
I was 19 years old and I lacked the maturity to set my priorities right and focus on my studies. I was spending my time between the Scouts and playing handball. My parents were very frustrated and they thought that stopping my pocket-money, I would get more disciplined. That move did not have the immediate effect they expected. Right after my parents announced their new decisions, I got a newspaper and the next day I started selling door-to-door encyclopedias and many other books. The company I joined was owned by two guys. One of them was a polite, calm, very refined, obviously educated man that was taking care of the back office. The other one, Giannis, was a rough looking, strong, street-smart guy that was managing sales. He was the spearhead of that publishing company. He had a bizarre back ground. No studies. If I am not mistaken, he had not finished high school. There was actually a rumor that he had never entered high school. And he had spent his first working years as a construction worker and singer; singing communist songs in some underground places. Something not very unusual in Athens, back then few only years after the Colonels’ dictatorship was over.
Giannis had a plan for my induction. The first week, I had to go out and sell together with different experienced colleagues so I can learn from, the second week, I had to be on my own and then have a meeting with him. Our dialog during our meeting, was pretty much like this:
- George, how you sell?
- I have my brochures in a big dossier and I go through together with my prospects. Wherever I catch their attention, I elaborate on.
- You go through all of them? You must have about a hundred.
- But I always start with my favorite ones.
- Which are your favorites and why?
- The encyclopedia “Gia sas pedia” (for you children). It has nice illustrations and it is slightly expensive so we can have some good revenue. I also push the history collection. I like history and I can present it pretty good.
Somewhere there, the conversation stopped. Giannis explained that I was wasting my and my prospects’ time and I would end up having not healthy sales and several cancellations and requests for return and reimbursement. He suggested instead, the moment I would walk in an apartment, to look for insights that would help me tell who my prospect really is and what his needs really are. And he went further giving me concrete examples. He said: “You walk in and you see an old lady taking care of her grand-children. Does she look well off? Go for your favorite encyclopedia. She does not look like she can afford it or she tells you so, or her grand-children are very little for that, go for the fairy-tails of ours with cassettes. Is it a house full of plants? Pull out the brochure of the “Decorative Plants” book and make a small quick sale”.
Giannis went on and on giving me an invaluable lifetime lesson and my very first sales training. Had he attended some sales seminar? He had read marketing books? He learned those the hard way, selling door to door himself? It was intuition only?
I don’t know and I will never find out. Few months later, I went to the States to study and when I got back home and looked for him, I was told that he had passed way during a wind-surfing accident. But he will always live in my memory; him and the brilliant, genuine, first sales experience and training that he gave me.
Seven different ways to propose to our customers
by George Pastidis
After working many years in sales, sales training and sales learning & development, I have been exposed to a bunch of great different ways and models for proposing to customer. I guess, we all have, one or another way. We all have heard of terms such as features, benefits, advantages, unique selling points, differentiators, insights etc. I do not mean to underestimate these concepts that significant training companies have come up with and they are usually based on serious research. They help us have a common understanding, speak the same sales language and get more effective. However, us that we do not sell “sales training” but we only want to make use of for getting the job done, we must have a clear picture and be able to put things in the right order in terms of sales effectiveness.
I will give it a try to describe, compare and explain the different ways of proposing, taking in consideration the sales models that I am aware of and seeing those through the angle of own sales and sales training experience. Not coincidentally, I will avoid to put tags and use names.
Propose a product feature, or product/service or solution,
1 giving our customer what suits us (the sellers’ organization).
2 explaining our customer why it suits them – in our opinion and making assumptions based on our market and customer understanding.
3 that answers directly a need that our customer volunteered. In other words, being responsive and reactive to our customer.
4 answering again directly a need that our customer admits, but this time in a proactive way, digging in and asking the right questions. In this case we play no “goal keeper”. On the contrary, we play “center-forward”. We play it like a creative center forward that makes the opportunities instead of waiting for them.
5 answering this time a need that the customer was not aware of till he met with us. So, be proactive again, dig in again probing the right questions, but helping this time our customer, see pain points that he had not realized before and ask for a solution. What is left is to provide the solution.
6 matching an unrecognized need that helps you significantly differentiate from competition. We spot again pain points that the customer was not aware of or had not considered their implications, and we provide a solution that competition either cannot provide today or it will take them quite a time to match ours.
7 go one good step further and instead of proposing a solution “I chew the food for you Mr. Customer”, we work together with customer. We work together with customer, identifying or fine tuning the best-fit solution and implementation, based on an unrecognized need that we helped him see and ask a solution for. Such a superb way to engage in with customer and gain their sponsoring! As long as we manage to be in control and lead this to a solution that can differentiate us from competition as we discussed right before. Not an easy task. Not easy but definitely worth it.
Needless to say that moving from 1 to 7, we exponentially increase our chances to interact and engage with customers, create value, demonstrate a real consultative role, de-commoditize ourselves and eventually win the business.
I know I did not discover America here. Christopher Columbus did that and did it good. So have done few top sales training companies and researchers in the area of proposing. It was nothing but a humble try to put things in an order. My order. The way I understand things better. Hope I chipped in your understanding too.
Socrates triple filter test for sales
by George Pastidis
Two days ago, I was in facebook when I came across the famous triple filter test of Socrates. The story is about a guy that approaches Socrates for telling him something that Diogenes did. Socrates applies his triple filter test for separating meaningful information from meaningless gossip and asks three key questions:
Filter 1 – True: “Are you sure that what you want to tell me is absolutely true?”
Filter 2 – Good: “Is what you are about to tell me something really good?”
Filter 3 – Useful: “Is what you plan to share any useful to me?”
The more I was reading this little story, the more I was getting convinced that the triple filter test of Socrates is applicable in sales. It is actually the type of questions that more or less consciously, customers have in mind before any major buying decision.
Is it true? Do you speak the truth? Are you credible? These breakthrough features are for real? Does it really work like that? The implementation plan is realistic? There is no hidden agenda? You have proof? You can provide solid evidence? You have other customers in our industry that can confirm that?
Is it good? What are your quality standards? Is it innovative enough? Will the product last? Is the proposed technology better than the existing one we use? What is your customer service index? What about your after sales support? How is your company’s financial situation today? Are you really better than your competition? Is it value for money?
Is it useful? Regardless of the proposed solution’s high quality which is something objective, is it a good suit to our needs? Can you fill in our organizational and personal needs gap? Can you solve our problems? What are the short and long term payoffs you can provide to us? What is the ROI we can look forward to? It is useful to all of us?
Of course, the triple filter test in above is a two way thing. It is a little filter test in the back of the buyers’ head and at the same time a brilliant check list that can help sellers navigate successfully throughout the different stages of the buying cycle.
Socrates could have made a fortune in sales.
Price work-arounds that we need to plan for
by George Pastidis
The price issue pops up usually either in the beginning or in the very end of the buying cycle, when final negotiations take place. An experienced seller can – and should – easily overcome the first obstacle, avoiding talking price too early. But how can we avoid having a price impasse shock right before the closing stage?
Play the Sponsors card – Those ones are supposed to be by our side. They want us – often because they have a personal agenda – win this business. They have been coaching us. It is time to coach them back and help them put forward our case. How? We should rehearse them asking good Need-Payoff Questions. This way we help them first see value themselves and we make it easier for them to talk value next to the Decision Makers. We should also use them to find out who may have what price concerns and how we could solve those. Finally, we need to ask them directly what competition has offered in terms of price and understand if there is a price or value issue. Remember that Huthwaite research in complex sales showed that in 50 cases that business was lost because of price, in only 18 cases, price was the real issue.
Win the Decision Makers – starting with identifying the known (must be) and decision makers and the obvious and hidden influencers. Talking to those, we need to be in control, having the right balance between “push” and “pull” behaviors. We don’t want them to like us. We want them to respect us. And jumping to a quick discount will gain no respect. We better start providing more value. If that doesn’t work, we need to find out whether the price issue is cash flow or budget related so we can concede (if needed) in a targeted and planned way. Then, we must confirm that putting price aside, we have the right proposed solution. If they say no, we need to go back and redo our exercise from scratch. If they say yes, we have to focus on quantifying our ROI the most concrete way.
Price is certainly not an easy issue to deal with. But there are work-arounds that we need to plan for.
November is a tricky month
by George Pastidis
November is such a tricky month. We are between the last turn and the finish line on our racetrack. We are on the “last stretch”. Then we can have holidays in peace and start working on our smart new year resolutions. Unfortunately, David Copperfield is not our colleague. So, neither rabbits nor pigeons can come out of our black high hats. If we want to bring our numbers, we need to work effective and efficient.
We first need to manage our funnel right.
Are we on or ahead of plan? Piece of cake. Then we should focus on our next year’s pipeline, working on qualifying new opportunities and advancing the ones in early stages.
Are we behind plan? Tough one. We need to start reviewing and prioritizing carefully our mature opportunities that we have already submitted a proposal for.
Which ones are still alive?
When is the decision expected?
What are our chances to win them?
Is there a risk to waste a good opportunity if we push things now?
If we win them, how much they will help us achieve our business objectives?
In other words, we need to re-do (because supposedly we did this before) a strength and attractiveness analysis for putting the little time and efforts left on the right opportunities. One key criteria when assessing our strength to win a deal is: are we talking about an existing customer or new? Needless to say that an existing customer whom we have proved things in the past for, is safer to pursue in times of pressure.
Then we need to head to the decision makers (not forgetting, on the contrary, making the best use of our sponsors). We have to reach out to them and explore their thinking.
What is it that they like in our proposal, so we can leverage on?
What are their concerns that we must resolve asap?
Do they perceive value in our proposed solution?
If they see no value, we should demonstrate value. We should work together with them and create value, without hesitating to look for and propose alternative products, services and solutions. After all, what matters is to match their buying criteria.
We must stay cool and confident. Unless (maybe) competition is way behind, we should avoid talking crap for them and in times of facing fierce competition, we should focus the discussions on the buying criteria we have a strength.
November is a tricky month and we have no tricks. But we can win this race.
Delivering an effective sales presentation is not rocket science
by George Pastidis
I just left a meeting at the bank I am a customer of. They had asked for an appointment for presenting a house loan product. Not that me and my wife were interested in any, but they have always been so polite and supportive that there was no way to refuse giving them some of our time.
Although I cared less about the product itself, I was observing and analyzing carefully how the bank officer was presenting. Too much talking, features dropping and little interaction. Neither exciting, nor convincing. One could argue that if you are really interested in a house loan, you care less about the presentation style. But then sales people limit themselves in selling to people that are either desperate for what they got or they don’t bother to browse around.
It is pretty much the same case in the other industries. Sales reps in pharma tend to bomb doctors with tons of features that link with clinical studies that their companies have financed. Sales engineers that work in the IT and telecom sector can hardly stop mumbling benefits in their special own jargon and value added services that persuade nobody for other value than upselling.
If we accept that sales presentations do not matter, is like getting self-commoditized. We got to believe that we can impact sales. We got to work on our sales presentations, focusing on the following key points:
Present to our audience’s challenges – Avoid product centered presentations and deliver customer centered presentations addressing our audience’s specific challenges. The more these challenges are confirmed with our audience before and not assumed only, the more concrete our case is. The million dollar question then is “are we really ready to deliver a sales presentation or we need some time to meet up with our customer and prepare for?”.
Keep it short and crisp – How long we can keep the attention and interest of the other party? There is plenty of surveys concerning the human average attention span. That varies from 5 to 20 min, depending on the age, conditions and the kind of task and mental focus. But we can all agree and say out loud “not for long”! We better then keep it short, start with a catchy value statement that gives our audience a good reason for engaging in and focus on the most critical areas of the presentation.
Interactive wins – Interactive wins but it is a “double-edged sword”. We can prepare well, deliver an impeccable monologue and head to home. This is playing safe on a blind date. Alternatively, we can encourage our audience to cut in and ask questions and clarifications during the course of our presentation and give us their feedback in the very end, pursuing their “green light”. This is less safe. This one first takes skills to manage with time and second, we might extract the wrong answers and the “green light” can turn “red”. But at least, we know where we stand and we have our chance to tweak things around, making the sale more possible to happen. Moreover, this interactive dimension gives the other party the impression that “we work it out together”. Customers would love it.
Delivering an effective sales presentation is not rocket science. It does need preparation, skills and lots of common sense though.
Got a huge luggage full of brilliant stuff
by George Pastidis
It is Tuesday, 7 June, 19:35 and I am in Eurostar train, heading back home to Paris. I am dead meat. I had to wake up at 0400 in the morning for making the Annual Sales Conference, hosted by Association of Professional Sales, in London, a major event in the UK with more than 500 attendees. I usually travel light. Especially when I have day trips like this one. But today I have a huge luggage full of brilliant stuff. Full of information, knowledge and break through ideas about sales learning.
Association of Professional Sales seems to be determined to give a big push in the sales profession and they announced a code of ethics for individual sellers, a global sales competence model and a corporate sales accreditation program. Excellent initiatives that can deliver value to sales people and give them the status they deserve. I will be part of this, supporting it as much as I can.
Tim Riesterer, Corporate Visions CSMO, a passionate and charismatic lecturer and author of the brilliant book “Conversations that will win the Complex Sale” talked about delivering “a distinct point of view”. He shared powerful research work that confirms the need first to tease customer with a research insight that will create uncertainty, then investigate his unrecognized needs and finally propose value added services that answer these needs that have been identified before.
Vernon Bubb, Head of LinkedIn Enterprises Sales Solutions EMEA, explained how linkedin could be taken smart advantage of for navigating and networking with key players in a way to impact customer decision and improve the chances to win a business opportunity.
On purpose, I kept for the very end, Neil Rackham, this remarkable sales guru, pioneer researcher in sales and author of best seller SPIN® Selling, that has inspired so many of us in the sales and sales training industry. Neil emphasized on the need to sit down with customer and work together like equal grown-ups, for managing to create value and not only to communicate value (something that was enough before). He also explained why SPIN® that was founded back in the 80’s is still hot today and how it could be fine-tuned for adapting in the current conditions. He finally touched a very interesting subject. He challenged “challenger sales”, not because he sees no value in it, on the contrary, but because he spots too much of simplistic assumptions around it. For instance, the speculation that relationship sales is dead, as Neil said “it is technically speaking, bullshit” J, as a relationship will never stop being an essential component that if you do not have there, you cannot challenge nobody.
Next year, I will have a bigger luggage.
Are you building a sales babel?
by George Pastidis
- : a city in Shinar where the building of a tower is held in Genesis to have been halted by the confusion of tongues
- : often not capitalized
a : a confusion of sounds or voices
b : a scene of noise or confusion
If we want to be fair, there is no serious big organization that does not care about recruiting competent sales people, provide sales training, set sales KPIs, plan account review and strategy review sessions, use CRM and smart sales tools, assess its salesforce and of course have Marketing and after sales support.
But again, if we really want to be fair with ourselves, could you please tell me if 10% of the companies that do everything in above, have all those different functions, systems and processes fully aligned? If they have all the players involved in speaking the same language?
On the contrary, we often see people being assessed in behaviors and sales models others than the ones they were trained in. We see recruiters looking for competences that are not needed for achieving the KPIs that have been set or vice versa. We see sales people not being engaged in the use of CRM tools. We see product managers communicating products to end users and sales people in a way other than the one that sellers were asked to communicate those to their customers. We see after sales support people having a major gap with their sales peers when it comes to customer needs or implementation understanding.
What is the common denominator? No alignment. Lack of a homogeneous approach. Many fine decision makers collaborating with fine vendors and fine internal and external partners that they all really do a fine job for building a babel.
But in sales, we need no Babels. We cannot afford that.
God bless the rookies
George Pastidis hosts Leonidas Athanasiadis
Retail selling is an interesting thing with lots of tragicomic stories. My friend and colleague Leonidas Athanasiadis shared one of them while we were running together last Sunday morning. It was a real gem and I encouraged him to put it in writing so I can share with you all:
“Along with my decision to grow our family, some changes had to take place so as to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the new member. One of them was the need of a new car, actually to be more precise the need for a bigger car. My bachelor / Steve McQueen days are over and I have already switched to a family man.
We decided to visit one of the biggest German automobile manufacturers last Saturday morning in the suburbs of Paris. Worth to mention here, that I had done my homework prior to the visit. Therefore I had already sorted out in my head what do I need from a car with my family status. With that in mind, I was aiming straight for the two models that were top on my list.
Entering the site, a salesman approached us gently asking “how can I help you?”. At the same time two of his colleagues joined us and were introduced by the salesman. From a first glimpse, it seemed that they were following some kind of on the job training under the instructions of the senior salesman.
First set of questions related to our needs (used-new, model, diesel-petrol, automatic-manual, engine size) filtered out some car categories. Next question, the crucial (or maybe not) “How much are you willing to pay per month?”. Having done my homework, my response was direct, strong and full of confidence: 400€ !!
Salesman: “Perfect, I believe we can find something to match your needs. Please join us in my office”.
So far so good, I can say that my visit was going well and according to my plan. I had a “can do” response on my request.
Sitting at his office, the setting was a kind of bizarre. Three salesmen, one senior and two junior, in front of a computer digging into the database of used models, searching for a car that fits my needs. On the other side of the desk me and my wife waiting for the verdict.
After a long, very long 5 minutes of silence where no one was keeping the interest alive, finally we had our first option. He proposed a car with a monthly fee 660€, without any comment from his side to justify the gap from 400€ to 660€.
I honestly tried not to laugh (well maybe I did a bit). I started wondering what happened to the “Perfect, I believe we can find something to match your needs” and what that has to do with the 660€ proposal. After all, we were talking about 65% more on the specified maximum limit. My answer was once again, firm and negative, indicating at the same time the reason of my rejection.
Suddenly I was feeling insecure on my research and home work. Was I looking for something else? Is the price range of their official web-site not in line with the reality?
“Let’s try again”, he said. Same story, 5 long silent minutes and a new candidate car was there. This time the price was 590€.
I was already starting feeling frustrated, having a lot of questions.
Do they understand my needs?
If yes, why they keep on proposing something totally out of my league?
Do they have something in the price range that I can afford or at least a bit higher that I could possibly get if I stretch a little?
If no, why don’t they tell me that there is no such car meeting my needs?
I did not allow another try!!
Leaving the site, my wife and myself were both frustrated and totally discouraged, wondering how come such an automobile manufacturer with a high brand name, of top design, safety and quality can afford having such crappy sellers.
The funny thing is that although we ran fast away from the specific car dealer, we did not give up on this manufacturer. Their brand is way too powerful to let these incompetent people prevent us from considering a purchase. ”
The most hilarious part of Leo’s story is that this super duper senior seller was providing on the job training to a couple of rookies. Training them on what exactly?
Make unrealistic offers, showing that they do not really listen to their customers?
Prove that they have no clue about their products and where those stand price wise?
Build no trust and rapport?
Weaken the brand name of a global leader in the automobile industry?
Proving that sellers don’t matter? That humans cannot make the difference? Sad, isn’t it?
Start with price before they demonstrate value?
I will elaborate a little on the latter. Leonidas and his wife Emy were thinking too high of this automobile manufacturer. They only did not enjoy dealing with caring and competent sales people. I strongly believe that what they lacked was to be further convinced about the specific model that was proposed and the pricing policy behind that. What they actually lacked was to understand the total cost of ownership and be able to compare against other manufacturers that they were checking out. Would that work things out? Would that be enough to fill in the gap of 190€ a month? Maybe not. Maybe yes. But they would definitely not walk out of there damning for a wasted Saturday morning. And the senior sales man that was providing on the job training, would have passed on a unique lifetime lesson: that sales people matter!
God bless the rookies.
“Customer is always right. Is he really?”
by George Pastidis
My mother used to have a small toyshop in our neighborhood for few decades. I was doing everything there. Playing, asking for pocket money when my mom was too busy to interrogate me, studying in the back of the shop, helping her from time to time, you name it. One line that I heard her telling me again and again was “customer is always right”.
I don’t think I am the exception. “Customer is always right” is the line we all grew up and developed professionally with. We learned that we have to be nice, polite and responsive no matter what.
Is this common perception wrong? Did I change my mind for some reason?
Hell no. But it has a limit. It should have a limit. I was talking with a childhood friend when I visited Athens, last Christmas. Remembering the good old days, the toyshop thing was brought up and he literally said to me “George, for us your little toyshop was huge. So was your mother in my eyes. I had a big respect for her”. I played cool and I did not say anything but he made me feel very proud of my mom. He also gave me – without meaning to – a strong message. “Nice” is not enough. You need more than that. You need respect! Can you gain customer’s respect if you are so polite that you become slimy and greasy? Can you gain customer‘s trust if you only agree with, having no strong opinion of your own?
Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy http://uk.businessinsider.com/harvard-psychologist-amy-cuddy-how-people-judge-you-2016-1?r=US&IR=T , talks about two questions that we all tend to ask ourselves while interacting with others:
“Can I trust this person?”
“Can I respect this person?”
Trust and respect. This is what sales and negotiations is about. Isn’t? Trust and respect.
Recently, Harvard Law School http://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/negotiation-skills-daily/top-10-worst-negotiation-tactics-of-2015/ announced the 10 worst negotiation techniques in 2015 among which number one ranks the negotiation between the new Greek government and its creditors. Why? The answer is simple in my opinion:
No trust, no business
No respect, no business
I am convinced that these guys would have a lot to learn from little big, men and women that have managed to gain the trust and respect of their customers through hard work.
Yes, “Customer is always right”. As long as we have their trust and respect.
New Year resolutions on Key Account management
by George Pastidis
2016 is here. So is KPIs. Sales turnover, profit margin, order to cash, product mix, you name it, are here to be achieved. We are here too and we are achievers. Once again, we need to excel and outperform and the one and only way to make this happen is to reshuffle our cards, change, adapt, innovate, develop personally. When it comes to managing Key Accounts, this need is twice as big due to the undergoing changes in this area.
We are talking about a new type of Key Account customers with a huge appetite for conflicting things.
They are desperate for quality and at the same time they empower procurement that cannot be but price sensitive.
They tell us “time is money” pushing us to submit our proposals and implement asap while they take way longer to make decisions.
They seem to see the business perspective and payoffs but when we deploy business minded people, they challenge them in the technical part, showing off their deep understanding of our products and services. No doubt, they are getting more and more educated.
They want us lean and flexible, having one single point of reference but they bring in more new key players in the match making the sales process more complex and less predictable.
They tell us “you all sell the same stuff guys” in an effort to commoditize us, while a couple months earlier, they were on stage with us in some conference, delivering speeches about our innovative products or the efficient delivery and implementation of ours.
Are they nuts?
No they are not. They only do their job and we have to do ours. We need to:
Understand thoroughly their thinking and buying process from first contact to contract.
Embrace their complexity and multiple levels of buyers, identifying all the key players involved in and addressing their different and often conflicting needs, buying criteria and concerns.
Identify who among our key players influences whom and take necessary actions to leverage on.
Do our competition analysis. Not an easy task due to the fact that different key players may have a different perception of us and our competitors. Again, take action.
Differentiate by selling expertise, customer service and value added services.
Team up and leverage all our organizational resources, making sure we orchestrate things in a way we still look flexible and lean.
Demonstrate value on every single Key Account customer touch point, having at the same time in the back of our head that we need to capture value for our organization as well. After all, we are not Boy Scouts.
2016 will be a great year!
Can we turn the Sellers & CRM relationship to a love story with happy end?
by George Pastidis
“Who loves you baby?” That was the favorite line of Kojak, performed by the famous Telly Savalas. Kojak loved asking this rhetoric question to good looking girls, for answering right away himself “I love ya baby, I love ya”. Well, no seller will ever tell Kojak’s line to CRM. Because no seller loves CRM. Because sales people dislike CRM big time. But why? Why sales people can’t stand something made for helping them? Why the typical picture in most of the sales organizations when it comes to CRM tools, is lack of engagement, not sufficient data input, outdated entries and seniors that are supposed to sponsor it being the lowest contributors? Why?
The answer is obvious and simple. Sellers are people with strong communication and social skills. They are outgoing guys that love interacting with their customers. Sales people love networking and being in the field, visiting and meeting with their customers as much as possible. Their bible is having sales activity, not recording sales activity. They believe that this worthless paperwork has a major opportunity cost preventing them from bringing the numbers and achieving their goals.
Few of them, see an additional obstacle. For them, it is not only time hassle. They perceive CRM as an evil management tool for keeping a close eye on them. They see it as an act of mistrust on behalf of management and occasionally as a sneaky way to “steal” their work and make them easier replaceable. Who can ignore such a fear in these times of uncertainty?
How could we overcome these misperceptions and fears?
Demonstrate Value – in other words, show them the Return On Investment they will have. We will need powerful testimonials from peers of theirs who are opinion leaders. The more relevant their job role is the more these testimonials will make sense to them.
Involve them in – make things transparent, as we do with our customers when we want to gain their buy in. Isn’t the best way to demonstrate value for our proposed solution to sit down together with our customer, identify their problems and together seek for a solution? Same idea! We have to get their feedback but not only. We have to collaborate with as many of them as possible and design the new tools from scratch. And we have to make sure we rely on people with different background such as Key Account Managers, Account Managers, Sales Managers, Sales Operation, Sales Support etc.
Simple is better – or better, simple is feasible. Even if we have a cost. Even, if the price is to leave useful things out. When we go fishing, the bait’s size matters, right? We need to keep things simple and friendly and help the tools’ adoption. Things can always be enriched and get better down the road and once engagement is there.
Then, we might be in position to borrow Kojak’s line, tell CRM “I love ya baby, I love ya” and give a happy end in this love and hate story.
Are you playing ball in your field?
by George Pastidis
We always know what customers buy. But do we really know how the buy? Do we understand how they make their buying decisions? What is their decision making process like?
Although, we cannot put all industries and organizations in one size suits, there are similarities and patterns that allow us to say that there is always a stage that buyers check out and evaluate the different vendors and proposals they have. It is the stage that organizations often have a committee like (formal or informal) team of executives that shortlists vendors and proposals. Sometimes, they meet with vendors and sometimes they avoid meeting with vendors before they shortlist them. It is not unlike to use e-procurement for eliminating any interaction and touch point with their potential suppliers, despite the fact that products and services at stake are not a commodity. Apparently, in this case, it is the existing supplier the one that has the upper hand. Why? Because the others are forced to play ball in their competitor’s playing field. Because they have to match a request that is built on specifications that are influenced by the existing supplier (if they are skilled enough).
This committee does one more critical thing. They set their buying criteria through which they evaluate vendors and proposed solutions. The ones that have a mismatch are screened out. The ones that have a good match and are inexpensive win the deal. But usually neither one is the case. Usually, the vendor that has a good match is either expensive or buyers want to get the best possible price for the biggest possible value.
There a new cycle of meetings, presentations and negotiations starts. It is rare that one only vendor makes the next stage. Buyers know that having more than one vendor, they get to have bigger negotiation power and sellers more stress. Often, they have one more surprise (not very pleasant). Procurement shows up and sometimes they take full control of the negotiation, replacing the committee; procurement guys that are possibly forgotten or avoided by sellers; procurement executives that sellers might have allowed them to function like ‘snipers’.
Along with procurement, concerns rise:
Will this new technology really help us or the transition period will be a big hassle?
Are we going to have interoperability issues?
Is it safe to go with a new vendor?
Do these guys have the industry expertise they claim?
Will such a big and complex organization be flexible enough the next day?
Such concerns delay the buying process and make new stakeholders to step in, complicating things further. When and if concerns are handled right, the decision is made.
But sellers reach this point only when they fully understand the buying process and what their customers’ buying journey is like. Sellers reach this point when they make one more step way ahead. Sellers reach this point when they get involved in early on, helping their customers see the forthcoming changes, identifying and developing customer needs and influencing their buying criteria in advance.
This is how sellers gain the right to play ball in their field.
Are you prepared for your next “Elevator Pitch”?
by George Pastidis
Last week, I was having lunch with my family in a brasserie downtown Paris. There was a young couple sitting next to me and they were about to leave when the young man bumped in an American that seemed to be a senior business acquaintance. The American, although obviously busy, played polite and dropped the typical question “how is it going?”; a question that you often ask without really caring for the answer. The young Frenchman would like to talk for hours and say thousands of things but before he got his mind together and started getting going, the American was vanished.
This is a typical situation where you got to have the right “elevator pitch”. This is the time where you got to have somehow prepared a couple of brief and powerful lines that explain what you are into and manage to trigger the attention of the other party.
It is the same speech that you need when you visit your account and happen to bump in the new CTO that you have been struggling to arrange a meeting with lately.
Three things to remember while crafting your “elevator pitch”:
Stay cool – You don’t want to feel and look nervous. She might be your way too senior, hard to get key stakeholder. That is a good enough reason to show her respect but not to get patronized. After all, you are an experienced sales executive working for a leading organization that provides top innovative solutions.
Do not talk about you – Talk about them. Instead of dumping features and advantages of your new killer product, tell her that you have developed a product that answers the needs expressed by her teammates.
Ask an open question – that will help interaction. A question like “what is the situation concerning the interoperability issues that you have been dealing with?” making the CTO talk about their problems, or “what would you suggest we should do next for progressing our partnership in this area too?” showing the CTO that you are on the same side and you count on her “coaching” and sponsoring, or in case you are in the middle of a major successful so far implementation “what are the payoffs that you have spotted so far?” helping her to consider the value you transfer to them. Herodotus has said that “the arguments that convince us the most are our own arguments”.
The key message here is not to be caught off guard. On the contrary, like Scouts say:
My Sales Pitch Check
by George Pastidis
Is your sales pitch good? You address the right key players? Are you convincing enough? Although there are many things that can go wrong, there are also many things you can do right in order to deliver a solid sales pitch with high, or higher, chances to succeed.
Know your prospects
- Enter in the buying cycle early on
- Use CRM
- Do a quick we search on the company – expansion plans, layoffs etc
- Discuss things with your teammates – you are not alone
- Identify all the key players involved in, not only your favorites and remember procurement
- Find out who influences whom
- Understand the decision making process
- Build relationships
Focus on your prospects
- Avoid rushing into proposing solutions and talking product features
- Ask the right questions – remember your SPIN? – and listen to their problems and explicit needs
- Work with them together on the right solutions
- Identify their buying criteria and match them with your proposed solutions
- How your key players see you in comparison to your competition?
- Foresee and pre-handle their concerns and objection
- Propose and present in a structured way, integrating content into your audience needs
- Demonstrate disruptive thinking
- Show quantifiable value – making money, saving money, reducing time, eliminating risk etc
- Show value for money
- Differentiate from competition
Do not celebrate too early
- Assess yourselves
- Did you really advance?
- Who are your sponsors now? Take action to leverage on
- Who seem to play hard ball? Take action to win them too
- Go back to CRM – Review and revise
- Set your next tactical goal and plan your next steps in order to advance
Did you go “sales training” shopping?
Consultative Selling, Insights Selling and Selling Consultatively – Trends, Perceptions & Fallacies
Given that each company invests lots of money on sales training for developing an efficient and effective sales team, is important to get some things straight and move toward the right and suitable direction. It is significant to go shopping understanding what is what and avoid easy trendy purchases.
What is Selling Consultatively? Selling Consultatively is to understand my customer insights, create value for all the key stake holders within my customer, have and demonstrate business acumen and apply Consultative Selling Skills that rely on a valid, research based Consultative Selling model.
A common perception is that Insights Selling, a new trend of high visibility, is supposed to spot non-recognized needs, unlike the good old solution selling Consultative Selling models that uncover needs that the customers know that they have. That is a fallacy. It can be right only if we are talking about sellers that do not apply the right model right. On the contrary, the advanced, skilled and smart use of a Consultative Selling model like SPIN, helps you identify, drill down and develop all customer issues and needs, recognized and non-recognized, personal and organizational of all key players.
Insights Selling also talks about challenging the customer, based on good insights that have been spotted and avoiding questioning. Isn’t that risky? Couldn’t the customer take it as preaching and patronizing? In Greece, we say: “come here grandpa to show you your vineyards”. Let’s suppose though that one way or another, we have managed to build trust and rapport. Don’t we have to ask questions for elaborating on the initial problems? Is anyone so wise to know every single thing in all its span and depth? I doubt it.
Should we throw Insights Selling in the garbage? The answer is no. It could be a useful arrow in our quiver when dealing with an existing customer that we have a long lasting relation with; a customer that believes in us and is keen to our advising; a customer that recognizes and appreciates our expertise. It would be useful in cases that we have to come up with an elevator statement and trigger the interest of a customer that is not willing to give us more time. After all, another component of Selling Consultatively is flexibility, innovative thinking and adaptability.
We Sell Consultatively then, when we understand our customer insights and apply the right Consultative Selling model right and situational.
One last thing to keep in mind. When shopping, check out your potential vendors and ask yourselves. Do they Sell Consultatively enough to you?
Before the finish line
by George Pastidis
It is really the most wonderful time of the year. More time spent with family, experiencing the holiday spirit, toy shopping and white winter activities. However between now and New Year’s, we have a challenging target yet to achieve; our sales numbers. It is time to finish 2014 strong and start 2015 stronger.
We have to set our priorities right then and there should be no dilemma between quantity and quality when it comes to opportunities. The latter is the undisputed winner. We should focus on managing our sales funnel asking ourselves what is worth chasing and what is feasible catching. So, it is time to do or review our strength and attractiveness exercise in order to understand how good we are positioned for turning an opportunity into a contract and how attractive this opportunity is to us.
We better focus on our existing, good, old customers. The ones of course that recent past’s implementation worked fine and we have few great sponsors to support our case. Remember what I said before? It is not only attractiveness that counts. It is strength as well. If we have done our homework and excelled in our previous tests, having established trust and rapport and built long lasting relationships, our chances to get the deal done soon are definitely higher.
In search of quick excellence though, we should be careful. We do not want to push things, taking the risk to waste valuable opportunities that need time to mature up; 2015 is not far after all. Instead of trying to cut a long buying process short, we better focus our efforts on attractive opportunities that we are strong at and the buying process seems to be of a good fit. That is another good reason for picking the existing customers’ opportunities. We have a better sense of what the buying process is like and how soon key players make their decisions.
Wish you finish 2014 as strong as you want and start 2015 stronger than ever. You deserve nothing less!!
What is a Target Persona and Why Do I Need One?
Brittany Ransonet in the CENTER FOR SALES STRATEGY BLOG explains why and how we should target better our sales and marketing activity
There’s a great line from the hit show Friends that strikes me as appropriate to any discussion of target personas. If you’re a fan, you may remember when the whole gang goes to Barbados in one of the later seasons, and Joey meets someone who doesn’t own a TV. Dumbfounded, he says: “You don’t own a TV? What’s all your furniture pointed at?”
Summer is here and we are ready for holidays. Are we? (New)
by George Pastidis
Having a first, quick view of things, we could reply: Ready!
It is very possible that we had a fabulous first half and we are on target. July is probably not the best month to go after customers. After all, customers had a rough first half too and we all deserve to chill out a little. Some of them are already on holidays and we make our summer plans too, being in a big dilemma among Sardinia, Corsica and Santorini. Only 3 weeks left and August will come and we will hit the road!!
But August will come and go and there is the trap. September is not far either. Both us and our customers will come back and by the time we will get back in track, back in business, back in getting the beautiful sandy beaches and sunsets off our eyes and minds, October will show up. October is an excellent month for business development but it is too late. In B2B sales with long buying cycle, we might end up implementing and invoicing in 2015, facing two hot issues. First of all, second half targets will suffer. Second, if management notices the business we have in the pipeline (they do not need to notice actually because we will volunteer this info for justifying our 2014 gap), they will definitely raise the bar, setting quite challenging targets for 2015. Not always too good. Right?
I may sound like Cassandra, the ancient Greek mythological prophet that kept forseeing bad things and there was disbelief about. Cassandra though, foresaw the destruction of Troy.
What we could do, is to focus. There is only three weeks left and we should focus. We could work on infrastructure stuff. Populate CRM, fine tune the report that was bugging us and we had no time for, check on our competition trying to assess our strengths and weaknesses towards competing suppliers, get back to customer with some pending customer service issues, set up internal meetings for tackling issues that we’ve been having with other departments and colleagues. We could do all those smart little things that everyday routine did not let us have enough time for before and will not let have enough time for after.
Last but definitely not least, we could plan meeting our customers. Maybe it is now the best time ever. The ones that just got back from vacation would love having a good audience discussing the fine sea bass they had and they ones that are packing will be in an awesome mood, willing to spare time for meeting us. Between holidays’ tips, we can always seize the opportunity to talk business too.
This way, we will definitely make one more concrete step forward. This way, we will surely increase our chances to achieve our yearly challenging targets.
Two stories in One Marathon
by George Pastidis
It’s been more than three years that I have started running regularly. The more I get into it, reading about it, discussing with other more experienced runners and of course practicing and participating in races, the more I get to love and enjoy it. The more I tend to discover running’s similarities with selling.
Five months ago, I made the decision to participate in Paris Marathon. Living temporarily in Paris on my own since my family was is still in Athens, it was a unique opportunity to put time in training and I started working on a plan based on tips from Marathon veterans.
Practice, plan and prepare, get the right apparel and equipment
Build stamina before speed – do not give up
Network – join a running club and/or fitness center
Find a convenient running store
Associate with runners
Have a running coach/mentor to get guidance and feedback from
Motivate yourself – sign up for a race, set challenging and feasible goals
Have a running diary and/or blog
Eat right and sleep well
Take breaks to avoid fatigue and injuries
Do not skip practice
Do not try new things on the racing day (shoes, clothes etc.)
Remember, one step at a time –increase speed, time and intensity of trainings gradually
Open the race slow and careful, checkup yourself and if you feel right speed up making sure you finish strong
Do not mind things you cannot influence such as the weather conditions
Running is a matter of psychology. Think positive. You feel good, you run good
What do you think? Aren’t Running and Selling very much alike?
First I thought that the answer is “YES, they are very much alike”!
However, after running Paris Marathon yesterday, I started having second thoughts.
Before the race I decided that my primary objective would be to finish the race of course and run in under 5 hours time. I even had agreed with my coach the race strategy. Start at a pace of 06.40min/km then go down to 06.30min/km and if I feel good in the end, finish strong. Well, I did everything wrong, starting strong and finishing weak after 05H27M time.
On one hand, I finished. On the other hand, my time goal was not achieved.
Although, I am not proud of my time, I had every single relative, friend and colleague paying compliments, congratulating me, telling me how impressive my achievement is and reminding me that it was my first Marathon and next time I will do way better.
That is what makes the major and critical difference in sales. In a real sales world, it is the result that counts. We have specific and measurable objectives that our managers expect us to achieve or overachieve. If we fail to turn a major opportunity into order, we do not hear “never mind…what counts is the effort…next year, you will do better”! We have to bring the numbers every time, we have to be multitasking, sometimes, there is no time for preparation and we do not compete against ourselves as amateur runners usually do. Competitors are out there, eager to eat us raw.
In conclusion, I still see many similarities between running and selling. But, I also see lots of things that make them look less alike.
Still holding your breath?
by George Pastidis
I have worked with many skilled and experienced b2b sellers in the recent past.
One of the very first issues I check out with them is Procurement.
I often ask sellers questions such as:
- Is Procurement involved in?
- Do you know these guys?
- When do they usually enter in discussions?
getting answers like:
- Thank God, not yet.
- I do not know them this much.
- They usually pop up in the end for negotiating the price.
Apparently, all those really skilled sellers hold their breath every time they walk outside procurement’s office and would love to leave the “bad guys” behind.
They do a brilliant job with identifying and developing their good old customers (that they have probably become partners and friends with after some years of collaboration) needs but they miss one thing. Buyers are their customers too. Buyers have needs too. Buyers can be valuable partners too. Buyers make friends too. After all, they are human too.
If sellers choose to hold their breath leaving procurement behind, it is actually them that “train” buyers to focus on negotiating only.
They “train” buyers to focus on one and only negotiable issue: price.
Things will be a lot easier for sellers, if they treat procurement like every other customer, if they ask proactively to meet with them, if they identify and develop their organizational and personal needs too. Sellers should help buyers to define or re-define their buying criteria (and eventually RFQ) ahead of time, matching this way their proposed solutions.
Better stop holding your breath then trying to leave procurement behind.
Better start working with buyers, treating them as real customers.
That will pay back. This way, you will start selling to instead of only negotiating with Procurement.