Why sales and marketing do need AI (New)
If you’ve reflected in past year about why Sales and Marketing do need Artificial Intelligence(AI), then my guess is you’re not alone. Having thoughts on what type of AI is most suitable and what AI goals to pursue is kind of expected – since AI has gained popularity, is changing the way we sell things and helps business to keep a competitive edge. Many questions have been bugging us. I have the luxury to hear hosting today my dear colleague and subject matter expert in this field Andreas Mansson, Marketing & Communication Data & CRM Director Ericsson, has many answers in his insightful article below:
“There are almost an abundancy of use cases and goals to realize like speeding up sales cycles, be more productive (remove repetitive CRM admin tasks), be more effective (close deals quicker), improve forecasting and predictive analytics, improve lead to deal velocity or automated self-healing data bases in CRM and MAP. List can be made longer, and it feels like we’re all now trying to connect the dots on what could be done and fantasizing of what could be – but I believe in today’s modern sales and marketing environment the importance of having access to real-time and relevant data with abilities and capabilities to analyze and act on the data is in highest demand in both sales and marketing. In short, how do we ensure customers stay in-front of our brand instead of competitor’s brand.
Most of the time this has to do with sales and marketing’s ability of being relevant, timely and almost predictive in how we sell and communicate, meaning having a higher understanding of customers’ needs, wants and requirements then competitors – sounds easy! but how do we achieve that? I thought a lot about it, and I believe at the heart of that answer is the word data, and our ability to use data from digital engagements compiled with sales data to shape qualitative data sets where we can apply AI technology to fully discover what customers like and dislike, what they prefer and not prefer and spot trends that helps us to better serve our customers and increase trust and loyalty.
So, how do we start?
Well, first we need to work on overcoming the barriers of having bad customer data or poor digital marketing customer insights. Then to reach triumph there needs to be a robust data strategy between sales and marketing– meaning our AI is only as good as the data we feed it with from sales and marketing tools. Also, sales driven culture should take marketing more seriously, classic assumption is marketing being an event organization and not a strong ally in amplifying sales performance and outcome!
If I allow myself streamlining a bit and picture an organization fully relying on marketing to deliver qualitative leads to sales. Here, first applying AI to analyze historical sales and customer data, correlate with digital marketing behavior to determine intent to sort out lead profiles most likely to buy. Then, notify sales via automation on high intent lead sand have AI assist along the buying journey with predictions and recommendations on next best actions to close the opportunity– that is a very pleasant fantasy on what AI success could be.
And a final reflection around why does sales and marketing need AI that spurred to mind – increased sales adoption of CRM! When administrative burden is reduced on Sales reps and AI self-serving sales forecasting, prescriptive analytics and automated sales recommendations becomes available in CRM, early AI sales adopters will experience increasing impact on sales results, because sales will finally have relevant and real-time access to the sales intelligence they deserve and can spend more time on selling! Even believe digital maturity gaps between generation X, Millennials, and generation Z will become less obvious and easier to overcome – since all will start at the same level.
When (not if) we can unlock the full understanding of customer behavior, getting sales and marketing involved through a data driven mindset with a drive to fantasize about what AI could be–I believe it is virtually a recipe for successes. Because we will know how, where and what to listen and act on and why customer prefer our brand instead of the competitors. That’s’ why I believe sales and marketing needs AI.”
Thanks a million, Andreas!!
Remote or in-person sales trainings next?
by George PastidisIt’s quite few wins that we could and should celebrate in our team but one that I am particularly proud of is the speed with we managed seamlessly, smoothly, efficiently and effectively to switch over night from in-person to remote trainings when we entered the Covid era. Kudos to us and kudos to our training vendors. Our experience, adaptability, creativity and problem-solving skills met with technology and the result was awesome. We continued making our learners happy. We continued seeing our learners’ behaviors changing. We continued having learners sharing testimonials about the business impact they see in the sales trainings provided.
But despite the minor struggles we keep facing with Covid, the pandemic went down in history. What should we do next then? Continue training in our virtual world that we seem to have mastered now and makes trainings easily accessible any time any place and cost effective or run back to our good old in-person trainings that engagement is king and they suit all kind of learning styles?
Without getting in an exhaustive analysis of pros and cons of each way, I would like to share how I as a trainer feel every time I finish with an in-person training in one word: Contented!! Contented because I was looking for two days my trainees in the eyes. Contented because I have managed to really have communicated with each one of them during or between the training sessions over coffee, lunch or dinner. Because I had the chance to dive deep in the learners’ customer world but at the same time hear them talking about the countries and cities they come from. I have learned so much. We have learned so much together. Engagement and accountability were there not to mention togetherness and social intimacy. We’re talking about an experience that remote trainings can’t touch.
However, I like being realistic. We live in tough and uncertain business times. It’s been long since our companies’ key business metrics stopped being linked with market share and it’s financial metrics we’re mainly measured with. Financial analysts love profit margin. OpEx is rather tight and we have to respect that. We also cannot overlook the emissions reduction objectives that remote trainings help organizations achieve. Given this situation, we must make some choices where we could apply a simple straightforward rule of thumb. Are we talking about an open training event that we have many people required to travel? The answer should be to go remote and try with pre-work and post-work asynchronous learning activity to make it up for the limited interaction during the core workshop. Are we before a major product launch and we need to have a fast sales training rollout across a large geographical area? Again, the remote solution would be the best fit. Are we talking about a closed class that the vast majority or all the participants are from the same place and thus only the trainer needs to travel? Then an in-person training solution is definitely the strongly recommended one. We need to have the team mingling and exchanging because we need to boost their team spirit? The in-person solution should be certainly qualified.
To cut the long story short, no one-size-fits-all and we have to make a judgement call depending the circumstances with no bias, continuing investing in technology and the relevant learning experience and learners engagement platforms, using our common sense and being realistic because in the end of the day perhaps the best training is the one actually happening.
Interested in checking out George’s recently published book 90 Short Stories for Better Business? If in Greece you may order at any preferred bookshop of yours or use the following eShop to order https://www.politeianet.gr/books/9786188249882-pastidis-george-koukounari-90-short-stories-for-better-business-337558 If outside Greece, go on your Amazon convenient site and order, searching by my name or the book title. Here’s the US link for example https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B2TSN36N
The Sales Transformation: Relating sales leadership through short stories with George Pastidis
Consalia, interested in learning how to further develop the sales industry and connecting with Sales leaders to spread key knowledge to their audience, has Sales Transformation podcasts on a weekly basis. Dr Philip Squire spoke this week with George Pastidis about storytelling and his book “90 Short Stories for Better Business“.
Dr Philip Squire wrote introducing the podcast: “It was great to have George Pastidis, Assoc CIPD join us for this podcast. He is such a great collector and teller of stories and has a huge amount of experience in sales and negotiating gained over many years. The podcast was based on his newly published book ’90 short stories for better business’. I loved the way he also draws on the great Greek philosophers, the Scouts that he repeatedly said he learned so much from and his sporting heroes for inspiration. There is a lot of wisdom told through these stories.”
In this episode, George and Phil have a great conversation about the inspiration behind “90 Short Stories for Better Business”, learning and development, the growth of the sales industry over the years, the importance of good management to gain confidence and more.
You may listen to the podcast:
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3r8erFk Apple: https://apple.co/3SyH3mI Google: https://bit.ly/3DUKeRx
Look forward to:
[10:50] What planted the seed to write “90 Short Stories for Better Business”, and what inspired its structure?
[24:26] Discussion on particular stories that may have had an impact on George on a personal level as a salesperson
[38:55] George’s perspective on leaders as a coach and if coaching is an integral part of leadership
[41:06] The current state of the Sales Industry and in what direction it seems to be heading
Interested in checking out George’s recently published book 90 Short Stories for Better Business?
If in Greece you may order at any preferred bookshop of yours or use the following eShop to order https://www.politeianet.gr/books/9786188249882-pastidis-george-koukounari-90-short-stories-for-better-business-337558 If outside Greece, go on your Amazon convenient site and order, searching by my name or the book title. Here’s the US link for example https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B2TSN36N
One Big Don’t of Selling
by George PastidisSocial media is a powerful tool for sellers. They get to know better and easier their prospects. They understand their customers’ organizations in general and the individuals in particular. They see what they like, what subject they’re active about, whom they connect with, their opinions and appetite for business, how they like to engage with people. Social media can warm up your cold calls. But social media is another double-edged sword that if you don’t use right, it can hurt you big time.
A seller sent me an invite to connect on LinkedIn last week which I accepted. A minute later, he emailed me. I only have my personal email on LinkedIn and he used my professional one but that didn’t surprise me much. Having spoken in several conferences, I understand that it’s very easy someone to get my Ericsson email address. I’m used to that. A funny thread of emails started which I would like to share with you in a nutshell. He said to me that he understands my needs (he actually told me what my needs are) after having spoken with my team and he literally mentioned that I spearhead the sales function for EMEA. Interesting because not only I do not do sales in nowadays but in our organization there’s no EMEA market area. The setup is different. I had to ask him who are my teammates he spoke with and his reply was “some sales rep in the US”. Hilarious! Me the supposed to be Head of Europe Middle East & Africa sales (I wish it was the case) have a team in the States. I insisted to get to know who this guy is and our brilliant seller said that he was specifically asked not to disclose any names and he had to respect that.
It was about time to switch roles and have me becoming the challenger. Perhaps it’s the trainer’s role that I have a hard time to get away from. I explained to him that being a proactive seller approaching your prospects with provocative sales insights is an awesome thing to do but first you need to understand the insight selling model itself and then you have to make time to understand your prospect’s market and company situation. But all the above matter less if you’re not honest. Bluffing hurts trust and customer intimacy for good. I also explained to our friend that he needs first to “walk” and then “talk the walk” and not only “talk the talk”. Nobody can trust their organization’s business interests with a seller who talks excellence but demonstrates no excellence. Nobody can trust someone who’s dishonest, incompetent and superficial.
A week later our friend hit back. He asked for another chance, saying: “Apologies, If I caught you on a bad day…”. The guy hardly knows how to apologize and maybe I need to do something about my training skills which don’t seem to have worked with our friend.
MWC2022: Grab your customer’s attention in 1 minute
by George Pastidis
Mobile World Congress (MWC2022) in Barcelona is still in progress as I write to you. This is perhaps the most important telecom event every year and this time is of particular importance because Covid blew the events of the last two years. Helping a colleague to prepare for that, I realized that the key challenge for people sitting at an exhibition stand is to have a quick interaction and in no more than one minute time, pitch their potential customers passing by and browsing, grab their attention, engage with them, get them commit time, stay longer, see “what’s in it” for them, attending a detailed presentation or some demo there.
The following three step approach will help you engage easier and speedily start creating value for your customers:
Pitch a powerful Insight
An insight is a new idea that you could and should introduce. Something that the potential customers have not considered before. Something that will make your customers view things differently. Something that will really shake them up, raising their curiosity big time. You must think of your unconsidered (to your customers) capabilities and how those can satisfy needs your customers have not considered, problems they have undervalued or business trends that they come sooner than they expected. This insight must link to your customer’s business and makes them start doubting their status quo and readiness. The insight can link with another customer’s relevant success story or perhaps a third respected organization’s research (for example, some Mckinsey report or a GSMA study).
Example: The study of X analyzed more than 200 use cases and isolated the Y revenue stream. The subset of revenue that Z could address is USD 100 billion!
Bundle your Insight with insightful Questions
Insightful questions play a critical role in presenting an insight appropriately and adding value to it. You want to follow and bundle your insight with one or two insightful questions that will make your customers internalize things and start thinking and reflecting. Avoid trivial questions that help you get information about things you can probably find out in the web and, boring your customers (who see no value) to death. You had a good start with your insight before. Capitalize on this and ask questions to trigger your customer’s curiosity even further. Make them see how the insight you pitched impacts their business.
Example: Have you planned for capturing a slice of the 100 billion revenue pie? Are you ready for this enormous emerging Z business potential?
Tell them how you can together see into this
You earned the necessary aha moment. Seek out now your customer’s consent to move on with a presentation or demo there. This is something that the vast majority of sellers know how to do awesomely well. You adore your technology and you know it inside out after all. Your potential customers are now ready for it. You got them ready with your skillful crisp pitch. Kudos! Continue creating value for your customers and conceiving value for your organization linking your unique capabilities to those needs you helped them start seeing a while ago. This will make a difference.
Close the year strong in sales
by George Pastidis
I love training and coaching sales people. But I love twice as much listening to them; learning from them. And when we’re talking about experienced sales leaders of global high caliber, their input is unbelievably valuable. Bugged with the year-end number one sales challenge of finishing the year strong and start the next year even stronger, I reached out to two sales leaders I have a great respect for:
Olivier Jeantils, Deputy Head of Global Orange Account & VP Ericsson France, and Roberto Bussolotti Regional Vice President Amdocs.
Olivier Jeantils said: “To finish strong you need first to prepare the year the year N-1. For that, it is key to try to get intimacy with customer to guide what are the battles to take the year after for them that might enhance your own business.
- Understanding clearly the challenges of the customer and even pushing ideas that can create value for them in the market is key to be a catalyst on your business.
- Making BCASe for launching transformations and showing the associated benefits for them is important to drive the change inside customer on topics where we know we have a value proposal.
- Also at the end of summertime and beginning of autumn, when customers are starting to prepare their budgets and major CAPEX project for the year after, it is important to be closely in contact to share the key topics of investment and even help them to prepare this through Budgetary offers!
- High level Budgetary offers in advance help them to frame the content of the business of the following year.
When you reach the last 4 months of the year, in order to maximize the landing of your number with a customer, it is key to frame also with them what is their CAPEX landing for the year!
- Operators are strange animals that need to keep under control their EBITDA for the financial community. Landing on the right CAPEX level of investments is key for them and being sharp on this is a tough exercise. They need to manage uncertainty of projects, delays, supply issues and constantly arbitrate between vendors what they will take in their books according to the risk level of each of them.
- In this context, it is key to maximize what they can accept from you in term of HW deliveries and project acceptances to maximize invoices and secure their CAPEX!
- Though this will guarantee as well our revenue, if you are bold on your deliveries and project execution, you have less risk to lose Net sales.
- On top of that, it is always good to reflect on them on additional easy sales they could do with you in the last week when some other vendors might fail to deliver, because then they can easily activate your business add on as a Plan b and secure their CAPEX plan!
- In this domain, the easiest is always to define with them where they stand in term of SW features or capacity activations and define a bulk of money associated so that they can easily send a PO that you invoice in a week. Why only SW and intangible things you would ask? Because when you are 3 or 4 weeks from year end, it is almost impossible to secure a HW delivery on time or even a Services project acceptance! For that reason, SW related objects or Activation codes are the best friends to stretch revenue easily, maximize a superior margin and finally grab the share of pocket of your competitors.”
Roberto Bussolotti said: “To close the yearly sales strong whatever you do towards the end of the year might be totally useless! Hey, don’t rush too much to conclusions. Securing strong sales at year closure is something you need to focus way earlier. How much earlier depends on what you are selling. Selling flowers has a selling process overall short enough, while selling a digital transformation of a bank or of a telco operator is a different story. So, while for the flowers you can put in place a set of actions towards year end to close strong in sales, in the latter case you need to plan very accurately months before. Selling complex deals requires a long engagement with the customers, you need to deeply know them, their challenges, their needs. And once you succeed in the sales, the delivery of that specific project needs to be planned as more accurately as more complex it is. Waking up towards year end might be totally useless.
- Once you succeed in the sales, the delivery of that specific project needs to be planned as more accurately as more complex it is. Waking up towards year end might be totally useless.
- An accurate milestone plan with payments associated to reaching every one of them and a strict and close monitoring to make sure that nothing will make you fail reaching those milestone (and therefore the revenues you need for the year).
- Not to be forgotten is the relationship with your customers. Like all of the above must be practiced and done in a structured way, also for the relationships you need to have a strategy in place. Having the right contacts at customer will be crucial to shorten the bureaucracy, to get your papers signed, to shortcut the easy things that might let you miss your targets when you get to the last mile of the year!
- Write down the relevant stakeholders, identify who’s against or in favor, build and keep a relationship with who’s in favor and understand the reason why who’s is against is against.
- When you find the reason, build a plan to dismantle all the concerns, bring the person to be in favor and build and keep a relationship with this person. Nothing can be more dangerous of somebody who is working against you while you’re struggling to get your result. And this is valid for flowers and huge digital transformations.”
Prepare, work collaboratively with your customers, mind your customers budget and pay particular attention in CAPEX, focus on those products you can deliver, plan ahead of time, map and understand your stakeholders, facilitate your customers buying journey and build relationships. Apparently not an easy job. But who said that sales is an easy job.
Wish you close your sales this year strong in terms of all the KPIs you’re targeting and not only the sales turnover and I hope Roberto and Olivier will help you with that either this year or the one coming soon.
Wish you health and happiness! Happy Holidays!
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Sales leaders: Helicopter view versus dive deep in details
by George Pastidis
I recently had an interesting talk with a young colleague of mine. He told me how impressed he got with a sales leader who was able to dive deep in small details. He gained his team’s acceptance and he made them start preparing better, knowing that they cannot stay on the surface of things with him. I found this view of my colleague a little counterintuitive compared to the broader perspective I always felt a leader should have and I raised the following question to three noted sales thought leaders: “should sales leaders have a helicopter view and a broader perspective or be able to dive deep in details challenging their team members?” whose answers you can read in below and I have to thank them so much for.
Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer Corporate Visions, said: “Our data shows that fewer than 25% of sales reps feel they get extensive coaching from their managers. I believe reps want more than 30,000-foot fly by coaching. But, if managers are supposed to dig into the details, what “details” are we talking about? Deal specifics in terms of timing, buyers and getting to the close? Or are we talking about managers listening to call recordings from technologies such as Gong and providing specific feedback on customer conversation skills?
I don’t think there’s time for both, so most companies will opt for deal coaching, hoping call coaching sort of comes along for the ride (no pun intended). That’s why conversation intelligence systems need to get even stronger in the area of AI to provide more meaningful feedback to reps and directional coaching recommendations to managers. We are starting to see emerging systems where the AI can be trained on your company’s messaging and then score and coach for improvement.”
Richard Barkey, Founder & CEO Imparta Ltd, said: “A great question! In our sales management & leadership programmes, I talk a lot about sales leaders needing to be like a helicopter, but not quite as you use the term. The thing about a helicopter is that it can hover close to the ground and look at the details, then go pretty much straight up to see the big picture. So I see good sales leaders (and managers) as helicopters: able to do both.
I actually define three levels of sales leadership activity (Lead, Manage and Do) and also three contexts in which a leader can be active (Plan, Process and People). By assessing how much time you as a leader are spending in each area, you can create a ‘heat map’ of your attention. Sales leaders often gravitate to the areas where they are most comfortable, or that they feel are ‘appropriate’ for their level of seniority. But, in fact, where a given leader needs to spend their time depends to a large extent on the specific issues within their team or function. For example, if sales growth is low, or the team is unclear on their goals and roles, the leader might need to get involved in ‘leading the plan’, i.e., setting the sales strategy in collaboration with their team. On the other hand, if there is poor motivation within the team, they should ‘manage the people’ and work on fostering collaboration and talent management – either directly or working through their direct reports. In a third example, if the leader has their own accounts (either directly or as an executive sponsor) and those accounts are either extremely important or not doing well, then they might need to get involved in the actual process of selling and negotiating.
The key is to be agile, and able to move between these modes of operation as needed”.
David Freedman, Director of Sales Huthwaite International, said: “When we reflect on leadership style, our minds inevitably drift back to the people who have led us in (or even outside) our own careers. Two outstanding characters spring to mind from my past. A schoolteacher who was revered for his insight and knowledge on such a range of subjects that – it was widely said – he could have taught physics, chemistry, maths, geography, history or English to a high level, instead of the politics and economics which he actually taught me. But his one foray into a career as a headmaster was, by all accounts, not a happy one either for him or the school he briefly led. His love was daily teaching, and the subjects themselves – not the strategic, organisational and people-management responsibilities that come with leadership. His joy, and his gift to us, was to develop individuals through imparting knowledge, encouraging our spirit of enquiry and drawing out our ideas. Another was the President of IBM Europe, whose speeches I used to write. One of the most formidable minds I ever encountered, Kasper “Kap” Cassani wasn’t a systems engineer or a front-line sales professional – he actually rose to prominence inside the corporation through the marketing line. But his grasp of the implications of technical or sales matters, when a specialist brought them to him or – for that matter – when I drafted some lines about them for a conference, was always enough to ask searching questions and make a good decisions. He never sought to undermine the experts who worked for him, but he always used his wide experience and helicopter view to assess risk and establish a wider context for his judgement.
So there we have two strong intellects leading either the individual, through superior knowledge; or the organisation, through willingness to take ultimate responsibility. In a successful sales team, knowing when to use which style is the key to good leadership. In first building the team a leader needs select and assemble them, educate them (or oversee their education) in the technologies, the culture, the market, the economics and the risks they will encounter. That’s a hands-on role, to ensure that the team have a unified and cohesive view of what they are trying to achieve, how they are to go about it, and what the consequences of success or failure are. Once established, the leader needs to step back from too much involvement in what the team is doing, and trust that the groundwork is sound. It’s time for the sharp questions, the regular check-ins, helping out when a knotty problem of price negotiation or customer dissatisfaction rears its head. Being there when asked and otherwise limiting visibility to regular confirmation that the strategy is on track and the team has the tools it needs to do its job. The leader’s role at that point might be as the sales team’s voice in encounters with the board, and the board’s voice in implementing the sales strategy. And, of course, the leader must always give themselves time and space to look ahead. The team might not have the bandwidth or the experience to do that at anything above the account level; the leader must climb to a higher vantage point, where they can see the wide landscape, the assembled ranks of the competition and the distant horizon.
It isn’t purely binary. Teams change. People come and go. Crises happen. Stepping back into the educator role from time to time will always be necessary. The skilled leader will know where the boundaries are and when – for the good of the team – they can be tested.”
Kudos to the insightful input of David, Richard and Tim, I guess we have to safely say that there is no right and wrong really. The two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. Skilled sales leaders must navigate throughout different roles given the different conditions. Skilled sales leaders need to be rather agile and know when to use the right style situationally and with the use of technology be in position to provide their team members with accurate developmental feedback. Perhaps, if we want to stick with the helicopter’s analogy, the Airbus NH90 which is supposed to be among the most versatile ones, would be the right choice and this is why I picked it for our article’s pic.
Richard, Tim and David, thanks a million!!
Adaptation is the key to persuasion
by George Pastidis
Vassilis Spanoulis, a great basketball player, one of the very best in Europe, recently retired. He was interviewed on a TV show where many noted people were asked to say something about him among which Kyriakos Mitsotakis the Greek Prime Minister.
There I was taken by surprise. Kyriakos Mitsotakis is an experienced and extensively trained public speaker. He lives on public speaking sort of. Public speaking is or should be his bread and butter. However, he failed to tell the difference between making a formal national announcement on Covid and speaking casually on a retired athlete with humor and warmth. I strongly encourage you to first watch this video here and then watch another one here where he makes an announcement about the wildfires that Greece suffered from last summer and he does apparently a fine job presentation wise. You speak no Greek? Not a problem because I will ask even the Greek natives to lower the volume. You see any difference? I doubt it. They are pretty much identical.
Being trained is not enough. Knowing how to use your hands and having a good posture is not enough. None of those can be of any particular good use if you do not show the necessary emotional intelligence; if you cannot put your soul in it; if you cannot flex and adapt to the specific subject and audience’s needs. We all need to remember this and sales people in particular. We must adapt our communication style and strategies to match our audience, to match the size of the group we’re speaking to, to match the venue, to match perhaps the e-platform we use. The more tailored our speech or sales pitch the more we increase our chances to get our message to anchor in the heads of our audience, be convincing and be remembered. One size doesn’t fit all. Must adapt in. Must use integration. Adaptation and integration are the key cogs for persuasion. One size cannot fit all if we care about our audience’s buy in.
High-performing in the virtual selling world
by George Pastidis
The new norm is selling virtually and I really doubt that we’ll go 100% back to where we used to be. Virtual selling will be a big part of our sales lives from now on and we have no other option but accepting and learning to live with that, retaining our high standards performance.
We have to remember while selling virtually on some Teams or Zoom calls to:
Find ways to interact with our customers – Throw polls, use tools like Mentimeter for creative polling, ask questions and use the chat feature or voice (when not many people in the audience) to get answers, give thumbs up and likes to our audience and ask them to use the available emojis too.
Rehearse – learning how to mix up things: share our desktop, share a specific file for staying in control of the chat, play a video and make it audible, switch to the whiteboard, use a pen-tablet, throw a poll, record the session and know how to stop recording etc. We have to juggle too many balls and learn not to drop any.
Watch our slides – we always had to pay attention in our slides-deck. Now, lacking the non-verbal emphasis, not being able to take advantage of our body language in full, it matters twice as much. Our slides must be interesting and convincing for telling the story and we have to find the way to blend our slides with whiteboarding and story boarding with the help of a pen-tablet.
Keep socializing – I know it’s not as easy and it cannot be as good. But we still have to pull something there. We can still ask to meet with our sponsor 15 minutes before an important call, have a coffee and together warm up. We can still have an one-on-one chat with one of the participants, cracking a joke or making a comment about something that has been said. We can still join on purpose a call 15 minutes earlier seizing the opportunity for a chitchat with the early joiners. And if we’re very close with a customer, why not have a glass of wine over Zoom later in the evening.
Mind our cameras – we must have our cameras on and we have to encourage our customers to do the same. Eye-contact is still a key thing. And we have to look good there. We to have the right light, must remove the ladder behind us 😊 and if there is no way to get a decent and professional background, we better use a virtual one.
Address our customer concerns – the lack of face to face interaction makes more difficult for us to sensing the customer concerns. Asking the right questions such as the following, helps big time: Have I perceived something wrong about your business? Is what I shared clear enough? Shall we change something before we meet with your manager?
Look for people who are disengaged – we hear them typing? We can tell they’re reding something else? They have no thoughtful questions? They give to our questions answers which clearly show they just want to get by and go?
Redefine the role of the sellers and the ways of working of the sales teams – taking good advantage of the technology that breaks the silos and makes the information flow easier and quicker than before and the subject matter experts way more accessible.
Work together – Huthwaite’s research few years back showed that working together with customers is a top hygiene factor for creating value for them and capturing value for ourselves. Imagine now that we all need so much to get together. We must create a collaborative work environment through which together with customers we’ll identify and agree on their issues and we’ll develop, test and implement the suitable solutions!
Storyboarding and Storytelling: it takes two to tango
by George Pastidis
Presentations is a major part of selling. We must tell the right story the right way and our story needs to have two key components: be persuasive and memorable. Answer the questions why change, why change now and why change going forward with us and send a message that will stick in the heads of our customers for good.
Our storytelling is about persuasion. It should help the audience see into the problematic existing situation of their today’s comfort zone, understand and admit all the considered and unconsidered before pain-points and pain-points’ negative impact, realize the urgency of changing, agree to look for a way out and decide to go forward with us.
Our storyboard is about memorability. It should have a simple and straightforward layout that would support our storytelling making our customers to leave the room (physical or virtual) with all key messages well anchored in their heads and ready to recall those in order not only buy our story themselves but make one big step further and be our evangelists selling our story to their peers.
We can use many different means to create our storyboard. When I first got involved in the Scouts adults training, I saw the trainers using cardboard in a very skilled way. They had big cork-panels where pinning cardboard of different colors, size and shapes, they were creating an engaging storyboard. Sometimes the cardboards had something pre-written on and some other times this would come later after getting the audience’s input. This way, they had a storyboard that besides being engaging, it was involving the audience, helping the integration and achieving persuasion and commitment. But this cardboard thing is perhaps not very practical for our fast-moving corporate world and we could replace with a flipchart which is a brilliant tool. You can sketch your story on, easily incorporate your audience’s input, post all over the meeting room to create energy and easily navigate people around making the necessary links and bridges so your story can flow smoothly. Sometimes, flipchart is not there for some reason. Sometimes we might have no other way but online tools that are often inevitable in Covid times. Whiteboard is everywhere though. Teams, Zoom all these new tools have a whiteboard we can take advantage of. And if we must use a powerpoint, still we can draw an engaging storyboard that with the use of a pen-tablet we can reinforce appropriately.
You want to practice on your next sales storyboard? Try this!
- Go on your first page and draw on the right a giant B. This is your customers’ desired state. This is where they should go. Now cross this out and remember to tell them that this is something they should mind later.
- On the left of your page, draw a huge A. Circle it to get their attention and tell them that this is their current state. Their existing situation. Their status quo.
- Draw a big dip between A and B and tell them that this is the gap you have together to identify. This is their pain-points, misperceptions and concerns. Some of those they will chip in admitting them. But be ready you to come up with problems they had not considered before. You create value for you and your organization this way and you prevent commoditization.
- You’re ready to turn page. Draw 3 big circles from top to bottom for the 3 biggest challenges of theirs and using arrows show their consequences thinking of all the involved customer stakeholders and units.
- Next page. Make 3 big boxes from left to right. On the left one, list the 3 key problems you agreed on before. Draw an arrow between boxes and use the middle one to list their key explicit needs. Their desires and wants. Draw another arrow between the middle and right box and use the right box to describe the way forward on a high level.
- Use the next couple of pages to elaborate on your solution and a third page for the implementation plan.
- Close the loop with their desired state (that B you had crossed out in the beginning) and all the associated payoffs that your solution will provide in a crisp and concise way, using always boxes, circles and arrows to support your story and finish with a call for action.
This is something you can do using a flipchart, a blackboard, a whiteboard, an e-whiteboard or powerpoint with the support of some annotation tools. This would be a simple, straightforward, engaging and memorable storyboard that would uniquely support your persuasive storytelling. Because a persuasive story cannot but go together with a memorable storyboard. Afterall, it takes two to tango!
Solution Selling or Insight Selling?
by George Pastidis
We read every day interesting articles in reputable sources, explaining the differences and similarities of Solution and Insight Selling. Back in 2012, Harvard Business Review published an article with title “The end of solution sales” and Forbes had two years ago an article entitled “Insight Selling is the new Solution Selling”.
We better make one step back though to understand better the evolution of selling in the recent years. In the 70s, sellers would use lines like “it’s the fastest”, “It’s only us doing…”, “we’re the first in the market that…”, “You won’t find a better price”, “it does x, y and z, all in one package only” and they would go on and on dumping features and advantages which manage to create value for their product only. That was Product Selling.
A decade later, Solution Selling came. Solution Selling was questions (researched) based. Sellers stopped shooting features haphazardly and occasionally their foot and started using good questions which helped them identify their customer pain-points, needs and wants. Thus, they were able to turn their products’ features and advantages into benefits that answer their customer needs and they created value for their customers.
It took the sales training industry more than 20 years to come up with something new, something breakthrough. Then Insight Selling came saying that customer buying has changed drastically. It gets more and more complex, the number of stakeholders from the customers’ side involved in the buying decision continuously increases, customers have easy access to information and many options forward and they tend to identify their problems and often the solution on their own before they reach out to their suppliers. This way suppliers are boxed in and treated as a commodity. Insight Selling suggested that sellers should do their homework before they meet with their customers. They should deeply study and understand their market’s, industry’s and customer’s situation and challenges so when they meet with their customers are in position to teach them with rational data and personalized stories what is the gap of misperceptions, misbelieves, misunderstandings and wrong assumptions between their current and desired state.
Insight Selling was well researched and definitely came to bring value. But I never stopped having some questions:
- Is “teaching” a one-size thing that can be the right fit in all personalities (sellers and customers speaking)?
- Is Insight Selling approach appropriate for contract renewals in cases that sellers have enjoyed a great partnership with their customers that they need to reinforce its payoffs and leverage on for advancing on their deal case?
- Insight Selling advocates say that buyers will be easier moved if they’re faced with needs they haven’t considered before instead of only admitting needs they know they have. But I wonder who from the Solution Selling side ever told sellers: waste your customers’ time asking questions that they will help you spot considered needs.
Insight Selling does bring value. But it neither came to replace nor to attend the funeral of Solution Selling. Solution Selling is alive and kicking. Solution and Insight Selling are not competitive. Solution and Insight Selling are complementary good. It is Insight Selling after all that tells sellers to use questions as a tool to create customer tension. Skilled sellers should be able to juggle among different sales methodologies and situationally choose the right one every time.
My answer to the question Solution Selling or Insight Selling is not other than: Solution Selling AND Insight Selling.
Grab your customer’s attention
by George PastidisOne of my favorite authors is the crime novelist Jo Nesbo whose I must have read every book he has written. When he released his last book “The Kingdom”, I got it on my kindle right away. I made some time to start reading it about a month ago. This book though was going unexpectedly slow and so was going my reading. Had quite a hard time to engage in. Three weeks later, I had gone through 15% of the book and I was still bored to death. I got in touch with a friend who is also a Nesbo fan and I knew he had read it already to understand if it gets any better. His answer was: Yes, it does get better but slowly. I gave it another good chance but when I was 25% through being totally disengaged still, I gave up.
Isn’t pretty much the same thing customers do when they attend a presentation of their suppliers? Corporate Vision research says that people remember 70% of the first 5 minutes of a 60 min presentation, 100% of the last 5 min and right in between there is an attention hammock that makes us remember only 20%. We definitely need to find a way plugging in spikes to improve the middle part but we might not even get to that point if people do not click in the beginning. Customers start fresh and receptive, real active listeners, waiting to see and hear someone pitching something interesting. Expecting to see their prospective suppliers coming up with a fascinating untold story, sharing unknown market insights, showing them how they (customers) can make or save money. Asking to see why this presentation matters to them. They want to learn more about them and the value they’ll get. They desperately need to understand that this is not another off the shelf presentation but one made to bring value to them.
If sellers blow this ‘make or break’ critical first part of the presentation, mumbling who they are and how good they do things, they will soon click off and let their minds travel elsewhere. Their dinner plans will probably be a priority. And if we’re talking a virtual presentation like the ones sellers are on in Covid times and most possibly will prevail in the very near future, virtual presentations where engagement is in principle more difficult, sellers will be pitching a customer who is probably multitasking paying zero attention in.
Someone can be wondering now. What if it’s a customer we regularly do business with. What if it’s someone we have provided solid evidence of our valuable services in the past. He could engage anyway. Maybe yes. Maybe not. After all, I was loyal to Nesbo but after realizing that I had wasted about 4 hours, I wanted no more and I switched off my kindle. But I will give you this. Your repeat customers you discuss a renewal with might be more patient than me and stay hooked. The ones you want to enter, you want to enter in, seizing from the competition, definitely won’t. And when it comes to authors or books, we will always wait for the next book of a favorite author. In business, second chances are way tougher.
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My gym buying journey
by George PastidisA couple of weeks back, I wanted to look for a new gym because my old one did not match my new COVID era’s criteria of hygiene. Apparently, my top criteria were the level of cleanliness and ventilation and then of course how busy the place is at my prime workout times, the opening hours, the quality of equipment and the membership’s fee. I cared less about the group programs or the personal trainers’ availability or whether they would weight me or guide my nutrition. I needed and wanted very specific things which I knew how to get.I saw three different gyms. The air was so stuffy in the first one I visited that I got it off my list running the hell away immediately. The second one was a very interesting case. They played serious professionals. Their website had no fees and I had to make an appointment to find out more. And I did make an appointment. They had two receptionists and one of them took me to a side desk and gave me a form to fill in. Had to provide my personal details and answer questions about my current physical condition, how motivated I am, what my exercise objectives are and how I plan to measure progress etc. After completing that sophisticated form politely, I was given a gym tour and then we got back to our desk for discussing the optional plans with their respective benefits and costs. Soon I realized that the plan that was adequate enough, it was extremely expensive and the plan that had a reasonable fee, it was inadequate and suitable to people on retirement that can exercise before afternoon. I thanked them and I left after wasting about 45 minutes of my time. And their time.
Then I went to another place where I actually became a member of. Things there were quick and straightforward. The guy at the reception showed me what are the options I have, money and benefits wise and then he gave me a gym tour. Right after, we did all the paperwork and 20 minutes after I walked in, I was done and ready to practice.
Reflecting on this buying journey of mine, I questioned myself why I did not appreciate the customer experience I got from the second gym I visited. After all they did try what I preach sellers to always do. They focused on creating value before they talk money. They made an effort to understand my needs and sketch my exercising profile. But there is an issue here. There is an issue because we’re talking simple and not complex sales. This makes a huge difference. Customers need to just quickly browse, see what you got and how much it costs and move on. Once you gain their real attention and engagement, then having their commitment, you can go ahead and drill down to their needs in order to create value for them and maybe cross-sell and up-sell for your organization. You cannot waste their time prior to serving the main dish with appetizers of naïve, canned questions and one-size-fits-all forms that create value for nobody.
Continuous learning and credentials for sales
by George PastidisA colleague who is a learning consultant that I work very close with, came across a senior sales leader the other day who was wondering if it makes sense a successful seller who has currently won a significant deal to get more sales training or go for some sales learning credentials. I fully understand if a top seller who might have just aced a multimillion 5G deal has second thoughts about investing time on getting some 5G learnings and earning a 5G badge. Valid points and fair concerns which need to be addressed.Customers are a moving target – Both our own experience and the research insights of major training and consulting companies such as Gartner and Miller Heiman, make crystal clear that B2B sales change rapidly and continuously. Customers get more and more complex and sellers have to be dealing with many more key players. The role of procurement is changing as well. It’s been more than ten years that we see procurement taking way bigger space. The bizarre thing though is that all key players love playing procurement. All of them seek out opportunities for contributing somehow in the key KPI of organization’s EBITDA. The buying journey is anything but linear. On the contrary, it’s extremely complex, competitive, multi-tier and multi-influencer. Buyers are knowledgeable, well trained and have easy access to information. They are then fully equipped to commoditize sellers. They have all the ammunition to treat their vendors as they have no differentiators.The world gets digital – Sales couldn’t be left out. Sellers must get and demonstrate digital leadership. McKinsey’s research shows that customers need both a good human experience and a good digital experience. Asking customers the question “what annoys you the most” and giving them many possible answers, “too much contact” was by far the most popular answer. The tricky new thing then that sellers need to learn is how to situationally manoeuvre between human interaction and digital contact. Sellers must master their digital sales process tools for managing their sales funnel and opportunities and create the best possible experience for their customers. What a huge challenge if you think that what we call “digital” today might look like ancient history a year or two later.Someone could fairly claim of course that his sales record shows that he has no issues with either dealing with changes or being digital. And I cannot but agree. What if he was even more successful, sharpening his skills? What if he was okay yesterday but given that things never stop changing, he has difficulties today or will have tomorrow? The rapid and constant changes require we’ re on our toes with never stop learning, developing and upskilling. This can get us only better.
Validate your knowledge and skills – The next must thing is to show our network of friends, teammates and customers what we’re capable of. Afterall “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”. Wouldn’t be great sellers to make public their IoT credentials while they’re pursuing an IoT business opportunity? Wouldn’t add value to someone’s resume if she has included her Key Account Manager digital badge if she’s an Account Manager applying for a KAM role? Isn’t it a tip top add on for a seller to have the CTO of his customer seeing on his LinkedIn profile that he is a Solution Architect with 5G expertise?
If a seller lacks the knowledge and skills, he must work hard to get those. If he believes he‘s gotten the necessary knowledge and skills today, he has to continue learning for retaining it and developing it further so he’s on guard tomorrow too. And he needs to validate those knowledge and skills and get a documented proof. If this proof is digital, this will help his social selling which is another important area in nowadays. Continuous learning counts. Credentials matter.
Sell like a bee
by George PastidisI watched a very interesting TEDx Talk the other day with Marianne Gee, a beekeeper. Marianne explained why honeybees are a source of inspiration and how they teach us to think sometimes small for acting big. She said that a honeybee in her lifetime makes only one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. But it is the collective work that brings the result. Many small bits of honey that get together for making the big output. An output actually that the honeybee never benefits from.But how this connects with sales? How come a seller should sell like a bee?A seller who struggles to get in a call with a C-Suite customer of his, should also think small and never neglect taking good take care of his users who have the pain points and he needs to have them sometimes “selling” for him and the gate-keepers through which he can enter in and if he uses them smart can turn into coaches. A seller who is big time focused in preparing for a super critical presentation to his customer’s decision-making team, must remember that he most probably wouldn’t stand this chance if he hadn’t rehearsed and aced a low-key presentation earlier on. A seller who prepares his negotiation plan, he certainly needs to prioritize to deal with the big and hot negotiable issues. But at the same time should consider other way smaller ones that if he puts on the table, he will improve his case or if the other party brings in, might destabilize the situation and therefore he needs to prepare for. I could go on and on with examples which support the argument that the seller should sell like a bee and mind many small things for getting to the big ones.But the honeybees, Marianne says, teach us one more brilliant thing: the importance of being givers. Not matchers (asking always for something in exchange), and definitely not takers, behaving like villains. Be willing to share our product expertise, our customer and market understanding, the way we best applied a new sales tool, how the sales methodology we used worked for us, what was our workaround when we dealt with some specific customer problem, what were the selling insights that helped us crack a difficult customer or the killer questions that helped us unlock a tough CPO, the sales process that really served the purpose, the win plan behind a big success story and a key deal we won. And do that without asking something in exchange. Do that for helping our peers. Be givers and the good we do will definitely sooner or later return to us. What goes around, comes around, right?The GOAT boxer Mohamed Ali said once describing his unique ability to move and swing smoothly and fast and at the same time throw his ferocious punches: “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”. Allow me to paraphrase that, saying “float like a butterfly and sell like a bee”.
My New Year’s Eve morning call
by Konstantinos Vafeiadis“Happy to kick-off 2020 GeorgeTalkSales blog, hosting an article of my colleague and friend Konstantinos Vafeiadis. Hope you enjoy it and see value in. Happy New Year!!George”Disclaimer: I am not in sales and I do not know sales rules or secrets, but common sense is not difficult to be appliedThe last 3 months I have been receiving numerous calls from the local operators who want to present me their “new available packages” which could be suitable for me and my current needs. Of course, it’s not about helping help me really but about making contact with their client, increasing their revenue, maximizing their profits and getting new clients. Don’t get me wrong, I am fine with that. Unlike most of the people who usually hang up their phone immediately to them, I try to give them time at least to complete what they have to say to me and then politely I reject the offer if any. But I give them a chance.Today though it was a different story. No chance today. My phone rang at 7:12 am which is kind of early to me for this special festive day, given that we’re talking New Year’s Eve. I answered the phone for having the following interesting conversation:(Me) – Hello?(Representative) – Good morning Mister Ve-fa-e-f-id-a-dis. We are calling you regarding your contract with our operator, we have to offer you a new package with 5,99 €. Our new package contains
………………. I hung up the phone.
But why I did so?
First of all, and as I mentioned above, 7:12 was way too early for this kind of call. I am not used to put my phone on silent mode when I am sleeping so that I will be able to answer an emergency call but definitely no to get disturbed with calls like this.
Also, my family name is Vafeiadis, not Vafidis, not Vifadis, not Vafedas nor any other. Yes, it is a Greek family name and these 3 vowels are difficult to pronounce if you are not familiar with but at least you can spend 5 seconds to read it to yourself and familiarize before calling me and make fool of yourself sound like a child who is learning reading in 1st grade.
Lastly, this is supposed to be a 2-way conversation so at least be polite and wait to get a response to your “Good morning”. Reading your 200 words text that you have in front of you and not caring at all about the other side of the line will only get you a hang up. That is why human call centers exist after all, to strengthen the relation between the client and the representative. Otherwise we would have robot call centers.
Solution to all the above is pretty simple. Be logical by calling in “normal” hours, be proactive by familiarizing with the name of your potential client and be polite. In other words, be smart and use your brains…
I have socks, thank you (New)
by George PastidisI spent last Monday and Tuesday at the Unleash HR Conference and Exhibition, taking place in Paris convention center. Amazing event with great speakers, innovative companies, interesting services, good organization and super energy. A lot to learn and definitely worth investing two work days there. But there was a BUT!
The exhibitors’ area was like a minefield. Every time I had to walk through the exhibitor’s stands, it felt like walking through a bunch of touristic restaurants that they try to drag you in, promising you fresh fish swimming in fish-tanks or being dressed up with some local apparel, showing that their cuisine is authentic. I couldn’t raise my head and cross eye sight with the exhibitors without having them getting all over me. So damn annoying. They would immediately propose to help, they would offer me coffee or for God sake a pair of socks. Can you believe that? They would shake before my face a pair of trendy yellow socks for getting me in to attend a demo of some sophisticated HR technology tool. This is sad. This is a recipe for cheapening your products and services; for undermining yourself and the organization you work for.People have to find other ways for creating value and getting the attention of an exhibition’s visitors:They need to set appointments ahead of time – but (another but here) they have to do that the right way. I had people sending me tailored emails which I appreciated and I responded to, either accepting if I was interested in or declining gently if their services were not relevant to my business. Some others chose to approach me with generic emails that got in my bin with no reply.They have to set up their stands right – in a way that people can have an easy initial touch and feel of their services, using self-intuitive brochures, displays and demos.They must let visitors breath – when they first approach their stand. Yes they definitely have to acknowledge their presence, smiling politely and waving hi, yes they sure have to watch discretely their guests while browsing and only when they see them a couple of minutes later, expressing some interest in something, they should come closer, drop a catchy competitive advantage and check whether their guests want to know more. Most probably, the answer will be positive. They should then briefly introduce themselves, ask a couple of insightful questions to understand the background of their guest and then go on with a quick demo or product description, trying as much as possible to link with the guest’s business. Nothing but common sense.Later, they can offer that espresso and why not, even the damn pair of yellow trendy socks that I regretted so much for not accepting.Lead leaders and thrive in sales
by George PastidisI had the luck to attend last Tuesday, a great Leadership event in Paris, organized by Ken Blanchard. The key-note speaker Susan Fowler, a brilliant researcher and author, spoke about Self-Leadership. An inspiring speech which I found extremely practical and useful.Leadership is a topic which more or less, we all have in focus in our organizations. We all want to have impactful leaders who motivate and inspire their team members. Leaders who can take the best out of their teams and drive them to an optimum and thriving performance. But how much easier this could have been achieved if they had to lead leaders. If they had to deal with people who demonstrate Self-Leadership. People who do not hide behind excuses (Susan called those “assumed constraints”), they have the right attitude and mindset to leverage on their strengths instead and move on, leaving excuses and fears behind; leaving their perceived constraints behind.Let’s talk sales a bit. Who cannot think of a seller who has not used the expensive prices of the organization for explaining a business opportunity that he lost? Or a seller who believes that the sales does not advance because his organization is way too complex and decisions are difficult to be made? Or maybe a seller who expects his manager to anticipate his needs and provide him the appropriate support and sales coaching? Or a seller who has a hard time to sell a specific product because of his own believes and negative perceptions about the value the product may bring to customers? Who cannot bring in mind a pre-sales colleague who is pretty much dragged to visit a customer, assuming that he’s awful presenting to an audience? Who cannot remember a sales delivery guy, staying pretty stalled and having a defensive and negative attitude, caught up in assumptions that the seller is pushing him to some infeasible implementation plan? We all know sales people that let their own assumed constraints to hold them back from success.No sales leader no matter how gifted and skilled she is, no matter how much leadership she naturally or consciously demonstrates, can lead easily such people to sales excellence. Leadership needs to be with both sides. Leaders definitely need to do their job but their teammates should leave behind their perceptions or misperceptions, their assumed beliefs and negative emotions formulated by past experiences. Leaders have to empower their teammates but the teammates should get self-empowered and self-determined, rely on their strengths, and take initiatives for advancing their life, their career, their sales.Some time back, I had a teammate who was so good. Intelligent, dedicated, competent and above all a good man. He had the whole package. In the sales training and delivery area, he would ace things. In business development, he had room for improvement because of the assumed constraint he was hooked on and maybe because of the assumed constraint that I had myself for him: that he’s better on designing and delivering a training intervention and he lacks experience in complex business to business sales. I had not demonstrated the appropriate leadership. I had continued applying a directing leadership style, he had accepted that without challenging me and without seeking the appropriate support and enablement for developing and he was stalled in the specific area. Once I left the company though, he changed so much. He had to leave behind and he did leave his assumed constraints. He took advantage of his key strength which was nothing but the subject matter expertise he had, and he thrived in business development. He had simply demonstrated self-leadership. Lesson learned for both of us.Leadership is important indeed. If it is paired with Self-Leadership, then success is inevitable. We have no other choice but leading leaders in sales.
Did you set your new year sales resolutions?
by George Pastidis2019 is here and all sales people start gearing up for making their sales targets. Either because things did not end right last year, or because we need to start up fresh and get motivated, we tend to set our new year resolutions. Depending on each one’s strengths and weaknesses and our market’s and industry’s situation, these resolutions may vary. I would carefully though recommend sales people to pay particular attention in the following three sales resolutions:Manage the sales funnel right – and instead of dealing with every single sales lead spreading way too thin, be a bit more judicial, more selective, more focused. Try to govern efficiently and effectively your pipeline and pick the right accounts and business opportunities to put your time and other resources on. Activity is nice to have and show. Your management will definitely appreciate. But in the end of the day it is the numbers you bring that matter. Your revenue and of course your profitability.Know your customers – I know you know your customers. Most probably you ace relationship building. But you should not stay on the surface. Should deep dive in your customer’s processes, understand their pain points, identify their known and unknown/unconsidered needs (the latter will sky-rocket your business), find out the root causes of their potential risks, time delays and money loss. You need to investigate the needs and buying criteria of every one of the key players. In other words, you must get to know your customer inside out. This information is valuable. This ammunition of powerful insights will help you advance sales with your customers.Collect cash – and don’t tell me that this is not your job. A sales cycle closes when it gets paid. And this is a job that starts way ahead, billing the right things right. Collaborating smoothly with your commercial management colleagues and taking in serious consideration their feedback. Achieving win-win negotiations. Avoiding over-promising. Delivering and implementing appropriately. Establishing a good two-way communication with your organization’s collection officers and providing to them the right support.Three useful, I believe, potential new year sales resolutions that can help us make our quotas as long as we don’t treat them like the ‘losing weight’ usual new year resolution 😊.
“We want your arguments”
by George Pastidis
I was preparing for a persuasion workshop and I stumbled on a good old movie. One of my favorites. 12 Angry Men of Sidney Lumet. Henry Fonda, the main actor, plays an ethical and responsible jury who does his best to prevent a miscarriage of justice, trying to persuade the other 11 juries to reconsider evidence and their initial vote for “guilty”.
Henry Fonda gives a lesson of persuasion skills. He delivers a show of active listening and persuasion behaviors. He often uses “testing understanding” and “summarizing” to clarify things and establish the common right understanding. He is prepared. He does not do things randomly with ad hoc smart moves. On the contrary, he plans things carefully. He consistently creates first “doubt” and then “movement” among his peers, demonstrating concrete evidence and using solid well-planned arguments.He balances skillfully and situationally between “push” and “pull” behaviors. There are times that he does the talking and he gets way too pushy and occasionally provocative or aggressive and cases that he stoically perseveres and in a pull way he seeks out information from his peers or he builds on their contributions.The movie line though that I love the most is when he exchanges with the hardball jury. The last one that still goes for “guilty”. Henry Fonda tells him: “We want your arguments”, putting him in an awkward silent mode. Apparently because he lacked arguments.If you have seen the movie, it is worth maybe refreshing it. If you haven’t seen it before and you feel like I spoiled it, trust me, it is still worth watching it. As I said before, we’re talking about a persuasion skills invaluable lesson for anybody. Especially for the ones in sales. Because no matter if we’re on a call to understand our customer needs or influence his buying criteria, or we need to challenge our customer going over his unconsidered needs, or present to him a convincing solution, or negotiate with, resolving his concerns, persuasion is key.
Sales killer clichés
by George Pastidis
Who likes boring people? Who likes wasting time, interacting with predictable communicators? Who would ever be convinced to buy from somebody who uses worn-out clichés instead of demonstrating disruptive thinking? Nobody! There is a big list of repellent, sales killer clichés that should be avoided.
Last but not least – it is the very last slide of your presentation. You are about to launch your key message that you want to anchor in your audience’s heads and you use this boring like hell expression that we all hear ten times a day? I am sure you can do better than that.
Our offer is good until… – right. Are you telling me that if your customer accepts the offer a day later, it will be no good anymore? Come on. Find a smarter way to play tough and push your sale. Doing so, you upset your customer, you take the risk to hear him say “no, thanks” or he comes back outside the deadline you have set up and you waste time issuing another offer in the system, losing face this way.
Can I send you more information – unless you have in mind to share some crappy, worthless stuff, do not ask such question. Be assertive, show you know what you’re doing and tell your customer what you are about to share and why.
What keeps you up tonight – what kept her up last night could be her spouse who snores or the heavy pepperoni pizza she had for dinner. But this is not exactly what Dr Neil Rackham had in mind when he talked about probing problem and implication questions. Ask specific, good and relevant questions that help you show off how good you understand the market in general and your customer in particular.
We’re a leading company – if everybody claiming to be a leader, really was, we would have no followers. If you’re a true leading company, you customer knows it. If for some reason which can happen sometimes, they do not know, do not tell them. Show them with the right commercial insights and evidence.
Is saving money the most important thing for you – no, we’re boy scouts and we only care for the greater good. Your customer is probably too gentle to answer like that but most probably he will think so. Avoid questions that both sides know what the answer is. Get to the point and save your questions again for asking something that resonates with your customer and creates value for both sides.Are you the decision maker – isn’t this rude? I’m sure you can do better than that. I understand that you don’t want to waste valuable time. Then, do your homework and find better ways to identify the focus of power. Talk to your sponsors, your colleagues, dig in the web.Do you have budget for this – what if I don’t have now? Will you walk out of the meeting? What if I don’t have for you? First build value for your organization, your solution and yourself and then dare to ask such a question.If you are interested in, we could… – you have delivered a fabulous sales presentation and the moment you’re about to propose the next steps for moving your sale forward, you play humble and you come with this lukewarm line? No way. Show that you strongly believe in your solution and tell your customer firmly what the next steps should be.I’m sure we all recognize these hilarious clichés. I’m pretty sure that we all must have used them occasionally or bumped into them somehow. It is stuff that often come easy to the mouth in times that we feel unsecured or when the customer low-reacts and we need to fill in the awkward gaps. Nobody says that things are easy. But the more we plan things, the more we’re alarmed and we have bells ringing when another cliché pops up, the better off we’ll be.
Please do not freak out. I know that reading sales books on vacation is far from ideal. Would probably be way more fun to deep dive in some Jo Nesbo crime novel or check out Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s latest book The Labyrinth of Spirits. Those are definitely a better match to sandy beaches lay-outs. But you may have some time to kill in the plane while you have not totally disconnected yet. Maybe it is the right time to catch up with your learning that is left behind due to the recent work load. Perhaps you feel like you have gaps that you need to fill in and questions that you must answer. The books I recommend are fab. Some of them are master-pieces that pioneered and shaped up sales for decades. Some others are in the edge of today’s sales research. But all of them have one common denominator: they are sales books that are worth reading.
Happy summer reading
France and England, similar plan with different results
by George Pastidis
Mike Tyson has said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. France and England, they both had a tactical plan in the semi-finals of the soccer world-cup. And their plan was pretty much similar. They both chose to leave space for their opponents and probably see them getting worn out. The French will get to cheer for their team in the final, screaming “Vive la France” while the English saw themselves going from a “Come on England” mode to “Come ooooon England, not again”. The recipe was he same but the ingredients different. So, were the results.
I continue finding in this world-cup a source for inspiration in sales. Can we use the same sales tactics for different customers? Can we face the same way different key stakeholders within one account? Can different sales people have the same sales plan and use similar behaviors?
Now, please do not take me wrong. I do have a great respect for best practices and research based sales models that suggest the tactics and behaviors that effective sellers tend to use when they score. I believe though that sellers need to always be taking in serious consideration their own current set of skills and competences and choose sales tools that they can successfully support. Or train and develop for being able to support adequately. Otherwise, it won’t work. Furthermore, sellers need to go beyond understanding the generic market trends that the suggested models are a good suit to. They need to deep dive in their specific industry, account, business opportunity and every one of the different stakeholders that have to deal with.
Sellers must have solid sales plans and tactics but they have to exercise those together with disruptive thinking, innovation, reflexes and instinct. Sellers have to adapt in the constantly rapidly changing macro and micro sales environment and zoom in the savvy professional buyers they face every day. They do have to have a plan. But the plan has to be wisely chosen to suit themselves and their customers and they must have the readiness to drastically shift away if necessary. Otherwise the punch in the mouth might be lethal.
Do you use VAR in sales?
by George Pastidis
The world cup is at its peak and we can hardly avoid thinking in terms of football these days. The Video Assistant Referee system (VAR) is the video technology introduced in football lately for achieving better and more accurate decisions. Either the video referees inform the on-field referee that his decision is under review or the referee himself asks the video referees for a VAR review.
This, like pretty much everything in life, has been received with mixed feelings and reactions. We have the fans of VAR that love the fact that the chances of having an inaccurate call that will result in an unfair result, get very much limited and others that strongly oppose VAR. Football men like Michel Platini that see the flow of the match getting disrupted and the magic of football getting spoiled. The less spontaneous, the less fun.
Can be that I am a little obsessed with sales but I could not resist in thinking the use of VAR there. The use of VAR for having better and more accurate sales calls. The use of VAR for reviewing a business opportunity or a specific sales call and take the necessary actions for advancing the sale. Have a seller sitting together with a sales coach or his leader and have a good coaching review session. They won’t have a video of course. But they can definitely find a way to somehow rewind things, go back, spot the flaws that need to be fixed and the issues that need to be tackled, identify the strengths that should be shared so others can benchmark on, and plan to take next actions and move forward.
We definitely have fans of sales VAR. there is no doubt that we have around us mature sales professionals, sellers and senior sales leaders that are willing to switch on VAR, give and take sales coaching. Are those the majority? I am afraid not. The vast majority of sales people are high achievers, strong communicators with high self-esteem and confidence. Of course there is nothing wrong with these attributes. I wish we all had those. Things start getting off track though when you over-estimate your natural competences and you don’t work on developing further. When you do not seek out coaching. When you neglect to provide coaching to your team members. When you see sales tools like CRM as unnecessary paperwork that keep you away from the sales field. When you resist having VAR in sales.
Things have changed big lately. Buyers are better trained and more informed, profitability matters big, everybody likes playing procurement, and procurement itself gets stronger and stronger. Competition is severe. Relationship building sales cannot fly any more. So yes, good communication skills, sales instinct, high ambition and hard work on the sales field are lovely things but are not enough. Switching on your sales VAR help to make more accurate calls and win more deals.
I am a fan of VAR, in football and sales.
APS on Sales Enablement – London, June 7, 2018
by George Pastidis
There is no doubt that Sales Enablement is a key factor for closing the gap between buyers and sellers, ensuring that everybody in the organization speaks the same sales language. Sales Enablement does and should impact every sales interaction. Then sellers are really enabled to bring the numbers. Association of Professional Sales (APS) brought together the Sales Enabling Community in London, for seeking out and sharing best practices and I had the chance to be there and participate in an insightful panel discussion with other Sales Enablement practitioners.
Steve Knapp, APS Corporate Sales Director, walked us through a sales enablement program he had developed for Shell International in the past. One key takeaway for me was that in a sales competition they had, they did not reward performance only. They went one step further, rewarding the right behaviors linked with performance. As Steve said, this is the way to do change behaviors.
Ben Turner, co-CEO APS, shared with us that the cost of on-boarding a new sales person varies between 100,000-200,000 GBP, apparently a huge on-going cost for corporations who experience high attrition rates of roughly 30-40% among the sales team.
Alison Matthias, APS Sales Ambassador, shared the interesting CSO Insights research according with 48% of buyers, buy on behavior over product features or price. What an insight for understanding that sellers cannot any more look for excuses. On the contrary, they need to take responsibility for filling in the gap between them and buyers and position as trusted advisors.
In the panel discussion I participated in and Robert Racine, Wipro VP Head of Sales Enablement, facilitated, the million-dollar question was about the KPIs that we should use for measuring Sales Enablement success. A question that triggered a long and interesting discussion. In my humble opinion, if we want to measure the impact of our sales enablement initiatives, we should forget the hard ROI KPIs. On the contrary, we should set soften expectations and measure our Return On Expectations (ROE), mainly gathering concrete testimonials from our sales leaders.
Great initiative on behalf of APS. Keep up the good job, guys. Keep on challenging us.
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.