Category: Sales and Marketing


Time Has Come Today!

July 9th, 2014

Whenever I approach my business development day I often feel like I can hear the old Chambers Brothers song in my head with “Time Has Come Today” echoing and reverberating around my office! Time!!!! Time!!!! Time!!! There seems like there is never ever enough of it for doing sales the right way. The song is eleven minutes long by the way—about as much time as it takes to really plan your sales day!

ID-100248281So for you time-pressured folks with sales responsibilities here are my greatest hits:

  • Focus on the right target customers. You may like certain customers and enjoy the conversations. We all have legacy and long-term customers that we are friendly with. The key is to focus on the right type of prospect and to define it.  
  • Have the right service or products to offer. Many small businesses start selling and servicing to anyone that will buy. This pays the bills and keeps the lights on. However, very quickly an organization needs to make a strategic decision with its resources and focus on selling the right size products and services. If your customers buy too little your costs of sales rises too high!
  • Don’t quit on your pipeline. Too many times sales professionals stop following up on leads and prospects. Social media is riddled with articles and blogs on this topic alone. However, we still stop too early. It takes 6 to 10 attempts to make something happen. Too many sales professionals stop after 1 or 2. Is it mental approach or organizational skills? Either way, time is the enemy!
  • Have a plan. Block your time. Be organized and know what you’re doing before you start. Do your research in organized times. When you’re making calls and sending notes do it in blocks. MOST block their time but do not prepare their work!
  • Create balance. Why do some people hit quota and most don’t? Some of it is about how you spend your valuable time. Do you make the extra call or do the extra work? Do you think long term and invest in key relationships? Do you add value to the people you meet and network with? It took me 20 years to become an overnight success! Get it? If you think about today’s or this month’s quota you may win for a month or two—but not in the long run. Sales is a balance of short and long term with activities, with your pipeline and size deals, and in your overall mindset!

Now the time has come! There’s no place to run! Time! Time! Time!

Why Customers Choose an Entrepreneurial Business Over Big Business!

June 4th, 2014

ID-100263570I have often wondered why our customers chose a private, entrepreneurial company as a partner over a larger vendor that on the surface offers the potential of more. More offices, more potential services, deeper pockets, etc. I have learned that when you get out in front and talk to customers and prospects that customers have their reasons for working with startups and small business alike. (After all that is one of the big three things I think a leader should always do.)

For one thing large companies strive to act small today. Most CEO’s talk of talent management challenges in their big businesses. We need to change to survive and thrive. We want to buy new companies or start new divisions. This all starts with employees and their mindsets—a mindset that is deeply embedded in the world of most growing entrepreneurial companies. Today business is about speed, responsiveness, and agility. It’s your choice to try and turn the Queen Mary or a small, maneuverable boat. I know who wins that race every time!

Innovation. Why do big companies buy small companies? Or help start them? Small business creates out of necessity. Big companies have too much to lose while fighting to keep what they have. In small business, there is less to protect and risk and market share is irrelevant. In order to survive and thrive the business must create real value.  Employees know this and must create value every hour. Compare that to most big companies that expect a day’s work for an hour. Innovation, thinking, creativity, and trying new things is often left to the Research and Development department or for the Senior leaders to decide. Every employee in a small business is a leader, a change maker, and a risk takerthat is where value is created!

Being a big fish in a small pond can have its advantages! Do you want to be a big customer number or a an important customer that makes a big difference to your company? This is a choice. Sometimes you have to go with the biggest and the best brand that guarantees your choice will not be questioned when the implementation goes wrong or delivery schedules are off. An entrepreneurial business gives its full attention to a large customer from top to bottom in the organization. The small business puts its best forward, is most likely flexible and interested in customizing its offering, and will pay more attention to you than one of your many new customers!

Local Leadership of a regional company is often more talented and more customer-centered then a large multi-national. I have lived this one myself.  Successful regional companies have high concentrations of leaders compared to big companies. We are more customer focused in our jobs because we do not have to spend a large part of our time managing up to corporate! Not that corporate is not important.  However, it is not Outside-in® and adding customer value directly!

You’re getting more economic value from your purchase when you buy from an entrepreneurial company. My dad used to say, “You will never pay for my fancy office and marble floors in the lobby.” With small businesses, your spend goes to the actual margin of the product instead of the operating expenses of a large corporate infrastructure!

Would you rather deal with me, President of an entrepreneurial company or a big business regional VP with territory responsibility and no authority to make decisions unless it’s in his or her zip code?  Don’t answer! It’s all about your purchasing playbook anyway.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Making Sales Introductions

February 5th, 2014

You have a choice to make in your sales approach. There are many research and internet tools readily available for you to learn about the person you are calling and the company they work for. I think it’s fair to say that you should look at all those materials and learn what you can—this is honorable and respectful. It’s also a good first beginning to “earning the right” with your prospect.

ID-10058046However, I do not agree with a salesperson’s attempt to use that information to create an environment of warmth and closeness on the first call to the prospect. You do not know this person and whatever critical issues, challenges, struggles, or opportunities they might be dealing with. There is nothing worse than attempting to be specific when all it does is generalize and stereotype you as the caller/salesperson.

Today, I received this phone call, “I see that you won an award with SmartCEO for growth. Congratulations! I am calling all of the winners today to tell them about our new widget.”

I think it’s in good taste to do your homework. One might even consider this a compliment. However, to grab a fact and throw it out there and then to go right into your product pitch? Well, this just does not work today. This is not knowledge of me and my issues; this is a worthless attempt on the caller’s behalf to feel better about picking up the phone. This is nothing but fake warmth.

I much prefer the honest attempt at relationship building and prospecting. For example, a better approach would have been, “Chris, I see that your companies have achieved some growth awards. Congratulations!  I am_______ from _______ and the purpose of my call was to ask if we might schedule twenty minutes in the next few days where I could share a little bit about myself and the organization I represent.”

At Outside-In® Companies, we create talent solutions for growth companies. However, I need to earn the right and learn more about you and your organization. We have a great story to share and from there we can determine if it is appropriate for you to share more about your business!

Be honest and direct with your purpose. Be careful about pretending to know your target or their business. It only takes one question to undo this shallow preparation. With most people, you lose before you even get started. Don’t be a sales stereotype when you sell. You would be surprised how hard it is stop the things we know don’t work!

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 Ways to Avoid Being an Average Salesperson

December 11th, 2013

Over and over again I meet average salespeople with average results that sell middle of the road products and services. Everyone from the company, including senior leaders/founders, sales leaders, and salespeople, all want and need more results. Salespeople want to hit the quota, make big commissions, and earn bonuses. The company typically has a strategy that involves growing—whether it be into new territories, industries, or segments. Lots and lots of work is done on setting goals and targets, and in fact, this work is continuous and never ending.

So why are so many salespeople off plan right now? I will tell you what I have learned. Most of this is not original, rather I am an “aggregator” sharing a combination of ideas and experiences to address this epidemic of sorts.

10. Don’t sit next to an average salesperson. Sales is lonely. Salespeople flock together for support and companionship. The problem is that they learn from each other—good and bad habits. When they are uncertain about something they ask one another instead of those that can actually help.

9. Avoid calling on the same people over and over again. Salespeople like to talk to people those who are nice to them, those who will take their call, and those who will meet with them. In a world of disruption this is comforting. However, they are not the real buyers. The person you might want to talk to is a change maker and they might not want to talk to you unless you can guide them through the change they want and need to make.

statcred8. You keep saying you’re there to serve at their beck and call. Sales today is about more than just problem identification and being there with your iPad ready to take the order. Today’s salesperson has to be able to add value in assisting the person in making decisions, not waiting for them to make it.

7. Confidence (or lack of it). The product is changing constantly. Your customers world is shifting and changing, too. If you stand still too long doing the same things you will have not changed enough and you will quickly become an average salesperson. It’ll happen so fast you won’t even know what hit you.

6. The accumulation effect. You simply do not put enough into your sales pipeline. You must collect leads to build prospects. Prospects must become conversations, bids, proposals, and solutions in draft. This takes a while. Average salespeople sit on what they have and pray that there is enough in their pipeline to meet their goals. However, really good salespeople put more in the pipeline all of the time, forever.

5. Time. It simply takes time. How many touches does it really take? Usually 6-10.

4. You don’t make enough happen. Send one more email. Go to one more networking event or trade show. Make one more call. You aren’t doing enough!

3. You dump the features and benefits of your product or service. In today’s world your buyer has never, ever been able to get more information on you, your business, your service, your competitors, and frankly, even your pricing. Everything is available in today’s connected world. Help your customer sort through it all!

2. Customers buy you first! How good have you been climbing the relational ladder from Ed Wallace’s Building Relationships That Last? Do you make commitments and keep them? Are you showing how you can be a trusted advisor and do you know how to do this?

1. In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Are you willing to put that kind of time in? Are you good enough to make it that long? How do you get from where you are now to mastery? At eight hours a day this will take you a good five years of focus.

5 Ways to Lower the Cost of Sales

October 23rd, 2013

One of the largest line item expenses in any business is the cost of acquiring customers. In this new world economy of the last 5+ years, I dare say that this is more expensive than ever. If your objective is to do business with large, Fortune 5000 organizations, your business can expect to invest as much as 1-3 years of time building relationships, meeting procurement, waiting for open bidding periods, or in responding to RFI’s and RFP’s. The bigger they are, the longer they take, the more resources they absorb, and the more likely you may not meet all of their business requirements.

man-96587_640So how do you choose the organizations that you would like to do business with? The Fortune names are well known, their information is public, and their brand is prominent in the market you serve—but they take forever. Most of your competitors know this too. So trends suggest that your competitors are targeting mid-market organizations. They lack the sophistication and bureaucracy of the large companies, right? This may be true, but they are hard to identify in the market. And I can assure that the 800 pound gorilla competitor you fear also has learned that growth comes easier if you avoid the big companies!

Perhaps your organization is using the “shotgun approach” and is going to sell to every business in your marketplace large and small regardless of industry or uniqueness. You are selling to all equally. This is labor intensive which makes it expensive, but this is a way from the early days to find your fit in the marketplace. The key is to use this time that you go to market to gather customer insights through consultative questions and your observations.

Every business needs new sales to stay relevant and to even stay status quo. Therefore, selling and marketing is always important. How else can we sell more to lower the cost of sales?

  1. If you’re a startup or if you’re launching new offerings, I encourage your leadership and business development staff to talk to many industries, different size organizations, and organizations with varied culture and philosophies. Being Outside-In® and asking for target insights is “doing right things” in finding your ideal target market! Just make sure you pull together and refine your market as you get the insights you need.
  2. Analyze your business and its brand promise. This is quite challenging to undertake, but what exactly do you do better than your competition? What is unique to your company? Our family of Outside-In® companies has invested heavily in this process and have had great success. Be ready to uncover areas that you must improve in your business in order to make the most of what you do best! This is the ultimate way to refine your message, improve your services, and determine your choice customer.
  3. What does culture have to do with it? In the New York Times Best Seller, Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, each chapter covers a company that has maverick leadership and is culturally led. Culture is a strong differentiator and very hard to copy by competitors. Yet it gives customers and employees a clear answer to the “why” question. You know the why question, right? Why do we exist? This gives your company a clear purpose for being and binds all three customers together. Each want to be a part of something bigger than themselves!
  4. Grow your existing customers. This seems so obvious but I see companies get out of balance and put more efforts into new customers than existing ones. Take cell phone companies for example. Listen to those great offers and ads and then at the end they point out they are just for new clients—so much for being a 10-year customer!
  5. search-13476_640Understand how the world of digital marketing has forever altered the nature of the relationship you can have with your customer and targets. Today’s buyer wants to buy, never be “sold to.” And they can research and get the information on you they need from websites, blogs, forums, reviews or social media—that is if you have them. Good marketing is not cheap, nor free. Embrace this reality. If you or someone in your company calls a new target, what do you think they will do if they are a little curious or perhaps even interested in learning more? Do they call you or your employee back right away? I bet not. They will look you up. The prospect may go to your website and maybe they will connect from there. So be certain to make sure that your digital presence represents you and your company because in true Outside-In® fashion sales starts today with your online story.

Sales Strategy + Values Philosophy = Consultative Success

August 28th, 2013

BlankSheetofPaperAs a values-based recruitment services company, our value called Blank Sheet of Paper is what we believe is our biggest differentiator with all of our customers and prospects. Hold up a blank sheet of paper. Obviously, there is nothing on it. So what does this have to do with customers and prospects? From a sales perspective, this means that we do not go into our dialogue and discussion with pre-built solutions or a preconceived notion of how we are going to help. Instead, we start with a blank slate – or in our case, a blank sheet. There are legendary stories in business where an international consulting company sends a “custom solution” to their customer however it has the logo of a competitors on the cover page!  So much for a blank sheet of paper!

The challenges to this concept are many. So many companies use the comparison or the notion of Mission Statement. The Mission is on the wall, or above each door jam, or in the annual report, but the actions and values of the company look nothing like it! There is no alignment or resemblance to the word. The gap is huge! Many use ‘consultative’ or ‘solutions-based’ selling as their catch phrase so many times that the words mean little and become contrived. When you really do it though, customers see and experience the difference.

My goal is to make sure that we live a Blank Sheet of Paper sales philosophy and to demonstrate its value. Knowing what questions to ask matter. Getting to the root of the customer challenge or opportunity is what everyone really wants right? What customers want is an HR consulting service that works and that is going to address the problem. Going at it with options and ideas is wonderful, but lets be clear: this is really about doing a better job for your customer! And the best way to do that? Show your customer how and what you do can make their HR recruiting world better.

Let them know you listened. Tie what you do to the problem at hand. That is what Blank Sheet of Paper is all about. Find the problem and address the problem uniquely through your service offerings!

Revisiting Mr. Carnegie and The Three C’s

July 17th, 2013

How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleNever criticize, condemn or complain!

If you’re a Dale Carnegie fan you know this is Principle #1. I have read How to Win Friends and Influence People so many times I can practically recite it. In fact, I took the original Human Relations course 20-plus years ago and nothing gave more of an edge between my ears than this class! I gained real life skills and principles, and of course, confidence to use it. This was a part of our Outside-In® culture and where many of what are cultural values are based on.

So what does this principle have to do with sales efforts? Well, everything. It is so basic, yet very hard.

For example, ever watch a sales person bash their competition’s product? I find myself defending the other even if I know very little about that car, appliance, or service. This is human nature and what this principle is all about. Customers want to work with sales people that they identify with and that they like. Every sales person wants to build strong “relationships”; and yet, often our actions defy and defeat our goal!

I am not saying following this principle is easy. All of us find it hard not to criticize when we find fault. Goodness knows, I have teenagers. I coach high school soccer. I lead a company of employees every day. There is a lot wrong, and a lot of opportunities for me to find fault if I wanted. However, there is something to be said for the old adage “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.” Treat people well, as they like to be treated.

Finding fault causes a person to defend their position…to look for a way to save face…to be vindicated! The bottom line is when we complain we are not attractive to others (and I don’t mean beauty!). When we find fault we divide relationships. When we criticize? Well, we force possible close relationships to defend and detract. Call it human nature.

Those three C’s never really work. Sure, you may feel better after. However, I have never ever seen a sales person win or a leader have impact or frankly, a parent get their kids to change by criticizing, condemning and complaining!

The First 30 Seconds

May 1st, 2013

At our company we examine every customer interaction and decide how we could take that experience as far as we can. We call this our Service to the Nth degree value. Can we take every moment of interaction to an extreme? How could we make it better for that person? For example, how can we answer a phone call with Nth degree thinking? Try getting to the caller quickly and eliminating voice mail. Or perhaps, always answer in three rings – or better yet, two. (Maybe even one!) Why keep that customer waiting? Create the best Outside-In experience you can.

However, today’s blog is about extending that service impression to the process of sales. In fact to put a fine point to it, for those of us that have to introduce ourselves and our companies to prospects, this is about the first 30 seconds of an interaction! Sales people struggle with the first introduction. Most of us spend hours preparing and researching our target. We know about their last annual report, we have read the press releases, we know about our competitors. My guess is that you’re loaded up with marketing materials. You have brochures, white papers, and case studies coming out of your ears.

So what do you need to focus on during the first 30 seconds? First off, your words.

1.  Be crystal clear with your purpose.  Sales people of the world… face it – we’re not crystal clear with our purpose in the first 30 seconds! We wander in these early conversations. We try to connect and “build relationships”. We try to impress with our knowledge of our offerings. We ask for the “order” when our prospect barely knows us. Be direct without being pushy. Be authentic.

2.  Don’t ask for a relationship right out of the gate. It is weird to ask to build a relationship in the first call. It did not work in the hallways of high school, and it is just as well, creepy when selling. This is just too much of a leap of faith for an audience that really is still paying attention to their email or the project they were working on when you called them and interrupted them.

3.  Differentiate yourself. Oftentimes, we act like and conduct business like everyone else. You could insert any product into your introduction and you would sound like the other ten voice mail messages your prospect deleted this week. Make yourself stand out. Think about how your company differentiates itself and how you can communicate it. Don’t let your introduction be “one size fits all”.

4.  Make sure to speak in terms of customer benefit.  As sales people, if we’re not careful our opening conversation sounds something like this to our prospect, “I am Chris Burkhard, I work for my company, I am interested in getting to know you so I can sell you my product so that I can meet my monthly quota, because I am falling behind on my bills, and I really need this sale now, you see.  Truth is, I need a a quick hit to stay on track, and keep my sales manager off my back.” Does your introduction sound like me, me, me?  It is subtle but true.  Until we learn to speak in an Outside-In way and in terms of the customers benefit, we will always sound selfish. Who wants to build a relationship, ever, with someone that is all about themselves?

Sales people of the world, if you’re on plan then you can ignore me.  If you’re falling behind, I bet I know why, and I have the answer – it starts with your first 30 seconds.  How good are you and your company at first impressions?

Is Your Brand Working Hard for You?

March 27th, 2013

Sales is not an easy profession. By the very nature of the role you have to be able to deal with a lot of negativity and rejection. Most buyers say no. This is simply a fact. The job requires so much hard work – busy work, really – research, preparation, meeting planning, detail follow-up with emails and phone calls, all for brief “performances” with your prospect and customer.  Sales is 99% hard work, planning and preparation, and 1% actually selling.

There is so much we can do to be better sales people.  Reading about sales and going to workshops on sales technique is a must. Being prepared and planned everyday is critical. Many sales people sometimes wing it; they count on their strengths too much, and they don’t prepare to to maximize their time. They do too little in the way of the activities that are necessary to produce the volume of output their quota probably requires!

However, I have come to grasp that sales people can’t do it alone! Your company has to work hard on your behalf.  I believe a company must work hard on its brand, and that the brand must be an honest representation of what the company stands for, whats it personality and character are like, and what promise you can make to your prospects.

This is always a brand challenge for any business. Every business has a brand.  Sometimes the brand is intentional; sometimes it is the absence of a plan. In all cases your company gives the marketplace an impression of what it is all about and what it stands for.

In my experience, I have found that being an Outside-In® company matters. Our brand is about being all about the customer. Our brand is our culture, and our culture is how we view ourselves. You can call this our overall personality! This personality is how we help our sales staff add value and clearly how we stand out in a world that is terribly the same! We are definitely not the same. However, we are not different for the sake of being different.  Our difference is because we chose to turn ourselves inside out. We are what our customers need and want us to be!

Our culture and our values? 100% a reflection of employee behaviors that will best enable each employee to be the best they can be in the unique business landscape we all operate in today. Our brand is our culture.  Our culture is our values.

Remember, good marketing helps you amplify the truth, not pitch something that you wish exists. That is the difference!

Watch our video for our truth!

Know Yourself, Know Your Sales

February 6th, 2013

I think it is incredibly challenging to have true awareness as a sales person.  Things like ego, attitude, and personal life can get in the way of  having true awareness in sales. We need to be aware of other people and frankly we need to be aware for others in sales.  This awareness is about understanding what prospects want and what this selling situation might require.  This is about intuition.  This is about knowing yourself. This is about knowing your products and services.  And this is about having the interpersonal skills to observe and respond to your audience’s many verbal, non-verbal, and other environmental cues that happen in every interaction.  Even if you have these things, many lack the self-confidence and trust required to go in a different direction if it warrants it.  We march forward on sticking with the plan; and we wonder why we are not closing deals or meeting our quotas.  It all comes down to awareness.

Having true awareness puts your focus in selling on the true needs of your audience.  But it is more than simply identifying needs.  Sales people have been doing fact finding for needs for decades!  I am talking about being so good at what you do that your entire focus can be on your audience.  We sell with our external needs in mind.  Goals, sales, finances, reports to be turned in.  And it shows.  Not directly of course.  This comes out in meetings that turn into next steps.  Phone calls and emails that do not get responses.  Sometimes, some sales people march blindly forward with “their” agenda.  Their needs and wants take center stage.  But their reception can be blocked by lack of awareness of their surroundings and what is actually happening in the moment.We simply cannot get out of our own way to be truly aware.

When it comes to awareness, there’s something to be said for Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Maslow’s Heirarchy is a part of the Theory of Human Motivation, proposed by psychologist Abraham Maslow. It represents Maslow’s proposed pattern that human motivations and curiosities generally move through, that humans need to fulfill their basic, fundamental needs (food, water, shelter) before they can move on to higher level needs (self-actualization).

Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, interpreted by graphic designer and creative guru Stefan Sagmeister:

The Happiness Hierarchy by Stefan Sagmeister

In sales, employees face issues that impact their well-being around basic needs like a roof over their head, money to pay bills,  food in the fridge, etc. and  this makes it extra challenging to be aware and to be “self actualized”.  This is where the rubber meets the road as they say.  All of us have issues and challenges.  Some of us work through them and can work on our awareness.  Others, must work on it.  But take it from an entrepreneur that has boot strapped a start-up company more than a few times.  Some of us can handle the pressure and the issues and compartmentalize them and be aware.  Some cannot.

If this notion of sales person awareness is not clicking for you than think about how you might prepare for an upcoming meeting with a prospect.  Are you so focused on your monthly targets and your need for income?  Is your Sales Leader coming with you on this appointment and this requires more and different levels of preparation and performance?  Or perhaps you simply have issues at home, the car broke down, or your children are not doing well in school.  All of these things combine to make it hard for us to get to the spot where we can do our jobs.  We carry this burden around like a mask we might wear and hide behind, and it occupies our every moment.  These internal thoughts block our thinking and prevent us from even thinking about being aware of the prospects we are meeting!

My advice?  Make sure you know yourself.  Don’t meet prospects when you know you can’t shed your internal focus. Be present. The key is to know yourself, so that you can know your sales. Once you know your strengths, your weaknesses, and your boundaries you’ll be able to really build that outward awareness that is invaluable to a sales person.

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