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Sunday, 24 June 2012

Are Your Sales People Hunters or Farmers? You Need Both!

My old sales mentor, the famed Phil Copp, Sage of Wythenshawe, was the embodiment of the classic salesman, unwilling to accept defeat and always ready to look at another innovative approach to solving a problem for his customer.

Phil was meticulous in his planning and knew every week precisely where he was going, who he was visiting and why.

I know that the world has changed significantly since those days and the dramatic developments in communication online have led to equally dramatic changes in marketing and sales methodology. 

There is no doubt that email, websites, LinkedIn, Twitter et al are fine and frankly have become essential components of business development today.  However it is still vital, perhaps more than ever, to meet your customers face to face, eyeball to eyeball, and build a relationship that cannot be done electronically.

Phil Copp would have loved today’s world and would have exploited it mercilessly to his advantage.  He would have been equally certain that he needed to make a specific number of calls at regular intervals to ensure that the personal relationships were kept warm and productive.

The key to his success was that he understood the difference between the sales hunter and the sales farmer, and most unusually, he combined the two because he understood that the world doesn’t stand still and like it or not, customers move on for many reasons.

He knew that, on average, he would make around 30 valid sales calls a week and that meant not just putting his head round the door and saying (metaphorically) “Owt today?”

On that basis he then divided his annual total of calls into 70% existing customers and 30% prospecting.  He would then plan the calling schedule for each week based on those ratios.

All very simple and nothing new, but he stuck to it religiously and consequently grew his part of the business significantly.

It was a combination of great relationships built on trust, and vast experience which led to his unsurpassed expertise and domain knowledge.

The problem in many cases is that often people on sales have been classified as either hunters or farmers and never the twain shall meet except to complain about each other’s activities,

The very title of Business Development implies searching for new outlets  and then presumably handing them over to someone else who will develop the relationship without any thought as to whether this can be done effectively.

Great sales people realise that it is far better to research the market, identify the potential, go to see them and open the door to building a relationship.  It’s not easy but it is the most satisfying part of any sales person’s business life.

Hunters or farmers?  You need to be both!

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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Peer Group Pressure? No, It’s Peer Group Power!

One of the most significant issues for any leader is that of apparent isolation.  In other words, the average leader just doesn’t have anyone to talk to.

It is obviously difficult, if not impossible, to talk totally frankly to the team.  It is equally difficult for a hired gun, for example, to talk to another layer of management upwards with the feeling that this may disclose weakness, true or only perceived.

I recall a situation where a brand new member of my Vistage group called me the evening before his first meeting and asked if he bring up an issue for discussion.

“Of course you can” I said: “Do you want to tell me about it now so that I can prepared?”

“Oh no” he said, ”I can’t discuss it on the telephone – let me talk about it at the group meeting tomorrow”

Somewhat surprised I agreed and he stood up in front of a dozen people he didn’t know and told his story.

In essence he had taken over running the business (a very successful engineering company) from his father who insisted that he bring in his younger son as well to “help”.

The problem for my member was that his brother was a totally disruptive influence in the business and caused a vast amount of trouble and distress when, on the face of it, the member felt that nothing could be done to improve the situation, and said so.

The situation was, in fact, so bad that my new member had had a cardiac arrest and was developing other symptoms, all because of the stress.

“So why are you bringing this to the group if nothing can be done about?” he was asked.

“Just talking about it helps” he said: “In truth, I haven’t mentioned it before to anyone since it all blew up, ten years ago!”

There was something of a shocked silence and then my Vistage group got to grips with the task.  In half an hour of questioning and discussion, they came up with a solution.  Open an office in Spain in a nice area by the sea, buy him a house (which the company could easily afford) and send him off as Export Director, Europe.

In the event it all came off, the brother was happily exiled to Spain where he blossomed and was successful in opening up the European market while back at the ranch, peace reigned for the first time for ten years,

And the moral of the story?  It is one that I have mentioned previously that “No-one is as smart as all of us” especially where emotions are concerned, and strong familial emotions at that.

It demonstrated for me the power of the Vistage peer group which can operate without that emotional input and can give tremendous support in the solution of very difficult and seemingly insoluble problems.

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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Are You in Selling Mode? Then Ask Questions, Shut Up and Listen!

I am an avid collector of interesting quotations and I came across a couple this week which had some resonance for me.  They are from the Greek philosopher, Epictetus (55-135AD) and I guess that you know someone to whom they could and indeed should apply:

·      Keep silence for the most part, and speak only when you must, and then briefly.
·      We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, although he had probably never heard of Epictetus, was a great proponent of both these strictures.
He would go with the engineer on to the shop floor (engineering shop, that is), tastefully attired in his long mac and trilby hat, moustache quivering and pipe at the ready (it helped his thought process, he would say), ask a question and wait for the answer.  If none came he would stay quiet until the engineer couldn’t stand the strain and started talking.
Some would say that Phil was taciturn; if they did, they missed the fact that he had a mind as sharp as needles and never missed a trick.
However, as he often said to me:
·       “If you are always talking, you will never hear what he's saying, or know what he’s thinking or what he wants, so shut up and listen”
It seems to me that the quotations above cover that philosophy perfectly.
Really good sale people are not big talkers: they are ferocious askers of questions and subsequent listeners.
The art is to use open questions starting with “Who, Why, What, where, When or How....?” and there has to be an answer.  Closed questions starting with a verb like “Do, Are, Would, Have...? etc” can be answered either Yes or No without any elaboration..
After all that, of course, it is essential to listen and keep listening.  If the respondent goes quiet assume that they are thinking and just wait until they crack and carry on.  Not easy but it really does work.  Above all stay quiet until you hear something that enables you to respond with a solution to their problem.
Remember, selling is not telling; it is about asking intelligent questions and then listening.

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Sunday, 3 June 2012

Commissions, Bonuses, Incentives? Better to Give Your People a Purpose!

One of the pleasures of this technological world in which we live, is the ability to tune into work by many eminent leaders, academics, teachers, gurus and other assorted (and sometimes. so-called) experts.
I recently heard about a series of animated lectures on TED under the heading of RSA and one in particular by Dan Pink.  You can find it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc  
It just so happens that Dan is one of the keynote speakers at the forthcoming Vistage Global Chair and Member Conference to be held in Dallas, Texas early in 2013.
This particular video proposes a radical view of the bonus culture, in that a vast amount of research all over the world has shown that financial incentives work well when the task is mechanical requiring little if any conscious thought.
On the other hand, the research shows that if there is even a modicum of intellectual input required, performance actually deteriorated with a financial incentive. Consider, for example, the issue of bonuses and subsequent success or otherwise in the financial sector.

Radical indeed, and it gives the lie to those who simply offer higher and higher monetary bribes (because that is what they are) in the hope of enhanced performance.

The presentation caused me to recall a sales representative who never earned more than around 10% overall commission.  When we taxed him with this he said that a 10% improvement in his salary was sufficient and he didn’t aspire to anything more.
Dan Pink suggests that given a task requiring intellectual input, three criteria come into play if performance is to be improved:
·       Self-determination
·       Mastery
·       Purpose
Self determination in effect means giving the individual the freedom to undertake a task without interference invoking that overworked word, trust.  There is nothing as demeaning as being tasked with achieving someone else’s objectives.
Mastery implies a comprehensive knowledge of the background and the technology involved in the task.  Kenneth and Will Hopper in their wonderful book, The Puritan Gift, call it Domain Knowledge and that is best achieved by making sure that everyone has experience across the board throughout the business.
Finally, there must be a purpose for people to want to achieve; the need for them to see an objective that is relevant to them and which means that they can understand what success looks like.
Given those three criteria, who needs financial incentives?  Make sure that your best people are more than adequately remunerated and then give them their head.  That is the route to success for everyone and for the business.  Thank you, Dan Pink.

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