Monday, February 25, 2013

The New Salesman: Success Expectations

In our first article in this series, we said product knowledge was the bedrock of selling. From this sound foundation flows the ability to present solutions, grow enthusiasm, and drive sales. Like a fresh spring in the desert wilderness, product knowledge pushes to the surface. And, just like the spring water, the most productive flows are channeled to the place where they do the most good.

In sales, a well-developed process serves to direct product knowledge to the most productive utilization. Think of this, unless the product knowledge is presented to the right customers, with a specific set of corresponding needs and an appreciation for the value provided by the seller, resources are wasted. Miss the mark with any of these and the sales growth is compromised.

Build accelerating factors into the stream of salesperson activities and the sales number grows faster. Insert habits which improve the probability of closing a higher percentage of orders result.

As we move forward in this series we will discuss targeting in great detail. But before we get to that, we should discuss some of the fundamentals of setting expectations.

Far too often, new salespeople are turned loose on their territory and I am called in some time later to figure out why they aren’t performing. Typically the sales manager is at wits end, they start off with a litany of things the seller is not doing and end by asking for my suggestions for improvement. The sales numbers are not growing, but that’s just a symptom of the real story. Simply put the new person is not executing their job correctly – they’re not meeting expectations.

I believe much of selling is activity based. There’s nothing highly magic about the situation. Give me a bright person and let me load them with the right activities and they have a pretty good chance of success. My first batch of expectations is purely activity based.

Here are my own expectations, yours might be different. Either way, you need to sit down and make a list of these to insure there is no miscommunication.

Expectation 1: Call me old-fashioned, call me puritanical, but I believe salespeople must be at work before 8:00 AM. With the move to more home flex offices, this is difficult for some people to handle. At work before 8:00 AM doesn’t mean rolling out of bed and sitting down to check emails at 8:01. It certainly does not include dropping the kids off at school at 8:25. Sound strange, but I keep hearing the same story.

It’s not a generational thing. I knew guys who went through this back in the 1980s. They all had good excuses. They knew somebody who was successful in spite of relaxed work hours. But, I suggest the new guy have expectations laid down on the first day.

Expectation 2: First appointment should be made for no later than 8:30. Actually this is a double expectation. First I expect appointments to be made – no drive by sales guys. Secondly, one of the biggest issues with new salespeople comes with getting stuck in the office. They start the day off on time and on schedule with a 7:30 arrival, grab a cup of coffee, and then do a few reports. Customers call in, they get stuck doing reactive work, which could have easily been handled by their support staff. The next thing they know it’s lunch time.

The corollary to this expectation is the expectation that they have an appointment at 3:00 as well. Blocking out the day with two proactive and planned activities pushes people to a whole new zone.

Expectation 3: Salespeople take notes. I like notes in a composition book which are difficult to pull pages out of. The salesperson should have the composition book with them always. Phone notes, customer visit notes, sketches of proposed products, new contacts met and everything else is in that book.

Expectation 4: The notes are either logged into the company CRM system or reviewed weekly to make certain that every commitment, customer request and anything else that came up has been handled. I have a method for dealing with this information that was taught to me by my boss back in the 80s. You probably have one two. The point is set expectations.

Expectation 5: Communications are critical bit of the selling business. Yet, new salespeople still struggle to return phone calls, answer emails or get quotes back to customers on time. I believe you should think about how much time is spent from initial customer call to call back. I believe the answer should be no more than a single business day. Four hours works better. The point is to lay down these expectations.

Expectation 6: Every sales call has a purpose. Howdy, dowdy (where you just stop in to say hi) calls don’t cut it.

Expectation 7: The new salesperson should know who is responsible for generating quotations. This varies by company, but it’s not uncommon for a new sales guy to waste her time developing a quotation just to show off technical prowess. Conversely, quotes are delayed because the salesperson thought somebody else was going to take care of them.

Hopefully, you are starting to get my drift on setting action based expectations. I have over 50 expectations for new sales folks. You may have more or less, but do understand these aren’t passed down by osmosis.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The New Salesman: Growing the Territory

Accelerating Territory Growth One Individual at a Time 
One first impression,one client at a time.

Building a territory is like building a network of friends.  Let’s think for a moment about the friendships we have nurtured over the years.  If you’re like me, you didn’t just wake up to discover a pile of friends under the Christmas tree.  Instead, they grew based on shared experiences, time together and commonality of background. 

Amongst your best friends are classmates, coworkers, neighbors and people met through some service group.  You met them, you spent time together, or you went through some joint activity.  Maybe you shared the mutual burden of an overly demanding professor.  Or you worked together on a difficult fund raiser at your church.  The point is you intermingled in a series of joint activities.  Let’s drill deeper.

 Your timeline for establishing a relationship may have looked like this:
  • Met at some activity or were introduced by mutual friends
  •  Found some common ground
  • Shared time together over a series of days, weeks, months or maybe years
  • Developed trust
  • Exchanged more information
  • Developed a deeper relationship
  • Established a long term friendship

During each step of the process, you learned more about the person.  And they learned just a bit more about you. 

For a new salesperson, developing relationships within their territory is similar to building a friendship.  Given time and a degree of luck, the newbie will build relationships in their assigned territory.  Some of these relationships will blossom into business alliances.  Some will grow into deeply seated lifelong friendships.  When a person matures along with their territory a magical thing happens.  This friendship factor is one of the true joys of being a seller. 

But this isn’t about eventually building friendships.  Instead, the purpose of our exercise is accelerating the process.  Quickly building strong relationships is the main point of the plan.

There is only one First Impression
The new salesperson is struggling with many things.  Product skills, new company culture, a fresh set of expectations and meeting many new people.  This is a daunting list of distractions; it’s easy to send the wrong message. And, the list is important.  So, what can a person do to create the right impression? 

Every salesperson brings a background and a set of strengths to their first call.  Yet most really don’t think of how they explain their strengths to their new customer.  I have cringed in pain while new sellers with years of engineering background struggled to present their value to the customer. 

Good sales managers coach their newest team member on what makes for a good self-delivered introduction.  Assume that most people are a bit shy about telling their own story.  They fear sounding boastful and throughout their careers may have never been asked to deliver their own personal elevator pitch. 

Step One – Build a personal story to share your background.
But the first impression goes far beyond just standing in one place and rattling off a 30 second commercial on your life’s experiences.  It can’t be one way; people are interested in those who show mutual interest.   This brings us to the second part of building the first impression. 
Good questions open doors.  And, with all the distractions of a brand new territory and a batch of new people, we can’t count on listening and thinking of questions at the same time.  Develop a list of introductory questions for the customer.  We will talk more about questions in another article, but for now let’s talk about starter questions.

Here is a couple to give you a flavor:
·         What is your favorite way of getting product information?
·         I see your job description is maintenance manager; can you give me an idea of what your duties cover?
·         What do you expect from one of your top supply partners?

We won’t waste time with the whole open ended question lecture.  There are other resources for that skill, but do not that each of these questions allowed the customer the opportunity to help you do a better job. 

Step Two – Create questions prior to your first visit.
I recommend making the first meeting entirely about the customer.  Your job is to gather information, make a good first impression and open the door for future sales.  But remember the Boy Scout Moto.  Be prepared.

 Have the following at your disposal:
·         A company line card
·         A “composition book” and a pen for taking notes
·         A history of previous sales to the customer (if applicable)
·         An understanding of any issues which may still be lurking in your customer’s mind from previous experiences.

Step Three – Be Prepared
You’ve met the customer, but the first impression continues far beyond the twenty minutes you spend together.

Make yourself different

There are thousands of new salespeople cruising around the planet.  A good many are trolling around your territory.  But you’re different.

The best way to jump start a relationship is to let the customer know you value their time and you value their opinion.  I recommend sending each new customer contact a thank-you note following your first visit.  Pay attention.  I did not say thank you email.  Send an honest to goodness card that says something like this:


Thanks for sharing your time with me yesterday.  I really appreciate that you were willing to invest in our future.

Your opinions on the value of a good supplier made a bigger impact than you might imagine.  I have been thinking about what you said for the past couple of days.

Imagine this, the customer arrives at work and finds the card on his desk.  You took time to think of him.  Now he stops his work and reflects back on your time together. 
It’s a memorable first impression.

There are many other relationship accelerators.  We’ll hit them another time. But for now think about stepping off on the right foot. 

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