The person who can improve Sales – Part 2

Welcome back to those of you who read the first part of this article last week.  If you haven’t read last week’s article, I’d suggest that you click here and read that one before progressing.

So, this week I’m covering off buckets 3 & 4 of the major issues impacting the Sales profession today;

Silence as acceptance

The sales industry’s continued acceptance of poor results being solely caused by an individual employee’s performance, as opposed to a wider organisational failure of not being customer centric.  This causes us all to paper over the cracks and stops us fixing the root causes of poor sales performance.

As you’re the key conduit between the customer and your business, let me ask you a series of questions;

  • What input do you have in setting the growth targets in your business?
  • How much of the past 12 months’ worth of customer insight you’ve gained was shared when setting next year’s budget in your company?
  • What additional resources did you obtain to meet your new financial year growth targets?

I would guess that most of you answered “none”.

  • Who is responsible for meeting the growth target in your company?
  • Who addresses customer issues concerning performance and delivery?
  • Who is held accountable each week, quarter or year for that growth target?

This time I would guess that you all answered “me” and many of you would follow up with the comment “but that’s my job”; and you’d be half right.

Your job is to not only be a representative of your business for the customer, but to also be a representation of your customer in your own business.

Be it because of lack of time, laziness, or fear of rocking the boat, many sales people have lost their voices and have increasingly become silent in their own businesses. This has contributed to the wider business forgetting about the customer and becoming more internally focused.

We all know that mere transactional business relationships lead to reduced margins and ultimately to a race to the bottom, whilst innovative value add relationships result in mutual growth for supplier and customer.  However, in order to build such relationships, there must be professional credibility on behalf of both parties involved.  The sales person involved (you) is responsible for building that.

This is sometimes easier said than done, especially if you work in an organisation that sells, as opposed to a sales organisation (there’s a big difference), but you must remind yourself that as a sales person, you have two customers, one internal (employer) and one external (customer) and both are as important as each other.

You have a duty to challenge your own business by also being the voice of the customer in your company, highlighting; what is needed to succeed, what risks there are coming up and when growth expectations are unrealistic.  Otherwise, your business is at risk of making ill informed decisions and you are at risk of losing credibility.

An example of making ill informed decisions and this directly impacting sales credibility is the continued setting of misaligned Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for sales teams.

KPI’s, targets and Incentives are failing because (in the absence of an alternative) they stem from an internally focused origin, as opposed to being customer centric in origin.  Instead they are now used to be an employee management tool, as opposed to an indicator for the business on how to improve their overall sales process.  They have become focused on the individuals in the business, as opposed to a measure of the business’ alignment to the needs of the customer.  When this happens, creative sales people get ‘creative’.

The most infamous example of this recently came from the United States, where Wells Fargo Bank was fined $185M as a result of illegal activity by its employees driven directly from the KPI’s they were set.

The silence from sales people in displaying the new customer centric market place to others in their business, means that they are in turn setting themselves up to fail, because their growth budgets, targets and subsequent KPI’s are built upon past performance (Growth = LY + Arbitrary %), as opposed to the real future opportunity (market insights), as the company has no other credible information on which to make an informed decision.

Subsequent failure to meet the expected result (however misinformed it was initially) leads to demoralisation, disengagement and to further poor performance; A vicious cycle caused by silence being allowed to be interpreted as acceptance.

In order to break this cycle, good sales people need to raise their voices.


Decrease Humour, Increase Productivity

Sales people have developed a misplaced assumption that humour and productivity are mutually exclusive.  By doing so, we are contributing to the rapid decline of the NZ business community.  

I’m going to have to ask for some forgiveness from those of you who were hoping for content that was a tad more cosmetically serious and revelatory in its origin, but hear me out, because I truly believe this is the most important issue facing sales people today.

If my LinkedIn feed is anything like yours, then we all know that creating a positive culture in the workplace is a key focus for all business leaders, because a happy employee means a more productive employee.

There are plenty of articles on this if you type in ‘happiness’ and ‘productivity’ in Google, and if you’ve got the time, have a read of this study from Warwick University in the UK which carried out a series of controlled experiments on happiness and its positive impact on productivity in the workplace; but what about humour itself?

To me there are 3 common traits that I’ve seen in all good B2B sales people; firstly they can develop effective professional relationships, secondly, they offer creative solutions and thirdly, they are passionate.

I’d like to share how humour plays a fundamental part in the maintenance of these three traits, but in differing ways.

1) Humour develops relationships

No man is an island – John Donne (English poet)

When it comes to achieving a successful outcome in Sales, you always need others.

To advance these working relationships from ones of a superficial nature that go nowhere, to those that are of mutual value, you as the sales person need to be authentic, empathetic and trustworthy.  Whether they are internal stakeholders or external clients, this cannot be developed by your job’s title, but needs to come from a deeper human connection with the other party.

Business is increasingly a high pressure environment, where customers and colleagues are meeting you in a state of ‘fight or flight’. This means they are not always at their most receptive to you because their stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) are high, humour can combat this by releasing endorphins, which in turn create a positive state of mind and boost optimism in the eyes of the other party.

In much the same way as having a coffee catch up rather than a boardroom meeting facilitates more open business discussion, humour humanises each party and puts people at ease, allowing for a greater forum for collaboration.

2) Humour aids creative solutions

In a B2B Sales environment, a good sales person wants to reach a point where they are able to offer innovative and creative solutions to a customer’s problem, only then are they at a stage where they can create value to their own organisation and to that of the client.

If a client is willing to share their business problem with you, you are half way there.  You then have to find a solution to that problem so as to gain credibility. A solution that; is not on offer anywhere else and one which did not exist beforehand.

To create such a solution, you cannot see things from the same perspective as other competitors in the market, but must put yourself in a frame of mind or environment that can view the current scenario from a different and unique angle; you need a unique edge; a unique value proposition.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them – Albert Einstein 

The researchers Hauck & Thomas of Bucknell University found that humour facilitates creative thinking and problem solving.

They found that while creativity and intelligence did not correlate with each other, humour related directly to both creativity and intelligence.

To create new ways of doing things, you need to relax your inhibitions and not be afraid of taking risks.  Humour removes inhibitions and self-judgement, thus opening up the brain to ‘think outside the box’.  And, if there is one thing any sales person knows, when you’re developing new business innovation, you can’t be afraid of taking risks.

3) Humour protects passion

Being in Sales is never smooth sailing; it is made up of many emotional peaks and troughs.

When things are going well, there is optimism, there is energy and a sales person’s passion for Sales is being fueled.  But, when things take that unforeseen downward trajectory and life gets stressful, a sales person’s passion for their profession can take a hammering.

The danger for all of us is that if a sales person’s passion for the job they are doing is trending downwards, they can become withdrawn and very quickly their results will follow suit, which is not good for business growth.

Being able to see the funny side in these stressful situations has a healing effect and can help externalise negative emotions, because they are then shared with trusted others in the team, who can help put them into perspective.

This not only maintains the passion of the individual sales person, but builds camaraderie amongst the rest of the sales function and in turn a high performance sales culture.

I’m not suggesting that all sales people have to be funny, but they do have to be able to see the funny side of things.

If you want to be funny, it does of course help if your humour appeals to both parties and not something that can offend, which will definitely have the opposite effect of what you’re aiming for.

In summary, the lack of humour in Sales today is the biggest issue we face as a profession, because it is suffocating the very attributes that we should be breathing life into; the ability to build relationships, to think creatively and to be passionate in what we do.

You’ll no doubt be glad that you’ve reached the end of this two part article, but before you go, If you feel that you agree with my comments over the past couple of articles, please try and carry out the 4 actions below this week (if you only do one, do #4), that I feel would be the first step in improving the New Zealand Sales profession;

The 4 actions that’ll positively impact your week in Sales;

  1. Share something that works for you with another sales person.
  2. Share something new with a customer about a market/technology change that could affect them.
  3. Share something new with your business about one of your customers.
  4. Share something that has recently made you laugh by posting it on the comments section of this LinkedIn article (mine’s below), or if that’s too daunting, just like/share this article itself.

P.S. In case you haven’t guessed already, the one person who can improve Sales is YOU!

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