Solo : A Sales Story

2 minute read/430 words

My last article was about how stories have historically been used in selling and why recent technological advancements in story telling by Marketing have or will negate the need for sales people in many industries. 

So as a B2B sales person reading this, what can you do to not only survive against this unstoppable force, but to thrive in it? 

I’ll tell you; Become a great story teller. 

 

In a B2B relationship, much like in B2C, one company seeks to influence another company’s belief in the value of its product/service offering in improving their business.  

B2B Marketing, much like B2C still uses storytelling to build that belief in the value of the company’s product/service offering, but is considered less effective when measured with traditional B2C methods.   

In a B2C setting, one single story resonates and influences a large number of existing/prospective consumers , because those consumers have a mutually shared problem that is solved by the marketed product/service and therefore have a greater value retention/gain rate for the company.    

In a B2B setting, where in most cases (outside of trade retail) the customer pools are low in volume, high in value and in most cases have unique customer/industry problems that need solving; traditional ‘one to many’ storytelling is ineffective because it fails to personally speak to the individual company issue, whilst a more personalised storytelling approach is cost prohibitive from a Marketing investment point of view.  

(Unfortunately, most companies I know still haven’t understood this, so go around in circles each annual budgeting cycle) 

 

In B2C Marketing, the market is made up of individual consumers with a common issue.    

In B2B Marketing, the market is made up of individual companies with varying issues.   

 

B2B is therefore more heavily reliant on a more tailored storytelling approach, because the value of your company’s product/service solution, has to be aligned to the unique problem your individual customer is facing on their personal sales journey.  

Unless your company has invested in a great Trade Marketing Manager, it is still very much likely to be the role of the B2B sales person to communicate this meaningful and resonating story to the customer themselves, with little direct input from the wider company.  

Great sales people know that the alignment of their company’s story to the story of their customer is paramount, because it elicits the most important aspect of Sales; Trust.

With the rise of Digital, Globalisation and Technology in the B2B space, the future is brightest for the truly great storyteller, who understands that they will in all likelihood, be left to write that story on their own.  

OMG! I finally understand Sales and Marketing

‘The Colouring-In Department’ is how I used to refer to my Marketing colleagues in the past, whilst they would retort with the age old classic comeback; “W***er!”  

Don’t be too alarmed though, I can assure you that these exchanges were merely banter as opposed to being malicious in nature. 

But on reflection, I can admit that such comments did come from my lack of understanding on what Marketing actually did in regards to Sales and I guess in turn, this directly influenced my role as a salesperson. 

I’d tried to understand what the difference was between the two, but regardless of what I read, or who I spoke to, I never really got a satisfactory explanation of what differentiates Sales and Marketing, until I attended a religious ceremony for a friend’s wedding. 

To be clear from the outset, I am not suggesting that Sales and Marketing is a religious concept.  I am merely going to be using religion as an analogy for defining the respective functions of salespeople and marketers in business.     

All the religions I know of seek to influence people through storytelling. 

Why? 

People align their personal belief to the shared meaning they discover in others and stories are a great way of building the trust to communicate such shared meanings, because they are perceived as being objective in nature. 

All religions have scripture containing stories that are communicated ‘en masse’ by a teacher or leader to a congregation or group. 

These religious teachers or leaders must ensure that their chosen story each week, has mass meaning which strongly resonates with each member of their audience, so that membership grows or at a minimum is maintained. 

Many religions also have members or volunteers whose function it is to bring in new members into the congregation, by listening to the unique problems of the individual and showing them how the solution that their religion provides can improve that individuals life. 

So how does all this relate to business in 2018? 

A company much like a religious group seeks to influence people’s beliefs in the value of its product/service in improving their lives. 

Marketing, much like a religious leader or teacher uses storytelling to build that belief in the value of the company’s product/service and is most effective, when that story resonates with the largest number of existing/prospective consumers (congregation), because those consumers represent associated value retention/gain for the company.

The larger the pool of existing/prospective consumers; the bigger a potential return and the greater amount of investment is required in ensuring that a marketer’s story aligns to and reaches their target audience, so as to build their company following.

In 2018, the rise of Digital, Globalisation and Technology has rapidly facilitated the ease, cost and reach of this storytelling to progressively reach more fragmented sub groups of consumers/value pools. 

New outlying members of a congregation (previously unidentified by Sales or considered cost prohibitive by the business) can now be sourced directly by the leaders of the group using means which up until 20 years ago were unknown, bypassing the Sales team.  

This means that the storytelling function that a salesperson was traditionally tasked with; to engage small pools of value is now no longer required.  Couple this with the rise of eCommerce which also negates the requirement for an order taker, now means that many a salesperson is struggling to find their place in today’s competitive landscape.  

Is this the end of days for all salespeople? 

If you happen to be in the B2C space, I’d be scrambling to the higher ground of ultra premium/bespoke consumer sales as fast as possible, but I wouldn’t expect the water to start receding any time soon. 

If you’re in B2B sales, don’t panic, there is hope for us all and it is this new hope which is the subject of my next article in two weeks time, which will be titled ‘Solo: A Sales Story’.  

 

The #1 reason your BDM fails

Are you insane?

There’s a growing problem for SME’s in the New Zealand marketplace and it’s arguably the biggest threat to any business owner; lack of revenue.

As a small to medium sized business owner, you may have already ‘trimmed the fat’ in your operational costs to increase bottom line profit, but you now have to tackle the elephant in the room, top line growth.

“I know I need to have a website and do some Digital Marketing” you said.

You may have just invested thousands of dollars in an online Marketing strategy to deliver new leads to fuel growth for your business, but to no avail; revenue is still flat or worse still, going backwards.

What do you do now?

The rational next step is to hire a BDM (Business Development Manager) to go out and win some new business for your company.

A person who has a strong history in Sales; someone who can ‘hit the ground running’, who you can give a $60-80k base salary, unlimited commission, a company car, a phone and a product/service catalogue and in return, they will be the answer to all your revenue prayers.

You may have put an ad up on Seek, or asked around for a recommendation from your network, you may have already hired someone who told you all the things you wanted to hear in the interview, looked the part and was the type of person you’d be happy to have a beer with.

After the novelty of the Sales saviour had worn off, the actual sales results were not forthcoming.

Instead, you either started to hear excuses (at the 6 month mark) or, worse still eventually heard nothing at all (9 month mark); until eventually there was a letter of resignation emailed to you one Monday morning (12 month mark).

“Right, let’s put another advert up on Seek” would likely be your normal response, because what else can you do?

“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results”

Now if I were to ask you my earlier question again, would your answer be the same?

Don’t worry, there is a way out of the asylum and RevUp have a key.

Let’s start by looking at the landscape you find yourself in as a business owner looking to hire a BDM.

For reasons too long to list here, good Business Development Managers are becoming increasingly harder to find and increasingly in demand here in NZ, but the crux of the issue, is that traditional sales methods are no longer effective in today’s ‘business to business’ landscape, whilst newer sales people don’t have the passion.

You may have blamed the lack of hunger to make cold calls from new BDM’s for their lack of success, or their lack of resilience to hearing the word ‘no’, but you are pointing the finger in the wrong direction.

The finger needs to be pointing at you, the business owner.

“You know what you’re doing, but you don’t know where you’re going”

I’m not saying that the BDM’s you hire are not partly to blame in some scenarios, but there are ways to hire the right person (RevUp being one avenue for it), but regardless of the skills of your new sales person, they are being set up to fail in today’s increasingly challenging business environment, if you don’t have your business’ story clearly communicated.

In the past, BDM’s were primarily motivated to survive, which is why they are commonly referred to as hunters.

The world has changed.

There is a now a generation of BDM’s who have grown up with all of life’s creature comforts, they were born into homes where they were loved, fed and most of their material needs were met, as such pure financial reward is no longer enough.

It doesn’t mean that the new generation of BDM’s doesn’t have the work ethic of the older generation; it just means that their motivators for demonstrating that strong work ethic are different.

The new generation of BDM’s need to know that what they are doing means something.

Meaning comes from having a clear view of where you want your business to be in 3 years’ time, what needs to happen to get there and fundamentally, why it’s so important to get there.

They need to know why the story is so important to you and why it should be important to them.

To them, increased profit is not enough, regardless of what it means to you as a business owner.

Don’t believe me? Then let me ask you this.

Do you think you’d run further on a treadmill, running track or the open road?

Treadmill – This is the short term BDM focus of making cold calls or waiting for inbound leads. It’s reactive, desperate and with no clear planning.  The sales results are poor and the BDM normally lasts 3-6 months, because they feel they are on a treadmill going nowhere.

Running Track – This is the medium term, and may involve some referrals and attending networking events, but it relies solely on monitoring KPI’s, targets and rewards each time a BDM completes one lap of the monthly, quarterly or annual track.  Sales results start off OK, but slowly become sporadic as the BDM finds they are just going around in circles.  I give them 12-18 months in the role, with only the first 9 months being marginally productive.

Open Road – This is the long term growth plan, the one which will ensure your business is truly successful.  It is where your business has a long term strategic goal/story/roadmap, which a BDM can believe in and use as a beacon in the distance to keep motivated to keep going during tough times.  This meaning (beacon) will have them steadily growing your revenue for 3 years.

Yes, your BDM needs the skills to be able to run on a treadmill or running track if required, but having a beacon on an open road helps focus their activity and purpose, whilst showing that tomorrow is going to be different and better than today and that looking back on what they have been doing in regards to cold calls and targets, is part of the longer meaningful journey going forwards.

This is where RevUp can help you.

RevUp will not only help you create your Sales story, but can also help you find the right person to deliver on that story, whilst also coaching them along the way.

If you’d like to know how RevUp has helped businesses like yours overcome their revenue challenges, click here, or just drop me a private message and I’d be happy to have a chat to see if we can do the same for yours.

Part 2 – Dear Salesperson, you need to know what wine your customer buys.

Welcome back to the second part of my article and without further ado, I’ll crack straight into it.

Just to recap, last week I stated that apart from having a suitable product and price, a key factor in a buyer’s decision making is the ‘label’ being displayed by the sales person.

In this part of the article, I’m going to explain what I mean, why it’s important and how a salesperson can influence it to improve their chances of winning.

 

B2B sales people are still very much at the forefront of ensuring an agreement is reached between a customer and a supplier.

In a B2C environment, technological advances have in many cases supplanted the need or influence of a sales person, meaning that the perception of the sales person themselves is less important than it is in a B2B arena.

This is because in a B2B environment the product/service is higher value; more complex and likely contracted for a longer period of time, than it would be if the product/service was being supplied in a B2C sales person’s environment.

Therefore the ‘label’ displayed by the B2B sales person has a strong degree of influence on the purchasing decision of a B2B buyer, because that sales person is the ‘label’, ‘face’ or personification of their company’s communication, negotiation and ongoing dealings between both parties.

A great sales person knows that if something, such as their personal ‘label’ has a strong influence on a sale being made, they need to be in control of it as much as possible and weigh it into their favour.

It’s probably a good time for me to define what I mean by ‘label’ for a sales person and what can be done to ensure the label is customised, optimised and tailored to satisfy the subjective requirements of your customer, without losing the clarity of message that you need to convey on behalf of your company.

I’m going to help define a sales person’s ‘label’ using the three aspects of the wine label analogy from earlier;

“As a buyer I make my decision to purchase a bottle if the label speaks my ‘language’(1), reflects my personality(2), and protects my reputation (3) from the risk of negative judgement of others…”

 

 

1) Language

We’re not just referring to speaking the same verbal language, but also such aspects of language as terminology, inference and body language.

A sales person has a higher chance of selling, if they are speaking the language of their buyer e.g. all other things being equal; a non-Mandarin speaking sales person in China will not be as successful as one who speaks Mandarin.

That part is obvious, as is the effect of body language in rapport building, but what about the other aspects of speaking your customer’s language;

I believe it is the sales person who has the responsibility to speak their customer’s language, just like a tourist has a responsibility to speak the language of the place they are visiting, if they want to get the best value out of their trip.

This is still true whether the buyer is familiar with the industry from which they are buying or not.

If your customer is new to your industry, then you have to explain aspects of the deal in laypersons terms, because they may not have the required detail knowledge, which is then a potential barrier to a sale; if you can’t explain things to them, they will not be informed enough to make a decision.

If you and your customer are established players in a shared industry, then you as a sales person are expected to know the ‘lingo’ and terminology specific to that industry.  If you don’t know the language of the sector, then this will jeopardise your credibility with the buyer.

Language as you know isn’t just about the words you speak; it’s also how you listen;

In New Zealand, many times what is inferred in a conversation by your customer is the most important aspect of what they are trying to tell you.

In my experience, if a sales person can reflect back (e.g. paraphrase) to the customer their understanding of a key bit of information that a customer has inferred, they have overcome one of the largest obstacles in building a connection…understanding each other.

Speaking the ‘language’ of your customer increases the chance that they will trust you, because you are on the same wavelength.

 

2) Reflect my personality. 

People buy from people they like and they are generally going to like people who meet their preconceived ideas.

Caveat – This section is not referring to race, gender, sexual orientation or any other non-choice labels buyers (or any of us) may make decisions upon in their subjective purchasing habits.  Not because it doesn’t have an influence, but because non-choice labels cannot be changed and I don’t want to get into a debate on the idealism Vs realism of a sales situation (in this article anyway).

Reflecting the personal expectations of a buyer in regards to physical appearance and communication style plays a huge part in the whether a deal is won or lost.

Don’t believe me?  Well answer me this.  Would you be more likely to buy a gym membership from a personal trainer who was overweight or in prime shape?

I bet it would be the P.T. who had a six pack, why, because they met your preconceived expectations of what a salesperson selling gym memberships should look like.

B2B sales are no different.  In B2B sales, the standard uniform choice of a blue suit (trustworthy), white shirt (reliable) and tanned shoes (innovative) is an unconscious way of sales people safely meeting the expectations of a new customer they have not met.  It’s a conservative, yet energetic look for meeting an anonymous generic new customer.

There is no specific look for certain types of customers, but there are things that all sales people can be aware of;

A sales person’s appearance needs to alleviate the concerns and build confidence in their customers e.g. a hipster type with a blazer and a beard would be the look I’d expect for someone selling me a digital marketing solution, but not business banking.  Whilst a grey suited guy with a briefcase and side comb, may tick my boxes to sell legal services, but not design my new business logo.

The reason; they have not met my expectation on the type of person that I want; creative Vs methodical.

Let’s move onto the need for a salesperson to adapt their communication style to suit their buyer.

A salesperson who speaks to the specific technical features of a product to the CEO of a company will in all probabilities lose out on the sale, whereas if they had spoken to the business benefits of the product and how it will help grow the company, they will more likely win the sale.

The reverse can be said if the salesperson is speaking to an ‘analytical’ personality type, who has a greater interest in the inner workings of the product and its feature offering.  Here, the sale may be lost, if the sales person speaks too high level.

Either way, a good sales person should immediately be able to read the clues as to how the customer is expecting the conversation to play out.

Reflecting the personality of your customer increases the chance that they will trust you, because you are meeting their expectations.

 

3) Protect my reputation

This is a HUGE subjective hurdle for a sales person to have to overcome when winning a new customer, because what the buyer is looking for is reassurance that any decision they make independently will protect or enhance their current position or professional standing.

A buyer will be asking themselves the following questions during your sales meeting;

“Does this sales person work for a reputable company?”

“Have they been referred by someone I hold credible?”

“Who else in my industry has bought from them?”

In many ways, an established brand in the industry will have overcome many of these objections before the sales person has even entered the room i.e. Choosing a new business banking supplier would likely be ASB, BNZ, Westpac or BNZ, so those questions posed earlier are already answered through the strength of their brands.

But many of you will not work for an established brand, because most of NZ is made up of SME’s, who have less Marketing spend.

What can they do to protect the reputation of their buyers?

Your task as a B2B sales person is to understand what your buyer is concerned about and to use your sales skills, business knowledge and industry experience to address their concerns and alleviate their fears.

If your buyer is a Procurement professional concerned that changing to you as a new supplier could present a risk to their reputation in their business, should there be unforeseen transition issues; you could present them a risk mitigation plan around emergency contingency measures.

If you’re dealing with the owner of a business directly, why not put them in touch with a previous satisfied customer who can act as champion for you and also show them that their fears are unwarranted.

Having a third party person or source of information, allows the buyer to externalise their concerns and allows them to also validate a potential decision to buy from you.

If your customer can see that your story checks out, then they are more likely to trust you.

 

In summary, your label is all about building trust and people are only going to buy from people they trust.

You should be working on ensuring your personal label speaks to trust.

Part 1 – Dear Salesperson, you need to know what wine your customer buys.

If you can understand how your customers buy their wine, you’ll improve the probabilities of winning the sale.

Let me start by telling you about how I buy wine.

I’m not talking about buying wine in a restaurant; because we all know that you always go for the second cheapest wine on the menu (going for the cheapest would be way too embarrassing).

No, I’m referring to buying wine at the supermarket.

I buy wine by filtering down the choices on three main criteria; Firstly, it’s the grape, secondly, it’s the price range and lastly, it’s the design of the label.

Now when it comes to the type of grape and the price, these are measures which are already in the direct control of the seller and which they likely already change to positively influence buyer behaviour.

This is because, in general terms, they are objective measures.

Most people will go into a supermarket having already decided if they want a red or white wine and will not be influenced to change their mind on purchasing the another grape variant, hence they stock all the options, so as to ensure they optimise the chance of a sale.

Also, nearly all of us common folk will know how much we want to spend on a bottle of wine.

If it’s me, it’s between $10 -$15 if it’s just me drinking or $25+ if I’m taking it to a dinner party at someone’s house.  $20 if I’m lucky enough to get one I like on special.

Supermarkets have a selection of price ranges that will suit the needs of most buyers, so once again they also optimise their chances of a sale being made.

But the label is a little more subjective; in that the impacts are a little less discernible, less controllable and their influence cannot be so easily measured.

As a buyer I make my decision to purchase a bottle if the label speaks my ‘language’, reflects my personality, and protects my reputation from the risk of negative judgement of others at a dinner party.

Buyers in businesses are human beings who make the same three decisions when they consider purchasing the product/service from you for their company;

Decision 1 – choosing the right grape; does the product/service meet the particular need of my company?

Someone who is going to a friend’s place for a steak for dinner and is after a red wine to accompany their meal, will not allow a supermarket ‘special’ on white wine, to convince them to change their mind. Why; it doesn’t meet their need.

As a salesperson, it doesn’t matter if you have a great product/service; if it doesn’t meet the customer need, then it will not be sold.

Decision 2 – choosing the right price; does the product/service provide appropriate value to my company?

Someone who only has a fixed budget of $20 for the bottle of red wine they are buying to take for a steak dinner at a friend’s house, will not allow a supermarket ‘special’ of another red wine that normally costs $50, being promoted at $30 change their minds.  Why; although it meets their product requirement, it doesn’t meet their value needs.

As a salesperson, it doesn’t matter if you have a great product/service, which meets the customer’s business need.  If it doesn’t meet the customer’s budget, then it will not be sold.

Decision 3 – choosing the right label; is the product/service attractive to me and my company?

This is where things get a little less factual and more personal (variable).

Someone who has a fixed budget of $20 for the bottle of red wine they are buying to take for a steak dinner at a friend’s house, will not buy the first one they see (or in some extreme cases will not buy one at all), if they aren’t attracted by the label.  Why; although it meets their product and budget requirements, it may not satisfy their subjective needs.

Subjective [adj.] – based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

As a salesperson, it doesn’t matter if you have a great product/service, which meets both need and budget; if it (or you) doesn’t satisfy the desired perceptions of the customer, then it will not be sold.

You’d all probably agree with me that the appearance of the label plays a large part in the decision as to whether a bottle of wine is purchased, even though we may not be able to fully explain on what criteria.

We’d also all probably agree that this subjective standpoint could be applied to the product/service that one business is selling to another business.  This is why companies spend so much on B2B Marketing each year, trying to use their branding or messaging to persuade customers to choose their company over a competitor.

Where we may not see eye to eye is the degree of importance of a B2B sales person’s ‘label’ in the purchasing decisions of a buyer.

But that chapter of this discussion will have to wait until the second part of this article, which will be published on Tuesday 13th March.

Warning! – Here comes the word you don’t want to hear

Here in New Zealand there is a word that is rarely spoken during Sales meetings.

It is not a rude word, nor is it an ambiguous word which is difficult to pronounce.

In fact, it slips off the tongue quite easily and is likely one of the first words that we learn as young children from our parents.

Salespeople fear hearing it from their customers and when they do, they will hide it from their colleagues out of shame.

The word is so powerful, that sales people will pretend to be its friend, much like the groupies around a school yard bully, egging the bully on towards their next victim, so as not have the wrath directed towards them.

Have you guessed what it is yet?

NO

That’s right, these two little letters put together in that specific order strike fear into the heart of all salespeople.

Why?

Because we’re emotive, sensitive and fundamentally we are human beings before we are sales people.

This article is aimed at helping salespeople try and overcome that feeling of hearing the word, as having been a sales person for close to 18 years, I hold some experience of hearing it more than once and have learnt that I cannot stop feeling what I feel, but I can manage the way I respond to the feeling.

Let me start by telling you an anecdote about a ‘friend’ of mine, who we shall call ‘Karl’

An 18 year old Karl used to work part time at a market research agency in the UK, along with some of his mates.  During his shifts, he had to call a certain number of households trying to get them to complete a 20 minute survey.  Karl was not very good at this, as most of the people told Karl to “get f***ed”.  Karl used to get sad about being told to “get f***ed” (which I’ll simplify to a ‘no’ moving forward), so Karl decided to pretend to make calls, speak to people who weren’t really on the other end of the phone and fulfil his targets; all because he was afraid of hearing ‘no’.  After a few days Karl got called into a HR meeting by his team leader, who proceeded to play audio of Karl speaking to himself (recorded for training purposes).   Karl felt pretty embarrassed as he was escorted from the building, with his mates laughing loudly as he went.   

The moral of this story is that in Sales you cannot run away from the word ‘no’, because it will always find you.

As I…oops I meant Karl found out!

All sales people will have to face the feeling generated by the word ‘no’; the feeling we commonly label as ‘fear of rejection’.

Good sales people still experience the same feeling as everyone else and it still disappoints them to hear it, but they do not get debilitated by hearing it and instead challenge themselves to persevere.

Poor sales people shy away from situations where they have a higher probability to hear the word, because they get debilitated by hearing it and it has them making their excuses and looking for the next role on Seek.

Here comes the cliche; I manage a rejection, by labelling it as an opportunity to learn how to overcome that objection in the future, not as a reflection of my personal ability.

Hear me out before you lose interest.

Of course I feel gutted hearing it, I’d be lying otherwise, but I accept that I am not a sales god.

Sales is about providing a solution and like other professions that involve trying to diagnose a problem such as Doctors or IT Technicians, it is a process of elimination from the experiences and knowledge that they’ve learnt from in the past.

Other professions don’t just stop trying to solve the problem at the first hurdle they come across.

They learn each time they tackle a new problem and the expectation they have on themselves and others have on them, isn’t that they will always get it right first time.

I don’t shy away from making the next business development call, or organising the next client meeting, just because I didn’t convert the customer the last time I tried.

That’s why you too should stop labelling an unconverted customer as a ‘failure’, as you will never convert every customer, just like every other profession doesn’t get it right first time.

Instead label it as an ‘opportunity’ to understand, preempt and eliminate an objection that could come up again in the future.

High expectations of oneself are perfect for Sales, unrealistic expectations are not.

I cannot be expected to know it all, but I can be expected to learn from it all – Kalv Hayer 2018 (whilst sitting on his sofa drinking a tasteless green tea)

For those of you who regularly read my articles, I have to apologise as I will only be posting them every fortnight from now on, as opposed to weekly.

The reason is that I am trying to balance new business development requirements, client delivery commitments and all the other aspects of being a business owner, with carving out time to share my voice with you all.

Right now, I can only do this by freeing up my finger tapping time.

For those of you who are absolutely gutted about this (I’m sure there’s at least one of you out there), feel free to read my previous catalogue of articles here.

Sell me this article

Future U.S. President Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has a new movie coming out and it’s called Skyscraper.

I know this, not because I will be lining up to see it, but because there have been quite a few articles being written about the movie’s poster on social media, questioning the physics of The Rock being able to jump the distance the poster suggests.

The debate this generated got my attention, as many people were stating it’s a movie, so it should be taken with a pinch of salt, whilst others were trying to strengthen their opinions with scientific research.

Admittedly, most of the content is written with tongue firmly in cheek, but it reminded me of my biggest obstacle that I had to overcome prior to starting RevUp, which was accepting that I was a real salesperson and not someone pretending to be a salesperson and in particular the part Hollywood had in this.

As a child growing up in the 80’s and 90’s era of VHS, Blockbuster Video and Sky Box Office, I have readily consumed a 40 year long diet of Hollywood movies, which has resulted in some positive influences such as the training montages from the Rocky films, which never fail to get me pumped prior to a workout (I know it’s sad), to Neo facing Agent Smith in The Matrix and the importance of self-belief in the pursuit of a goal.

But like life in general, you have to tackle negative influences as well as the positive ones.

For many, Hollywood has negatively influenced their self-esteem with unrealistic expectations being projected in regards to body shape or relationship goals, but although these have also had an impact on me, perhaps the hardest influence I have had to overcome professionally is the warped sense of what a salesperson looks and behaves like.

18 years ago, I hadn’t planned to start a career in Sales, and instead, like many people in their twenties I just wanted to earn some money to pay for my next overseas trip, or beer down the pub, so didn’t pay much attention to my professional development.

In my thirties, as the weight got heavier on my shoulders; my role titles got fancier and the payroll got bigger, but if I’m honest, I still didn’t see myself as a salesperson, because when I talked to the successful sales people around me, I didn’t see common experience amongst them that I shared (or that they shared with each other).

This earlier lack of personal investment in my professional life and the later lack of observed validation of my sales capability meant that I always felt like an imposter in Sales.

When I looked for external influences to answer whether I was actually a sales person, I of course looked to the medium that answered all of my life questions up to that point, Hollywood.

“Hollywood.  Am I a sales person?  Please help” I asked.

The answers were not great for my self-esteem.

‘Sell me this pen’ was one of the responses from my memory bank.

Another was ‘Greed is good’.

For those of you who don’t know, these lines are from the movies ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘Wall Street’ respectively.

Both these movies represent Sales as a profession that is unethical, transactional and reliant on pressuring customers into a purchase.

These words were not ones that I related to in my experience of sales and so, I felt that I wasn’t a ‘real’ sales person and instead I must have just been lucky, or been in the right place at the right time throughout my career up to that point.

After much existential pondering, I discovered that comparing myself to fictional or stylised versions of real characters from Hollywood movies was not a healthy way to decide on whether to continue my Sales career in New Zealand beyond my thirties.

This was because of two main reasons;

1) The most obvious reason is that it’s HOLLYWOOD!  It’s not real! ‘Real’ doesn’t shift movie tickets.  Showing Jordan Belfort make 20 cold calls before he closed a deal wouldn’t make an entertaining watch on the big screen.

2) The second reason is that New Zealand isn’t America.  America has 325M people, whilst New Zealand has 4.6M.  America also has a geographical area of 9.8 million km2 to New Zealand’s 750,000 km2.  America has over 10 cities with populations greater than 1 million, whilst New Zealand has one.  This means the way we do business is different; relationship building Vs cold calling, face to face selling Vs telephone based and value based Vs transactional.

Once I had come to the realisation that the Hollywood Sales image wasn’t real and relevant to the market in which I was operating, I then looked at things more objectively and this time when I looked at a common theme amongst the good sales people I knew in New Zealand, I recognised it was strong professional ethics, investment in long term relationships and above all, authenticity.

Now these were traits that I could relate to.

Thankfully, I have never been a shiny faced, pinstriped suited ‘boiler room’ sales person who could supposedly close every deal on the phone; by balancing the perfect sales script with just the right amount of pressure exerted on my prey, oops I meant customer.

But now instead of feeling that I need to cover that up with excuses or denial, I can be proud to call myself a salesperson in New Zealand, because that isn’t what Sales in New Zealand is all about.

Sales in New Zealand, is about many things, but the main three are;

Respect in your customer’s ability to recognise the value in the solution your product or service is providing, rather than trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

Building trust through long term relationships.  Not just expecting them to sign on the dotted line because they were on your call cycle and you bought them a coffee once.

Being authentic in the way you are as a sales person.  Sales people think that they can read people, but good sales people understand that they too are being read.  The best way to manage that is to be genuine all the way.

So, to conclude my article and hopefully tie up any loose ends, I need to circle around to where the article all began, which is whether Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can achieve what appears to be an impossible feat for any mere mortal, which is to save a group of people stuck in a helpless situation, by taking a leap of faith reliant solely on his own ability (and some camera trickery), whilst also ignoring all the doubters along the way.

Well, I guess many Americans will find out on 3rd December 2020 (Presidential Election results).

But if you can’t wait that long, then the Skyscraper movie comes out in July this year.

Many thanks for reading all and I look forward to sharing my next article with you in 7 days.

Sales Negotiation – Know when to let go

Most B2B sales people in New Zealand are not selling a proprietary product or service and are therefore operating within a competitive marketplace, which increasingly means that their customers are focused on extracting value from them as suppliers during contract negotiations.

There are many aspects to a negotiation, but one of the most fundamental factors of a successful negotiation is to know what your walkaway point is.

Each party will have a walkaway point; the customer will have one and you as a supplier need to enter into a negotiation being very clear on what yours is.

The walkaway point is your line in the sand, the point where the customer is asking for something during the negotiations, that you (as a representative of your company) are not willing or able to give them and instead are left with the only option of walking away from the negotiation.

This isn’t just about the price of the product or service; it’s also the aspects of the supply agreement that is of importance to you as a supplier and them as a customer.

Examples may include; delivery frequency, performance guarantees or payment terms.

These are all dependent on your business, your customer and your industry.

Most sales people will enter into negotiations not knowing what their walkaway point is, which means they walk into a game of Poker, not knowing what cards they are playing with, but only how much money they could win/lose.

I don’t gamble, but if I did, I’d like to know what hand I was playing with.

Wouldn’t you?

Well this article is aimed at helping salespeople understand the benefits of having a walkaway point and the importance of planning their walkway point in a negotiation, all with the ultimate goal of giving them greater control during contract discussions.

To make it easier to remember and because I am old school, I have conveniently labelled these under the acronym C.R.A.V.E.

 

Confidence, Respect, Aim, Value, Efficiency

 

Confidence

If you’re sitting across the negotiating table from the customer not knowing what you can agree to, or what your company is not willing to trade, then you are not empowered to make decisions.

As a sales person, if you are not empowered to come to an agreement with a customer without going back and forth seeking approval for a customer’s latest demand, then that means your business doesn’t have confidence in you, your customer will lose confidence in your capability to make a decision and you will in turn lose self-confidence in your ability.

When you enter into a negotiation where you’re not 100% confident in your position, then you’re not in a position of control.

Having a predetermined walkaway point will give you greater confidence when playing your hand.

Respect

This could easily be swapped out for reputation, but in essence I’m talking about the impact of not having a walkaway point defined prior to a negotiation on the perception of you as a sales person, with both your customer and within your own business.

Many sales people (quite rightly) take ownership of a sales negotiation, but they fail to engage key stakeholders in their own business on discussions around what the walkaway point should be; they ‘go it alone’.

This approach is risky on two fronts;

1) If you don’t secure the deal because the customer wanted to go past a predetermined walkaway point (which you haven’t communicated internally), you are then seen as having personally failed to win the deal.  If you engaged others to be part of the discussion, any decision was based on agreed business strategy, as opposed to a personal salesperson failing.

2) If you secure the deal without going to your walkaway point (which again you haven’t communicated), the extra value you’ve negotiated or not given up is not recognised by your business and heightens the risk of you unfairly being seen as ‘having given away the farm’.

From the perspective of the customer; New Zealand being the small market it is and with many sales/procurement people staying within industry, the chances are that your paths with the person you are negotiating with will cross again in the future.

Having a walkaway point (win or lose) will indirectly show that you’re a professional and demonstrates that you had a limit to being pushed and didn’t just roll over to secure any deal; you have set a precedent for the next negotiation.

Aim

I know that as a salesperson you want to win, but some new business is more hassle than its worth in the long run.

It’s important to understand the aim or purpose of winning this particular deal other than just the dollars.

Perhaps it’s strategically important to the business, as it will mean access to another sector or open doors to other product or service offerings.

The walkaway point helps you and your business truly define the purpose of the negotiation, which will clarify whether this is a deal you, need to win, or just want to win.     

The perception is that sales people like doing any monetary deals, when the reality is that good sales people like to know the deal they are doing actually means something to the company they are working for, other than just the dollars it brings in – Recognition

Isn’t it better to know what this is before the negotiation, rather than afterwards?

I do, as I feel it will make you hungrier to succeed.

Value

Probably the most obvious reason to have a walkaway point in the first place prior to any negotiation, is to know what the value of any deal is worth to your company.

Not just the profit your company will make by winning the business, but also the cost to your business in not winning the deal.

If you know what value you want to achieve at a minimum to make it worthwhile business, factoring in all the other variables such as risk, cost to service and projected growth etc. then you are in a clearer headspace going into a negotiation.

Many companies try and keep their sales people in the dark around what their company walkaway point is and will add a buffer into the walkaway point, worried that the sales person will go directly to that point and relying on the opportunity to submit a revised counter offer.

The problem there is that if you as a salesperson aren’t going into a deal knowing what your company knows, then you not united and are thus weaker in the negotiation.

You and your company must have done the due diligence on the value in the walkaway point and be transparent on the approach in the negotiation.

United you stand, divided you fall.

Efficiency

The last of the 5 important reasons to have a walkaway point in a negotiation is efficiency; efficiency of your own, your company’s and your customer’s resources.

Rather than negotiating on the back foot and in a reactive manner, you should have done all the planning or upfront investment beforehand, so that you aren’t wasting energy, time or money on relaying requests for approval from management, more information from customers or pricing updates from Finance.

Don’t be the ball between your business’ and the customer’s racquet.

Planning and preparation may indeed take time, but at least you can do it at your pace, without the emotional and time pressures that occur during contract negotiations.

You’ll take better control of the game.

If you have a walkaway point ready beforehand, then you’ll waste less of the most valuable resource you have as a sales person which is energy.

 

So to summarise;

Knowing your walkaway point before beginning negotiations and being aligned with your own business on the what, why and when, will keep the pressure on the other party and give you some much needed control at the negotiating table.

As a real B2B sales person, you should C.R.A.V.E. a walkaway point prior to any negotiation.

Many thanks again for reading this article.

See you next week.

One shot: A guide to turning coffee into sales

You only get one shot at a first impression.  And in sales, that means that you can very easily miss out on new opportunities, if you don’t get that initial coffee meeting with a new customer right first time.

Here’s how.

Kiwis love coffee and although I can’t easily find solid stats around the numbers, estimates suggest that we spend in the range of $1bn-$2bn a year in New Zealand café’s, which is a shedload of dollars.

In conjunction with that info, according to a Canstarblue survey, around 20% of all business meetings in Auckland and Wellington are held in coffee shops.

Now, even being conservative in my estimates, I would say that at least half of those meetings had a sales focus, which means that there are lots of businesses who are investing a large amount of their limited sales resources into a cup of coffee, hoping that it will in turn lead to new business.

Sales people themselves actually prefer to have their first new customer meeting in a coffee shop (as opposed to on a client’s site), because of the perceived higher probability of truly connecting with the customer in the more informal environment of a café setting and which will hopefully lead to actual new business, (rather than just another tick on their KPI score in their monthly performance review).

Having been in Sales for over 18 years, I’ve realised that relying on ‘hope’ isn’t going to help you sell.  It demonstrates you have a desire to sell something, but to actually achieve tangible results; you also need a plan of action.

Unsuccessful sales people don’t like a plan of action, because it means they are taking personal responsibility for making something happen, whereas ‘hope’ keeps that responsibility externalised, thus protecting their own ego.  (Wow, that’s deep!)

Truly successful sales people realise they need to take control of the sales process.

The ‘Business to Business’ sales process won’t all be completed at the first meeting and you will likely need to have a number of sales meetings over a period of time, to actually convert an opportunity into an actual sale.

That’s why it’s important to understand the purpose of the meeting at each stage along that process.

The following guide is aimed at providing some assistance around purpose and structure to your first customer coffee meeting, so that businesses and sales people who want to make the most of the hard work they have already done in getting a meeting with a new customer, improve their chances of turning that $10 coffee investment into an eventual sale.

 

Purpose

The first meeting (especially in NZ) is about building trust.

It isn’t about getting commitment to buy your product or service, or a chance to pitch for their business, because in their eyes you haven’t earned the right to do that yet.

The customer has already demonstrated that they have a need, because they are making time to meet with you, as they feel you could possibly help them provide a solution to that need.

You have your own reasons for having the meeting in a coffee shop, but they agreed to meet you in a coffee shop away from their business, because they want to know they can trust you before inviting you into their professional home.

This first meeting is about them trusting you enough to share with you what their need is and your aim is to demonstrate that both you and the business you represent, is trustworthy and credible enough for them to feel comfortable to open up to you.

How you go about developing that trust and credibility is a whole separate article in itself, but it’s an ever changing recipe of ingredients such as empathy, body language, listening, questioning and storytelling.

 

Structure

As a sales person, you in all likelihood asked for the meeting, which means you have to provide the structure to it.

Use 3 stages to better structure your first meeting with a new customer.

This 3 stage approach is in line with both the expectations of many (if not all) of the customers that you will meet, as well as the traditional format of a 45 minute meeting in a café.

Stage 1 – Trust in you

Whilst ordering and waiting for the coffee.

This should take up approximately the first 15 minutes of the meeting.

This stage is about you building a personal rapport and connection with the customer sitting across the table from you.

People don’t buy from people; they buy from people they like, so they need to like you.

Be yourself, be genuine and be personable.

Stage 2 – Trust in who you represent

Whilst drinking the coffee.

This should take up approximately the next 25 minutes of the meeting.

This stage is about you building your own and your company’s professional credibility in the eyes of the customer.

It’s not just pitching the services you offer, but a demonstration that you (and your company) know what you are doing, that you have the ability to solve a problem and have successfully done so many times beforehand.

You can demonstrate this not only by talking of your own experiences, but by asking the right questions that show the person that you are an subject matter expert and have an understanding of their world.

Stage 3 – Trust in your vision

Whilst winding down the meeting and saying goodbye.

This should take up approximately the last 5 minutes of the meeting.

This stage is about you allowing your customer to picture working with you, so that they can come to the desired conclusion themselves.

You shouldn’t get desperate and grasp at the sale, but instead it’s always better when a sale is mutually beneficial and especially in high value B2B sales; the customer needs the space to be comfortable that they are making the best decision.

Of course you can suggest what next steps could look like if they were interested and you should definitely tell them what they can expect from you in regards to follow up communication after the meeting, but don’t undo all the hard work you have done by scaring them off by being pushy.

Remember, the meeting wasn’t about closing the deal, but was a step along the process in providing a solution to their need.

 

Top 10 Tips

 

  1. Confirm – Double check attendance with the customer a day before, because this helps qualify whether they really have a pressing business need for your product/service. Some sales people don’t do this in case the customer pulls out, but if they pull out then you’re not important to them and they would have wasted your time anyway.  Remember, good sales people want a sale, not a tick on a KPI scorecard.
  2. Be on time – It shows that you’re organised in your day to day activities and respectful of their time, which demonstrates personal stability and empathy with their needs.
  3. Be first – You called the meeting, your responsible for welcoming them to it and making sure they are comfortable. You wouldn’t invite someone to your house for dinner and then make them wait outside until you got home would you?
  4. Wait to order – Don’t worry about looking like ‘Billy no mates’ and react by ordering a coffee before they get there. Make sure you both order at the same time.  This way you can keep greater control of meeting by pacing when it finishes.
  5. Turn off your phone – If you need me to explain this one, I’m wasting my time.
  6. Don’t look at your watch – You may want to know how long you’ve got before your next meeting, but getting caught looking at your watch can be interpreted as you being bored of what they are saying. It’s not worth the risk.
  7. Stand up – If you’re there first, stand up when you greet them. It shows you’re not an arrogant prick.
  8. The right café – Choose a café where you can actually hold a conversation, not one that is too loud or too crowded.
  9. Take notes – If the customer is sharing something of importance with you, show them that you can be trusted to know its worth, by writing it down. Don’t take notes if the information is of a sensitive nature.
  10. Pay the bill – They may indeed offer, but as you called the meeting and you want their business (and they know it), be polite and pay the bill.

Many thanks for reading my first article of 2018 and I know it’s a long one, but I’ve had 4 weeks to reflect, reenergise and to RevUp.

New year’s resolution: Stop being a crab

I hate being afraid of other people’s success, just as I hate being afraid of my own failure.

Let me explain what I mean.

There’s been plenty written on LinkedIn and elsewhere around overcoming one’s personal fear of failure, but I think many of us in Sales (as well as other professions) are just as afraid of other people’s success, (unfortunately) it’s just more socially accepted to be so, because we don’t label it as fear.

I’m referring to the crab mentality.

Recently, a good friend of mine, who is also in sales, won his and his company’s biggest new customer after close to 3 years of effort.

I was one of the first people that he shared this great news with, likely because he felt I would appreciate the effort that had gone into it and also because he was proud of his achievement and just wanted to share it with those close to him whom he trusted.

Instead of immediately feeling happy for him, I felt a sense of envy.

Probably because I was having a bad day and I wasn’t feeling particularly good about myself, I internally took on the role of victim, so as to protect my own ego.

Although, I believe I have a good Poker face, being the intuitive guy he is, he sensed my mood and changed his tack to one which is more commonly used in business settings where a person doesn’t publicly take direct credit for an achievement, so as to not offend the sensitivity of others.

I’ve gotta say though, a lot of people helped get it across the line” he said.

At that moment, I felt angry at myself for making him embarrassed of sharing his success and for pulling him down.

Many of us already have to acknowledge others who have supposedly helped us on our way, or play false modesty with comments such as ‘I couldn’t have done it without you guys’ or ‘it was a team effort’.

Well you know what? sometimes it wasn’t a team effort.

Sometimes it was just YOU and you should be able to celebrate your success.

I think we need to stop being afraid of what others will do or think if you stand tall, be proud and be the tall poppy.

I was inadvertently a crab in that situation, because I pulled someone down from advancing their personal journey.

Stand up to the crab in yourself and in others.

Right from those teen movies we all watched growing up, where the rich, popular girl is a bitch to everyone, or the best sportsman in high school was a jerk to all the geeky kids, it’s suggested that success should come with some innate feeling of guilt, as it isn’t possible without standing on the heads of others.

We all need to stop aligning to this stereotype of success being riddled with gain from unfair advantage.

In my experience just because someone is doing well, doesn’t mean they must be an unscrupulous person.

Yes I’ve met successful assholes who are not the kind of people you want to put your trust in, but I’ve also met plenty of unsuccessful assholes.

In my life I believe that you’ll only be successful when you stop pulling others down and actually encourage them to pursue their goals and celebrate their achievements, because only then can you focus your energies on advancing in your own journey.

We can be successful and good people at the same time, the two are not mutually or morally exclusive.

In 2018;

  • I’m not going to reinforce the stereotype that successful people must have stood on others to get where they are.
  • I’m going to stand tall and be proud that any success I have, came from my own efforts and not at the expense of others.
  • I’m going to celebrate the success that others have and acknowledge that any feelings of envy are my issues alone and not the fault of others.
  • I’m going to help others be more successful when and where I can, but only if they chose to take the first step in that journey themselves.

After all, personal success comes from pulling yourself up, not from pulling others down.

 

This is my last article for 2017 and I’ll be back in January 2018 to share my voice with you all again.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you.