My toothpaste is my pipeline

This morning I ran out of toothpaste.

Now normally, because of my frugal nature, love for efficiency and need for personal challenges, I try and predict how many squeezes of toothpaste I have left in the tube before I need to head to the bathroom cupboard to grab a replacement, thus ensuring I don’t ever run out.

Today was different.

That’s because this morning, as I had spread the last of the paste on my toothbrush, I was acutely aware of what was at stake; I had failed to replace the backup toothpaste the last time I went to the supermarket.

So, I put the head of the toothbrush under the running water of the tap and then sadly saw the paste drop off my brush and get washed down the plug hole.

I was no longer in control.

You may at this point be asking yourself what any of the above has to do with Sales.

Well, the link maybe tenuous, but my toothpaste problem; made me think of Sales and the risk of not always having more pipeline options in your business development activity.

As Sales people, we all have probably experienced at least one of the following two phases;

‘Beginners luck’ – This is when you’ve started a new business development role and after about 3 months in, when you’re settled and have a little confidence in what you’re talking about, you hit a sweet spot and manage to get some decent wins on the board.

‘On a roll’ – This is a time when you’ve been in the role for a little while now (no more beginners luck) and after a bit of a flat period, you start winning some new business and feel you can’t put a foot wrong.  Everything is going your way and the stars are aligning in converting your sales pipeline into revenue.

Both these phases feel great, but we all know that they never last.

Why?

I believe it’s because during those two phases, all we see is endless opportunity and are not afraid of missing out on the deal in front of us at that exact point in time.  We’re fearless because we don’t see a limit to our ability to win.

When we’re beginners we don’t know the size of the market or the number of prospects that are available to contact, so we don’t worry about making mistakes because we don’t really know what is at risk.

If we’re on a roll, it’s always when we have a number of deals on the go, so we’re not afraid of missing out on one, because we have plenty more chances in the pipeline.  We’ve done all the planning beforehand and have options, so right now we’re all about the close.

It’s when we start to feel that those same opportunities are limited, finite or that our pipeline is looking a little light and we become fearful of running out of chances that we then start to slump and see our results drop off.

We start to doubt ourselves, we start to panic and we develop fear.

“Fear leads to desperation and desperation scares potential customers off” – Not a Yoda quote

That’s why it’s so important to make sure you have a consistent forward looking pipeline of business development options.

If you can see that there is plenty more opportunity coming up, you’re less likely to be fearful of losing out of the customer in front of you and you won’t come across as desperate.

This isn’t to say you should throwaway potential customers, but keep some perspective on things and maintain a level of control on what is happening for you, rather than happening to you.

Three ways I do this are;

1) If I’m working my way through a prospect list of 50 contacts, I will always have an additional prospect list of a further 50 contacts prepared and waiting for me at all times. This way, I will not fear running out.

2) If I’ve got proposals to write, I will always do two or more at a time. This will put the pressure on me (which helps me focus) but also reduces my over reliance on the outcome of just one proposal and thus lessen the chances of me capitulating to the unreasonable demands of one of the other parties.

3) I always schedule allocated time in the diary for all business development activities needed to initiate a sales cycle. g. Regardless of how busy I am delivering to my existing customers, I still schedule in time to meet with new prospects, because they will be my existing customers tomorrow.

The lesson here is; you shouldn’t stop being efficient and productive with the last of the toothpaste in front of you, but if you want to avoid seeing your sales go down the drain, you too should always know you’ve got spare toothpaste in the cupboard.

So, did I walk around for the rest of the day with bad breath?

No.  I innovated.

I saw that my 5 year old daughter’s Mcleans ‘Little Teeth’ toothpaste was in the bathroom cabinet and I decided that having my mouth smell of bubble gum was a more favourable option than halitosis.

Is that really innovative thinking?

I’ll be discussing that topic next week.

My 10 tips for getting out of a Sales slump

One day I will retire from being part of the workforce and although I don’t know what kind of legacy I will be looking back at, or what success I will have had, I can say for certain that, what will be going through my mind will be…”it’s been emotional”.

That’s because I work in Sales.

There is an emotional roller coaster that all sales people are riding on a daily basis and I am no exception.  I love finding innovative solutions to market problems, converting opportunities when there appeared to be no chance of doing so and most of all, feigning modesty when I’m acknowledged for my achievements.

However, with all the successes I’ve had so far in my sales career, there have been plenty of failures, whether it be missing out on a new business opportunity, losing an existing customer or failing to inspire a team I was leading, I have had to deal with my fair share of disappointments.

So, I’ve learnt that although failure is part of the journey, just like success is, it’s how I react to the failures that will contribute to how successful I will be as a sales person, which is why I do the following 10 things to get myself out of a slump following a disappointment in sales;

1) Open up a blank Word document

Victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan, J.F.K.

Accepting that failure is; lonely, part of a journey and that getting out of a slump is up to me alone; I start by writing down how I feel at my lowest point.  I write down my self-doubts, my concerns and my perceived failings, so when the next time I fail (which is part of life), I can look back at what I wrote and remind myself that I’ve been here before and I got out of it.  It’s a message to me to harden up.

2) Tell the world to F**k Off!

I’m 39 years old and I’ve learnt to accept that I cannot stop how I feel.  I can manage my emotions and I can understand them, but I cannot switch them off, because I am a human being.

When I face a failure, I have tried to be stoic, ignore it or let it go, but I have found the best thing to do is start by accepting how I truly feel, which is gutted.  And, when I’m gutted, I am angry.  When I get angry, I like to vent my anger to those who understand that I’m not looking for a solution, but I just want to let off steam, my family or friends.

So, to be crystal clear, I am definitely not suggesting that you swear at your manager, or your client, but don’t be afraid to share your true emotions and vulnerability with those that you trust.

It helps.

3) Look out of an aeroplane window

I always feel my holiday starts when I look out of the window, see the ground drop away into the distance and with it, my stress levels.

Why? Because, I’ve managed to get some perspective on how insignificant (in the grand scheme of things), that work issue I was worrying about for the past week or so, actually is.

I managed to separate my personal life, from my professional one.

My guess is that most of us can’t just take a holiday whenever we choose, so looking out of an aeroplane window is just not a practical option to maintain perspective, so instead we have to think of other ways to remind ourselves that a failure in a professional capacity does not make us failures as people.

I personally, look at my email signature and then look at the title of my role.  I then remind myself that my role title is NOT my name.  My role needs to get out of a slump, not me.

4) Release some dolphins

My five year old daughter asked me why I always go swimming or running in the mornings and I said it was to “release some endorphins”.  What she heard was the above.

Before I can think about moving forward, I always need to recharge the energy batteries which have been drained by the recent failure I’ve faced, so I have to do some exercise to get energised.

Not all of us are runners or swimmers, but there is something that you already do, from which you get reenergised, whether it is walking your dog, listening to music, or meditating.  Make time to do it and do it regularly.

You’re going to need to fuel for the journey ahead.

5) Dust off the war medals

I keep a folder in MS Outlook which is labelled ‘Achievements’.

It contains emails from clients awarding me new business, staff members saying ‘thanks’ and sometimes just well written email communications that I personally have been proud to send.

When I begin questioning what value I’ve added to a client or company, or when I get some bad news, I know that the worst thing that can happen, is that I start criticising my own ability and losing self-belief.

Self-belief is one of a sales persons fundamental attributes and when that is damaged, sales performance will very quickly follow suit.

For me, keeping an achievements folder is something that I can refer to in times of need, to remind myself that I am good at what I do and that I can add a lot of value.

6) Press the reset button.

Like waking up the morning after a hosting an awesome party, there is normally plenty of tidying up to do after the event.

A sale is similar, because it’s a journey of highs and lows and when the going is good, I can sometimes tend to concentrate on delivery and conversion, rather than preparation and organisation.

When a slump event (wakeup call) forces me to stop and look around, I realise that I feel disorganised, messy and cluttered, which hinders me from gaining clarity on my next course of action.

That’s when I press the reset button.

I close my office door, put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign and begin by tidying my desk.  Next it’s my email inbox, which I start to declutter by deleting or filing anything that does not need a response, then it’s the turn of all the files saved to my desktop because I was too lazy to save to the hard drive.

Lastly, I write a to-do list.  This will map out what my next course of action is.

7) Start building momentum

My pride will always push me to try and focus on winning the next big thing to try and prove myself again following a setback, but my experience has taught me to be patient and get in the right positive frame of mind and not rush to get back to where I was.

The reason is because I am more than likely going to fail, because I’m reacting rather than responding.

Instead, I start building my momentum with smaller wins.

This way my confidence is slowly restored with minimal risk to the bigger opportunities on the horizon.

Be it a responding to emails, carrying out a new promotional analysis on Excel, or moving prospects through the pipeline.

Start building the foundations, before you try and to build the skyscraper.

8) Carry out a post-mortem

You can’t safely move forward unless you understand what went wrong.

Now that I have started to feel more confident following the first 7 steps, I am normally ready to face the issue that got me in the slump in the first place and I’m also in the right frame of mind to analyse the issue objectively, which means I can look at what went wrong.

I go through all the email communications, playback the conversations in my mind and look at the feedback that the customer may have given me in relation to the bad news.

The most important thing I do in this step is to get a trusted colleague or manager to critically review what I did, to see if they can see something that I missed.

No-one likes criticism, but it’s better to learn and get better, than make the same mistakes again.

9) Make that change.

Following on from point 8; if you’ve identified a mistake, put in mitigating steps to avoid making that mistake again, no matter how unlikely it is to happen.

If you lost a customer, put in reminders to keep in touch with that customer until the next contract review.

If you missed out on a new customer because your proposal lacked something, take the steps to improve the next proposal with the appropriate parties in your business.

Even if you have reviewed everything and found nothing, still change something.

For me, if I can’t pinpoint what went wrong, then I just mix things up to keep things fresh.

If I normally make phone calls sitting down, I’ll stand up to make phone calls.  If I carried out business development activities in the afternoon, I’ll shift the calls to the morning.  If my team aren’t hitting their numbers and I don’t know why, then I’ll change the format of our sales meetings.

10) Get back in the water.

Last summer I went with family and friends to a beach up on the Tutukaka coast and whilst there, one evening we saw what we believe to be a Thresher shark.  It was beautiful, yet scary.

Having just started ocean swimming, I knew that the next morning I had to get in the water, otherwise, I would not only be hesitant for myself, but I’d also be instilling my fears into my daughters.  So I went for a swim and I survived.

The same goes for Sales, the same goes for all of you.

Just because as sales people you and I may have faced the dreaded ‘F’ word (Failure), doesn’t mean that we’re no good at it and that we should stop selling stuff.

That’s what being a sales person is all about; overcoming the fear of failure and continuing to push forward.

Get back into the water.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to read this article and if any of you sales people are feeling like you’re in a slump and haven’t got that person you can vent, share or bounce ideas off, then feel free to get in touch with me and I’m happy to make time to have a confidential chat.

Sales as ‘Art or Science’ is holding your business back.

As New Zealand business owners, we need to evolve our perception of Sales as being either an;

ArtSales produced through the creativity or imagination of a salesperson’s relationships; or a

ScienceSales produced through scalable and repeatable systems and processes.

This is because in my opinion, both of these perceptions are outdated and we are now missing out on huge growth opportunities emerging all around us.

Traditionally, sales people like me had liked to add a little mystery and grandiosity to our chosen profession by saying that Sales was an art form; that couldn’t possibly be explained to the average person; we alone were capable of building strong customer relationships and identifying market growth.

Using the right side of our brain (our creative side) to build rapport, glean information about a customer’s problem and then use our imagination to propose a solution for which we could obtain value.

There wasn’t always a predetermined methodology that was being followed or evidence to the solution offered; instead the individual was using ‘gut feelings’ and influencing skills to get an agreement with a client.

The buzz was in solving a customer’s problem using an individual’s personal sales skills.

In more recent times, especially since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, organisations have sought to gain greater control and visibility over their sales function, because they ultimately wanted more predictability and stability from their revenue streams, something reliance on individuals wasn’t providing.

Companies run by more risk adverse parties, have invested heavily in implementing more left brain analytics into the Sales cycle through adding standardised systems and processes, which has contributed to Sales being referred to as a science.

Numerous CRM and ERP tools allow companies to analyse, measure and monitor (if training has been provided) current sales pipelines to keep things moving and let management know where identified deals can be improved.

The buzz now is in improving efficiencies through data analytics.

In my experience both of these views had merit and were apt for specific times, but they are flawed in the current business landscape of 2017/18 which is crying out for innovation;

Art places over reliance on an individual’s lone ability to identify external growth for a business at a time when those skills are in rapid decline, whilst the Science focuses too heavily on the assumption that all external growth opportunities have already been put into the companies ‘sales funnel’ and ignores market changes, as well as alienating the ‘sales artist’.

Businesses that still see Sales as an art are likely not getting growth because they are looking for a sales prophet to solve all their revenue problems, ignoring the need for their whole business to be Sales focused – The ‘lone wolf’ approach.

Businesses that still see Sales as a science are likely not getting growth because they’re busy making sure their internal management KPI’s are being achieved and ignoring actual customer requirements.  Instead, expecting B2B customers to seek them out and put themselves into the company’s pipeline via a website link – ‘Build it and they will come’ approach.

This is a ‘lose-lose’ scenario, because both approaches ignore the current market requirement, which is for business owners to have their whole organisation aimed at identifying, solving and managing the future problems of B2B customers in their world.

A Company, which wishes to grow needs to be geared towards the provision of proactive solutions to previously unidentified customer problems and the ongoing smooth management of that service offer post on boarding.

In the consumer environment, this is called CX (Customer Experience) and I think the B2B Sales space needs to catch up to this B2C shift pretty quickly, if we are to add true value and growth.

That is why I believe in an alternative to Art or Science, which I call ‘Sales Engineering’.

Engineering – Sales produced through weaving integrated structures & processes which connect future market demands, innovative business solutions and ongoing success management.

This end to end, whole brain thinking approach is fundamentally aimed at shaping an entire organisation to see itself as a Sales organisation (not just the individual sales person), which still develops innovative relationships & scalable systems, but at a macro level and centred around customer needs (as opposed to solely focused on its own gain).

Each business unit’s functionality is targeted towards the market place, with the customer’s user experience being at the centre of each and every decision made within the organisation.

It is this shared ‘Platinum Weave’ connecting all functions in a business with the wider market place that makes up a successful customer experience in a B2B environment.

The Sales function is still very much tasked with identifying opportunities and seeking solutions, but is supported by other business functions that are also geared to providing the necessary tools for a complete customer journey.

Examples include:

Marketing focused on opportunity identification and bid support.

Operations focused on ensuring smooth service delivery and responsive issue resolution.

Finance focused on ease of doing business and automated systems.

All this adds up to multiple touch points across a customer’s organisation, which not only secures new business, but protects existing revenue, because each department is providing a positive experience to the customer.

It is only when a customer has had a positive journey with you in the past, will they then trust you to guide them on their future one.

I’ll finish up by adapting a quote by the famous aerospace engineer Theodore van Karman, which best summarises what I’m trying to convey;

The ‘Sales Artist’ promised that which could be.

The ‘Sales Scientist’ analysed that which already existed.

The ‘Sales Engineer’ built that which never was.

Thanks for reading my article and if you’re keen to read more of what RevUp has to share, please click here.

7 steps to a Superhero Sales Team

Like having a script idea for a Hollywood movie, everyone also has their opinion of what is needed to make up a high performance sales team and not to be outdone, this is mine.

Over the years I’ve played a role in a couple of high performance teams, some average ones and way too many poor performing ones.

Whether it has been a team I was directing, or a team that I was a part of, I have experienced first-hand the mistakes companies, managers (me included) and sales people (again me) make and also seen (sometimes too late) what is needed to rectify those mistakes.

With the help of the Justice League and the Avengers and way too much time in front of YouTube, I’ve managed to group these into 7 steps which I’d like to share with you;

 

1. Superpowers

Sounds obvious, but to build a great team, you need to recruit great individuals who each bring something special to the table.

These people need to have the motivation, skills and ability to be great sales people.

I’m not necessarily referring to a natural born ability to sell, I’m talking about the capacity to listen, learn and apply knowledge when selling.

If they haven’t discovered their own personal sales superpower; self-belief, they aren’t yet ready to be part of a super sales team.

 

2. Logo

Each superhero in a sales team needs their own logo.

They need clarity on what part they play in the wider team, where their role, responsibility or territory ends and where their team mate’s begins.

This gives everyone in the team a clear view of what is expected of them and avoids people stepping on each other’s toes, which can cause massive disruption to a high performing team.

Make it clear to everyone, what part each of the individuals play.

 

3. SH.I.E.L.D.

Whether its kryptonite or gamma radiation, even people with superpowers have moments of weakness and vulnerability, as such they need to have an S.H.I.E.L.D. base to return to.

Environments, in which they can take off their mask, recoup and top up on the resources they need to keep fighting.

In order to provide innovative solutions, sales people need to feel comfortable to take calculated risks, learn from their mistakes and to know that someone has their back.

Sales heroes need a leader who can shelter them from the politics of an organisation, so they can get on with saving the (business) world.

 

4. The Joker

As with Batman and the Joker; a super sales hero is only as good as their arch nemesis; their competition.

Sales people are competitive by nature, that’s one of the reasons that they are in Sales, because they want to measure themselves against an antagonist or adversary.

If you don’t want members of the same team fighting and bickering amongst each other (which let’s face it is wasted energy), give them an external foe to compete with.

Unite your super sales team by showing them that the fight needs to be taken outside the four walls of their office.

 

5. Sky Beam

Why do all superhero movies have an ending involving an extra-terrestrial machine or other worldly portal which emits a bright beam of light into the sky?

It’s to give the group of heroes a collective target to hit; a focus.

Sales super heroes are the same. They need to know what they are aiming for and what they need to achieve.  For us, the beam is a number, a new customer or a personal goal.

Tell your sales team where they need to get to, make it visual and remind them of its importance.

And remember, if there’s more than one beam in the sky, all of a sudden you’ll find that they’ll be flying in different directions.

 

6. Gotham City

Who is the greatest superhero of them all? Well of course it’s Batman.  Not because he has the greatest powers, or the coolest costume, but because of his story, his motive…his purpose.

Most of us aren’t aliens from a distant planet, or members of a mythical Amazonian warrior nation.  But much like Batman, we sales people are all humans seeking a greater purpose other than a purely monetary one.

For Batman, his purpose, his reason for being is to protect Gotham City from that which threatens what he loves, that’s what keeps him going when the chips are down.

Great sales superheroes sell, not because they just want to hit a target, but because of what hitting that target represents.  They have understood the target is merely a marker on the road to a greater purpose.

 

7. Alter Ego

In today’s continuous business cycle of annual targets, quarterly incentives, monthly reviews and daily quotas, there is little to no respite before we are expected to suit up and get back out to bring in more revenue to save the day.

If you work in Sales, you’re expected to always be on top of your game.  But even the best superhero sales person needs to have downtime, when they can take off the mask, put on their spectacles and become their alter ego.

Make sure that your team celebrate their successes, reflect on the journey and get to enjoy the rewards that they have worked so hard to achieve.

Everyone needs a moment to stop, look out beyond the horizon and let their cape blow in the wind behind them.

 

Well that’s it from me this week and I hope you enjoyed the article.

If you haven’t read any of our previous posts, feel free to click here.

 

Post credit scene

Of course, no superhero themed article is complete without a post credits section.

Great sales people are naturally inquisitive, curious and in demand from other employers wanting their services.

So if you want to keep your A-list cast for next year’s installment, keep them wanting more of what you have to offer by showing them what is Coming Soon!

Next week – Why Sales is no longer an Art or a Science.

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wells_Fargo_account_fraud_scandal

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 https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/eproto/workingpapers/happinessproductivity.pdf 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.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/20157303?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMMFSCMR0Dc

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

The person who can improve Sales – Part 1

If you know who I am referring to in the title of this article, then the chances are a lot of what I have written below will not come as much of a surprise to you, but it may just help you validate what you already do know.  If you don’t know who I am referring to, the fact that you’ve still clicked onto it, means for some reason it must have piqued your interest, so I hope that the answer doesn’t disappoint.

This article is about; the major issues negatively impacting the sales profession here in New Zealand, the causes of these issues and what we need to do to in order to change things for the better.

Now there are three things I should clarify before I share my views on what’s wrong with our industry and what we can do to improve it;

Firstly, I am not implying that there are no good sales people in our industry, because there are, I’ve been fortunate to meet and learn from many of them.  People who are solutions orientated, customer centric and believe in what they are selling.  However, what I’ve noticed is that even the ones who are good at what they do, don’t always know it; whilst the ones who do know it, aren’t always able to demonstrate it to others because of the businesses they are in.

Secondly, I am specifically writing about ‘Business to Business’ (B2B) sales, where one company is selling a product or service to another company.  ‘Business to Consumer’ (B2C) sales are a whole different kettle of fish, which I am not able to cover today.

And thirdly, this article was initially only in one part, but because it had close to 3000 words, the average person would have needed around 20 minutes to read it, so I thought it prudent to split the content over two weeks.

When I talk about major issues impacting the sales profession today, broadly speaking I feel there are four main buckets in which they fall;

1) Poor Perception – Many salespeople continuing to contribute to the perception of ‘sales’ as being unprofessional, resulting in sales not being seen as a viable career choice for newcomers and having limited value for those working in it.

2) Slow Adaptation – Sales functions not adapting quickly enough to the rapidly changing expectations of their customers, meaning wasted opportunities for kiwi companies in an increasingly competitive landscape.

3) 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.

4) A surprise for next weekIn my personal opinion, this is perhaps the most important of all the issues in sales today.

This week I shall be covering buckets 1 & 2. 

Poor Perception

Many salespeople continue to contribute to the perception of ‘sales’ as being unprofessional, resulting in sales not being seen as a viable career choice for newcomers and having limited value for those working in the profession already.

Each year, less people see sales as a preferred professional career choice.

Recent Seek NZ statistics show that in the year to 31 July 2017, advertised jobs for Sales professionals in Auckland had increased by over 9% Vs the prior year, whilst applicants viewing sales jobs had decreased by 4%.

This suggests that sales people are needed, but people don’t want to apply.  Why?

When you think of the word sales, the chances are most people outside of the profession are picturing the clichéd image of a dodgy used car dealer, who is going to pressure them into buying something that they don’t want, or worse still something that is not fit for purpose.

The most recent Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey 2017 had Car Salesmen as the least trusted profession for the past 36 years!

http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/7244-roy-morgan-image-of-professions-may-2017-201706051543

The fact that this is a perception that has been around for years and still resonates with many people on both sides of the Tasman means there must be a truth in it.

The common trait amongst all bad salespeople, whether they’re selling cars or anything else, is that they are willing to exchange short term monetary gains, at the expense of their longer term reputation.

That maybe because they are not accepting, understanding or even passionate for the profession that they are in and the importance of the professions (and subsequently their own) contribution to others.

Poor salespeople never truly accept that they are in sales, choosing instead to convince themselves that sales is something they are doing, before they decide on their true calling, or purely as a means to fund a passion outside of office hours.

Although, I am yet to meet any salesperson, who has come out of school or university with the express aim of having a career in sales, good sales people have made it their chosen career and are proud of the value they provide.  They don’t apologise for it.

Unlike our colleagues in Marketing or Finance for example, there is no degree in ‘Sales’, or regulatory body governing ‘Sales’ which people can join and which from they can learn or validate their own knowledge.  Knowledge is predominantly gained ‘on the job’ in a competitive environment, so levels of understanding can vary considerably between each salesperson and forums for sharing are few and far between.

Good sales people are willing to share their knowledge with others because they are confident in the value their knowledge can provide and more importantly, in their ability to keep learning.

False bravado is no substitute for a true passion for sales.  Bravado points fingers during a failure and takes all the credit for success, whilst truly confident sales people take responsibility for learning from a failure and acknowledge the contributions of others in their successes.

To lift the perception of our profession, all good sales people have a collective responsibility to appreciate the skills we have, share the knowledge we possess and above all, acknowledge the value we add to an organisation.

Only when we behave in a professional manner, will we no longer be perceived as unprofessional.

 

Slow Adaptation

Sales functions not adapting quickly enough to the rapidly changing expectations of their customers, meaning wasted opportunities for kiwi companies in an increasingly competitive landscape

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” Charles Darwin

We all know that in sales, as in life, change is a constant and if we’re not adapting to market drivers, we’re in danger of being left behind by our competitors.

A recent article by the investment firm JBWere, suggests that although the New Zealand economy is growing, it is not necessarily due to people working smarter, just harder and will not continue doing so.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11901846

For us in the sales profession, we may not be adapting the way we work, but instead just spending more hours doing what we have always done.  This ‘working harder’ approach, coupled with much of the recent business growth being driven by cost reduction, as opposed to top line gains, has sheltered many sales people up to this point from needing to adapt; until now.

Hours in the day are running out and we’re starting to feel the pressure.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/336213/workplace-stress-rising-sharply-report

If you feel your customers or competitors haven’t adapted already, we both know they will at some point, they have to in order to survive some of the massive changes occurring in the New Zealand market, some of which I’ve listed below;

Globalisation – Your competitors are changing from the one or two other local players in your particular sector and with whom you traditionally shared the spoils, to international companies seeking their future growth from our shores, either through acquisition or as players in their own right.  Customers are also changing too; buyers maybe more culturally diverse and can also access your product or service from a global marketplace.  This means buying your customer a beer and taking them to a rugby game may no longer be enough when renewing an existing supply agreement.

Technology – Advancements in technological understanding, acceptance and adoption in both your competitors and your customers is underway; from profit margins being eroded by a new competitor using technology to operate a lower cost model, or customers analysing their data to measure the true benefits of your product or service, this technology is already impacting you.

Consumption – Your customers are changing, because their consumers are.  Whether they sell to Millennials, Gen X, or Baby Boomers, as consumers all our expectations have changed.  Consumers want things faster, with more flexibility and of a better quality than before, but they don’t necessarily want to pay more, unless they are shown the value.  They will happily pay $1,000 for a phone, but not an extra $1 for a branded bottle of milk.  Why; because they have been shown the value it can add to their lives in doing so, whereas in the past a trusted logo would have sufficed.  Customers expect their suppliers (you); to understand this change, adapt to it and help them convince consumers on why they should pay more.  After all, if their growth doesn’t come from selling more, it’ll come from paying you less.

Sound daunting?  It needn’t be.

There are some small things you can adapt right away, in the face of such major macro level changes;

  • Recognise that you’re now competing with global players and up your game through training and learning.
  • Research technology changes in your industry, respond to them and utilise your own existing technology as an enabler to better sales e.g. Use your CRM’s true capability and not just view it as an additional admin task.
  • Understand your product or service’s unique value proposition; the solution that it provides for a customer’s problem, that no competitor can match. Why do you believe in what you’re selling?

But above all else, listen to your customer; after all, you’ve got two ears and only one mouth for a reason.