Beware the spread of ‘Sales Phobia’

Has anyone else noticed this? ‘Sales phobia.’

A contact of mine who runs a business that provides professional training to education, public sector and professional bodies, was telling me that his clients appear to have adopted sales-avoidance strategies.  I suspected this was a wind-up until he told me that, for some, their new term for this was ‘Customer Engagement’.  Others had replaced sales and selling with the catch-all of ‘Business Development’.  I had previously heard of a consultant in the south of England effectively demoting sales by saying it was part of the discipline of ‘Business Strategies’.

Sadly, there may be a simple reason for this; bad experiences of being sold-to and more people are expecting to be given the ‘hard sell’ As a result they do not respect the sales process or people who sell.

Having spent 20 years in field sales and sales management, I have been very aware of the pressure that senior management put onto their sales teams.  In the companies I worked for, it was always ‘do whatever it takes to win the business’.  In the extreme, one MD said to a colleague of mine ‘if you don’t win the business, don’t bother coming back’!  This culture fostered some terrible sales practices, all based on pressure, manipulation and worse.

At the same time, business-to-consumer sales was facing growing and tougher competition and so, instead of offering better service as an enticement to buy, they too adopted pressure selling techniques.  We all remember the awful reputations gained by car and double glazing salesmen!

Unfortunately, I believe that, while some improvement has been made, pressure selling is still rife and the sales discipline as a whole has become tarnished by these unethical practices.  The culture is also perpetuated by the likes of The Apprentice, and, occasionally, even Dragon’s Den., i.e., if you don’t do what is expected, if you don’t win, you are humiliated and you are out.

When selling, how far would YOU go to protect your income, your standard of living?

I suspect that this continuing culture has caused the name change.  Perhaps our own professional bodies should take notice and make solid pronouncements against pressure selling techniques.  Perhaps not enough has been done to ‘clean-up’ sales with clearly defined boundaries of what is ethical and what is at least ‘dodgy’.  I feel passionately about ethical selling and have flown the flag for some years now, but I too come across very negative attitudes towards selling and sales people in general.

I aim to bring back enjoyment and satisfaction in selling by teaching a clear and clean sales process that is open and understood by all prospects.

In the words of Robert Louis Stevenson; “Everyone lives by selling something”.  Often this is just selling ourselves; making a good impression; having a positive impact.  If we cannot do this without being devious or manipulating our prospects, then clearly we cannot be trusted and perhaps we deserve the demotion to a sub-discipline.

In short, ethical selling must inherently be more successful, especially in the longer term.

  • Pressure selling is less likely to result in repeat business or referrals.
  • Building business relationships and selling ethically reduces the need to keep looking for new customers.
  • Customers who don’t enjoy buying from you are less likely to come back for more.
  • Keeping existing customers AND finding new ones will build a business far quicker than if you constantly have to look for new opportunities because former customers have voted with their feet.

If we don’t all start flying-the-flag for strong, ethical sales, then fewer people will respect it, expectations will remain negative, and we will all become ‘customer engagement’ experts!

Do you have a ‘Sales Phobia’?

Let me ask a different question:

Does the idea of selling cause you to palpate or procrastinate?

Do you fear a prospect rejection, or worry about making a fool of yourself when asking for the business?

If the answer is yes, you may have a sales phobia.

Unfortunately, I fear this is becoming more common.  I am doing my best to change business culture to accept that sales can and should be ethical, simple, jargon-free and enjoyable!  I achieve this in most cases.  However, there is a risk that this phobia is becoming institutionalized.  It should be a high profile and honourable profession.  Don’t let the gainsayers try and tell you otherwise!

Selling can be even more fun than buying!

How to become more ‘Proactive’.

The most common issue found relating to sales growth:

Having presented many courses on various sales and business-related subjects in a variety of lengths, I have found a few issues that arise that prove common to all my clients.  Perhaps the most important of these is the need for the sales individual or team to become proactive as opposed to reactive in their approach.  In many cases, sales leads are obtained from responses to marketing effort or repeat business.  This is excellent, as it means that the market has seen the value being offered and is keen to purchase.  However, maybe due to new competition, or failing customers, this can result in reduced turnover.  They have recognized that relying on existing clients or responses to marketing can become risky and unpredictable.  Moving to a more proactive approach will help ensure all sales opportunities are found, targeted and won.

What do we mean by ‘proactive’?  How can we be MORE proactive?

Identify two key aspects:

The markets you are serving already, and

The markets you would like to serve.

…or, put it another way….

Your existing or past customers, and

New customers

Simple strategy for being proactive in sales;

1/  Decide the best balance for you of existing customer and new customer business.  You need both!  One for ‘bread and butter’ income; to cover the ‘overheads’ and more, and the other for business growth and future strength.

2/  Revisit existing or previous customers on a regular basis.  Calling is best; sending a newsletter is the minimum contact.  Never miss an opportunity for repeat business or to cross and up-sell.  Lack of such contact allows the competition to ‘move-in’.

3/  Choose your new markets and prospects carefully.  Make sure they are likely to have the need, the money, and that they are likely to appreciate the value you offer.

4/  ‘Seed’ that market; make sure your business is known to them before you make contact, by;

  • identifying likely decision makers and sending them publicity materials, or,
  • using the internet, finding a mutual contact and asking for a referral, or
  • invest in exposure in their trade press or institution website, or,
  • any of the above and more…..

5/  Following number 4 above, any contacting now will be far less cold.  If you have gained a referral, they will be happier to take the call.  If you haven’t, you can at least refer to your article or letter in the publication or website related to their industry.  It doesn’t have to be a ‘cold call’!

This is just one approach you can use to help you find new customers and win new sales.

Being proactive should also include actions to:

–          plan where to target new prospects
–          regularly monitor and review your carefully chosen KPIs to ensure positive progress                and growth
–          ensure customer satisfaction and loyalty
–          prepare responses to possible criticism
–          prepare contingency plans in case the unexpected prevents progress in your chosen                direction

  • There are many advantages to being more proactive, you have;
  • Higher profile with existing customers and new prospects
  • Warmer contacts!
  • The chance to target and win far more business opportunities
  • Greater credibility and respect in the industry or market
  • More resilience against competition
  • More market knowledge, particularly in future trends.

So, don’t wait for them to come to you.  In market downturns, this can be fatal.  Be proactive, ‘go-and-get-it’!

As my late Father used to tell me;  “The door to success is labelled ‘PUSH’.”

Who would make a good CEO?

Who would make a good CEO?

– with thanks to David Joel of Lanson Consultants for his inspiration.

I am happily married with four lovely daughters.

I think any involved parent is a CEO.

I am an equal partner CEO in the parent company.  Two of our branches believed they would be more successful away from the control of the parent company and so we have come to a mutual agreement to separate. The longest established branch has formed a successful joint venture by merging with another to form a separate company, and the other branch has changed markets and moved to develop within a larger concern in London.

–  This has resulted in reduced costs and improved productivity of the parent company and day-to-day running is noticeably less frenetic.

The remaining two branches are still being developed and have interesting prospects for the future.  They have each developed in very different ways addressing widely differing markets; one in entertainment and the other in service industries.  Once each has reached fully profitable status and is attractive enough for a (hopefully) more established concern to take notice, then these too will likely separate from the parent company as ‘going concerns’.  Some support will have to be maintained during the transition phase at least, and possibly longer.   I envisage maintaining a non-portfolio directorship for some time but doubt my influence will be considered valuable by then.

–  The timescale for these changes is difficult to determine.  We are hoping for 5-6 years but suspect it may be considerably longer.

Once the parent company has been ‘asset stripped’ in this way, we hope it will remain a viable concern, able to tick-over at least for a few years.  Returning to full efficiency and optimum profitability may take some time but once achieved then a more bespoke, higher level, occasional consultancy may be the structure adopted.

As for passing the company on to future generations…..

I hope this analogy resonated with some of you. 

Finally, a question to ask yourself; am I being a good CEO or am I simply ‘doing a job’?

©Salient Sales & Training

What’s Stopping You?….. from winning that business?

Is it them, or is it you?

Here’s a quick check list for you to be sure it doesn’t happen;

To make sure it’s not you:

1/ Have you properly identified and agreed the need? – if you’ve assumed what they want instead of asking questions, then delays may happen while you        clear up any confusion

2/ Have you managed expectations? – if they are expecting ‘A’ in 3 weeks and you give them ‘B’ in 5 weeks you may lose the business or at least have it            delayed.  Make sure they know and agree what to expect.

3/ Have you agreed the process?  Their process for the purchase may be very different from your sales process. Talk to them, make it match.

To make sure it’s not them:

1/ if there is a delay from them – do you know all the decision makers and influencers so that any delay can be explained and overcome ASAP?

2/ if there is silence from them – have you agreed with the customer the best and most effective ways, and how often you can communicate with the key people in the sale?

3/ if it’s price – are you selling on value, not on price? i.e. stick tight to your quote and offer more value, rather than less price.

–  Six common issues that can at least delay, and sometimes lose the business.

–  Six simple strategies that will help to make sure they don’t happen.

–  Smooth the way, win the business.

To find out more and consider other barrier solutions why not come along to the next Salient Seminar: ‘What’s Stopping You?’  Details HERE.

Is everything going according to plan

There may still be time to add to your sales this year

NOW is the time to put together your plan for next year’s sales

I meet many businesses that, if doing well, make no plans to ‘feed the pipeline’, to seek and win new business on a regular basis.  At some stage, the feast will stop and famine will take over.  At that stage it may be too late to ask these questions;

  • Where will my sales come from?

have you targeted specific markets and customers?
have you followed up all previous opportunities?

  • How will I make contact?

and be sure you’re given the chance to quote
 – are you talking to the decision maker?

  • Am I sufficiently skilled in pitching, negotiating and closing?

enough to win the business?
 –  enough to ensure the best deal?

Did you have a sales plan for this year?  If you did make a plan; you have now reached the fourth quarter of the year.  Are you on plan?

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING?

You did make a plan? Good move; not enough businesses do.  Too many rely on the ‘Field of Dreams’ principle of ‘If you build it they will come’.  Unfortunately, business is never as simple as that.  Building a business ready to supply the market is one thing, but;

–        making it attractive to those who may buy from you
–        developing an interest from those who could use your products and services
–        showing how well you can fulfil their need
–        securing the business by gaining their commitment, and
–        delivering and exceeding their expectations

…are all skills that can be learned, developed and embedded into your selling process.

Selling need not be difficult, stressful or something to avoid!  Selling can be ethical, simple, even fun!  Being better at selling means winning more sales.  But, you do need some useful skills and techniques to help ensure this happens.

So Plan – Action – Review.  Review means measuring your progress against plan and making any changes needed to remain on, or exceed your plan.  You cannot measure everything, but knowing where you are against your sales plan will help you to ensure positive progress and achievement.

So, you have a plan for next year?  How about aligning it with you 5 year and 10 year plans?!  Don’t rely on the short term view; turn that wish list into reality by making longer term plans for it to happen.  Make sure you know where you’re going!

Salient Sales & Training  –  taking the pressure out of selling

(If you are not happy with your answers to any of the above questions, why not book on our next seminar?  Details are on the website, under ‘Events’.

Let’s get a bit closer…

Communication and Buy-IN; are your customers and prospects fully engaged or merely notified?

I was training a group of 10 delegates a couple of weeks ago.  They were a great bunch, very professional and clearly dedicated to the company. However, like many, they felt that contacts; customers or prospects; were not fully engaged with them.  Their contacts would not respond promptly; weeks would go by with no response to a question, query or quote.  Apparently, some quotes of considerable value were still outstanding and they had assumed that they had not been successful.  Three things immediately sprang to mind:

FOLLOW-UP, ASSUMPTIONS and COMMUNICATION!

Any question, query or quote goes cold very quickly unless reinforced with a follow-up.  They may be short of a single fact or simple clarification.  ‘For a ha’porth of tar, the ship sank’ as they used to say….apparently.

This team had worked hard to offer what they felt the customer needed, but had stopped short of the follow-up.  Looking keen and following up within a small number of days will only give good impressions and emphasise that yours is the company to engage in business.

This level of attention has three key benefits:

  • It shows you’re keen
  • It keeps you up to date with customer intentions
  • It speeds up the sales process

Without effective follow-up, others will step in to take the business.  The ‘personal touch’ will be lost and engagement will transfer to others who express more interest in working with them.

Rule 1 – follow-up, if you don’t, others will.

In each case assumptions have been made.  It could be you are assuming you have little chance or the e business is not due to be placed yet.  Maybe they have assumed that your lack of follow-up means you are less interested in the business.  There are many other common assumptions and whichever side is making them, they are very dangerous and likely to damage your prospects of winning any business.

Rule 2 – never make assumptions; ASK!  Summarise, clarify and confirm every time.

How you generally communicate can make a huge difference to the progress and success of the business you are chasing.  I asked the team of delegates what forms of communication achieved the highest emotional connection or engagement, the most ‘buy-in’ from the customer.  We produced this list in descending order.  I then asked how they would usually communicate and in what proportion.  The results speak for themselves:

Engagement %                  % usage of communication methods

Face to Face                        90                                          5

Skype                                   50                                          5

Phone call                            30                                           5

Letter                                    10                                           5

Email                                     5                                            90

The company relied almost wholly on email, but admitted this was the least effective when wanting to engage with customers or prospects.  Despite the hard work and best of intentions, they had notified instead of engaged.

Rule 3 – if you claim to be a friendly and personable company to work with, don’t rely heavily on email for your communication.  If in doubt, ask them, see them, call them, write to them; why not use two methods, write then call, or visit then write etc?

If your customers matter; and of course they do; work more closely with them to understand their need, to fulfill their need and to win the business.  I am sure this team will now move forward by following up every contact and proposal as they certainly deserve the greater success it will bring.