In my last post titled, Your Salespeople Should Be Doing This At Your Sales Kickoff Meeting, I shared a few ideas for planning and designing the activities your salespeople should participate in at your sales kickoff meeting. In my third and final post to this series I offer a few tips on how to select a keynote speaker or sales trainer to host and facilitate your sales kickoff meeting.
When it comes to planning your sales kickoff meeting one of the key questions you will most likely ask yourself is, “are we going to do this internally or should we hire a sales trainer or keynote speaker to host and facilitate?” That question alone breeds several follow up questions. If we hire a sales trainer or speaker to facilitate and host do we…
- “Hire someone just to do a keynote address?”
- “To host and facilitate the entire meeting?”
- “Hire someone with industry expertise or from outside the industry?”
- “Ask them to provide sales training or some other type of training?”
As you can see, the list can go on and on. Here are few things to keep in mind as you consider hiring a keynote speaker or sales trainer.
1.) Know Your Audience. As the person in charge of planning your sales kickoff meeting your job is to create a memorable and valuable experience for your audience. Doing so requires that you select a sales trainer or keynote speaker who can connect with your audience. Your sales team is unique from other sales teams in a number of ways. The amount of experience that resides on your sales team, the buyers they sell to, the level of complexity and challenges involved in selling your product or service, your sales culture and how you operate as a team and the psyche or morale of your sales team are just a few of the things to consider. You want to have a sales trainer or keynote speaker who understands these elements and knows how to connect with your sales team. I have sat through many sales kickoff meetings over the years where either myself or my colleague next me immediately tunes the speaker out because “the speaker doesn’t get it.” Your sales team is going to be “testing” your sales trainer and within the first few minutes of their speech or presentation, they’re going to decide if the keynote speaker “gets it.” It may not be right but it is reality. Make sure your keynote speaker or sales trainer is tuned into your audience.
2.) Meeting Preparation. Not only does your keynote speaker or sales trainer need to be tuned into your sales team but they also need to understand your marketplace. Your speaker should understand your product and services in great detail, who your customers are and how and why they buy your services, your sales process and the challenges or obstacles your sales team faces in their sales process. Good keynote speakers and sales trainers should be able to incorporate their ideas and strategies into the daily lives of your salespeople. For example, if your sales trainer is presenting a strategy on how to negotiate with a client, they should be able to apply and incorporate the idea or strategy into a real life, everyday experience that your sales team experiences.
3.) Customized or General? Every sales team faces different challenges. Some may or may not be unique to them. However, your sales trainer or keynote speaker should not be applying a “one size fits all” keynote address or sales training workshop to your sales kickoff meeting. Instead, they should understand your toughest and most common sales objections in intimate detail. They should be able to tailor or build their sales training workshop around those details. For example, suppose your sales team is having a hard time with opening new accounts. Your sales trainer or keynote speaker should interview team members before the sales kickoff meeting and not only understand the specific issues but to also get specific examples of when and where your sales team is running into these challenges. During your sales kickoff meeting your speaker should be able to incorporate their ideas into these examples demonstrating how their strategy would help your sales team overcome or prevent those sales obstacles or objections from occurring.
4.) Takeaway Materials & Call to Action. Keynote speeches typically last between 1-2 hours whereas facilitating an entire sales kickoff meeting can last between a half day and multiple days. An effective way to leave a lasting impression with your sales team is for the sales trainer or keynote speaker to share or leave behind materials and offer some sort of call to action. The best speakers and trainers often leave behind their books, CD’s, podcasts, white papers, e-books and other materials that support and aid salespeople in executing their sales strategies and ideas. Make sure your keynote speaker or sales trainer not only leaves behind supporting materials, but make sure they leave behind materials that your salespeople will want to read and use. And finally, I really like the presenters who end their presentations with a call to action. A call to action is simply asking or prompting your audience to take some form of action to start applying what they were just taught. It could be something as simple as challenging the team to write down how they will hold themselves accountable to applying the lessons the sales trainer or keynote speaker just shared.
In my last post, 3 Tips For Planning Your 2014 Sales Kickoff Meeting, I offered some ideas for properly planning your sales kickoff meeting. Here I offer five ideas for running your sales kickoff meeting.
First of all, most people, ESPECIALLY SALES PEOPLE, do not like to sit in a chair and be lectured to all day long. Yet in all likelihood, the bulk of your sales kickoff meeting will be comprised of delivering company information, sales data and training materials and content. How you deliver this information and how your sales team consumes this information is critically important to the success or outcome of your 2014 sales kickoff meeting. Here are a Five tips and ideas to keep in mind.
1.) Make it Competitive. Sales people are competitive people by nature. Most love to win. Even more hate to lose. If you want to get them engaged and truly take ownership of your meeting theme or mantra, turn it into a competition. Yes, have a scoreboard. You can and should have individual exercises or tasks where team members compete against each other as well as team competition. For example, you might explain and demonstrate a new sales strategy. To get the team to apply the new strategy (and reinforce it) you can then ask each team member to perform a role play in front of the group (and a judge or team of judges) that requires the salesperson to apply the new sales strategy they were just taught. You can do a similar team exercise. Divide the team up into groups of three or four. Create a sales scenario where the each has to make a pitch or present a solution to a prospect account. The prospect account of course can be the team of judges.
2.) Test Team Members. You can also incorporate a quiz or test into your sales kickoff meeting. As you share information and provide training throughout your kickoff meeting, you can ask team members to complete a quiz or series of quizzes in the actual meeting itself or on line after the meeting. Make the scores public knowledge. Salespeople tend to be competitive with their peers. I like doing a series of quizzes within the meeting itself. It keeps people engaged because you can keep score throughout the meeting. People always want to know where they stand. And be sure to spend some $$ on worthy prizes..iPad, Driver, tickets to sporting event, etc.
3.) White Boarding. Sales executives want their sales team to be able to story tell with their prospects and customers. They want their salespeople to be having conversations and not “pitching” products and services. Your kickoff meeting should be no different. So toss out your power point slide deck and use a white board. You can use a white board to teach your sales team what their selling and how to sell it. Studies show that participants retain twice the amount of information learning through visual aids and a “hands on approach” versus simply listening to words. And you don’t have to be an artist to use white boarding as an effective strategy. Just as importantly, you can teach your sales team the “white board methodology” to selling. Using a white board to sell, or share your story is not only highly effective but it enhances a salesperson’s presentation skills and overall self-confidence.
4.) Share Customer Success Stories or Case Studies. One area that just about all IT staffing firms could improve upon is the quantity and quality of their customer success stories or case studies. As I mentioned earlier, customers love to hear stories. Unfortunately, most IT staffing sales professionals either don’t have a story or enough stories to share. And most stories fail to properly convey the value they delivered. Thus they fail to compel or inspire a prospect to take action. Prior (2-3 weeks) to your sales kickoff meeting, give your sales team a homework assignment. Make each team member come prepared to present at least one customer case study. Everyone on your sales team has at least one customer, right? Again, you can and should make this competition. Not only can you judge the best presentation but you can judge on the quality of the content presented. In other words, who presents the most compelling case study? I suggest you ask your sales team to follow the template below for developing an impactful case study:
a. Client Overview
b. Technical & Business Challenge Solved
c. Solution Delivered (what work did your consultant(s) complete)
d. Results. (What can the client do as a result of the work completed?)
Now your entire sales team will walk out of your sales kickoff meeting with new and improved case studies to share with prospects. And they should have improved confidence in sharing those stories
5.) Dissect Your Wins & Share Best Practices. Most of us know that dissecting your wins and losses is a sales best practice. The theory is, if you can identify each specific step and task the salesperson executed in the opportunities they won, you can emulate that behavior. The reality however is, it never happens. Your sales kickoff meeting is the perfect time and place to capture this information and take advantage of it. Have an expert sales trainer or sales leader interview each of your sales people to pull out the key data points and steps that the sales person had to execute in order to win the account or opportunity. An expert sales trainer or leader will know which questions to ask to pull out the correct information so that the rest of the sales team can benefit. If you try to do this yourself and say “Jimmy, get up in front of the room and tell the team how you won the ACME account,” your sales team will NOT benefit. Why? Most sales people tend to downplay their accomplishments, especially when on a stage in front of the entire sales team. Sales people also don’t consciously know what specific data points or steps they took and need to convey to the team about how they won a new account or opportunity. So when Jimmy goes up on stage he will most likely say “Well, I made a few cold calls, presented ABC information, asked a few questions and the deal closed.” That is not going to help the rest of your sales team close more deals. The critical details-the sales behavior you want the rest of your team to emulate-will not come out. Hire an expert sales trainer and let him or her pull this information out in front of the team in an “interview format.”
In third and final post to this series, I will share tips and ides on how to select keynote speaker or trainer to host and facilitate your sales kickoff meeting.
Year end is fast approaching. You know what that means right? Holiday parties? Wrong. It’s time to start planning your 2014 sales kickoff meeting. In this three part series Menemsha Group offers tips for planning your sales kickoff meeting, ideas for running your sales kickoff meeting and suggestions for how to select a keynote speaker to participate in your sales kickoff meeting.
In theory, sales kickoff meetings are supposed to be full of excitement and energy. They’re supposed to inspire team members and push people out of their comfort zone to apply new strategies for the coming year. Everyone is supposed to walk out of their sales kickoff meeting dying to get back on the phones so they can share all of their new ideas. But do they?
I have been part of sales kickoff meetings that have been flat out awesome and super fun and others that have been downright boring and awkward. Let’s face it, putting together a sales kickoff meeting is a big investment. But they also require having a strategy and proper planning. Here are three tips for planning your 2014 sales kickoff meeting.
1.) Determine Your Theme or Mantra. What is your number one high level goal that you wish for your sales team to achieve in 2014? Is your goal to grow gross profit margins? Perhaps it’s to open more accounts and increase overall market share? Whatever your goal is, it should be woven into the fabric of your kickoff meeting. Your overall agenda should be filled with activities and presentations that will drive the sales behavior that will enable you to hit your goals and ultimately support your theme or mantra. For example, if your sales goal for 2014 is to increase your sales closure rate, the theme of your sales kickoff meeting could be “Refuse to Lose.” You could then build content and activities around “never giving up,” and closing deals. You could have members of your sales team share stories that resemble this “Refuse to Lose” attitude and the results. You could build out additional team building exercises that focus on supporting this theme and achieving the desired goal.
Keep in mind that when you select your theme or mantra for your sales kickoff meeting, you need to be tuned into the morale of your sales force. Sale people and sales teams tend to have ups and downs. When team morale is low, say after a tough year or quarter, you can’t afford to take as much risk in the theme or mantra you chose. If you do, you will be sending a message to your sales team that you’re really out of touch with reality. As a result you will likely alienate your sales team (they’ll roll their eyes and think the meeting is a joke) and not reap the desired results from your sales kickoff meeting. So don’t pick an over the top theme. Instead, pick a theme that is more neutral and practical. If however you’re coming off a very positive year, take a chance and have some fun with your theme or mantra. Think big. “Swing For The Fences” could be your theme.
2.) Consider Meeting Takeaways Ahead of Time. I suggest you begin planning your sales kickoff meeting with the end in mind. What is it that you want your sales team to do as a result of your 2014 sales kickoff meeting? What sales behavior are you trying to drive and encourage? How do you want them to sell differently from how they sell today? When they get back to the office Monday morning, what do you want them to do and what tools or resources might they need to do those things? All of this should be well thought out in advance of the meeting to help ensure you maximize your results from your sales kickoff meeting. Remember, this meeting is an opportunity, let’s not waste people’s time.
3.) Follow up & Reinforcement. Far too often after a sales kickoff meeting has ended salespeople say:
a. “I don’t remember what was covered in the training program.”
b. “I tried it once and it didn’t work.”
c. “I didn’t get enough practice using the tools.”
As you plan your sales kickoff meeting you will also want to plan how you will reinforce your theme or mantra over the weeks and months that follow. Research shows that on average, most people retain less than 20% of the material covered in the typical kickoff meeting. Reinforcing the training material and content covered in your meeting needs to be followed up with consistent reinforcement to ensure it “sticks.” For ideas on how to reinforce the training, and material covered in your sales kickoff meeting you can download our FREE ebook, 7 Awesome Tips For Reinforcing Sales Training.
In my next post, I will share some of my ideas on what activities sales people should be participating in during a sales kickoff meeting.
In my blog posted earlier this month, I shared Three Simple Tips For Client Negotiation. If you have not yet read that blog and client negotiation tips 1-3, you can click here to do so. Let me now share with you negotiation tips 4-7.
Negotiation Tip #4
Only negotiation with those who have the power and authority to buy and say yes. It's amazing to me how often I see sales professionals who are negotiating with those who do not possess the power to commit or buy. Typically, sales peolple find themselves negotiating with gatekeepers-those who have the power to say no- but do not possess the power to say yes. So you need to ask some probing question and poke around to make sure the person you are communicating with has the authority to say yes.
Negotiation Tip #5
Only negotiate when the buyer can actually buy. Do NOT try to negotiation BEFORE the buyer can actually commit. Again, I see it all the time where a sales professional will try to negotiate a deal-say on bill rate-with the client at the end of the sales cycle. The sales rep offers a reduced price or makes an offer to the client. The client responds with "I need to think this over." Or "I need to run this by my boss." Never, ever, ever, make your final offer or try to negotiate with a buyer who is not yet ready or able to commit. Why? There are too many resons to name but here are two simple ones. First, the client can use your rate to negotiate with another vendor or as leverage down the road. Second, the customer will almost always come back and ask for another concession from you. You want to make sure that the deal you're offering-the compromise-will be accepted there and on the spot.
Negotiation Tip # 6
What concessions are you willing to give up or concede to? Just like you need to come up with a negotiation trade off sheet (list of things you want in return for your concessions), you also need to think through what you are willing to give up. If it is gross profit margin, how often and under what cicrcumstances? What else would you be willing to give up? What does the client want or value that you are willing to give up or concede? You should give yourself options before going into your negotiation.
Negotiation Tip #7
You must be willing to walk away. Pure and simple. If you are not ready to walk away from an account or sales opportunity than you are simply not ready to negotiate. If you're not willing to walk away than clearly you are willing to make even more concessions than you originally had planned on and/or you are willing to accept less in return from the client. Quite frankly, I don't think enough sales people walk away from customers in this business. I know it's hard, but there are a ton of companies out there to do business with. And the beauty of the sales profession is you get to pick and choose who you do business with. Remember that!
Good luck and happy selling!
While the hammer (the hard sell) at times may be the easiest way to go about a negotiation, it is often not the most effective. And you can't continue to rely on the old stand by, you know the one.....the "take away." So you need to have multiple tools in your negotiation tool box. Here are a few tips that are sure to help you maintain gross profit integrity and keep you smiling at your ATM machine!
Most sales people know they should never give something up without getting something in return. Heck, we don't work pro bono! The challenge however is figuring out what to ask for in return. Remember any reduction or discount you offer in your rate represents a transfer of profit from your company (and your pocket) to your client’s. So tip #1 is, ALWAYS make sure you get something in return for any concession that you make. Don't just give something up without getting something in return.
So what should I ask for in return should I make any concessions? Good question. I suggest you make a list of all of things you would love to have that your customer can give you. The longer the list the better. Here are a couple of quick sample ideas. Access to power (decision maker), quicker payment terms, business volume or exclusivity. I could go on and on and on. Brainstorm with your co-workers, you'll be amazed at what you come up with.
Tip # 3
Only negotiate with those who have the power and authority to committ and say yes. Far too often I see sales professionals negotiating with gatekeepers and other constituents who don't have the authority to commit or say yes. Only negotiate with those who have the power to say yes to your solution or offering. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time.
How in the heck can two sales people who work for the same company and sell the same services to virtually the same customers have such a large disparity in their gross profit margins? I work with IT staffing and consulting firms all across the country and I run into this scenario quite frequently. One rep can consistently generate GP margins north of 30% while another struggles to close a deal at 25%. There are a number of reasons for how and why this happens. Let me share some insight and hopefully help you optimize your gross profit margins.
Lack of Self Confidence
The first issue and most common issue I see that holds sales people back from selling their service at a price that accurately reflects their value is self confidence. These are the sales people who are simply focused on "complying" with their client's budget and being a steward to the client in ensuring they meet their budget. These sales people tend to be highly concerned-almost to the point of paranoia-about upseting or disappointing their client and often focus solely on ensuring that their candidates or proposal meet the client's budget. They tend to shy away from what can be perceived as a difficult conversation with the client due to a lack of self confidence. That difficult conversation by the way is a conversation about rate or budget. This issue however, is actually a symptom of a bigger issue. I will get to that in a moment.
On the other hand, you have sales professionals who over the years have seen first hand the impact they have had on their client's business and how they have helped their client take a product to market, complete a project, reduce costs or generate a new revenue stream. These sales people have no....zero....zippo....issues with how they price their deals. The reason they have no issue with how they price their deals (or their client's budget) is because they understand the value they're delivering to their client.
Lack of Understanding the Business Value You Deliver
A moment ago I said lack of self confidence is actually a symptom of a larger issue. That larger issue is the fact that the sales person who sells their service on the lower end of the GP spectrum doesn't understand the value of their work. Instead, these sales people simply price candidates based on "market rates" and focus on complying with their client's budget. This happens because they fail to understand the business value they're delivering for the client. Let me offer an example to illustrate my point.
Suppose my client-an online retailer-calls me and tells me they need to hire a Java developer for a project. Now I could take the common and all too ordinary approach of focusing on the skills, technologies and day to day responsibilities of the job and price my candidate accordingly. Or, I could take some time to properly probe and understand what problems the client needs my consultant to solve and why. I could also probe to understand who (customers, employees, suppliers, partners, etc) is affected by this problem. This helps me understand how big or prevalent of a problem my consultant will be solving for the client. Lastly, if I find out what sort of ROI the client expects from the work my consultant will be performing for him or her, I can start to quantify the impact I'll be having on my client's business (hence, I'm now starting to understand the business value I'm delivering).
Suppose I ask my client-the online retailer-these questions and I come to discover that they're losing online sales because their web site keeps crashing. As a result sales, gross profit dollars and market share begins to erode. Their customer service department is overwhelmed with angry customers because the web site keeps crashing because the web server and the database can't communicate. The phones in the call center ring off the hook!! Lastly, the CFO has to deliver bad news to shareholders and analysts on wall street because they're going to miss their quarterly sales forecast. Having had this dialogue, I'm now in a position to sell my service offering relavant to size and impact of the problem that is being solved.
When a sales professional understands the business value they're delivering for their client they can sell with supreme confidence and conviction. More importantly, the focus of the conversation has nothing to do with price, it's all about the value the client is receiving.
If you want to bump your gross profit margins and pad your commission checks and feel good about it, take some time to figure out and understand the business value you deliver for your clients.
This article was written by Tricia Bielinski of K2 Partnering Solutions.
1. Do What You Say You're Going To Do
I've found that above all else, if you don't do what you tell people you're going to do at the end of the day it doesn't much matter if you adhere to any other rule in here (and even more likely you won't have the opportunity to). In a market that is fast paced and ever changing, where project roles are sometimes filled as quickly as they are released, it is important that if you say you're going to provide someone with feedback, that you do it. If you tell a consultant or a client that you're going to follow up with them at a certain time, you do it.
Whenever I train a new recruiter or group of recruiters, this is something I write at the top of the white board (yes, I'm old school and cannot function without a white board and a marker) and leave it there throughout their entire training period. If you want to establish credibility and maintain it, if you want to be known as someone who lives up to their word then it is imperative you have an organization or tracking system to remind you of who you're due to follow back up with and who you owe information or feedback to (and yes, even if it's no feedback, you owe them an update if they've complied with your submittal process for an opportunity).
2. Build Relationships
We've all heard before that in business, as well as in life, it's all about who you know. The better you are at building relationships, and hence building a network, the better your business will be. Relationships are important, and your ability to develop rapport and establish trust (refer back to #1) will determine your success in this arena. My advice here is to never try to be someone you're not, people appreciate people who are genuine and real. I personally can recognize someone who's sucking up from a mile away to try to get something out of me. All you can do is be yourself, know your value and what you bring to the table and the rest will happen from there.
A relationship is not developed in one phone call, a dialogue is started and the relationship will develop over time.
3. Manage Expectations
It still befuddles me how often this very important practice is overlooked in business as well as life. There are many, many people out there, all who think differently and expect differently. Your definition of "a lot of experience" will likely differ vastly from five others' definitions. When delivering information, I believe it should be finite and quantifiable. For example, if a consultant tells me they're going to send me references when we hang up the phone, I'm qualifying if that means I can expect those references in my inbox in ten minutes, or one hour. If someone tells me a consultant is 'good', I want to know what that means specifically. Based on that statement will I be able to expect that this consultant can handle a full upgrade with only support from one internal employee? Give me specifics and manage my expectations.
In another example, if a consultant tells me they can start an assignment right away, does that mean if my client moves this process quickly and wants them onsite Monday they can book flights and do that? Often times when I ask about availability to start this way I'll get "well, no I couldn't do Monday but definitely the week after, Monday's too soon". Ok Mr. Consultant, fair enough. At least now I have specific information I need in order to be able to manage my client's expectations around earliest possible start date. I've heard that perception is 70% of life and will say I've found this to be true. Your ability (or lack thereof) to manage your colleague's expectations, your consultant's expectations and your client's expectations will directly affect how competent people view you to be.
4. Don't Ask, Don't Get
This was something I learned when I was just starting off in the business world in the commercial real estate space. I don't think this one requires much explanation or example. If you want something, you have to ask for it. If you don't get the answers you need or one that you think is incomplete, then you need to ask the question again or differently. If something doesn't add up to you, ask about it. Don't ignore that little "Spidey sense" that kicks in when you hear something that doesn't make sense. ASK, it will get clarified and you'll know how to proceed from there.
If we don't have information regarding a consultant's or client's situation (or any situation for that matter, but in the interest of keeping this relevant to my business) it's because we didn't ask, not because they didn't tell us.
5. Never Assume
Obviously we all know the expression...assuming makes something out of you and me that rhymes with bass, and I couldn't agree more. Just because someone sounds excited about your opportunity, does not mean that they're going to take it if offered. If you assume that your colleague is doing XYZ to move a process forward and you don't check on that to be sure, you're remiss. Get the point? Qualify and close everything down, don't leave it to the Assumption Gods to sort out.
6. Know Your Audience
I'm going to come off a little biased here because I come from companies with a niche focus and as far as it relates to this rule, I prefer it. Knowing your market and the skills you're speaking about to more knowledgeable and technical parties (i.e. the consultants and the clients) is going to put you in a position to either be taken seriously or not. You'll be better able to do this if you have a focus area that you can penetrate versus being a hundred feet wide and two feet deep. You'll know the projects, the players and understand how A connects to B and X connects to Y so you can speak intelligently about all of it.
KNOW who you're talking to, understand what they do and don't want to hear about, where you can add value to their every day. Otherwise why do they want to talk to you?
A wise old man once told me you have two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in such a way that reflects that ratio. 'Nuff said.
When I run my sales training workshops and webinars I often ask the audience, "How many of you have a clearly defined target market?" Typically, only about 10% of the audience indicates that they in fact do have a clearly defined target market. That means that 90% of sales people selling IT staffing services are simply calling any company willy-nilly. What I find even more amazing is when I sit with sales professionals to provide them with coaching and I ask to see their prospect list. Here are a just a few of the common responses I get when I ask about their prospect list
Sales Rep: "I’m working my way through all of the accounts in our database that are not currently being called on by our sales team. Right now I’m going through the C’s (all companies that start with the letter C).
This just amazes me every time I hear this (and I hear it often) because we ALWAYS discover that many if not most of the companies are out of business or have been sold or bought out, many of the contacts are no longer there and most of the phone numbers are outdated or out of service. Talk about a waste of time! And of course we have no idea what, if any, qualification process was applied to these accounts when they were originally entered into the CRM/ATS system.
On other occasions I find sales professionals calling hundreds of different companies. HUNDREDS!! How can you expect to know anything about your prospect when you’re calling on hundreds of different prospects? You can’t! And again, I ask the sales person, "How did these accounts get on your radar? Why are you calling this company?" Common responses include:
None of these responses, including the last one, are compelling reasons for calling on an account.
What You Need To Know About Prospecting
Selling today is NOT about calling as many prospects as possible. Selling today is about:
Selling to companies where you will have the highest likelihood for success
Remaining focused on selling exclusively to these accounts
Calling on each account you select with specific intent
I have learned through experience that the sales people who are calling on hundreds of accounts with no strategy or clearly defined target market are typically those who are simply seeking a transaction. Let’s get one thing straight. It is very easy for a prospect to tell when a sales person is making their self-interest the priority of the call. If you’re always thinking about and focused on "what can I sell" during your prospecting calls, you can expect to get little in return. Prospects see right through this self-serving sales behavior. Instead, you should be focused on how you can add value with every client interaction. Having a clearly defined target market allows you to just that, focus on adding value and making a difference for your client.
Listen to what Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm (this book is known as the "bible" for selling and marketing high-tech products) and speaker and business adviser to many of the leading companies in the high-tech sector, including Cisco, Cognizant, Compuware, HP, Microsoft, SAP, and Yahoo!.
"Companies that try to be all things to all people have significantly higher costs, never really establish a strong customer base from which to grow and often disappear before achieving profitable growth."
Which Prospect Companies Will Give Me the Highest Likelihood for Success?
This is actually a pretty easy exercise. Look at the customers your company has had consistent success with and ask yourself the following questions:
What industry are they in?
How big of a company are they (small cap, middle market, enterprise)?
Where is the company in their development stage (start up, emerging growth, mature)?
Do you have access to the ultimate decision makers or do you have to work through a gatekeeper or third party?
What technologies are they using?
What solutions have you consistently provided for these customers?
Most importantly, what problems are you solving for your customers?
The answers to these questions begin to lay out the road map for the types of prospect accounts you should be focusing on. Why? Because you have a story to share. Today’s corporate buyer and IT decision makers like nothing more than relevant customer success stories. If you’re calling on accounts where you have no story to share and/or can’t sell with specific intent, you’re calling on the wrong accounts.
Calling on a Few Select Accounts that Meet Your Pre-Defined Criteria
I’m a firm believer that you can do business with ANY account you want to do business with. It’s just a matter of time, discipline and persistence. This includes corporate America’s most prestigious companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, GE, etc. I would also argue however, does it really make sense to pursue business with Corporate America’s most prestigious companies? Do I really want Google, Apple or Facebook as a customer? For me personally, I don’t. The reason is I have very specific "account qualification elements" that my customers must meet. That’s right, my prospects must qualify to do business with me. Those companies don’t meet my qualification elements. They don’t fit my profile.
So, have you clearly defined your account qualification elements? Can you quickly recognize an account you know you should pursue vs. an account you should walk from? Having account qualification elements defines this for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind when defining your account qualification elements.
What are the characteristics of the types of companies I enjoy working with most?
What types of companies have I (or my company) struggled with?
What types of IT consultants does my delivery team excel at delivering? Struggle to deliver?
What are the characteristics of my most profitable customers?
What are the characteristics of the high-maintenance, low margin customers?
There are a lot of things in this business that are outside of our control. But deciding who we do business with is not one of them. YOU get to decide who YOU want to do business with. You control this process. So define your target market and associated qualification elements, create the qualifying questions and apply the qualification process to your prospecting efforts. I can assure you that you will love the results! Oh….and I think you will find it pretty liberating to say "Facebook doesn’t qualify for my business."
Prospecting and opening new accounts is the lifeblood for the IT staffing sales professional. IT staffing firms and sales professionals are under constant pressure to open new accounts quicker and more efficiently then ever before. Below I highlight four critical success factors to opening new accounts. And in September I will be hosting a four week sales training boot camp that highlights how to execute each of of these critical success factors.
Build a Impactful Value Proposition. If you're struggling to open new accounts, it's most likely because you don't have a impactful value proposition. They key to building an effective value proposition starts with understanding what your customers value. IT decision makers simply want to know A.) how can you help them reduce their costs, or B.) improve their time to market with their products/services, or C.) increase revenue/market share or D.) help them improve efficiency. That's it! Answer this question and I promise you, you will be opening accounts non stop. Keep in mind that a value proposition does NOT focus on any of your internal processes, rewards or accolades, or your customer service capabilities or any "feature & benefit" related to your service offering. Instead, your value proposition MUST FOCUS ON the outcomes your service produced for your client and the business results your client received from using your service. You should tie business results to critical business issues and include metrics or statistics. Here is a good sample value proposition: "Tech Staff delivered a team of data warehousing experts who were able to integrate all corporate systems and build an enterprise data warehouse. Today executives have improved decision making capabilities that has enabled them to reduce manufacturing costs by 25% and increase profit margins by 13%." For more information on building value propositions, check out our value proposition playbook.
Cold Calling, Email & Leaving Effective Voice Mail Messages. This second critical success factor builds off the first. If you struggle to get call back's from your voice mail messages, it is most likely for the same reason that sales professionals struggle or are slow to open new accounts. The prospects receiving your messages are simply not hearing or understanding the value you can provide them. As you know, today's IT decision makers are extremely busy putting out fires and running from one meeting to the next. If your message doesn't speak directly to their top of mind issue and how you can help them solve it, your message will most likely get deleted. So how do you create a voice mail message that generates a call back? First, you MUST have a defined target list of prospects because the same value proposition doesn't apply to all IT decision makers. You want to use your value proposition as the core of your message. Using the example from above you might leave a message that sounds something like this. "Jim, Dan Fisher with Tech Staff. The reason for my call is I understand you run the data warehouse team and are currently integrating data from multiple sources for improved decision making. We recently did this for ABC company and were able to reduce their manufacturing costs by 25% and increase their GP margins by 13%. I'd be happy to share with you how we did it and determine if we could deliver the same or similar results for you. Please give me a call at..." For more on cold calling best practices, check out my Cold Calling Tips white paper.
Objection Prevention & Handling. The key to objection handling starts with objection prevention. If you're always in "pitch mode" than you're going to get objections. The key to objection prevention starts with getting out of "pitch mode" and simply asking thought provoking questions and sharing customer success stories, as I have mentioned above. Prospects love to hear about how you have helped others like them and how it impacted their business. Think about it, if you're not pitching or pushing your service offering or a feature/benefit, than what can the prospect object to? Nothing! However, when you do find yourself in an objection handling situation, follow this model for resolution. A.) Demonstrate empathy and acknowledge the objection. It is absolutely critical that the prospect knows that you heard and understand their objection. You must demonstrate this and show some empathy in the process. B.) After acknowledging the objection you must probe for more information to ensure you understand the root issue. Often times the real objection goes unnoticied because the sales rep failed to ask clarifying questions. C.) Offer a credible response. Top sales professionals have two to three credible rebuttals for all of the common objections. If you need help with rebuttals, download myIT Staffing Objection Rebuttal Book. D.) Ask for feedback. After you offer your rebuttal, you must ask the prospect for feedback to determine if your rebuttal addressed the issue or if further discussion or action is needed. Do not just offer a rebuttal and let it "hang" out there. You need to get feedback so you know where you stand.
Launch Your New Account Acquisition Campaign. There are a few key points to keep in mind when launching your new account acquisition campaign. Once you have developed your value proposition (or multiple value props), you need to build a targeted list of prospects. This list should only include those who would be interested in hearing your story (your value proposition). For example, I wouldn't share my data warehousing value proposition (from above) with the VP of Infrastructure or QA because it's not relavant. You must define your target audience by understanding who would be interested in your value proposition. Second, you will want to build customer centric marketing tools and messaging for your target accounts in your campaign. The "broad brush message" simply will not due. Third, you must understand how to optimize all marketing channels. By this I mean taking advantage of phone, mail, twitter, linkedin, facebook, user groups, etc. You need to have a game plan that incorporates all of these channels. Lastly, and most importantly, you must add value with every client interaction. You can't just call and "check in" or "ask for needs." How do you do this? It starts with understanding your prospects and what is important to them. Once you understand that you can begin to share analysts reports, benchmarketing data, case studies, etc. that your prospects will find useful. You must offer fresh ideas and insight that will help your prospects do their job more effectively, achieve their goals and/or overcome the challenges they face.
If you need further assistance with putting these tips into practice, please join me for our four week sales training boot camp where I will go into much greter detail on the execution of each of these steps.
Those who know me know that core my to values and methodology is that sales people must have business acumen. More specifically, a sales professional’s ability to demonstrate business acumen is a critical success factor to selling in today’s marketplace. One of the biggest challenges I face as a trainer however is getting sales professionals-and often times sales managers-to understand & commit to this. To a certain degree I can understand why. At a high level, business acumen can been seen as a bit abstract and at a granular level it can become overwhelming. I often hear:
- “What exactly is business acumen?”
- “I never studied business in school.”
- "I just want to make sales calls"
- "How is this information or business acumen going to help me make placements?"
- "I don't understand business concepts and financial terms"
I went to Michigan State University and studied Criminal Justice and Pre-Law. All my friends were in the business school. I had zero interest in business and coming out of college I couldn't have told you the first thing about profit margin, a balance sheet or risk mitigation. Then I took a job selling IT consulting services. My first employer had a subscription to Hoovers and OneSource. I was told to use those tools so that I could assemble key account data-balance sheets, working capital, customer satisfaction rates, market share, credit rating, yada yada, yada-to make an effective sales call or presentation. But, like many sales professionals I work with today, I was a fish out of water. None of that information helped me. It only made matters worse. It totally confused me and made me lose focus. Even if I took a class or read a book to understand all of the definitions, how was I going to translate that into my sales conversations with prospects? I wasn't and I didn't.
This is Business Acumen. And if I Can do it, Anyone Can do it
Fast forward a few years and hundreds of meetings with IT and business executives and I discovered that business acumen is not about simply knowing these terms or definitions. Business acumen is about understanding how all of the different departments in a company rely on one another in order to produce their product or service. Business acumen is the understanding of how these different teams and departments are interconnected and reliant on each other. It’s about understanding the cause and effect between each department.
For example, when the server that hosts the e commerce web site crashes, shopping carts get abandoned and sales are lost. Order fill rates go down and the customer service department gets flooded with calls from angry customers. As a result the sales team is not happy because they're orders don't get filled. The VP of sales has to have a talk with the IT team about why the server crashed and when it will be fixed. Emotions run high, relationships get strained. Subsequently the cost of sales goes up. Customer loyalty and retention suffers. Investors and/or analysts on wall-street are not happy because they missed their sales forecast. The CFO has to field calls from those angry investors and analysts. As a result the company loses market share and their stock price drops.
While this example is extreme, this is a real world example that happens to companies.
Being able to recognize and understand this is business acumen. Recognizing when something positive or negative (trigger event) happens (or is happening) within an organization and understanding who (or what departments) will be impacted and how they will be impacted is business acumen. It’s this ability to connect the dots or to see and recognize the “chain reaction” of these events.
Here’s the kicker. Corporate decision makers, executives and especially IT decision makers are constantly taking on new initiatives to apply metrics, processes and standards-let's call them critical success factors-to improve the overall performance of their department or business. When corporate decision makers make the decision to change or "re-engineer" a process and it has a positive effect on the business- there is inherit value. Keep reading……
Why Business Acumen is So Important
If you don’t have business acumen (can’t recognize the “chain of events” and interconnectedness of departments), you can’t recognize or understand what your customer values and why. Take the example from above. If you fail to uncover and understand the downstream effect of how rebuilding the server delivers value for not only the VP of Sales but the customer service team and the CFO, you can’t sell business value. Not only that, you will never understand your customer and what is important them. This is leaves you in a horrible position. You’re stuck with selling exclusively on price. Not good.
But if you can begin to build your business acumen and understand this “chain reaction” of events within your accounts, you will transition from “rookie sales rep” to “sales professional.” Why? Because now you can actually participate in the conversation you really want to be a part of. The conversation where you diagnose the problem with the client and offer ideas and co-create a solution with your client. But without business acumen, you’re just an order taker fulfilling a pre-defined need.
The last reason why developing business acumen is so important-and this is probably most important of all-is that more important than you understanding your customer’s business is that you make your client feel understood. Customers want to do business with sales professionals who understand their business. Customers want to feel understood. How can you make your customer feel understood if you don’t understand business acumen and what they value and why?
How to Develop Your Business Acumen
It starts with asking your customer’s well thought out questions. You might start off by asking them what goals they’re trying to achieve for the quarter. When they mention to you that they are having a problem or issue with “X” ask them “why do you think that problem is happening?” After their response you may reply with another question such as “how is this problem impacting your business?” Or “what departments are being impacted by this problem?”
By asking some simple probing questions you can develop business acumen and gain great insight to how your customer thinks and what they value. From here you can get into some additional questions such as “What have you done so far to try to fix this problem?” And “why is fixing this problem so important to you?”
Possessing business acumen in today’s marketplace is a must have skill set for selling any product or service to corporate America. You can start to develop your business acumen by asking these questions on your next sales call.