When looking to transform performance in any field, the temptation is rip everything up and start again. However, I’m not convinced there is much evidence to suggest that’s the best way to turn around business performance (though, clearly, that depends how bad performance is!).
Whenever I’m asked to help a company improve their sales performance, I start with an assessment of what they’re doing now. Sounds obvious, right, but what some change management companies and training specialists do is to impose their own structures and methods directly onto their clients’ businesses with little regard for what’s already there and, particularly, what’s already working.
Don’t misunderstand me, I have ideas, structures, processes and frameworks that I believe can help companies sell more successfully more consistently, but it’s which parts to implement first and how to implement them that is crucial at the beginning. Having knowledge and expertise is one thing; knowing how and when to apply them is another.
All change carries risk and, whilst that risk cannot be entirely avoided, it should be minimised. The potential benefit and the size of that benefit as well as the likelihood of success must be measured against the risk of change before you plough in and revolutionise how a company does business. I’ve often said that the better you become at selling, the wider range of selling tools you have, the more your job is to be a sales editor not a sales performer: success comes from choosing which tools to use at which time with which client.
I apply the same belief to sales transformation and the programmes I create for clients. First, assess what works well and keep those, then look for small manageable changes where needed, changes that can be easily implemented and then support people in making those changes consistently and successfully. It’s a step-by-step approach that sounds like evolution but ends up, a year or two later, looking like a revolution.
In recent weeks, I’ve been putting together training to help clients and their teams through these very different times; for some, it’s a hugely challenging time whilst, for others, it’s a time of opportunity – much of it depends on your market sector, of course.
However, whichever sector we work in, all we can really do is to win market share. That’s true in times of plenty as well as more difficult times but, in the latter, we often lose sight of that simple truth.
To win more market share in unusual times, teams often have to realign their goals, refocus their energies and reboot their motivation. Though the current climate is even more extreme, I did lots of work in the tech sector during the credit crunch and it was all about keeping motivated by realising that all you can do is win the attention of the market and increase your percentage share of it. You can’t control when the market comes back but, when it does (and it’s when not if), you’ll have more contacts, a heightened awareness in the market and you’ll be best placed to win the same percentage (possibly more) in a much bigger market. In the meantime (ie. now), a training boost can give salespeople their mojo back so they’ll win more business in the near future too.
Of course, I’d be delighted to speak to anyone who’s interested in how we can help your salespeople right now. But, whether you speak to us or another sales training expert or whether you’d prefer to do it in-house, don’t just leave your sales team to ‘get on with it’. Give them some support right now – it will get you through these tough times and put you in a MUCH BETTER position on the other side.
Take the right steps now to give your sales teams the motivation, purpose and energy that will help immediately and sustain them into the New Year. Best wishes and here’s to renewed sales vigour!
Thanks to the evolution of technology, we’ve been granted
access to vast amounts of information and data on anything and everything.
Despite there being more readily available information on health, fitness and
nutrition than ever before, studies by the NHS show that obesity in the UK has
risen from 14.9% in 1993 to 27.7% in 2018. While a lot of available information
on health and fitness is valuable, much of what we see on social media is
focused on quick wins that promise significant results with little effort.
While these programmes may be achievable, they foster a culture of instant
gratification and neglect the importance of structure, consistency and
commitment over time. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t become a world-famous
bodybuilder because he went to the gym for a few weeks, he committed to a structured
plan and executed the basics every day, for years.
clear parallel can be drawn with sales. Many embark on sales careers as a
vehicle to get rich quick, thinking they’ll be the next high-achiever on the
block and earning over £100,000 within a year. While a sales career can,
undoubtedly, be life changing and lucrative, expectations of success are high
from the off. Many with solid potential turn away from a career in sales
because it’s hard work and those sky-high expectations aren’t met. It’s not
necessarily their fault, but often that expectations weren’t managed. Those who
do well long-term tend to be those who focus on mastering the basics and
putting them into practice, again and again, day after day.
the environment, the idea of quick results with minimal effort is a dangerous
one. Whether hunting for a new job in the current climate or working off the
quarantine cake, stick to the basics, execute them well today, tomorrow and the
next day. Good things will come.
A little while ago, I was buying some milk at Marks & Spencer’s on the way to work in central London. In store, I spotted what is thankfully a rare sight: a man with a plastic bag which he was filling with food and drinks from the store’s shelves. I immediately wondered why this man was not using the perfectly accessible and useful shopping baskets available on entry? I smelt a rat (I know, I’m sharp).
Being a true Londoner I didn’t challenge the man myself but resolved to express my concern to a member of staff.
“I suspect,” my introduction to the checkout guy began, “that someone over by the fridge is stealing from you right now.” How bold I felt playing such a pivotal part in the apprehension of this criminal mastermind. “He has an empty bag and he’s filling it with food and drinks.”
Our eyes met (the checkout guy and me, not the criminal mastermind). He was obviously thinking of a plan and at the same time marvelling at my courage and the manner in which I’d shared this information without alerting the thief. He said nothing. Perhaps his mind wasn’t as quick as I’d expected.
“Sorry, sir, did you say something?” Oh dear, not quite going to plan. I repeated myself. He asked where the man was, I said I didn’t know as I wasn’t actually tracking him, he said nothing, I said that the guy would probably not hang around for long, he gave me my change and receipt with a sense of urgency I understood to mean he was off the catch the felon then he said… “Next please”. He served the next customer!
I left the store (yes, looking out for the thief) and thought, “Wow! The check-out guy really doesn’t care that his store is being robbed.”
My mind raced on. What else happens here that shouldn’t but goes undetected or detected and ignored. And what damage does that do? What about all the other companies with staff that don’t care – how does that affect their performance? And how does that feel to go to work each day and feel so little affinity to your job and your company that, no matter what goes on around you, you don’t care enough to do anything about it? Pretty miserable, I reckon.
About every 2 years, a new Gallup survey assesses Employee Engagement in the UK. The results always fall broadly into three categories: 1. Actively engaged in their work; 2. Neither engaged nor disengaged; 3. Actively disengaged. Before you read on, have a guess at the percentages that fell into each in the most recent survey I read.
18% of employees were actively engaged. That’s depressing! 61% were neither engaged nor disengaged and 21% were actively disengaged. 82% of British employees are not actively engaged in their work – they don’t really care. They go to work. They perform the work they have to do but little more. The effects of that on a business are frightening (never mind the human cost). I saw one effect as I bought my milk and if you have staff that don’t care, I guarantee there will be similar effects in your company. Mistakes overlooked. Customers ignored. Transactions lost.
Now of course there are two sides to this disengagement and it is not just the fault of the employee. Still too many employers care too little for their staff and this level of disengagement is the result.
So, what’s my point? Bearing in mind the unquantifiable financial and human cost to disengaged staff that don’t care what happens at work, I urge you to do everything in your power as a business leader to firstly hire people that do care and then treat them in a way that fosters that care rather than kills it.
“May you live in interesting times” is a phrase often quoted as a Chinese proverb though, apparently, there’s no trace of it in Chinese. Whatever its source, it’s a wish that’s certainly being fulfilled in our world right now.
At this time of big change, I’m reminded of a dinner conversation I regularly had at exhibition weekends across the world in my days in the international property market. “If you could go back to any time in history to see what life was like, which era would you choose and why?” I had a few different answers and could never quite settle on one but the most interesting comment from a colleague was about the days of cavemen and women (someone at the table elected that era).
“I think we’d be surprised how similar to ours the day-to-day life for the cavemen was.” Initially that appears a ridiculous assertion but, on reflection, I think not. Cave dwellers needed to eat and drink. They needed warmth. They needed rest. They needed to reproduce (and protect offspring to preserve their bloodline). And they would have sought relaxation / sport / leisure of some sort.
Our essential human needs and desires are no different – we just have easier means to access all those things though we are also helped considerably by not having to fight for life on a regular basis (none of you reading this anyway).
“So what?” I hear you say.
As we reflect on the changes we see in our society, we may neglect what hasn’t changed, such as the needs of our clients. As ever, clients want value. They want transparency. They want to trust the people with whom they do business. They’re happy to spend their money but they won’t spend it unless they see that value, that transparency, that belief that they can trust you. No matter that we all now find each other online, check each other out online, complain or praise each other online, we have the same needs. We just receive and send our thoughts in different formats.
Spend a little time this week making sure your old-fashioned message (which is also wonderfully up to date) of value, transparency and trust is communicated in every single interaction clients and potential clients have with your company. From your website home page to the recorded answer on your voicemail – online and offline – it’s all building or destroying the value your clients seek whether you’re consciously planning that or not.
I called my 13-year-old today to see if we could meet on our respective commutes home.
“Hi Alfie. It’s Dad!” I said, in a surprised and excited tone as he hardly ever answers his phone.
“Hi Dad. Why are you calling me?” he replied in a tone that suggested neither excitement nor pleasant surprise.
“Hi Dad! How are you?! How nice of you call me! is what you meant to say surely, Alfie?” I replied.
“Yeah, that too. Anyway….why ARE you calling me?”
Kids just say it the way it comes to mind, of course, but this was an example of what we all really think when someone calls us, even someone we know. We might tolerate a ‘How are you?’ though I rarely welcome the question – you don’t really care how I am and I don’t care to discuss it. Are you a doctor? Could you make me better?
Some of us may even allow a little preamble of social chat that is directly proportionate not to how much time we have but to how much we like the person calling or the perceived benefit we expect to get from the call. However, it’s rarely beneficial or interesting to either party if we’re really honest.
Ultimately we’re really thinking, “Why are you calling me?”
You may ask for the same level of social interaction with your close friends and family as I did with my son but, when making business calls, cut to the chase. Pay your respect to those you call by answering the number one question as quickly and clearly as we can: Why are you calling them? Please, for their sake and yours, don’t waste time asking after their health, their enjoyment of the day’s weather or their plans for the weekend.
A few years ago, I was involved in a training session in Bangalore and had a problem with attendees coming back late from breaks. Late arrivals cause timing issues and can also lead to disengagement in the room because others read their tardiness as inconsiderate or indicative of a lack of interest. It’s not easy to solve. As this session was a pilot for a Global Programme for one of the world’s biggest technology companies, it had to work. I came up with an idea.
“For many reasons, it’s important we all come back on time. At the end of our next break, I will close the door to the training room. If you return after this time, do come in but please stay at the front of the room. The last one to arrive back late will stand at the front of the room and sing a song to us all.”
Nobody was late again. The pilot was a success. More than 15,000 employees worldwide have been trained in that programme since.
Story-telling is one of the most powerful ways to sell and is too rarely used by salespeople.
Why are they so powerful? And why have I told my Bangalore story so many times?
Human beings love stories. We grow up being read them by our parents, watching them on TV and telling them to each other. There’s a familiarity to them and we like familiarity. It relaxes people and we listen better when we’re relaxed. This relaxation is particularly helpful in sales conversations where our target audience probably listens with a degree of scepticism. Taking down that guard is a big step forward.
Stories are also easy to tell, particularly if they’re true and happened to you. You’re just recounting an experience and it’s easy to picture that experience in your mind and recreate it for others. Additionally, it’s a way to connect easily with a prospective client, something done well with a bit of humour or a story which shows you as being just like them.
Finally, and most importantly, stories put across sales messages in a more subtle way than telling people a benefit of your service or product. There are times to explain the benefit and give an example of that but that isn’t always the best way. You can sow seeds in people’s minds through stories, you can highlight problems or worries that they might have but are not willing to share with you and show how you’ve helped others get over them (and they never need to admit to having this worry themselves!).
So, familiarity, relaxation of audience, ease of telling and subtler messaging are all benefits of stories as sales tools. All of these make your stories, and you, memorable which is also pretty helpful.
And why have I told my Bangalore story so many times?
It’s easy to listen to and an easy story to tell – it’s real, it’s short, it has simple story format: Challenge faced – Solution found – Result achieved (happy ending). Incidentally, that’s the format of just about every story told (yes, think of the films you watch, the books you read and that’s the format). It’s also funny, amusing at least, and people like that – it always raises a smile.
Finally, the subtle messages beneath the surface are magical. I’m telling the audience that my training is credible and used by the best (one of world’s leading tech companies – £250k deal). I’m telling them that my company does Customer Service training not just the sales training for which we’re best known (this has won us deals!). I’m highlighting that we deliver training all over the world. I’m telling them that I have the presence of mind and the confidence to assess an unexpected problem and, without prior planning, to come up with a solution that quickly solves that problem. Clients like that.
All that powerful messaging is woven into what seems, on the surface, to be a story about people getting back late from a break in training. That’s actually the least important part of it all.
A client called me recently to talk through a problem. Her fast-growing sales team has been doing well but her most senior person was floundering a little by his own high standards. “What’s the problem?” I asked.
I paraphrase a little: “His duties haven’t changed that much and he has more support with a team of people around him but his sales performance is suffering. He just has to focus them in the mornings, check on the important calls they all have to make, offer help to anyone struggling to close a deal, make sure everyone hits their numbers of sales calls each day and report any relevant information back to me. Apart from that, he just needs to make his sales calls and yet his numbers of sales calls each day are the lowest of anyone and he’s not closing the deals he was.”
So he’s now the Sales Manager and remains, potentially, your most successful and experienced salesperson? “Yes.” How much training has he been given as a Sales Manager? “Er, well.. he hasn’t actually had any training in how to manage the team.” Has he ever managed a team before? “No, never.”
This is a classic mistake and, yes, I’ve made it myself several times. A Sales Manager role, one in which you’re also expected to make sales as well as manage the team is one of the most difficult jobs in business. Really it is.
The job of anybody leading a team or running a company is to help your people understand what they need to do each day in order to be successful. What activities should they be doing and how should they structure their day? What levers are they able to use and when should they use them?
Some salespeople take well to managing a team but my experience tells me that they’re the exception. If you are not personally able to help your Sales Manager understand what they need to do each day then it is your responsibility to find another way to help them (which will help you too of course).
So, after my basic questioning and my client’s slow unravelling of unpreparedness, what were my tips on the leading salesperson who was losing their way as a Sales Manager? For any boss facing this problem, my tips are the same.
First, if you support the member of staff (she does) and believe in their ability, then tell them that you’re behind them and admit that you have let them down with the lack of support.
Second, recognise that if you give them additional duties (motivating team, checking activity, coaching on calls), their call time and call numbers will go down. This will probably see their sales go down too. This, I know, is blindingly obvious but many overlook it because, I think, lots of the extra jobs are ones that ‘only take a minute and that makes no difference’. It does for two reasons. The odd minutes add up over a day. And, it’s not just the minute offering advice, it’s the 3 minutes tuning back into whatever you were doing before. Or the one minute lead into a conversation about something else. In short, it dilutes focus and that has a cost.
Third, give them some training for goodness sake! If you’re good, then do it yourself. If you’re not, then hire someone that is.
Finally, if you can’t afford to lose their sales success then think very carefully about whether you want to make them Sales Manager at all. If you still decide to promote them, give them as little extra administration as possible. For small teams, the best managers are those that lead by example through their own sales activity and sales performance but then they’re Sales Leaders and not Sales Managers. And that’s a whole other article!
London is home to scores of nationalities as well as people that have moved here from across the UK. Surely with so much diversity, it’s what we say and do rather than how we say things that ma’ers? Or, should I say, matters? Our experience is that it does matter.
When assessing the match of a prospective employee, the way we speak is part of who we are. And the way a company’s employees talk gives a certain impression about that company; it’s part of the brand. We can argue back and forth about what type of pronunciation is the right one but I have no doubt that it makes a difference.
I’m not specifically talking about accent here though there can often be a crossover between accent and dialect. I’m talking about the pronunciation of certain sounds such as the ‘th’ of think or the ‘tt’ of letter.
We all have different ways of speaking – you’ll talk a certain way to your mates and a different way to your parents – and in most cases we switch between them unconsciously.
Whilst my belief in the diversity of language remains intact and I remain ambivalent around whether pronunciation should matter, my recommendation for your job hunting is to recognise that, right now, it does make a difference in most cases.
As a salesperson, you’re a voice for the company. For an interview, you’d be well served to understand the voice of your prospective new company and match it as closely as you can.
How much is sales training worth? £5,000 a day? Or £500 a day? Should there even be a day rate? What do you think?
What about sales recruitment? 30% of overall earnings? Or 20% of salary? Or should there be a flat fee?
Most people and most companies have an answer to these questions but what are they based on? A reasonable fee for a reasonable job? (And who says what’s reasonable?!). The best deal secured a few years ago? An accepted ‘norm’ for the market?
If you’re recruiting salespeople or booking sales training, then you work in sales. Yet, if you have answers to these questions, I suspect you’ve forgotten the basics of any cost assessment. Before any of us can analyse what something is worth, we need to know the value it offers. Not all training is the same. Not all recruitment firms offer the same quality of service. We all know that, yet we’re often stuck in the mindset of a ‘normal day rate for training’ and ‘normal % fee for recruitment’.
The next time you assess any company offering training or recruitment, ask first what the value is. Or the potential value at least. If, after a sales training programme, your sales team were to improve their performance by 50%, what would be the uplift to your revenues and profits? What about 25% improvement? Or 10%? If you could find better salespeople using less of your time, by how much could that lift your team’s sales performance (and your ability to sleep well at night?!)? 20%? 40%? More? What if you could do both recruitment and training better – how much would that increase your bottom line?
When you work out the value to your business or to you personally (it can be both), then (and only then) can you answer the question: What’s it worth?