“We need a clearly articulated proposition”,
Yes, yes, you do but that’s not what you’ll try to produce now, that’s not what you’ll get as you invest masses of highly skilled, very expensive resource in developing, packaging and creating delightful PowerPoint.
You’ll be trying to develop a differentiation, and here’s a secret*, these days, most clients don’t care about differentiation, they see all suppliers as pretty much delivering similar things, the real differentiation is about trust, understanding and value.
So, many businesses go into navel-gazing mode, without talking to clients to see why they chose you last time, without recognising that almost anything that can be sold now is a commodity, especially in the complex high value services space, without grasping the tricky nettle, that their people buy your products and services based on their relationships with your people, who are all (unfortunately) locked in a room somewhere producing yet more polished and pointless PowerPoint.
* it’s not really a secret
There is, slowly but surely, a growing awareness in the B2B marketplace that, (thanks to the web-driven commoditisation of pretty much everything), it’s not your product, your service or your price that makes the difference, it’s your relationship.
Many businesses are recognising that social media and customers”voting with their tweet” can cause a tsunami of negative feedback but it’s interesting that some of them, although they’ve established teams of problem handlers to engage with complainants in the twittersphere, still make some fundamental mistakes.
Sales management should be gladiatorial but not in the way one might immediately assume…
We’ve all, to a greater or lesser extent been conditioned by the macho culture of ‘salesman’ indeed I know of alleged ‘sales coaches’ who use the classic “always be closing” clip from Glengarry Glen Ross as coaching material, which is rather scary. However the fact is that, once upon a time, a thick skin, overweening ambition, a monstrous ego and a flagrant disregard for ethical behaviour were indeed the pre-conditions for sales success.
I still meet many sales managers who see reviewing an opportunity, the pipeline or an account plan as an exercise in ego reinforcement, a battle to establish and reinforce dominance, ‘mano a mano’.
This, inevitably, leads to an approach from the sales folk, either of obsessive and defensive over-presentation, mendacity, deceit and sandbagging or, for some, a full-on testosterone-fuelled session of mortal combat. As our gladiatorial chums would have put it “morituri te salutant*”. Now I’m pretty convinced that there are really relevant lessons to be learned for Sales managers and directors in the excellent work of Ridley Scott, Russel Crowe and their movie Gladiator, but those lessons are definitely not about the inherent manliness of single combat, or indeed tiger slaying.
For me the defining moment for ex-General Maximus Decimus Meridius was when he led his fellow gladiators to success in the arena by organising them as a team, assigning roles, setting out a plan, and getting them to take responsibility for aiding and abetting each other, that kind of approach to sales leadership is still a rare find in many organisations, partly down to the rewards structure (if you’re each rewarded solely on individual success, co-operation and sharing can be financially harmful) and that’s partly the result of persistent cultural “you’re on your own” prejudices.
How do we change that? Well, I’m glad you asked.
We’ve found, over the years, that reviewing one deal, one opportunity, one account as a structured and managed team exercise can bring real unity to a team, players start to get involved, to see the value, to identify how each can benefit from another’s experience, knowledge and insight. It always results in a better approach to the deal, a set of outcomes to move things forward, identification of a some “Aha!” moments.
It’s a start, to working better, and for many sales teams, the sense of relief is palpable. And once they’ve all seen the value delivered it can then be managed to become ‘the way we do things here’.
So is it time for salesmen, saleswomen, sales managers, pre-sales, account teams and sales directors to start declaring, “I am Spartacus”?
Ave emptor qui sunt vendere salutant*
(*feel free to correct my lousy latin)
Spring has arrived, the talk is more optimistic, the outlook is gradually getting better; many businesses are recruiting to build their sales teams, although every penny is still being watched. New recruits are a major investment, expensive to find and to tempt aboard. Which makes it all the more odd that so many managers adopt such a cavalier attitude to new hires once they come on board.
Recruitment is tough; there may be many candidates but finding the one that’s exactly right for your role, for your team, takes time, care and usually, a willingness to spend on the right help.
The total cost should include, not only the head-hunter or agency fees but also admin, interviewing, testing; then factor in the management time taken and the cost of getting them up to speed while they’re unproductive. All in all it’s an eye-watering sum.
You’d think that most mangers would carefully tend this important investment but that’s sadly not often the case. Managers frequently adopt a brutal “sink or swim” approach to new sales people; they’re left to their own devices, which may or may not be enough to meet expectations.
Perhaps it’s the assumption that so much has been paid for experience and a proven track record that management expect the magic to just happen. Let’s be charitable and suggest it’s that they’re really, really busy.
The reality is that there is an unacceptably high failure rate; this “you’re on your own” approach clearly doesn’t work in practise. According to Chris Neale, who heads up the Sales Division of Computer Futures “at least 50% of sales managers suffer from ‘buyers remorse’ a couple of months after a new recruit has started”.
Worse, for an amazing one in three sales appointments, outright failure is the outcome. We’ve spoken of the monetary cost of this failure, but what’s the morale hit? And surely the most distressing figure is the opportunity cost, losing what could have been, should have been, a productive member of the sales team for six to twelve months.
It doesn’t need to happen, you probably didn’t make a recruiting mistake. As is so often the case in any relationship it’s a matter of attending to the fundamentals. Realistic objectives and adequate support are critical but most important is investing the management time to make sure they stay on track and motivated during a challenging time.
Success breeds success and engineering some small wins early on can have a disproportionate effect on motivation and the ability to quickly come up to speed; it just takes management commitment, management time and a bit of management effort.
Next time you add a new member to the team don’t consider the task of recruitment to be over once they’re aboard.
Only when they’ve met that first set of targets can you sit back and reflect on a job well done.