I keep hearing this sort of refrain, increasingly expressed by business folk, exacerbated,perhaps, by almost universal frustration with increasing levels of ‘noise over signal’ in social media, email and phone communication.
I hear, “how hard is it to be polite”, “he never called back”, “they just hung up”.
I hear of the frustration generated by the faceless mass of cold callers who, upon realising that they’re not getting anywhere hang up leaving a sense of real and palpable anger at this commodity approach to us. Increasingly, worryingly, I also hear such frustration around B2B interactions. This reaction is entirely human, we don’t respond well to bad manners, manners are a necessary social device to reduce friction, improve communication and enable the building of relationships. And you know how strongly I feel about the power of relationships in the B2B complex sales space.
But there’s a very real sales opportunity being missed here, let me tell you a brief story and see if it resonates.
I noticed a couple of occasions when the same chap looked at my linked-in profile, I didn’t recognise him or his company, let’s call it LeedForensics for the sake of discretion. You might not be surprised that, a few days later an email dropped into my mailbox, from this same chap, explaining that he’d looked at our website and thought that his company and their product might help us generate opportunities by using their visitor analytics to identify and pursue hitherto unknown and unidentified visitors to our website. OK, not something that interested me, but I appreciated the fact that he’d obviously done some research, crafted a tailored email and ensured at least an approximate match between their tools and our business profile. So I didn’t just ignore his missive, I wrote a reply and said that I didn’t see a match at this time, I bothered to explain at a broad level how we currently generate opportunities and I thanked him for his interest.
Had I been him I’d have thought of a number of possible responses to that…
Maybe, “Can I explore a little more how you do generate business Steve, I’m always eager to learn?” Result- the dialogue continues, I’ve won business after six years of that sort of occasional interchange.
Or maybe “Sorry to hear that, let’s do the Linked-in thing and keep in touch?” Result, if I agree, the dialogue continues.
Or possibly, “You’re a pro, (flattery) could you take a moment to give me some more detailed feedback on why our proposition didn’t appeal to you?” Result, the dialogue continues.
At the very least, how about “Just a quick thank you for responding”? Result, the door to future dialogue isn’t closed, and he has started to create positive awareness of himself and his proposition.
But no, what he did was nothing, the B2B equivalent of the cold-call hang-up, blowing the research and effort put in so far and creating a negative impression with a potential customer, a recommender, a professional and keen networker, a sales coach to large influential businesses and occasionally a highly critical business blogger and opinion expresser.
What harm could that do?
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.
- “our business is unique and our processes are our commercial edge”
- “our people have tons of knowledge in their heads, you can’t capture all that experience”
- every t needed crossing and every i dotting (the dot is called a ‘tittle’ by the way)
- IT departments were vast mysterious code-shops,the voice behind the curtain, the eventual deliverers of “just what you asked for” although rarely what was needed when it eventually arrived. if something was ‘out-of-the-box’ it was likely to be Pandora’s box, a coffer of pain, woe and unmet expectations
- that testing was arduous and expensive, the spec was all, 80/20 was the mantra of cowboys and ‘nearly right’ was ‘really wrong’
- that you “never went wrong by buying IBM” and hardware and software suppliers were magnificent, mendacious or malevolent depending on the smoothness of the latest upgrade
Decades of missed deadlines, stretched budgets, contractual failures later we’ve a new paradigm in the buying (and therefore the selling) of IT. We’ve a generation of youngsters, the app-store generation, who’ve grown up with the PC, the Xbox, the Blackberry, the Wii, the iPad, who expect the ease of use they enjoy at home, who’ve no problem with multiple devices, who have a very different set of expectations to the CIOs they’re going to be replacing.
An example: I was in a client meeting recently listening to a group of senior IT folk discussing the criticality, challenges and cost of developing “one-single-sign-on” for a mixed suite of inherited and acquired legacy systems.
The assumption was that this was a must-have but a simple question exposed some flaws. Each of these IT experts lived with, accepted and rarely worried about the thirty to sixty log-ins they employed daily to access their email, their bank records, their HR details, their tax returns, their multiple social network personalities, their credit cards, their health records, their shopping accounts.
The internet, rapidly developing web login protocols and practices have changed ‘what is acceptable’.
Maybe they do need to develop a single sign-on, maybe they don’t but asking the non-obvious question means that they are now challenging this assumption, and many others.
- The app-store generation accepts that the solutions they buy won’t be perfect, that developers release solutions that are ‘good enough’ and will get better, without additional cost, as their early customers tell them what works and what doesn’t
- The app-store generation will discard a solution quickly if it doesn’t do the job
- The app-store generation will discard a solution when something better comes along
- The app-store generation expects invisible and painless upgrades, for change control to ‘just happen’, for fixes to be immediate and communicated
- The app-store generation knows that they are the customer and that their collective voice matters
- The app-store generation is bringing it’s buying mindset to big business, it’s changing the rules, it’s speaking it’s mind, it’s a new procurement world
And it’s the the underlying principles that matter, not the shop window, it’s the customer conversations, the reactivity, the speed and the flexibility, it’s the lack of dependence on environment or platform.
If you’re a technology products or services company your customer is changing, really,really quickly, are you?
You’d think that a business such as Amazon, huge marketing spend, highly skilled, totally focused on driving out all the return it can from it’s customers (and crucially, their data) would be pretty slick.
Which is why I was surprised to see them making some of the fundamental errors that can move any organisation, instantly, from the customer aware, tailored, informed, targeted, trusted-advisor role and out into the marketing Death Valley of badly constructed, poorly managed, blitzkrieg mailing.
They know a lot about me do Amazon, they know that I buy and read a lot of books! they know which ones! which authors! which genres, which formats I prefer! they know how often I buy stuff! and they’re pretty good at predicting what I might want to buy next! often they’re right.
They also know my name, my address my credit card details, my friends, (the ones I buy stuff for and the ones I recommend stuff to) they know my email. So how is it that they send a generic mail to my email, but address me as “Dear Amazon.co.uk customer”, and deliver the exciting news that I like “books“.
Really? no kidding! what insight, what a personalised approach.
There’s a lesson for all of us here, I allow them to use my data because I get value from that, if they fail to treat it with intelligence and respect, they’re failing to live up to the deal.
And that’s a relationship killer when we, the customers, have choices, and voices…
It’s been years since salesmen treated their clients as gullible fools, to be played, managed, deceived, pressurised, hasn’t it?
We’re all so much more enlightened those days aren’t we? We now have honest and open conversations, we work with clients and prospects to ensure that we understand their needs, that we craft the right solution, we ensure we’re always working, together, toward a win-win scenario.
Or do we?
We’ve been party to many conversations with senior, savvy, streetwise sales folk recently, we’ve heard the same phrases raising their ugly heads, phrases like “end of year”, phrases like “get the order signed before the Christmas lull”, “Year end”, “last quarter”, “shareholder expectation”, “bonus depends on it” repeatedly we hear “hitting our targets”.
None of these reflect the relationships these fine folk have been building with clients and prospects, none of them reflect an awareness of the customer buying cycle, none of them have any relevance to the customer, his or her timescales, their needs, their processes, their appetite for risk.
It’s as if, annually, (and sometimes quarterly), we forget about all the the advances we’ve made in focussing on the needs of the client and we revert to type. Sure our internal pressures are real, but they are our internal pressures, our problem, not our clients and prospects. We seem to forget that customer decisions are driven by the buying process, not the sales process, we can’t ride roughshod over that for our own ends.
As the season of goodwill approaches are you going to gamble the respect and trust you’ve developed, that you’ve both invested in, the relationship you’ve built, to hit an arbitrary number?
Maybe, but understand the risk, you could be seeing in the 2014 sales year from a cold and lonely place.