Bäuerin Frühstück* as a sales review tool, why not… it works

 

*(Farmers wife breakfast)

Talking last month to a sales director of my acquaintance who raised two issues, not necessarily linked but I thought that the solution might be…

Firstly he found it tricky to get his sales folk together in a social sense, the traditional pub gathering or team dinner didn’t seem to gel with a group of lone hunters, with lives of their own, young families and already working long days.

Secondly he found the regular sales reviews to which he summoned them were transactional, factual, data-driven, defensive.

The team were performing well but he just didn’t feel they were a team, working together and he wasn’t sure how to change that.
I remembered a couple of things, well three, my father-in-law telling me how as a young farmer, after milking, as the sun rose, the farmer, the family, the workers would all gather for a big breakfast, discuss the forthcoming day, share laughs, banter and good food, start the day in a positive way.

I recalled, from a former life, running a series of high level events for senior execs, breakfast-based briefings on critical subjects but the key was that these busy folk turned up, they could enjoy an excellent meal, learn, teach, share and network and still be in the office at start of play, they loved it.

iStock_000018247691_DoubleI remember working for a great consultancy  where one of the founders decided to turn the interminable board meetings into a breakfast event, one of the management team cooking for the others, taking it in turns, it got competitive, it became fun, it engaged everyone, the meetings were better attended, better natured, more constructive.

So I suggested that my chum rebadge his sales reviews as a breakfast meet, schedule them early, restructure them as a way to start the day in a positive way, conversation amongst peers, a round table not a star chamber, an opportunity to help each other, we’re social animals.

He tried it, they liked it, it worked.

He found that decisions and actions got done (or at least started) that day, and that it’s hard to be defensive with a mouthful of bacon.

Go on, try it, get your team to go to work on an egg.

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Moving the spotlight from products to customers

Bite-the-bullet

Perhaps one of the more positive aspects of the recession (there I said it) is that many companies are now finally biting the bullet and thinking seriously about what it is they sell and how they sell it.

In good times it’s easier to succeed with a product-led sale, setting out your stall and letting customers buy from you. In tough times, buyers are scarce, investment is limited, no-one buys ‘nice to have’ and this can easily lead to commoditisation and loss of control as the initiative moves from supply to demand.

The term “solutions” has certainly lost much of it’s meaning with just about everyone using it for just about everything but that doesn’t negate the fact that there is, for many, the opportunity to regain control of their destiny by changing focus from, “what we’ve always sold” to “solving a real customer need”.

Sure, Apple has become the most highly valued company in the world by developing and marketing products that entice customers to queue up and buy. Which is nice, but what works in the B2C world does not always apply in the high value, B2B marketplace where most of us trade; increasingly we’re competing on financial value delivered not bells and whistles. Few have the luxury of a “killer app” that will sweep all before it, the new battleground is customer intimacy, it’s about knowing your customer and meeting his needs better than your competitor.

If you’re still following a  product-centric strategy it’s probably reactive, few businesses can afford to create demand, so, you’re dependent upon your customer to work out what they need, and then buy it, hopefully from you. But business today is faster moving and rarely that clear-cut, there may be many different ways to solve a problem and if a competitor gets in there first you can get locked out.

The glib answer, (and we hear it all the time), is “to become more customer intimate” but that’s a concept that’s rarely explored or understood to the level that can generate the much needed change of mindset. It’s not a trivial challenge, it requires getting to understand customers better than anyone else and then doing something for them that helps them in a unique way, something they’ll value. But, if you can do this, if you can develop a relationship where they’ll trust you to help solve their problems you’ll get back in control and can start being proactive in developing business.

The steps needed to make this happen are blindingly obvious, there’s a general agreement on what they are, they’re just really, really difficult to do in practise:

  1. Understand who your customers are and get to know in detail what needs they have, identify the ones  that you can do something about
  2. Be clear about what you can do uniquely well to meet these needs, what differentiates you from your competitors, why they should buy from you; then articulate it in a clear, consistent, compelling manner
  3. Identify where you’ve been successful, which customers will sing your praises, research those market sectors where you can replicate your success
  4. Seek out new customers in these sectors with similar problems to those you’ve solved. Calling is easier, you’re not trying to foist a product on them, you’re offering to help in the same way you’ve helped someone else with the same problem, someone who’ll endorse your success
  5. Do whatever it takes to ensure that your sales team truly understand the problems of their prospects first, it’s easy and wrong to jump to convenient conclusions. But once the client agrees you’ve got it, (and only then) develop a proposal that in client terms, shows conclusively and unarguably why they should invest in your solution. What’s in it for them?

Working with many companies making this transition we’ve found three areas that are most challenging.

Firstly, taking the time to do steps 1 and 2 in an honest, dispassionate manner. It requires activity that’s completely divorced from “business as usual”, some clear thinking, an open mind and a structure to get a result. Invariably objective facilitation is required.

Secondly, producing the tools that marketing and sales will need to take this new proposition to market in a consistent, compelling manner, and make sure it gets heard. Not easy, being customer centric is a different mindset and creativity is required to get above the noise of a busy marketplace.

Finally, the customer facing team have to learn to build interest, ask questions and, hardest of all, listen. It’s the opposite of doing a “demo” at the first meeting, it’s about building confidence by having meaningful business discussions with top management. Not all sales people can do it, and those that can usually need time and support.

If these are some of the challenges you face then we should be talking, getting it right sooner rather than later can have a dramatic effect on the bottom line…

As the “Sales Pipeline Engineers” that’s what we’re all about.

 

“When the promise is clear,the price gets easy..”
Jim Rohn

Succeeding with simplicity, short+sharp+succinct=successful

Image Credit, Mr Ho, UEA, Norwich
At a recent dinner, where the marketing director for a major IT corporation was the speaker, many diners were heard to say “I didn’t understand what she was going on about but it certainly sounded very impressive”.

How many of us have had to endure someone enthusiastically explaining complex products and services in ways that appear complex, remain a mystery and seem of little interest; although we do have a niggling suspicion that there’s something of real value buried in there?

How often do sales people have to use an overly complicated “tool” that’s there “to help them” but in reality is of little benefit and takes them away from doing the real stuff of selling, and winning deals.

It doesn’t have to be this way, people do succeed in summarising complexities,. In the film Crazy People, remember Dudley Moore’s fictional campaign for Volvo, “they’re boxy but they’re safe”. Simple is powerful and often refreshing.

When PDA’s for police were made topical by Gordon Brown many years ago most suppliers chose to explain the connectivity, the technology, the flexibility to do all sorts of tasks in thousands of words. Anite took a different line, they hit the nail on the head with “It saves an hour of admin for every officer on every shift” which certainly got the attention of the Assistant Chief Constables, the ones with the budget.

It can be the same with process, it’s not often that 18 separate steps really need to be mapped out with “gates” at every stage. We’ve found that in selling  the simple…

  • Be interesting
  • Be curious
  • Be persuasive
  • Be sure to agree an action.

… approach works remarkably well much of the time.

So why is it that so many companies make heavy weather of what could be much simpler? In many cases I’m sure there’s an element of ‘job creation’ or justification but in fairness there is no denying that making complex stuff stunningly simple takes time, and skills, that may not be available.

We’d like to challenge the complexity status quo, the ‘handle turning’ prioritising that rules simplification out of play.  The benefits of good clear communication between sellers and buyers in a busy, noisy world should be obvious and a priority but it’s often tough to say to your bosses and colleagues, “I don’t get it”.

Simple, pragmatic tools and processes that sales people will use have real value.

Simple is more likely to be successful than complex.

Make simple, make time, if you can, do it;

but, if you can’t, get help!

“I’m sorry this is a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
Blaise Pascal