Miller Heiman Blog

Why I Hate Big Data

In today’s modern world, access to information has never been easier. More and more buyers are sharing it, and more and more sellers are collecting it. Information and data is not a new concept. It has been around far longer than I have.  

The term “big data” is something new and, recently, everywhere I turn, sales leaders are singing the praises of big data. It’s a revolution, some say. It’s a big game changer, say others, No, I cry. I am already hating the term “big data”!

Don’t get me wrong. I love data. I just don’t like the term “big data.” It's not because I think companies are collecting too much personal information about customers and their habits. It's not even because I don't trust them to keep it safe or use it in ethical ways. (Although I do have my doubts sometimes.) It's more because they aren't using the data they already have.

Data for Data's Sake

When sales leaders ask me how they drive revenue by leveraging the plethora of data gathered from the public domain and the more advanced features in their internal sales applications, the first thing I do is ask a question.

How confident are you in the data you have now?

That question usually makes them cringe. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are supposed to be the system of record, the single version of the truth, for the sales organization. Yet, far too many sales leaders are working with data they can't trust.  

Big data is not a magic bullet. In fact, it could end up being lethal if it takes your focus away from the core funnel data that really tells you how the business is doing. If you can't trust the data from your CRM system, it makes no sense to me to start dumping even more data into an already flawed system.

As we continue to live in the information age, we have to define what good data means to us as sellers. Defining customer-management strategies that enable us to add perspective to prospects and customers is key. With so much access to information, sellers need to be able to use their expertise and perspective to help drive and fulfil the buyer’s concept.

Posted by: Sam Crawford | EMEA Sales Manager, Miller Heiman  
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Posted: 4/22/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Some Sales Best-Practices Never Go Out of Style

I was going through some old Miller Heiman newsletters when an article from 1996 caught my eye. (I guess I've needed to clean out my files for a while now.)

The story was about a woman named Robyn who had been working hard to get a foothold in a large account for two years. Being someone who "writes it all down," she had copious notes on who the buyers were and what problems the organization needed to solve. She took those notes to a Strategic Selling® workshop and was able to apply the principles she learned to win a marquee account for the business.

The Rise of the Team
It's hard to believe, but 1996 was almost 20 years ago. Selling may be an old profession, but a lot has changed in the past couple of decades. For example, we've seen a dramatic increase in the amount of team selling. If Robyn were to walk into that same account today, she probably wouldn't be walking in alone. She'd have a team of product specialists and subject matter experts with whom she could discuss the customer's needs. Frontline sales managers have become a more integral part of the sales process and, hopefully, hers would be coaching her every step of the way. As she reached the latter stages of the sales cycle, she might even enlist one of her company executives to do a little peer-to-peer selling.  

Similar changes have happened on the buying side. Very likely, the customer's buying process has gotten more sophisticated, with more time spent self-educating before engaging Robyn and her team and more influencers at every stage of the buying process.

Writing It Down
With more people involved on both sides of the table, collaboration and “writing it down” have never been more important. Thankfully, Robyn and her team now have access to some pretty sophisticated sales force automation tools that can help them capture every interaction with every buyer no matter who is involved. When the team gets together to discuss the opportunity, they don't need to waste time bringing everybody up to speed. They can also make better use of the customer's time by being well-informed and prepared for every interaction.

Miller Heiman (now MHI Global) has adapted, too. We have automated tools like Sales Access ManagerSM to help companies adapt their CRM systems to leverage the MHI Global methodologies. Plus, we are now part of MHI Global along with other well-known companies including MHI Research Institute, Huthwaite, AchieveGlobal, Impact Learning Systems, and Channel Enablers. Together, this group of companies can help sales organizations in more ways than ever before, and I can't wait to see what the next 20 years brings. Maybe I'll just stick these newsletters back in my files and keep them for a little while longer.

Posted By: Jennifer Vodehnal | Director of Marketing
Posted: 4/20/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

The Doctor Is In: Diagnosing the Cause of Your Forecasting Headaches

Ever known someone who is plagued by headaches? After a while, they get so used to the pain that they just learn to live with it. For many of us, forecasting is like that. Our forecasts are always wrong, and that's just the way it is. The best we can do is raise or lower our estimates based on just how wrong we've been in the past or what we think is happening in the funnel. Of course, the worst we can do is raise or lower forecasts based on what executive management wants to see, but that's a topic for another time.

Time to see the doctor
If you had a persistent headache, you'd at least try to do something about it, right? If it got too bad, you'd probably seek advice from a doctor, an advisor you trust to recommend a course of action that will take the pain away.

To help you with your persistent forecasting headaches, I will be playing the role of doctor today. So let's get started with our exam.

What seems to be the problem? This, or something like it, is almost always the first question doctors ask. For most of you, the answer will probably be something like, "My forecasts are always wrong," or "I can't trust the numbers." After the doctor says, "I see" in that inscrutable tone doctors always use, he or she will launch into a series of questions designed to find the root cause of your problem. Let's do the same, shall we?

Do you have a sales force automation (SFA) system in place? A simple yes or no question to which I hope most of you will answer "yes." If you don't have an SFA system, we can cut this office visit short while you go take care of that fundamental need.

Do your salespeople use your SFA system? This is one of those questions where the doctor will say "uh huh” regardless of your response, leaving you trying to guess what he or she is thinking. Here's what your forecasting doctor is thinking: You can't possibly get accurate forecasts from the system if salespeople don't use it. It's like the guy who has an exercise plan but never follows it and still expects to get fit.

Do you have a prescribed sales methodology? Again, another simple question that sets the foundation for the rest of our exam. By the way, if you answered no to this question, that's a big problem. Among other things, the sales methodology describes the flow of opportunities through the funnel. If everyone is working from their own gut feel of where an opportunity is in the funnel, it's no surprise your forecasts are consistently wrong.

Does your SFA system reflect your sales methodology? Now we're getting somewhere. If your salespeople aren't using your system, this could be why. A system that doesn't support the flow of opportunities just increases their workload for very little return.

Do your frontline sales managers (FSMs) use the SFA system in their daily work with their teams and to assemble forecasts for management? Unhealthy people often have unhealthy spouses and children. We tend to adopt the habits of those around us—or they adopt ours. If Mom or Dad don’t eat their vegetables, why should the kids? The same thing happens in sales organizations. If the FSM isn't using the SFA system, why should the salespeople they manage?

Does your executive team use the SFA system? Remember, the doctor isn't here to judge you, so it's important that you be totally truthful with your answers. Like it or not, the rest of the organization will emulate the behavior of the executive team. You need to insist on SFA as the system of record and obtain all of your management data from it. With the dashboard capabilities in most modern SFA and CRM systems, this should be a breeze. If you feel you can't trust the data in your dashboard, reexamine your responses to some of my earlier questions. You've probably already identified where the problem lies.

Does your executive team consider forecasting a hands-on exercise? If so, you may be pressuring FSMs to alter their forecasts based on what they think you want to see. As a wise man once said, "Hope is not a strategy." Forecasts need to reflect reality if they are to be useful. Stay out of the process and let your system of record (SFA) generate the numbers.

Not counting the diagnosis or treatment of diseases and infections, doctors spend a lot of time telling us what we already know: Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, don't smoke. … Nevertheless, we sometimes need a trusted advisor who sees us as we really are to help us spot our weaknesses. Thank you for letting me be that trusted advisor for the last few minutes. Hopefully, I was able to help you diagnose some of the root causes of your forecasting headaches, and you can now write your own prescription for success.

Posted by: Tony Gower | Sales Vice President
Posted: 4/15/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

A healthy lifestyle leads to connecting with Personal Wins

April has been a difficult month around our Reno headquarters with the unexpected, tragic loss of one of our very best salespeople and all-around great friend. I had known Jason for over three years, and one thing I admired about him was the relentlessly healthy lifestyle he led.

One of the things that made Jason so successful was his ability to make a positive, personal connection with just about any type of person on the planet (think of Personal Wins from Strategic Selling). It might be because he dipped his toe in just about everything people do outside of work: skiing, running, boating, golf, professional sporting events … the list goes on seemingly forever. This not only made Jason one of the healthiest people I know, it also gave him a unique ability to connect personally with just about everyone who doesn’t spend their life inside on a couch all day eating Cheetos.

In the throes of a complex sales opportunity, that meant that if he was speaking with a sales leader (where we commonly start discussions), he was completely comfortable proactively reaching out and having sidebar discussions with HR, sales operations, sales management, CRM system administrators—anyone who would talk with him. While business was always discussed, you better believe that the conversation always eventually made its way to discussing a recent day on the slopes, running a half-marathon, that day's gym workout, or possibly just a great afternoon sitting on the beach after a day of wakeboarding on Tahoe. Being a “doer” and not an observer allowed him to have perspectives to share on the best skis that season, suspension for the ride, gym routines and, of course, which cocktail tasted best at Zephyr Cove. Jason was a subject matter expert for all things fun & healthy.

What I learned from Jason was that the more active you are and the broader range of healthy activities you participate in, the better person you will become. It will also make it more likely you will find some Personal Win to connect on with each of your buying influences, making it easier to explain the impact your solution will have on the things they enjoy most—which, odds are, isn’t work or Cheetos.

Talk about the ultimate Win-Win!

Posted by: Brendan Hawkins | Director of Sales
Posted: 4/13/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Differentiating in the Telecommunications Industry

I am privileged to facilitate around 60 workshops per year with sales professionals from many different industries. At the start of these workshops, I would hold up a Motorola RAZR mobile handset to remind my participants of this iconic mobile phone handset and to inform them that in the early 2000s, I was sales leader for the Australia and New Zealand mobile handset business for Motorola. Seldom does anyone NOT remember that mobile phone, but what staggers all of us is what has happened in the 10 or so years since it reigned as the most popular mobile handset in the world.

Whatever it was that got you to where you are today is not sufficient to keep you there

Where are Motorola mobile devices now? Answer: Recently acquired by Lenovo after being owned by Google.

Who was the No. 1 mobile handset maker when Motorola RAZR was at its peak? Answer: Nokia, recently acquired by Microsoft.

Who released the first iPhone? Answer: Apple, in partnership with Motorola in 2005!

The telecommunications business is constantly changing, and reflecting on the mobile handset business is an excellent example of this. I am fortunate to work with clients in this industry, and I characterise the industry as becoming more commoditised around data offerings. The increasing demand for streaming videos challenges carriers and service providers to increase bandwidth and availability. To succeed in this environment requires strong focus on the customer experience, and suppliers to the industry are challenged by the ever-increasing influence of procurement.

What IS the percentage of tenders or RFPs released where the decision has already been made?

When I ask this question in my workshops, the answers are north of 70 percent. Why? It happens because a specific vendor’s solution has influenced the tender or RFP. This is done very early in the process when the need for change has first been recognised. This is the time when there is the greatest uncertainty—and a critical moment when you need the help of a coach more than at any other time. The coach’s value becomes clear when you seek to identify growth and trouble: Who has the most to gain from the change? Who has the most to lose? Which of these people who feels motivated by the change would want our solution above all others? With whom would we have credibility, and who would have credibility with all the other buying influences involved in making this change?

The best opportunity to differentiate and be the seller who stands out in the tender or RFP is to influence as early as possible in the buying process. Miller Heiman tools are ideal for this purpose, as they direct sellers to the people of influence who recognize the need for and who are motivated to change.

Collaboration on possibility thinking

I tell my participants a quirky memory of my childhood and of two TV shows I always enjoyed watching: Get Smart and Batman. Near the end of each episode of Get Smart, and at the very end of each episode of Batman, one of the two heroes would be in a desperate situation where they were going to be killed, tortured, locked into an escape-proof room, or tied to a conveyor belt slowly moving to a horrible death. It seems hopeless. But what happened every time was that their minds focused on how to get out of it and, against the odds, they found a way. We know those were scripted situations; however, they serve to help me explain the power of possibility thinking. When the human mind understands the entire set of circumstances and has a clear and common purpose, it finds a way. Imagine how this works when collaborating early in a sales process with several like-minded people all focused on all of the variables and a single purpose?

Asking yourself who you know that might share more information on this potential opportunity early in the process is powerful. Those sellers who influence early win more deals at better margins.

Posted by: Murray Grimston | Sales Consultant

Posted: 4/8/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Is It Personal, or Is It Business?

Was it Mario Puzo's writing, or Michael Corleone's words uttered in the film version of The Godfather, that first popularized the belief (according to Michael), "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."? No matter—the concept took hold and grew legs from there, becoming more popular when repeated by Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail or personalized by George Clooney as the outsourced downsizing consultant in Up in the Air. It is a widely held belief that when things get tough, one has to revert to this mindset to compete and win.

I couldn't disagree more.

Recently I lost one of my best friends and colleagues in our business in a tragic accident. While processing all of the emotions of this unbelievable situation, one thing stands out for me in the daily conversations, emails, and texts racing back and forth between people dealing with the loss: an amazing outpouring of emotion, affection, love, and prayer from our channel partners who worked with him, went to battle with him, and celebrated with him. To a person, each and every one recognized what a treasure he was.

To our partners, this isn't business. It's personal.

It’s gotten me to thinking about how our clients—and every channel management team I've ever known— relate to their partners (and vice versa). Is it business, or is it personal? How many of the members of your team really know the people at their partner firms: know their families, know them socially, spend time with them outside of work? Is it business, or is it personal?

Partners are an extension of your brand. To many end customers, partners are your brand. As you are building and reinforcing relationships with those partners who create both revenue and customer experiences, how much time are you spending getting to truly know and form personal relationships with them? I’m not talking relationships that exist solely on the golf course or over cocktails. I mean the kind of relationships that would cause you to say, "It isn't business; it's personal."

We are extremely lucky that our channel partners have these kinds of personal relationships, even though it makes such losses that much harder to bear. The quality of our consultants’ character is on full display in these kinds of circumstances. I can’t say enough about it, really, and, because of that, I have no concern about the long-term future of our brand.

How do you feel about your partner relationships? Is it strictly business, or is it personal?

Posted by: Rich Blakeman | Managing Director, Channel Enablers

Posted: 4/6/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Back to the Future: Why Holistic Customer-Management Strategies Are the Foundation of Performance Culture

Winning a stream of profitable business while sidelining your competition: This is nirvana, and nirvana can be achieved. This is what a holistic approach to customer management delivers. It does this by using all of our resources to help our customers’ influential executives achieve their goals.

However, success comes with three prerequisites:

1. The customer actually wants to engage with us holistically – not all do. Don’t waste time trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

2. Our structure and compensation plans must encourage us to engage our customers in this fashion. If we have multiple business units engaging the customer, they need to be motivated to work as a team. Note: Compensation plans don’t just refer to the sales team. They must also motivate non-sales executives to support the sales efforts. For example, in IBM during the ‘60s and ‘70s, 10 percent of all senior executive salaries were dependent upon them establishing relationships with senior customer executives.

3. Finally, the sales professional responsible for the customer must think about his/her role in a very different way. They need to see themselves as the owner of a business supporting the customer, with the business they own being the resources available to them from within their organizations. They need to forget about the sales targets that have been set and think like a businessperson by focusing on delivering value to the customer. Paradoxically, once they make this transition in thinking, their performance will exceed everyone’s expectations.

In the title, I have used “back to the future.” Why? Without a doubt, the most outstanding implementation of a holistic customer-management strategy I have seen was undertaken by IBM in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The whole emphasis in IBM sales training during that period was how to plan and make successful sales calls to the right people. It’s the process we teach today in Conceptual Selling®. Do that well and support it with the three points above, and you will be very, very successful.

Posted by: David Fletcher | Independent Sales Consultant

Posted: 4/1/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Is the way you talk to customers LOL?

Recently, a colleague and I were discussing language shortcuts when she told me she actually used the word "hashtag" when talking with her teenaged daughter. She said she never really did figure out whether the look on her daughter’s face was one of admiration or horror. Probably horror. LOL!

Teenagers have their own language, and even if adults also use Twitter, there are certain acronyms and sayings that just don't sound as good when spoken aloud by people who are past a certain age.

So much to say; so little time

Of course, even if we're not using Twitter-speak in conversations, many of us are still guilty of using shortcuts and acronyms to speed up conversations. With attention spans growing shorter every day, there's so much to say, yet so little time in which to say it!

Some industries, especially high-tech ones, just naturally lend themselves to acronyms: SQL, SaaS, DBA, TCP/IP, and the like. I mean, who really wants to say "structured query language database administrator" when SQL DBA will do quite nicely?

Language shortcuts are an easy habit to acquire. As sales professionals, we become experts in our products and develop a language that can legitimately speed up a conversation within our organization. The problem is, when we use our industry's acronyms with our customers, we may just be confusing them.

Lesson #1 - Customers don't like to feel stupid

The same colleague told me she once went on a site visit with an R&D specialist from the home office to a manufacturer to discuss how they managed inventory. They were gathering insights for a software application her company was developing. The researcher, who clearly didn't spend enough time with customers, asked the inventory manager how he handled "obso."

The manufacturer got a rather embarrassed look on his face, but there was no way to hide the fact that he had no idea what the researcher was asking. My colleague had heard the term before from the R&D people from the home office who liked taking shortcuts with language, so she quickly translated it. "Obso" in R&D-speak stood for "obsolete inventory."

In the end, this embarrassing little incident didn't cost the company a sale since they were just doing research, but it could have if the manufacturer had been a prospect. One of the unwritten rules of sales is "never make your prospects feel stupid."

Very few people like to admit when they don't know what you're talking about, and they may continue to let you talk with the hope that they will eventually figure it out. That shifts the focus of the conversation to your words rather than your content and the meeting objectives. Any opportunity you had to connect with the customer is lost simply because you took a shortcut.

Posted by: Jennifer Young | Director of Sales

Posted: 3/30/2015 3:14:38 PM by | with 0 comments

Would You Outsource Customer Retention?

Tom Watson Sr., probably the most-remembered CEO of IBM, once said something to the effect of, "You can take away all of my equipment and my manufacturing facilities, but if you leave me my employees, I can rebuild."

Watson's people were well on the leading side of Geoffrey Moore's famous chasm, and they had to work hard at building trust to convince buyers of the benefits of the newfangled machines. Innovative products were important, but to IBM's customers, the salespeople were the company.

Times Have Changed

These days, the majority of organizations selling complex products to businesses have some sort of multichannel strategy. That's altered the nature of the relationship between the customer and the vendor. Whereas in Watson's day, customers saw their account managers regularly, channel partners now take primary responsibility for direct customer engagement.

Losing direct control over the customer relationship may sound a bit intimidating to some sales leaders. However, there is a silver lining. The research varies, but the consensus seems to be that the average sales rep tenure is somewhat less than two years — and getting shorter. Switching sales reps every couple of years is not the best way to build buyer confidence.

Channel partner tenure is a little harder to measure since they aren't direct employees, but solid channel partners who are enabled well are often productive for decades. While they may suffer the same internal turnover, their proximity to the customer usually means they have more touchpoints into the customer's organization than just one account manager.

Don't Outsource Strategy

So back to my original question: Would you outsource customer retention? Most sales leaders would respond with an emphatic "No!" But if you're selling through a channel, you already have. To your customers, your channel partners are your company even if they do business under their own logo.

However, while you may outsource the activity, you must not outsource the strategy. Too many organizations think they'll just recruit good partners and let them figure out how to keep customers happy. What you end up with is a hodgepodge of approaches with no one really sure of who is responsible for what. This, in turn, creates a very inconsistent and frustrating experience for the customer — one that is clearly detrimental to customer retention.

As I wrote recently in a post for Channel Enablers, your channel partners should be part of the value proposition for your customers, but let's explore that a bit more.

If you launched a new product and were working with the marketing team to create a value proposition and messaging around it, you'd ensure everyone knew what the product did, right? You'd explore the features, ask questions about the challenges the features address, and maybe even visit a few of the beta customers to ask about their experience with the product.

As part of the whole product, the same level of attention needs to be given to the messaging around your channel. Of course, you can't send your marketing team out to every partner to see how they interact with customers and then create individual messaging around them. You have to thing a bit more like McDonald's.

Lessons Learned at Hamburger U

Although it is not exactly the HBR case study for complex B2B sales, there is still a lot we can learn from McDonald's. Much of their success is attributed to the consistency of the customer experience. When you go into a restaurant, the decor is the same, the uniforms are the same, the menu is the same. When you order, you know you're not getting a 5-star meal, but you know what you are getting.

One of the ways McDonald's assures this consistency is by sending their franchise owners and managers through Hamburger University, their international training center in Oak Brook, Illinois Here, McDonald's employees from around the world learn the processes that create the consistent experience that has kept McDonald's at the top of the fast food ladder for decades.

Of course, trying to mold today's channel partners into carbon copies of each other just isn't realistic. One partner may be good at closing and have top-notch inside sales and service reps, but they don't have the staff to perform product implementations. Another partner may be excellent at implementations but just can't get the hang of closing business. Another may have a focus on a specific industry.

Each of these partners has a different value add for the customers, and you don't want to stifle that by requiring that they all perform the same functions. However, for those functions that are performed, you need to ensure some level of consistency. For example, there is nothing wrong with establishing best-practice guidelines for implementations or escalation procedures for a customer problem that can't be solved on the first call.

Correcting the Imbalance

In my work with channel organizations, I see an incredible amount of effort put into teaching partners how to sell, but very little into how to service the customer after the sale. Sure, there are often classes geared toward support and implementation specialists that take a deeper dive into the products, but these classes often focus on the nuts and bolts of features, not on the process of service itself. Given the role your channel partners play in creating the customer experience, that's an imbalance that needs to be corrected if you want to improve customer retention.

Posted By: Rich Blakeman | Managing Director, Channel Enablers

Posted: 3/25/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Convenience as a Source for Growth and Retention

Most companies commonly strive for GROWTH. They are aware of the fact that growth can be achieved organically or through acquisition. Setting aside the cost aspect that it is five times costlier to acquire new customers than to retain existing customers, it still seems a challenge for companies to make the most out of their existing customers.

Imagine yourself as a customer. When you renewed your insurance policy, did you just leave it as it is or did you actually swap insurance providers to meet your current needs? Can you recall the last time your insurance broker, agent, or the insurance company contacted you after you signed the contract? To be honest, mine never contacted me. And, as a matter of convenience, I have kept the policy with them for more than 15 years now.

The other day I spoke to a big international insurance group and was amazed to get crystal-clear statistics on their customer base and segmentation: One-seventh of their customers make up 60 percent of the business. According to their internal research, the key to growth and retention is convenience, which leads to the highest levels of loyalty. But what drives this? They found that the more knowledgeable new and existing customers are, the less loyal they are. As far as existing customers are concerned, the more content they are in terms of service, experience, and customer interaction, the more loyal they are. They concluded that their ideal customer profile is that type who values convenience and that the more affined a customer is toward their insurance solutions, the more loyal this customer is.

Pyramid-Blog.pngKeeping this in mind, they anchored their strategic approach toward customer management around the 3Cs: customer, company, and channel. Only if a product or solution is truly beneficial for the customer can it be feasible for the company and executable for the appropriate channel. Crucial to their success is always keeping in mind that all sides of the triangle need to stay in the same proportion—and that the customer is key to any interaction.
From a regional perspective, they analyzed their customer base and found that most of their 1+ million customers only had one policy with them. Only one-third of their customers had more than four policies and these were identified as a strong reference point for referrals that can bring in new business. Do you agree with me as well as the insurance company that their strategic initiative for 2015 should be to make the most of their customers who stayed for convenience, as there is vast growth potential in expanding business with them? Relying on convenience to maintain the renewal rate might be pushing their luck.

From my experience, real growth can only be achieved if companies optimize their customer-management strategies by making the existing structures and customer relationships more effective. Crucial to this effort are marketing and sales alignment, as well as true customer-focused interactions. Only then are companies able to do the right sales activities to generate desired growth.

When was the last time your company actively assured your customers that it was the best decision to put their convenience and trust in your products and solutions?

Posted By: Alexandra Siebert-Herzig | Sales Consultant
Posted: 3/23/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

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