Miller Heiman Blog

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

Do You Know Your Customers’ Preferred Communication Style?

As I write this, I have two messages waiting in iMessage, I have a meeting notice popping up, and I have a ton of emails waiting for me in my inbox. I love it. The key to success in my job is communication—internally and with Miller Heiman customers and business partners. Communication is key for anybody in sales, and we tend to be pretty good at it.

We've become so accustomed to the ease in which we communicate with each other that it's hard to remember that less than a generation ago, there was no texting. (Remember pagers?) Mobile phones were called "car phones" or "bag phones" because they had to be close to a base either installed in your trunk or that you carried around. Even email didn't really hit it big until the ‘90s — but what a difference it's made!

Not to get deep here, but it's important not to get too blinded by the world we live in, because not everybody inhabits our reality. What I mean to say is, not everyone is as enamored with communication technology as we are. Style preferences still exist.


Get In-Step With Your Customer's Style

Here's a common communication mistake I see sales professionals make all the time, especially the younger ones who have no memory of a time before email. A customer leaves a voicemail asking the salesperson a question about his proposal. The salesperson calls back and gets the customer's voicemail. Instead of leaving a voicemail or trying again later, he decides to send his customer an email. His reasoning seems sound enough: He can provide more information over email than in a voicemail and avoid playing phone tag. Good customer service, right?

Wrong. The problem is that his buyer is an executive in his mid-60s who hates email. His administrative assistant checks his inbox occasionally just to be sure he isn't missing anything important. If there is anything vital, the assistant prints it out and sticks it in his physical inbox (that grey metal thing on his desk). When the buyer sees his phone call returned on a piece of paper … let's just say it doesn't earn the sales rep any points. But, I suppose it could have been worse. He could have texted a response to the buyer.

In this hypothetical example, I made our buyer a pretty stereotypical technophobe. However, we can't always assume that communication preferences are dictated by traits like age. I know one woman who has a hard time distinguishing sounds over a mobile connection, but it has nothing to do with age-related hearing loss. Another much prefers email communication because he wants the details, but doesn't like all the chit-chat associated with phone conversations. Still another older associate texts because it helps keep his world moving at breakneck speed—a pace that he loves. Another younger woman hates texting because she feels it lacks a certain human touch.

As sales professionals, we inherently know that everyone is not like us. We hone various influencing styles for different types of buyers. We work to understand their personal wins so we can appeal to them on an individual basis and build long-term relationships. Why sabotage our efforts by emailing someone when we should have picked up the phone? With so many communication channels available to us, we need to make our buyers' preferred styles a vital part of their profile and respect their choices.

Posted by: Christine Laperriere | Sales Consultant

Posted: 3/18/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

From Lead Nurturing to Follow-Up

As potential customers, we are all at the receiving end of some lead-nurturing campaign. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised by valuable content that is helping me to get a different perspective. But mostly it simply makes me wonder: What is this email all about? Why did I receive this call? Was this a live human being or a recorded message? It feels like I became part of some opaque scheme called lead nurturing and that there is no escaping.


Lead Nurturing

Wikipedia does not offer any definition for lead nurturing. But Techopedia gave me the following definition: “Lead nurturing is a marketing term for building relationships with potential clients even if they are not currently looking to buy a product or service. Lead nurturing is intended to raise a company’s profile in the potential client’s eyes, thus making it more likely that the client will go with the company’s product or service when it is time to buy. Lead nurturing is one part of the larger marketing process.”

That is a very honorable way of putting it! But today’s reality is not living up to such standards. Why should I have a relationship with an email server? How is a constantly appearing avatar improving one’s company profile? Will I get closer to a buying decision because of a poorly prepared phone call? And it does not stop here. When I spoke with marketing, I learned that lead nurturing is marketing’s way of communicating with buyers across all channels throughout the sales cycle to ensure prospects are engaged until the final purchase.

Lead nurturing definitely needs to be part of a successful marketing strategy for buyers that are in the early stages of the buying cycle and looking to gain first insight into a product or service. It acknowledges today’s potential buyer’s preference for some level of self-education. Lead nurturing helps marketers to deliver content that’s valuable enough to keep one’s audience engaged. If done right, lead nurturing can help build a strong brand and solution preference long before customers actively engage in a buying process. In short, lead nurturing is a powerful way to stay automatically engaged with future buyers and establishes a buyer preference for my solutions.


Beyond Lead Nurturing

For our large accounts, or strategic and ideal customers, we preferably want to engage early in their buying process, while providing our perspective and jointly shaping their concept of the best solution or service. The other engagement point is for any business-to-business customer’s contact wanting to engage in a deeper conversation as expressed in the lead nurturing, e.g., by asking for a sales call. The two basic starting points for prioritizing our direct engagement are their role or authority, and their urgency for finding a solution. We focus our first conversation on qualifying their personal and business needs (or “key win-results”) and their influence in the purchasing decision, and agree upon their next buyer action in line with our own action.



Once we established the first “personal contact,” we keep regularly updating our understanding of their role, urgency, key win-results, and influence, taking into account that situational information keeps changing over time. We explore our potential competition, from spending budget for another project to other competing vendors, and our position from the customer’s point of view. Always keeping an open and broad mind, we try to help our customer contacts shape their solution image. As we move jointly to a more specific overall offering, we follow a proven questioning sequence, starting with confirmation questions (assessing our understanding), to new information and attitude

questions (obtaining missing information and the like). With this clear follow-up sequence, we keep all of our crucial contacts engaged during their buying process. Jointly agreeing on actions ensures that we move forward together. Regularly updating our sales funnel helps us to document the progress and to share outcomes with our own teams.


Final Thought

Customers get our – and other vendors’ – latest information on a regular basis through lead-nurturing programs. In addition, they research a great deal of publicly available information produced in bulk by newsfeeds, institutions, bloggers, and consultants. Consequently, they are engaging later in their buying process, and the sheer volume of information can blur and obfuscate the solutions available to them. As dedicated sales professionals, our job is to provide focus, keep our most important clients engaged earlier in their buying process, and guide them through their decision making—in the process getting more predictability earlier in our sales funnel.

Posted by: Klaus Leutbecher | Sales Vice President

Posted: 3/16/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Who's Responsible for Customer Retention?

For most of us, last year's sales award ceremony is still fresh in our minds. We know who won the award for achievements like highest revenue, most deals in a category, and top performer of the year. But, do we know who had the highest customer retention?

Probably not. The reality is that most sales organizations don't create awards for customer retention. Sure, they measure it. After all, in industries like Telco, even a one-hundredth of a percent in annual churn can result in losses worth millions. Nevertheless, many sales leaders don't seem to think the customer-retention achievement is stage-worthy.

Customer Retention Starts With the Sales Process

Some might argue that sales isn't usually responsible for customer retention. When a deal closes, they turn it over to the support team and, in some organizations, a relationship manager. Furthermore, they might argue that even if the initial sales executive retains the account, the most important metric is sales.

I contend that it's not an either/or proposition. Making sales professionals responsible for customer retention does not mean they need to sacrifice sales. Frequent communication with the customer gives the sales professional the chance to identify opportunities for additional sales. It increases the opportunity for referral business. And, let's not forget, it's less expensive to keep an existing customer than to add a new one.

Furthermore, customer retention has to start with the sales process when the sales executive uncovers the organization's reasons for making a decision and the personal wins of each of the buyers. After the sale, the initial sales executive is still the best person to follow through and ensure those objectives and wins are achieved.

Customer service isn't going to ask the buyer if they're getting the recognition they think they deserve (a personal win) when one of the end users calls in for support. You can survey the customer—always a good idea—but the results you get will only tell a minor portion of the story. Even if there is a handoff to a relationship manager, trust takes time to build. Expecting someone else to step in where the sales executive left off creates a jarring experience for the customer.

Past Performance Can Influence Future Outcomes

Following through to ensure the customer's objectives are achieved can also improve the sales professional's future performance. At MHI Global, we talk a lot about the importance of providing perspective to differentiate the vendor's products and services from the competition. The sales professional is the only one who can add that perspective because they're on the ground with the customer's buying team. The stories they tell about other customers with similar challenges go a long way toward establishing the sales professional's credibility and helping unite the customer's buying team.

Knowing which customers are successful, which aren't, and why helps the sales professional get better at identifying opportunities that are a good fit for the company's solutions. They are also a lot less likely to pursue a poor fit if they know they'll be the one responsible for following through with the customer after the sale.

Sales professionals perform another vital function. They are the lenses through which management looks to understand what is happening in the funnel and in the customer base. When the sales professional is only focused on the sales process, the sales leader's vision is distorted. But when the sales professional is the go-to resource for the funnel and the customer base, the sales leader can get a much clearer vision of the health of the business.

In the end, the metric for customer retention will look different for every organization. Early in my career, the company I worked for looked at apps per customer over a 24–36 month cycle. Others might look at customer-satisfaction metrics, renewal rates, or lifetime value of the customer. Whichever metric you choose, don't be surprised if your top performers in customer retention are also the ones winning Top Performer of the Year.

Posted by: Harry Hollines | Senior Vice President, Business Development

Posted: 3/11/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Building a Sales Dynasty

This morning, I started thinking about the past football season, both pro and college, and how some coaches must dread the time period just after their season ends. You would think they'd be enjoying the short respite they have from the game, maybe kicking back a little bit with their families before hitting the recruiting trail and then training camp.
Maybe some are, but no doubt there are others who are wondering if they'll be sacked like a quarterback with a weak offensive line. Even coaches with great records run the risk of getting fired—just ask Bo Pelini, former head coach at Nebraska. The sad fact is, unless they get to the Big Game, their performance may not be good enough. Look at this quote from school administration officials about Pelini: “Although many games were won, those won did not include those which mattered the most … and that Pelini failed to provide those significant wins given ample time and resources.”
Sales is pretty much the same way. Longtime salespeople know there is a massive difference between finishing the year at 97 percent of plan instead of 100. Too many seasons at 97 percent and you may find yourself looking for your next gig.
You Need a Winning Team
The similarity between football coaches and salespeople doesn't end there. The key to a successful season is to be great at building a winning team. First, the coach needs to recruit the right players—those that will "fit well into the franchise or system," as they say. Then he needs to work with them to help them be successful in their respective positions. It's a Win-Win scenario. If individual players don't win, he'll never have a winning team. He'll never make it to the Big Game, and he'll always be dreading that call from the administration or ownership at the end of the season.
Salespeople need to build their teams, too. We've talked many times about building a winning selling team made up of support specialists, product experts, and others who interact with your customers during and after the sale. Helping these colleagues achieve their personal objectives, such as advancement in their own position, will earn you their best efforts on your opportunities.
But too many times, we don't pay enough attention to the customers on our teams. If during our pursuit of plan, we leave a string of unsuccessful customers in our path, we'll never achieve the growth we're looking for. We need successful customers, both as a source of repeat business and to spread the word to our new business prospects. The most successful customers will begin to feel and act like they're part of our selling team. They'll care as much about our success as we do about theirs.
Creating successful customers also starts with looking for those who fit well into the franchise. In sales terms, that means they are a good fit for our products. Then we need to understand what a Win means to them, both from the viewpoint of the organization as well as the individual players on our customer's buying team.
Sales professionals who help their customers achieve their corporate and personal wins aren't just creating a winning season. With their successful customers supporting them all the way, they're looking at building a dynasty.

Posted by: Tim Call | Executive Vice President of Sales
Posted: 3/9/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Lessons From My Past Life as Frontline Sales Manager

As a former frontline sales manager (FSM) who rose from the sales ranks, I am aware of the huge expectations placed on the role of FSMs. Like most FSMs reading this, it took me a while to understand what exactly the role entailed, how broad and complex that scope really was, and the enormity of the challenges that went with it. To illustrate the complexity: My first sales team had seven people in it, one of whom was a graduate trainee a year younger than me and another who had been in the company longer than I had been alive!

Being new to the role, I did the most sensible thing I could think of. I faked it until I made it. I learned by experience, and I survived—but not without my share of blunders.

Many years and many teams later, the biggest lesson I took from my experience leading teams from the front lines is to take ownership and accountability for my choices and my actions as leader. Certainly it can be tough when you’re executing on the strategies coming from the top that are not clearly defined or that you didn’t agree to. But the fact remained, I was accountable for the success or failure of my teams.

Taking accountability wasn’t merely about taking the blame when my team didn’t hit our numbers but rather realizing that as a manager, I had enough authority and permission to take initiatives to make sure we got back on track. I realized that sales management is a delicate balance between focus on the task and the people and that even under the pressure of delivering results, it’s really critical not to lose sight of the people but to develop them and their capacity to execute the task. So rather than just managing the numbers or stepping in to close on behalf of my salespeople – which I also made the mistake of doing – I focused on two things: First, communicating. I made sure we took out the ambiguities whenever we could and continuously helped my team understand the company’s direction and its implications for us. Second, and more importantly, I coached for performance.

I did deal reviews with each of my team members. I rode along with them to their sales calls and reviewed the calls and the outcomes when we got back to the office. I helped them critique themselves and consider how we could’ve improved the customer interaction so that we were a step closer to closing the sale. My coaching did not just focus on instructing my team what they should do to achieve the task or the target. I made sure that I identified any skill gaps and coached to fill those so that I developed their skills. Through my coaching, my team felt supported and invested in, and they grew their capacity to deliver results with less and less support from me.

For the most part, I’d like to think that keeping focus on the people and taking accountability as a leader helped me lead from a place that was grounded in integrity, which motivated my team to do the same. It wasn’t just about the numbers and operating like lone wolves. They understood the big picture of what we were trying to achieve. They knew that they could always ask for help and additional resources to chase after a deal. More than just being accountable for their targets and for closing that deal because their commissions depended on it, they bought into the concept that as individuals on a team, they took ownership for their own performance, contributed to the team’s performance and, ultimately, to the organization as a whole.

Posted by: Patricia Seabright | Sales Consultant
Posted: 3/4/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Forget the Elevator Pitch

When I started in sales, the elevator pitch was all the rage. The idea was to memorize a compelling statement about what your company does that was no longer than the length of an elevator ride. Our management thought that if you told enough potential customers what the company did, then eventually some of them might have a need for your product, service, or solution.
Incredible as it may sound, the elevator pitch is still alive and well, but now marketing is calling it a positioning statement. With all due respect to marketing, this is not an effective way to make someone feel like you are interested in their input in a conversation. If I don’t like it when I am on the receiving end of an elevator pitch, then why would I think anyone else would like them?
Ever Had One of Those Sales Calls?
I remember calling on customers who would invite me in to speak to their buying team, only to be faced with a conference table lined with people I'd never met, all expecting me to give a product pitch. Prior to my Miller Heiman training, this could be a challenging and uncomfortable place to be. One of the many valuable lessons I took away from my training was to learn in advance who would attend the meeting, then prepare to ask questions relevant to the stage of the selling cycle and the people present. Once I demonstrate sincere interest in understanding their business situation, they become more responsive and open up.
Still, there would be occasions when one or two people never said much during a meeting. You start asking yourself the unknowns that are important to know: Did the quiet ones see it the same way? Did they share the same concept of a solution as the others? What was their role in the buying decision? What did they want out of the project, both personally and professionally? I'd ask the best open-ended questions I could think of, and either they would give me one-word answers or someone else would answer for them. By the close of the meeting, I typically didn't know what they were thinking or even what role they played in the decision.
Personal “wins” were especially hard to ferret out. Experienced salespeople know that buying decisions are made by human beings. Even if they share the group's idea of a “win” for the project, each has their own personal win. Examples of this may include fewer headaches in their specific role, personal advancement in the organization, or even a bullet point on their resume. Customers have business and personal priorities when considering acquisition of your product, service, or solution. They want it to do something to help them.
We like it when people approach us with thoughtful questions, great listening skills, and the desire to help us. This is 180 degrees opposite of the “positioning statement” approach discussed above. At Miller Heiman, we call these Win Results. As a sales professional, your job is to figure out what they are. They can range from simple to complex based on the situation at hand and on each customer’s specific needs according to their position in the decision-making process.
A Better Use of Your Elevator Time
An elevator ride can seem like an eternity if you're alone with an introverted buyer. Can you imagine using an elevator pitch on them? A 30-second ride now seems like it’s never going to end.
From experience I learned that if I could isolate that buyer from others, I could usually get them to open up by preparing a few questions to start a dialogue. What did you think about Bob's suggestion that …? Do you think we have the problem defined adequately? Do you agree that the biggest obstacle is X?
If the buyer has spent the last three hours stifling their opinions, be prepared for a torrent of thoughts. Some of them may offer up their personal Win Results before you have an opportunity to ask. Others may still be reluctant, but at least you've started a dialogue with them.
We talk about verifying personal wins with your coach, but always strive to go directly to the source. If the Buying Influence is quiet and reserved in a meeting, chances are they haven't shared their Win Results with anyone else. You can verify the Buying Influence's role in the decision, but you won't be able to get an accurate read on their Win Results from anyone but them. Knowing their role is a valuable first step in your dialogue with them, as roles often help you understand what kinds of things they may be considering as a Win Result
While there are numerous opportunities to discover personal Win Results, you may sometimes need to look for them in less-than-obvious places. One of my favorites is inviting a Buying Influence to meet over coffee to discuss his goals and potential concerns. This typically accomplishes two goals. It gets them out of their work area environment, and it removes them from the hearing range of others so that they speak more candidly. Spontaneity can also create an opportunity: the elevator, the hallway, the parking lot, or even in the meeting room before everyone else shows up. At the end of the day, sales professionals are looking to create a Win-Win scenario—one that must include wins for every Buying Influence involved in the sale. 

Posted by: Bill Ladas | Sales Consultant
Posted: 3/2/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Mastering the Challenges of Appraisals

Year after year, the same story: review time.

For sales controllers, HR managers, and sales leaders, this means hectic times ahead: Getting the appraisal forms and related documentation out again, and reviewing sales performance from last year as well as operationalising the sales strategy for 2015.

Reviews are about:

  • Breaking down sales targets and assessing past sales achievement, resulting in financial metrics.
  • Planning sales and personal-development initiatives for the frontline sales managers.
  • Facilitating two-way feedback loop between sales leader and frontline sales manager, providing coaching to the sales manager. By ensuring prioritization of sales activities, the groundwork for the best possible way to execute the sales strategy 2015 is being laid.

In order to gain competitive advantage, how do sales leaders master the balancing act of moving away from one-off reviews to anchoring the measurement of performance as a means of systematically doing better? With the support of a continuous sales- and team-improvement process.

Setting up the process as a discipline

Sales leaders in B2B sales are able to take advantage of approved tools such as the Deming Cycle or PDCA, which stands for plan-do-check-act. It has demonstrated its value in the manufacturing and project- management environment:

Plan: What goals do you want to accomplish? What specific objectives, customer segments, markets, and also softer targets have been identified?

Do: Where do you stand in terms of achieving your results? Sales managers should track movement through the buying process. For sales management, it would require paying attention to strategies that are aligned to changing market requirements.

Check: What do you want to fix or avoid? What needs to change and why? What plan do you have to improve?

Act: What corrective measures are necessary to take? What is working well within your team? Are there sales best practices that could be leveraged?

Implement: Execute the plan and enable the team. This phase requires specific sales activities—and then going back to the planning phase. How disciplined is your team in implementing the plan?

Ensuring suitable measurements and alignment

What quantitative and qualitative goals within your organization are to be met? Ensuring that the agreed parameters are specific, measurable, accepted, realistic, and able to be executed in a timely manner is crucial to the success of such a process. Are sales and marketing functions aligned to make execution of the 2015 strategy possible? Be aware that the objectives are linked to the overall corporate strategy and relate to the goals of the organization. Measure the success of your strategy by the impact it has in bringing about the expected results within the organization as a whole.

Taking into account time frames, ownerships, and activities

Similar to the sales cycles and differing sales activities in complex sales situations, the process timings, ownerships, and actions need to be adjusted accordingly. For example, instead of only acting by default toward the end of the fiscal year to achieve the targets within the last few weeks, schedule regular sessions over the year with the individual frontline sales managers so that the progress can be checked and corrective measures can be taken. Dedicated coaching meetings ensure that consistent improvements are made.

Making a continuous sales- and team-improvement process work

The sales-management adoption needs to be supported by a working system. This requires close collaboration, with sales driving the initiative and HR functioning as a business partner that allows sales leaders to reach their goals. The process is merely as good as its execution: Only with top management involvement are sales organizations able to make this disciplined, institutionalised process come to life. Organizations are then fully able to learn from within. Such initiatives may be kick-started through a program such as Advanced ConceptsSM, for example, which promotes better practices among sales professionals.

Would you like to share your challenges that you are facing in implementing a continuous sales- and team- improvement process? You can reach me at

Posted by Alexandra | Sales Consultant

Posted: 2/18/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

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