Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Staffer To Fire Right Now

Over 80% of employees surveyed in several recent studies indicated their job satisfaction is most
Employee With Negative Attitude
affected by the mood, attitude and cooperation of their coworkers. Almost 100% of who reported they disliked their work reported their primary aversion is to one specific coworker who is unpleasant.

In any operation, most of the staff will look for ways to work together and achieve together. Unfortunately, there is often one, sometimes a few, employee(s) who prefer to stir things up, gossip, create controversy, and generally be an obstacle to peace and productivity. And even more unfortunate, many bosses feel sorry for these Negative Nancys, and keep them on because "no one else would ever hire them." What gives?

"I can't fire her. She knows too much, and no one can replace her." Or, and this one really drives me crazy, "If he knows he's being fired, who will train his replacement?" Seriously? Whose poor management plan was that who gave this person such an enormous amount of power that they can now hold the whole company hostage? Who does their job when your problem employee goes on vacation?

This is an overwhelming problem to a workforce. When an organization has a personnel problem, there are two consistent places the root of it can be found: either the management staff does not model a team attitude and a terrific work ethic, or someone with a bad attitude or work ethic is being tolerated. In either case, the problem infects everyone else. It is very difficult to hold yourself to a high standard of performance if your boss or your coworkers put no value on doing the same. It could be chronic lateness, foul language, sexist or racist behavior, ugly gossip, drinking on the job, or even theft or falsifying records. Like any problem, these things start small, but as they are tolerated they grow rapidly.

Do your staff a favor. Remove the obstacle staffer, and clean up the example set for your employees. You have warned, discussed, reprimanded, and threatened your problem employee for the last time. They are not irreplaceable, and keeping them may cost you the best parts of the rest of your staff!

The absolute worst choice in this situation is to do nothing. Things will only get worse - they always do, every single time. The first runner-up bad choice is to fire the bad apple without a plan, and end up bringing them back on staff. Make a plan, accept that there are going to be some inconveniences and skinned knees, and show that troublemaker the road. Your organization will begin improving immediately!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Make Your Client Sell Themselves

The sales that last, the sales that earn the most referrals, and the sales that earn the most repeat business, are the sales when the client sells himself.  So we sales pros get the day off, right?  Sadly, it's never that easy!

Sales professionals who can persuade the client to sell themselves are, in fact, the most valuable pros out there.  How do they do it?  It seems counter-intuitive, but those sales pros ask the most questions, listen better, and talk very little.  What are those questions?  These questions!

What issue or need with this purchase fill?  When the client discusses the problem, it increases their sense of urgency.

How does this need affect your business?  The more you know about the need, the more likely you will present the best product to fit the need.  The client is also describing their work process, which makes you better able to address them as an "insider."

How often does this need arise?  When the client mentions the interval of need, they are primed for you to set up your follow-up call.

How does it effect your business when this need in unmet?  You are asking the customer to establish the value of the product on their own terms.  There is no better sales pitch.

What are your business goals?  How does this product help you meet them?  The customer begins describing the use of the product in terms of success in meeting their own goals.

When do you want this solution in place? The client returns themselves to urgency, and the sale is made.

You can do this.  Answer each of their questions succinctly, and then follow up with a question of your own.  Present your solutions in the order of the questions they ask you, don't give them a canned pitch.  If you know your product thoroughly, the client will sell themselves, with only a little prompting from you!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Business Lessons: Buffalo Blizzard 2014

The greater Buffalo, NY area has been socked with 6-8 feet of snow in the last 4 days. The first 5 fell in the first 24 hours.  Most of the southern half of the area has been under a travel ban. The interstates are closed. Over a thousand motorists were stranded in their vehicles according to local news casts. Buildings are collapsing under the weight of the snow, and there is a substantial flood risk for over 200,000 people. So naturally, businesses have had a very unusual work week. What are we learning?

The good lessons:

1) Take advantage of technology! Many companies changed their websites and voice mail systems to a message like, "We are sorry for the inconvenience, but we are closed today due to severe weather conditions. We look forward to serving you as soon as we are able to reach the office." Some had calls re-routed to cell phones. Many others listed home phone numbers of employees to manage customer service calls and take orders which will be fulfilled after the state of emergency passes. These calls are being answered, and business ties are being maintained.

2) We love the companies who were able to stay open, and made creative use of their time and their space. Serving customers isn't just about making money at every moment. In the first two days of the storm, some folks slept at work, and kept their buildings open to people who were walking in from abandoned vehicles. They offered food, drink, and shelter while the storm raged on. These companies instantly became cornerstones of their communities.

3) Companies have supplied "good Samaritan" goods like food, water and blankets to rescue crews who are snowmobiling into the hardest hit areas. Other companies are donating to the rescue crews themselves, trying to keep the thousands of first responders fed, clothed, and comfortable. Using your professional network to support your community is a classy act. The kindness will be remembered for years.

4) Some companies have called employees and explained that employees will be paid for the missed work time, and that checks will go out as soon as weather allows. Employees are, understandably, very relieved. This is another classy move being made by some of the larger employers in the area. Some small, family businesses cannot afford this benefit, and are calling to check on the well being of their employees. Recipients of these calls feel very appreciated and respected. They will reap benefits in future employee loyalty.

5)  People are walking in to work, sometimes miles, and shoveling, manning phones, and clearing emails so that the company will be ready get back to work when the weather clears. These are the employees we all wish we had, and most of us aspire to be. This level of dedication and service, even in the face of disaster, makes their companies benchmarks of reliability and professionalism.

6) Business people have cleared email from home, called colleagues to postpone meetings and deliveries, and telecommuted whenever possible to keep up with, or get ahead of, their workload. These employees set an example, and make their businesses the standard to beat.

The bad lessons:

1) Bureaucratic red tape held up the ability for people to access the nearby pharmacies if their prescription was already housed at a different (unreachable) pharmacy. If your community needs medical care, execute emergency protocols as soon as possible.

2) Appointments are not being kept, but no one called or sent an email to their colleagues to let them know. With the amount of technology available, most could have made contact if they had tried. For those they were supposed to be meeting, their time was wasted. Keep in touch whenever possible!

3) Phone messages and websites have not been updated to indicate the business has temporarily closed. People have walked for miles to find gas (for generators and snow blowers) or food, only to discover the business was closed. Update your phone message at a minimum! Most systems can be accessed remotely for this purpose.

4) Although they are located in an area where snow makes travel impossible at least once, and sometimes several times per year, many companies had no emergency protocols in place. This left management and staff scrambling to create a cohesive and effective plan on the fly. Guess how well that worked out? Create an emergency plan, and communicate it to all levels of management. Your emergency may not be snow, but fire, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes are just some of the emergencies faced by communities every day.

5) Lastly, many bosses insisted their staff report to work in spite of the travel bans. Bad idea! Those employees who tried to drive in were rewarded with some very expensive tickets from police, and many were stranded in impassable road conditions. People are angry. It will take a long time to rebuild goodwill among these employees. Respect local law enforcement, and let your staff do the same.

The difference between the good and bad lessons, in general, is thoughtfulness.  Those who view themselves as in service to others have made their customers, employees and businesses a priority in any way they can. Those who did not will pay the price.

Monday, November 17, 2014

10 Best Client Communications Skills

The brass tacks of a successful client conversation come down to 10 points. They are simple to list, but take a little practice to master. Don’t worry! Each one leads naturally into the next, reminding you of where you’re headed. These techniques are effective in person and on the phone. Practice each one for a full day. You’ll be a better salesperson in 10 work days. Here they are:
  • Start with a smile and a warm greeting. You know the smile you give when you unexpectedly see a dear friend out of the blue? That’s the smile to share with your prospect the moment you make eye contact, before either of you have said a word. You’re setting the tone for the entire interaction. (You can even tell if someone on the phone or radio is smiling when they talk!) How do you feel when you receive that smile? It’s the same relaxation you experience when you are welcomed and respected. Give that smile, and mean it. Humans tend toward reciprocity. This means people usually respond in kind to the way they are treated. If they’re treated pleasantly and in an agreeable way, they’ll tend to react in a pleasant and agreeable way.
  • Call every prospective customer by name. People feel more important when called by name. If you don’t know their name up front, shake their hand, introduce yourself, and ask them. Repeat their name once you have it. “It’s great to meet you, Mr. Foster. Thank you for meeting with me today.” When you need to address Mr. Foster, use his name once every 2-3 minutes. It keeps him involved, and keeps you from forgetting it! If you believe his attention may be drifting, call him by name in your next sentence or question.
  • Listen and mirror. Listen to your prospective customer. Listen to their words, their tone of voice, and their style of expression. If they are speaking quickly and gesturing with their hands, they are probably excited. Mirror that behavior. Likewise, if they are speaking slowly and deliberately, be sure to enunciate and speak at a slower pace. Don’t copy their voice or hand gestures exactly. (That annoys people!) These mirroring techniques have been shown to make people feel understood and respected, even when no words are spoken. Putting your body in the some of the same postures they use will help you understand their mood and attitude. If your customer has a slumping posture, slouch just a little, and see how it makes you feel. Are their arms crossed tightly across their body? Cross yours loosely, and see how it feels. Once you correctly perceive their mood and attitude, you’ll address their questions more effectively.
  • Talk about your client. The only context that matters to your client is how to meet his own needs, achieve his own goals, and solve his own problems. Most people prefer to talk about themselves. Encourage them to talk by using probing questions. As they talk, you’ll be learning about what product to sell them, why, and often how. Everything they share tells you something about their needs, their qualifications, and about their buying process. Do not interrupt. It’s good stuff. Apply what you’re hearing to your sales pitch.
  • Thou shalt not speak ill of the competition. Never, ever, ever. Putting someone else down doesn’t make your product or company look any better, it just makes you look petty and like a gossip. It’s unprofessional, and in some companies it will get you fired. Most importantly, you are not talking about your product or your customer! Bring your attention back to where it belongs. Youcan emphasize that your product wears longer, or that your service is backed with a guarantee. Ex: “You can make this purchase with peace of mind. We’re proud of our guarantee. It’s the longest and most complete in the industry.”
  • When your shopper finishes a thought or asks a question, be ready with the next concept or question you want them to address. This is the most important skill in contact management. Ex: Client: “...and that’s why I’m in the market for a new system.” Short pause. You: “Mr. Client, we have a large selection of systems that will meet your needs. Tell me about how your staff uses the system. What do they need the system to do more effectively?” Back to Mr. Client: “Well, if the system could scrape data from a number of different applications and generate reports, that would be ideal.” Short pause. Now you:“That seems reasonable. Think of how much stress that would relieve! We have solutions that do just that. How many staff members will be working on this system?” Again, an appropriate response is tied directly to the next probing question. This technique should be employed on most or all occasions that you speak in the sales process. It makes you efficient, responsive, and most importantly, keeps your prospect talking. Conversational control usually fails if you have not mastered this skill.
  • Praise/thank your prospect. There is always a sincere reason to praise them, and it shows them you think they are important. Ex: “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” “Thank you for seeing me today.” Even when they call you, work it in. “It’s good to hear from you. What can I do for you?” Your client is, and should feel like, the most important thing you have going on right now. Ever come across one of those salespeople who treat prospects like they’re an interruption or an annoyance? Giving the impression you find your agenda more important than you find your client is a sure way to see to it they don’t “bother” you again.
  • Be well and fine and happy. Sales is a customer focused activity. If they ask how you are, you’re fine, or great or terrific. Now turn the focus back to your shopper. No one cares if your feet hurt, if you broke up with your sweetheart, or if you’re in a lousy mood. Well, at least, your client doesn’t. Clients want service. Pleasant service. Make sure they get it.
  • Try to avoid saying “NO.” Your shopper sometimes will ask you for things you can’t deliver. If they ask, “Can you give me another 20% off?” You say, “What we can do for you is this -.” When they say they want lifetime service free of charge, you can say, “We usually meet that need by doing this -.” Addressing the question with the available choices is usually enough to bring the customer back to discussing the possible. If you are forced to deny a specific request, be gentle but clear: “We don’t offer that option. We’re happy to offer this.” "No" is always a last resort. If you have to say it, don’t leave it hanging in the air like a bug you want to swat! Follow it up immediately with the solution you do offer.
  • Create a “Yes” frame of mind. In your discussion with your client, ask questions which lend themselves to “yes” answers. Ex: “You appreciate a good value, don’t you?” Or, “Your family is the priority here, right?” Follow these questions up with immediate facts that serve the subject. Ex: “This insurance policy protects your family in the case of a tragedy, and also creates an investment tool to make the good times even better.” Once a person sees that you’re on the same wavelength, they relax some of their defenses. Feeling understood helps people build relationships. Prospects stop resisting and start problem solving, which means buying.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Keeping Management Happy (And Off Your Back!) In 2 Emails

All managers have expectations, and you need to keep your manager happy.  In sales, this happiness is often measured daily or weekly.  Some managers tell your right out what their expectations are.  Others hint around it.  Still others say nothing, and hope for good numbers.  It is important to understand what the expectations are, because they will keep you from trying to reinvent the wheel.  No matter what your manager's style is, get clear on the expectations, and adjust when they change.

Most management expectations are built on history in your market, and they’ve discovered which ratios and activities yield the desired results.  Do as they ask.  Eventually, you may discover that management isn’t as married to each activity as much as it is to hitting their numbers, and you can change tactics to get there.  Maybe you’ll discover that the only thing that works is following their formula.  The point is, the decisions you make about how to plan your work need to take management expectations into consideration, and meet their needs.  If you don’t meet their needs, you will be replaced.  It’s harsh, but it’s true.

A very effective tool for spending time efficiently is to keep management in the loop is to write the broad strokes of your plan for the week in a simple email, and send it to your manager.  “I have follow ups with A, B, and C companies for sales calls.  X, Y and Z have closing appointments scheduled.  I’ll be cold-calling in Bergen County in the mid-week.”  Send it on Friday night or Monday morning.  No, telling her in a quick moment in the hallway isn’t enough!  If your manager has specific expectations, you’ve told her the highlights of how you’re planning to meet them.  If your manager has no expectations, she knows what you’re doing.  And when your manager wants you to focus in a different area, she’ll write back or tell you.  You’ll know before you blow your time on the wrong stuff.

This approach also seems to keep micro-managers off your back.  Just remember to send a follow-up email at the end of the week explaining your accomplishments.  If something went badly, admit it, and indicate how you plan to remedy the situation.  This should not be in the same email as the “Plan” email!  Identify each with the specific dates they cover so you can quickly reference them over time.  Ex: “X and Y closed as expected.  The contracts are in fulfillment.  Z is shopping the competition, and has concerns about the sales agreement.  Another meeting is scheduled next week.   Cold calls yielded 6 follow-up calls in Bergen County.  Company A was a one call close, and the contract is on your desk!  B scheduled a presentation for Monday morning.  C has a closing appointment with us Tuesday.”  This simple summary shows your boss what your piece of her team is doing, and helps her make effective management decisions. 

All of this communication creates a paper (email) trail that will be helpful to you at review time, as it will be easy for you and your manager to quantify your efforts and your results.  You'll also be able to look back and see patterns emerge around certain sales approaches and subsequent success or failure. All this in two emails a week!  Get writing!  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How To Keep Your Team Motivated

It's a long-standing concern in every business: how do you keep your employees motivated to be creative and effective, day in, and day out?  It's not hard, but it is a recipe.  Like any recipe, without any of the ingredients it won't work out.


AUTONOMY: Employees list autonomy as the top wish in their work lives, and it's what managers
fear the most.  When employees make their own decisions without going up the chain of command, they feel respected and empowered.  They also make mistakes, which make managers aggravated, and more likely to micromanage.  Where ever possible, step back and let your team make their own decisions.  If you have educated them thoroughly on the goals of the department and the company, their creativity and effectiveness will flourish.

POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT: Employees with positive relationships with co-workers are more productive, and remain in jobs substantially longer than those who list their workplace as "challenging" or list co-workers as "difficult."  A positive tone starts at the top.  Do not complain, whine, gossip, or lose your temper at work.  When others are doing it, shut it down.  Greet people with a smile, and use their name.  It works.

TRUST IN MANAGEMENT: If your managers to treat employees fairly, ask them to perform only professional duties, and take an interest in each employee's goals, trust will be built.  Each member of the organization wants to be recognized as a human being, and a quality professional.  Transparency in management and decision-making show employees that management means what they say, and does what they say. Avoid secrecy whenever possible.

APPRECIATION: Celebrate little things, like improvement on filing timely paperwork, successfully overcoming a brutal deadline, or no absences for a week after the flu tears through the office. Recognizing these moments reminds everyone that work gets done by people working together.  If there is nothing to celebrate, bring in lunch for the team to thank them for working hard in a tough environment, and sit with them while they relax and eat.  If the whole team needs to step up their performance, institute a meaningful reward for the "most improved performance."  Talk about the achievements publicly in glowing terms, and manage failures quietly in private.

FAIR COMPENSATION:  If your organization docks pay for a variety of "infractions," multiple studies show this destroys both trust and morale.  Find another way to enforce your rules.  Pay your people as well as you can and remain competitive.  Once you've helped develop their skills, you don't want them moving on to the competition for a paycheck!  Now your investment is working against you!

COMMON CAUSE:  Share successes with the entire team.  If you sign a big contract, increase your profit margin, grow your company, or any other good news, let everyone know that their teamwork was integral to the achievement of the goal.  

If you work in an environment where all of these ingredients are present, you're probably happy to go to work every day.  If you don't, you're probably looking to change jobs.  What are your employees thinking?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The 5 "E"s Will Close More Business

Quite often I mention how important it is to have an agenda for every client interaction.  The five "E"s are a great example.  They are the groundwork for every client interaction, and after each meeting, I write down the notes relating to them. There is no script, but there is always a plan.

Energize yourself, your presentation, your materials, and because of that, your meeting.  You don't need cheerleader-level spunk, but it needs to be clear that you're happy to meet with your client, and that you're paying close attention to the conversation.  Don't ask your client to repeat themselves if you can possibly avoid it!

Encourage the client to share long and short term goals for themselves or their company (depending on which is the customer.)  Goals are why people buy. They want a hole, not a drill. Make sure you know what their goals are, because it tells you what to sell them, and how.

Educate the client about how your product will meet their goals.  If your product makes beautiful holes quickly, talk about holes.  Talk about product reliability in terms of "security in hole-making for years to come." Answer questions about the product, but don't drone on
like an infomercial!  The client cares about reaching their goal, and moving on to the next one.

Engage the customer on a human level by dropping the jargon as much as possible.  Say "hassle" instead of "impediment," or any other opportunity to humanize the conversation.  Talk to people like they're people. Jargon is necessary in most businesses some of the time. Humanity is necessary all of the time.

Empower your customer to reach their goals by supplying only the right products, always at the right price.  If you over-sell, you will probably not earn repeat business.  Your client will have an unrealistic impression of the cost and complexity of your solution.  If you under-sell, your customer won't reach their goal.  And if you overcharge, they will find out at some point.  Not only will repeat business be in jeopardy, your reputation may be as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

You Say You're In A Slump?

In sales, like all things, our performance is inconsistent.  Even the best, most solid of us have times where we perform below normal, and even the worst of us sometimes perform magnificently.  What gives?  Luck.  Really!

Let's think about the biggest reason it might not be your fault: statistics. Every time you flip a fair coin, the chance of it coming up heads is 50%, because that's the number of possible outcomes, or 1 over 2.  (You'll never get both results from a single flip.)  If you flip 5 heads in a row, the chance you'll flip a heads on your next toss is still 1 in 2, because the coin still has two sides.  (There is a human tendency to think the results of the previous flips will change the odds, but it really doesn't work that way!  Learn more here: The Gambler's Fallacy.)  How can that help us in sales?

Statistics tell us that stretches of positive outcomes and stretches of negative outcomes will happen.  The reason this is good news is that if you haven't closed much lately, the odds are reset to normal every time we knock on a prospect's door. You're no more likely to have a negative outcome if you're in a "slump" than if you were on a "winning streak" if all other things are equal.  It's just like the coin flips - the previous sales call has no effect on the next sales call.  (We're still assuming you are not suddenly less capable and talented, you're just in an unusual patch of bad luck.)

But sometimes it's hard not to let self-doubt creep in.  After several unsuccessful sales calls in a row, we begin to dread adding another failed sale to the list.  What's a nervous sales pro to do?  Snap out of it!  Dread will put you an a frame of mind that "primes" you to expect defeat.  Your language and tone of voice change, and your customer will quickly lose confidence in you and the product. If you psych yourself out, you will be the problem.

Instead, run through a checklist of the information you need to convey before you meet with your customer.  Review any goals the customer is trying to achieve.  If you don't know their goals, make sure you plan to learn them.  Doing this will remind you that you do, in fact know what you're doing, and are properly prepared.  Then, go into your meeting with confidence that you can help your customer achieve their goals by buying your product.

Still feeling a little nervous?  Play your stereo loudly and sing along to an upbeat song.  Studies show this increases mood and confidence, even if you're a lousy singer! Remember how well you did in closing a few difficult deals, and how good you are at helping customers achieve their goals.  Positive visualizations and self-talk are also backed by science as mood-lifters and performance-enhancers.  Calm down, cheer up, and go get 'em!

If your slump is, in fact due to some problem on your part, it will become clear soon enough.  Each sale will break down in the same place, or you'll be defeated by the same objection over and over. That problem is easier to fix - you can pinpoint the problem and train yourself accordingly!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Selling Against A Lower Price: How To Win The Sale

"I can get it from XYZ Corp for 8% less.  Can you meet their price?"  We hear it far more often than we'd like.  What's a sales pro to do?

Your manager would say, "You haven't adequately sold the value of the product."  To some extent that's true (it helps them meet their goals), but we all know there are some people who will always buy on price, no matter what. What do you say to them?

"I never worry about my competitor's lower price; they must know what their stuff is worth.  What my product is worth is $X.  My product meets your goals of  A and B.  How many would you like?"  With this response, the competition is minimized, and you're back on track.  There is nothing your customer can say to this approach that will shake your explanation of the price differential.  All you need to do is take the order.  They may talk about budget, giving you an opportunity to discuss payment arrangements.  Don't sell on price.  You'll lose.

When your customer makes your competitor a topic of conversation, you need to change the focus back to your customer's goals and how your product helps to achieve them.  You're not an expert on the competitor, and even if by some chance you are, it isn't what you need to discuss to sell your product.  Nobody's goal is to have a 1/4" drill bit - the goal is to have 1/4" hole.  Stop talking about the tool, and start talking about the goal.

This "They must know what their stuff is worth" approach can easily be overdone and beaten to death.  When you say it, say it once, clearly, and then drop it.  You're not bad-mouthing with this approach, you're stating a fact.  If you are perceived as talking trash about the competition, your reputation and your sales are quickly going to be in trouble. Keep the focus on achieving goals, and close our sale. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Drunk, Yelling Mexican Men Are...

Before the Stomach Bug
My husband and I went to Mexico for our honeymoon. It was great, at first.  Then Dave came down with a stomach bug which made him feverish, nauseated, and weak.  I stayed with him all day until he finally fell into a peaceful sleep at about 10:15pm, and then went to the restaurant in the hotel.  It was closed.  I hadn't eaten all day because Dave was sick, and I was starved!  A helpful desk clerk mentioned that the bar/cafe across the square was open.

The square was quiet.  Two men shared a park bench with a radio.  I walked over to the cafe, went in, and ordered in broken Spanish.  Before my food came, a very drunk Mexican man tried to buy me a beer.  I couldn't understand his words, but I got the gist from his hand gestures.  He was well dressed, and a happy drunk, but I found it unsettling.  Maybe I'd take that food to go.  His friend came over and apologized in English, and also offered to buy me a drink.  Where was my food?! 15 minutes passed.

The noise level in the cafe grew.  It had floor-to-ceiling windows that opened on to the street.  I looked out on to the square to see it had suddenly filled with young men waving flags and shouting. Then men in the restaurant also started shouting.  I realized I was the only woman in the place.  I was very uncomfortable, and seriously considering leaving without my food, but I was no more excited about crossing the square alone.

The gentleman who had spoken in English to me earlier came over again.  "Miss, you are afraid, no? Be calm.  Our favorite soccer team has won the championship just now.  We are celebrating!  Have a beer!"  

I laughed at myself.  I looked out at the square, and now saw a community celebrating a soccer win. Young men hoisted flags high and circled the square on motorbikes, girlfriends clinging to them in the rear seat.  The young men were all wearing some version of the soccer uniform.  The men in the cafe were toasting, dancing, and buying one another drinks. And my waiter was celebrating with them.  It was wonderful!  I'm delighted to have seen it.

Drunk, yelling Mexican men are great.  I had a blast watching the celebration. I was sorry Dave missed it.  I also realized how silly it was of me to assume I was in danger.Watching them dance and drink, wave flags and ride motorbikes, I realized how important it is to understand what is being communicated to you.  I vowed to become a better listener and communicator.  And I think of that night when I'm working. Things are not always as they seem, and they are often much, much better! I need to ask the right questions, and listen carefully to the answers.  There could be something to celebrate!
The Square In The Daytime

Saturday, September 13, 2014

5 Habits to Becoming a Better Professional

Do you have a routine?  Or two?  Most of us have dozens, and we don't even realize it. Did you ever find yourself driving to work, only to remember you were really on the way to the grocer?  Your "drive to work" routine took over when your mind went to something else.  Can't do the morning crossword without your coffee?   Routine at work.

The fact that we have routines (or habits, if you will) allow our brains to direct attention to tasks and ideas outside of the one we're performing right now.  Some people look at their habits as a problem; smoking, late-night snacking, tapping their pen...  all of these things can have drawbacks.  But what if habits could work for you?  What if you just need to establish the right ones?

Studies have shown that when people start choosing to eat a healthier diet, several things in their lives change, not just their weight.  They drink less alcohol, get more sleep, take the stairs more often, and have a more positive outlook.  Why?  Eating healthier is what scientists refer to as a "keystone" habit. It's a habit that has the effect of pushing the first domino in a line.  If the person only ate a healthier diet, they would derive benefit.  But as they take control of their eating habits, they also tend to start taking better care of their health in general.  As they begin to feel better, they become more optimistic.  And so it goes.

What habits can we add to our work day that may become keystone habits?  Here are a few suggestions that will help you break out of some of your less successful routines, and may have you building a better work experience in general in a matter of days or weeks. Don't tackle them all!  Just choose one, and do it for a month.  Then, choose another, if you like.

Keep your desk clean and organized:  This will, by necessity, mean that you and your paperwork
load will have to have a plan. As your paperwork becomes more organized and timely, what else might fall into place?

Every day, reach out to a different co-worker or subordinate, and offer help: You're incredibly busy already, so why add "favors" to your daily to-do list?  Because you will quickly gain a reputation as a team player.  Your co-workers will be more likely to help you when you need it, and your projects may receive better and closer attention.

Commit to being on time for everything:  Being on time makes you look organized and detail-oriented.  It shows respect for the person you're meeting.  And in order to accomplish it, you'll have to become more organized and self-disciplined.  Where will that lead?

Keep a record of everything you do in a work day: Get specific - 20 minutes in traffic, 3 minutes at the Coke machine, etc.  Looking at the habits you already have will take you minutes per day, and will make you consider whether you spend your time wisely.  Not enough breaks?  Too many breaks? Too much time on the phone?  Buried in paperwork?  Any time to work on new projects?  Do you follow up with prospective clients who have turned you down?  Find the wasted time, and take the reins of your schedule.

Take one full minute every day to remind yourself why you do your job: Are you working to buy a new car?  Put your kids through college?  Feed your travel bug?  Don't glance at a photo of a beach, or your kids.  Spend one entire minute immersed in the details of your goal.  Don't answer the phone or drive to a client meeting.  Just sit, and thoroughly connect with your goal.  What parts of your day does that put into perspective?  What things seem more important?  What things are less important?

You're on your way.  Write to me and let me know how it works.  I'd love to hear from you!


Friday, August 22, 2014

Is It Time To Replace Your Sales Manager?

In sales, we rely heavily on our sales managers.  They are our cheerleaders, teachers, coordinators, and team mates.  That is, they are if they're good at their jobs.  If they're bad at their jobs, they are our critics, our nightmares, our worst enemies.  Is it time to replace your manager?

Often in a sales structure, the best salespeople are "promoted" to sales manager. Sometimes it's about seniority.  Occasionally it's a question of the boss's favorite. None of these are the best way to hire a great sales manager.

The best sales managers have five primary skills:  1) They can consistently teach others to sell the product or service in a changing marketplace. 2) They are fantastic motivators of individuals and groups.  3) They always play fairly, setting a terrific example and creating a professional tone for the department.  4) They work as hard for their team as they do for upper management.  5) They would always rather help than scold everyone on their team.

If your manager doesn't meet these five criteria, all the rest of their skills really don't matter.  Daniel Pink (author of Drive, To Sell is Human, and others) explains it well.   The best performers in any sales organization take ownership of their work, feel it is important, and have the autonomy to self-manage and develop personal approaches to their tasks and environment.  If your manager can't stimulate and support these three attributes, it doesn't matter how well they know the product, how quickly they can file reports, or how well the sales force is doing today.  

Long-term success (we all want it!) comes from ownership, pride, and autonomy.  Ownership, pride, and autonomy come from being good at your job. Being good at your job comes from clear expectations, and constant fine-tuning of skill.  And fine-tuning skills comes from a supportive, objective voice confirming your strengths, and helping to develop your weaker skills.

As a sales professional, this is the boss you want, and the environment you need to do your best.  We all know it. And when we have it, we're substantially less likely to look for opportunities outside the company.  If you, the sales pro, don't have it now, it's probably time to look for an opportunity to get it. This is your career!  You want to develop as well and as quickly as time will allow.

To upper management:  I'm not saying there's no room for discipline!  (See "clear expectations" above.)  I'm reminding that carrots and sticks have gone the way of the two martini lunch.  It's okay sometimes, but it doesn't work as a primary activity. Simple compliance is out, and motivation to comply and improve is in.  If your sales team doesn't work this way, you have a problem, because the competition's team probably does.   You don't want to lose your best people to the competition!  Give your sales team the most vital benefit they can get: a terrific, qualified sales manager.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

You Say You Work From Home?

Lots of folks claim to telecommute, or to work from home.  When you're in outside sales, or self employed, telecommuting can be a gift from the heavens.  Not needing to circle back to the office to file paperwork or talk to your boss saves a lot of time! How do you make it work?  A fast internet hookup, Skype, a smart phone, and a big dose of self-discipline will do the trick.

When telecommuters save all that driving and parking time, the boss expects even more from you! And yet, some people look at telecommuting as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.  How do I know this? My office is in my house.  And many people wink and smile at me, with a knowing look in their eyes. "So, can you meet for coffee Tuesday at 10:30?"  Um, no.  Would they say that if I worked in an office?

There are perks to telecommuting, and I'm not going to say you should never give in to them.  If you need to file some paperwork and you see a Starbucks nearby, grab your laptop or tablet, run in, grab a coffee, and do your work.  (You'd never think twice about pouring a cup of coffee at the office, would you?)  But if you're likely to be distracted by the fireplace and a friendly neighbor, skip going in, and work from the parking lot.  (The wi-fi works great from there!)  You need to be getting more done with all that time you're saving by not commuting.

People ask me all the time, "How do you avoid wasting time when you work from home?"  There is a temptation to walk the dog on a sunny day, or or 'take a break' and catch up on my Breaking Bad addiction.  But I constantly remind myself that I only have this privilege because I don't abuse it. If my first meeting isn't until 9:15, I'm still at my desk by 8:30.  The email still needs clearing, and the phone calls still need returning.  I've just saved the travel time.  Here in Buffalo, NY, it's nice to avoid driving more than necessary in the snowy months, and as long as I'm effective from home, that works. I like being able to have my dog at my feet while I type a proposal. And I love that I only have to visit my regular office once or twice per week.  But if my performance slipped, I would be back at the office in a blink of an eye.

The reality is, some of us can't handle the temptation.  If you find yourself running errands between appointments, or putting together a pie recipe in your kitchen while you're on the phone with a client at 3pm, you're probably not cut out for this.  If you're typing reports in front of Jerry Springer, you're probably not cut out for this.  If you don't get dressed unless you have an appointment, you've let your professionalism slide a little too far.  The same rules apply to us telecommuters as apply to everyone else. Who we are when no one is watching is likely who we really are. So be terrific!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

It's a great catch phrase, but how do you do it?  This isn't a trick of vocabulary!

When we go out and say, "We'd like to offer you - " it means we don't offer it now. Or, "Let's aim for tomorrow." These qualified terms have nothing to do with what your client hears.  What your client hears are the phrases closest to what they want.  If your client wants the product tomorrow, "Let's aim for tomorrow" means tomorrow to them.  It doesn't mean you're going to "try for tomorrow." To the client, it isn't maybe.  It means you will deliver. If you miss tomorrow, the client's faith in you is shaken. This is the entire problem.

Good sales reps occasionally slip up and say things like, "We can sometimes get this out in 24 hrs." All the client hears is tomorrow.  She doesn't hear the qualifying language at all!  If you want the client to have something tomorrow, unless you're planning to handle all the fulfillment yourself, you need to excuse yourself and make a phone call.  Never commit to anything on a tighter deadline than your company usually can deliver.  Even if your company advertises a 2 day turnaround, if usually it takes them 3 days, say 3.  If you deliver in 2, your client is delighted her order is early.  If you deliver in 3, you keep your promises.

If your client insists on a commitment that is tighter than your usual, you need to tread lightly!  There is little worse in a sales relationship than failing to deliver to your clients.  When the client presses for the impossible you need to avoid committing without your team's support.  "I need to see if we have that in stock," "Let me check in with our scheduler," and "I need to confirm with production" are all graceful ways to excuse yourself for the phone call you need to make.  If it really is impossible, don't waste their time.  "I wish I could, but instead let's aim for  -."

When you come back to your client after the phone call to the office, tell them the truth.  If you can meet the tighter deadline or accommodate the larger order, you don't want to leave the impression that this is normal order scheduling.  If you did it overnight, or a huge order on a dime today, that's what the client will remember. Make sure they understand that you moved heaven and earth to make this work, and you're shocked it turned out so well!  "In the future, we consistently want to meet your schedule without the miracles!  Let's work out a contact system where we can anticipate your needs." It gives you a great foundation for building a solid relationship with open communication.

Only make commitments you can meet.  Make sure you build ample time into your promises to cover reality.  Every time you over-deliver on time, or quality, you build trust in your relationship with your client.  Make it a habit!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The "NEW" Job Interview: What You Need to Know

Everyone has interviewed for a job and thought they "interviewed well."  We've seen interviewing trends come and go - where do you see yourself in five years, what's the greatest asset you'll bring to XYZ Corp, tell me about a time when - and we're on to a new one: the consultation. You are now a consultant giving free development advice to your potential employer.  This trend is growing fast, so get ready for it!

True story: 2 months ago a company with a national presence fired its sales force and decided to start from scratch.  They advertised exclusively for sales managers, in some ads specifying retail, in others B2B, and in still others, inside sales.  They narrowed the field to 10 very experienced and qualified managers, and no salespeople.  Then they ran the interviews.

Each interview was a series of questions by the company to the candidate of how the candidate would run the sales department.  What do you see as the 3 greatest strengths of the product?  What are the top markets would you want to cultivate?  What are the top three strategies you would implement to make your sales staff successful?  When the candidate would ask a question, the company wouldn't answer it.  You're welcome to ask us questions when we're finished.  Why would they do this?

At the end of all the interviews, the company had a list of 30 ideas in each category from qualified professionals; how to position their product in the market, who to target in sales and marketing, and how to develop a strong sales staff.  They had achieved a coup!  Free consulting from some of the best talent in the business!  They developed a sales plan incorporating the best ideas from all of the interviews, and then called back the people who best fit their new plan. They offered each of them a sales job (not management.)  That sales manager job?  They gave that to someone who would agree to implement their new plan.

True story: A medical office looked for an office manager.  They ran an ad.  They narrowed the field to 6.  They asked each of the six a series of management questions, including questions on accounts receivable policy suggestions, staffing solutions, benefits mapping, and more.  They took all of those ideas, had some meetings, and presented the best ideas to their current office manager for implementation.  No one was offered a job.

How does a qualified job seeker handle this new interview trend?  How does anyone break into a new field?  How can you tell if there really is a job?  Easy - don't fight it.  You won't know. Besides trolling for free business consulting, these companies have a good reason to interview in this way.  It shows them quite a bit about your social skills, your industry competence, and your willingness to be pushed around!

When asked these types of questions, I suggest you answer with your best idea, and stop at one. Indicate that you'll be happy to follow up with them at a later date to provide your answers after you've had more time to consider, and hold your ground.  You've done your homework about the company, and you should show it, but you're not a teammate yet.  You're showing skill and competence, and you're also showing you won't be rushed into answers by pressure from anyone.  If you go in and answer every single question with all your best material, you are demonstrating a lot of knowledge, but you're also showing you'll fold a bit under pressure.

Be ready with questions of your own: who will be your manager, what is the specific scope of work, how are certain responsibilities handled and implemented now, is the incumbent in the position doing an effective job and why...  It's important to show interest, and that you can think on your feet without giving away all of your expertise.  Their answers to these questions will tell you a good bit about whether you're a good fit for their position.  Ask them directly if they see you as a good fit for the position, and why.  You'll either get the job, or learn some of your interviewing strengths, or both!  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How To Get Promoted - 3 Simple Steps

In our careers few things feel as good or mean as much as getting a promotion.  We're not talking about a better title - we're talking about different responsibilities, managing staff, and making more money. We love when it happens, but it doesn't seem to happen often enough.  Why?  What is the secret formula for getting promoted?  There's no secret formula, just basic criteria.  Most of us don't understand the criteria most managers use to move people up the ladder.  

1) The Right Priorities - Sometimes it's easy to let our focus become so narrow that all we see is our own task, and we ignore all the other pieces of the process.  This habit will cost you at promotion and review time.  Managers have very specific priorities.  They want the work to come in well done, on time, and under budget.  But there are two priorities even above that: keep customers happy, and keep the team working at its best.  If you can keep the customer service component and the team component in the forefront, you'll be positioning yourself well for good reviews and possible promotion.  Be an asset to your team by exhibiting a good mood, a can-do attitude, and a willingness to help.

2) Prove You Can Do More - Most good management teams try to maximize the efforts of those on their staff, and leave you very little time for going the extra mile.  How do you show you can do more, when you're barely keeping your head above water?  You need to stop drowning and make your time more effective.  Reach out to team members whenever it's reasonable, and look for any time-saving or streamlining techniques they're using.  Streamline your own process wherever possible. Read articles and books about your industry.  Attend seminars out of your own pocket if you can.  The more you know about your industry beyond your own level, the better you'll be at seeing the big picture.  As you learn more, help your team members do a great job.  When management sees that you're the "go to" guy who can fix anything, they'll start grooming you for the next level.

3) Excel In Your Current Position - This is one of the most overlooked steps toward advancement.  If you are so focused on being in the executive suite that you think your own work is beneath you, you've missed the boat.  Managers want you to make their job easier by doing your job well.  If you can do it well, but only do it well sometimes, this is a big red flag for your manager.  The ability to motivate and manage yourself shows your boss you have focus and discipline.  Do your job well, and do it with a great attitude. 

These three steps will help you move up the ladder. Remember, your team is an important part of the process. If you get along with and motivate your colleagues, you'll increase the odds of being promoted to being their boss.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Art of the Probing Question

To fully understand what products and services your client needs, you need to learn about their pain.  What isn’t working?  Why doesn’t it work?  How does that affect their business?  These questions are all about establishing the specific needs of your customer, and bringing those needs to the front of your mind and theirs.  (Make notes of the answers!)  Probing questions should be a major part of every sales call you ever make.  Finding a way to discuss what your client finds to be a problem and then keeping them talking about it is the bread and butter of daily sales work.  It tells you what to sell them.  

The question I get a lot from sales pros is this: How do I work them in without sounding like I'm interrogating the prospect?

Let’s use the example of a vacuum sales pro.  “What’s the dirtiest area in your house?” “Does anyone in your home have allergies?”  “Who uses the vacuum at your home?”  “Do you vacuum the stairs or curtains?”  “Will you be vacuuming hard floors, or carpeting, or both?”  These are all probing questions that will help the salesperson guide the consumer to the right product, while also reminding the shopper of all of the ways they use their vacuum.  It might come off a little abrupt without some polishing.

You need to open the conversation with a warm greeting, and ask about their goals for having a new machine first.  Then you keep the conversation focused on the customer by responding to whatever they say as a person first, and following up with a professional option, second.  

Client: I want to finally get rid of the dog hair in my carpet once and for all!  You: I know! That can be so aggravating!  That's why Acme Corp designed this Pet Defender model.  Pet hair is removed in one pass.  No extra work!  Now you can move on to your next probing question.  You: What kind of dogs do you have?

Focus on the problem.  Every product or service represents a solution to a want or a need.  The right probing questions will lead to a sense of urgency on the buyer’s part.  All probing questions should focus on the pain, or how the solution will be implemented.  What problems has the unmet need caused?  How it will affect their life or business the longer their need goes unmet?  Does this need arise oftenHow long has it been unmet already?  How would it be if the need were met today? 

Sometimes the consumer doesn’t know there is a solution available for a need, so they don’t mention the need.  If our vacuum sales pro doesn’t mention the robot vacuum that cleans floors by itself, how many will he sell?  If he asks how much time people “waste” vacuuming rooms that could “clean themselves,” would he sell more?

Picture your conversational flow like this: Client information>respond like a human, then with a professional option< ask the next probing question. Remember, as the sales pro your job is to provide the best possible solution to the problem or need.  You can't assume the prospect knows what all of their options are, even if they tell you they do!   Ask the right questions, enhance their urgency to buy, and sell them the right solutions.  You're right on target.