Saturday, November 14, 2015

Want Better Sales Numbers? Take This Quiz!

This is an abbreviated version of the basic State of the Sales Team Evaluation that I go through with each new Sales Training client, well before any contracted curriculum is developed or taught. Have your Sales Managers (or Sales Pros) take this quiz anonymously, and you'll quickly identify some hidden weaknesses in your sales team. It's much easier to develop an effective solution when you're attacking the real problem!

1.       How many team members are at or above quota? How many on your team total?

2.       What are your team’s strengths? Prospecting, cold calling, follow up, presentation, closing, account management, referral generation?

3.       What is your team’s weakest skill? Prospecting, cold calling, follow up, presentation, closing, account management, referral generation?

4.       How have you addressed this/these weakness(es)?

5.       What are the most frequent objections your team hears? Are they written down for the team?

6.       Have you helped your team develop effective responses to these objections? Are they written down for the team?

7.       What are the weaknesses of your product line?

8.       Do you train your team on how to answer (not deflect) questions about the weaknesses?

9.       Do you study competition offerings?

10.   When is the last time you trained your team on the offerings of the competition?

11.   What do you do regularly to keep your team inspired and motivated? Does it seem to work?

12.   How often do you have team meetings? Never   Daily   Weekly   Monthly    As Needed

13.   How often do you praise team members? Never   Daily or more   Weekly  Monthly   Can't Remember

14.   How often do you correct, scold, or discipline individual team members? Daily or more    Weekly    Monthly  

15.   How often do your team members praise each other?  Daily or more Weekly Monthly  Less than monthly

16.   Do you believe your team members have enough sales materials? If no, what do they need?

17.   Do you believe your department has adequate support in your organization? If no, why not? What do you need?

18.   Once a sale has been made, are there any consistent problems with fulfillment? If yes, what are the problems? What have you done to resolve this?

19.   Does your team use a CRM? Is it within a week of up to date?
20.   What is your management style?

21.   Have you sought other employment within the last year? If yes, why?

22.   If no CRM, how do you keep track of and manage your pipeline?

23.   How current are your client and prospect files?  Up to date   Within a week Within a month   More than 30 days out of date

24.   How many hours per week do you work? 35-45  45-55   55-65   65+

25.   Do you have any selling responsibilities? What percentage of your time is spent selling?

26.   How many hours per week do you spend on paperwork? 5-8 9-12  3-16  17-20  20+

Look at all the answers in context of which teams are the most successful, and which are the least. What answers surprised you? Now you have somewhere to start from...  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why Your Sales Training Didn't Work (and how to fix it)

The good news is, it's not your fault. Mostly. You brought in a well-reviewed, high-priced training company, and they delivered a beautiful, motivating seminar to the entire sales team. Everyone loved it. And nothing changed. Sound familiar?

Think of sales training as a chain. How useful is a chain with a single link? Not very. But that wonderful seminar is just that - a single link in a chain. You need all the links for that chain to be useful. If you had all the links, things would likely have worked out better. So what are the links you need?

Pre-training: Understand that there needs to be a change to the status quo. Doing things the same way will not yield new results. Prepare upper management that they may need to let go of some processes, traditions, and ideas to make the team more effective. Change is never easy to accept, and commitment from upper management is key to success.

Survey your sales team. What are the most difficult objections they face? What internal, company-based obstacles do they believe they face? What skills do they want to learn? What support do they want from management? (This assessment will only be effective if it's anonymous, and there is NO fear of retaliation.) Take all of this information and use it to do an honest assessment of what the team is working with, and against.

Survey your sales managers. What do they see as the most entrenched bad habits? What have they done to improve the situation? Do they work from a positive coaching mentality? Or a negative scolding mentality? Do they want training? What skills would they the team to learn? How do they plan to support implementation of those skills? Add this information to the assessment above, and you'll have a pretty clear picture of what Sales thinks their problems are. Does this coincide with the results you want from training?

Gap analysis: What result are you looking for? How far from that goal are you currently? What skills need to be developed to achieve those results? Does your team want those skills? What support materials will they need to reinforce those skills? What will it take to get the sales team to want to change? How will they know when they have the skills to make the change?

Curriculum plan: Before the training is delivered, get a detailed curriculum plan, and make sure it covers all of the points you're looking to improve. Discuss the curriculum plan with managers and the trainer to make sure management will support the training. Develop a plan that reinforces training in daily work going forward.

After training: Enforce new policies and skills gently but firmly. Supply your team with resources (worksheets, gamification, webinars) to reinforce their new skills. Have each team member send their manager an email daily discussing what new skills were used, and what the outcome was. Have the managers compile this information, and coach the team for better outcomes.

Check the numbers: Which manager's team is having the most success? The most trouble? Which sales pros are the most compliant with the changes? The least? Are the most successful teams and pros the ones who are using the new skills? Reinforcement of the new skills and policies should increase over a span of several months, not decrease. You'll never know if the training worked if the skills aren't implemented.

You can implement the "after training" links in the chain now, and it will help your team build new skills. That is, if they remember the training. If they don't, request supporting materials from your trainer, and build your after training plan on those handouts and materials. The refresher may be all they need to get on track.

If the training is too far gone, accept it. It might be too late to make that last training effective, but now you're ready to make the next one fantastic.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How to Land Your Next Sales Job

So many people are looking for jobs right now, it's difficult to set yourself apart. What do you do? More resumes? More cold calls? Better clothes?

Friends, you're in sales! Landing a job is all about selling yourself to your next employer! Work on this project as if you were making a sale. As you make contacts, they will see you exhibiting all the skills you'll need to be effective in your new position.

Remember, over 60% of all jobs never make the want ads. Don't limit yourself to the jobs you see posted. Look for the job you want. Make a target list of companies you think would be a good fit. And then go get 'em! 

Of course, you need a great resume. And a concise, focused resume. A resume focused on what you've done is ok, but a resume focused on what you want to do for your next employer is better. Include your experience, but write your text to focus forward. 

Yes, you need to research your target list, just like you would in sales. Make lists of who the key players are, and learn their histories. (It's probably all on LinkedIn!) You'll have a much better idea of who might advocate for you, and many good connections may be one introduction away.

Cold calling is not dead. It's part of your job search strategy. Can you just walk in and expect to walk out with a job? Maybe not. You'll do some calls in person, some via email, and some via USPS.

Networking is a great way to cold call for a job. Your research will tell you where to network to meet the people you need to know. Members of the Chamber? Join the Chamber. Active in the Red Cross? Volunteer. Networking with target personnel takes some of the pressure off of both of you, and allows you to be less formal.

Don't talk about your previous employer any more than absolutely necessary. Focus on moving forward and accomplishing good stuff for your next employer. 
Remember to follow up. Just like you would in any sale, you need to follow up promptly and professionally. Email is the way to go. No texting! No phone calls. Email is professional, and respects your contact's schedule.

You're a great sales professional. You know what to do. Go forth, and sell yourself. You'll have a job you love in no time!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ins and Outs of Sales in 2015

Out: canned sales pitch.  In: probing questions.

Out: talking.  In: listening.

Out: cold calling and hoping.  In: networking and planning.

Out: closing a sale.  In: opening a relationship.

Out: customer committing to you.  In: committing to your customer.

Out: customer service lines.  In: customer service reps.

Out: features and benefits.  In: reaching customer goals.

Out: single Decision Maker.  In: group of decision influencers.

Out: faxing.  In: emailing.

Out: just knowing the gatekeeper's name.  In: knowing what the gatekeeper likes in her coffee.

Out: side-stepping gatekeepers.  In: teaming up with gatekeepers.

Out: sign here.  In: we're here for you.

Out: meeting quota.  In: blowing quota out of the water. 

Sales isn't dead as a profession.  Sales is evolving.  Internet shopping has had a huge influence over the job of sales pros.  Your client can (and will) shop the competition from their phone while they're talking to you!  You need to add value to your relationship by being considered an important business partner and resource. The way to make that happen is to be invested in achieving your customers goals, and make sure your product is a part of it. 

Make sure you're clear on the short and long term goals of your customers.  At every meeting, ask how that project is going, and what you can do to move it forward.  Mean it.  The reason you have a job is to do what a computer ordering page cannot: establish a value-driven relationship.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why You Missed Quota

The sales quota is much-argued situation in most sales organization. How is it set? Do previous successful months offset less successful months? Is it a moving target, growing as you become more successful? Is management doing anything to support achieving quota? Sales pros love quota when they're ahead, and hate it when they're behind. Should a company even use quota anymore?

Sadly, quota isn't going anywhere. It's how most sales organizations predict the cash flow they will generate to support the rest of the company. These predictions need to be pretty accurate, or the dominoes fall fast and hard. So why are they so difficult to hit? It may be a combination of management's fault, and your problem.

Quota isn't always important. If meeting quota isn't a consistent qualification for keeping your job, it may be an excuse to fire reps who haven't fit into the corporate culture, or rubbed management the wrong way. Or it may only be important if cash flow is tight. Inconsistent attention to quota makes it hard to take seriously. If you miss quota occasionally, you're normal. But beware: if no one mentions it to you, and asks if your pipeline is recovering this month, and asks how they can help, management may be using missing your quota as a way to ease you out the door.

You aren't doing the right homework. Sales pros are prone to bouts of burnout - feeling like our work is under-appreciated, over-paper-worked, and too repetitive. It's work to keep it fresh and still be effective. Read at least part of some sales philosophy or sales system book or tweet or blog every day. Every time you tweak your perspective, you stave off burnout. Also, create a strong list of call objectives for each call. If you had one before, shake out the ineffective goals and replace them with new stuff. New conversations will yield new results.

Management doesn't support the team. Does your manager help? Or threaten? Does upper management bring in outside trainers to offer you a fresh perspective? Are you discouraged from taking time off? Is the organization aligned with keeping customers, and serving them well? Some managers are just as burned out as their team, making them ineffective at providing the support, sounding board, and education the team needs. Some customer service staff look at every customer as a list of problems. It's very hard to be a successful solo act if your management has a negative attitude.

You flip out when you have a slump. In simple terms, you're superstitious. You think a bad week means you've "lost your touch." If you could make sales two weeks ago, you can still do it. (It's not a magic trick, it's a skill set!) Do an objective check of whether you've let your side of the equation slide. If you're still doing a thorough and professional job, shake it off. No coin comes up heads every time. Statistics insist that everyone have a slow patch sometimes.

Quota is an unreachable number. If your quota keeps changing, it usually is growing. There is a market potential beyond which higher numbers are impossible. There aren't enough hours in the day, or customers in the market to make the numbers required sometimes. This is a very bad sign. It means management hasn't aligned their outlook with current market conditions. It tends to make the relationship between sales and management adversarial. Particularly in organizations where sales pros are also the primary account managers, the more clients you have, the less likely it is you can keep hitting big numbers based on the sheer volume of time it takes to keep your accounts happy.

Your reputation is, well, tarnished. Remember that in sales, it's all about trust. If the prospect doesn't trust you, they won't trust what you tell them. Have you been professional, thorough, and honest in every interaction? The grapevine will bite you in the end. At one happy hour, one of my managers became very drunk, and very belligerent. (Yes, he was old enough to know much better.) Within two months, the company transferred him out of the area with a stern warning: you've made yourself poisonous to the restaurant community once. Any further trouble, and you're fired.He was lucky. Bad behavior has a way of living on forever. You never know who knows each other, or how long your outburst will live in social media. Clean up your act. You have a very public job. It will make a difference!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The 4 Most Common Shopper Personalities, and How To Sell Them

There are millions of individual personalities out there, but most of us fall into one of 4 categories when we are shopping: The Expert, The Connector, The Prisoner, or The Evaluator. Each one of these shopping styles requires information and service to be presented in a particular way in order to make the shopper feel respected and interested in doing business with you. At first glance, it may seem like patronizing people, but really, you're just addressing your prospect in their own language. If their language was Serbian, you wouldn't speak French, would you?

Here are the 4 most common shopper types, and a few pointers on how to speak their language:

The Expert
This shopper believes they know it all already. Saving face is very important to them. You must respect the knowledge and experience they have, or think they have. Use reinforcement phrases like: I like what you just said. -and-  That’s a great question. Start sentences with: As I’m sure you already know… Question with: I’m curious about your thoughts on…

The Connector
This shopper is always looking for familiar context.  Everything will remind them of a story, person, or movie. They want to trust you, and want things to make sense. Use phrases that emphasize the familiar: Use their own words and phrases whenever possible. Analogies are usually helpful with these shoppers. Start sentences with: You may have thought it would be nice if… and then follow with a feature. Questions should be grounded in recent statements the shopper has made: “How soon are you looking to buy (whatever they just said)?”

The Prisoner
This shopper doesn’t want to be in the market. They want to get it over with. All they need is trust to move forward. Trust that you will take this issue off their hands, and they won’t have to cope with it anymore. Write things down! Never ask them to repeat themselves. De-escalating their emotions is very important, but it needs to be done in a way that is not minimizing the importance of their feelings. Start sentences with: Thanks for bringing that up. -and- This must be a frustrating position for you. Question with: Do you think we should talk about ________?

The Evaluator
This shopper loves the shopping, and always wants more time and material to consider. Helping them to the decision phase may be seen as pushy. They will walk away if they don’t feel educated. They want a lifeline, so they will ask about guarantees and warranties. Comparison shopping is the norm for them, and they may lead you on in hopes of getting a deal to take to your competitors. Start sentences with: “As you may know from your research…”  Question with: “To answer you better, I’d like to ask you a question.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

7 Secrets of Successful Sales Pros

As I travel from client to client, I'm asked one question more than any other: What kind of people make the best salespeople? While there is no one answer, there are some common characteristics I see in most successful sales professionals. A great sales pro may not possess all of them, but they all seem to have at least a couple. These are the characteristics of the most successful sales people based on my surveys and experience:

The best salespeople are those who love people, and love their product. They find a way to enjoy every client contact. Real enthusiasm can't be faked, and the top sales pros bring it to every situation.

They understand that hard work pays off, and no work pays nothing. They don't care about quota. When they're ahead of quota, they work just as hard as when they're behind. It's the best way to keep the pipeline full and the customers happy. They do the "invisible work" of networking and researching so they're always prepared to act.

They are active and attentive listeners. Success in sales comes from being client-centered. The best of the best pay close attention to their prospects and customers, and always ask probing questions to get to the heart of the matter.

Giving up isn’t an option. Sales leaders work when they're sick. They work when they're tired. They work when the outcome looks iffy. If they don't succeed, it isn't because the didn't give their best.

They think on their feet, and make their company look good while meeting the needs of the client. Companies and sales pros succeed and fail together. If a customer loves you, but hates your company, the relationship is doomed to failure. Team spirit isn't just for sports, it's for business, too!

Solving the customer’s problem while achieving the customer’s goals is the most important thing to them, and they do it every time. The only goal a client wants to achieve is their own. They don't care if you hit quota, or if your company is having a milestone anniversary. They want to meet or exceed their goals. The most successful sales pros never forget this.

They believe in long-term planning their sales, so they never waste an opportunity to leave a great impression, even when a prospect isn’t in the market today. What makes a prospect a prospect is that there is a chance they will purchase your product or one that serves the same purpose. The best pros learn the prospect's business goals, and follow up periodically to stay current and relevant. If the prospects aren't in the market today, they will be another day. Generating a positive relationship with non-buying prospects saves a ton of groundwork when they finally are in the market.

All of these skills and characteristics can be developed. If your team is lacking any of them, coach them to add to their skill set, and to your bottom line!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why Closing Is Different In 2015

In 2005, everyone had computer access and a cell phone.  None of us had streaming TV, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, or Skype.  Faxing was still big. Important information still regularly came in your physical mailbox. 2015 is a year where the 2005 plan just won't cut it.

The biggest difference in the sales world is that prospect and buyers expect to be part of the sales process. Interactive sales are the norm. Clients will want custom products, and they will tell you how they are willing to let you sell it.  Anyone can open their phone and Google your "facts," and comparison shopping is almost instantly available to every customer.  What's a sales pro to do?

Interacting with your client doesn't just mean showing up for a meeting anymore. Now we text, tweet, video chat, email, and LinkedIn message our customers and our prospects.  Following a prospect on social media keeps us in the loop as their attitudes and goals change and evolve. And they follow us, and our competition, too. The sheer volume of available information has made consumers a much more educated group.

How does this affect closing? Focus on helping your prospect meet their goals and relieve their pain points. Listen as much as possible to how your solution will be implemented and how it will benefit the customer's plans. People commit to relationships they believe are honest and beneficial, so it's important that your client doesn't feel sandbagged in the closing process. (After the commitment has been made is not the time to throw in, "Oh, by the way, I need you to sign this.")

Written agreements give you the authorization to handle sensitive information, and give the customer a record of the commitments you and your company have made. Emphasize that your agreement protects your client's privacy; it limits who has access to their information, and for what purpose. When a prospect asks you for a commitment, that's a great time to agree, hold up your agreement and say, "and we put it in writing." 

Don't be surprised if your client pulls out an agreement of their own for you to sign on behalf of your company.  More and more purchasing departments in companies small and large have "contractor agreements," which usually supersede any other oral or written agreements.  They often include non-disclosure clauses, and penalties to the vendor if the solution is late, ineffective, or improperly maintained. Make sure you have permission to sign before you go ahead and do it.  If you're not sure, bring it back to the office with you and hand it off to your boss.  

Your competition isn't local anymore.  Your competition is anything a customer can find on the internet.  If someone else out there offers a nuance or policy that your customers like or want, they will pressure you to offer it, too.  Welcome to the interactive sale.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

8 Critical Presentation Skills

If you’ve ever sat through a bad presentation, you know how frustrating it is. The presenter is losing respect and credibility, minute after excruciating minute. The sale will never be made, as the attendees cannot wait for an opportunity to escape. What’s a bad presentation? One that breaks one or more of the following rules:

Know and Respect Your Audience: Audiences are not all the same. Know the individual needs and strengths of your audience in advance, and tailor your presentation to them, specifically.

Present in Terms of Your Audience: Talk about them. If they’re in your audience, they accept that you have something useful to offer. There is no need to toot your own horn. Instead, demonstrate how the material helps them achieve their goals. Address how successful implementation will benefit them. Ask them to explain how the concepts will benefit them.

Present Information In Multiple Formats: Give handouts. Have slides. Use photos and pictures. Have activities planned for every 15-30 minutes. Every person ever tested learns best when information is presented to them in a variety of ways, followed by practice utilizing the concept. Use all of these formats whenever possible. They’ll remember more of what you presented!

Have At Least 1 Slide Or Visual For Every Minute of Lecture Time: People read and absorb the information on a presentation slide in an average of 15 seconds. 5 to 7 information points per slide is all that people can work with in their short term memory at a time.  When it’s time for a new group of concepts, it’s time for a new slide or visual. Your audience will remain attentive and engaged.

Never Read Your Slides To Your Audience: They can read them, and probably have. Reading to them feels insulting. Use the animations in your presentation program to have text join the slide as you make points. Movement increases the intensity of audience focus.

Speak in Coherent Sentences: Nothing will make your audience’s mind wander like throwing in a few, “Um, you know, so, uh, well” space fillers. The only way to avoid this is to rehearse your presentation. It shows respect for your audience’s time if you’ve taken the time to properly prepare. No one notices when space filling words are missing, but everyone notices when they’re used.
Ask Questions Throughout, and Listen to The Answers: Being asked a question makes most people almost reflexively answer it, at least in their head. This keeps your audience engaged. If you ask a question and your audience answers, address the answer fully.

Keep It Short: Present for slightly less time than you were given. People will ask questions and otherwise interrupt you, and you need to build in plenty of time for that. Deliver your message. Your audience has a schedule to keep.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What If You Don't Golf?

It's that time of year - the weather is great, the sun is warm, and no one wants to be stuck in the office if they can avoid it. When you request a meeting, you're offered 3 different tee times.  But what if you don't golf?

I don't golf, though not for lack of trying. There are few things I'm worse at than games requiring hand-eye cooperation! The first time my daughter beat me at mini golf, she was 5. She's not an athlete, either; I'm just really that bad.

If I wanted to go for a walk with a client in a beautifully-kept park to talk business without golf clubs, they'd say "no." Golfing takes 2 or three hours - a wonderful amount of time to blend casual and business conversation, and deepen the professional bond that will flourish for years. We non-golfers can have the same access to our clients, but it takes a little creativity.

First of all, no matter your gender, witnessing sporting events is always a good way to bond and talk business in an outdoor setting.  Baseball games are a favorite, since there's lots of quiet down time between scoring and great plays. Grab a copy of Baseball for Dummies, learn your details, and get out there.

Also, there are a variety of charity and arts events in the spring through the summer. Symphony concerts, outdoor art shows, ballet and dance recitals, garden shows, sailing - there is more to great weather than golf. Any circumstance that can qualify as networking and have enough quiet time to deliver your pitch will work. Try to pair the event to the client, and offer a friendly afternoon.

n the short term, if you're offered golf, counter with a pre-game lunch request, claiming an impossible schedule that day, and hope for the best. In the long term, establish a couple of hobbies that you can substitute for golf to give you the access that you need. Your competition may be golfing, but you can compete, and you won't need to work on your putting.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Volunteer for Higher Sales

When your prospecting and cold calling are letting you down, what can you do to freshen things up? How can you get doors to open instead of close?  Volunteer, and do so in a strategic way.

Volunteering is a wonderful way to stay involved in your community, and most communities have literally hundreds of opportunities open to you.  When you participate in a charitable organization, you inevitably meet new people, and strengthen your reputation.  You can sign up as yourself, or as a representative of your company.  I strongly recommend you volunteer in circumstances that will bring you into contact with a lot of people, not situations where you interact with only a couple. Your goal is to meet and interact with as many people as possible.  There are charity walks, charity runs, Habitat for Humanity community projects, and many more places to volunteer where you'll be exposed to dozens or even hundreds of people.  

Choose a cause you believe in and respect.  It's key to participate in community efforts that are genuinely important to you. If you are only volunteering to increase your network, you'll resent every moment of effort, and it will damage your reputation.  Instead, the idea is to aid your organization of choice while you add new members to your network to help you reach deeper into your target market and overall community.  If you’re like most people, there are several groups you’d be happy to help. Find local groups and events on websites like Volunteer Match and Volunteer Connection.  How does it work?

While you're working at your event, make an effort to get to know your co-volunteers. It's a networking opportunity on a much more personal level than the usual.  The fact that you're volunteering shows that you're responsible and hard-working. You and your co-volunteers have an interest in common, and you both care enough to donate your time. You'll have some business cards in your pocket, so you'll be able to share them with your new contacts before you leave. Make sure to take their information, too.

During the next work week, treat your new contacts like you would for any other networking opportunity.  Reach out to your new contacts and remind them of your meeting.  Invite them to coffee or happy hour.  Slowly move your new relationship in a professional direction.

Any of your new connections may be a door to a new level of professional networking.  The more people you know in your community, the more doors will open for you.

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Job" or "Career"? The keys to the difference

Career-track employment is a wonderful thing, and I am not here to discredit it. However, I think the value of "jobs" is becoming harder to see. Case in point:

A 21 year old psychology student, Nina, took a job as a secretary in a real estate office. Her competence quickly earned her more responsibility, and within 6 months she was the office manager. At 9 months, her boss offered her tuition to get her real estate license. She did. At 18 months, she was the property manager of over 800 rental units. At 3 years, she's making more than $50,000 per year, and has minimal debt. She loves her work. The kicker? She was advised against the secretary job because it wasn't "career-track."

Similar stories can be told about the cashier at the pharmacy who became a pharmacist, the Burger King employee who now owns 5 restaurants, and the man who joined a painting crew as a second job who opened his own house painting company.

None of these people saw their employment as "just a job," and that's what made the difference. They took their work seriously, and learned to do it well. Those attitudes helped them make choices that lead to fulfilling employment, and careers that can grow as far as they want to take them.

What if you hate your job? What then? You're still learning valuable lessons. Maybe you're learning that office work is not for you, but you're also learning about the management, operations, and skills required for office work to get done. Maybe you never want to flip another burger, but you're learning about general food and health rules, team management, and the joys and challenges of serving the general public. When you have to stand in for the manager, maybe you learn that you love to supervise. Or maybe you learn that you'd rather take direction than give it.

When opportunity knocks, don't mistake him for an intruder!  Don't avoid work because it's not obviously on your career track. If there's a part-time opportunity in some area you'd like to check out, go for it! If you need a second job to make the rent, do it with pride. And if there's nothing available in your field, get a job anyway. You can apply what you learn in dozens of ways. And it just might change your life.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Time to Throw Away Your Business Cards

Now that so much has gone digital, is it time to throw away your business card, and move to solely digital representation of yourself, an e-card? Is environmental responsibility, or technology key to your branding? Don’t cards cost us trees? Why would any business want to be represented by 19th century technology? Isn’t that the definition of old school?
Business Card, 1895

When offered an e-card, it’s convenient for me to skip the paper step, but I watch the faces of the people who aren’t familiar with e-cards. They immediately feel excluded when they’re told a business contact doesn’t “use cards anymore.”

In businesses where innovation and technology are the essence of the product, it makes sense not to lead with a paper business card. Nothing gets an early-adopting tech shopper revved up like thinking they’ve missed an important tech development, after all! Environmental groups and agencies should definitely move in that direction, setting an example in every way they can. But if the client asks you for a card, what then? “Electronic, or physical card?” might be a good response. Many business people just need to be introduced to the idea to go along. When you offer your e-card, explain why your company is moving in that direction.

Anytime you’re asked for a card, hand one out, electronic or paper. If you’re thinking of moving to an e-card, do some research. Your e-card can behave like an app, and have your customers able to dial your number or get directions to your office by pressing a button. Your e-card can have the exact same look as your paper card. Using hyperlinks is popular, letting people navigate to specific parts of your website, or send you an email directly through the e-card. Some website designers include e-card design in their packages. Choose functions and a design that will work for your customers. And don’t throw away your business cards. Keep a few with you at all times. After all, your phone battery might die someday!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Are You Out Of Context?

Have you ever had a persistent telemarketer ruin your lunch hour by calling repeatedly? They're annoying because they are out of your context of having a relaxing lunch. Let me illustrate with a story:

There is a "Wanted" poster with my dog Max's photo on it at a fancy local country club. It lists his crimes as "theft, trespassing, and general menacing." These "crimes" arose from an incident when he was 9 months old. Let me explain. Max and I were in a state park. He was off leash, and I was helping him run off some of his endless, puppy energy. Agreeably, he came when called, and otherwise ran and jumped and played. Until "the sound."
The golf course was beautiful, wide, and seductive to my muddy puppy. He ran until he was out of sight. I followed what I hoped to be his course, and eventually found my muddy, smelly dog begging designer-clad club members for food on the stately patio. I put him on his leash and went away, followed by a barrage of lively comments from club members.

He heard something, and went charging off. He jumped into a stream, scrambled up the other bank, and, covered in thick mud, started racing across a country club golf course, adjacent to the park and only separated by the stream. As I frantically ran to the bridge, I watched him elegantly lope across the golf course. Two men were on a putting green. One man putted. Max, a puppy who wanted to play, trotted over to the ball, picked it up, and ran off with it. The golfer raised his club, yelling and cursing.

Max was out of context. Within his context, he was outside to play with his human. And play he did. Nonetheless, he was wrong. The objective context was that he was cavorting on private property and interrupting the afternoon for club members.

When sales pros approach prospects, we are often out of context. Our prospects are working within their own contexts, and don't necessarily welcome a change in agenda. The very first part of our agenda should be discovering the context of our prospect in that exact moment. Are they up against a deadline? Networking at a luncheon? Filling an urgent need? Are they even happy to hear from us? Is what we're pitching appropriate for the need the prospect is trying to fill? Unlike the telemarketer above, we don't want to cram ourselves into someone's attention at any cost.

It's vital to the establishment of a good professional relationship that sales professionals place themselves within the context of the prospect and act accordingly. If this isn't a good time, sympathize and schedule one that is. If they are having a brutal day, let them vent (and listen closely) before you introduce your agenda. If they are happy to see you, encourage them to expand on why, and how you can be of service to them right now. Present yourself in the context of their day, their needs, and their goals. When we're out of context, we often gain the reputation of someone who "doesn't listen." Instead, we want to be considered someone who "gets it." Context is key.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ending the War With Millennials

This is the first time in decades (1970’s) that being at the young end of the workforce is a significant detriment to becoming and remaining employed. Some common complaints: Younger employees seem to want rewards just for showing up. No one wants to be “entry level” any more as millennials tend to think they should be valued as a “person” instead of as a worker. Attention span is notably shorter. Every task, system, and request seems to result in a debate. Are the millennials really so bad? No. Rather than fight all these traits, how can we work with them to make the entire organization grow?

The most successful approach to blending the generations I have seen has been to institute a grading/seniority system. A company may have 10 levels in each tier: administrators, manufacturing, logistics, sales, management and executive, for example. Each level comes with an ops manual or thorough job description, a distinct review interval, and a defined pay scale. Unless the ops manual specifies a particular methodology, employees can individualize as long as the goals and benchmarks are consistently met.

The assets to a system like this are it clearly defines expectations based on the job title or level; gender, intangible talent, and seniority are now all under consideration only at review times. Compensation goes hand in hand with responsibility level instead of perceived worth or chronology. Because everyone participates in training when they enter certain levels, it creates a standardized knowledge base instead of perceptions of success or failure. The effect is much like that of school uniforms.

Youth has always been the enemy of tradition, and this generation is challenging traditions all over the place. Is that really so bad? Or is it just a case of growing pains? The road to my office was once a path, then a dirt road, then cobblestone, and then pavement. Things evolve. Due to the explosion of technologies since the 1980s, the millennials literally grew up in a different world from their parents, and they feel like they’re waiting for the Boomers and Gen X to catch up. They see things differently. It’s very helpful to hear them out. When they’re right, your organization improves. When they’re wrong, thank them for their input and move on.
The evolutionary jump created over the last 35 years is unparalleled in history. Millennials are no more different from their elders than the Woodstock generation was from theirs, but they are different, and they should be accepted. Some beliefs and systems they challenge will stand the test of time. But some, like the cobblestone street, need to be put aside.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Don't Grow Too Fast! It's Deadly

You want your business to grow. Are you ready? Can you handle an immediate 10% increase in business, and short-term growth in the 20-25% range? If the answer is "no," you have growth management preparation to do.
Most companies would answer, "Of course! Too much business is not the problem. We need more business!" Unfortunately, as often as not, the company isn't ready. This can be lethal to any business.
Look at your current supply line. Add 10% to the number of unfilled orders for every day for the next month. Can your current staff, equipment, and standard timeline absorb that change without causing any disruption? For the second month going forward, bring the additional orders to 13% above current numbers. How does it look? Do you have enough staff? Is your equipment in shape to handle the additional demand? Where is the breaking point? 20%? 30%? You need to know. You don't want to get there by surprise.
Photo "I Love Lucy" Desilu Productions
Lucy and Ethel have a delicious problem!
Frequently, companies try to handle the growth in business without increasing their staff or capital costs. Big mistake. More output always costs more money, whether in the short term by paying staff overtime and bonuses, or in the long term by replacing frustrated and valuable long term employees.

When an organization grows rapidly, two things tend to suffer - quality, and morale. Infrastructure breaks down under the additional load. Machines overheat. Computers crash. Files are lost. Deadlines are missed. Overtime hours are ordered. Pressure builds. Newer employees don't perform as efficiently or as loyally as long-term employees; it takes time to bring them up to speed and proficiency. Existing employees are suddenly responsible for substantially larger workloads with no increase in their paycheck. New employees frequently interrupt the existing staff looking for help and guidance. Existing employees become tired and discouraged, and quality and morale are in trouble.

Clients notice the late deliveries, quality control issues, and declining customer service. They are frustrated that quality is fading. And like all bad news, it travels fast. Reputation and market share begin to falter. Rebuilding a reputation in an industry or community is a very, very slow process. Many companies don't make it. (Think Target in Canada.)

In a period of growth, it is important to have a growth plan. Do you need to institute a temporary formalized training program to bring new employees up to speed? Is it time to tune-up or overhaul your machinery? Are your computers due to be updated or replaced? Does new machinery mean you need more existing workforce training?

Growth is great. It often comes as a surprise as a competitor pulls out of the market, or a new ad campaign is unusually successful. As soon as you notice the upswing, it's time to build morale and loyalty. Buy the staff lunch a few times a month. Make sure everyone has the best quality, most functional equipment necessary to perform their job. The best performance from your employees comes when they feel important and respected. A couple of overtime hours isn't a reward to most employees. Relate to them as people. You've hired them to do a job, and to do it well. Give them the right physical and psychological tools.

Monday, January 12, 2015

How To Land Your Dream Job

I asked a recent college graduate, "What is your dream job?"

"Too early to tell," came the reply. "What's yours?"

I smiled. "I'm doing it!" I answered, and then realized I was building presentation kits at the moment. I laughed. "I love being a business consultant. I love my entire job - even stuffing envelopes and writing presentations!"

"How did you get your dream job?" she asked. She was serious, and earnest, and almost looked like she might take notes on my answer.

"I treated every job I do as if it was my dream job. I figured if I apply the enthusiasm, thoroughness, and positive attitude I would have for my dream job to everything I do, I'd find more things I'm good at, and do more of them well. Then it was always clear what direction I wanted my career to take. That's how I discovered consulting was my dream job, and that I'm really good at it. People constantly ask for and follow my advice!"

I learned it from a friend. He explained that he tried to never say "no" to a new experience, and even in a job he hated, do it so well he was proud of his work. He looked at each part of his work from a labor and management perspective, educating himself on how the actions fit together into the whole. Within 5 years of adopting this attitude, he had his dream job.

I tried to do the same. I work hard, keep it positive, and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. What I quickly realized is that when I was focused on my work, and not on my wants, I did a fantastic job, and received terrific reviews. Could it really be that simple? Yes!

It doesn't matter what job you have now. What matters is how well you're doing it. You can build skills, colleagues, and terrific references from the mail room to the board room. Flipping burgers teaches you about labor, management, and inventory control, among many other skills. Learning about management practices is often easiest by being managed yourself. Learning what skills you love and excel in is best achieved by doing. Every job educates you better about what you do and don't want to do next. And creating rave reviews for yourself will always make you an in-demand employee.

Don't expect to jump from entry level to executive level in one step. Move to positions that will teach you more about how to do your dream job beautifully, and look at each position as a specific, important step in the path to your dream job. Apply one or two steps beyond your current position, and be yourself in your cover letters and interviews. Value your own work. You'll be surprised how quickly you get to your dream job.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Resolution To Keep This Year

Teach your sales staff (and your customer service staff) to sell. There is no degree, license, or certificate program out there to verify that your sales force knows what they're doing, and can consistently deliver customers. Yet, the existence your company depends on it.

Onboarding an employee is expensive. It costs tens of thousands of dollars per employee. New sales pros are hired, trained on the product and the computer system, and then sent into the field for months of trial and error. On average it takes a sales pro 6 months before they are consistently profitable. That's 6 months IF THEY WORK OUT! If they don't, the company starts the process all over again.

Why don't most companies train their sales people to sell? Sales training is an "additional" expense because it adds to the initial cost of onboarding, and because of that companies shy away from the perceived cost. However,over a dozen recent studies show that the opposite is true. It actually makes you money.

Companies who specifically train new and existing sales pros in sales techniques lose fewer than half as many sales people, because their sales staffs perform significantly better. (I guarantee my clients a 10% or greater improvement in closings within the first month. Think of that adding up over a year!) New hires who fail the training are let go, and quickly replaced with someone more likely to close business, saving months they would have spent failing in the field.

Sales managers are also usually untrained. For a team to work effectively together, it helps to have common goals and related sales tools. A team trained together speaks a common language. It allows teams to fill each other's deficits, and reinforce each other's strengths.

What does it cost to train a person to sell? It depends on the trainer. Companies who choose to train their sales staff often hire a consultant, at a cost of $2000 to $8000 per week, once or twice a year. The number of employees trained by one consultant in a week can vary by the size of the available teaching space and training style, so those $2000 dollars can train 2 employees, or 200. A week or two is usually enough. One or two day seminars are great refreshers once or twice a year. A very expensive option, sending staff off site to seminars for days or weekends, is popular, usually at a cost of $500 to $1500 per employee, plus travel, hotel and meals. These tend to be name-brand seminars from book authors and TV personalities. Some companies employ a sales trainer, and keep them on staff at all times. In 2014, the average sales trainer who was a corporate employee was paid $65,000 plus benefits. All of these options are cheaper than hiring and replacing just one failed sales pro.

Sales training works. It's cheaper than an under-performing employee, or worse, a failing sales department. If your employer doesn't train in how to sell, ask the best sales pros you know for ideas. Read whatever they recommend, and do your best to learn a new skill each week.