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Sales Playbooks

A few weeks ago the folks at Kadient briefed me on their approach and their sales performance improvement tools.  As you would expect, I posed the chicken-and-egg question with respect to what order a company should implement Kadient’s tools versus installing and implementing a sales methodology.  I liked their answers.

I picked up a tweet from Kadient’s Rich Berkman (@richberk) last week about a new guide they had just published, How to Create Killer Sales Playbooks: Four Steps for Designing Sales Playbooks that Win Deals.

Just from the title, I was immediately encouraged.  Here’s why:

  1. I believe in sales playbooks. I’ve used them and have recommended them to clients, who generally saw significant performance improvement;
  2. “Four Steps” represents process and sales leaders and sales people can often use a lot more of that;
  3. The guide is focused on winning deals.

I downloaded the guide and read through it.   These guys from Kadient get it.  Here’s a quote from the guide (with permission).  Highlights are mine:

Whether you decide to begin with a top-down or bottom-up approach, your playbooks should be aligned with your sales process.

“But, wait,” you say. “We don’t have a sales process!” This is a very common situation. Chances are that you do have some process or steps that define the stages of your sales cycle. Sales playbooks are an excellent organizational hub for defining them. Also, every organization has successful salespeople who are following their own processes.

If you don’t have a defined process, you can still get started quickly by defining a baseline set of sales stages and then using playbooks as your organizing tool for its development. Focus on mapping out your existing sales-to-buyer lifecycle or process. Some of the most successful playbooks have been those designed from a blank slate or ones in which it was decided that the sales process would be reinvented through the use of sales playbooks.

If you have a sales process (or multiple ones), align it with your customers’ buying cycle and create a map for your sales playbook. The goal is to stimulate a conversation between seller and buyer-the seller diagnosing the buyer’s needs and then providing the buyer with the right information at the right time.

In addition to directing salespeople to what they should do at each stage of the sales cycle, mapping will also identify specific activities that need to be completed to advance deals. This should illustrate how your sales teams engage with customers at every stage of the buying process.

You can download the guide here (registration required).  I highly recommend it.

Photo credit: © Sharpshot – Fotolia.com

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Strategy 18: Become An Expert At Competitive Positioning

Hey, I have a proposition for you.

I had a really bad experience with Dearborn Trade Press (now Kaplan Financial Publishing) with my book, How Winners Sell, Second Edition. It’s no longer in print, although companies seem to be able to find copies somehow when I come in to present at their sales kick-offs and other events.  (I will write about the whole nasty Kaplan situation one day.  In the meantime, anyone considering publishing with Kaplan needs to give me a call.)

I was thinking about putting How Winners Sell up on Amazon’s Kindle. After a long, long effort, I finally got the rights back.  I wrote the Second Edition in 2004, but most of it is still very relevant.

The proposition.  Here is a free chapter.  All I ask is if you get some value from it and are interested in reading the whole book on either the Kindle or an e-Book format, let me know.  I may decide to republish it.


Strategy 18: Become an Expert at Competitive Positioning

I don’t know about you, but I get a big thrill when I watch a high-integrity, seasoned sales pro competitively position his company and offering. It may happen during a presentation or during a sales call as objections are raised by the buyer.

When you think about it competitive positioning begins when you formulate your strategy. From that point onward, your messaging, talking points and objection handling are driven off the same thing—the unique value you can provide to your client.

Here are some examples of how winners I’ve worked with masterfully handle competitive positioning:

Situation 1: Selling Against Goliath

If you sell for a smaller company that competes against the big guys, the age-old story of David and Goliath might come to mind. In this story, the giant, Goliath, was beaten in a fight by the small boy, David. I often see “Goliaths” beaten, but it takes flawless execution of a well-designed plan.

The most important thing of all when selling against a much bigger competitor is to be certain that if you meet or exceed all the prospect’s requirements, that size—for size’s sake—does not matter. That’s an issue of qualification. You may have the best product, innovative service capabilities, committed people, stellar customer satisfaction levels, top product quality, most respected investors or anything else that you consider of value, but if size matters, little else will measure up. And if size does matter, and you can’t convince your prospect fairly quickly that it shouldn’t, you need to get out of there—and quickly on to another opportunity. Know your prospect’s history regarding doing business with smaller companies. It may mean nothing to them, since they do it all the time. On the other hand, you may be the first and may have a long, bumpy road ahead.

What all this means is that there are certain opportunities for which you should not compete, because you can’t win them. Sorry, but that’s a fact.

Now What Do You Do?

You’re going to need to influence your prospect’s decision criteria, so that the perceived value of your competitor’s size as well as other size-related capabilities are diluted, neutralized or, in the best case, seen as a disadvantage. Many salespeople are accustomed to highlighting a competitor’s weaknesses. In the situations where you are competing against a bigger company, you will (professionally and subtly) dilute their strength.

Here is a simple, well-proven example. Let’s say I sell for a smaller professional services firm and I am up against a major player. Based upon preferences and needs of the buyers, I may decide to use the “small-fish-in-a-big-pond” approach.

It goes like this: “Ms. Prospect. There are few people who would not be impressed by my competitor’s size, global reach and financial as well has human resources. I’m sure they proudly reference some very prominent customers. However, you might consider that a project such as yours, although highly critical for you, might very well not have the same level of importance for them and therefore may not generate the ongoing attention within executive levels of their company that their premier customers’ projects would. It’s only natural…”

From that point, you would discuss how you would meet their technical requirements and establish a business relationship going forward, stressing attention that would be paid to the progress by your executives. You’d convince them that your company’s success would depend directly on their success, not the other way around. You’ll be portraying them as big fish in a small pond, with the driving message being how important their business is to you.

If you are effective with this approach, you will have moved down in importance the size and impressiveness of their customer list and up in importance the attention paid to them by your executives as well as your company’s interest in their success.

Here are challenges you might face in a David and Goliath situation and some alternatives to consider: Continue reading

Selling Lessons From A Trumpet Lesson

It was an exciting week. I started out in St. Paul on Sunday afternoon. I was there Monday and Tuesday to attend a few meetings with a special client, deliver a few presentations, facilitate some discussions and attend their annual sales awards dinner. It was two of the best days I’ve ever spent with a client. More about that another time.

Several months ago, after already having this trip booked, I was hired by a company in Dallas to deliver the keynote at their sales kickoff meeting on Friday, first thing in the morning. No offense to those in the Midwest, but what was I going to do between Tuesday evening in St. Paul and Thursday evening in Dallas? Flying home to Martha’s Vineyard wasn’t an option. I considered meeting clients, some friends, but I came up with a much better idea…

I gave up playing the trumpet professionally in 1975. The reason was this: no matter how many teachers I went to, no matter how long I practiced (six hours a day, generally), and no matter how insightful, creative and analytical I tried to be, I couldn’t overcome significant problems with range (high notes) and endurance. Busy professional trumpeters, such as I was, can have two or three gigs in a single day, sometimes amounting to eight or even ten hours of playing. Having to play in the upper registers, needless to say, adds a lot of weight to that burden. One day, frustrated with my lack of ability to overcome those technical obstacles, I just packed it it. Done. Over.

Thirty-two years later I picked up the horn again. I sounded horrible at first, but began to get my chops back, little by little. But my previous obstacles—range and endurance—were still obstacles. I was no better off.

Back in the 1970s there was a remarkable young trumpeter for whom range and endurance didn’t appear to be even a consideration. He could play as high or low as he desired with no visible effort or strain. Hours of playing lead trumpet in Maynard Ferguson’s band every night, perhaps the most demanding job anywhere for a trumpet player, was a breeze. At 24 years old and 124 pounds (!), he rocked the community of trumpet players back on their heels, me included. His command of the instrument stared me right in the face—and it contributed to my quitting.

Knowing I had an extra two days in the Midwest, I looked up that amazing trumpeter, Lynn Nicholson. He now lives in Las Vegas, and gives trumpet lessons! A few emails back and forth and we were set. I would head to Vegas from St. Paul. Lynn would pick me up at my hotel, and he would give me a two-hour lesson. What I found curious, though, is in every email we exchanged during the eight weeks prior to my visit, he would remind me to keep an open mind. Again and again he wrote it. Keep and open mind.  I assured him that this wasn’t an issue for me, but nevertheless he kept insisting that these two-hours would be very different for me and an open mind was what was required.

The lesson was yesterday.

I hate hackneyed cliches. I try not to use them. But here goes. Yesterday was a paradigm- changing, out-of-the-box thinking, smack-in-the-side-of-the-head day. Some of the core beliefs that I had about playing the trumpet (from some of the “best” teachers anywhere), were not only wrong—but get this—not even applicable. What he showed me was so counter intuitive, it defied logic, at least at first.

Talk about needing an open mind… One new paradigm for example: the higher you play the more relaxed your lips should get. Picture that. I sure couldn’t. Every trumpet teacher I ever had implored me to strengthen my lips with exercises, because the higher I needed to play the tighter they were going to have to be. So very wrong. Lynn proved it to me with a demonstration of his range and dynamic capabilities. The sheer volume of bright, cutting, healthy sound, up and down three-and-a-half octaves was astonishing. Lynn is capable of producing a sound so big that he wears sound-reducing headphones. Then he told me his embouchure (lip and muscles around his mouth) are weaker than mine. He’s actually played only 10 hours in the past three months. Less is more? Weak is strong?  All that and more.  My mind was spinning.

Lynn talked about the adaptive algorithm that trumpet players (and everyone else) naturally employ to get past an immediate obstacle. After the lesson I was back in my hotel and had to play with a mute, which not only dampened the sound, but altered the physical characteristics of the trumpet, mainly in the amount of additional resistance to blowing the mute caused.  I felt off-balance and confused working on what Lynn taught me.

I emailed Lynn telling him where I was with what I learned, with a question about how to manage it. His response, “Great news! You are making substantial progress, for sure. Don’t worry about the mute. It is simply another aspect of the adaptive algorithm, and will be handled appropriately as you allow the concepts to be implemented in the absence of thought.” And it was. Ten minutes later more progress in the right direction. My range had increased from two-and-a-half octaves to four.

Understand, I’ve got a long way to go. Not ready to be up on YouTube for all to hear, but the old, incorrect foundations are intellectually and physically broken down. Now, new habit building, doing the right things the right way. Major progress, and this time, for a change, in the right direction!

I think you understand where I’m headed relating to sales, selling and leading a sales team. Times are seriously tough. We all need range and endurance. Are the foundations we’ve built, during very different times and under very different circumstances applicable? Is the answer to a significant challenge the color yellow when the options you see in front of your are only fast or slow? Is your mind open?  Do you understand that change is the only option?  And what adaptive algorithms will enable solutions to manifest themselves from the absence of thought?

Here’s a video of Lynn in 1974. His solo is 2:09 into the clip.

And here he is now.

Total and complete command of the instrument. Effortless.  Gives me the chills every time I hear this clip.

I’m in Dallas now, and gonna practice for a little while…

Photo:  This blogger, the subject of “show-and-tell” at the grandkids’ pre-school.

Checklists: For Surgeons, Pilots and… Salespeople

I believe in checklists.  Clearly the medical community just got the message as well.  A study published online by the New England Journal of Medicine this week shows that adopting a surgical safety checklist (PDF) reduced deaths and complications by more than a third.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Researchers collected data on nearly 8,000 patients who were operated on in eight hospitals scattered around the world. As a basis for comparison, about half the patients underwent surgery before the checklist was adopted. The death rate fell from 1.5% to 0.8%, and the rate of inpatient complications fell from 11% to 7%.

As a pilot, I’m always aware that while flying and on the ground, lives depend on me not missing any steps or getting them out of order.  Make sure propeller area is clear before starting engine.  Landing gear extended before touching down on runway.  It’s amazing how many pilots don’t use a checklist and execute wheels-up landings.   (Note:  I wrote this post literally as US Airways Flight 1549 ditched into the Hudson River.  There is no doubt in my mind that the event would have been a disaster had the pilots not executed their emergency engine-failure and water-ditching checklists. )

ESR estimates that 80% of sales opportunities are lost due to either ineffective qualification or ineffective planning.  Every sales plan I’ve ever written has had a checklist.  What’s a sales plan without a list of events, activities, calls, meetings, and tactics—a checklist?

A top salesrep I mentored almost missed his number one year because he didn’t have a checklist.  Here’s what happened:

He was selected at a division of a Fortune 500.  The VP of Manufacturing was his sponsor.  The solution was $1.5 million of ERP software and related services.  During a conversation about the opportunity, I asked him whether the appropriation was on the agenda for approval at the next board meeting, the last of his company’s fiscal year.  The silence on the other end of the phone was my answer.  “I’ve never forgotten to check that before,” he said.  I believed him, but he forgot this time.  I held on as he called his sponsor on his cell phone.  The item had not been added to the board’s agenda for that next meeting.  A quickly executed series of calls got the item on the agenda and the rep got his dea.

A checklist is a simple way to instill some discipline into a salesperson or sales team.  There is very useful technology that will support building a series of pre-ordered events and steps for a sales process and for monitoring execution.  But in the absence of a tool like that, an Excel-based checklist will get the job done.

When you think about it, the checklist is nothing more than a to-do list.  The difference is the checklist is built for multiple sales opportunities.  Here’s one you can download, with my compliments.  It was used as an example in my book, How Winners Sell. It’s very simple, but will get you moving in the right direction if this is a challenge for your sales team.

If you don’t know whether your sales team needs a formal checklist as part of their standard sales planning regimen, ask them, “What are the next five things that need to be done, in order, to advance this sale?”  The answer will reveal a lot.

Photo source: http://www.pilotmall.com

New Year Resolutions For Sales Leaders

2009Pick one or more of the resolutions below.  Commit, execute, enjoy the results.

  1. I’ll never hire another sales rep who can’t get the sales job done. First, completely understand the position and the skills and traits required to be successful.  Evaluating whether a candidate meets those requirements requires a series of two to three structured interviews.  There are no perfect candidates, but if you understand gaps between what capabilities the candidate possesses and what is required for the job, you can train, coach or support that new rep to success.

  2. I won’t spend another dime on technology for my sales team without knowing specifically how it will help my reps win business. In general, what companies receive in return for their investment in CRM technology is significantly short of expectations.  Before you make any investments in CRM, Sales 2.0 or other emerging technologies make sure the primary recipient of value is the salesperson. There has to be a direct, proven connection between the software application and the salesperson winning more business.

  3. I will teach and then continue to encourage my reps to look at selling strategically. Many salespeople don’t think past the next meeting or phone call.  You will be doing them (and yourself) a big favor if you can coach them into seeing the big picture—the next five steps in the sales cycle or what the customer’s situation might be in six months when they expect to make a buying decision.

  4. I will look at sales performance improvement strategically. You should know by now that tactical, event-based sales training doesn’t really provide any long-term value.  So why are you still wasting time and money on it?

  5. I will implement a formal coaching function to support my sales reps’ growth. Coaching is not a sales manager closing a deal for a rep or telling them what to do in a tough competitive situation.   Coaching is a mission-critical, formal, ongoing activity that is required for significant sales performance improvement.  If you don’t know where to start, send me an email.  I’ll point you in the right direction.

  6. I will run my sales organization like the business that it should be. In order to be successful, businesses require business plans, process, discipline, documented responsibilities and accountabilities, quality assurance and measurement of output.  I’m not suggesting bureaucracy here.  Just the appropriate measure of formality and seriousness.  If seat-of-the-pants ever worked in B2B selling in the past, it certainly doesn’t any longer.

  7. I will provide my sales team with the leadership they need and deserve. A few questions for you around one area of leadership:  Is marketing not getting the job done?  Does the CEO set unrealistic revenue targets?  Are customers angry due to product problems?  Do your products or services not meet the needs of your market?   These and other challenges can stop the best sales team in its tracks.  It’s your job to get issues like these addressed and resolved.  If you don’t have the required leadership skills, get them.

  8. I will advance my team considerably further than foundation Sales 101 skills so they can really be competitive. Winning these days requires more than just basic selling skills.  Make sure your sales process includes advanced components, such as political mapping, selling to senior executives, and competitive strategies and tactics.  Find the best approaches in those areas that fit your business requirements.  Train your people.  Sustain improvement with coaching and other post-training reinforcement.

  9. I will elevate the importance of my team’s knowledge about our customers’ businesses. Many customers of yours are buying only what will help them survive this economic crisis.  If your salespeople can’t position your products and services in terms of contributing to your customers’ success—from your customer’s perspective—they aren’t going to sell very much.

  10. I will commit to understanding my weaknesses and improving those capabilities as a sales leader. There is no shortage of intelligence, research, best-practices, coaches, consultants and just plain good advice.  Avail yourself of the best of them.

Photo credit: © Stefan Rajewski – Fotolia.com