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Selling Through The Slump: An eBook

I was asked by my friend Charlie Green representing The Customer Collective to contribute to an e-book that was just published. I recommend that you download it, read it and use it.

Selling Through A Slump: An Industry-by-Industry Playbook

A Guide by Salespeople for Salespeople on How to Sell Your Way to Recovery

Download this Free eBook

Selling in a recession is tough. And simply doing more of the same is not the way to survive, much less thrive, in a recession. There are important dos and don’ts in times like these. This eBook is your industry-specific roadmap out of the economic slump.

Selling through a Slump: An Industry-by-Industry Playbook brings together sales strategies and best practices from 11 top sales experts from 11 distinct vertical market sectors, ranging from retail to health care to telecom—because one size doesn’t always fit all. The practical tips and experience-based wisdom here aren’t just limited to any single industry, though. Regardless of your market sector, you’re bound to find value in this arsenal of great sales ideas.

Get access to exclusive tips on how to sell in a recessionary market, from renowned
sales experts like Jill Konrath, Charles Green, and Dave Stein. We know you’ve
got questions—this eBook was created to give you answers.

Click here for valuable sales strategies from experts in every industry:

Charles Green, Founder and CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates
Selling for Accountants and Consultants

Mike Wise, VP, Insurance Technologies, IdeaStar Incorporated
Selling for Insurance Agent

John Caddell, Caddell Insight Group

Selling in Telecommunications Markets

Skip Anderson, Founder, Selling to Consumers Sales Training

Selling for Retailers

Mike Kujawski, Founder,

Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing

Selling to Public Sector Clients

Matt Homann, Founder, LexThink LLC

Selling for Lawyers

Anne Miller, Founder, Chiron Associates Selling Media

Dave Brock, President and CEO,

Partners in EXCELLENCE
Selling to Manufacturers

Jill Konrath, Author, Selling to Big Companies

Selling in Services

Anneke Seley, Founder and CEO, PhoneWorks LLC
Selling in Health Care

Click Here to Download

(A simple registration is required)

Brought to you by The Customer Collective and Oracle CRM. Welcome to the conversation.

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

No More Gifts From Drug Companies To Doctors. About Time!

What caught my eye about this story from the Houston Chronicle was the subtitle:

Voluntary rules cut out free gifts
sales reps use to influence physicians

The story lead: “The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the major lobbying group for drug companies including Merck, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, enacted new rules governing how sales representatives in the field can interact with physicians.”

This isn’t really news.  This new position has been developing for quite some time.  In fact, The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) banned gifts to doctors of any size, including free meals, back in 2006.  They aren’t alone.

Drug salespeople are under real scrutiny.  I suspect that will increase with the incoming Obama administration.  That’s good.

Many doctors have had issues for years with the tactics of drug reps, not to mention the sheer number of them.  A while back,  WSJ columnist Benjamin Brewer, a family practice doctor in Forrest, Ill., decided he would no longer see drug sales reps in his office.  One of his many complaints was that drug companies sent multiple reps to his office pushing the same drugs, hoping one of them would succeed.

I just spoke with a nurse practitioner who is in a private practice in a group with a number of doctors.  She has only received one gift from a drug rep: a textbook.  Drug reps had been providing educational lunches at her practice.  She believes that there are doctors who would prescribe drugs based upon what they might have received in gifts or favors or other freebies from drug reps.  She’s not happy about that.

One of my former doctors (before I moved),  knowing I was in sales, complained bitterly about the drug sales reps.  He described them as ill-prepared, pushy, often arrogant, and far too plentiful.  Understand that’s only one doctor’s opinion.  I’m not painting all pharmaceutical sales reps with one broad brush.  In fact, I see that the problem is with the system, not with them.

What is the issue here?  Two words come immediately to mind.  Distrust and bribery.  And the reps are in the middle.

Would a doctor really prescribe a drug that she “favors” because of unfair influence by a drug salesperson?  With more than 800,000 doctors in the U.S. (according to USA Today), you can be sure some of them do, even if only a handful.   Those few docs and their drug company co-conspirators will probably tell you there is a firewall between what gifts the docs receive (they’re small anyway, they’d say) and what drugs those docs prescribe for their patients.  Here’s a question:  So why do it?

I’m an HMO-card-carrying participant in the system.  I don’t want any doctor who treats me or anyone I care about being “influenced” by anything but the right thing for the patient.  Influence doctors through your knowledge, experience, insight and trust. No gifts, no freebies, no more.

Cartoon credit: Pennsylvania Gazette (Click on image).

UPDATE: I sent my own doctor a link to this blog post.  I received this email response.  For privacy, I only removed identifying text which I replaced with ellipses (…) :

I have never seen a drug rep nor taken a gift. When we started the Department of … at … in 19.., I stepped up and would not let the residents be exposed to drug reps. We took no freebies. There are good studies that show the prescribing practices of doctors and doctors-in-training are influenced when they are exposed to free meals and talks by drug reps or their representatives. The other departments at … thought we were crazy to not take the free lunches and agree to pay for lunch out of our dept budget. It was a great coup when the whole med school went drug rep/freebie free. …

I think the $ should go to lower the price of drugs for all. I think doctors should learn their medicine from our most reputable journals that are tightly peer reviewed. Drug companies wouldn’t put so much $ into it if freebies and reps did not “pay off”.

Anyhow, you can see it is a pet issue for me.

And for me as well, doc!

Sales Lessons From The Presidential Race

peelNo matter what side you were on, here are a few observations, affirmations and truths, post-election, with respect to selling:

  1. Strategy and tactics are equally important.  The purpose of executing tactics in a sales campaign is to drive a well-founded strategy.  Tactics without a strategy is like playing darts with your eyes closed.
  2. Message! Not messages, messages, messages.  Decide what you are going to count on to win based upon research—a focused, objective assessment of the sales opportunity.
  3. You can successfully change the ground rules even if you temporarily lose ground.
  4. The understanding and leverage of political influence is crucial.
  5. Messages must be clear, concise and compelling and paint the vision of a better situation for the buyer.  One fumbled message can dilute the impact of a hundred perfect ones.
  6. Logic and the facts aren’t the only things buyers consider.
  7. Discipline rules.  Seat-of-the-pants doesn’t. 
  8. Knowledge of your opponent’s plan to win is vital for devising and refining your own plan.
  9. Direct and blatant “bad-mouthing-the-competition” doesn’t generally work. 
  10. Never underestimate the underdog.
  11. Want to win?  Look the part.
  12. Tell the truth before your opponent exaggerates it.
  13. Choose the right team.  The salesperson is CEO of their own virtual sales corporation.  Whom they choose to stand next to them and to advise them can make a big difference.
  14. Whomever has momentum at the time of close generally wins.  Its very difficult to build momentum just at the right time without a plan.
  15. Embrace technology. It permeates pretty much everything most of us do.
  16. Go broad and deep into the customer’s organization as appropriate. (Ideally effective marketing will have blazed the trail in advance. See the article How Better Marketing Elected Barack Obama.  Thanks, John Caddell.)  Build consensus where it matters.
  17. Don’t lose your composure or violate your own principles.
  18. Understand that energy, determination and relentless pursuit of the goal is the fuel that powers the engine.

I’m sure I missed some points.  What would you add to this list?

By the way, Newsweek’s Secrets of the 2008 Campaign has been published on their website.  It looks like a terrific read.  I haven’t tackled it yet, but I definitely will.

Photo:  © Ljupco Smokovski – Fotolia.com

An Authentic Sales 2.0 Killer App for Selling Competitively

Last June I wrote a post containing my Sales 2.0 Competitive Knowledge Wishlist.  I’d expect that any salesrep or manager who really knows how to employ advanced competitive selling strategies and tactics would love to have the Sales 2.0 capabilities in that list.  We’ll, we are apparently closer than I thought to realizing that dream.

I spent some time once again with Ken Allred, CEO of Primary Intelligence (listen to my podcast with Ken).  Ken, whom I hold in high regard for all the fine work he and his company have done in the area of competitive intelligence, has produced what I see as a legitimate killer app.  Actually, it’s a “killer suite” of three applications, all designed to help the sales reps be much more strategically competitive.

First, Sales Explorer enables salesreps (and their managers) to strategically plan competitive sales scenarios by identifying the unique differentiators for themselves as well as the competition’s differentiators based on the deal characteristics they’re working on (industry, deal size, deal type, region, etc.)  Based upon historical data collected during Win/Loss analyses, the software presents: the main reasons why specific prospects are looking for solutions, key decision factors from the view of the prospect, the level of difficulty you face in completing a deal, a road map to overcoming obstacles, top product strengths and main product weaknesses in the eyes of the prospect, resources to others who excel in similar situations, advice from prospects on how previous losses could have been avoided, advice from prospects on how wins could have been stronger, and accurate competitive pricing. 

Competitive Navigator provides unprecedented capability to compare your performance versus your competitor’s performance in every area that affects purchase decisions (Sales, Company Image, Solution and Marketing). It allows salespeople to narrow their focus to just the competitor, or competitors that they’re most concerned with and review their specific differentiators (see screenshot to right). Additional comparisons available in Competitive Navigator include:

  • Pricing
  • Product strengths and weaknesses when you win versus the competitor
  • Product strengths and weaknesses when you lose versus the competitor
  • Missing features as identified by decision makers

Horizon is the competitive intelligence forum, which is integrated with Sales Explorer and Competitive Navigator, so all of the content in the forums is available in the other applications.  The system automatically captures all the comments coming from decision makers on why they selected, or didn’t select a competitor, what that competitor’s specific strengths and weaknesses are, what pricing strategies the competitor utilized, what they did well and what they didn’t do well. Sales reps, executives, marketing, product managers, CI (competitive intelligence) professionals, and product development can then discuss, advise and leverage this competitive intelligence, along with additional ad hoc CI that the users will add to the system, in a message board setting that is archived and makes searching for specific competitive information very simple and fast.  So a sales rep joining the company six months from now will have access to all CI and conversations about a specific competitor and could be up to speed VERY quickly on what they need to know about a competitor they are competing with. I see this as a powerful Sales 2.0 tool that will provide sales teams with a tremendous amount of value.

The smart guys at Primary Intelligence are connecting all this to the standard CRM platforms, with Salesforce.com being first.

Story-Oriented Selling

This is an email I received from James Mayfield Smith regarding my post about the top IBM sales rep.  I had a phone conversation with James and then we exchanged emails.  He’s got a very convincing view on the role of storytelling in sales (he refers to it as strategic applied mythology).   Why convincing?  When I look at the way that I’ve sold over the years (what I’ve depended on to win) and my observations of others who were successful, there is no question that storytelling was important.  Here is his email (with permission).  It’s worth the read.

I’ve got a few thoughts about your review of the Fortune article about the IBM sales rep Vivek Gupta.  I agree with your assessment that Gupta is “business-driven, fearless, [and] able to thrive in a complex organization” and that these traits are keys to his success.  When his actual sales process was outlined, something else came to light as well.  Gupta is a master of many skills, and chief among these is his ability to find the story that his customer lives and to build himself into that story as a solution provider.  When he studied the telecom business referenced in the article to look for its “pain points,” he was really looking for the stories that the company told itself about itself.  This concept is central because one of the key functions of a sales person is to influence behavioral change (i.e. convince a prospect to buy from his company).  From a mythological perspective, the quickest and most effective route to behavioral change is by either changing a customer’s story of what is possible in the world (i.e. it’s possible to increase effectiveness by outsourcing your IT needs with us) or by changing a customer’s story of who they are in that world (i.e. by focusing on what you do best, you can achieve a higher ROI).  A sales professional who masters the ability to work in the realm of story via strategic applied mythology (a methodology which encompasses philosophy, psychology, strategy, and skills application) and delivers on that story gains preferred position with a client and earns its business.  Gupta is a great example of how this type of customer-centric, solution-selling works when the basic skills are in place and the proper attention is devoted to having the sales conversations required to identify the client’s hidden stories and then become a part of them.

You may be wondering why one should bother with utilizing a story-oriented lens when a good sales methodology with solid skills training, effective measurement, and ongoing reinforcement is effective.  The answer lies in the fact that humans are story-driven creatures.  It’s in our genes and it is what we do…our tribal shamans are now medical doctors, research scientists, and clergy.  Our traditional stories are now Hollywood films, the Wall Street Journal, and Internet blogs.  We continue to be story-driven, and our behaviors are largely influenced by the stories we live and that often live us.  Much research shows that data that does not align with a story that I am living either creates psychic dissonance and conflict or else is ignored.  Regardless of whether one likes the idea, most decisions are made for underlying emotional reasons that the decision-maker is often unaware of.  A good sales professional who understands the principles of strategic applied mythology, however, can systematically uncover the key stories within an organization and utilize them to his advantage.  This is no replacement for basic sales skills, but rather, a soft-skills over-arching strategy approach that organizes and explains the elements that are effective to winning a sale.  For example, I could take one of your executive overviews of a training company and apply my lens to explain why that methodology works.  What I do explains why what works actually works, and offers a lens to examine, predict, plan, and execute success. 

Another of the many applications of strategic applied mythology to sales training is to increase the effectiveness of a sales force by enrolling each sales person into the vision of the company.  The best sales professionals know and believe in the value they bring and clearly see how their role and their jobs impact their lives positively.  These professionals have the vision and motivation of the CEO.  This can be replicated, as there are processes to help sales professionals begin to articulate their own higher vision and to integrate how that is served by fulling living the mission of the company.  This type of values alignment and integration leverages the potential human capital of a sales force by reorienting it towards strategic objectives.

Should mainstream sales training companies add this skill to their curricula?  I don’t see that happening.  Not because it wouldn’t provide salespeople with additional capabilities.  I suspect research would prove that there is real value resulting from formal programs in storytelling, especially for those selling services and other intangibles.  Why not then?  There are just too many other things to accomplish in the area of sales performance improvement.  I write about those on this blog:  business skills, advanced competitive selling skills, political leverage, strategic negotiation, executive-level selling, coaching, relationship bulding… And then there is measurement, leveraging technology…  Lots to do that are already on the list. 

If any of you reading this have had experiences with storytelling, either comment or drop me an email.

Strategic Negotiation

Any sales manager will tell you that negotiation is one of the required skills for success in sales. Yet few salespeople are equipped to go one-on-one with the increasingly experienced and tough corporate buyers and procurement managers whom they must negotiate with in order to make a sale.  For years I saw negotiation as a set of soft, tactical skills-verbal sparring, if you will-rather than the business process that it should be. Evidently I wasn’t alone. Earlier this year, SAMA (the Strategic Account Management Association) and Think! Inc., a consultancy specializing in strategic negotiation processes, recently completed a study that benchmarked the current state of negotiation against other professional skills and practices in the selling and account management disciplines.

Look at these statistics:

Eighty-three percent of the 361 respondents reported that they have no negotiation strategy, or merely an implied one. That is the likely cause behind the 80 percent of the respondents that said they see mounting irrational competitive behavior, such as drastic, last-minute lowering of prices or the giving away of free services.

Within the companies surveyed there were considerable discrepancies in how negotiation was seen. Executives were 77 percent more likely to view their decision-making authority as highly centralized, while sales people were 71 percent more likely to view it as somewhat or highly decentralized. Sales people and their corporate executives are clearly not reading from the same sheet of paper on this issue.

Brian Dietmeyer (podcast), CEO of Think! Inc., says that many companies have little agreement cross-functionally on what a successful negotiation should look like. Only when organizational silos are broken down and stakeholders are aligned around desired outcomes-margin protection, mitigation of legal risk, top line revenue, as examples-can a solid foundation for successful negotiation be built.

The study also showed that of the 50% of the respondents that attended traditional negotiation skills training, only 6.8 percent rated themselves as highly effective negotiators. Tactical negotiation training alone doesn’t get the job done in today’s highly competitive selling environment. If sales people don’t know what outcomes they are negotiating to, the companies for which they work won’t achieve their objectives.

Think! Inc’s approach integrates negotiation with a company’s sales process so that negotiation is managed strategically starting at the discovery phase of the sales cycle. Integration of negotiation into the sales process has other benefits as well, including knowing what is important to the customer and what isn’t so that trading can be leveraged. The study revealed that 79 percent of respondents said occasionally or do not effectively trade for customer demands. In most cases, they just give value away. Dietmeyer says that when negotiation is integrated with an effective selling methodology, there is no longer any reason for a sales person to get rocked back on their heels when a purchasing executive says their competition is offering what they are-at 20 percent less.

Going head-to-head against professional negotiators isn’t easy. If that is part of a sales person’s job, then it is our responsibility to provide them with a proven and effective approach and the associated training for them to be successful.

Regarding this redefinition of negotiation… Count me as one of the converted.

By the way, Brian emailed me a link for a new piece about negotiating myths.  It’s really worth reading.