Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Sales Professionalism: Now More than Ever

Sales ProfessionalismThis is a guest blog from my good friend Jack Malcolm who is one of the most talented sales and communication trainers in the world. In this article, he describes what it takes to be a professional salesperson. Although many people do not have a high opinion of salespeople, I happen to think that sales is a noble profession focused on truly helping your customer. Take a few minutes to read this article on sales professionalism, I know you will find it very helpful.

 

When you think of a professional, what is the first image that comes to mind? A doctor or lawyer or first responder, maybe, but certainly not a salesperson. Professionalism is unfortunately not a term that most people would associate with salespeople. Strictly speaking, of course, salespeople can’t be professionals because they are not accredited by a formal body, but I would argue that the ideal of professionalism is not only achievable, but essential to a profitable and personally fulfilling sales career.

Professionalism is not defined by what’s framed on your office wall—it’s a function of mindset, knowledge, and behavior. In other words, you become a professional by what you care about, what you know, and what you do.

What Do Sales Professionals Care About?

The first answer to this question is: more than themselves. The professionalism mindset above all includes dedication to more than simple self-interest. In other words, professionalism is not simply a means to have a lucrative career, or to charge more, or to take advantage of people’s trust.

Although sales professionals owe loyalty to their employer, they must put the needs and interests of their customers first. There are times when their duty to the customer will conflict in the short term with their obligations to their employer, such as when they may be under pressure to move product even though they know the customer would be better off using a competitive solution. They must be able to find an appropriate balance, although I firmly believe that doing the right—professional—thing will ultimately benefit the customer, himself, and his employer.

The sales professional also cares about excellence and professional standards, even though there is no accredited body which enforces them. Indeed, especially because there is no governing body, it is incumbent on those of us who care about the image of our profession that we act in such a way as to avoid giving cause for the continued complaints and jokes. Perhaps if enough salespeople act as if there is an agreed set of professional standards, their actions will become self-fulfilling. But this one also comes back to customers, who have the ultimate vote in whether our professional conduct meets their needs and standards.

Third, of course, a sales professional must care about his or her employer. Taking care of their customers and maintaining their integrity and professional excellence is not a recipe for ignoring the interests of those who are writing their checks. When you truly believe in the value you sell and the superiority of your solutions, there should not be any conflict. When you don’t, well… then remember your first two obligations and find another employer.

What Do Sales Professionals Know?

Success in selling, especially complex B2B sales, requires a surprisingly large body of knowledge; here are three tiers of knowledge that coincidentally all begin with the same first three letters: PRO. Think of them as what you offer, how it works, and why the customer needs it.

Product: You have to know what you sell and how it compares to alternatives, beyond what well-informed buyers can find out for themselves. The “product” includes everything that affects the delivery of value to the customer, and a professional has to know how to orchestrate every aspect of making their offering work within the customer’s system. But product knowledge is only table stakes. You begin to distinguish yourself as a professional when you learn to focus on the customer, which brings us to the next two levels, the how and why.

Problem/Process: You can’t sell “solutions” without knowing a about your customer’s problems, any more than a doctor can prescribe medication without diagnosing a patient. I’ve heard salespeople blather on about their solutions without ever once asking a question to confirm that the customer has a problem or to understand the nuances of their particular challenges. The best way to find and diagnose problems is to know intimately the processes that your customer uses to create value for their customers, and find ways to reduce inputs, take out steps, improve throughput, and improve outputs.

Profit: At the profit level, you become a trusted business advisor by connecting the thread from your product to process improvements to business impact. Armed with a deep understanding of your customer’s business goals and strategies, their business and industry environment, and general business acumen, you can collaborate to spot unseen opportunities to improve their business and quantify your value.

What Sales Professionals Do

Ultimately, caring and knowing won’t mean a hill of beans unless they are translated into action. What sets true sales professionals apart from their less accomplished peers is what they do differently, and what that means to their customers.

Take long-term responsibility for customer results. Professionals take personal responsibility for client results. A couple of years ago, I had a tooth removed. Although the dentist sent me home with explicit instructions, to him, the job was not done. He called me at home that evening to see how I was doing, and then again over the weekend. That’s what I mean by taking responsibility.

The best sales professionals think beyond the immediate transaction and consider every sale to be a link in a long and mutually profitable relationship chain. Another term for this professional spirit is ownership mentality, of having an attitude of co-ownership of the results to be produced.

Prepare and plan. The customer’s time is valuable, particularly at higher decision-making levels. Sales professionals respect the value of their customer’s time by taking time up front to prepare for sales calls and meetings. In surveys, one of the most common complaints executives have about salespeople is that they waste their time—and it almost always comes down to a lack of preparation.

There are so many factors to consider when pursuing a complex sale that anyone who does not write down and think about them is at an automatic disadvantage against a competitor who does. As the old saying goes, “you’re either working your own plan or someone else’s!”

Communicate. The reason salespeople exist is to help customers make effective buying decisions, and their sole vehicle to do that is their ability to communicate. This isn’t about being eloquent, which is surely valuable but not a prerequisite of professionalism. It’s about adding value in every communication, not wasting time in doing so, and clearly delivering the information and insight the customer needs. Do this and you will achieve the defining feature of a professional/client relationship: mutual trust and confidence. As an example a coaching client of mine has spent a year as a Global Account Manager for a European multinational. Recently they told his Managing Director that since he has been on board the once rocky relationship has been transformed because of his “straight talk” about what he can and can’t do for them, and his willingness to simply listen to their concerns.

Why Does It Matter?

As we’ve seen, it’s hard work to to be a sales professional so the obvious question is: why should anyone do it? Put another way, who benefits when salespeople act professionally?

The customer benefits because sales professionals increase their profits, lower their risks, and save them time.

The employer benefits because the sales professional puts a human face on their carefully nurtured brand image. Surveys across a wide variety of industries indicate that the number one reason that customers drop a supplier is the way they are treated by the salesperson.

The sales manager benefits because professionals can be a dream to manage. That’s because professionalism is self-policing and self-motivating—it’s stronger than rules, supervision, and even incentive plans.

Society benefits, because sales professionals are the catalysts of a healthy and productive economy. They spread innovation and improve business in countless ways. Innovations do not contribute to society until customers adopt them. Emerson was wrong: the world will not beat a path to your door because you invented a better mousetrap and it usually takes a salesperson to create the path and show the way.

Lastly (because true professionals put themselves last), true sales professionals quickly become known throughout the industry, precisely because they are so rare. Sales professionals enjoy more trusting relationships with their buyers, shorter sales cycles and higher closing rates, and more referral business. And those are just the measurable ways that professionalism pays off. What’s not tangible but infinitely

more important is the personal pride you get from pursuing excellence in a noble purpose, and I trust you would agree with me that improving the lives of others is the highest purpose of a true sales professional.

Honestly, none of these are a big secret—but neither are they common. The relentless push for quarterly earnings performance translates into tremendous pressure put on salespeople to produce results now, so it’s almost a given that the average salesperson will cut corners. The fact that so few salespeople actually take time to do these things.

To learn more about Jack Malcolm, his books and his area of expertise go to: JackMalcolm.com

Who is Your Competition?

Last year I did a speaking tour of Australia and one of my session was a business excellence program for an organization called The Growth Faculty. A young lady named Kasey Patterson attend that workshop and recently sent me this question. I thought you might find a few ideas for your business in my response.

Hi John & Sheila

I attended the growth summit last year and saw John present. What an informative session. Thank you.

The reason for my email is that I have just watched your keys to success for 2018 video and have a questions in regards to competition and thinking outside your industry. We are a Financial Planning business and I have been thinking hard about competition outside our industry – ie banks, accountants, but that is where my mind stops. Who else would you consider our competition?

Kind Regards

Kasey

 

Kasey, it’s funny, I was just watching that video myself because someone else asked me a question about it. So as a financial planner/advisor you likely get paid a percentage of the amount of money you manage for someone, or at least that’s how it works here in the United States. But no matter what, here are a few things I might consider competition/replacements if I were a financial planner.

Anything expensive that someone buys would compete for them saving for their retirement. So vacation homes, private airplanes, boats, motorcycles, around the world vacations, buying a new home, sending their kids to an expensive school/university – at some level, all of these could be considered replacements for saving my money and allowing you as my financial planner to manage it.

Another competitor would be startup companies that are seeking angel funds. Instead of giving money to my financial planner, I invest it in a company in hopes that I will have a much larger return.

Here’s a big one, bitcoin!!!

You could probably throw gold in on that list too, as another type of currency.

You compete against collectibles: artwork, cars, rare coins, antiques, and other such items.

You compete against people who decide to do it for themselves and think they don’t need a financial planner. Or, they use someone in their family to help them invest.

You compete against ignorance and apathy; people who don’t know that they need a financial planner or who don’t care.

You compete against nonprofits and other charities that will seek major donations from your potential customers, again, reducing the amount of money they have to invest with you.

You compete with ill health. If someone gets sick and has to spend a lot of money on care.

You compete with death. If someone in their family dies and does not have adequate life insurance then your potential customer might spend a large chunk of their money taking care of the funeral costs and other financial obligations of the deceased person.

You compete with disasters. If there is a major fire/flood/earthquake that wipes out one of your customer’s businesses or homes and they do not have adequate insurance they will not have enough money to invest with you.

Okay, I’m starting to run out of ideas here, but those are a few off the top of my head. Give this some more thought and let me know if you come up with any more.

I hope you found this helpful – John

I followed up with this last idea…

Kasey, I forgot the most important competitor of all… You. You are constantly competing against other financial planners, but the number one financial planner that can do the most harm to you is you. If you lack discipline, if you are not working incredibly hard every day to keep your current clients exceedingly happy, if you’re not constantly studying and trying to get better, if you are not out networking and asking for referrals, if you are not trying to be among the best in your industry… you are your own worst competition.

So, who do you compete against in your business?

Here is a link to the video Kasey mentioned if you’d like to watch it: Click Here

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Irrationally Passionate

I was driving into the office this morning (Saturday – and you notice I didn’t call it work) listening to a podcast about how to increase sales. The person being interviewed said that the best way to grow your business was to focus on “irrationally passionate” customers. People, who are fanatical about the type of products or services you sell. Good examples would be Star Wars fans who will buy just about anything that has to do with Star Wars, or a sports fan who is crazy about their team, someone into golf, knitting, gardening, dogs, cats… a target customer who is so irrationally passionate that they become a raving fan for your business because you offer something that they “have to have.”

I love this idea. It makes perfect sense for how to identify your key target market. If you start your focus on this potential group of customers, you will also appeal greatly to the folks that are not quite as passionate but still very interested. It also makes it so much easier to sell when you are offering your products and services to people that are enthusiastic about buying them. I see a lot of businesses waste time and money trying to sell to people that either don’t want or can’t afford their product. Here is a quote I use a lot when I’m delivering sales training, “Don’t try to sell to broke people.”

However, I also saw another application for the idea of “irrationally passionate.” This is the exact same thing that YOU need to be about your business/career if you want to achieve a high level of success. It’s very hard to become superb at something you are not deeply excited about. If you want to be one of the best of the best you must be fully committed… irrationally passionate… and willingly do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do. So here are a few questions for you.

Are YOU irrationally passionate about…
  • Being better prepared than any of your competition?
  • Being insanely customer focused?
  • Delivering the highest quality products and services?
  • Delivering world-class customer service?
  • Operating with 100% honesty and integrity?
Is your company irrationally passionate about…
  • Hiring only top talent?
  • Building a winning culture of highly engaged employees?
  • Being fair and generous with your customers and employees?
  • Creating high levels of accountability across your entire organization?
  • Fostering lots of open, honest and transparent communication within your company?
  • Focusing intently on disciplined execution?
  • Demanding excellence and refusing to tolerate mediocrity?

These are just a few questions; I could easily add another twenty. The point is, you will never become truly great at something if you are not irrationally passionate about achieving greatness in that area. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is the truth. Unfortunately, I see a lot of people today that think that they can attain great success without great effort. That has never happened and it never will. All success comes from work, usually very hard work, and excellence comes from being irrationally passionate about the pursuit of excellence.

What are you irrationally passionate about?

How To “Win” In Sales

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This is one of the biggest “aha moments” I ever had when learning to be salesperson, which I got from a fantastic book called: Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa.

“In sales, you and the customer want the very same thing: the Exact Right Solution.”

 

Let me unpack this for you…

If you are talking to a potential customer, then they have already given you a buying signal; they are giving you some of their time, which means there is at least some level of interest in your product or service. So you both know what you are there for, a potential sale. The goal then is to make sure that you both get what you want out of the transaction, they get a reasonable price for a product or service that they need and you make a reasonable profit. This is the only possible outcome for a successful transaction, the Exact Right Solution.

  • Sell them something too expensive and they find out that your price was high, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them something too cheap and you lose money on the deal, your company goes out of business.
  • Sell them the wrong product that will not actually meet their needs, but makes you a nice commission, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product and deliver it late, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product and it does not work, and you fail to follow-up and get it fixed quickly, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product but promise them too many additional services, you lose money on the deal, your company goes out of business.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea unless both you and the customer get exactly what is right for both of you, you have not made a successful sale.

That means that it is not you against the customer, it is the two of you working together as a team to develop the Exact Right Solution. To me, this takes away the sometimes adversarial relationship between buyer and seller. I remember early in my career that every time I went on a sales call I felt like I was trying to “win the sale.” The truth of the matter is I should have been trying to win the trust of my customer by giving them exactly what they wanted, that also aligned perfectly with what I wanted, so that we could build a strong positive relationship and I could be seen as a partner and trusted advisor who would always do what was in their best interest, as long as it was also in my best interest. The classic Win-Win agreement.

Now that I understand this, sales is so much more fun. I’m not there to “win” anything, I’m there to help us much as I can and work jointly with my customer to develop solutions that make everybody happy so that we look forward to doing more business together in the future.

To me, that is the way a professional salesperson approaches the sales process.

Your thoughts?

Selling Value Where None Exists

John Spence on Selling Value

In my last blog, The Big Trends From 2016, I got lots of great comments and questions. I especially liked this question and wanted to share my answer with all of you.

 

Q: How often do you find executives who expect their salespeople to sell value that does not exist? In my last two sales jobs, the real value of the product or service was not a differentiator in the marketplace. Even for the most incredible sales person, companies are not naive and they can quickly assess whether there is value in an offering or just double talk. What are the executives’ responsibilities in this situation? How often are you seeing this situation at companies?

 

A: Good question, tough answer. You have to find some way to add value above the product or service even if it is truly a commodity. I have worked with a lot of companies that had very little differentiation, and the executives wanted their folks to sell on value, but few people understood how to create real value beyond what they were selling. If you cannot figure this out, then the only thing you have left to sell on is price.

In my strategic thinking workshops, I tell the attendees that all effective strategy boils down to: Valued Differentiation X Disciplined Execution. In other words, you have to bring something to the marketplace that is unique, exciting and compelling – that your customers VERY highly value – that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy – and that you can deliver on flawlessly. Until you can discover how you, your products and/or services can meet these criteria – the only thing you have to sell is lower price, which is the fast lane to bankruptcy.

You ask above, “What are the executives’ responsibilities in this situation?” It is my feeling that they must understand their product and market well enough to clearly show their salespeople where the real value exists. If they cannot clearly differentiate their own product from the competition’s product, then a salesperson needs to ask how they can sell on value if the executive can’t even describe it. One of the big issues I see are companies that demand that their salespeople sell on value and capture a premium price in a market that truly will not support it. This is a recipe for failure and is exceedingly frustrating to the sales force. As the old saying goes, “You can’t get blood from a stone,” and you can’t sell value where none exists.

However, it has been my experience that where there is little product differentiation the only way to command a premium price is for the salesperson to add massive additional value. What unique expertise can you bring to the situation? How can you give your customer insights and ideas they could not have developed without you? What recommendations can you make to improve the customer’s business? What additional services can your company deliver that significantly increases the value of your total solution?

In other words, if the product is not a differentiator, the salesperson must be. This is easy to say, but extremely hard to do. It takes a lot of work, time, effort and energy to educate yourself at a level where you can be positioned as a trusted advisor – not a salesperson. Luckily, very few salespeople are willing to make the personal investment necessary to become a high level consultative salesperson, so if you can achieve this you will have created a good deal of job security because every company wants a salesperson who can create unique value for the customer that drives high margins.

I hope you found this of value.

Leaders Are Readers

How do you make the most of a conference?

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I was just asked by the folks at the Eventbrite, a tool for events I use often, if I would offer some suggestions for how to be more successful when networking at a conference. You’ll see the great infographic they created below, but I’d like to emphasize a few of my main ideas on this topic.

  1. It is NOT about what the people at the conference can do for you, it’s about what you can do for them in order to earn the right to have a real business relationship.
  2. Be a connector, imagine the conference as a giant party where you are the host and it is your job to make sure that all of the guests have a great time and meet lots of interesting people. So focus being a superb connector of cool people, they will appreciate your efforts a great deal and in turn will introduce you to their cool colleagues.
  3. When you meet someone, ask about their business, then ask them what are two or three of the big challenges they are facing that they would love to have help with, then do everything you can to connect them with someone that can assist them. There might be a chance that they will mention something that you can help them with, but the goal here is just offer assistance, not try to get a new client right away.
  4. Follow up soon after the conference, not to ask for business, but to say how wonderful it was to meet them and then try to offer more value. Connect with them on social media, connect them with someone you know that you think they’d like to meet, recommend a great book on a topic they are interested in, send them a fantastic article or a link to a great blog – and then send them something else of value every month or so. And then, every now and then, send them something about your company, products or services – not something super  salesy — it has to be something interesting and of real value to them. If they are a great potential customer they will eventually reach back out to you and ask more about your business and how you can help them.

Here are a few more suggestions from the folks at Eventbrite and me…

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Great Leadership Book + Two Business Ideas


Click HERE to learn more about my new Consultative Sales training course and use promo code 45OFF to get a 45% discount!!

Consultative Sales Excellence  45

 

How To Increase Your Sales Success

shutterstock_46908313I have been teaching consultative sales for the past 20 years and in my opinion three of the most critical skills necessary to be superb as a salesperson are: asking highly focused and thoughtful questions, being an intense listener and then taking excellent notes. Great questions allow you to gather the essential information needed to understand the customer’s problems, create the exact right solution and close the deal. However, if you ask great questions and don’t listen carefully and write superb notes, you might as well not ask any questions at all.

Let me help you understand how important listening is. Think about the average value of one of your larger sales, then determine how much time (in minutes) you actually spend in front of the key decision-maker during the sales process. Then divide the total value of the sale by the number of minutes and it will give you how much money is on the line for every 60 seconds you’re talking to the key decision-maker. For some of my clients that number has been in the thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute. The number might be much smaller for you, or it might be quite large, but either way it is essential that you be incredibly focused on your customer during the brief amount of time you get to spend with them. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you are paying attention and truly care about what they are saying is to be absolutely fantastic at taking notes. Again, if you ask a great question and they give you an in-depth and detailed answer – and you don’t write any notes – you are telling the customer not to answer any more of your questions because it will be a waste of their time. (**As someone who has owned several businesses I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve had a salesperson sit in front of me while I explained my problem or need in detail – and they didn’t write a single note – nothing. Which is exactly what they got from me, nothing. No sale, no deal, and no invitation for a follow-up appointment).

Here are some of the things I recommend to increase your listening and note-taking effectiveness and clearly demonstrate that you are focused solely on your customer.

  1. Turn off all electronic equipment that you do not plan to actually use in the meeting. No phone, no iPad, no computer – nothing that can distract you.
  2. Bring a professional notebook such as a Moleskine to write your notes in. Unless you are a phenomenal typist and can keep great eye contact while typing notes, it is better to use a pen and paper and transfer the notes over later.
  3. Bring an extra pen.
  4. As you are listening and taking notes use good body language and eye contact to show your customer you are fully engaged in the conversation. If you are selling over the phone use of verbal cues to let the customer know your listening and encourage them to continue talking.
  5. As the customer is talking repeat what they are saying over and over again in your head as you are taking notes. This will shut out any mind chatter you have and help you remember what your prospect is telling you because even though they have said it only once, you have heard it several times in your own mind which makes your memory and recall dramatically better.
  6. I have created a number of special icons that I use to help me focus in on the most important information in my notes. For example, I put a # next to where the customer gives me numbers, and a $ next to where those numbers represent money. I draw small set of clock hands next to anything that deals with time. When a client emphasizes a specific point I put a big star next to it, if they mention it again I put another star – and another if they talk about it even more. I write a ? when there is something I need to come back and ask for more detail on. Then, at the end of the meeting (or phone call) after the client has shared a significant amount of information with me, I can quickly go back over my notes and say something like:

“I’ve listened to you very carefully and from what you have shared with me it looks like you have three major concerns: 1, 2 and 3 (the three items that I put several big stars next to) that are costing you about XX dollars (based on everyplace I have written a $) and are causing you to waste about XX hours a week (based on where I drew little clocks) and you’d like to try to get this fixed by XX day (based on where I put the #’s). Does that sound about right to you?

Typically the client is overwhelmed by the quality of the notes I’ve taken and the information I can summarize and give back to them. I have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that I am listening, paying attention, interested in what they are telling me and because I’ve written it down in such great detail I will be able to remember it and develop the exact right solution based on my understanding and analysis.

  1. Then as soon as I get out of the meeting or end the phone call I immediately take out my notes and dictate (I use the voice recognition software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking) a clean and thoughtful summary of everything that was discussed and agreed to during the meeting.
  2. I then send a copy of that summary/call recap to my client to confirm that I’m on target, that I have not missed anything important and that we are in full agreement on next steps.
  3. Lastly, I post my call recap/summary into my client’s file so that I will have it to review days, weeks, months or years in the future. I still have notes from phone calls I had with clients more than 10 years ago and they are amazed that I can go back and share with them key things we discussed a decade ago.

I will tell you from experience that if you use the tools and recommendations I have listed above it will have a significant positive impact on your sales success. Everything I’ve mentioned is common knowledge, every salesperson knows that they should do this, but very, very few actually do. When you conduct a professional sales meeting, asking superb questions, being a highly focused listener and taking incredibly thorough and detailed notes – you clearly differentiate yourself from all of the other salespeople your customer is meeting and create a level of trust and professional respect that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy.

I hope you find these ideas of value and that they help you close more big deals!