Sales Training

Are You In?

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Are you inTo the casual observer, sales looks to be all about power.

It may look like a bunch of confident, charismatic sellers in command of their material and in charge of the room. The successful seller is the one who can talk a blue streak and who is at ease in any crowd.

But looks can be deceiving.

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Many of the greatest sellers I’ve been privileged to work with are not the ‘life of the party’ types.  Many would probably be classified as introverts.  What these sellers have discovered – perhaps by default – is the power of vulnerability.  They’re willing to own their opinions and feelings, take risks and commit to the moment.

They are present in a way that many of their competitors are not.   They’re OK with moments of silence and even the occasional awkward pause.  It’s in that moment that something unusual can happen:  something authentic, something meaningful, something real.

A significant number of the people I meet in sales are ambivalent about being in sales.   They call themselves account executives, business development people and strategists, and they seem to really gravitate to the word “partner.”  One reason for this “sales avoidance” mindset is that these introverts have never made peace with the popular notion of what it means to sell.

Now they don’t have to.  And neither do you.

Start taking risks.  Share a little more than you feel comfortable sharing.  Take a position in your discussions with customers.  Tell them what you think and then ask them what they think about the position you’ve taken.  Be curious.  Don’t fill up the quiet moments.  Be generous. Let things happen.

This is how you get to an authentic place with your customers.  You have to get in…all in.

If you’re in sales but feel like you’re playing a role much of the time, you are not only cheating your customers, you’re cheating yourself.  This can be a life filled with really terrific moments, but only for those who are truly open to them.

So be open.  Be vulnerable. Be real.

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The Managers Test.

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The Managers TestThousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it.  But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple ‘test’ presented itself.   The three factors to be explored – in order – are clarity, capacity and will.

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When you’re questioning a performance problem, you shouldn’t simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints.  Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you’ll get lost in the details very quickly.  Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really – really – clear about what is expected? This is on you.  Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task?  Have you put it in writing?  You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it’s probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you’ve developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee.  Once that’s done, you can move on to question number two…

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected?  You must ask hard questions about whether the employee’s experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed.  Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices.  If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources.  But don’t forget to ask the hard question:  can this employee do this job?  When you’ve checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue…

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required?  This is the hardest but most important part of the test…and often we don’t even consider it.  Sometimes people don’t do things simply because they don’t want to.  They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot.  And it’s the issue that probably matters more than any other.  This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it.  Say goodbye.

Don’t just keep this test to yourself.  Share it with other managers.  Better yet, share it with the employee.  Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion.  It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.

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Showing Up for Practice.

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Showing Up for PracticeLook hard at the stories of truly great athletes and you find that raw talent accounts for only a few pages. And while we all remember the big moments in crowded stadiums and arenas, it’s invariably what those athletes do in empty gyms that matters most. Great athletes show up for practice…and they show up big.

The work ethic of legends is legendary. Kobe Bryant shooting 200 free throws….after the game is over. Peyton Manning arriving at the facility to watch film at 5:30 in the morning. There are just a few of the truly great, while there are tens of thousands who are ‘just talented’ and who just want the ball. So what does any of this have to do with you, your sales team and the year you’ll be having in 2016? Plenty.

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This year, I’m on a mission, and the mission is all about excellence. I want 2016 to be the year that our industry stops lurching from deal-to-deal, quarter-to-quarter and crisis-to-crisis and commits itself to the pursuit of excellence.   I believe this process begins with us recommitting ourselves and our teams to the concept of practice; to the quiet work and preparation the client never sees but always feels and buys into.

There’s just one thing standing in the way of our sales teams showing up for practice. Most of us don’t hold practices.

As a manager, examine your own day-to-day interaction with your sellers. Are you patiently asking them questions to see how well prepared they are for important client meetings? Are you giving them regular advice and guidance on where they’re spending time? Do you do mock sales calls together? Have you had a seller practice her closing question on you? From my experience, the answer to most of these questions is no. Our focus as managers tends to be entirely on the games and not on the practices. We use our group meetings to ‘walk through the numbers’ and maybe ask a few questions about what’s already transpired. We critique last week’s plays instead of practicing the ones that will help us win next week.

A strong, consistent practice culture is a necessary precursor for excellence. It will keep the great athletes on your sales team engaged and connected with your company and it will lift your mid-level talent to do exceptional things.

But it always starts with the manager. Are you holding practice this week?

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Strategy, 101.

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Strategy 101Somewhere out there, early on a January morning, a seller has already been awake for hours. He’s staring at a number – his sales goal for the next several months. His company has a solid product, not a dominant one.

His managers try to motivate and support, but only being a year or two in management themselves they can tell him to ‘be more strategic’ but can’t really tell him how. Here’s how.

Triage. What are the factors that make one prospect more likely than another to become a customer? Are they cranking up spending this quarter? Do you have even one ‘truth teller’ at the agency or client who could give you the straight story? Do their preferred metrics and buying style align at all with your offerings? Have they been a customer before? If you answer yes to all or most of these questions, these are your focus accounts – your A’s. All no’s? It’s a C; drop it. Mixed results? It’s a B, so set it aside for work later.

We’ll be hosting the first Seller Forum of 2015 – featuring special video content – on Wednesday night March 11th and Thursday March 12th in New York. If you’re a CRO, EVP, SVP or VP of sales with national, North American or global responsibility, you need to be in that room. We’ll have a heavy focus on all things video this time, with plenty of other great content and discussion around industry news, financial visibility and lots more. Request your invitation today.

Decide What You Control. It’s easy to waste time lamenting what you don’t have, what a competitor might be doing, or how bad the decision making is at the agency. Instead, inventory those things you can control. They are: (1) your intent – are you really out to do a great job for the customer? (2) your POV on the customer’s business situation – not just what you know but what you think is important; (3) the agenda for your meetings – a good answer for “why are we here today?” (Hint: if it’s about ‘updating’ the customer, ‘introducing them’ to your product or ‘learning more’ about their challenges, you will lose); (4) the quality of your recommendation; stop with the big capabilities deck; nobody cares. Decide what combination of products and services will help this client at this moment in time. If you tell ‘em everything, you’re telling ‘em nothing.

Start in the Middle. In between the CMO and the media planning team, there are a lot of people who can help you: account owners at the agency… strategic planning… group VPs… functional specialists at the client. Put away your pitch for a while and start teeing up honest conversations and email exchanges with these people.

Ask Better Questions. Ask questions customers can say “no” to. Will you buy from me? Do we have your commitment? Do we really have a chance here? Hope is too often the opposite of clarity. What you want to constantly be asking is Where do we really stand? and What can we do to keep moving forward?

Stop Waiting. If things are not closing because you’re constantly waiting on something – a product feature, a call back, a change in the budgeting process – then you’re not making a difference.  You can wait till things calm down, till you get through your inbox, till the weather changes. Or you can simply act. Take chances, try one new thing each day. Ask forgiveness, not permission.

It may turn out that the one you’ve been waiting for is you.

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Beach Blanket Bibliography.

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Beach Blanket BibliographyWe’re hurtling toward the Independence Day weekend and the beaches and lakes and country porches are calling.  Maybe you’d feel guilty spending a couple of days on some Dean Koontz thriller but are intimidated by something like “Capital in the 21st Century.”   Or perhaps you’d just like to take a fresh look at your strategy and approach, and come back from your summer break with fresh momentum.  With that in mind, here are a few previously recommended sales and management books to toss in your bag as you head out for the long weekend.

Anyone who’s been in a workshop with me in recent years will be familiar with “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.” For my money, this is the best sales book of the past 15 years, and particularly relevant for the asymmetrical, dynamic world of online marketing.  An efficient and engaging read over its first 100 pages, “The Challenger Sale” exposes the failings of “solution selling” and butchers many of the sacred cows of sales theory.

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While not technically a sales book, “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” just may be the most important thing a digital seller reads this summer.  We’re all drowning in statistics and throwing data at one another with savage regularity:  but where’s the meaning?  It turns out that – just like Dorothy – we had the power all along.  By tapping into your inner artist, you learn to synthesize, fuse ideas, interpret and make the numbers start to sing.  And you can finally show your Dad that the painting class you took senior year wasn’t a waste of tuition after all.

I never miss a chance to recommend “The One Thing You Need to Know” by Marcus Buckingham.  A sharp and engaging business writer, Buckingham distills the most important things we each need to know about Leadership, Management (quite different from Leadership, thank you) and sustained personal success.   One of the very best, and a perennial read for me.

Engaged Leadership by Clint Swindall.  Great follow up read to “The One Thing…”  Written as a series of parables, it gives the sales manager some good tactical guidance on cultivating employee engagement, which is the soil in which success and excellence grow.

The Go-Giver  by Bob Burg and John David Mann is told as a dialogue-intensive ‘fable,’ and will take you all of about two hours to finish. But the sales – and life — wisdom is so significant that you’ll want to read it again immediately.  What happens when you base your personal strategy on generosity instead of the zero-sum thinking that drives most sales behavior.

Have a recommendation or two of your own?  Please add them in comments.  Happy summer.

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