sales

Do the Math. Make the Sale.

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“I was told there’d be no math.”  ~ Ethan Hawke as Troy, “Reality Bites.”

Like it or not, there’s math.  And if you want to make the sale, you’re going to have to dust off the calculator.

When I work with teams of sellers in sales strategy workshops, I introduce them to a tactical tool called The Teaching Challenge.  Inspired by the great conceptual work of Dixon and Adamson in The Challenger Sale, it’s really just a very clear statement – preferably written and shared early in the sales call – that answers the question “So why are we here today?”  The answer should challenge the customer’s assumptions and summon up and re-frame an urgent business problem.  This then creates a meaningful path to your solution.

I’ve come to discover that the best Teaching Challenges almost always revolve around numbers.  When reps take the time to do the math – even if the math is questioned by the customer – it almost always creates the urgency and focus that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

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But very few sellers do the math.  Instead, they throw out meaningless generalities like “we’ll help you reach more millennial moms” or “we can help make your media plan more efficient.”  How many more millennial moms?  In what period of time?  What’s their economic value to my brand?  How much more efficient will you help me become?  How much money will I save this quarter?  If I’m the customer, I may not necessarily expect you to have all the answers.  But I at least want to know you asked the right questions.

But isn’t impossible to find these answers?  If your standard is immutable truth, then perhaps. But that’s not where the bar should be set.  Each of us can approach our customer with a working hypothesis about the scope and cost of her unsolved problem or unrealized opportunity.

Old, traditional approach:  “Young urban men are really important to your brand, and we’ll help you reach a lot more of them.”

After doing the math:  “We’re estimating that there will be 2.5 million urban, millennial men actively searching online for a product like yours in the next 6 weeks. Every 5% of that active market you win means $3 million in sales.  You’ve got a window of opportunity to get to these customers with a proactive strategy before your competitor, brand X, does.  We have the core capabilities to help you with that strategy.  Can I tell you how?”

Many reps avoid specifics because they worry too much about the downside of being wrong.  But it’s better to be specific and wrong than it is to be accurate and meaningless. Your hypothesis need only be credible, and you need only to be able to show your work.

So take a shot.  Do the math.  Bring your customer to the whiteboard to work on the problem with you and you’re halfway home.

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Go to Their House.

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At the very beginning of my sales career I had to deliver a lot of bad news. My first ad sales job – back in the mid-80s – was at a small, specialty automotive magazine that was critical to many of its advertisers. I didn’t know when I took the job that the magazine was in financial trouble and that I’d have to tell many of our longtime advertisers that they’d face an immediate 60% rate increase.

As a 25-year-old ad sales newbie, I can say I was categorically unprepared for the shitstorm that ensued.  Heck, I don’t think I’d be prepared for it even now. Advertisers yelled, they threatened and more than a few pulled out of the magazine. We were snubbed at trade shows and our calls often went unanswered and unreturned.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bazaarvoice. Reach and influence 3 out of 4 true in-market shoppers with Bazaarvoice Advertising. Bazaarvoice’s fresh first-party data comes from shoppers interacting with consumer generated content across our network of 5,000 leading brands and retailers, allowing us to reach your shoppers with advertising to influence their purchase decisions.

Fast-forward 12 months. Virtually all of the advertisers on my list returned to the fold. Some even increased their spending with us. Over dinner at a barbecue joint in northern Mississippi near the factory-headquarters of one of these comeback advertisers, I asked him how we got “from there to here.” How exactly did we overcome all the bad feelings, disappointment and rancor to get to such a good place? His answer was immediate, simple, and one that I remember to this day.

“It’s really pretty simple,” he explained in his gruffly-distinguished Southern accent. “You came to our house. That matters a lot to us.”

He went on to explain that very few of the salespeople they spent money with had ever taken the time to visit their headquarters, to walk the factory floor and see how their stuff was made. “They’ll call me on the phone when it’s time to renew and they’ll shake my hand at the trade show, but they don’t come here.” During the dark period when they weren’t running ads with us, I’d made two trips to Northern Mississippi and was now making a third.

Despite all the technology and the instantaneous communication, people are still people.  They take pride in where they work, where they build things. And they know when they’re being respected and treated like a valued customer. Often, there is no next best thing to being there. You just have to go.

Carry this principle a little further… to the internal constituencies at your own company that you need so badly to execute and activate the programs you sell. Have you “gone to their house” lately? Most sellers don’t ever go and sit at the desks of the people they depend on every day. You send them email when you need something, you have a beer with them at the sales meeting, but you don’t go there.

Maybe you should. Maybe we all should. Be the one who came to their house. You’ll find, as I did 30 years ago, that it makes you exceptional.

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The Opposite of Selling.

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the-opposite-of-selling-2The opposite of selling is describing.

Selling means changing the outcome.  It means turning a no to a maybe and a maybe to a yes.  It means earning more favorable terms and protocols on a technology deal and overcoming the competition to have your content marketing program win the recommendation.  Selling is persuasion.  It’s leaving the world a slightly different place that it was a few minutes ago.

This all sounds obvious, but – sadly – it’s not.  A great many sales executives in our industry (and I’d suspect many others) are not actually selling at all.  They are part of the culture of description.  They describe your products to the customers and then describe the customers’ reactions to the boss.  They describe the market conditions or feature shortcomings that prevent the customer from buying.  They describe technology and process in excruciating detail, and they describe their own backgrounds and track records on their ever-growing resumes.  They’re just not selling.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bazaarvoice.  Reach and influence 3 out of 4 true in-market shoppers with Bazaarvoice Advertising. Bazaarvoice’s fresh first-party data comes from shoppers interacting with consumer generated content across our network of 5,000 leading brands and retailers, allowing us to reach your shoppers with advertising to influence their purchase decisions.

It would be natural for those of us who run companies and sales teams to lament this creeping cultural affliction.  But first we’ve got to stop causing it.

Stop Loading Your Team Down with Stuff to Describe.  Between marketing, product – sometimes even your company’s founders or top brass – your would-be sellers are bombarded with a crushing volume of slides, concepts, diagrams, videos, demos and more.  The message is unmistakable:  Just better describe more of our stuff and everything will be OK!  This happens for a reason. So…

Stop Worshiping Your Own Product.  The “Product-as-Hero” myth is a prevailing one, and companies in our world buy into it with enthusiastic myopia. When they buy, it’s because the product is great.  When they don’t, it’s a sales failure.  Yes, work to make your product and features great.  But immediately recognize that great products don’t always win and you immediately recognize and elevate the importance of a strong sales culture.

Root Out Cultural Ambivalence about Sales.    If the language of sales – closing, pipeline, incremental commitments and more – seems somehow beneath the brilliant engineering and master-of-the-universe business planning of your company, then you’ve got a problem.  If within your sales team itself there are no titles that include the word “sales” you might have an even bigger one.  We need to be as great – and as proud of – sales as we are of our engineering and business plans.  If we are not, they will never have a chance of succeeding.  There’s your new mantra.

Don’t just describe the difference between sales and description.  Sell it inside your own company.

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Green Selling.

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Selling GreenA few years ago I was approached by a publishing agent who wanted to know if I’d consider pulling together a book based on some of what I’ve posted in The Drift over many years.  As it was something I’d thought about off and on, we ended meeting to talk it over.  All was going pretty well until she asked me for one word I’d use to describe the book’s appeal to those in sales.

I chose the word Green.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

“You mean Green like the color of all the money they’ll make in sales?”

Nope.  “I mean Green like sustainable.”  Well, that pretty much ended the meeting.  She explained to me that books about selling stuff have a certain way of doing and saying things.  And they don’t include words like “sustainable.”  Too abstract, a little weird.  Publishers won’t like it and salespeople won’t buy it.  She may be right – and that book’s not yet been written – but I still believe in Green Selling.

Much of what I’ve learned about the art and science of selling and persuasion has been through my work with the fast-paced, rule-breaking digital ad and technology companies that most of you work for.  It would be easy to assume that those who sell in an environment like this are over-the-top, take-it-all types.  While we’ve certainly got a few of these running around, I see far more successful sellers who do it green:  they create sustainable, mutually beneficial, long-term business environments with their customers.  But taking the long view doesn’t mean they don’t put short term numbers on the board.  And it doesn’t mean they’re ‘customer centric’ pushovers either.  Here’s what it does mean.

Leaving something on the table.  Those who think selling means the same thing as winning are relegating their customers to being losers.  Green focus on shared growth, not victory.

Staying human.  Many of those sales books my literary friend leans on are filled with artificial, salesy bullshit.  If you wouldn’t act that way with a group of close friends, don’t do it on a sales call either.

Slowing it down.  Trade in your fearful hysteria for thoughtful progress.  As I’ve written here before, the great ones are never in a hurry.

Focusing on excellence.  Success can be fleeting and fickle. When we obsess about it, we burn people out and often recognize those who might just have found themselves in a fortunate situation.  Green organizations and green sellers obsess about excellence.  Excellence nurtures and sustains.

Chances are my publishing pal was right. Maybe this book never gets written, and perhaps this post won’t get as many forwards and tweets as others.  But if you sit where I sit and see what I see, Green Selling is quietly taking over our world.

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Suffering? Still Optional.

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Suffering Still OptionalLooking through 15 years of Drift archives, and thought this would be a  welcome re-post.  Enjoy.

Everyone who spends time in sales ends up hitting the wall eventually.  Things feel stuck:  prospects don’t seem to be listening and buyers definitely aren’t buying.  The seller feels as if he’s swimming through Jell-O.  It’s at this point that I’m often brought in to work with sales teams.  Perhaps you’re in that place even as you’re reading this?

Any sales situation is really just an extended set of variables:  (1) price, (2) included features and services, (3) decision maker, (4) value rationale and (5) available funds.  It’s pretty much impossible to change an outcome – to unstick an account or a deal – without changing one or more of the variables.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

But when facing the wall, far too many frustrated sellers choose struggle over change; under stress, they cling ever more tightly to the familiar moves, the known patterns.  The solution, they irrationally believe, is in simply working harder; putting more of your back into it.  But this makes as much sense as repeating the same English words more loudly and clearly to someone who speaks German or Farsi and expecting them to suddenly comprehend.

OK, so what I’ve written so far is only mostly true.  Sometimes a pressured seller will try to change variables 1 and 2.  Slashing price or throwing armloads of “added value” at the deal might open things up a bit.  But the effect is shallow, temporary, unfulfilling and ultimately unprofitable.  You may convince your company to provide more goods and services for less money, but you’ve also trained your buyer that either (a) your deal wasn’t worth your initial asking price or (b) you’ll go even lower next time.

No, it’s variables 3, 4 and 5 that you really need to change.

(3) Decision Maker:  Whether out of fear or habit, the seller often sticks with the same non-responsive buyer relationship.  Bringing new decision makers into the mix seems hard, and dangerous.  But only by putting in the work and taking the risk does she shift this variable and open the account.

(4) Value Rationale:  Too often we go into the sales discovery process without a strong point of view on the value we deliver and – more importantly – how to measure it.  Instead we simply ask the buyer about their metrics and ROI yardstick and dance to their tune.  But there’s nothing wrong with telling a customer “we’ve both been looking at this the wrong way.”  Heck, I’d argue that you’re doing them a service.

(5) Available Funds:  The dirty little secret is that lack of available budget has never prevented a qualified decision maker from buying something he really wants to buy.  When you hear “our budget’s gone” it means “we just didn’t want your product badly enough.”  Suggest alternative budgets or build an argument for going back to ask for a budget increase.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Pressure is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.  And if you’re the one changing the variables in your deals, you’ll suffer a whole lot less.

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