How To Boil A Frog – On The Internet

Drop a frog in hot water and it will immediately jump out. Place it in cool water and then slowly warm it up and the frog goes to sleep and boiling can begin!

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Many companies are like the somnambulant frog when it comes to the internet. Consider some of the following:

  • 17% of BA airlines total bookings are made via ba.com, £15m per week. Average of £10 per transaction cheaper
  • BT Broadband £253 million (5% of turnover) Oct-Dec 2004
  • 5% of Argos sales ordered over the internet in 6 months to Sept 30th 2004
  • Reed Elsevier £1.2bn (25% of 2004 group turnover) from on-line, making it the UKs biggest internet company
  • Tesco.com £307m (1.9% of turnover £15 million of profit) in 24 weeks to August 2004
  • William Hill interactive online turnover 8.4% 2004 23% of total operating profits. Online sales growth 25% pa, profit growth 40% growth. 1m registered users
  • $34 billon worth of goods traded on eBay in 2004 (bigger than the GDP of Kenya)
  • 80% of US car buyers visit the showroom with their researched shortlist and the cheapest price already established from internet data
  • 30% of UK Mini customers configure their Mini online, forward the spec. to the dealer and order the car
  • US Thanksgiving weekend ’04 saw Amazon sell more consumer electronics than books (by value) for the first time

Source: FT consolidated data

The internet is a disruptive technology, its just happening a bit more slowly than the dot com hypers originally stated. The organisations that will make most money, take the new opportunities and minimise the risks will be the ones that are wide awake, rather than dreamily dozing.

Is Communication a Problem to the Answer?

Increasingly more and more business people are faced with the challenge of being able to communicate effectively and professionally with their customer base, their colleagues, their managers and their suppliers.

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The ability to prepare and make an effective professional presentation to their Clients is becoming more and more a pre-requisite of the sales professional.Effective presentation techniques are at the very core of personal selling skills, especially where the size of Decision Making Units are increasing and in some cases becoming more complex. Therefore, the method and manner of the communication should match the communication style of the receiver and must, in its delivery, be clear, concise and avoid any risk of misinterpretation.

The responsibility of all communicators:Effective communication starts when “I accept that it is MY job to explain, not YOURS to understand”

Do you find communication difficult? After all, communication is a skill which we already possess, but communication like any other subject, has its own difficulties, pitfalls and not forgetting its own jargon. We all know how to communicate; how to speak, how to read, how to listen and how to write. Therefore we communicate and are communicated with every waking hour – but do we communicate well and clearly? Do we always know how to put across our messages as well as possible or, indeed, how to interpret those messages we receive?Communication is a skill and as such it can and should be learned, and anything that we learn can be developed in greater or lesser degrees. We can all find ways to develop or improve our communication skills.Successful communication is not possible without:

  • Clarity
  • Understanding
  • Common ground
  • Perception
  • Awareness
  • Self-confidence

 

Many managers ask if the email revolution has begun to kill the art of communication as we know it? – especially where thousands of emails are sent each day to people who sit no more than ten feet away from the sender. Also as the choice and variety of methods of communicating continues to grow, increasing choice does not automatically bring increasing effectiveness. Relatively few people in the commercial world have been trained in the art of effective communication or clear thinking – yet, as we have said before, they are vital skills.

The impact of reports, letters and emails will vary according to the way that they are written. Our ability to read quickly and improve personal levels of comprehension and retention are becoming more and more an essential skill, the tone of voice and vocabulary of the sender will dictate the degree of understanding of the receiver. A golden rule of communication: “Keep it short and simple”

A favourite statement made by a salesperson to a customer was: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is NOT what I meant”

As the above statement implies, feedback plays a significant part in speaking and listening. People hear what you are saying but do they hear what you think you are saying? When you are the listener, do you always let the speaker know how you feel about what it is you are being told? Listening is crucial and requires concentrated effort.

Response or feedback

Is the means we use to exchange views on understanding and communicating with one another. It helps us each to know whether the messages being transmitted are actually being received and more importantly understood. Communication should be used to overcome barriers of language and regional “jargonese”. It should be used to convey ideas and concepts, to make sure we find ways of making ourselves understood and of understanding others.We all need to be understood – our ideas, our recommendations, our solutions, our points of view, our abilities, our personalities. Equally, we all want to understand others, to empathise, to identify, to communicate.

In all businesses, communication has specific applications. Employers communicate with employees, employees communicate with their employers. Salespeople communicate – or not, as the case may be with customers. They make presentations to clients, give speeches, write letters, send emails, conduct telephone and face-to-face conversations, make decisions, sell themselves and their company and products.Their success is dependent upon their ability to present their views, ideas and products clearly. If they do not communicate their message successfully, professionally and succinctly then little is likely to happen.

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It is widely acknowledged that the major problems facing business people today are:

  • Behaviour – Assertive, Passive, Submissive, Aggressive
  • Environment – The Perils of the Open Office
  • Clarity – Understanding v. Confusion
  • Knowledge – We don’t know what we don’t know
  • Skills – Practice makes perfect

Carrying out your Audit

When we assist clients in improving their Communication Skills within their organisation, it is first necessary to carry out a Communication Skills Audit.The first step is to identify who a company’s communications are aimed at. Clearly the necessity for communication between groups or individuals is a key issue to consider here. Overkill and supplying too much information can be just as negative as supplying too little information. Remembering that we only read and hear – what we understand.

So to begin:

  • Who should you communicate with?
  • Who do you actually communicate with?
  • Why are you communicating?
  • What should you really be communicating?
  • What is the best way of communicating this particular message?
  • What are you actually communicating?
  • What do you think you are communicating?
  • What types of information do those people want/need?
  • How should you communicate with your “audience/group/individual”
  • How do you actually communicate with your “audience/group/individual”
  • Do you openly encourage participation/feedback?
  • How do you involve your “audience/group/individual”
  • What do you present to this “audience/group/individual”
  • What should you present to this “audience/group/individual”
  • In what way are they likely to react to your presentation?

To complete your audit, some further questions to ask:

  • Who is responsible for ensuring your organisation is known for the quality of its Communication (s)?
  • How would you describe the quality of Communication (s) that emanate from your organisation?
  • Does the quality of Communications convey a professional first-class image?
  • Do they accurately reflect the quality of the products/services you provide?
  • Does your organisation have an effective email and a voice mail discipline that does not frustrate your client base – as they are unable to speak to anyone?
  • How often do you, personally, evaluate/audit the quality of your Communications – both verbal and written?
  • Do your “Customer” communications convey an impression of a well run, well organised and professional organisation?
  • Do your customers feel that their interests and needs are known, listened to and always addressed?

Many clients having answered some of the tough questions above have realised that a regular audit of their communication (s) and the methods in which their messages are transmitted – is essential, if they are to maintain and develop and effective communication system.

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What Constitutes an Effective Communication System?

  • It is simple, concise, clear and easily understood
  • It is a two-way process – not a series of TELL scenarios
  • It is open, consistent and honest
  • It is regularly appraised and reviewed
  • It is always professional, appropriate and effective
  • It achieves the desired/best outcome for all parties
  • It consistently meets the highest possible standards – however challenging or difficult the situation/dialogue might be
  • It projects a more confident image/approach to work and day to day life
  • It should seek to:- create change- solve problems- influence people- provide a channel for the exchange of information- supply information to others- develop wider relationships

 

What Makes An Effective Team?

Where are the most common places teams are talked about? Work and sport. And what is the common denominator that connects the two? Competition. We believe that one of the most effective ways to compete is through effective teamwork.

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Team sports are all about collective endeavour, the English Rugby World Cup winners and Liverpool football club are two obvious examples. Already things are being written about the difference between the championship winning Chelsea and the previous team. It’s not about the money, as much was available last year as this, but the team ethos Jose Murinho has instilled in the team.

Even in ‘solo’ sports, teams are critical. Paula Radcliffe working with her husband and specialist advisors, Ellen McArthur whole challenge was branded Team Ellen, golfers don’t move (swing) without consulting their coach. And in business its no different, ‘the management team’ is on of the most common phrases when writing about company performance (or the lack of it). And functional teams are constantly being referred to, the sales team, the finance team, the call centre team. Boards of directors are more likely to be referred to as the senior or leadership team as the board.

What makes a great team? There are seven key ingredients to create a high performing team recipe:

Shared Values
One of the catalysts for effective team behaviour is trust. Trust between team members comes from believing in the same things (only the things relevant to the team performing so you don’t have all support the same football team, unless you’re in one!), that means for instance, if the team requires that for a period you all have to put in long hours to get a project completed, you all believe that the value of meeting those deadlines and obligations is non-negotiable. Teams with a strong sense of shared values use their behaviour to set standards. See Clive Woodward’s black book for more on this, or Jim Collins book and values driven organisations; Built To Last.

Meaningful/Common Purpose
This seems obvious but many teams do not have it. They are a collection of individuals who say they are trying to do the same thing. We see many sales teams who don’t have any overarching team target or team incentive scheme but are expected to share best practice. The common purpose should also be more than a set of numbers; it should connect to the organisation’s vision and the strategy for delivering it. Every sports team common purpose is to win (the numbers), it’s the ones that have a common purpose that includes the way they are going to win that more often succeed, especially if you are looking for repeatable success.

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Mutual/Individual Accountability
People like to know what is expected of them. In teams it’s critical to get the balance right between what the person is expected to do on their own and what that are expected to do for each other. This should never be reduced to a binary decision of one or the other. Sometimes there has to be trade-offs, but they should be rare, individual and team accountabilities must be aligned otherwise the team will pull against itself. Accountability, or ownership as it’s sometimes called, needs to be one of any team’s shared values. A great by-product of being comfortable with high levels of accountability is the desire to offer team leadership.

Clear Performance Goals
Teams (as distinct from individual members) have to know when they are succeeding or failing. There has to be up-side benefit and down-side risk attached to team performance. This clarity allows a consequences model to be established. One of the fastest ways to destroy team morale is to not recognise success and not deal with failure. If the team’s success/failure can be traced to one individual then it should be dealt with accordingly. When a team is failing collectively it can be more complicated. The first test should be has the team demonstrated steps to resolve the problem? Then has the manager of the team taken steps to resolve the problem? Then is the manager of the team the problem?

Complementary Skills
There is no such thing as a perfect individual, but there is such thing as a perfect team. This is what makes team building so fascinating. Creating the perfect team requires assembling a set of differing capabilities that add value to each other (synergy), where the sum is greater than the parts. A lot of work has been done to identify the different roles people can play in teams, notably by Meridth Belbin, who has published several books on the subject and whose team framework is probably recognised as the most useful work on the subject. A team made up of the same kinds of people (we’re not talking technical capability here, obviously a sales team will need to contain salespeople, a finance team, finance people etc.) will see problems, challenges and opportunities in the same way. It will also work in the same way in solving them. Generally (but not exclusively) salespeople are really good at suggesting new ideas, and notoriously bad at implementing/completing them. A salesperson who can complete things, showing real attention to detail would be a valuable team member to have!

Well Defined Working Approach
How teams organise should not be left to chance. For instance, a simple principle about what are rules and guidelines can be enormously helpful. Take meeting attendance, is it a rule that everybody should be there, except for enforced absence? Or it is a guideline, if you can avoid holidays fine, if not also fine? These simple things can make the world of difference to a team’s effectiveness. Getting work in on time, is that a rule or a guideline? Also expectations should be clearly set about how much (if any) additional to the core job teamwork is required? And if team tasks are required, how are they distributed? We often see in change processes that the work is done by a few team members, others being ‘too busy’ to contribute.

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Manageable/Small Numbers
An obvious point, but the larger the numbers the more productivity, communication and decision making suffer. Try to keep the team in single figures and the closer to 5/6 the better. Having said all that, if all the elements are in place as previously outlined, then larger numbers can work. Equally the opposite is true, without these ingredients even a team of two will struggle to achieve anything!

Ten Indicators Of High Performance Sales Management

Here are ten indicators of high performance sales management.

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  1. Extensive coaching delivered through a structured framework
  2. Rolling performance improvement plans with 90 day reviews
  3. Conducting frequent, documented joint field visits
  4. Interactions that force discussion around the customers’ strategic intent and contextual market/customer development
  5. Encouraging focus around potential customer spend rather than actual customer spend
  6. Capturing and disseminating best practice across the sales organisation
  7. Extensively using role play (what sports people call practicing!) to develop sales mastery
  8. Evaluating and rewarding managers for their people development achievements, as much as for their performance
  9. Recognising/Rewarding exceptional performance and value adding behaviours
  10. Not tolerating poor performance or the wrong behaviours, period.

How does your organisation measure up?

How Do You Future Proof Your Sales Organisation?

The sales function is dead, long live the sales function. It’s a much more interesting debate to focus not on whether selling is finished (it isn’t), but on how it needs to change. This article focuses on the drivers that will future proof your sales function, keeping it central to any world-class company’s customer proposition.
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Future proofing involves developing five key areas

  • Creating New Customer Value
  • Leveraging Technology
  • Building The Sales Team As Part of the Brand
  • Being Values, Rather Than Results Driven
  • Developing New Intellectual Capital

Creating New Customer Value

Customers are becoming more demanding and sophisticated. They want better and faster solutions. The salesperson needs to effectively position themselves to deliver and support these two dynamics. Where the salesperson resides in the value chain is not only changing, but is also potentially under complete threat. As the Internet becomes more functional and ubiquitous, customers have new sources of information and new conduits of access.

The emergence of Broadband access should be viewed as a discontinuous change. It will not just mean faster connection and download speeds but it will create new options for customers; ones that can substitute certain salespeople.

How do salespeople currently add value to the sales process? Classically, by being the carrier of information. The better salespeople take the information and tailor it (or convert it) into benefits. The value proposition is based on knowing more than the customer, and having greater access to information than the customer. The Internet puts both of these ‘reasons for being’ under threat. The Internet allows customers to find out more than what would have seemed possible a few years ago. Through customer extranets, information can be captured in one private place. The increasing richness of an extranet undermines transactionally focused salespeople.

Building the hypothesis that says as a result salespeople will become obsolete is far too simplistic. Salespeople that don’t reposition themselves will struggle, (and don’t get into a sterile debate about how people buy from people, they do, but people also bypass people if the person doesn’t add value, as in the case of cash machines versus bank clerks). If the salesperson still contributes insight, thought leadership and account coordination, they can and will future proof their role.

Leveraging Technology

Often, IT literacy is lower in the sales function than the average IT literacy within the organisation.Because of salespeople’s relatively high levels of interpersonal skills IT can be seen as a low-grade competence. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons why IT literacy is higher in finance departments. The sales function should be driving the IT/Internet agenda for the customer and for themselves. They should be the holders of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) knowledge, not the IT people, or worse – consultants. Salespeople need to be e-literate so they lead the technology debate. They need to be ahead of their customers so they can effectively work with them to move towards an ebusiness model. Location independent working and virtual teams are becoming a reality. When salespeople see email as being at the cutting edge, leveraging technology will not be led by them.
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Building The Sales Team as Part of the Brand

All other things being equal, brands are more valuable than generic products or services. What world-class FMCG companies have been doing for some time is weaving the salespeople in as part of the brand. When you see a salesperson from Coca-Cola they are part of the deal. The salesperson is the brand, the brand is the salesperson. In the business-to-business space, IBM have for some time done the same thing. This close alignment of the salesperson and the brand requires certain items to be present to make it work.

The salesperson has to believe in the brand absolutely. They need to be proud to sell the product and proud to work for the company that owns it, no ‘maybes’ or ‘apart froms’. This enables them to look the customer in the eye and not be the first to blink when difficult issues arise. Next, the company must invest the same support in the sales team as they do in other brand collateral. Commitment to the product must be reflected in commitment to the people selling the product. This means best in class training, sales tools, infrastructure and internal profile; all designed to demonstrate how critical the salespeople are to the brand. The benefit from this is that customers see the salesperson sitting in front of them as an embodiment of the brand, so take them very seriously.

Being Values, Rather Than Results Driven

Of course salespeople need to be focused on results. The much more interesting issue is how do we create an environment to deliver better results? Simply exhorting salespeople to do better, incentivising them, etc, can create a one-dimensional, transactional relationship, ‘What’s in it for me if I do this?’ By inculcating a values driven base for the results focus to sit on top of this will form a new and more worthwhile dynamic. The sales-team will take greater responsibility for their numbers, targets, objectives and customers. In other words, this greater level of ownership has not been achieved by simply asking why people don’t take responsibility, but by focusing on what connects them to the organisation and each other.

Before we look at values, a note about culture. It’s values that define culture, not the other way round. If you want to change the culture start by looking at the values. Culture is no more than a statement reinforced by behaviour. Make the statement – we encourage a learning environment – back it up with the behaviour, offer fully funded vocational courses and time off the job. But the thing that underpins all of that is the value that says ‘knowing and learning new things is critical to us all’.

What does a values driven sales team look like? Firstly, it knows what it believes in and what it is trying to do. When anybody is in a difficult, ambiguous or volatile situation, where the best option is debatable, they use the organisational/team values to help decide what to do. This means that even if they got it ‘wrong’ they know they will be supported, because the values have acted as a touchstone for everybody.

Secondly, there are high levels of interdependency. They need each other (including the manager) to perform at their best. Their biggest competitors are other companies, not their colleagues.

Thirdly, they rate each other’s capabilities and have real respect for their actual and potential contribution. Consequently, the only tension is a creative one, not one based on negative conflict.

Finally, it’s a very difficult team to get into, standards (both professional and personal) are high, but once you’re in, you’re cherished. Peer group pressure is clear to see.

If you’re wondering what these ‘magic’ values are, don’t. Values statements are all very similar. Typically, they will contain concepts like integrity, trust etc, and there shouldn’t be too many, 6 or 7 maximum. The difficult bit is not the words, but living the values.
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Developing New Intellectual Capital

The intelligence and cleverness that made the team successful in the past will not make it successful in the future. In a world of discontinuous change the learning of the past does not help with dealing with the future. No matter how much BT know about telecoms, it isn’t enough to stop their position being eroded by new competitors with new technology and different propositions. The high tech companies of today can be the rust belt businesses of tomorrow. In our own work it is common to find the sales function (even successful ones) in a very defensive position when talking about the future. This ‘intellectual high ground’ that drives a company’s strategy and high-level business decisions should have a large sales/customer element. Often it does, but not provided by the senior salespeople. Finance, IT and marketing, but not sales.

Why not? The sales function are similar to football managers, they get too much credit for when things are going well (so sometimes feel a bit guilty about the recognition) and too much blame when things are going badly (so feel at best disgruntled and at worst total victims at ‘the unfairness of it all’). This can make them wary about looking to the future beyond next month’s figures; remember how football managers take ‘each game one at a time’. This means that a vision for the future, what if… scenario planning and general looking forward has a low priority. When your business world is in a stable, even state, this position is sustainable, but not today. Unless sales-teams scope their future others will do it for them, by either using other functions in their own company, the competition or customers.

Of course there are more things to get right than just these five, but these five are the future fundamentals if your sales organisation is going to play a meaningful and central role in the customer propositions of tomorrow.

Training Versus Learning

Over the past few years there has been a significant ‘shift’ as organisations have sophisticated and begun to realise that the pick and mix, sheep dip approach to people development doesn’t achieve the impact necessary. Now the talk is of learning, Training Managers have become Learning and Development Managers, Training Departments have moved the same way. Often the terms learning and training become interchangeable and with a hierarchy being adopted where training becomes secondary to the (perceived) more value-adding process of learning.
What most organisations are missing is that it’s not either/or but instead its about the dynamic combination of learning and training and it is on this which we believe all people development should be based.
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What Does The Combination Look Like?

First of all, let’s get our definitions clear:

  • Learning focuses on achieving permanent changes in behaviour. Learning interventions are generally longer term, driven by providing the individual with the opportunity to achieve the changes through personal experience or practice. Interventions tend to include things like 1-1 coaching and mentoring and 360 Feedback.
  • Training focuses on the acquisition of new skills and knowledge with training interventions generally being event driven. Classroom based workshops and pure play e-learning modules all feature heavily in the training arena.

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And the differences between the two?

Training

  • Skills development
  • Externally applied
  • Short term skill uplift
  • Equips for known challenges
  • Meets current organisational requirements
  • Focuses on the group
  • Primarily structured
  • ‘Doing’

Learning

  • Behaviour change
  • Internally accepted
  • Long term change
  • Equips for ambiguous future
  • Defines organisational future
  • Is focused by individuals
  • Primarily organic
  • ‘Understanding’

Structured Training understand this combination and deliver solutions through which:

  • Provide relevance by tailoring the solution to the individual rather than the group.
  • Balance the need for tactical skills injection with longer term strategic development.
  • Create ownership and commitment by enabling the individual to drive their own development.
  • Draw on theory and best practice and connecting them into the individual’s day to day reality.
  • Optimise the return on training expenditure by focusing on the real rather than the perceived need.

All Structured Training courses contain a range of activities and techniques all designed against the backdrop of the organisational objectives and tailored to suit the needs of the individual.