Some News From The Frontline – How Field Based Salespeople Need To Stay Sharp

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  1. In tough times buying power moves further up the purchasing organisation. Salespeople need to develop strategies to follow the money.
  2. Price is becoming a huge issue. Salespeople need two things in their sales tool box. (1) The ability to sell a value based proposition. (2) The ability to negotiate.
  3. Salespeople are emotional people. When times get stressful they can gravitate to focusing more on irrational factors over which they have no control, the Banking crises being an obvious issue at present.  Keep them focused on what they can control, the number of high quality sales opportunities they have diarised for next week under their control, that’s the kind of thing they need to have front of mind.
  4. For many customers, the balance of risk is against the salesperson. It is less risky for the buyer to procrastinate than to act. Until that changes salespeople have got to work harder at building need, creating sufficient dissonance in the buyers’ mind that to not decide to buy is much worse than giving out the order number.
  5. Keep salespeople away from survivor guilt. Colleagues have lost their jobs and they haven’t. Make sure you bolster their confidence, tell them why they are valued, as people just as much as for the role contribution.
  6. Seek out opportunities to meet and then exceed the customers’ expectations. For the prospective customer the sales experience is the pre-ownership experience, it’s a refection of their actual purchase. Doing small things here can tip sales in your favour when the purchasing decision is finely balanced.
  7. In tough times activity – quantity and quality – is the thing. Recognise activity, reward results. It’s dangerous to reward activity you might not get the result to make the payout. By recognising the right activities with praise, recognition, awards etc., you focus behaviour on the things that deliver the results.

A Look Into The Current Workplace – Why Some Young People Still Don’t Get How To Increase/Reduce Their Credibility Through Appearance And Speech

Clothing and appearance choices have always been a contentious point between generations, here, a CEO who wishes to remain anonymous, but who was sporting a short back and sides, a smooth chin and a lounge suit explains:

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Dress

  • The younger you are the more appearance will contribute to your credibility (or not). The older you get the more licence you obtain in being individual or weird, depending on taste.
  • Too much visible skin is one of the most common mistakes young people make. No manager should have to observe in a meeting that you have a belly ring or a tattoo at the small of your back, on your shoulder, or on your chest.
  • As a rule, underwear should never be visible and chewing gum never be done at work.
  • In summary, dress in ways that conform to the norms of the role you want. Assuming you are effectively holding down the job you are doing, identify what credibility looks like for the job you want and then replicate it in your appearance.

Hair

  • Hair should not be noticed. Clean hair that doesn’t need constant tucking behind the ears or pushing away from the face is a good thing.
  • Too much gel says teenager.
  • One/two day stubble is seen as fashionable by some, in many businesses it’s still seen as either evidence of not being able to get out of bed, or just general slovenliness.  Beard or no beard, there is no try.

Speech

  • The fastest way for your argument to lose credibility is to repeatedly use the phrase ‘So, do you, like, know what I mean?’
  • When this is combined with the Australian Upward Inflection (making your voice rise at the end of every statement, turning it into a question), the loss of gravitas to your position is devastating.

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Note 1: None of the above applies if either what is described above is the norm for your industry or you are not bothered about moving into a more senior role.

Note 2: If you practice these traits and you are over 40, seek professional stylist help.

Next month we will look at appearance issues affecting the older worker in the workplace.

If you have your own views on appearance issues post a comment.

Innovation/Creativity – It’s Easy To Talk About, Much Harder To Actually Do

Every business talks about being ‘innovative’ or being more ‘creative’ as part of its vision or values. Management will talk about blue sky thinking, or its more robust cousin blue ocean strategy, without doing much else.

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Often people will talk about innovation and creativity as the same thing which doesn’t help. You might mean them to be the same but they’re not.  Innovation is usually held to be the more exciting original, strategic activity; creativity being more about low level process and operational, incremental improvement.

However, the real meaning of the words actually places their context the other way round. Innovate has its roots in innovâre–to renew. Creative however is, by definition, to bring some brand new into existence.

Whichever way you use the terms they do point to two different activities and thinking processes; one about originality, creating new things, and the other about taking something that exists further and better than anybody else previously has. Both these approaches can be sources of competitive advantage.

The commercial history of attempting to institutionalise innovation/creativity can be shown on a timeline.

What major corporations have recognised over recent times is that a functional focus is no longer effective (above the line). A more networked approach is required that connects the inside of the organisation to outside expertise and customers. The other significant development is the focus on cultural norms rather than rules and responsibilities. With everybody thinking differently, the ideas pipeline is much more effectively stocked.

The Major Innovation/ Creativity Drivers

  • Clear alignment with the vision and values
  • Linked to strategic objectives
  • Encouraged through informal networks
  • People trusted and empowered to try new things
  • Critical analysis of customers articulated and unarticulated needs
  • Leveraging existing intellectual capital
  • Early involvement of suppliers/partners
  • Toleration of rule breaking

Three Major Innovation/Creativity Considerations

  1. It doesn’t happen without strong evidence of leadership being present
  2. It doesn’t happen without good organisational change capabilities
  3. It doesn’t happen without being measured through a Balanced Score Card type performance framework.

Note: The most common inhibitor to innovation/creativity is management talking about wanting more of it, without taking practical steps to make it happen.

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One thing is certain, in this increasingly reductive, commoditised world, without innovative/creative capabilities your organisations’ competitive advantage will be severely limited.

The Challenge In Finding Good Salespeople

This hardy perennial keeps being coming round, in good times and in bad. The question has gained added urgency because a lot of apparently ‘good’ salespeople have been found to be seriously lacking when business doesn’t come flowing in on a wave of business optimism. Order takers are exposed when the going gets tough.

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The first principle to accept is that really good salespeople are not going to be in the open job market for very long.  By definition they are either going to be held onto by their employer or will have been head hunted directly into a new role.

A sales person who has been made redundant needs to be considered very carefully. There maybe a good reason, but getting rid of someone who should be paying for themselves several times over tells you all you need to know.

Employed salespeople registering with a recruitment agency will be doing so for one of the following reasons.

  1. They need another job because they fear redundancy – see earlier paragraph
  2. They need to find another job before they get fired for poor performance
  3. They don’t believe they can fulfil their potential/ambition/earnings with their current employer, or, to their mind, said employer’s business future looks uncertain
  4. They are going for a genuine promotion, which for some organisational or cultural reason is blocked where they currently are
  5. For personal reasons that are nothing to do with the job; partner’s career, being closer to family etc.

The problem is, all the salespeople in categories 1 and 2 will say their reason for wanting to move is to do with numbers 3, 4 or 5. The challenge is to find that out.

In our experience there is a correlation between organisations that develop their own salespeople as much as possible and so perform better over the medium term, than those that always recruit from outside. There are two benefits to this approach. First, the new salesperson will know the company and is likely to know the products and services as well. Secondly, if you know what a good salesperson looks like in raw form (because you indentify them in your own company and develop them into salespeople) you are more likely to identity ‘the right stuff’ when you have to recruit outside.

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The single biggest reason why companies never get round to ‘growing their own’ is because they need instant success, which forces them out into the job market, often making expensive mistakes.

The Difference Between Those In Sales Management Positions That Can Add Value And Those That Can’t

This year has shown that in interesting times some approaches are more effective than others, some sales leaders really do shown a navigable path through to improved performance, whilst other less able managers add no value at all through their visible anxiety and single dimensional approach.

We have captured the main difference in a table below:

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Old Fashioned, Non Value Adding Sales Managers/Sales Director New World, Value Adding Sales Managers/Sales Director
Origins of Credibility Needs to stay selling, wheeled out for the difficult deals Builds high performing sales teams
Mind-Set Believes their role is primarily about keeping sales people ‘honest’ and focused on what they should be doing. Parent/Child Creates an environment for sales people to excel in. Works with the team to achieve higher performance levels. Adult/Adult
Sales Focus Benefits and Closing Adding Value and Building Business
Marketing View Sales promotions and ‘giveaways’ Value propositions and brand building
Planning Orientation Short term and plate spinning Longer term and pro-active
Change Capabilities Problem driven and reactive Opportunity driven and planned
Stress Response SHOUTS and transfers their problems onto others Thinks, listens and acts to improve things

What’s interesting is how many sales managers and directors, who behave in the left hand column, believe they are doing the right thing. They also tell us that morale is low, performance is flat and pressure from above unceasing. What they don’t see is any connection between behaving in the old fashioned, left hand style, and the way the team is (not) performing.

This blind spot can be so bad that when we talk about the right hand column and what the benefits are, the response is one of ‘we haven’t got time for any of that, we’ve just got to SELL!’

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The value-adding approach delivers a sustainable management style, a more engaged sales team and a much greater chance of consistently improved performance.

Starting Your Own Business?  A Way Back To Employment Or To Escape A Job You Don’t Like

After dreaming about winning the lottery the next most popular lifestyle dream is working for yourself.  Just last week the Government minister, David Willets, suggested graduates should think about starting up their own business last week as an alternative to struggling in the current job market.

Often our work involves working for clients who started their own business or through circumstance have ended up working for themselves.  We’ve also seen a few people/businesses struggle and fail.  Below we’ve put together a list of some of the key criteria that seem to make the difference between being a wage slave and being in charge of your own density:

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  1. Working for yourself doing the same job as you did as an employee is not the same thing. We see a lot of internal consultants and trainers who think they will just do the same role, but as a free-lancer. Not understanding EVERYTHING is different; the psychological contract, the success criteria, the value equation, the feedback mechanism, everything.
  2. Your idea has to be different enough in an overcrowded market.  It’s no good having a quite good idea, or something like something else.  Your idea has to be better.  It has to have something that meets either an unmet need/want, or activates an unarticulated need/want in the mind of your prospective customers.  Key possible variables to consider are; price, location, functionality, quality, practicality, brand, service, & novelty.
  3. A poor business idea won’t come good if you give it time.  Indifferent offerings (think of your local high street) don’t improve when the market does; they just go bust at a slightly slower pace. Grants and subsidies are no substitute for a strong value proposition.
  4. It’s all about cash not profit.  Free (unspoken for) cash is what drives successful businesses.  That unencumbered cash can be turned into profit, dividends, reinvestment, acquisitions or lifestyle.  NEVER borrow money (after the initial start up phase) to fund running expenses or your own wages.  More businesses/people fail not because they are unprofitable but because they run out of cash.
  5. Technology can be your BIG idea or your downfall.  Technology can deliver fantastic opportunities – Facebook, iphone, etc.  Can you exploit these new technologies in some way?  Equally, many business models are being threatened by the internet, make sure you test your (off-line) idea against an online alternative.  Try to look at least 5 years out.
  6. You could be the problem.  Some people can’t work for themselves; they haven’t the discipline, the work ethic, the resilience, the right approach to risk, or the personal support.  Make sure you develop enough self-awareness to understand YOU, before making an expensive mistake.
  7. Pay attention to everything.  Planning, attention to detail, checking and analysis should all be key activities in the pre and launch phases.  If this isn’t your bag, find a partner or some hired resource you trust, who loves sweating the small stuff.
  8. Create a good business plan.  One that covers all the bases; finance, sales, marketing, operations, people and compliance.
  9. Desire always beats ability.  Nothing more to add here.

If you think you’ve got our checklist covered, go for it, you’ll have a great (and sometimes scary) time!