It takes all kinds to make the world and if you are in Sales or Business Development chances are that you will encounter every sort … and a few more!!
Sales is not for folks who give up too easily or too soon, nor is it for the kind who want everything laid out on the line – if you want people to be predictable and everything to happen in an orderly fashion get a job in a funeral parlour.
Jokes apart, Sales is an avocation meant for those who love excitement and unpredictability – and can deal with a lot of chaos.
I spent two hours training a young Executive in tele-calling skills and then asked her to make calls. I had mentioned that it is not going to be easy and that she will encounter a lot of resistance. 30 minutes later she appeared with a pathetic expression on her face – “Sir, most people are not answering my call and the ones who answer tell me to call later.”
I smiled – sent her back to work saying she has to ask those people to give her another slot to call.
A little after that she was back – “Most of them are saying we don’t want training for our staff at present. They want to know how I got their number.”; giving a few more inputs to deal with such queries I sent her to her seat fully aware that she would return with more complaints. This young person, like so many I meet these days, is not able to stick to a game-plan for sufficiently long period. They are not willing to try new things and want results too soon. Maybe I will have to give her another day or two and permit her to go through the cycle of experiments and queries before I start looking for someone else who is more tuned to this job – finding a needle in a haystack is an easier prospect.
A friend and I were out all day yesterday making sales visits – we met senior officials in the IT and HR department at four well-known organisations.
The first gentleman we met headed the IT Department in a reputed college for technical studies. His handshake was cold and limp and he was extremely closed to ideas – later I realised that he was not reasonable either. The institution had purchased a few IT products from my friend couple of years back and now they are out of warranty – like the typical Government institution they had sat on the file till the warranty had expired and had not purchased a Maintenance Contract in time. An item went faulty and he was miffed when the Hotline Executive informed him that the service would be done at cost. Our client said that the vendor needs to be more flexible. It was obvious that this man had been irritated by the way the message was delivered to him and my friend worked overtime to cool his temper. Our IT Head said vehemently that the next tender being released soon would be finalised in favour of the supplier who is willing to bend rules / processes for them – wonder why it’s always the other party that needs to be flexible.
At the next institution the Department Head we visited continued working at the computer while we spoke. When we stopped to let him finish the task he asked us to go on. By the time we left he had printed a document and cross-checked the printed copy with the monitor – did he expect the printout to be different from what was in the computer? While walking back to the car after the call my friend said that this man had not been easy to deal with even in the past and was known to resort to unethical practices. And since we had not offered him any benefit in the past the cold shoulder was what we received in return.
The third customer was a major Publishing Company. The H.R. – Head gave us the appointment with no fuss. He listened to us silently and without expression – I even wondered whether he was thinking about something else. But when I finished explaining the salient features and benefits of a training program that was being conducted by us in November he gave us 2 participants. It was a pleasant surprise to me. I had felt resistance all the while and never expected this to happen. But we had stuck to the task and given him what he wanted to hear. It was obvious that he had this requirement for a while and we visited his office at the opportune moment. It was good to get a positive response after two bad calls.
The Administration Head of a private hospital was our next destination – he was very receptive and friendly. He listened to us, asked questions and later responded to our queries in detail. He took great pains to tell us how different his business and employees were different from other organisations – don’t we all wish to believe that. He wanted a training solutions uniquely tailored to his organisation’s / team’s specific needs. I wish I had a dollar for every time a prospect said that – I would be rich by now.
In the first visit we had to display empathy and listening skills, the next one demanded that we do not display any irritation or ill-will in our words and expressions, in the third one we had to remain enthusiastic and alert and in the last one we had to match the enthusiasm of the customer and support his feeling of being unique and different.
Each visit / encounter is a challenge. The Sales Professional needs to be receptive and pliant, yet firm. Like an octopus he needs to change his colour and form to match that of the environment.
Sales is dynamic and demanding, but fun; it calls for a lot of patience, flexibility and mental agility. It is a people management challenge all the way. Be prepared to meet them!
A friend who runs a business in the IT Sector has appointed 2 young techies for the Sales & Support function.
From previous experience he knows that these guys won’t be able to make any big catches in the initial months – so they are used almost all the time for pre-sale estimates, post-sale support visits and to handle inbound queries on the phone.
Occasionally the tyros are sent out to handle sales enquiries – they take on such assignments with a lot of reluctance and almost always return empty-handed with more work for either the owner or for one of the seasoned campaigners.
These boys have a huge mountain to climb because the customers they are expected to sell to are in the Medium and Large Account categories. That means large ticket sizes and marquee deals, but it also means longer Sales Cycles, need for customisation in the Solutions and complexities in the Sales Process. It’s a bit like throwing minnows into the shark-pool with no warning.
They have sound technical skills and can deal with the problem with fairly high level of competence; but dealing with people is an absolute No-No! They do not know how to start and extend a business conversation. They are unable to ask the right questions nor can they convince the customer to buy a solution that’s on offer. They give up too soon and seem unwilling to visit senior level officials.
There is a a lot of discomfort and lack of confidence mainly on account of poor social, interpersonal and communication skills. Selling is an attitude, not just a skill.
My friend’s situation is not unique – it is a challenge faced by the market at large; there is an alarming drop in availability of sufficient talent for the Sales Function.
There are a number of other job options available in the market – Call Centres and BPOs are offering decent salaries to starters and then there is the added attraction of an air-conditioned work environment and a trendy crowd to work with. Even Event Management outfits and Caterers are able to entice people with attractive salary and perks. Modern Retail is another segment that is preferred by the young set. Most of these jobs are done indoors and entail less travel.
There is a huge drop in the the number of people interested in mainline Sales jobs that involve daily travel and 8 to 10 visits to customers per day.
Corporates and Businesses are exploring other ways to reach the prospects – there is a desperate need to maintain and improve the lead generation levels.
Some of the methods currently being added to the Sales Function
- Inside Sales – Using the telephone to generate leads and close sales. The entire process is done on the phone. This space is growing, albeit slowly, in India. But we have many Call Centres that are selling to the Western Markets.
- Inviting prospects to the office for a Demo cum Sale. Relationship Managers of Banks, Insurance and Holiday companies set up meetings with prospective clients on the phone and invite customers to visit them for a discussion.
- Leveraging the Sales Team of another organisation – some organisations are offering a fat commission to other organisations for generating fresh business – even government departments, the Postal Department is one such, have got into this game.
- Usage of intermediaries to increase the size of the catchment area – Insurance Companies have been using banks as a channel to generate insurance business; even loans and other products of their sister concerns are sold by many banks.
- The Internet and Social Media are being used to pull the prospective buyer into a sales conversation – the early part of the sale or in many instances the entire sales happens on the internet.
My friend has had to resort to appointing people with poor sales talent on account of the huge dirth of talent in the market – he is more than willing to pay for good resources, but they just aren’t available. At present, he is busy sprucing up his website to make it more attractive, informative and user friendly and considering tie-ups to improve the prospect pipeline.
The business of selling is seeing a sea change!
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This time, instead of letters on a page, I will let my voice do the talking – we usually start with 1 – but for a change I have decided to begin at 3!
The partnership with Radio ME 100.3 of Dubai is going from strength to strength. This is the 3rd interview I have given on that FM Station, courtesy Kris Iyer.
I will be uploading the 1st interview shortly but since Kris has already done this one I just have to attach the link.
In a way this is No.1 because Kris Iyer has dubbed the interview the 1st in a series on Sales where the business community in Dubai, and you, will hear me explain various aspects of Selling and Sales Management.
This one focuses on some of the characteristics of the ideal person you would appoint for a Sales job. I know there are many more, this discussion is only an overview of the subject.
For further details you can reach me at – firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to your inputs and feedback.
Note: The quality of audio is not that good in some sections because I am speaking with Kris from Cochin using my mobile phone – it wouldn’t be studio quality.
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Met a former colleague last evening; it was raining in Cochin and temperatures had dropped. Our thoughts gravitated towards something to warm us up … and there was a convenient watering-hole nearby. After we settled down with a bracing drink in hand the conversation veered towards work.
“Boss, I have been thinking about a change for a while now; when I suggested this meeting the idea was to discuss a few things with you.”
“What’s the rush? You have been in this job for just 2 years and I would guess that things are going pretty much okay” I said.
“There is nothing wrong as of now. Things are going smooth – but that is my problem. It’s just too smooth. There is no excitement in what I am doing now. To make things worse there was a change in leadership and the new Head hardly interacts with me. He just tells me to do the usual. The previous man used to call me in for discussions regularly and if there was a lull in my main activity he would ask me to tag along with one of his Junior Managers for some on-the-job training. That was nothing great but there was variety, a break from the drab routine. Now I hardly have to think; am just whiling away my time.”
Career Stall … This happens to many professionals.
- They fall into a rut
- Work stop being energising and challenging
- They find no meaning in what they are doing
- They are convinced that there is no further upside in their present pursuit
- They feel ignored and sidelined
- They fall sick or feel demotivated – reasons to avoid going to work!
This usually happens to professionals who have not been able to reach the levels they had set for themselves earlier. At the same time they see former peers now working at levels above them. And their present job has become monotonous. It’s a self-damning cycle fuelled by one’s own imagination.
How does one come out of this rut, this downward spiraling cycle?
There are two ways to tackle this – either by recalibrating and pushing for more from your present line of activity (low risk) or by find a totally new line (high risk).
- Assess your priorities
- Set goals – maybe after studying options available in the market
- Do a SWOT analysis for yourself
- Find out what’s needed to plug gaps in your portfolio – get re-equipped
- Maybe you need a Coach or Mentor to guide you during this phase
- Be bold and decisive about making the change
- Network and speak with people about your requirement – be assertive!
- Keep yourself in the limelight and get noticed when there are promotions planned
- Be on the lookout for opportunities in other organisations
This is the riskier option – like they say in TV Series Startrek “Going places where no man has ever gone before!” It’s definitely a place where you have never gone before.
This is like trying your Option-B first. It should be an area that has interested you greatly – you are in Sales and wish to become a full-time Musician. Maybe you have been pursuing this line as a hobby (you sang at parties, did couple of gigs with other friends at a local club) and some close friend of yours is in that line of activity and doing well.
I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have proven strengths in the new line of activity or have someone who will actively promote you.
Remember that others have their own lives and careers to pursue and they may not have time for you. There are friends or business associates who promise “in blood” that their support will always be there with you and would disappear when it’s time to pitch in. So do not jump in blindly! Do it if you have the personal financial back-up or an assurance of support from your immediate family – it will be amazing if you have a spouse who is working and can temporarily help in tiding over the period of reduced income. After all the bills will not stop coming just because you decided to make a career change. Companies don’t work that way, unfortunately.
I recommend the following strategy:
- Be absolutely sure what line you want to pursue next.
- Practice the new activity while you are still in your job.
- Get assignments that you can do on weekends or by taking time-off from work
- If you can get paid assignments it would be a great confidence booster
- Create a portfolio or a body of work that can be showcased
- Get recommended by the leading voices in that field
- Get trained or coached to become a competent practitioner of that skill
- Decide to quit your job only when you have a regular set of clients
- Minimise your risk by reducing your financial commitments
- Having a nest-egg will be a definite plus – reduces stress.
Mid-career blues happens to most professionals – it impacts the hot-shots as much as it impacts the average ones. It could be due to unhappiness with the current job, a loss of self-worth or a feeling of being stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Stop yourself from plunging headlong into desperation and doomsday scenarios by constantly upgrading yourself, getting involving in interesting assignments, making your a valuable resource. Think and behave like a high-flyer.
During this phase it is important to surround yourself with people who help you focus on the positives and for you to have implicit belief in your capabilities!
Keep the engines of your professional life revved all the time – never permit it to shut down and get you into Career Stall!
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A few years back my son, Nikhil, like many smart boys his age, got a thought stuck in his head which said that results would come without much effort; he had scored 98 in Math in Std–X and a fairly high score in the Sciences too. Hence, it appeared to his teenage mind that his talent would ensure that the marks come automatically; he did not put in a huge effort to study for the Std-XII examinations. When the results were announced he got a huge shock! He had only managed to score what can be called a fair score – there were no numbers in the late eighties or nineties. That was five years back – since then he has graduated from college and works now for a leading Indian organisation.
The reason for providing this anecdote here is to tell the millions of youngsters out there that talent is not enough to make them succeed – talent just ensures that you get there, to stay on you need to perform and that happens only when you are on a planned program of activities. There are dozens of examples in sport, business and the entertainment business to show how while a few succeed many fall by the wayside.
What was / is the differentiator?
Young professionals who join the workplace after achieving excellent grades in college and even seasoned professionals who have seen a consistently good set of results soon get the wrong notion planted in their head – that they just need to turn up and things just happen.
I have to disappoint you, Folks! That is a myth!
Talented people sometimes convince themselves on the following:
- They believe that there is nothing more to learn – they know it all!
- They are convinced that effort is for lesser mortals, people without talent.
- They don’t commit to do any work because it is boring and a waste of time
Remember, it wasn’t your presence that got the results, but it’s more about what you did!
To all the talented people I have this to say – Congratulations! You have qualified to stand on Step-1. Now it is time to put in the efforts that in due course would slowly, yet steadily, take you to the top step.
Here are a few things you could do:
- Define / Decide, where you want to go or what you wish to achieve!
- Understand what can get you there!
- Put in the effort to improve – persistently and in a planned manner.
- Find the weapons needed to make you invincible.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Don’t be afraid to accept failure – stay motivated!
- Get feedback on your performance – get a coach.
- Iron out the kinks!
- Be committed to the plan – don’t give up!
- Accept criticism that is useful! (I know, it is a bitter pill to swallow.)
- Believe you are good but don’t let it go to your head!
An example easily recognised in India comes for cricket, the national madness – a hugely talented cricketer named Vinod Kambli shone for a short while and faded away while his classmate, Sachin Tendulkar, went on to achieve glory. Many experts said that Kambli was more talented of the two, and that went to his head. While he frittered away his chances Tendulkar stuck to a plan and the rest they say is history.
The challenge for employers who have a bunch of talented people in their ranks is to create a program to utilize their energy and brilliance – if they are put on routine work that can be done at half-steam frustration and restlessness would set in. Managers leading talented team members need to be keep creating challenges that keep them busy and using their potential. Their results need to be recognised and rewarded suitably.
All talent people need to realise early in life that recognition comes after performance and not prior to it. Results need effort and only constant learning can keep them at the top. While they need to be encouraged and nurtured by the people around them, but both sides need to get real and work on shaping the talent into something useful.
Goals win matches, not the ability to score goals!
P.S: In the book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell provides some amazing insights on how Champions are created – be they scientists, cricketers, guitarists or businessmen – each put herself or himself through the grind and went through a painful process of failure, disappointments and learning before appearing as the awe-inspiring wonders on the world stage.
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Scenario – 1: Young talent joins an organisation fresh from college – what does the Manager do? The wide–eyed and enthusiastic recruit is dumped in the hands of an unwilling old hand who happens to be around that moment – the Manager walks away gleefully, rid of his burden. The veteran has been instructed to give the new man an overview of company, products and process. If he is not otherwise occupied he may take the man out for a few sales calls. In the evening the not-so-exuberant young man trudges home laden with brochures and process manuals. If he is lucky this routine may continue for 2 or 3 days; but it’s most likely that business that month is below par and the recruit finds his honeymoon cut short. He is given a target and sent out to the big wide world. Practically from Day-1 he is expected to perform miracles.
Scenarios – 2: An experienced hand joins after a successful stint in another company – this time the Manager deigns to spend time with him; thanks to his experience and track record the Manager feels obliged to share some of his valuable time with the new recruit. But the story after that remains the same. In this instance the new hand is expected to run for results as soon as the briefing is completed, after all he has been a performer and is probably trained by his previous organisations to deal with clients. The countdown to perform definitely starts from Day-1.
- It is good to have expectation for your resources, but let them be realistic.
- Reciting the product and process information to the new recruit is not training.
- Taking a recruit to the market and permitting him to witness couple of sales calls is not Sales Experience.
- Success in another organisation, or with another product, does not automatically translate to success in the new role.
- Loading a recruit with a target and starting the performance clock before providing adequate inputs can be extremely discouraging.
What should the Manager do?
- Take time to blood new talent – give more training, not less.
- Permit the new hands to make calls without the pressure of targets – let them learn the skills first and then ask them to perform.
- Manage the initial phase closely – be lenient in the first month and tighten the screws over a period of time. Think long – term!
- Encourage experienced hands by recognizing their previous success; give them time to settle down – what worked there may not work here. Seek their inputs where appropriate.
- Manager’s involvement is critical in the initial phase – by way of training, coaching, support and recognition.
- Recognise and celebrate early success of the raw recruits.
- Have a program to bring all new recruits up to speed before you state your expectations –no output is possible without giving the right inputs.
It is critical that new hands, raw or experienced, get inducted into the system through a structured program which pushes them to expected levels of performance over a period of time – stretch too soon and they may snap. Organisations need to initiate the right practices to nurture and grow new talent or careers will flounder even before they are formed … don’t nip a flower in the bud, give it time to blossom!
The program was delivered to the top performers of the Company – it was a refresher for them, an aid to take their performance and results to the next level.
But this article is not about the company or their work – it’s more about the joy of being with their Sales Team. Nothing like being with a bunch of Sales Professionals – there is excitement, energy, eagerness to go one better than the next guy (even in the training room); I think the urge to win and to get ahead in no better expressed than by a group of Sales Professionals. But there was camaraderie too, and friendly digs at each other.
There was good cheer and appreciation for the next man’s achievements. It was great to see one Sales Manager proudly extolling a team-member’s success. The team’s win was like one’s own victory. And there was aggression too, nothing was left uncontested. Even a technique or a idea suggested by the trainer was taken through a fine sieve and only when there was ample substantiation it was accepted.
At the end of the day there was vocal acceptance of the validity of the program and appreciation for good work done.
These two days really made me wish that I were a part of a large Sales Team again.
It would mean a lot of hair-pulling and stress with every missed forecast and all orders lost; but it also provided the highs of success and the ecstasy of widespread applause for the orders won. Your work is noticed and there is the inexplicable thrill of being in the spotlight.
I am tempted to think about a career in Sales; not that am not selling now. Every training assignment is won with a Sales effort, but I am speaking about leading a large Sales team and chasing big targets. Worth a thought!
You can take a Sales Pro out of Sales, but you cannot take Sales out of him, ever … Oh! The joy of Selling!
So I have achieved a dozen Posts! Let me use the 13th one to talk about my good luck!
When we graduated from college (seems like a lifetime ago – although not that long back it definitely was in the last century!) the preferred career paths for most of us youngsters were the following:
- Become an Engineer or a Doctor
- Join the Indian Administrative Service
- Be an Officer in a Nationalized Bank
- Join the Armed Forces
- Seek a Government Job
- Find a job in the Persian Gulf and earn Petro Dollars
- Be some other professional – Chartered Accountant / Journalist / Advocate
Of course, there were the really, really smart kids who wrote exams and qualified for a seat in the top Universities in USA and UK and settled for careers abroad after studies.
The MBA or the high-flying jobs in Investment Banking and Securities Trading had not hit the scheme yet in the sheltered and closed Indian economy. Even the Insurance and Aviation sectors were ruled by the Government-owned companies.
It was in the early 90s that India did away with its licensing policies for the Industrial Sector and opened its door to foreign investment – we saw an explosion of industrial and commercial activity and the private sector blossomed. With that came opportunities for a lot more people – the number and variety of jobs proliferated particularly in the Services Sector.
A discerning eye would have noticed that something is missing in what I have said so far – Sales or a career in Sales did not find any mention – that’s because it was not considered a HOT career back then!
Back then even I had not considered Sales as my first or even second option – I just stumbled into it when my preferred lines became unattainable and learned the ropes along the way.
Although perceptions have changed a lot and many opt for Sales jobs today there is still a lurking belief that Sales Professionals are fast–talkers and smooth-operators and people to be wary off.
Isn’t it funny that there are such feelings towards Sales Professionals when in reality every successful person is a Salesperson – Presidents win Elections, Visionaries get buy-in for their Dreams, Gurus promote their Concepts and Lovers win over each other through the power of persuasion, which is the prime weapon in a Sales Pro’s armoury!
Knowing the pulse of the audience, understanding their needs, providing solutions that fulfill those needs and helping people realize their dreams is what a Sales Pro does. This guy has developed those skills into a fine-art. That’s what achievers in other professions aspire to do too!
I like to think that the barbs thrown at us Sales professionals are just out of envy – because we are one up the them!
Although not by choice I ended up doing something I really enjoy. I am Lucky by chance!!