The Sales Coach Blog presented over 200 articles in 2012 and it received close to 30,000 visitors in that period. April to June was when the blog hit the purple patch, it was an inflection point; readership regularly hit 100+ per day from that period onwards. In Dec 2012 there was a slowdown because I had not posted any article after Dec 8th – the next one only appeared on Jan 1, 2013; concomitantly there was a huge dip in readership, from almost 4000 in Nov 2012 it crashed to 1700 in Dec 2012. I have it all to do in 2013.
Based on number of readers these are the Top-5 articles:
No.1 spot is taken by the 2nd and concluding article of the Negotiation Case Study I presented in May, 2012.
Then came the one on qualification of Prospects – how to make realisitic Sales Forecasts:
What I had to say about letting go off the past and moving on struck a chord with a lot of my readers:
Most people don’t realise that one needs to be assertive to be successful in life – I made a strong case for it here:
And finally, the one that should be on top of the list; actually this article got the highest number of hits but the analytics on WordPress also tells me that a lot of people reached the article after having Googled for the photo, not the text!! So I hesitantly put it down at No.5
A special mention for this next article because it got the highest number of responses from my readers – there were 17 comments in response to this article and one even had a follow-up comment. The topic discussed was Courtesy and Manners and its a hotly debated one in recent times. Almost everyone has something to say about it and that’s reflected in the number of responses I got:
I look forward to your support, feedback and comments in 2013.
P.S: This was the article posted on the day the blog got its highest ever readership – the topic was Career Guidance for young professionals:
There were 201 visitors on that day – it was the 3rd time the Sales Coach Blog hit 200 in a single day – however the visitors were not here to read this article and hence it doesn’t feature in the Top-5.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 30,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 7 Film Festivals
The need was a computer – not a high-end one because I wasn’t a software programmer or a gamer. And since I wasn’t a high-end gizmo freak the fancy brands weren’t under consideration either – a sturdy machine that permitted use of regular office applications, access to Social Media and viewing videos was the need of the hour.
The first shop visited after research on the Internet and discussion with family and friends had shown no interest in my patronage and I walked out in disgust.
At the next one I was greeted by a young Salesman who had no experience in Computer Sales and had not been trained to do the job. I was at my wit’s end and on the verge of walking out a second time when like a welcome breeze a smart young guy named Sanu walked up and introduced himself. He had sensed that I was not happy.
The first thing he did was request me, with a pleasant smile on his face, to get seated at one of the Discussion Consoles arranged in the showroom. He took my name and telephone number and asked me to describe my work and the applications I regularly used at my workplace. With a few smart questions he was able to understand my requirement with great clarity. My annoyance was evaporating.
He even asked whether I had narrowed in on any particular brand – that indicated his awareness of the decision-making process followed by most prospects. The most heartening aspect of Sanu’s presentation was his ability to balance business with the personal touch. He was friendly without being invasive and all that was done while focusing on the customer’s requirement. He clearly defined my need and kept me in good humour throughout the interaction.
I had gone in search of a Dell machine but he insisted that I buy Samsung. Suspicious me immediately got my antenna up because I thought he was doing it either to dump unsold stock or trying to earn a higher commission.
But he explained that Dell and other reputed brands used components purchased from Samsung – even iPhones and iPads had components made by Samsung. He went to explain why Samsung was better than Dell in the range I had zeroed in on I cross checked with my son and the IT savvy friend and got confirmation on the points discussed. Sanu waited patiently while I checked – the mark of a Salesman who was confident and knew what he spoke about. He did not interrupt at all, nor did he show any discomfort.
Even after I had confirmed the truth in his argument Sanu cheekily said that I can go for Dell if I wished. That is the hallmark of a professional – ability to use humour appropriately; that only comes with confidence and courage.
Sanu saw me through the process and before I left the showroom he said, while handing over his card – “Give me a call if you need any further help.”
There you have it – a job done well; another happy customer in the market.
He had built rapport, effectively deployed his persuasion skills and proven that he knew the subject well – all this was done in a friendly manner.
It was only yesterday that a friend from Dubai had shared an interesting video on the Science of Persuasion. I could relate Sanu’s performance with the many of the elements of persuasion identified by Prof. Cialdini. Take a look while I boot up my new laptop.
Bought a laptop! Nothing fancy – just a sturdy, middle-of-the-road, Samsung. My son endorsed the purchase saying, “Good choice! We had the least returns and complaints for Samsung laptops!” He should know, having worked for a year with India’s leading electronics retail chain.
Before visiting the outlets in town I did the following:
- Asked a few of my students – the young set should know these things
- Discussed with a friend who is a Software Engineer
- Checked a few online retail portals known for special prices and offers
The next step was to visit couple of good stores in town to touch and feel the models and maybe get a test drive too. But I was disappointed – the shops that I visited couldn’t demonstrate the model I asked for.
Now, isn’t that a major gap in Electronic Goods market – most of the Camera, Computer and Smartphone retailers don’t permit you to test the product. They either have Dummies or show you a catalog. The products are in sealed cases that are opened when the sale is complete. How stupid is that?
Add to that a set of Sales Executive who know precious little about the products or the software applications! At the shop where I eventually made the purchase the Sales Executive who met me first had been working for that outlet for just one week and his previous job was with a two-wheeler dealership. Wow!
I probably would not have bought from this shop either if this tyro had continued dealing with me; fortunately, someone who knew his job took over and I ended up taking a speedy decision on the purchase.
But before I go into those details let me describe the scene at the store I visited first; it is a popular one – they’ve been in business for a few years. I had short-listed 2-3 brands for further investigation, but curiosity made me look beyond that; since I was already there it didn’t hurt to check everything out.
But the Sales Exec in the store had other plans – the moment he discerned that I am Mr. Middle Class and looking for nothing fancy his responses turned perfunctory and cold. It was not as if there were other customers in the store – I was the only prospective buyer in their large showroom. But after showing me 2-3 pieces he moved away to talk to his superior and left me to fend for myself.
I did the obvious …. I walked out. And you know what, this boy did not even care enough to take my name and phone number! How unprofessional was that? I probably would not have shared information after that experience but it was his job to ask. It’s as if he had not even considered me as a prospect.
The store had lost a prospect for good!
Why didn’t I just purchase the item from a website and avoid undergoing such disappointments?
- Delivery Time for online purchases is a week
- Still worried about the lack of human interface for big ticket purchases
- The difference in price was not large enough to swing my decision
Maybe the concerns about buying things on the Internet would change when the online business gets better and more established – this is purely from the Indian context; so much hanky-panky taking place in the market. I guess websites are best for commoditized or low involvement products and impulse purchases – am not so sure whether customized products could be sold as well in this format?
The other thought that I wish leave with you is that the lack of connect on the Sales Executive’s part had left me cold. He didn’t make an effort to win me over. I felt like a car in cold weather, not ready to go!
To be continued …..
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Out on the beat to get participants for one of the scheduled training engagements I walked into the office of a senior functionary of a well-known Builder. After checking that he could spare a few minutes I plunged into the pitch.
Instead of going through the process of understanding the size of the opportunity, or even the existence of the need, I talked on about the training program and at the end of the conversation handed over the program brochure and asked him to nominate people from his team for the session.
After walking out of the room I asked myself these questions:
- What was I trying to achieve in that call?
- Do I know how many participants would attend?
- Do I know the size of his team and hence the potential business opportunity
- Did I inform the man that it is a paid program?
I analysed the call afterwards and realized that in the lead up to the visit I had not prepared the following:
- The clear outcomes – it could just be confirming that the customer has understood our proposition or me understanding the size and scope of his operations and the strength of his team. The Sales Professional has to keep a set of smart questions ready and getting them answered will take him firmly forward in the sale.
- Check Understanding – I did not confirm before leaving the prospect that he had understood the scope of the program or its price. I had left the brochure and hoped he would find out.
- Next Steps – No clear commitment was take from the prospect, nor was any timeline fixed for the next interaction. What he would do post my visit to help me win a sale wasn’t discussed.
All afternoon I had been preparing proposals meant for other clients and had rushed for this meeting, which was scheduled for 5 p.m.; to make things worse I had an appointment following this one and the client I was meeting had indicated a time-window following which he would not be available. That deadline caused some stress and I had rushed into this meeting as if it were a filler item.
No visit to the customer should be treated as a casual affair. You are begging for trouble if you walk into a call unprepared. Your reputation is at stake – your organisation’s reputation is at stake.
Today there are a dozen other options available in every sector; there are competitors snapping at your heels at every turn. Being stupid is not an option.
Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!
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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Part – 2 of the Case Study
Tom and his colleagues wondered why they had to change the way they worked; it seemed like more work, definitely different from how they did things earlier! These thoughts occurred to them as they walked out of the briefing by the new Business Manager. It really wasn’t new or different, just stuff they should have been doing and had either forgotten or ignored to lapse into the haphazard way of selling.
The Business Manager was not going to set them adrift in the market; he had crafted a plan and wanted to work with the team to show how they would benefit from it.
Part-1 had ended with the decision by the Business Manager to implement the following:
- Adopt a Sales Process
- Speed up the Sales Cycle
- Enhance Sales Productivity
- Increase the average Sale Price
1. Adopt a Sales Process
Sales is a process, from Contact to Contract there is a logical sequence of actions that need to be followed. When that is done the chance of success is increased manifold and the customer is fully satisfied with the solution she/he acquires. It happens because the customer understands with great clarity what is being offered and all doubts regarding features, usage and support are cleared upfront. Nothing is left to chance.
Tom and colleagues were not able to acquire enough customers or were taking more time to close the sales due their haphazard style – enough thought was not being put into each sale.
2. Speed up the Sales Cycle
The Business Manager realized while studying the sales data that one of the reasons for poor or low sales was the time taken to close each contract. On an average Tom was taking 7–8 visits to the customer to get business and it got worse in the case of prospects who didn’t buy – 8-10 visits were being taken before deciding whether to pursue or not.
Imagine the amount of time that can be freed if there was a reduction of 2 in each case and to be honest Tom should be able to say much sooner whether it’s going to be a dead-end.
And this delay is mainly on account of the lack of a process – Tom and his colleagues were not thinking through each case. The right questions were not being asked, the response received from the prospect were not being analysed to derive the messages and they probably were not speaking to the right people – hence sales call were being wasted to reach the right person and even the calls made to the decision-makers were having the desired impact due to the lack of understanding of the requirements.
3. Enhance Sales Productivity
Reducing the number of visits needed to close each deal would help to improve productivity, but Tom and colleagues were also missing the chance to sell more in each sale. There were no interest in pushing for more – they were simply accepting whatever the customer offered.
A Sales team needs to thing about maximizing the returns from each contract – how much more can be sold? Can we ask the customer to club a future requirement with this one? Have they considered the needs of the new set of recruits would be joining soon? Has the customer considered the benefit that accrues from adding a feature or by buying the higher model?
As Sales Professional it is for us to put these thoughts in the clients mind – show them the benefit that accrues from buying earlier or by buying a model that is slightly more expensive but will pay back by way of simplifying processes or by reducing overall costs or by freeing time for them.
4. Increase the average Sales Price
The Business Manager had pushed the forward the idea of improving Sales Cycle and Productivity numbers because it meant more revenue. Another idea to extract revenue from a depressed market is to close each sale at a higher price.
The biggest crib heard from Sales Teams across the world –“ The customer likes our product but they say it is very expensive” or “the customer says that our rival is offering the same at a lower price”.
And this would start a discount war if the Business Manager isn’t careful – the winner would be the customer who managed to play two or more vendors against each other and extracted the best deal.
But the idea is to call the team’s and the client’s bluff. Tom’s Manager did just that; instead of given in he asked the team to study each requirement in greater detail and also to understand fully what the competitor was offering. By doing the analysis they were able to respond to each prospect with greater clarity and they could counter the bogies thrown at them by the prospect with a lot of confidence. Although they still ended up giving discounts in order to win sales they could increase the overall value extracted per sale by being selective in the way discounts were offered and by showing greater value in their solutions.
The Business Manager was able to convert Tom and his colleagues into sharper and smarter Sales Professionals. He used Sales Coaching to do this. Working with the team in the field he was able to observe them in action and back at the office he would give them constructive inputs on various elements of Professional Selling.
In future articles we will look at some of those elements – such as Synchronizing with client’s Buying Cycle, building relationship with the decision maker / buyer, Up-selling, Cross-sell, Value Selling and so on. We can discuss coaching too in greater detail.
Tom and team obviously had to shake off their bad ways and work much harder, and smarter – but in return they got better results, recognition and money too (By way of higher incentives and bonuses)
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Is the telephone just a decoration in the office? Why are organisations ignoring this vital link to the world outside? Is communicating with customers a bother?
In the last two weeks I have made calls to a dozen organisations for various reasons – potential clients, banks, insurance company, courier service, training providers, telecom operators and hardware service just to name a few. Across all sectors, without exception, majority of the people responding (when they did answer the phone) were not equipped to handle the call professionally. The only exception being call centre agents – they are trained to handle calls and do a fair job; but their rituals can be very irritating, in particular the canned sign-off statements that just go on and on. My issue with call centers don’t relate to call handling skills, it has more to do with their awareness of processes and status of the work done on the complaint raised – we will deal with that another day.
Here are three examples of how companies are ruining their own reputation with poor telephone etiquette:
- The Call did not get deliverance
A few days back I had written about a courier service – three of whose franchisees in one city were charging different amounts to send the same letter to a given destination. To express my concern I called their Regional Office, on the phone number given at their website, and could not get through even once in spite of making a dozen attempts on four different days. Having given up all hopes I tried the number of a sister concern and got a response; but they could help me other than confirmed that the number has not changed. How can an organisation with a national footprint be averse to accepting calls from customers?
The Customer Head Manager has not replied yet to the detailed email I sent 3 days back.
- “No incoming, Please!”
Calling the Okhla office of an IT training company I got a person who could speak only Hindi. That wasn’t the problem – I can speak a bit of that language and understand a lot more of it. A conversation with the Sales Manager was my quest and this person, who probably was the Security Guard, told me that they don’t like to be disturbed and that I should send them an email. I told him that the Sales Manager had already spoken with me once and this was a follow-up call. He wouldn’t note my number or inform the person concerned.
Couldn’t they have trained the Guard with a bit of telephone etiquette – or can’t the call be routed to another person when the Operator is away. But the responses heard from the Security Guard also hint at other cultural issues in the organisation.
- “Loan Call” to a bank
Following up a request for copies of some Property – related papers (which I had pledged with the bank while applying for a home loan) I had reached a dead end. The mobile phone of the person I had met was switched off for days and the landline number given on his card wouldn’t be answered. I visit another branch of the same bank and am told that Managers have instructed Officers to keep their mobile phones switched off during office hours – those were the Customer Service Executive’s words. What are the phones for then? Why present the numbers on the business card? It took 2 more days for me to get a response on the landline.
Why would a leading bank permit the incoming phone calls go unattended for days on end?
What is the situation – are Indian organisations complacent or unaware or they don’t think this is a problem? Are they so overloaded with business opportunities that they don’t need any more of it?
Here are some simple things they can do to satisfy customers:
- Train everyone, including the Security Staff and the Maintenance Staff, to handle incoming phone calls
- Answer all calls – there used to be a 3rd Ring policy in operation the days I worked with Corporates; now, one is lucky if the call is answered in 3 days.
- The least one can do is take down the name and the phone number of the caller and the name of the official they wish to speak with.
- A ringing phone should not be left unattended – if the person using the cabin or cubicle is missing the passerby answers and notes down the name of the caller.
- A lot of times officials don’t respond and the caller has to make one more attempt; the employee just does not have the time to return a call.
It may be a big enquiry from that prospect you have been chasing for months or a major customer seeking resolution for an issue or some emergency information from home. Don’t ignore the phone!
Can we risk losing our customer …. Take that call!
Sales Professionals postpone important calls for many reasons:
- A tense meeting with the CEO of a leading organisation
- A sticky call with an irate customer
- A call with an opportunity to Close – but the customer has been asking for the Moon.
- Meeting a customer at a remote location
The reason for reluctance can be many; here are a few:
- Lack of comfort – you have to face sticky questions and even face the customer’s wrath
- Lack of preparation – you are not sure what questions will be thrown at you.
- A barrage of bad vibes – embarrassing, tense and unpleasant.
- A feeling of not being in control – lack of empowerment and maybe the uncertainty.
Oh! I missed a big one … You are just too lazy to make the visit!
But the truth is that every situation has to be faced and the job’s got to be done – no matter how painful, embarrassing or annoying you have to make that Call, you have to face that customer!
Salespersons have to understand the biggest truth of their business:
- No business happens till you meet the customer!
You can sit in the office and make cute PowerPoint presentations, do detailed sales analyses and send a million proposals; but until you meet the prospects and push the deal to a Close all the work done at the office has no meaning.
There is an interesting term in the Sales domain … Touch Time!
It’s the time spent in the Customer’s / Prospect’s presence – that’s when a Sales Professional’s work is being done … that is Prime Time! That’s when revenue earning work is being done!
Sales Professionals have to stop fooling themselves into believing that business will just happen – because customers are just dying to buy their product. They have to actively pursue the prospects and maximise time spent on this critical activity. They also need to remember that there are other players in the market, waiting to pick holes in their act – any sign of weakness or slackness and the competitor would move in like an Eagle on a hapless hare!
It’s time to shake off the discomfort, fear, laziness and any other reason we make for ourselves to avoid meeting the customer – if you don’t, someone else will.
As Sales Professionals you need to relish each meeting – it’s an opportunity to display your skills, an opportunity to build a stronger relationship and an opportunity to learn something new.
So get ready to get in touch …. It’s fun! It’s your Business!
There would be an immediate response for this one – because they are being drilled day-in and day-out by the Supervisors on this parameter and its hard-wired into their head. The answer would be –
“I have to do 5 more policies in the next 2 days.” Or
“I am short by 20 numbers to reach my target for this quarter.”
You notice it’s a number, it’s measurable, but still a low impact one – is business being run on number of customers or Rupees and Paises?
In the article titled Bring Home the Bacon we discussed why value has to be maximized in each sale. That we must constantly look for opportunities to up-sell and fight hard to avoid giving away too many discounts. This is done by adding value to your product / service at every stage of the sale. Price should become a low priority item for the customer.
Is this on your radar all the time? What are you doing to increase focus on revenue generation?
When the focus of the Sales Team is on numbers of New Accounts acquired its easy to believe that everything is hunky dory once the number target is achieved – they close business without assessing the business generation potential of the account. Forms are filled up and submitted and there is a big cheer at the end of the review period when they find that the “numbers have been achieved”.
As Business Managers shouldn’t the focus be on income generation and profit – shouldn’t the following be the parameters being chased:
- In Insurance: Premium amount collected rather than number of forms submitted
- In telecom: Revenue generated per account per month and not number of accounts
- In Banking: Average Value of new business closed
If you are already tracking your business in this manner … Fantastic!
If not I think there is case in favour of following this methodology instead of just chasing Number of Accounts. It surely looks good on paper to say we have the highest number of accounts but it may not make business sense.
For example, Facebook can say “If we were a country, we would be the 3rd largest in the world by population” and win some brownie points. But their Ad revenue could be less than that of a competitor, say Google, who have fewer users but are popular among the high–networth customers and hence achieve high ad revenues. I have just given a hypothetical situation to illustrate a point – have not done the research to confirm the actual numbers – so please don’t quote me on this one!
The purpose of business is profit and value creation – as Managers when you drive business there is need to create visibility every day on how much money is being generated and how much closer each person is on achieving the annual revenue target.
Business growth will be robust when that’s done and you will be right on the money!