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Break the pattern!

July 12, 2012 10 comments

This is Part – 1 of a 2-part series – the concluding part will be published tomorrow:

Business won’t survive for long without method & measure – didn’t someone say that if you don’t know which road to take any road can lead you there – and here is a business that seemed to be going nowhere till ….

Tom sells postpaid cellular phone connections to Small & Medium Businesses. In line with global trends the local market is dominated by prepaid users, over 95% of the customer base. Postpaid is a niche product that is offered to businesses and high networth individuals based on their credit worthiness.

Tom’s organisation is involved in a nine -way battle in this market and to add to the complexity tele-density is over 110%; hence new business can be acquired only in one of two ways:

–          Sell more connections to existing users

–          Convince customers to switch network

And the size of Tom’s addressable market grows a little when new names are added to the list after survey and validation.

One small factor that facilitates easy movement from one network to another is the availability of number portability – the Telecom Regulatory Agency has permitted customers to retain their number while moving from one Operator’s network to another.

However, the tariffs are more or less equal across networks and no operator has any major advantage by way of features. One bugbear for most customers has been the drop in Quality of Service with increase in revenue and customer base. Telecom Operators need to address that concern and use service as a differentiator.

As things stand it is a level playing field.

Tom needs to deliver the business expectations against this backdrop. He has been with this organisation for 2 years now and has worked in the telecom business for over 5 years. Like most entrenched players he has fallen into a pattern and rhythm – the pace and the seasonality of business were taken for granted.

After many years of growth the telecom sector is experiencing turbulence both on revenues and on the regulatory side – organisations are fighting to stay afloat.

Sales had stagnated and his organisation wanted to shake things up a bit – into the calm and comfortable pool & the shark came in the shape of a new Business Manager. He had worked in a business sector that was extremely competitive and work was extremely challenging round the year. Unlike telecom, that had been growing all these years in India, his previous employer operated in a mature market and they had to fight for every sale – to make that happen they were activity focused and highly process oriented, nothing was left to chance.

The Business Manager quickly assessed the situation and discovered the following:

–          Their organisation was third in size not because they were behind the leaders on any parameter; it’s only because the other two had entered the market 3 years earlier, due to the license norms.

–          The Sales Team worked the market in a perfunctory way; their philosophy hitherto had been “Why do extra work if targets can be reached with lower effort?”

–          Very little analysis was done on the market or on the business done – there was no knowledge of where they stood vis-à-vis the competition in this segment.

–          There was no methodology adopted by the Sales team – they didn’t maintain much data on the customers beyond the information needed on the Application & Credit Rating documents.

–          No metrics were in place to analyse the Sales Effort.

Tom and his co-workers were put on a new program by the Business Manager. There was no magic involved; it was common sense and could have been done earlier if the team had thought about it. But then complacence and comfort stops you from thinking / doing what is right.

Tom had to gather business intelligence from his existing accounts and the prospect base; they gathered information on key officials, number of cellular phone connections, the Operators who were providing the service, the tariffs they were offering the clients, the growth plans of the customers and prospects and so on.

In a short time, along with the business the team had gathered crucial bits of information about their clients, prospects and the competition. Now they knew where they stood with respect to the other players in the market and what share of the revenue they were getting from the segment.

The Business Manager had his game-plan in place by then – he did not rock the boat too much by increasing the business target. But he knew that to achieve it much more work had to be done.

With the help of the Sales Data and daily call rate he worked out conversion rates and sales productivity and then told the team that the following are necessary to reach and exceed the target for the year:

–          Adopt a Sales Process

–          Speeding up the Sales Cycle

–          Enhance Sales Productivity

–          Increase the average Sale Price

The Business Manager had sized up the situation and hit upon a methodology to tackle the problem; tomorrow we will discuss in detail the game-plan he wished to put in place.

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Getting set to Go!

July 5, 2012 8 comments

What questions pop up in your mind before any important business appointment?

I thought about this as a business associate and I prepared for an important visit on the morrow.

I have dealt with preparation for Sales visits earlier, but more as a process – grooming, items to be carried in the kit, fixing the appointment, calling to confirm, being on time and so on. But this time we shall delve into the content of the call itself.

We tried to get into the head of the officials who were to be met. On the card were discussions with members of the business team and with one from the Learning and Development side.

It is pretty much obvious that the business heads would like to discuss issues that impact top-line and bottom-line – Sales, cost of acquisition, coverage of market, sales productivity, range selling, profitability and so on; and the learning and development manager would obviously wish to discuss learning objectives, methodology, program content and program scheduling.

We tried to figure out, by reviewing all the data available on the company and the industry, as to what would be their pain points, where we can make the most impact and how in the least possible time we can tell them the ways in which our training can make a difference.

Remember, the higher the ranking of the official you are meeting the lower the time available to talk – if you are lucky (that’s if you managed to create the right impression) the meeting could get extended, but don’t factor this in while preparing. Keep the lowest duration in mind and ensure that within the time allotted you ask all the right questions and say the most relevant things.

But keep an additional set of questions and more useful information ready, just in case you get lucky!

It takes a bit of practice and awareness of the domain to know what makes the biggest impact with your client. It is good to get background information on the people and the business priorities of the organisation at that point in time – that will permit you to make a huge impression.

Don’t save the best questions or the juiciest details for last; there is a big possibility that you would miss the chance because something important came up and your man had to rush elsewhere – so get through the courtesies and the introductory phase as early as possible, without rushing your client, and get to the point.

Ensure that your questions are to the point, incisive and digs deep into the core of the issue; you should be seen as someone who knows their business well. That improves your chance of winning business.

Is this your drill before every major meeting with a prospect? If the answer is Yes! … you are all set to have a high-impact meeting … Go for it!

Practice pays!

May 10, 2012 3 comments

3 days back I asked 3 questions: before going into the details let me share some interesting facts – my questions elicited responses from just 3 readers and they didn’t take more than 3 sentences to answers my questions. I had asked:

1. What would you do before you make the first visit to a client?

2. What are some of the ways you can influence this person?

3. What will be the indicators of your own conviction in the product / service you are representing?

If you thought I was joking about the answer received, take a look – here they are; only spell-check has been done:

Madhu Nair:

Take time to prepare yourself, your presentation and learn about your client.
Sales is as much about being able to sell yourself to the customer, convince him!
Every approach for a customer call should be specific and to the point, and more over you should have product knowledge and self confidence!

Jamy Lateef:
Preparation is the key here- knowledge of your product, business is essential to build the confidence inside you before you come face-to-face with the client.

It would be good also to get some background information about the client and customise the presentation; cut the frills and get to the point; be a good ambassador for your company and explain the positives.

Lead the client into asking you about the competition and once you have done your homework, would be a piece of cake to go for the kill and get the client to buy your product or in my case become a loyal repeat guest.

Venkat Mani

Know your product thoroughly know your client and his requirement find where your product fits in what is the salient features you have which can be of advantage in terms of quality and productivity most.

Important find where the person your meeting stands vis-a-vis decision making what is the procedure for taking decisions.

Once you know this you plot your way into the organisation.

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Yes, they have got it right – but I would have loved to hear much more from these seasoned campaigners; maybe they wished to leave some of it for me. Here is a summation of their inputs with a little bit from my side:

A.1 – The preparation we do prior to meeting a client should focus on our company, its product/service range, how they can be used to solve a need and finally on the customer itself. The details we convey about our company should build trust and confidence and convey loud and clear that we can solve their problems and provide service support whenever needed. While speaking about our product and its applications focus on those aspects that can be used in the context of the client organisation – which means we need to study the customer’s organisation in detail and prepare carefully so that we achieve maximum impact by using just the right amount of firepower.

If you are meeting the person for a non-sales requirement, for example a charity, focus on those elements that can make the strongest impression – create a video, carry testimonials and information on what’s been achieved till date; you can invite the person to the organisation or the place place where the charity work is dbeing done.

It would be good to find out as much as possible in advance about the person you are meeting – their position in the hierarchy, how much is this person contributing towards the final decision, what is the person’s likes or dislikes, what kind of a person is he/she and so on? The more you know, the better your chance of achieving the planned objective.

A.2 – If a picture can create the impact of a 1000 words, a video can do the work of a million of them – a smartly prepared presentation on how our products can be used to solve problems or a presentation on our facilities and our achievements or testimonials from our clients would help to generate interest and prompt action from the client’s side.

Speak with a major client and ask for support to answer specific queries from a prospect, who is seeking confirmation on the utility and benefits of your offering – a favouarable response can strongly swing the deal your way.

Offering a trial run or a demo for a shot period is another method used to get the prospective customer used to your solution – there are times when the customer would tell you not to take back the trial piece and ask for a bill instead.

It is also important to convince the client on the competence, capabilities, enthusiasm and track-record of the team of people working in your organisation.

A.3 – How you present yourself is a major indicator your confidence – being tentative and unsure are clear indication of your lack of confidence. Your body language has to be positive and the words you use should carry conviction. Even lack of preparation can cause hesitancy and nervousness – so be prepared and ready.

If you are going to present a PowerPoint or a video or conducting a demo do a dry run at your office before presenting to the client – have an audience to observe and listen; get them to ask the most uncomfortable questions and prepare answers for those. By going to such details you are increasing the chance of success immensely.

I am stressing once again on Preparation simply because there is a tendency to relax, particularly the more experienced Sales Professionals or Campaigner’s, who believe that they have seen it all and they can handle any situation just as it unfolds – such complacence can lead to loss of face and loss of business; you are never sure when an unexpected or previously unseen situation will have to be confronted – hence it’s important to stay grounded and go through all the steps involved before you start every major campaign.

If what has been done so far is good enough then experienced pilots would stop flying sorties, Army Chiefs wouldn’t lead the troops for War games and top-ranked athletes would not do any practice before a competition!
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Categories: Ideas Tags: ,

A Solid First Step

April 27, 2012 4 comments

Wise folks in China said that a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step … I wish to add to that by saying – A successful journey of 1000 miles starts with a firm first step.

Start well and you will find the rest of it happening as expected – beginning well adds to your confidence and improves the probability of the remaining steps going according to plan.

Whether you are preparing a speech or a sales presentation or even a quiz there is a logical sequence of steps that need to be followed to ensure success (a friend wrote back after reading yesterday’s article and said that the steps I outlined for presentations work just as well for the quizzes she presents):

  1. Organize all the material

When the topic or subject is chosen / decided your first step is research – gather all the necessary material: data, visuals, graphs, videos, interviews, evidence, information on people, places and time – you are ready now to start preparing for the presentation.

Even after you have started working there may be new developments that may necessitate a totally new tack – change in structure, direction and key issues. But that comes later on; to begin with you need to all the material organized as per the original plan.

  1. Who is the audience

Know in advance who is your audience? Speaking about Conservation to a bunch of kindergartners or a group of college students or to members of the Board require totally different approaches. The kids would be interested in a presentation that has a lot of visual and audio cues, the college student would be interested in things they can do (action oriented) and the senior executives would love to hear about profits and savings that can accrue from being nature-friendly.

  1. Start Strong

I once watched a friend make an impressive speech at the Toastmasters’ Club. His speech was about overcoming adversity and achieving excellence in our pursuits. He started the speech by saying that at times in life we need to take 2-3 steps backward before making the great leap forward – and as he spoke he moved back 2-3 steps, the final step taking him to the edge of the raised platform (he had us locked on – we worried whether he would fall) and from there he took a huge leap forward and the idea was bought.

The speaker had obviously decided to move away from the usual practice of making a smart opening statement and worked out a scheme to create impact with a something radically different.

Using a negative sounding statement as an opening gets people’s attention too – think of ways to get people interested.

  1. Develop the theme

After a crispy and crunchy start your speech gets into the meaty section, like in a properly fried piece of Chicken. You need to ensure that there is good material there to substantiate the start and topic is developed in a logic sequence. There has to be smooth transitions from one section to the next and substantiation for all the thoughts presented.

While you develop the theme think about the questions your audience could pose and prepare the answers – that reduces surprises for you and tells the other party that they are dealing with a competent person.

  1. Find ways to retain the audience’s attention:

A famous defense lawyer was known to use a visual trick to divert the attention of the jury and the judge from his opposite party’s summing up speech. He would keep a lit cigar between his fingers and permit it to burn down slowly, not bothering to tap the ash. That created tension in the room, everyone waiting for the section of ash to fall. The visual cue was used to reduce the impact of the prosecutor’s submission, by distracting the audience.

Think about ways you can create impact – with visuals or words or sounds. That will keep your audience actively engaged in the presentation.

  1. Sum up and close

Have a solid example which could be presented verbally or visually as evidence for all that you have said. It could be a testimonial or a completed product – at times a summary of all that you had said till then would do.

You can also end with a question which can prompt the audience to think / take action – in Social Media they use the term Call for Action Buttons.

Remember, an opening that grabs them, a meaty central section and  a thought provoking end that will lead to action.

Bon voyage!

How was your Sales Day?

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Anand walks into the office at 4:30 p.m. after a hectic day in the field. He had visited 10 accounts and was quite kicked about the way the day went.

He had been able to speak with someone or the other – there was no call that had to be rescheduled to another day. He had met the decision makers in 4 accounts and they had promised to either look at his proposal or give him an update about it next week. Business prospects looked bright for the month.

Just as he started filing the report Mahesh, his boss, looked out of the cabin and said – “Anand, you are back? Let’s chat for a few minutes?” He nodded and happily walked across, notepad in hand.

“So, how was the day?” asked Mahesh.

“It went well, Boss. I could meet all the customers and the response has been pretty decent. I think the month is shaping up well.” Anand responded.

“What about that big one we are expecting from Abacus? Did you meet the Purchase Head to finalize terms? You need that one to reach the month’s target.”

“Boss, don’t worry about it. I went over to meet with the Head, but he was in a meeting. His Assistant was very helpful – said that I can leave all the information with him and he would get back sometime next week after discussion with the Head.”

Mahesh was clearly unhappy – not only had Anand missed the major appointment, but he had left critical information with a junior functionary with no clear deadline for a decision. In effect, he had made no progress.

“And the Prime Finance order? They expressed happy with our proposal when we visited last week? It only a matter of paper-work, the MD had said.”

“I met the MD, Mr. Thomas. He said that the Board wishes to take another look before finalizing – it’s routine, he felt. I have to call again in 4-5 days.”

Mahesh sensed that this prospect too was not ready to close. He reviewed the other visits made by Anand during the day and realized that the picture wasn’t as rosy as it seemed to his team-member.

Mahesh realized that Anand was making an error in considering the courtesy, kind words and promises (to respond) as elements of Call Success. His young team –member had to be coached to analyse and judge the quality of his Sales Calls.

Here is the summary of what Mahesh explained to Anand about A Successful Sales Call:

–          Fix appointment for all the important calls; especially the ones closer to the Order

–          Meet with the decision-maker and discuss terms only with him

–          All Calls should have a clearly stated purpose – the result you expect from the call

–          Prepare the questions to ask during the call

–          A call that doesn’t fulfill the stated purpose isn’t a Successful Call

–          A call that doesn’t take you closer to the final decision isn’t a Successful Call

Let me restate the obvious …
It’s not about the Calls; it only matters when calls turn into Sales. Let’s get our numbers right!

You didn’t see that coming!

January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

I enjoy Selling and being sold to! So, I often visit shops or call a company just to check how they sell. Most times I have no intention to buy, but my act is very convincing and I put them through the drill.

It helps in many ways:

–          I get to know how the Sales Personnel are being trained.

–          I am able to gauge their level of preparedness.

–          I can assess their skills and attitudes.

Only yesterday I walked into a White Goods showroom ostensibly “shopping for a Washing Machine”.

In India we recycle extensively – very few things are use and throw. A Reynolds pen bought in France can be used till the ink runs out, after which you throw it away and get a new one. In India we buy a refill and continue using the external casing till it breaks or gives up on you!  We trade in old TVs, blenders, Washing Machines and Hi-fi systems and get a discount on the new piece.

There is an unused TV occupying a lot of space at my house – it’s fully functional, but the old CRT type. We had purchased a LCD one and I wanted to get rid of this one at a good price.

I asked the Salesperson in the showroom to take my TV and give me a discount on the purchase of a new Washing Machine. He did not like the idea, but desperately wanted to make a sale – I could sense that!

When I entered the showroom he was dealing with a couple who were looking for a washing machine too. He had greeted me while his prospects checked the products, asked my requirement and then told me to be seated.

At regular intervals, when the couple got into a discussion he would run up to me and collect more details. He said that they usually don’t sell a different product on a replacement deal – so it had to be fridge for fridge or TV for TV. But then, in sales, there always is a way, right?

“I have something especially for you!” he said.

“Bring it on, Smart Guy”, I said in an undertone. I knew what was coming, but liked it because it’s precisely what he should be doing. The pitch was that he would find a buyer for my TV and offer me a discount on the Washing Machine (Great!) – He then had to go back to his sale again.

I slipped out when he wasn’t looking – didn’t want to lead the poor chap up the garden path. He had done a fair job; without irritating the other prospects he had worked on me, collected the necessary background information and kept me interested. I give him full marks for it.

But I had not revealed my phone number or address – he had not asked for it either. Most times poor salespersons fail to collect such details. I am sure this guy would have, just that I had not given him the opportunity to do so.

The message I wish to leave with all the Sales Professionals out there is this:

–          You are constantly under scrutiny.

–          Customers are trying to gauge your skills, credibility and honesty.

–          Your buyer could be a potential employer who is there to test your skills.

–          Maybe it’s your own company checking how the sales team is performing.

Never drop your guard! You are being tested all the time … Give every sale your best shot!

Let’s get down to brass-tacks!

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I am sure you have a routine or follow a ritual while preparing for Sales Calls / Presentations.

Here are some thoughts on the subject:

  1. I won’t get into the details of grooming, but suffice it to say “IT MATTERS!” One may wonder why it should matter in Sales but the truth is that it does. Don’t take a risk, be dressed for the occasion. Personal hygiene, shave, smart hair-cut, suitable attire, matching shoes and accessories are essentials parts of the ensemble.

Let us not waste time arguing about it – unless you are the only source of a ITS-TO-DIE-FOR product you better be presentable! Customers expect it from you.

2. The Sales Kit must have everything that you might want to show the customer or anything the customer might ask for during the visit. Think through all the appointments planned for the day and have everything organized. Double check!

If you are making a presentation, the slides, the Demo equipment, props and the support cast better be prepared and ready for it. Any fumble or missing element can take the edge off your pitch. Keep handy the proof, the testimonial or anything promised to validate your statements.

Remember, the competition might do a better job and beat you to it!

3. So you are properly groomed, your Sales Kit is ready … but does it mean that you are ready?

Have you made a plan for each call? What do you expect to achieve by the end of each call? There is no bigger crime in Sales than going for a call without any objective or outcome planned? You might as well not make a call.

–          Prepare the questions that you would ask to understand the customer’s pain–points / needs

–          Have the answers for the questions / concerns expressed by customer earlier or that might possibly arise during this call.

If you go into a sales call without a planned outcome you are getting nowhere. You may not achieve the outcome every time, but by having it planned everything you do during the call will be focused and structured. Without this preparation you journey towards closing to the sale is going to be an uphill one.

Why does a military parade look smart and well–coordinated – it’s because they are well–groomed, everything was planned and they have been through the routine many times over!

Don’t take a risk – Do the drill!!

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