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“Sales Culture” Reprise!

January 11, 2013 11 comments

We have heard about sequels and prequels to movies and books and now I have come across a few more such terms while searching for the “right” one to use for this follow-up article, specially because I intend to write a sequel using the comments from readers (all of you, to be precise) and this happens to placed ahead of that. Confused? I am in the same state. But let me complete explaining my discovery before moving on – interquel, postquel, paraquel and circumquel are the other terms I discovered. Go on, check them out!

You think “pre-sequel” will fit the bill?

The article “Sales Culture” generated a lot of discussion and strangely all of it had to do with some element in the story other than the central plot – only two readers spoke about the focus area of my article which being the impact of geography or community on Sales.

I think the confusion arose on account of the staccato style I adopted for this article. Trying to be brief I placed some ideas on paper instead of offering a great lot of detail on the central theme. The thought behind that was for the readers to respond without restraint and then take the discussion forward to a conclusion, jointly.

Well, I did get a lot of useful insights, here and on the Sales Coach Blog page on Facebook, but they are less about Sales and more about the impact of parental or peer pressure on career choices.

However, one of the readers who spoke about the central theme found the behavior of the Salesman, in the mobile phone store, laudable because he did not intervene – but, my friend is a telecom engineer and is aware of the features of a phone (He is the tech savvy and internet savvy customer who prefers to study his requirement well before he goes for the purchase – he probably would know much more than the salesperson). Isn’t that the exception than the norm? What if he were purchasing a product he did not know much about and what if he had not done any research on the Internet before going to the store? Won’t more buyers fall in this category?

Yes, it is better if the Salesperson stayed at a distance and stepped up to help only when he or she is called (s/he need not go for an intense Sales Pitch – I am sure my friend has had an overdose of encounters with bad Salespersons) but does that mean s/he should ignore the customers totally and be oblivious to what is happening in the store?

I was also not speaking about the impact (presence or absence) of motivational strategies used by organizations. The other reader who responded to the theme had hinted that probably there was no competition from the outside or within the organization and there was no incentive to perform, by which he meant that people were happy with less.

Let me rephrase here that my query in the previous article pertains to Selling Skills, Persuasion Skills, and Influencing Skills in the context of nations, communities and culture; We can discuss other elements later on.

– Is there a geographical, regional, societal bias in approaches to Selling or being sold to?

– Do we Indian not like being sold to?

– Are Indians different in the way they sell, let’s say, from Africans?

– Have you found a trend in support of the above or is it just my imagination?

– Is there some other motivator or factor involved that I am not aware of?

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Is your offering just a number?

November 16, 2012 20 comments

When the phone rang this morning I thought it was another booking for the training program we were conducting on Saturday.

“Good Morning, this is Jayadev.” I said, putting on the warmest smile in my voice.

“Hi, this is Kumar speaking; got your number from Raj. Didn’t he mention that I would call?”

Before I could get a word in edgeways he continued, “How much do you charge for your training program?”

That, my friends, defines the prospective customer. If you aren’t careful they turn you into a number!

For a second I thought I was in the groceries business. It’s at the corner grocery store that one walks up to the seller and ask, “How much for the cabbage?” and he would respond without registering shock.

Thanks to the proliferation of “trainers” (the definition being anyone who can stand at the head of the class, run a PowerPoint Presentation and talk) in the market prices for our services have been heading south. There is a desperate rush to acquire business at any cost and the average customer believes he is onto a good thing.

This also tells us a lot about the customer’s attitude towards training. H.R. Managers and Training Managers wish to show the stake-holders that while the employees are being skilled and developed he is keeping an eye on the cost to the company – and the fund outflow is kept under control by bringing in trainers who are willing to conduct training at next to Zero cost.

Later on they would lament that the program was ineffective and the employees are performing just the way they used to prior to the intervention. What happened?

Let’s return to the phone call, I told Mr. Kumar – “My cost depends on the nature of the program you want done. Please send the requirement; I shall study it and send you my suggestions and then we can work towards a solution.”

I did not give him the price, but I did not refuse him one. I did not annoy him either with an abrasive comment – the declaration of price was just postponed. And this is critical.

You can do the same. Don’t succumb to the prospect’s ploy of pegging you to a price point. If they insist tell them something above your regular operating point and work your way back by the end of the deal to the realistic level.

Instead of getting tangled in the price game focus on value- building. It’s better not to sell if the value isn’t right. Of course, it is for you to decide what you are worth and how you have to price your product. But it has to be your decision, not your customer’s.

You can show your prospect what brought to the table by way of experience, quality of the service offered, previous work done and the results achieved. Show them how each element of your is a value-adding component of the deal.

The man who called me later sent an email with the specifics of the requirement – in it he had stated two times that he wishes to get the program done at the lowest price.

Who doesn’t? How does the prospect know what is the lowest price for your offering? That is for you to decide. Define what are you selling or on what terms you will sell?

Play it smart … believe, and make others believe, that you aren’t just a number!

Smart – Strange – Silly

November 1, 2012 12 comments

Dealing with people

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!

T.L.C

October 23, 2012 6 comments

The last article I wrote spoke about keeping an open-mind and being receptive to ideas – because messages and lessons come from the unlikeliest of sources and often our prejudices and perceptions stop us from receiving / accepting them.

After reading that message a regular reader and friend, Kailash Acharya sent this note:

(I have edited his message to retain just the relevant portions)

Good articulation, J. Yes, even after many training sessions and reading stories / motivational stuff we miss picking the other side of the story.

In your last blog ‘Why Train’ we discussed how Telecom companies are not training their customer facing executives. There as well we need to take a look from owner’s angle. Or else why would someone who has invested so much time, efforts & huge money to establish his business ignore such a silly thing. As I’m working on technical side of telecom for the last 12+ years and I have seen how much investment it takes on technical side to run the show. And for them running technical services is much more important than giving great soft services. As customer would not join or leave them due to their call center’s treatment but due to their technical services. Yeah, but we have telco’s which are lacking on both front as well.

We should get a chance to talk to them once and who knows we might change our perspective about it.

(Unquote)

I guess by “silly thing” my friend meant that it does not take a huge effort or large sums of money to train people – someone who has invested crores (a crore is ten million) on a project should be able to get this done without having to stretch a lot. From no other perspective can training be seen as a “silly thing” and I know he did not mean that.

The day he sent me this note I was visiting a software company in Trivandrum. It is an eight year old organisation run by four friends (all in the 30s). Three of them had worked in other software companies and had quit the jobs to pursue their own dreams. The fourth member is a non-technical person who focuses on Business Development and Client Relations. They have around 60 employees, most of them techies, who are developing software products for clients located outside the country. They are smart and competent and the dozen or so customers that they have are happy. The Director – Technical said that for him qualifications did not matter so much, while recruiting new coders he chose people who loved coding and software development – they had to live and love software.

I was taken around the “shop floor” – the Director knew every project inside out and when we stopped at each workstation he provided an overview, following which I asked the team-member involved in that project a few more questions to understand their work better. I was doing this to understand the operations well and to think up ways to help them grow to the next level. My intention was to help them (the owners) see the possibility of releasing hitherto untapped potential and prompt a new spiral of growth.

Hearing the technical hands and their boss speak about their work with such intensity and passion charged me up too – it was a room buzzing with energy. Afterwards we settled down in the Conference Room and couple of other Directors joined the discussion.

Most of the projects they took on involved development of new software products to execute specific set of tasks for the client. They were not doing any maintenance or service. It was new product development that excited the owners. When I asked the Technical Director, the one who had shown me around, why they were not approaching clients in India he replied that it would mean a lot more hassles such as negotiations and probably having to drop prices. He added that it would also need a lot of discussion with the non-technical role-holders such as Business Head and Finance Head. He said they were comfortable doing projects that could be decided by the Technical Heads. I am sure the decision-making in the client organisation is far different from how he had figured it out.

After this conversation I had a separate chat with the Director – Business Development. He said that most of the present clients had come on board based on reference from a previous customer. The organisation had managed to carve a niche for itself thanks to the quality of work don earlier. He said that the former client did half the selling for them. They had clear-cut SLAs for all projects that were then broken into smaller chunks and progress on each was then reviewed on a weekly basis. The coders were in direct touch with the mapped employees in the client account and there was very little lag in their response to emergencies. There were weekly teleconferences to iron out differences and to set targets. The Director – Business Development was categorical that a lot of effort was taken to keep the clients happy.

All of the above looked like Soft Skills to me – not just Core Technical Skills – there was communication, negotiation, service and support, interpersonal skills and team-work in action. I guess it was happening so seamlessly that nobody noticed, particularly the people on the technical side, who thought that their knowledge of software is enough to win the deal.

I believe very strongly that no matter how good one is in the functional or hard skills, soft skills are indispensable when it comes to dealing with people at any level.

If business was about cold technical or functional skills then there would be no need to network, play golf with clients or wine and dine them– you just need to submit proposals and the client would decide on merit. This can’t be farther from the truth because even decision-making is subjective and dependent on emotions – most business decisions involve a significant component of likes, dislikes and prejudices.

Which brings me back to the comment made by Kailash – Yes, Technical Expertise / Skills have a huge role to play in winning the organisation new business and to retain customers – but unless the customer receives the necessary evidence first and support later on they will not have the confidence to remain with the service provider / vendor. If communication is poor and the response to queries/complaints indifferent then there is good chance that the customer is sticking on because there is no other option – and the moment they find an alternative they would walk out on you.

No matter how good the product or the services unless it is backed up with proper Communication, Service and Support chances of building lasting and stable relationships are pretty low.

So don’t risk losing a big opportunity, or don’t antagonize a big client, by relying just on the product to win you business – you are dealing with human beings. They need pampering, cajoling, praising, supporting … a huge dose of old world stuff is needed even to sell new technology.

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Importance of Sales Training – First Interview on Dubai’s Radio ME

September 16, 2012 8 comments

A new opportunity came my way in August. A young professional I knew a long time ago is now the Programming Head of Dubai-based FM radio station Radio ME. He remembers me as someone who gave him valuable lessons in Sales.

Kris Iyer called a few days and asked me to provide information and advice on Sales and Sales Training to Dubai’s business community. I was to be interviewed on their program Business Talks.

You can hear the entire conversation here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Cnaih14yBk

Kris and I speak in malayalam, our mother tongue, in some portions, but only very briefly, so you will not miss out on much. I intend to provide an English transcript soon.

You will also find me a bit rushed in my speech; maybe because I was excited with this new opportunity. The next time I plan to speak at a more relaxed pace.

Since this interview was given over the telephone network you will find the speech quality poor in certain segments. Kris’ voice is clear because he was in the studio.

Kindly send me feedback on this first effort.

Note: I had posted my third interview a few days back.

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