Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Here Comes Santa Claus...

It happened again yesterday.

On the phone with a prospect yesterday working towards a solution, everything is going well, we're open with each other, we're sharing, he likes us, we like him, "when are you ready to make a decision on this?" we ask using our newfound position as "trusted business advisor".

"Well...December is a busy month," says the prospect.

I've been thinking a lot about this...this....phenomenon of American business. I assume that businesses in other countries do not suffer from this malaise that sets upon us somewhere around the Monday before Thanksgiving and doesn't lift until sometime in late January.

Why is December a busy month? Is it any busier than any other month? Why not March? March has the onset of Spring, St. Patrick's Day, and the Easter holidays.

Budget is a possible explanation. People have either exhausted their budget for the calendar year, they are building their budgets for the next year or a combination of both. I don't believe it is as simple as a money issue.

Vacations are another possible explanation. But research is stating we don't take enough vacation. And I estimate that everyone who takes vacation is going to take it at roughly the same time. I'll grant you 7 days +/- a day or two for those 3 people out there that take their entire two weeks at the end of the year.

No, my friends, budget time and vacation days are not the root. They are excuses. This is a leadership problem. This is a decision-making problem. Decisions are made by committee. I think we need a Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (yes, I know I am dating myself) to send Marlin and Jim Fowler out into the corporate wilds. Marlin can sit safely in the Land Rover while Jim wrestles gatekeepers to find the elusive person with single decision making authority!

Is anyone else familiar with this phenomenon? Discuss!

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sales and Marketing in the Third Age

Great article by Jeff Thull on recognizing trends in sales process/sales management and guidance on how to succeed in what he calls the "Era 3" stage in the evolution of the sales organization.

Let's jump right to Era 3....where business problems are more and more complex as are the solutions. Nothing is out of the box anymore. Era 3 is also rife with choice. The sales person's job is to analyze the customer's business and become a "trusted business advisor". To be successful, an Era 3 Salesperson (E3SP) needs to roll up their sleeves, live the customer's processes, figure out root cause problem areas and then solve for those unique problems. She has to go BEYOND the expertise of the customer as Thull says. The solution process is a collaboration. Their should be an on-going dialog. Theories must be tested and thoughts confirmed.

The E3SP must understand how to translate the value of her product or service. How will it solve the unique and complex business problems of the customer. You can't sell features and benefits anymore. You have to help the customer understand the root of his business process issues and SHOW him how you are going to solve for it.

So, how do you sell value? According to Thull, you must understand the 3 levels of value: Product, Process and Performance. Let's break them down:

Level 1 - Product: The salesperson is working with purchasing and maybe (maybe) operations regarding pricing and characteristics of the product. "The customer perceives that the value derived from the product is....available from multiple suppliers."

Level 2 - Process: The salesperson is working with operations and other relevant departments impacted by process problems we are solving for. The focus is on the process. This level is about productivity increases.

Level 3 - Performance: You are selling to VITO (very important top officer). You and your offering are working at the enterprise level. You are a strategic partner. Its about competitive advantage at this point.

When you operate at Level 3, your customer realizes that you provide a value leverage that no one else is. Your relationship is so; well, valuable to him that he sees a very high risk in switching to a competitor.

Make sure your sales team is engaging in conversations with your customers. Building relationships. Listening. Diagnosing processes and problems. Relating the problems other customers experienced. "Are you having similar problems?"

Make sure your sales team is talking to the right person. If you're talking to Angie in purchasing...well, you're dead. You're done. You are a commodity my friend. You are not a valued and trusted business partner.

At the end of the day:

You must think for your customers, creating revenue-building solutions that they don't have the time or the wherewithal to come up with and/or implement for themselves. And because the salesperson is the face of your company, he or she must be in the thick of the action, tirelessly working on behalf of those customers.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Peter Drucker - Tireless Chronicler of American Business

I know, I know. I am late to lament the loss of Peter Drucker. The man who gave birth to the field/study of "management" passed away on November 11th. He was 95 years old and left a legacy of theory and practice for us to consider as long as there are people doing work and someone taking note of their performance. He is arguably one of the most influential business leaders of all time. Perhaps even the top.

Link to the Wharton tribute/obituary. The article solicits thoughts from Wharton professors regarding Drucker's influence on management theory and practice. Something I didn't know was that of the 30 books he published, Drucker wrote a book on Japanese painting and two novels. Jerry Wind calls him a "true renaissance person". Wind goes on to say:

In his writing he bridged management as well as social and behavioral science, clearly demonstrating that no management problem can be addressed effectively from the narrow confines of a single discipline.
Drucker coined the term "knowledge worker"; he was a champion of managers getting out of the way of their employees and letting their expertise shine; and some consider him the father of marketing as well. He is quoted in this article as having said that "the role of business is to create a customer." His writings over the last 60+ years still ring true. He is a down to basics theorist. Simple yet not simplistic as one of the professors said. His teachings still ring true.

If there were ever a Saint of Management, I would have a little Peter Drucker figurine glued to the top of my computer monitor to watch over me as I reviewed spreadsheets and coached my teams.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Seek Profit Not Revenue

Another great article from the CEO Refresher from Michael W. McLaughlin. When to Walk Away From a Sale: Nine Pivotal Questions goes beyong B.A.N.T. (budget, authority, need, timeline). This is the advanced course on qualifying your sales leads. Strap in because these are the hard questions. The ones that will make you break out in a sweat. The ones you aren't asking today. The one's that if you did ask you would be spending MUCH less time writing proposals for prospects that go nowhere.

1. Don't Use the Proposal Process to Define the Project. If the prospect can't articulate the goals, feel free to put on your consultant hat and help them frame the business problem. Don't start drafting proposals that they can hand off to someone else to implement.

2. Is This Bob's Super Secret Project? Does Bob have approval AND funding from higher up the mountain? Even if Bob is CEO, does the Board say he is good to go. If not, this isn't a real project. You can help Bob get approval for his project and make sure you are there when he pitches to his boss. Don't invest too much though....because the project still isn't real.

3. What is the decision making process? How will a winner be picked? Every prospect will tell you they have a process. Dart throwing is not a process. You say they don't have a process? Here's an opportunity for you to become a trusted business advisor and help them create one. Beware the apples to apples comparison. Fruits are not created equal for a reason. Your niche approach SHOULD NOT stack up against the competition. I mean that in a positive way. Wait....you do have a niche, right? If your offering is a commodity why are you reading this?

4. Who signs the checks? Figure out who this person is and engage with them immediately. Yes, you may have to ask your contact who the real decision maker is for the project. Proceed without knowing at your own risk. Use diplomacy. Position yourself as helping the prospect. While you are at it, find all the people influencing the decision. Talk to them. Get them to buy in.

5. Who is doing the work now? Is there an incumbent? Is the prospect out shopping for competitive bids to drive the incumbent's price down? You may want to know that before you start drafting proposals and generally wasting time chasing something no one is ever going to get. Yes. Prospects will deceive you.

6. Can your company deliver? You may not really WANT this project. As the author says,

Not all revenue is good revenue...

7. What are the opportunity costs? This goes with number 6. Are the projects in your pipeline more valuable than the new project? I understand that many of us don't have this luxury.

8. Why did the client call you? McLaughlin has this as number 8. I think it should be number 1. See number 5. Are you there because the prospect's boss wants 3 vendors to compare? Or are you there because your marketing is working and your message resonated? What does the prospect know about you? What they DON'T say is as important as what they do say. Listen between the lines.

9. Do you buy it? Trust your instincts. Weigh all the factors you are gathering. Is the project "real"? What are the politics on the prospect side? What probability of successful closure do you think exists? Weigh the risk-rewards.

This is a great set of questions to get you beyond B.A.N.T. This will let you dive deeper into your clients and help you through the discover and qualification process and get you to a winning proposal. McLaughlin wrote a book with Jay Levinson (Guerilla Marketing) focused on consultants but this list applies to anyone marketing or selling any kind of product or service.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Apologies to My Two Email Subscribers

I switched from bloglet to feedblitz for email notifications. Sorry about that. Trying to consolidate everything down to as few interfaces as possible. I am trying to use this blog as a marketing and networking tool. And not necessarily in that order. So far so good. Sorry for any inconvenience. Feedblitz *should* import your records but I can't see where I can verify.

More on Hammering - Boxing Lessons

Raj Setty of 25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself fame touches on boxing in a post from earlier this week. (I posted a comment - but you have to register.) Earlier, I wrote about our tendency to fit people in neat and tidy boxes. I talked about hiring managers but Raj talks to the fact that we all do this. Every day. You meet someone new and they begin telling you about themselves, our monkey brains almost immediately begin chattering away at us searching through the boxes in our brains to "fit" this person. We seek to find the relatioship points. What aspects of my life does this person intersect? Better yet, what aspects of this person's life can I help? The important thing is to differentiate yourself. Be a hammer.

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