Tuesday, January 8, 2013

XC Skiing and Selling Skills - Connected?

As I’ve been out sliding around on my cross-country skis this week, it struck me how many “lessons” actually apply pretty well to improving one’s selling skills.  Here’s a short list – please feel free to add another (by the way, this is a pretty good creativity exercise, too!) –

  In cross-country skiing…
  In improving your selling…
Gear matters
You have to dress for the weather – too much and you’ll sweat a lot and then get cold, too little and you’ll just get cold.  When the gear’s right, it’s comfortable. 
Your material and approach better match your prospects real needs, or you’ll be out in the cold.
It gets easier
First time down a snowy trail is a lot like walking; second time in your own tracks is easier; after several days, you can glide along well-worn trails going as fast and easily as you want. 
Anything’s slow and awkward the first time – that’s why you practice! So the first time in front of a prospect, you know the way.
Inattention leads to surprises
Couple of times I’ve been distracted by the local deer herd, and as I gave them my attention while still cruising down the trail, I experienced an abrupt change in attitude (from perpendicular to horizontal).
The spills caused by inattention in selling are less physically dramatic or funny, but a lot more expensive. 
Adapt and enjoy
As the landscape changes, sometimes you go puffing up a hill with skis in herringbone position, and sometimes you can double-pole and glide to whoosh down the trail.  Sometimes hard work, sometimes fast, easy, and fun. 
You have to know when to do what, and notice if things start to change – to react to change in ways that work.

How else does XC skiing resemble improving your selling skills? 

And what other “stretch metaphors” might shed some insights in future posts – maybe golf, or cycling? 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What sales process do you follow?

How well do you know it – well enough to sense when something starts to break?

Most who sell follow some sort of process, or try to.

Maybe it works well because you follow it, or maybe you follow it because it works – but both have to happen - consistently!

Taking the process apart to look at it can be very productive.  Who knows what you might find if you do?

Maybe there’s a step that just doesn’t work.  The results or outcomes you want just don’t happen when you follow that part of the process.  That’s GREAT news!  The first step in fixing a problem is finding it – and if you find one broken part in your sales process, that may be what’s holding you back.

Maybe there’s a step that’s often skipped, like a follow-up note.  When you skip a step, you’re breaking the process yourself.  How many sales are lost for a simple missed step? 
Maybe there’s a step that only a very few can do with any skill.  That’s great news, too!  Just isolate and model how the best do exactly that part – and then "clone" that excellence for others.  (The cloning's a separate skill from selling, which I'll cover in another blog)
On Jan 23 Scott Plum and I are going to walk through some sales processes we each know, from various sources, so everybody can see -- they’re all built on the same frame, in theory at least. 
The difference is in execution -- how whatever process really gets used.  What matters is what the salesperson actually does "in the moment" - and that's not always the same process they espouse.

Then we’ll take a volunteer from the participants, and do “real-time mapping” to document exactly how his/her sales process works.  I’ll use XSOL software to do this rapid redesign exercise so everyone can see how the process fits together and works.

What usually happens in a conversation like that, about how a process really, really works, is this:

As it gets more specific, some things just pop out as obvious opportunities for improvement.  Some things might turn out to be broken, redundant, or waste.  Sometimes there's a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious - which can be really valuable.
Or it might be that one attendee will be absolutely vindicated that she / he has the perfect sales process, combined with flawless execution.

And if that happens, I’ll wonder why they’re in a sales process workshop, instead of on a beach in Cancun…

Here’s a link to register for it: RSVP – Click Here

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Learning a sales process

In the last blog, there's an applied checklist to see if your sales process is, well, a process at all (as opposed to random hopeful activity, sometimes getting results).

Let's think together for a moment about how you (and anyone else who sells with / for you) learn and improve your selling process.  And comments / additions / disagreements are most welcome!

First, let me confess one bias, from an observation by my friend Bob Davis of the McCourt agency of Wilson Learning - most salespeople seem to have ADD / ADHD. 

That's often a great asset - it adds liveliness, charm, hyper-focus when it's needed, very high intelligence, great creativity, and the ability to notice things others miss.

The liability comes with following rules - especially when that's a highly complex sales process.  (I actually saw one flow-charted out that took two pages and had about 30 steps - and the IT executive who created the process was really frustrated that nobody would use it to sell)

So how can you balance the need for a process with a smart, creative salesforce that would rather do anything else than follow the "rules" of the process? 

From working with salespeople for several years, and coaching and teaching sales, these guidelines for instituting a sales process seem to work -

Sensible - The process has to make sense to the salespeople.  If it's more convoluted than necessary, they'll employ their creativity to find ways around it.  Making it graphically oriented helps those who think visually, and makes it more memorable for the rest.

Easy - Salespeople are hyper-focused on results, and resent what smells of bureaucracy (which is why getting them to do expense reports, much less input into a CRM, can be challenging).  If it's easy, they can explain it to you - without notes, in less than two minutes.  And then they'll use it.

Linked - The process has to be connected in several ways.  The first link is to compensation - how does following the process effect their pay?  It also has to link to how the client or customer gets what's promised.  When there's a clear line from "I spend one minute filling this out..." to "My client/customer gets what I promised - so they're glad to see me again!" --salespeople will get that done.

Learning - Salespeople love to tell stories!  And the best salespeople are always looking for ways to sharpen their skills.  What if stories got captured, in a way that the others who sell got better prepared for their next sale?  What if SNAFU (Situation Now All Fouled Up) stories also got shared, as warnings of what to watch out for?  What if your salesforce could get smarter with every call?

So if your sales process is Simple Easy Linked & Learning (SELL), you stand a much better chance of it really working.

What do you think?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Process Problem Checklist - for Sales

Last week was a little checklist to see if a problem might be a process problem.  Some tell me it's useful, so let's try it out - on your sales process.

Here are the questions again - What do these say about your own sales process?

1)  Have you done it before?
2)  Who is responsible?  Who else is involved?
3)  Does everyone affected by this know who’s responsible for what?
4)  Did any of these happen the last time(s) the process was used?
  • Confusion
  • Delays
  • Surprises
  • Mistakes
  • Rework
  • Wasted time, materials, resources
5) Is the process documented?
6) Does everyone affected by this know how it’s supposed to work?
7) Is it clear how this process affects other processes?

 (If you only read the list, try again!  Really answer the questions, keeping your own sales process in mind.  It could provide you with important insights)

What do your answers tell you?

I've heard all kinds of answers to these.

For Question 1, some have told me "No two customers / deals are ever alike - it's a blank sheet, starting over fresh every time!"  That tells me that they spend more time and effort winning business than they need to - probably a lot more.  Of course every customer's different, but the way you sell doesn't need to be - and should not be - MSU  ("Make Stuff Up") every time.  Frequent MSU brings unpredictability, needless crises, and mistakes in scope that can lead to lost sales (or even sales you later wish you'd lost!)

For Question 4, doesn't that list tell a sad story?  I don't know anyone who hasn't had some of these in their sales process occasionally.  But if you see them often, you have a process problem!  How often is too often?  Well, how much of that aggravation, loss, and grief do you want to tolerate?

If your own answers to the seven questions show a sales process problem, let's talk (just reply here, and I'll be in touch).

Or, you might want to check the sales micro-seminars that are coming up starting 11/16 by clicking here.  These are all about treating sales as a process that's repeatable, measurable, and improvable.  I'll be "seeding" some of that content into this blog, but it may take months - and if your business has a sales process problem, waiting is bad.

What other questions help you clearly see if you have a sales process problem?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Process Problem Checklist

Many organizations have processes that “just grew” – they found a way it worked the first time they had to do it, and kept doing it that way.  And sometimes, that’s fine – if it works, go with it.

But how do you know if it works?  Or if it could work better?  Or what your organization might gain if it did?

So here’s a little definition and a few examples to consider (more about these next post!) before we get to the generic diagnostic questions

A process is some sequence of actions that an organization takes to turn some input into some output. Consider the table below for the variety and complexity of processes that an organization may have to do, and the difference that doing it well (smoothly, reliably, quickly) might make.

Customer inquiry
Satisfied customer
Request for Bid
No-Bid, Bid
Check, Letter
Production emergency
Fix, test
Production restored, minimized loss
Installation request
Coordinate resources
Do installation
Satisfied customer
Employee quits
Exit interview
Recruit replacement
Train replacement
Productive new employee on board
Follow safety process
Do disaster recovery
Interim operations
Organization function restored

Processes might be unknown, unexamined, undefined, broken, redundant, wasteful, erratic, or a host of other conditions that can be really expensive and wasteful of time, reputation, and other resources.  The difference is often pretty big -- imagine the consequences if processes in the table above went badly wrong.

So here’s a quick process checklist to see if any particular process might need attention.

1)  Have you done it before?
2)  Who is responsible?  Who else is involved?
3)  Does everyone affected by this know who’s responsible for what?
4)  Did any of these happen the last time(s) the process was used?
  • Confusion
  • Delays
  • Surprises
  • Mistakes
  • Rework
  • Wasted time, materials, resources
5) Is the process documented?
6) Does everyone affected by this know how it’s supposed to work?
7) Is it clear how this process affects other processes?
So that’s the basic checklist.  If I’ve missed anything in this quick diagnostic, or if you’d like to suggest adding anything, please feel free to comment.

And next time, we’ll dig into the consequences of some process run amok from the table above, to explore just how costly it can be.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Top 5 symptoms of a process problem

Sometimes, businesses have symptoms they mis-diagnose, or don’t diagnose at all – they just try to make the symptoms go away. Some symptoms are pretty bad, so any business would like to make them just disappear or get magically fixed.

But treatment without diagnosis is malpractice -- even when you do it to yourself.

And you can often tell if you’re treating symptoms – because they linger, come back, or get worse.  

So, what are some symptoms that might tell you to look for a business process that’s causing problems?  Here are the top 5 I've seen in consulting on process this year.

Crises and emergencies happen - routinely.  If more than a few times a year, the business has to resort to “heroic efforts” to make a customer satisfied, meet a delivery date, fill a large order, handle a very complex job – you might have a process problem.

“Do-Overs” and waste.  If it sometimes takes two or more tries to get something done right – with the resulting disasters in cost and customer relations – you might have a process problem.

Burn-out.  If you lose valued associates because they just get fed up fighting the system, "re-inventing the wheel," having to do it all themselves, dealing with chaos – you might have a process problem.

“Only Marie can to that.”  When only one person knows how some critical part of your business works, and that knowledge stays between her / his ears, the business depends on that person’s availability.  So if they get the flu, you’ve at high risk for an emergency – and you might have a process problem. 

MSU as SOP.  MSU (Make Stuff Up) is the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) when organizations are first created, usually.  But if your organization has been in business for over a year and has 3 or more employees, and you’re STILL in MSU mode – you DO have a process problem (no “might” about it!).

These are just a few of the symptoms.  There are many others - like persistent low profits, inability to handle increasing workload, long "on-boarding" of new associates, fulfillment and scheduling bottlenecks, inconsistent service delivery, unreliable forecasts & sales, customer attrition, and so on...

If you might have a process problem, there are some questions that will let you know, for sure, and steer you toward doing something about them.  That’s in the next process blog.

In the meantime, ask yourself about the symptoms above – Have you seen these?  Have you lived with them?  How did they get a durable fix - if they did?  

If you’d like to respond with an example you've seen, or a question or a comment, please do.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sustainable strategy

Just did a talk at Rasmussen College about strategy for sustainable growth, and wanted to share a few highlights from it.

A sustainable strategy has to be one that wins - consistently, now and into the future.  Companies usually do that through a primary emphasis on one of three ways to compete.
  • Product superiority (think Apple or Bose) - and that brings some choices about what sort of people they hire, where they spend resources, where they invest and focus.
  • Price (think WalMart) - and that also leads to choices about human resources, investment in systems, attention to their supply chain and logistics.
  • Customer Intimacy (think very high-end retail, like Macy's or Nieman Marcus) - where they remember you, know what you want before you do, and go overboard with attention to the customer.

Companies can't ignore any of these, but success comes sustainably when the focus is on one, and the others are sufficient. 

Sustainable strategy has to be reality-based, and more realistic assessments mean better strategy.  A Strengths / Weaknesses / Opportunities / Threats (SWOT) analysis - one foundation of strategy - has to be realistic to be any use at all.  A Political / Economic / Society / Technology (PEST) analysis is an environmental scan that has to be fact-based and current - and repeated at least a couple of times a year.

Sustainable strategy has be be flexible - a plan that doesn't take into account the most likely contingencies is brittle and fragile, not sustainable.

Sustainable strategy takes into account the human resources - how the organization's talent is engaged, retained, developed and rewarded.  A strategy that doesn't consider this is extremely vulnerable to ugly surprises when top talent leaves.  This year, as the economy improves, more companies run serious risk here than recognize it.

Sustainable strategy also builds in continuous process improvement.  Operational excellence isn't a strategy by itself, but without examining and optimizing processes, organizations make the execution of strategy harder and costlier than it needs to be.

More to come on this, and I may be repeating the talk (with its take-away tools) in another venue soon.