I’m in the market for a business-to-business software product. I’m pretty far along in my buying process and I have narrowed down my choices to three vendors. I contact them all.
Two of the three salespeople who get back to me are what I would call “typical.” They are cheerful, chatty, somewhat excitable, and they say things such as, “Let me be honest with you” and “No problem!” Half the time, I don’t feel they are really listening to what I’m saying, but instead are only thinking about what they will say next when I’m talking. I don’t have a good feeling about them being able to help me make a good decision. I can’t trust them.
The third one, though, is different. His name is John. He’s serious. He’s thoughtful. He is strategic. He listens more than he talks. He’s almost an “anti-salesperson.” He knows his product really well, and he’s honest when he doesn’t have an answer. He’s not pushy, but he is persistent - he sends me something helpful and interesting every single week while we are in the process of discussions, meetings, demos, and the proposal.
Frankly, it’s so much easier to move along the buying process with John. Every time I have a question, he either knows the answer or finds the answer. He helps me compare his product to the others. Is he biased? Of course. I expect it, but I don’t mind, because he has done his homework, and his analysis of his own product versus the competition makes good sense. What he says makes it easier for me to sell his product to my managers.
He also doesn’t flinch when I am concerned about an aspect of his product. “Yes, that’s true - we don’t yet support that process, in the way you are hoping. Our development team is fully aware of it, and is working on it. However, you can accomplish what you want to accomplish if you do [this] instead of what you were thinking of doing.” While this is not ideal, none of the other products meet my requirements 100%, either. Buying something this complex always involves tradeoffs.
John understands this and just keeps helping me see how I could do what I want to do, with his product.
In the end, John makes it easy. I will buy from him.
In your business life, you encounter several types of enemies.
There are competitors, who are fighting for the same customers you’re going after, coming up against you in deals, telling those customers all about your weaknesses, and doing their best to “position” themselves against you.
There are bosses or other people in power (such as investors) who have decided they don’t like you, and will do what they can to replace you with one of their people.
There are employees who continue to work for you but who don’t enjoy doing so. They make sure everyone (except you) knows why.
There are bureaucrats who, for their own seemingly nonsensical reasons, take actions that could put you out of business.
And yes, there are even customers who have decided that you are doing a terrible job and take it upon themselves to give you a black eye out in the marketplace.
We encounter these enemies even though we are hard-working, honest, careful, and courteous. Living this way gives us the upper hand with our enemies, before the battle has even begun. Which brings us to the first item on our “how to beat your enemies” list.
1) Do right, so you can be in the right. Enemies take full advantage of your weaknesses. If you are honest and fair-dealing with everyone, your enemies will be hard-pressed to make any accusation stick - especially any claims that you are dishonest or uncaring. If you have nothing to hide or be ashamed of, you start out ahead - and are much more likely to win in the end.
2) Know when to fight. If you are accused of something that you didn’t do, or your enemy is saying something that simply isn’t true, don’t let that untrue thought hang out there in the universe. Quickly take action. Gather and document your side of the story, and then get that story out there. Use the power of the “carbon copy” - something especially helpful when dealing with bureaucracies - where you not only send your side of the story to one body, but you carbon copy others, including the press. This will make it very difficult for your side of the story to be suppressed.
3) Give ‘em rope. There are other situations, such as dealing with a dishonest employee, that will require you to take a patient, watchful approach. Liars, even the most clever and pathological ones, have their inattentive moments. Track-covering is a full-time job and very mind-consuming; at some point, the liar will slip up. Two and two will not equal 4, or their body language will give them away, or their story and someone else’s story simply will not agree. Pay close attention to those moments when they are not aware they are “on stage.” Liars often let their guard down when they’re not talking, and if you observe them during those moments, you will learn a great deal. Their slips will tell you where to look for the evidence that will allow you do take decisive action.
4) Know what they’re saying about you, and make sure you address it. If you talk to customers after they buy, they will tell you what your competitors have been saying about you. A few interviews, and you will understand the main “theme” of their negative accusations. You’ll want to make sure you address them head-on and early in your presentations, without being defensive. Provide proof of your strength in the very areas they claim are your weaknesses. Let your own customers speak for you, either through testimonials or by providing the names and contact names of references (with their permission, of course).
5) Don’t live life in permanent battle mode. Yes, you will encounter enemies. You will have to take some kind of action. And you will need to think carefully about what you should do. But don’t let the battles with your enemies keep you from your positive responsibilities. The real success in business comes from doing good, not fighting the bad. People prefer to do business with those who are most caring and conscientious; people they can trust and depend upon. They don’t care who your enemies are; they care about what you can do for them. The best way to beat your enemies is to be successful helping others. It makes for a very satisfying life.
Yes, Dear Readers, it's been a while since we visited. I've been heads-down doing a sales department turnaround for a beloved client. In my line of work, I go through periods where I am focused full-time on solving problems; once I get my head above water and the skies start to clear, it's time to reflect and relate what I've learned.
Selling is a competitive sport, in spite of the fact that the best salespeople are, at heart, both intensely curious and reflexively helpful. Life is always a combination of loving, working, and fighting for what is right. Those of us who care are all in this together, in spite of the battleground on which we operate every day.
Is managing salespeople one of your most difficult tasks? If so, you’re not alone. CEOs who have few problems managing people in other positions still struggle with their sales department.
Part of the problem is the kind of person who is put in charge of the department; I’ll cover that briefly later. It's also difficult to tell if the person running the department is doing a good job or not, because of the conflict between what that manager says (“Everything is going great! No problems!”) and disappointing sales figures. And lastly, the CEO may not know how to manage salespeople, even if he’s done a little selling himself. He’s not able to tell what’s being done right - or not. The bulk of this article will focus on solving this last problem.
What type of manager is running your sales now?
Almost all sales departments are headed by salespeople who have worked their way up through the ranks. Unfortunately, salespeople have some inherent weaknesses when it comes to management. They are not, by nature, logistically minded. They’ll do anything to avoid digging down into the details of systems and processes. Also, they have succeeded throughout their careers by minimizing the negative and accentuating the positive. Strong managers do something else; they constantly look for problems so they can fix them.
There are also two types of salespeople, or, I should say, two distinct schools of thought when it comes to making sales. One school says, “Tell them anything they want to hear, in order to land the deal, and worry about the rest later.” The other is, “Be absolutely honest about what the product/service can and cannot do for the customer. If that means you lose this deal, so be it. That customer will never forget that you were honest, and will refer others to you going forward.” And, it should be noted, sometimes the customer buys the product in spite of its weaknesses, because it’s safer to buy from a company that deals honestly, and the weaknesses can usually be overcome in some other way.
The “tell them anything” types don’t make desirable management team members, because they do the same manipulative selling thing with their management peers and higher-ups. The real problems are misrepresented, covered up, and never fixed.
The salespeople working for this type of sales manager get more and more frustrated. If they like their job otherwise, they usually shut up and stifle their frustrations, doing what they can to work around the problems.They muddle along. They also stick around longer than might be expected because this type of sales management is so common. They know if they quit, they’ll probably be jumping from the frying pan into a fire.
The company could be doing much better, and all the salespeople know it. They believe that the management team is clueless, because their own manager convinces them that he has taken their problems to management team (something he has not done), and then tells his staff that the management team was not willing to take action.
How to you spot these manipulative types? Ask them a lot of questions. Take note of what they say - about numbers, processes, systems, customers, and their staff. Then go looking for the truth. If what they said and what you uncover are the same, at least the person is being honest. If what they say differs from the truth, you’ve got a problem. Usually the problems involve lying about numbers, taking credit for the success of others, shifting blame when there is a problem, playing favorites within the staff, setting one staff member against another, and hiding all sorts of shady deals and misconduct that could be cause for immediate dismissal.
If an inherently manipulative person is warned about unacceptable behavior, that person will appear to change, but it will just be another act. With them, everything is an act. The same problems will remain. The best thing to do with these types is to get them out of your company, and replace them with someone you can depend on.
How to manage sales individuals
Salespeople are not a “team,” although they will work peacefully together if you set up the department correctly, and manage them properly. The best sales managers manage each sales person individually, because of the very nature of selling. It’s an individual effort, requiring incredible persistence in the face of overwhelming odds. Salespeople are basically independent, optimistic types with strong social skills.
Successful selling is a daily, full-out battle to gain the attention and acceptance of those who might benefit from what you’re selling. Assuming you’re selling a complex product or service, your salespeople have to identify potential buyers, get through to them, ask then a lot of smart questions, understand the situation, determine if and how the potential customers would benefit from your product or service, help them see that same potential, help them get approval, and then close the deal.
By the time a buyer comes to your salesperson, he’s done a massive amount of online and friends-advice research. Your salespeople better not bore that prospect by trying to take him backwards to the beginning of his buying process. Instead, your salesperson should jump right in wherever the buyer is on his journey, and move right along with that buyer to a successful conclusion.
Who is the salesperson’s worst enemy? The salesperson.
Given that this is a battle that requires character and strength, any character flaws will be magnified in the course of the daily battle for the attention and acceptance of potential customers.
It is essential to correctly identify the salesperson’s main personal weakness, and their biggest strength. You identify their weakness through observation of their behavior interacting with you, co-workers, and customers. You listen as they are talking to customers.
In addition, you can learn of their weaknesses from others. Every week, when you meet with your salespeople, you ask, “Is there anything that we could do to make your job easier?” Often this is when one of them will mention that “John is so negative, it’s dragging the rest of us down,” or “Sally doesn’t seem to be pulling her weight.”
When I do departmental turnarounds for the CEOs I mentor, it usually takes me a couple of weeks to be absolutely certain about each person’s strengths, weaknesses, and “good enough” behaviors. Don’t expect to uncover the truth in an afternoon. Give them time to slip up and reveal their true character.
Once you are certain, you must sit each person down and lay it out for them. “Everyone has strengths and weaknesses,” you can say, showing a “range” with your hands. “I want to talk about your strength, so you know where you excel, and then your weakness, so we can fix it. Everything else is ‘in between’ - good enough, in other words. We won’t worry about the ‘good enough’ characteristics right now.”
You must start with their strength, so they don’t panic. You don’t want them thinking that this is a “your job is on the line” conversation. Salespeople love to be recognized for a job well done.
Then talk to them about their weakness. Make it clear that you are going to help them fix something that is making them less effective. Don’t beat around the bush. I’ve had to say, “You have bad breath.” “You are seen as negative - because of offhand and behind-the-back comments you make about others.” “Your speech habits are preventing people from respecting you.” “You say one thing to one person and something to someone else; people don’t trust you as a result.” “People think you’re lazy.” “You’re not following up, even though you say you are following up.”
The weaknesses are as varied as the individuals you have selling for you. Everyone is different.
After you state their weakness, watch their reaction. It will tell you just how willing they will be to overcome their weakness. If they get defensive, you’re going to have problems. Ditto if they pretend to agree, but are just going through the motions. The most encouraging reaction: They are shocked - because they didn’t realize that about themselves - and they will immediately start thinking about what they can do about it.
In my experience, once they realize they have this problem, and the boss is aware of it, the ones that don’t resist will change almost immediately. While salespeople can be rigid - they like to repeat whatever works - they also can turn on a dime if the situation calls for it. However, even after they change, expect that you will need to keep an eye on them - so they don’t slip back into bad habits. Be ready to help them with further refinements of the new, corrected behavior.
Contrary to popular sales management techniques advocated by hard-driving, get-the-order-at-any-cost types, compassion goes a long way in these conversations. Salespeople deal with rejection all day long; you want to be someone in their work life who truly looks after them and tries to help them. They also appreciate someone who is on their side, someone they can trust to tell them the truth, because customers seldom tell salespeople the truth about what they’re really thinking. It’s a lonely, anxious existence.
As they start to improve in their weakest area, they will experience success that had eluded them previously. They will approach all of their work with renewed vigor, which can only be good for your revenue stream.
Successful sales is at least 80% logistics - certain things must be done, a certain way, at a certain time - and the rest is mature, fair, and educated person-to-person interaction.
Make sure your current or future sales manager is someone who deals squarely and fairly; works with individuals effectively; and invests significant energy in the workflow, processes, and systems that support daily selling activities. The bombastic, competitive types who usually get a sales management job are weak in all of these areas. You’re better off hiring someone who has some selling experience, but who is logistically minded and is intensely interested in being a strong manager.
Everybody has their weaknesses. But when you become a leader, you really have to leave yours behind.
The most effective, successful leaders make a point of finding out what their weaknesses are and attack them. They do everything they can to become strong where they were once weak. These people are very rare.
The more usual leader avoids addressing his personal weaknesses. After all, he is the big cheese, right? Admitting the weakness would run contrary to how he likes to see himself. It’s easy enough to blame the ensuing problems on others. He doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal, and he is not willing to push himself.
The weakness is often rooted in a mode of behavior that worked when the person was around five years old, but has become counterproductive now that the person is an adult. These inappropriate, childish behaviors in a leader affect the performance of the entire company. Employees dread coming to work and dealing with the consequences of their boss’ behavior, and customers will avoid doing business with the company because they are aware of the negative consequences caused by the boss’ beliefs and behaviors.
All employees see the boss’ weaknesses, plain as day. They know the boss avoids conflict, or needs to micro-manage, or has to play Little Dictator. They know the boss is always late or talks too much or plays one person against another. They know the boss tells little white lies. They know the boss talks a good game, but when it comes to actually following through, he’s missing in action. They know the boss dotes on some app he developed in his thirties, a creaky old kludge that should have been abandoned long ago, but is still being used for the company’s day-to-day operations.
Employees are the ones who must try to find a way to make things work in spite of their boss’ mismanagement. They give it a good try, but it’s a losing battle. Sooner or later, they decide: “This is hopeless. He’s never going to change, and we are always going to have these problems. I give up.”
I know a manager whom his employees refer to as “perpetually disappointed.” He has no idea that his disappointment comes from his own conflicting direction. He tells them one thing is important in one meeting, and emphasizes something completely different in the next meeting. When they deliver what he asked for in the first meeting, he tells them they are idiots because what they delivered doesn’t match what he’s concerned about now. His employees devote most of their energy to avoiding his wrath. One person has managed to keep from having a one-on-one conversation with this manager for six years.
Why do employees stay in these situations? They all have talented friends who have been looking for a decent job for ages. Plus, they actually like what they do, and they like their co-workers.
Another manager I know is fully aware of his weaknesses and works on them constantly. He embraces any good idea, and is always looking for ways to improve. He is absolutely honest in all his dealings, and expects the same from his staff. The good people in the company love working for him, and his company is on the way up.
When I start working with a new client, I interview both the customers and the employees. As I do, it becomes obvious what the CEO’s strengths and weaknesses are. How he reacts when we talk about his weaknesses - privately and frankly - tells me right away just how successful our revenue-increasing activities will be.
What’s your weakness? You can find out, easily and quickly, by using an anonymous tool such as Survey Monkey, and asking two questions: What are the character traits you most appreciate in your CEO? Which character traits make it tougher for you to do your job?
The answers may surprise you. Whatever they are, if you want higher revenues and everyone’s respect, attack the weakness they identify. Learn how other people successfully deal with those issues and adopt their methods.
The truth is, you can’t behave like a loser and expect to win. Excusing your own shortcomings makes it more difficult for your employees to do the right thing, and makes you an easy target for a more adult competitor.
I recently posted a freelance web development project on a web development job board. Most of the responses, unfortunately, were perfect examples - of what not to do.
Since a lot of sales these days start with “virtual” contact, it’s instructional to see how these guys blew it - and what you can do to make sure you do it right.
You don’t want to do these five things.
1) Don’t send an email filled with typos. Most of the messages were, unfortunately, filled with typos.
The customer’s reaction: I’m not just looking for someone to fix one site. I’m looking for someone who can be a potential long-term vendor, someone I can refer my clients to. If you don’t even pay attention to details when you’re trying to impress, no way am I going to trust you with my own sites or refer you to my clients.
Remember: Potential customers always decide that if there are mistakes in your selling messages, there will be mistakes in your work.
2) Don’t be a nuisance. Several candidates went beyond their initial response via email, and started using other channels to bug me - including Skype, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I was just starting to go through all the emails I’d gotten (in other words, I was at the beginning of my buying process), and these guys were pinging me every two seconds, trying to close the sale. Their own behavior - failing to follow instructions, exhibiting inappropriate behavior, and stepping over the line - automatically put them on the reject list.
The customer’s reaction: Back off! Just because you need to make a sale now doesn’t mean that I am ready to buy.
Remember: Give them space. They’ll think more kindly of you for it. Travel through the sales process at their speed, not yours. Besides, if you appear to be desperate, they will decide you are hurting because you don’t do good work.
3) Don’t fail to read the RFP. The job posting was clear and concise. I said what I wanted and what I expected from them (send me an email with link(s) to your work and be prepared to provide three references). Even those who included a link to my original job description (not really necessary) failed to read what I had written or follow the instructions.
The customer’s reaction: If you can’t follow instructions at this stage - when you’re trying to impress me - I will expect you won’t be able to follow instructions when it’s time to get the work done. You’re failing before you start.
Remember: At this stage of a customer’s buying process, you are hanging by the thinnest of threads. Any small infraction is going to cause the customer to reject you. There will be hundreds of other responses to chose from. Do exactly what is asked for.
4) Don’t provide more information than requested. I made it clear I was only interested in Wordpress developers. But once a salesperson has a warm lead on the hook, it’s tempting to send even more information. It’s a waste of effort. I wasn’t really interested in the sites they had created using other methods.
The customer’s reaction: You have just un-sold me, by raising questions that I didn’t have until you exposed me to the additional info. For example, if you do more than Wordpress development, does that mean that you are not as good at Wordpress as you are other types of platforms?
Remember: One of the key characteristics of a solid salespeople is they know when to shut up. Give the customer exactly what they ask for, no more.
5) Don’t screw up my name. Personally, I don’t get offended if someone calls me “Kristen” or “Kirstin.” I just correct them and move on. But if you’re selling to someone, you’ll want to get their name right. And if they do give you their name, don’t start off your email with “Dear Managing Person.”
The customer’s reaction: Oops. Wrong name. Such a simple thing - and they screwed it up. I’m not about to trust this company with something complicated and important!
Remember: Before you hit the send button, stop. Look at your email one more time, and read it as if you’re the customer seeing it for the first time. One mistake in an email can lose the sale. Not making the effort to find that one mistake will mean your entire effort has gone to waste.
It’s pathetic how often salespeople screw up these bare-minimum basics. If manufacturing operations were run like these sales efforts, our toothbrushes would fall apart in our hands, our smart phones would barely light up, and our cars would consistently sputter and rattle.
If you want to sell more, run sales like a factory. Invest in ongoing training, constant quality control, time/task studies, and continuous improvement. If you are not doing these things, one of your salespeople has just sent out an email that would horrify you if you saw it. Do not expect them to get this right on their own.