Friday, October 31, 2008

Sales Gimmicks

Sales gimmicks have always puzzled me. Often, I see some potential educational value in them, for the Sales person, but, almost always, they seem to be counterproductive, in application. During the past week, we’ve been “back home”, in Southern California, for a wedding. Ironically, in what is, for me, a pretty far from “work” setting, I saw a remarkable example of this.

There I was, babysitting my seven month old Grandson (Jake) at the front of a hair and nail salon, while Ruth (my Wife) and Jill (my step-Daughter) were having their hair done. While some concoction was doing its magic on Jill’s hair, she came to sit with Jake and me. As Jill was flipping through a magazine, a woman appeared in the exterior doorway that separated our chairs. Facing Jill, she said something like, “You seemed to be interested in our catalog. Would you like to order some of our products?” As she said this, she pointed at a catalog of cosmetic products that was laying on an end table next to Jill. I won’t mention the cosmetic company’s name but it rhymes with Rave On. Anyway, Jill said she wasn’t interested and the woman responded by saying, “Are you sure? I’m pretty sure I saw you starting to reach for it?” I won’t bore you with the rest of this verbal exchange but it didn’t get any better.

As I reflected on this, I considered that the cosmetic company representative had probably been taught the tactic I observed. My assumption was that the intent of this teaching was to aid a Sales person in initially connecting with a Prospect, if they found them actually showing interest in the company catalog. In this case, the misapplication of the training resulted in a disconnect, as well as a bad taste in Jill’s mouth (and mine) for ever doing any business with that cosmetic company.

In addition to the misapplication of well-intentioned Sales gimmicks, there are those that are simply devious. A good example of this is one that was included in my training for a summer “Sales” job when I was in college. This involved selling vending machine franchises to individuals. The tactic was to hand the Prospect a pen and get them to sign meaningless documents during my presentation so that when it came time to ask them to sign a contract; they’d already be comfortable in signing things for me. Since I always try to take something good from every experience, I suppose I gained in grasping an understanding of the psychology involved with this. Otherwise, I view this as a skill of a Charlatan, not of a Sales person.

And, I guess this last point is my primary objection to the use of Sales gimmicks … they, generally, seem to be the skills of a con artist, not of a business professional. Since my business card says, Consultative Sales Professional, that probably makes me even more sensitive to this. My view of “consultative” involves the aim to sort of “crawl inside the other person’s skin”, to understand their goals and challenges from their perspective and to have a much better understanding of how your company’s offerings can help with that? Manipulating the Prospect doesn’t seem to fit in with this approach very well.

Are there examples of more legitimate and productive Sales gimmicks out there? Please let us know your experience, one way or the other. As always, we welcome your sharing to benefit others.

Justin Hitt Says:

November 18, 2008 at 11:07 am edit

I make a skill of finding unusual sales gimmicks that translate well into the business-to-business selling space, and agree with you about the garbage approaches some managers teach sales people.

Managers and sales people alike seem to miss the attention part of a sales gimmick, it’s not so much for you to attach to your prospect, but instead to get your prospect to contact you (and qualify themselves.)

Thanks for highlighting this problem, I’m certain other observers of these “gimmicks” feel the same way, disgusted.



Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Win-Win Selling … Another Perspective

“Win-Win Selling Is For Losers”. That’s the title of a current post by one of my favorite Sales bloggers, Scott R. Sheaffer. I have a high regard for this fellow Sales Professional’s views. In fact, Scott’s blog, Sales Vitamins, is on my Blogroll. With that set up, you may be expecting me to now say something like, “However, in this case, I think Scott’s all wet.” But I don’t. Actually, I’m in agreement with the views he expressed on this and if you haven’t read this article, I recommend that you do. Still, I think there’s another important perspective to consider.

At the risk of oversimplifying Scott’s message, I’ll say that the essence of my agreement is that it isn’t helpful and can be harmful for a Sales person to use the “We just want to make this a win-win situation” cliche. Scott is completely right that this is a trite expression that takes the focus off of the WIIFM and ignores that the “Me” component of the WIIFM is the Customer. With that said, though the cliched “win-win” expression may be unwise, I believe that the determination to achieve “win-win”, even if unspoken, is quite important. Here’s why:

The smart Customer recognizes that, in most cases, ”win-win” is in their best interest – i.e., it is part of their WIIFM. Regardless of the product or service the Customer needs they do “need” it. In other words, the Vendor is meeting a need that the Customer can’t satisfy on their own. The Vendor/Customer relationship isn’t a one-way street. It is, in fact, a mutually beneficial business partnership. With this in mind, the Customer understands the legitimacy of the “win-win” called “profit motive”. In most cases, their company will have a “profit motive” in mind for their products and services. Beyond this, the Customer understands that its the “profit motive” that makes it possible for their Vendor to keep fulfilling their needs and to get better at doing it. So, even if its only implicit, a Vendor that is determined to achieve “win-win” may be offering just the set-apart that the Customer knows they must have.

It may seem more obvious, on the Vendor’s side, why the “win-win” called “profit motive” is important. Nevertheless, my experience has been that finding this lacking in Sales Cultures is nearly as common as the use of hackneyed Sales cliches. Perhaps, in some cases, the effort to avoid the latter may end up causing the former. I’ve found that this can be avoided fairly simply. I start with pointing out that, though it isn’t always appropriate to bring it up in a Sales presentation, its completely appropriate to want your company to remain healthy. Then, it can be used to help the Sales person mature … when a Sales person is sort of “comfortable in their own skin” – i.e, at peace with the legitimacy of their function within a business process, they tend to become more and more self-assured. And, finally, they learn that there are circumstances where it is appropriate to bring this into the conversation with a Customer. A good example might be in a price versus value selling situation, where the Customer needs to understand that the value provided by “win-win” can be their sacrifice for a competitor’s lower price.

So what do you think? Do you agree that both my perspective on “win-win” and Scott’s are important? Is one more important than the other? Let us know your views so others can benefit from your experience too!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Managing My Not-So-Hidden Agenda For Sales

Since Sales is my business-life, I’ve had a not-so-hidden agenda for quite awhile. That is to make everyone in the organization I’m part of a Sales Person. Or, at least, that’s how I think of it. In reality, if I turned everyone into a Sales Person, forsaking the role that they were hired for, the organization wouldn’t function very well. So, maybe a better way to express this plan is to equip all my colleagues to help stimulate Sales, in addition to carrying out their assigned duties. Here’s what I have in mind:

One of the Fortune 500-level companies I’ve worked for is my career-favorite employer. The top reason for this was that this company truly looked out for the best interests of its people, knowing that the people would do the same for the company in return. That genuine caring attitude extended to other critical areas, such as: the company’s demand for quality in its products, their determination to have the best of mutually beneficial relationships with Customers and Business Partners, etc. Of course, as a Sales Person, it was great to be able to represent a firm with sincere enthusiasm that came easily. However, I discovered that the qualities that were the source of my zeal were effecting the behavior of others in non-Sales roles in ways that were positively impacting Sales. My favorite example of this was a great guy, named Sal, who ran the warehouse. Sal was as “on fire” as I was about the terrific company we worked for and I’m sure that was behind the excellent way he carried out his job. But, I found that this impacted Sal’s conduct elsewhere. When Sal ran into a friend at Trader Joe’s and they asked him about our company, you could count on him to tell them about our remarkable employer and our excellent performance. You can’t buy PR like that! But, you can bet that I saw to it that, in addition to Sal’s natural gusto for our company, he was equipped with an “elevator pitch” of matching quality, to help him express his views. And, as you might expect, it was from that point I started looking to do this with all my co-workers and thus, my “not-so-hidden agenda” was born.

I can’t imagine any sane business leader not wanting to have the sort of win-win culture I’ve described embedded in their company. Just the same, there are pitfalls to avoid. One of the biggest is what the folks who teach soft-skills call “unmet expectations”. This didn’t happen with Sal but lets say that, as the result of an encounter at Trader Joe’s Sal brought a Customer to the company and he took the Customer directly to Order Entry and asked that his name be placed on the order as the Commissioned Sales Person. Fraught with problems, right?! You talk about your unmet expectations! … The Sales Manager expected that Sales People, not enthusiastic Warehouse People, would handle all Sales. Sal expected that he would get paid commission. The Customer didn’t expect to get caught in some internal conflict with their supplier. Etc., etc. Wow!

Unmet expectations, commonly, occur because two parties expect different things and that’s because they didn’t set an expectation in the first place. If Sal’s Trader Joe’s contact resulted in revenue for the company, certainly it would be in line for him to receive recognition and remuneration. However, there should be a policy in place to define this and typically, that would define the appropriate steps for the not-really-a-Sales-Person to hand the connection off to Sales. That should apply across the board, even if the connection is made at a higher level … a situation that could be even more problematic. A good place to start, in general, is to make sure that everyone is on the same page about the legitimacy of Sales in the business process. My posting on The Pride and Prejudice of Sales touches on this a bit.

What experience have you had along these lines? Please let us know so it can be shared with others!

Dan Waldron Says:

October 15, 2008 at 5:16 pm edit

Well said� Great information, keep up the great work!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Faith ... In The World Economy

As you might expect, over the past couple of weeks, Figgins and I have had several discussions about our nation's financial crisis, that quickly spread to world markets. Since Figgins is a true Millennial, his experience with this sort of thing is next-to-none. Though I'm older, by an order of magnitude, I'm still just a Baby Boomer. I don't have the experience of the Great Depression and my business expertise hasn't been in Finance so I haven't had solutions to offer, with confidence. However, I have been able to pass along some observations of differing reactions to these circumstances and I think that's been meaningful to him.

One related occasion involved meeting with the VP of Sales of a $Billion+ firm. This is a man who is at retirement age but he's considering postponing his retirement due to the current economy. I suspect that his compensation plan is pretty healthy and he mentioned that he's in the process of having a vacation home built abroad so it didn't seem that he was in imminent danger of going broke. When he told me of a night he had spent "from 8:00 in the evening until 4:00 in the morning, calling Stock Brokers, with all (his) financial papers spread out around (him)", it was obvious that he is scared, nearly senseless, of the economy's uncertainties. In sympathy, I shared with him that these are the sort of times when I'm especially appreciative of the peace I have, as a man of faith. I told him that my slogan is, "I don't know what tomorrow holds but I know Who holds tomorrow." And, I went on to say that I like to look at the sun when it comes up in the morning and realize that I had absolutely nothing to do with that happening. My point is that I don't have any more control over the world economy than I do of the sun coming up in the morning so why should I worry about one more than the other. Sadly, he wasn't open to what I had to say and his anxiety seemed to remain, as we parted.

On another occasion, we heard from a couple who are friends from our church "back home". Their first message asked us to join them in praying about a situation that involved a relative who is out of work, who lost his home and who, along with his Wife and dog, is being evicted from his apartment because he's now out of money even for rent. Now, our friends were being asked to take in the relative, the Wife and the dog. Of course there are many things to consider in a situation like this and we don't know all the particulars but we do know that our friends both have full-time jobs, they've been struggling for the past few years to try to buy a home of their own and one of them has asthma and allergies so having a dog around is not ideal. Today, we heard from our friends, thanking us for our prayers and letting us know of their decision to have the relative move in, along with his Wife and dog. They have committed to covering all the costs, "including dog food", without any payback to be done so that the relative can "save his money & get a job".

Finally, I told Figgins that it was these sort of experiences that led me to Luke 9:57 - 10:2 for our time in the Word, at this past Saturday's Calvary Chapel - Vancouver - Married Couples Fellowship Event. That concludes with, "Then He said" ... "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." My added encouragement was that this is a GREAT TIME! Its a time when you can truly bless others by sharing your faith. I don't know that the words I spoke in sympathy with the VP of Sales will have any impact. I pray that they will. Likewise, I pray that the Lord will use the up-close view our friends' relatives (and others) are getting of what faith can do. And, for you, my Christian Brothers and Sisters who are reading this, I pray that, in this time of uncertainty in the world, you'll be especially watchful for opportunities to witness through the way you live. When those around you are shaking like a leaf and they turn to look at you, to see someone who is at peace, they're certain to wonder, "What do they have that I don't?" and that will lead to eternal blessing!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

“The Perfect Face” for Inside Sales

“Back in the day”, as TV encroached on the domain where Radio had been dominant, some Radio Stars were unsuccessful in their attempts to transition to become TV Stars. With some, it was said that this was because they had “the perfect face” for radio. In other words, some of those attractive voices didn’t have the eye appeal to match.

As the metamorphosis of Inside Sales has given it a more significant role in Selling, I’ve observed some similar phenomena, though in reverse. I’m not saying, if you’re not a great looking person, you shouldn’t consider Outside Sales and get on the phones right away. I’ve spent the great majority of my fairly successful Sales career in Outside Sales and I’m no Brad Pitt. What I am saying is that you can’t expect to take a good Outside Sales person, put them in an Inside Sales role and expect instant success.

Although I’d had previous involvement with Inside Sales, in its initial, supportive role for Outside Sales, my most significant experience in this arena came from the work I did in the Call Center of a premiere Direct Sales organization. This is where I first observed the phenomena mentioned above. My primary objective in this assignment was to assist this group, as it shifted its emphasis from transactional selling to more of a consultative approach. In doing that, I started by going through the classroom Sales training for new-hires. When it came time to role-play, some experienced “old hands” were brought in from the Call Center. I was matched with one of these “old hands” and I was a bit surprised at my level of discomfort, as I took on the role of the Inside Sales person. When it was the “old hand’s” turn, I noticed that the first thing he did was to roll his chair away from his workstation, put his elbows on his knees, rest his head in his hands and he stared at the floor … not at me, across the room. An “aha moment” for me! I realized that I had brought into that room a set of skills, that I’d honed over the years, that no longer applied because I was no longer able to visually connect with the Prospect.
My “aha moment” in the classroom ended up leading to the area where I was able to make the most significant strides, in developing the consultative selling abilities of this Direct Sales force. When I got to the Sales Floor of the Call Center, of course, I found that some of the Inside Sales people had previous successful experience as Outside Sales people. Within this group, I found that some were managing to succeed in their new environment, while others were “just getting by” and others were failing. The most significant difference I found in these groups had to do with my “aha moment”. Generally, here’s why:

The ones who were failing didn’t recognize why their previously successful approach wasn’t working and they had pretty much given up. With the ones who were “just getting by”, it seemed that they knew what wasn’t working for them anymore but they weren’t sure what to do about it and they were settling for what they could accomplish “in the transactional mode”. Those who were succeeding had become more consultative, in many cases unconsciously, through learning to replace their skills of visual observation with other techniques.

My approach, to start addressing this, was simple. Rather than emphasizing the sense of hearing over the sense of sight, I encouraged the sales people to focus all their senses on the human being who was calling in/being called. I would say, “You see that line of script lighting up on your PC monitor? That’s not just a stream of electrons, that’s a human being. And though they may not use these exact words, they are calling here for HELP! Your job is to learn, as completely as you can, what they need help with, that we can provide. Then, as thoroughly as you can, to communicate what we have to meet their needs and how it will meet their needs.” That turned out to be a great foundation for developing an effective consultative Inside Sales person.

For more on this, I recommend checking How have you approached this? What successful methods do you use that you can help others with by sharing?

greg wease Says:

October 7, 2008 at 2:57 pm edit

Gary – great article.

It has been my experience in the technology and media sectors is that many outside sales reps are now required to allocate a certain percentage of their time in the role of an inside sales rep, especially with the advent of social media and on-line collaboration.

grwiram Says:

October 7, 2008 at 3:32 pm edit

Great point, Greg! In addition to these aspects of New Media Sales & Marketing, the current economy necessitates that a Sales Professional equips themselves to be more of a “Utility Player”. The days when Smilin’ ‘n’ Dialin’, for Prospecting, was as close as an Outside Sales person came to doing true Inside Sales work are as passe as the days of the “Smoke-Stacking” sort of Prospecing I mentioned in an earlier post –

Nick Moreno Says:

October 17, 2008 at 11:35 am edit

Great article… thanks. The “sales foundation” for both inside and outside sales is to uncover a problem that you can “fix” with your product or service. It’s not about the product… it’s all about the solution.

Thanks again.


Vern Says:

November 7, 2008 at 9:44 am edit

I really liked your aha moment story because it shows a level of awareness that’s not available for many folks, as is clear by the story of what happened to other outside sales people when moved to the phones. I’d suggest that with such awareness, you may want to start a telesales consulting business of your own.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Growing Sales In A Down Economy

When the economy is down, it can seem almost instinctive to use what I call “foot-on-the-neck” tactics to keep Sales up. During my Sales career, I’ve seen such devices used, in good times and in bad times, with some regularity. My experience has been that these procedures are limited in their effectiveness and often result in some pretty negative side-effects. Lets face it, when the economy is down, sales potential will be reduced too and no matter how hard you press down with your “foot-on-the-neck”, there’s only so much that can be squeezed out. In the process you’re likely to “bruise the necks” of your Sales people, making them resentful and perhaps, forcing them into behaviors that don’t reflect the quality of representation you really want.

So what is a more effective approach during these tough times for businesses? I think the best answer to this was summed up in a conversation I had with our mortgage lender, when I ran into her at a recent business meeting in our community. Of course, her industry has probably been hit as hard as any business sector, in the current economy. So, I asked her how business was going. Her response was that she’s in this for the long-term. There are peaks and there are valleys. During the last peak, she did what she knew was necessary to prepare for the next valley, And, now that she’s in the valley, she’s tending to the things she didn’t have time for during the last peak and she’s doing this so she can maximize the benefits of the next peak.

What a great role model?! It brought to mind work I did with a Client during our country’s last big economic downturn … post 9/11. The Client was a major manufacturer of office furniture, whose Chairman had been championing a particular course in Cross-Cultural Communication to establish more consistency in the company’s corporate culture, to accomplish more productive business communication internally. I know this doesn’t seem very connected to Sales yet but bear with me … the Chairman’s initiative wasn’t getting much traction until I met with his EVP of Sales and pointed out to him that every time one of his Sales people entered a prospective Customer’s environment, they were actually entering a unique culture. Then, I went on to point out that, if his Sales organization was equipped with Cross-Cultural Communication Education and the competitor was not, his company had a huge advantage. As a result, the course that the Chairman was championing was deployed throughout the company, from the top down. The Sales result did not include putting the competitor out of business (yes, I have to admit to having that “killer instinct” too) but, in that down economy, my Client consistently beat their Sales goals and significantly increased their market-share, which they continue to grow.

Although I like telling that story, I know it can seem a bit altruistic. In fact, in times like we’re in, a business leader may just be trying to figure out how to make payroll or pay the light bill or … you name it. However, if your circumstances allow, my recommendation is to avoid looking to “foot-on-the-neck” sort of steps to buoy your company’s Sales. Instead, take a fresh look at all aspects of your Sales organization and consider what could be improved with some investment. One resource that may, actually, be more available for investment than it is during an economic boom is time. Regardless, I encourage investing what you can now. Its more likely than “foot-on-the-neck” to maximize current Sales performance and, like my friend the mortgage lender, you’ll be prepared to “maximize the benefits of the next peak. ‘

For another source of good ideas on this topic, check out What steps are you taking, along these lines, for the benefit of your Sales organization? As always, we welcome your Comments, to share with others!