WHAT DOES "SELL SMARTER" MEAN?
If "necessity is the mother of invention," then what new methods for field selling have been implemented in response to the past two years of zero, average growth in the U.S. economy? As we enter the year-end season of sales forecasting and sales revival meetings, we might better define what "selling better" is and pursue it. Here are some thoughts on how we might work - harder, more efficiently, more strategically, with sustainably higher motivation, and collectively better.
"Selling smarter" means to most people working incrementally harder. But, making one more call per day is often unproductive, because it emphasizes short-term quantity instead of long-term quality. An incremental call is made perhaps on a marginal account with a marginal effort hoping for some quick results which will yield little. If working harder is a personal choice, and for many it isn't, then a salesperson might reorganize their waking-hour activities in line with "top performers."
From surveys it appears that the average, top, ten-percentile salesperson spends 55 to 60 hours a week at their craft during good and bad times. To maximize customer contact during the 40 hour week, planning distinctive presentations and executing fast, thorough follow-ups must be done outside of the 40 hours along with self-study, long drive-time segments, and the pursuit of many of the suggestions that follow. These are, after all, the 10% of the people that get 50% of the results!
WORK MORE EFFICIENTLY
This sub-title usually means schedule more calls into the same time which then causes: over-scheduling; weaker preparation and follow-up; and stress for the salesperson. We need, instead, to first choose and achieve improved efficiency habits, one at a time, to free time for reinvestment in the best strategic growth options. There is no shortage of good habits that human beings should adopt, but the average New Year's Resolution only lasts two weeks; most of us are not good self-managers. We do much better with the help of mutual support groups, especially if we are extraverted people who get energy from being with others as most salespeople are and do. Perhaps a sales-team could meet on a periodic and self-selected basis to share efficiency solutions, problems and coaching.
BE STRATEGICALLY SMARTER
Because salespeople have a fixed number of hours, the strategic allocation of time to specific customers and the strategic choice of solutions to sell are both critical. A few observations and suggestions:
- 10% of a salesperson's active accounts will generate about 50% of the year end results and take about 30% of their time. But, the bottom 50% of the accounts will generate only 10% of the results for another 30% of the time. Established salespeople and their firms should find ways to steadily hive-off the bottom 50% of the accounts to rookies, telemarketing, etc. to free up 30% of the experienced salesperson's time for reinvestment in higher-yield, target account development.
If we don't balance new business development with maintenance of existing customers, then old business will die at a greater rate than new business arrives and we decline. Because penetrating is more difficult than maintenance, firms should pay significantly less for maintenance and more for penetration. Salespeople will, otherwise, claim that they have "no time for new business." Veterans, who could best crack new accounts, will want to be assigned to larger, existing accounts, while neophytes will prospect ineffectively. Re-think penetration pay to make the hive-off process suggested above work.
- Every salesperson should have "target accounts" to pursue, but what are the selection criteria for choosing these targets? No screening system will guarantee results, but we can increase our odds of success by focusing on the most likely targets. Have a sales meeting to: review past account breakthroughs; brainstorm on characteristics that would increase the likelihood of securing business; weight the factors; practice the scoring system on a few sample accounts; and even discuss possible steps for approaching these case studies. Such a session and a good screening system will both help to improve every salesperson's strategic thinking about and selection of target business.
- What best solutions should we be selling accounts? If they are established accounts: visit with as many buying influences as possible; ask thoughtful, open-ended questions; listen reflectively; find needs and fill them; let the customer guide whenever possible. In tough times, many accounts might not be buying new, big-ticket solutions while shopping harder on commodity repeat buys. Consider avoiding price wars and sell smaller-ticket, niche solutions on a benefit basis which are justifiably affordable at any time.
The ultimate sell to larger accounts are synergistic proposals in which an adversarial relationship is converted into a cooperative one so that 1+1=3 or more, and the partners share the gain. Like ever-improving marriages in our personal lives, this is not as easy as it sounds, but well worth further study and testing.
- Cracking new accounts populated with indifferent or un-cooperative buyers is tougher; three strategies - dome selling, making breaks, and team selling with honchos- can help.
Dome selling suggests getting to know many buying influences under one prospect's roof (dome). With telephone surveys and back-door visits to end-users of solutions, much can be determined before a visit with a final buyer is made. Key presentations should start with thoughtful, insightful and open-ended questions. We want customers to know that we are special by our smart questions and targeted solutions.
Getting a break will usually require about 5 to 7 impressive contacts to build trust and earn the right to solve a prospect's next big opportunity which may have little to do with what we have been selling! Work hard; run into a wall; and then an unexpected break presents itself; this is how luck is made in business. But, don't forget to seize the opportunity and tenaciously pursue it until it is secure and all other offshoots have been exhaustively mined.
Another way past brick-walls is to team-sell with a honcho. Two business cards, one of with an impressive title, evoke curiosity and flatter customers. Doors will often open to higher influences who categorically do not talk with salespeople, but who will see honchos. And, honchos will also get more information and cooperation by asking the same questions that a salesperson might have previously asked; both benefits are due to a "protocol effect." If two honchos visit, they may have the conceptual ability and power to agree on bigger relationship deals. The salesperson must follow-up persistently, though, to convert the new possibilities from these visits into results.
WORK PSYCHOLOGICALLY SMARTER
Because it takes sustainable motivation for salespeople to keep growing results, many firms resort to extrinsic motivators such as contests, incentive and recognition plans, and revival meetings. These types of motivators by themselves are sparks which give only temporary lifts to most people who are task-oriented and trying to do the best that they can regardless of the sparks.
When top performers are asked about their motivational drive, they talk about intrinsic sources of motivation. They want to be the best that they can at mastering their craft; to be a black belt 10th degree; to distinctively serve the customer and not let people down. Money? It is a way to keep score; they want their just rewards; but it isn't why they work so hard. They have worked hard all of their lives; they are achievers.
Most salespeople, however, are like veteran, golfers who have a respectable, but non-improving handicap. To structurally improve their game and enjoyment, they need to be infected with the philosophy and techniques of continual improvement. The path of improvement, in turn, is the most powerful and sustainable source of motivation. Measurable results steadily improve as a by-product of professional development.
WORK COLLECTIVELY SMARTER
Most salespeople do not think of working with the rest of their sales-team to hatch collective solutions as much as they could. Already mentioned are the ideas of team meetings for: sharing and helping one another with efficiency solutions; and, for developing target business selection criteria and approach strategies. As a rule, sales-teams should work on improving group discussion skills and applying collective wisdom to the problems created by the changing marketplace.
Tough times require new solutions. Field salespeople and their managers can not rely just on pep-rallies, hustling harder and gimmicks to offset a zero-growth economy in which competitive capacity and ambition keeps growing. We need to do both deeper and broader thinking and acting on how to "sell smarter".