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  • Aspire » Sales

    24 Mar


    Without sales a business doesn’t survive. And right or wrong, the Sales division always seems to be where businesses look first when the numbers are not in line with projections. The reality is the reason for poor sales could be any number of issues from poor marketing, the actual product, manufacturing lead times, the economy, and so on.  The sales team is always the easiest target…the scapegoat when results fall short of projections.

    We have written over 30 articles on the topic of selling.  All of them provide useful insights into the secrets of selling success.  A few of our recent posts that generated a lot of discussion were the Challenger Sales,  the Power of H-D-H, and Advancing your Sales.

    You may not have time to read all of them…ok, we know you don’t.  So, for your convenience here are a few of the recurring themes from each of these.

    Have a Sales Process:

    If you don’t have a sales process your sales team is never going to achieve their fullest potential.   Have you ever tried to assemble something complicated without instructions?  Bake a loaf of bread without following the required sequence of mixing the ingredients and letting the yeast work it’s magic before baking?  Your team must have a repeatable process they take their clients through.  If you think they all know it and it is in their heads, have each of them write it down and compare what each person writes, you may be surprised.

    Educate your prospects:

    People love to buy, they hate to be sold.  If your idea of a good sales presentation is a one-way conversation with your Ace Salesperson telling the client how great your product is, you may want to reevaluate your message.   Your customers want to be educated.  Share with them how your product is going to help them solve a problem.   But how do you know what their problems are?  Try this….

    …Ask Questions & Listen:

    The stereotypical sales person is a big talker; the out-going, life-of-the-party individual.   That doesn’t always bode well for implementing a listening strategy into the sales process, but it is critical to their success.   You have to ask questions and listen.  You can’t solve a problem, if you aren’t taking the time to ask the client what their problems are.  Even if you know your product is going to solve a specific problem for them, you are doing them a disservice and devaluing your product by telling them your new widget is going to solve their problem without first getting them to admit it is a problem.    You can tell an alcoholic he has a drinking problem, but he will never stop drinking until you have asked him the question that gets him to admit it is a problem.

    Understand & Agree:

    This is an area where many sales professionals break down.  The sales person is getting so wrapped up in asking questions and listening they forget about staying on track.  They forget they have a process to follow (assuming they have one).   At the core, following that sales process is what they are supposed to be doing.  It is what they have to do if the company is going to sustain itself.  They have to be following a process to get from point A (the initial contact) to point B (the prospect becoming a paying customer).  You do that by understanding and reaffirming the answers your prospect has given you.  Maybe you write them down on a note pad, maybe you just verbalize them back, but you must let the prospect know you are hearing what they are saying.   In doing so, you can get permission to go onto the next step of your selling process.   And when it is done properly, each step of your process should bring you one step closer to sale.

    What do you think?  Is your sales team helping or hurting your business?  How would you grade them in these four areas of selling for success?  How would you grade yourself as far as giving them the tools?  As always, we welcome your comments in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    16 Feb


    I talk to business owners pretty much every day and the one thing that I hear more than any other is how difficult it can be to find great sales reps. Sales is the heart (or at least the ignition) of the business and a good salesperson can have a huge impact on success…but where do you find them and what do they really look like?

    That’s the question that the book The Challenger Sale looks to answer with research and data. The idea for the book was triggered by the observation that when the economy tanked back in 2008 sales were really hard to come by, but there were still a good number of sales people who were not only surviving, but thriving despite the difficult economy.

    What made those sales reps different? Were they just lucky? Is it possible to build or find your own successful sales reps?

    The answer was in the research…

    To answer the question, the authors looked at dozens of attributes, skills and attitudes along with sales performance from 6000+ sales reps across all sorts of industries. Their research uncovered 5 different ‘styles’ of selling – along with a clear winner and a clear loser out of those 5 styles. *Note that all of these ‘styles’ share a common foundation of selling skills and attitudes – the research was based on active and average or better sales reps so they all have elements of product and industry knowledge, sales skills (like following a sales process, follow up, etc.). But the data uncovered these 5 variations representing certain tendencies and behaviors – this is how the 5 styles break out:

    • The Hard Worker (21% of reps): Driven, persistent, goes the extra mile, wants feedback and development.
    • The Relationship Builder (27%): Builds advocates in customer, generous supporter of client, focus on customer needs.
    • The Lone Wolf (18%): Confident, instinctive, independent, difficult to control, poor team player.
    • The Reactive Problem Solver (14%): Detail focus, reliable, dives in to sort out problems.
    • The Challenger (27%): Provides insights, debates, pushes customer thinking.

    The breakdown of the 5 styles is interesting in and of itself – based on your experience (or maybe your current sales team) do you recognize any of these styles or tendencies? As you can see from the percentages for each style, they are fairly evenly distributed across the population.

    Where this gets even more interesting is when you factor in the sales performance of the reps by the various styles.

    Data / graphic from The Challenger Sale book

    Data / graphic from The Challenger Sale book

    The chart above shows the number of sales reps who follow each style broken out by High Performers vs. Core Performers (average). As you can see for average performers, the style doesn’t really matter – there are lots of ways to be average.  However for High Performers almost 40% of them follow the Challenger Style – contrasted with only 7% who follow the Relationship Builder style. And it’s not shown here, but that difference is even stronger when they analyzed it for more complex sales – then the Challenger advantage is 54%!

    What makes this even more surprising is that there has been an ongoing push for the idea of Relationship Builders in the sales industry – it’s not what you know, but who you know (and how well you know them). This may have been true in years past, but with the economy tightening up customers can’t afford to just go with who they like, they are looking for a sales rep who can teach them something new, add real value to their business…someone who can, well, Challenge them.

    What Challengers Do Differently

    There are a lot of potential takeaways from this research and the book, but the one that stands out is clearly identifying what these Challenger Reps are doing differently and figuring out if there’s a way to implement that in your existing sales process. The good news is that there are things you can definitely do to be more like a Challenger – but they aren’t easy and they will require your entire business to look at things differently.

    When you sort through all of the data and the details, Challengers do 3 things that other reps typically don’t do:

    1. Teach for differentiation – they bring a new / unique perspective to customers and use strong communication skills to teach their clients something new.

    2. Tailor the Message for resonance – one size does not fit all. Challenger reps understand the industries and the businesses they work with at an intimate level and tailor their sales message accordingly. They are comfortable talking to all aspects of the business and across industries. (Different message to the IT group than to the accounting department…).

    3. Take Control of the overall sales discussion. Challenger reps know they (and their solutions) will make a positive impact on their clients so they drive the sales process to that outcome – even if that means ruffling the client and the relationship. They are pushing for an outcome not a relationship.

    It’s just 3 things, but when you start to peel back what those 3 things really imply, you can appreciate how it becomes difficult. For example, in order to Teach a prospective something new and valuable for their business, the rep has to know the industry or the business function better than the potential client…or your company has to have done a lot of homework and taught your reps exactly why you are different and better than the competition. What do you know about your customers  that they don’t know? What problem do you solve that they aren’t addressing? What makes you different and better than your competition?

    In order to really implement a Challenger Sales environment you’ll need to be able to answer those questions and more – but if you can do that, it will put you in a position to generate profitable demand on a regular basis…!

    What do you think? Have you read The Challenger Sale? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    27 Oct

    Click the play button if you’d prefer to listen to this blog post – and don’t forget to leave us a comment below!


    It is the last week of October and the Royals are still capturing the hearts of the baseball world.  It would almost seem sacrilegious to not pull another nugget from this team and help you apply it to your business.   This week, let’s focus on closing business (sales) – Lessons from Herrera, Davis, & Holland

    This historic Royals team has a trio of relief pitchers that for the most part have simply shut down their opponents.   Their manager Ned Yost, is so confident in their ability to shut down the opposition he has even started the sequence of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland when the Royals don’t have a lead.  The H-D-H trio’s ability to close out a game is statistically rewriting the record books.   No team in MLB history has had two sub 1.50 ERA relief pitchers with over 60 appearances, the 2014 Royals have three!

    Now let’s apply this to business….

    This past week during a client meeting we were discussing a recent business transaction that should have netted a signed contract by now, but my client realized there had been breakdown in the selling process that prevented it happening.    One significant decision maker had been left out of the conversation and now instead of having a signed order, the proposal is being reviewed again by the customer and they were in the waiting stage of “we’ll get back to you”  with an answer.

    My client had missed a step in his selling process when he made an assumption everyone was on-board with the project and didn’t specifically ask if all the decision makers were in agreement.  He assumed they were and expected an order instead of agreeing they were and confirming the order.  There is a huge difference.

    You must have a sequence in your closing process…

    Ned Yost, the Royals Manager, has been criticized for making some questionable decisions in his tenure, (lately, we’re all questioning him less 🙂 ) but rest assured he would never start the relief sequence of his three headed monster in the 3rd or 4th inning.  The team (or in your case, sales team) isn’t far enough into the game (selling process) to close yet.  The same is true in business.  If your sales team is trying to move to the next step of their selling process too early, they are going to be setting themselves up to lose.

    When you have a good sales selling process you have a plan you follow.  It is repeatable and you use can use it over and over.    Do you always use every step?  No.  But you don’t go on to the next step until you are sure you have completed the previous one.

    Completing Sales Steps before advancing…

    Sometimes you want to move on to the next step, but still have unfinished work on the current step you’re on.   For the Royals, this requires additional pitchers from the bull pen to work through those innings.   For a salesperson, this usually means spending more time asking questions, diagnosing the customer to make sure you have completed the step before progressing.   It is OK to skip a step, but success rates are a lot higher when the customer dictates that verses the salesperson trying to aggressively force it prematurely.

    The Closer in action…..

    Nothing is guaranteed, but the numbers don’t lie.  Greg Holland, the Royals final inning closer had 46 saves out of 49 opportunities in the 2014 regular season.   That is 93.9% close rate!   What would your numbers look like if your business had a close rate like that?

    Wonder what Holland’s close rate would have been if he was routinely sent in during the 6th inning instead of the 9th?   That is exactly what you’re doing if you are not following a process when you are selling your product or service.   When you have a process for selling and follow it, the results will be there.  You may not win every time, but you will definitely improve your chances to #takethecrown.

    This should be a great discussion to have with your sales staff.  Review your sales process.   Are you following a process like an “H-D-H” that increases your chances of winning?   We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any great stories of these amazing 2014 Royals.  We always appreciate your feedback.  Let’s Go Royals!

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    10 Feb

    Acquire Customers

    Acquire Customers was number 2 of 5 on the recipe for business success given to me by a dealer mentor when I first purchased my dealership in 1997.   It was second in importance behind “Hire Quality People” on a 200 word, handwritten blueprint, drafted by this senior peer.   Although his dealership’s track record for growth, market penetration, and sales often placed this dealer group among the best of the best, this key to success had the least number of words of all 5 of his key points.  He summarized this action step in 20 words.

    The succinct message was simply this:

    2) Acquire Customers

    a. Aggressively sell to get a customer base.

    b. Aggressively try to retain at least (industry) margin.

    c. Monitor Sales & Margins.

    Even though this was an area that his business excels in; that was it, 10% of the 200 word total!   That said, when you think about implementing each of these as a strategy for building a business and acquiring customers, maybe his real key to success is taking a “keep it simple” approach.

    Digging Deeper….

    “Aggressively sell to get a customer base.”

    The elements to successful selling have changed with the internet and all the social outlets.  Today polls tell us our customers want you to educate them, not sell to them.  So, if you don’t know your product or service you will have a hard time selling it.  Personally knowing a little more background on the sales processes of this dealer group, educating had already been a part of their process for decades by the time this was drafted 17 yrs. ago.  Many of their sales staff had worked their way into sales after spending (sometimes years) in other supportive roles as they learned about the products, the applications, and specifications.   He also believes in providing outstanding customer service that was second to none in his industry and that no person is above any job when it comes to seeing the customer is taken care of.

    One thing that still lives at the core of sales process is people still buy from people; something easily forgotten in emails, texts, and the social media interactions.  His sales staff is expected to be involved in the same local associations & organizations their customers are in so they foster and build meaningful relationships.

    “Retaining a margin”

    This was a message directed to the front line people engaged in selling.  Many businesses are still afraid of being too transparent when it comes to showing actual profit.  The easiest way to hide this in sales is to structure everything around the published (list) price.   In this structure, most of the employees selling have an idea of the actual cost, but any discounting or negotiating on price is structured from the published or list price.   This can be effective and I have seen it work very well, but the person selling the product or service usually does not know the final margin at the end of the transaction.

    As far as I know from day one, this dealer has sold product based on a profit margin.   As he built his business all of the departments in the business know what the net costs are of the products or service they are selling.   They all know where the margins are expected to be in order for the business to remain profitable and they manage to those margins.  They know the tipping point where a good deal becomes a bad deal.  Without some level of transparency in your numbers, it is impossible for your employees on the front line selling your products and services to know if they are helping or hurting your business when they complete a transaction.  Establish and then retain profit margins on every transaction.

    “Monitor Sales and Margins”

    If the previous directive of retaining margin was a message for the front line employees, this message is for the management.  Someone has to continue to monitor the big picture.  Are trends changing?  What is happening in the economy?  Where are new pressures developing in our market?  Are overall margins increasing or decreasing?  It is the crystal ball statement.  To be prepared for the future, you need to be constantly assessing what is going on in the market.   Running your company on Auto-pilot in this area of your business will eventually run it off a cliff or into the side of a mountain, neither of them have a good outcome.   If your goal is to build a business and acquire customers for the long term, you owe it to them to monitor your sales and margins, so your business is sustainable and it will be there for them long term.

    When it comes to Acquiring Customers, how does your business approach it?  Do you apply any of these principles and practices to your business?  As always, we appreciate any comments in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    Photo by 10ch via Flickr

    15 Jul
    Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks via Flicker

    Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks via Flicker

    Sales management may be one of the hardest things a business owner has to do. Managing a sales person (or a sales team) successfully can be a real challenge. If you’re too loose about it, then you’ve abdicated your primary revenue stream and you’re left hoping that things work out. If you manage it too tightly, you will chase people off if / when they perceive it as a no-win situation.

    Ideally you and your sales team want the same outcome – more quality sales with customers who are a great fit for what you do. So just like the coach of a team will review the last game and look for areas to improve – maybe it’s time for you to do a sales call debrief with each member of your sales team.

    It starts with a consistent sales process

    If you’re going to have repeatable success with sale, if you’re going to have anything to review, you need to have a sales process that you and your team follow consistently.

    There’s a horribly unproductive myth in the business world that some people are just ‘natural’ sales people and simply talk to prospective customers and work their magic. The implication is that sales success solely depends on finding this magical person and hoping you can keep them happy – a tall order for several reasons and luckily it’s not true.

    You don’t  and shouldn’t rely on ‘the natural’ – instead focus on a proven sales strategy / process that works for a lot of different people. Your sales team still need skills and attributes – knowledge about your products and services, ability to ask great questions, the ability to actively listen, establish rapport, etc., but there’s nothing magical about it.

    Additional good news – the process doesn’t have to be horribly rigid or complicated. Most successful sales programs use a few simple phases to keep track of where you are in the overall selling process with that client. It could be as simple as a few steps – 1. Diagnosing the issue and the cost impacts, 2. Understanding what they need to make a decision and 3. Making a proposal.

    Whatever your process is, the important thing is that you and your team have planned out ahead of time what steps you’re going to take prospective clients through in order to either get to a sale or to drop the prospects. Often getting to ‘no’ quickly is one of the most productive things you can do in sales.

    Review the game film

    The team has a game plan (the sales process) – but that’s just the beginning and the best way to learn is to review the ‘game film’ from a recent meeting and see how well the game plan was executed.

    As the sales manager you have to be careful doing this – if it’s going to work, you have to present the idea in a positive way – remember you and your team are all trying to achieve the same goals, so the purpose of the sales call debrief is a constructive review to help your sales person get better. You’re coaching them on improvement, not telling them what they did wrong. They’ll be naturally defensive, but if your team learns they can trust you to help them everything will work much better.

    Here’s the approach – setup a weekly meeting with each person on your sales team individually. At the meeting, pick a sales call from the previous week and again emphasize the purpose of getting together is to learn from the experience and apply the learning towards making future sales calls more effective.

    Be prepared – develop and use a sales call debriefing checklist that covers the high points of your process. The checklist will ask questions about each step of the process. By following an objective, consistent approach to the debriefing, the sales team will know what to expect and get comfortable with your meetings.

    Ask your sales person what they did well or what the positives were. Also ask them where they thought things could have gone better…or what might have been missed.

    Finally – make sure you focus on next steps for that particular sales opportunity, have them suggest a strategy and then brainstorm if needed to really build on their ideas.

    By consistently focusing on the overall sales process and on their performance, you will be reinforcing your approach to sales and setting strong expectations on what it takes to succeed – you have to be positive, encouraging and consistent for this to pay off, but nothing else you do as a sales manager can have more positive benefits than this kind of regular coaching.

    Have you ever done a detailed sales call debriefing with someone on your team? How well would this work for you? Where do you think you might get stuck? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach