Sunday, 29 May 2011

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Sales Professionals - Warning Signs of a Sales Slump and how to recover.

Marc Fletcher, Sales & Marketing Director, Intervate Project Services (Pty) Ltd, Cape Town, South Africa.

“The habit that becomes prevalent in ones life is the one we feed. Where we focus our attention grows stronger and will manifest.”

As a technology professional with over 20 years experience in technology consulting I have accrued a considerable amount of knowledge and experience in the field of sales and marketing of technology solutions.  I have worked for government institutions, the largest blue-chip consulting firms, run my own successful business and been a part of a number of others where I have applied this knowledge and experience and gathered more from colleagues, partners, clients and friends.  My advice does not come from direct b-school teachings but from my drive and desire to achieve and to be successful.  I read, I research, I practice and I modify until I find a method that works and then I look to refine it as the situation changes.

Success means greater commissions, dynamic customer relationships, exciting opportunities, professional sales deals, vibrant colleague relationships enhanced recognition from your company. Leaders live the reality of success.

The intention of my article is to re-invigorate sales professionals with a wakeup call - to remind them that they actually need to be leaders of their own business within the business. The article clearly outlines 7 valuable, practical tools to ignite enthusiasm, release procrastination and guide you to the success you deserve.

At a deep level, many of us are afraid of success. On the surface we declare we are going for the gold, but that which manifests may be something quite different……

There are a number of behavioural traits that you may recognise in yourself as you either head for a sales slump or if you are in the thick of one.  These include the following:
  • Constantly organising and sorting leads, contacts, business cards and even your desk!

  • Calling lists of prospects with no real plan or objective – “if I get a meeting then that’s just fantastic” – but a meeting about what?

  • Convincing yourself that the activities you are doing are resultant from a plan, albeit that your activities are either not measurable or producing any results.

  •  The same “big opportunities” are being nurtured on your forecast week after week with no progress.

  • You are constantly busy, yet your performance and quantifiable activity is minimal.

  • You begin whining about your product, the pricing, the prospects and customers, the lack of leads and deals – everything but yourself.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same task over and over and expecting a different result” 

Pulling Yourself Free of a Sales Slump

Assuming that the sales professional has actually come to terms with the fact that they are in a slump, that they are there due to their own actions or inactions and they are willing to pull themselves out, then there are a number of practical steps that can be taken to help themselves recover their sales ‘mojo’.

“The key is to get back to basics – Plan, Plan, Plan.”

1.                Get back to your sales plan. 
If you haven’t got one, then start it. If you have one, get it out, blow the cobwebs of and revive it with a fresh injection of enthusiasm and planning.

The sales plan is your own personal: ’what, where, who, how, when guide’.  The sales plan therefore defines your approach to doing your job effectively.  Without one you can probably get by if you are in a buoyant market, but if you are just getting by, just think about how well you could do if you actually took the time to plan how to capitalise on your current baseline of success.

Ask yourself the questions:

·         “What am I really selling?”
·         “Where and to whom am I selling it to and why?”
·         “How am I selling it?”
·         “Is it successful?”

If you can answer all these questions perfectly, well done! You probably have a sales plan and you can move to the next step.  If you can answer only some or none of the above then you need to take some time to think about and create a sales plan.  I make careful note to say: “think about”.  It’s one thing to tick the box and say “yes – I have a plan”, because you went to the internet and downloaded one, but it’s a whole different concept to think about it and actually apply your mind to how this plan can help you and to create something that compliments your other initiatives and company strategies.

My own sales plan is a living document. Every quarter I take the company strategy and I first of all look at what the most important aspects are, which are being driven by current marketing initiatives (either our own or the product owners) and which I can plan to drive opportunities through my own activities.  From this I can then start to work through the 5 P’s of marketing (Product, People, Price, Place, and Promotion) in order to arrive at a plan which is aligned with the greater market forces, capitalises on the existing company planning and marketing and is current in terms of having an indentified need.

My own ‘sales plan’ will be the subject of another article because this is something that I need to elaborate on further and in considerable detail.

2.               Plan your week ahead, down to 1-hour slots of time.  

Plan the activities that will fall into the slots of time resulting from your sales plan.  Build in time for unplanned activities, phone calls, meetings, brain storming, inspirational time, conversation etc.  Don’t box yourself in with a plan, but ensure that it contains enough tangible activities to produce results or to move towards the goals as outlined in your sales plan.

Let’s look at such a plan in action.

1-on-1 Sales Mtg with Mgr.
Prospect Calls / Research
Solution Planning / Proposals
Knowledge Transfer
Week Planning
Prospect Calls / Research
Solution Planning / Proposals
Sales Mtg
Prospect Calls
Prospect Calls / Research
Sales Mtg
Week Planning

The above plan is an example of a plan that I might create on a Monday morning to start my week or on a Friday afternoon for the following week.  Obviously as a sales professional you need to remain flexible and fluid, however you need to balance the need to react and respond to ensure that you can achieve your week’s objectives without responding to every call and achieving nothing on your plan.  

Try and group your meetings together to minimise your travel time, which can be unproductive, unless you have a colleague with you or you enjoy listening to audio books perhaps.

The plan does not need to be rigid, but is designed to act as a guide – you will know when your week is starting to deviate from the plan that you set out with, and in some circumstances that is fine, but the key here is awareness.
My week plan starts with being at 75% capacity because I need to allow enough time in my plan for unplanned activities – for example it’s unrealistic to expect a customer to wait a whole week because your plan has no gaps in the current week to meet with them.  So I only try and plan as much in a week as I know I can complete. It defeats the objective of planning if you plan to complete 10 tasks per week but constantly move half of them to the following week.  Be realistic and only plan to complete what you feel you can actually complete.  The sense of accomplishment alone is going to inspire you and give you a sense of achievement.

3.               Create and list specific and achievable customer tasks and goals.

Your sales plan will define your headline activities, for example: Approach Acme Inc with a Document Management solution, but what we are referring to now is a more granular task level of activity and task planning that you will want to do in your Monday or Friday ‘week planning’ slot.  

Set yourself some realistic and achievable targets and goals.  This could include:  ‘Have the solution outline ready for Acme Inc. by Friday for peer review at the sales meeting’, or ‘have the initial qualifying meeting planned with Tailspin Toys Ltd. by Wednesday morning.  

Setting and achieving targets and goals for yourself will be both rewarding for yourself as a sales professional and is also importantly an activity that you can report on as showing progress against your sales plan.  

It is recognised that in some markets and some fields the sales cycle can be long.  Long is also a relative term, but it can be as short as 2 weeks or as long as 2 years.  Therefore showing progress against your plan is a critical factor to ensure that you are providing feedback on your approach, plan, activities and ultimately shows that you are engaging in the right business towards an objective or goal and not just ambling through your life, career and job with no real plan.

Remember take responsibility for showing the value of your activities to your manager, don’t wait to be asked to explain what you have achieved. Unless you are achieving or working towards achieving something tangible, which you can demonstrate or articulate, then your ‘busyness’ will be perceived as a waste of time.  

I have worked in many institutions where everyone is just so busy that they cannot spare 5 minutes to chat about what they are trying to achieve.  But when you finally ask those people at the end of the week what have they achieved, they cannot really indentify much apart from the fact that it was: “a lot of little things”.  This to me suggests that these people are not planning to achieve their goals they are just reacting to the world around them and not thinking about what they are trying to achieve or importantly how they are achieving it.  Take your time to plan your detailed tasks, think about the end result you want achieve and work towards these consciously.

4.               Create your own ‘playbook’.

A playbook is a knowledge base of solutions, customer scenarios (pain points and gain points), competitive aspects (where your solution has marketable advantages), pricing models, common objections etc.  Learn it, practice it and update it.  

A playbook may take many forms, it may be a physical book, a slide deck or an electronic document, but the key is that the sales professional has some method of gathering knowledge which can be updated and refined as each new opportunity presents itself.  

My own playbook takes a few forms.  The first is my ‘day book’.  A spiral bound hard backed book where I capture all my meeting minutes, notes, requirements, actions and thoughts.  This tends to be my oracle as I have these books going back 13 years which I at time refer back to recall a solution, an idea or a pricing model that I mapped out following a discussion.  It may seem odd for technology solution sales professionals to still rely on pen and paper – however for me this medium allows me to capture quickly, draw images and diagrams, tables and annotations.    

The other aspect of my playbook is my past proposals.  My proposals indentify the opportunity or the requirements, the approach to provide a solution and the benefit to the solution proffered.  Over time this bank of documents becomes a reference library of information that once stored in a document management solution becomes a fully indexed and referenced repository. 

Whatever your preference the key is to build a body of knowledge that you can refer to which grows with you and helps you to work efficiently and effectively. 

5.               “Let’s Get Real, or Let’s not Play” – Franklin Covey

Don’t forget your sales training or your sales methodology, your professional advantage.  Most sales organisations have a sales methodology that is trained upon. Don’t forget the basics of your training, go back and re-read your training notes and make an effort to start living the methodology that you have chosen.  

All methodology’s are not equal; however ‘a’ methodology is normally better than ‘no’ methodology.  

Most sales methodologies are designed to step you through the stages of discovering an opportunity, unearthing its requirements, its pain and gain points, its budgetary and procurement processes and so on.  Most also map back to defined Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software milestones which facilitates sales reporting and forecasting activities.  Your sales methodology will underpin your sales plan and will structure your discussions, activities and tasks through your opportunity lifecycle.

If you find your sales methodology cumbersome or counter-productive, then have a chat to your peers and your manager, maybe some people are feeling the same and it needs to be reviewed or maybe you need some help to understand it better and apply it in your strategy.  Whichever you find, the key is to have a methodology that works for you and produces the results that you are looking for.

Over the years I have been on countless sales and planning training courses, ranging from company’s own in-house methodologies to international curriculums.   The key is to find one that resonates with you.  The latest one that I have been exposed to and I have to be honest is the best so far is the Franklin Covey’s Sales Performance Group’s: “Let’s Get Real or Let’s not Play”.  

In my view this methodology encompasses a number of the Franklin Covey concepts from other great bodies of work including the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “The Speed of Trust” and the “8th Habit”.  I would challenge anyone who is a sales professional to contact me following reading and practicing its lessons for three months to tell me that it didn’t work to help them become a more effective ‘consultant’.   I use the word ‘consultant’ specifically here because I feel that this process inspires one to consult with a customer rather than to just sell.  Let’s leave that discussion for another article.

6.                 Don’t hang on to the “big…dead” (sic) opportunities.

“Dead opportunities are like old relationships, you cannot move on to the next relationship until you accept that the last one is over.”

We all do it, we don’t want to let go of that ZARBillion/ USD$Million deal.
“The customer has said ‘no’, but I am just waiting for them to change their mind…”  

Let it go!!
If it’s dead, and you have been through your sales lifecycle and you have called it dead, then please let it go.  There is nothing more distracting to sales processionals then dead opportunities opining real!

"Show them the DOOR!"
(Dead Opportunities Opining Real)

In fact it causes everyone harm: the sales professional still tries to inject life into it, spending time on it, it still sits on the forecast, making management think it’s still viable, meetings are spent talking about it as if it’s still alive, etc.  Without letting go you cannot move on and find the next exciting opportunity.

In my experience, the customers that want to buy and the consultants who can work with a customer to show the resulting value from a solution make the perfect match.  If the customer cannot see the value or benefit or if you cannot help the customer understand the value or benefit then move on to a customer who can or you can help.  If you are really struggling then something is wrong, go back to your planning, go back to your method, go back to your solution and work out where the issues are and fix them.  However, know when to move on.

7.                Stop whining about your sales performance.

Only you can change that. Through your planning, activity, execution, intention, drive, interest, and passion.  If you lack these things, own it, take responsibility for your shortcoming, and seek help from your manager, your peers, the technical specialists or wherever you need help from. 

“If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem”

In Conclusion

Our first step is intention. You have to make a determined decision that you have had enough of dawdling, avoidance and fear of being responsible in your lives. An intention to break old habits is an end and a beginning. This cycle may cause uneasiness, because there is a strong pull deep within that resists change. The "same" is the familiar; we may not be happy with the familiar but we know how it goes.

There is an old Irish proverb that translates to say, "A good beginning is half the work."  What are you waiting for?

My intention has been to inspire you to success by sharing tools,  ideas and strategies that have worked for me. These practices are ones that I follow myself from years of teaching from my own mentors, self-learning and practice and has proved to enable me to excel in my field.  I would be delighted to receive feedback from your own experience or through your experience of working with these ideas. 

Thanks for reading my article - if you liked it or found it useful, please click the FaceBook Like or Tweet/ReTweet my post if you are on twitter, so that others may enjoy and benefit from it.  Thanks for your support.

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