Have You Seen the (Mythical) Decision Maker?

I was shocked to realise that I hadn’t blogged for five years! Has nothing of note been happening during this time? Nothing useful to share with you? Yes, plenty but I’ve just been remiss and got out of the habit of blogging.

The chief executive of a client company had started off his regular blog enthusiastically but had let it lapse. I recommended that either he continue them religiously or drop the reference – “Read the Chief Executive’s Blog” – from the company web site. I should have taken my own medicine.

No apologies for repeating the issue I raised in May 2010 because sales people still don’t seem to be addressing the issue effectively. If I hear yet another sales manager talk about the “decision maker” (as in “have we spoken to the decision maker?”) I think I’ll go mad. Because the term doesn’t help us; it’s quite simply not useful in high value, complex selling. To think in these terms – because increasingly there isn’t just one decision maker in today’s world and the number of stakeholders involved in any one purchase decision are many more than was the case a few years ago – suggests a naiveté and amateurism on the part of the sales executive and the sales manager that is frightening. However, a lot sell salespeople don’t seem to realise that the game has moved on.

There is never, never, never, just one decision-maker – unless what you’re selling is a simple commodity and even then I doubt it.

Buying decisions have become much more complicated with more and more stakeholders needing to be involved in the process of deciding what to buy. For years we have been using ( or should have been using) as a guide the excellent Miller Heiman buying influences – users, technical screens economic buyers, coaches to help navigate a sale. This has served us well and will no doubt continue to do so.

Firms have become more and more risk –averse; no one person or group of people wants to take the full responsibility for a big purchase decision. The trend is, and has been for a few years now, for firms to involve many more people in the process than previously. Organisations want to widen the consensus of stakeholders beyond the original buying group. Salespeople must be able to identify the people in the wider group and access them. Otherwise, we are reducing our chances of success significantly and are likely to end up in what one sales guru calls “the place where deals go to die”.

The difficulty for salespeople is compounded by the likelihood that prospects themselves don’t always realise the extent of the consensus they need to reach internally.

But how do we deal with this? That’s for another blog. Hopefully, not in five years’ time. Meanwhile, let’s just stop talking about the mythical “decision maker”, can we?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Don’t worry about the quality of the coaching

A Church of England Bishop was quoted ( or maybe misquoted) recently as saying that he wasn’t much concerned about the quality of the preaching/teaching in the churches under his care. Wow! that’s quite amazing if true. Why would he not be deeply concerned about the quality of the teaching that Church of England priests were putting out in their churches?

He went on to say that he was much more concerned about the quality of the LEARNING.. Hmm set me thinking about my coaching activities. I might think that the quality of my coaching is as good as it gets and better than most ( well I would, woudnt I?). But what matters is the quality of the learning surely. So no matter how good the content and relevance of the coaching is if the people being coached dont learn and dont change behaviours, then that quality coaching is wasted. If the golfer reverts to his old swing when the coach isnt there because its easier and more familiar – even though it isn’t working well any more – that coaching has failed.

So how do I and sales sales managers coaching ( hopefully) their salespeople make sure that the new behaviours are learned and stick so that they become second nature?  I’ll be returning to this topic. That Bishop made me think which is what good leaders do. Just heard that he has been promoted…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You’re Only As Good As Your Last Fight

WBA Boxing champion David Haye said today  – following his victory last night over Audley Harrison – that you are only as good as your last fight. This made me think, not for the first time, that this applies equally well to selling. It’s a old tough game is selling ( though maybe not as hard though as championship boxing!) but you are only as good as your last sale, your last quarter’s or last month’s achievement. And it’s not over then. Every period, the clock gets set back to zero and you start again with your target to get all over again. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to be ahead of target for the year to date then the pressure is reduced a bit. But I wonder just how many salespeople there are out there who have made their target for the year already. Probably only a small percentage. For the majority, I suspect,  now at mid-point in the final quarter of their company year, they will be busting a gut , hoping against hope that they can close that last deal or two that will take them over the line for the year. If they can pull this off they will be a hero for a while, but shortly to go back to zero on the scoreboard again in the New Year. Why does anybody want to live their life like this? There aren’t many salespeople who haven’t asked themselves this on occasion in their career. Why do we do it? Because business is fun and selling can be the best game in town and well rewarded too.

As we push to close those outstandinding deals before 31st December ( it’s not always over by Christmas) we should remember that next year is another year and another series of fights lies ahead; another year of huge adrenalin bursts and exhilaration when we win and depression ( too strong a word? No  I always think that the disappointment of losing  far exceeds in intensity the highs of winning).

To avoid this as much as we can we should resolve to get match fit ( though by all accounts Audley Harrison trained harder than ever for this bout and still lost) for next year. Usually the match goes to the better player so what can you do to get fitter and more ready for the battles adrenalin rushes and excitement to come?

More of that soon. Meanwhile focus on what has to be done to clsoe the year successfully, have a fantastic quarter and blow those targets away!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

95% of Success Is Just Showing Up

95% of success is just showing up. Woody Allen said something to this effect. I think that this is so true for sales. If you can just be there that is 95% of the job done. Exaggeration? Well maybe just a bit… but let’s look at it.

Showing up when your customer is about to place an order – unless your selling is of a transactional nature (“Need any widgets today?”)  – is probably far too late. Buying high value software and services isn’t an impulse purchase so turning up at the door isn’t likely to result in an order.

If you study your available market, there are probably no more than 20% (if that) who are actively in the market for a solution now. This means that the vast majority aren’t looking to buy now.

 But suppose young Joe Salesman makes contact with a firm that’s in the 20% and they have decided to buy a solution. He realises that his company can provide it. Joe starts to breathe hard, mentally if not actually mobilising the support troops to pitch for te business.

 Back at the office wiser heads than Joe  are less excited at the news. There’s a ton of work to be done in responding to the RFP. The “prospect” seems to want a huge amount of needless information including the CEO’s collar size. This will tie down Joe and support people for many days.. and when do they want it?  What?? They must be joking. Can we get an extension on the deadline?

 Some salespeople I know are totally occupied responding to ITTs and RFPs. But sales teams that do this and respond to everything that lands on their desk typically have a very poor win rate. Why should this be?

 The main reason is that by the time an organisation issues an RFP or ITT a number of processes have been accomplished. First the need will have been realised and the pain or desired goal recognised at a senior level.  Secondly, key people in the organisation will have started to think about the shape of a solution; they will have done some research, maybe met with some suppliers. In getting their ideas straight so as to write the specification or RFP, their ideas as to how to solve the problem will have started to harden. If Joe hasn’t been there to help them think through a potential solution, the chances are none of the unique benefits Joe’s firm could  bring to the solution will have informed the prospect’s thinking processes . Certainly, Joe will not have been able to influence the conceptual thinking that has gone into the RFP .

Furthermore, he has little knowledge of the project sponsor, the key decision makers and the process they will go through to decide upon a vendor. Worse case, they will have already have a supplier in mind and be going through the motions because they have to get competitive bids to satisfy procurement. And they wonder why they win so few of the bids.

So what’s all this got to do with Woody Allen? And just showing up? My point is that you have to cover the territory, ensure that you have showed up at all the key suspects on your territory for your products and services. Before they realise they have a need. Be in touch with the 80%+ who aren’t in the market for a solution now.

Help them understand what others are doing, show then how problems can be removed, register your company in their minds as a credible vendor when and if they are ready to look at the market.

The answer as Woody says is to keep on showing up.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

what to do when client asks you to coach a duffer

It’s a dilemma I’ve haven’t always been ruthless enough to resolve entirely well if I’m honest. A client asks you to train and coach some new salespeople they have taken on. Very quickly you realise that one or more of the new hires are not going to be successful. Or its going to take a long time and their performance wil never be more than mediocre. You spend time with them and the realisation grows into conviction that they won’t make it. What should I do?

Well its obvious I hear you cry. Tell your client they’ve hired a duffer and suggest he/she fires them. The problem with that approach is two- fold. Firstly, the client has staked a lot of personal cred in his/her choice. They and others in the organisation will have spent  a lot of time recruiting  so there has been a consensus on who to hire. It may be that the client knows the salesperson  and worked with them previously. This is often seen as the least risky approach – the devil you know. But hiring someone you have worked with doesn’t always work out as people change and what worked well in one company may not work in this one.  Secondly, I genuinely feel that I owe it both to my client and to the new hire to give it my very best shot to help the new salesperson succeed. Firing someone you have just hired in good faith is pure bad practice. And the cost of hiring and firing they didnt make quota in 3 months or so –  which used to be the norm in the IT world –  is horrendously costly and an unsustainable recruitment approach. Therefore, you have to do your utmost to help the new recruit to succeed. However, I always give my clients feedback on strengths and weaknesses as I see it so they have a heads up on likely outcomes.

Increasingly these days I am asked by clients to help out in the recruitment process – interviewing shortlisted candidates so I have a say in who they take on. In which case I can’t complain about the client asking me to spend time and their money training  duffers

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Case of The Disappearing Decision Maker

I’d like a £ for every time I’ve heard a sales manager ask a salesperson “Have you spoken to the decision maker?”

You see I listen to lots of sales managers, sales VPs, sales directors asking the poor sales guy this question – in relation to a particular deal they are hoping will close shortly.

Many sales managers cut their teeth in the 80s and 90s when decsion processes were often a lot simpler and there was indeed THE decision maker. The implication is that as long as you reach this person you are all set.

What some fail to fully appreciate is that in the reality of today’s selling ( certainly of bigger ticket products and services) there isn’t just ONE decision maker.  OK it may be the case in simpler transaction sales but it simply doesn’t hold good for complex sales.

In 21st century B2B selling a new phenomenon has developed. This is the rise of the “stakeholder”. And there may be plenty in big organisations. Organisations seem to be becoming increasingly risk averse  – with the consequence that decisions are taking longer and longer to make . Why? Because every imaginable stakeholder has to have his or her say. Average length of  sales cycles are therefore increasing across the board – entirely due to people wanting the safety of numbers and a consensus of the widest number of people.

Salespeople have to find out who is in the sphere of influence  and exactly how the buying process will work – much more complicated than in times gone by. it’s surprising how often the saleperson’s main contact doesn turn out to have an accurate understanding of the decision process and all the players in his or her own firm.

I’ve heard it said that in some organisations the overiding consideration for middle management is avoiding blame  should things turn out wrong.  So the more people involved in making a purchasing decision, the less chance of blame landing on Jack if the decision turns out to be a bad one.  Decisions are going higher for final sanction and that  final  “decison maker” may turn out to be a committee or even the board.

So guys, please stop asking the salesperson who “the decision maker” is – he or she doesn’t exist as such any more!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

You’ll do me out of a job, Duncan!

I’m a huge fan of the “Dragon’s Den” but always thought Duncan Bannatyne was a rather disagreeable and surly old grump. But I’m changing my mind as I read his excellent book “Wake Up and Change Your Life”. In it he sets out his ideas on how to start your own business. It’s very readable, full of personal anecdotes and packed with tips and guidance for the would be (and existing) entrepreneur.

What really impresses me are Duncan’s tips on selling ( your ideas and products) which he rightly  asserts is an essential skill for any entrepreneur. What blows me away is that Duncan , as he admits, untrained in selling should have set out just 3 key things you must always do to sell effectively.

I spend my life as a sales coach working with sales teams to help them improve their effectiveness and here is Duncan getting to the heart of what it takes to sell sucessfully in a couple of pages. It may seem obvious to seasoned salespeople and many will claim they know this. But in my experience they habitually fail to do it – which would account for a less than stellar performance on the part of many of them.

I’m probably falling foul of the copywright laws in quoting from the book but here goes with point number 1 ( of 3)

Duncan says: “Firstly, make sure you’re talking to  the right people…you woudn’t try to sell a car to a five year old…targetting your sales to the right people can save you an awful lot of time.”

Statement of the bleeding obvious?  You might think so but I see it all the time – sales people carrying out lengthy sales calls trying to sell to people in a “prospect” organisation who haven’t the authority to buy.

Published by Orion, the book’s worth £7.99  of anyone’s money. On second thoughts dont’ buy it. Hire me instead.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment