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Category : Sales Management

The Value of Versioning

Customers like having choices. That’s why manufacturers of cars, computers, phones, and just about everything else offer multiple versions of products, at different prices, with different levels of value. This works because not all customers perceive value the same way, nor are they willing to pay the same price.

There are three basic kinds of buyers:

  1. Price buyers: Price is always their #1 decision criteria.
  2. Value buyers: They are openly willing to pay more for more value.
  3. Poker players: They are willing to pay for value but won’t admit it. (Most customers are poker players.)

To attract all three types of buyers, many businesses offer three well-defined and profitable versions of a product at different prices, with more bells and whistles added at each price point. This ensures that customers get what they’re willing to pay for, but not too much more. If they want more, they can move up to the next version.

The beauty of versions is that they guide the customer toward the product he or she is willing to pay for. This makes everything that follows easier because you’ve addressed price and specs up front, at the beginning of the sales process. (By the end of the sales process, you’ve invested too much time, money, and emotion to walk away, even if it’s in your best interest to do so.)

It’s human nature to want the best version at the lowest price, so it’s the salesperson’s job to figure out what is most important to the customer and steer the customer toward the best fit. Price, performance, payment terms, credit, warranty, field support, product and process improvement, and delivery can all be versioned.

You might be thinking, “Versions wouldn’t work for us because our customers give us the spec they want us to meet, and we respond to that spec.” While that may be true to some extent, remember that a spec is usually a wish list, not a list of must-haves. Again, it’s up to the salesperson to figure out which specs matter and which don’t, and to negotiate and quote the appropriate price.

I’ve used versions to ensure that customers like Intel, Micron, Texas Instruments, and TSMC get what they’re willing to pay for, so I know it can be done. I once used versions to negotiate a $50M service contract with Intel that included a 20% price increase over the previous year.

It’s important to remember that no sales strategy or tactic works in all circumstances all the time. What I’m suggesting is that you try versioning a few times and see what happens. If you do it right and stick with it, your profit will improve. And isn’t that why we’re all in business in the first place?

Dos and Don’ts for Effective Sales Training

Even the most interesting and relevant sales training material can fall flat if it’s not delivered well. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep your employees engaged, attentive, and learning:

DO

  • Know what you’re talking about. One of the best ways to prepare is to write a one-page summary, as if you’re writing an advertisement. The one-page limit forces you to prioritize what you’re going to say, be concise, and organize your most important points in a logical order—and envisioning it as an ad discourages you from being boring.
  • Get organized. Lay out your presentation on index cards (real or virtual), then arrange them by priority with the most important information up front.
  • Introduce yourself and briefly describe what you’re going to talk about, and why the audience should care. Always be thinking of your training from the audience’s perspective—what’s in it for them?
  • Start a fire. Get their attention by saying something counterintuitive or unconventional. Here are some examples:
    • “A 1% price increase can equal a 10% increase in net profit. Here’s how.”
    • “Cheap people don’t make good value sellers. Here’s why.”
    • “Professional buyers are amateur actors. Here’s the evidence.”
  • Talk about the most important stuff first. That way, if your presentation is interrupted before you’re finished—or if attention eventually flags, as can happen with even the best presentations—you’ve gotten your key points in.
  • Talk about no more than six subjects every hour. This recommendation is based on new research from the University of Washington. If you’re talking about a product, for example, you could divide the talk into the following six subjects:
    • The reasons why you developed the product
    • The unique advantages the product delivers to customers
    • The customers who are most likely to need the product, and why
    • The price you’re asking and why that price makes sense, relative to the results customers get in return
    • Any problems with the product and why it might not be the best solution for certain customers (see below)
    • Examples of customers who have purchased the product and how well it’s performing for them
  • Talk about fewer, but better, ideas.
  • Talk to the audience, not to the slide.
  • Talk about your flaws and problems openly and honestly. I’ve attended some sales training events where the trainer tries to give the impression that the product is perfect, only to find out later that the product is so flawed that no one buys it. We all know that no product is right for all customers (except perhaps a life preserver on a sinking ship), and salespeople get suspicious when some marketing windbag drones on and on about how perfect a product is. Talk openly about problems, and you’ll build credibility.
  • Break it up. In terms of scheduling, I suggest three to four 90-minute sessions per day with 30-minute breaks in between. The world doesn’t stop for salespeople in training. They need time to do their work and respond to customers, so don’t make your training an 8 AM to 9 PM forced march. If you do, people will tune out (or simply leave).
  • Ask for feedback and answer questions truthfully. Remember—you’re all on the same team, so give people the information they need to do their jobs well.

DON’T

  • Pack slides with dense text. Stick to just one main idea per slide. Dense text practically forces eyes to glaze over and attention to wander.
  • Say “I only have a couple more slides” when your time is up. Plan and practice your presentation to ensure you can complete it easily within the allotted time, with a few minutes left over for questions.
  • Get too technical. Nobody wants to hear you droning on about your new “hex-head screw” or something similar. Focus on big ideas and concepts.
  • Name-drop anecdotal quotes or information. The fact that one customer recently told you that your product was interesting is light years away from having multiple customers actually buying the product at a profitable price.

Sales training is often considered an afterthought, or a “should” to complete before you turn your new salespeople loose. Don’t make this mistake, which is maybe the biggest “don’t” of all. Good training pays for itself many times over in job satisfaction, retention, effectiveness and—let’s not forget—more sales. Put some time and effort into doing it well.

Training for New Salespeople That Actually Works

Once you’ve made a job offer that has been accepted, it’s time to get your new salesperson up to speed as quickly as possible—meaning, as profitable as possible ASAP.

Unfortunately, much of what passes for sales training is really product training, designed to show salespeople how products work. Or it’s generic, with the material being too broad to be of much real use.

You get only one chance to write on the “blank slate” of a new salesperson at your company, so it’s important not to waste the opportunity with training that doesn’t make a real difference.

Sales training delivers the best results when it’s designed specifically for the people being trained, the situations those people regularly face, and the problems your company seeks to solve for its customers.

I suggest designing your sales training around the following questions. If you go into them in depth with your new salespeople, they will come away with an excellent understanding of both your company and their role in it:

  1. What value do we offer customers that they can’t get from our competitors?
  2. What specific problems do our products and services solve, in what situations, and for which customers?
  3. How much do those problems cost our customers? How do we know? How much are they willing to spend to make those problems go away?
  4. What do good and bad business look like, from our company’s perspective?
  5. What types of customers and prospects aren’t good for our business? Those who:
    • Always buy from whichever supplier provides the lowest price
    • Steal our intellectual property
    • Share our confidential information with our competitors
    • Require too much time or hand-holding
    • Are excessively difficult, rude, or demanding
    • Actually cost us money, when all is said and done
    • Ask for endless estimates and proposals but never close the deal
    • (Your reason(s) here)
  6. How do you recognize and turn away bad business?
  7. How and when should you address price and money with customers?
  8. What method do we use to price our products and services?
  9. Why do those prices make sense relative to what customers get in return?
  10. What business case can we make to justify our prices?
  11. Do we have customer testimonials, data, and ROI calculators that support our claims of value?
  12. When customers or prospects tell us they’re not interested or don’t have problems, what information, results, and proof can we use to get their attention and paint the picture of a “better future”?
  13. Which prospects should you approach first, and why?
  14. What questions and objections should you expect, and how do you respond to them?

You get the idea. Train them for the real world—not the world as you’d like it to be—with practical specifics and strategies rather than vague mission statements and models.

Next time, I’ll talk about the mechanics of training new salespeople—including scheduling, slide design, and delivery.

15 Revealing Sales Interview Questions

As hiring managers, we conduct interviews for two basic reasons:

  • To determine if a candidate can deliver the results we need, provide new ideas and better ways of doing things, fit in with our organization’s culture and people, and potentially be promoted in the future.
  • To share information with the candidate that enables the person to make an informed decision about whether or not to join our company, should an offer be extended.

I firmly believe that a lot of employee underperformance and turnover could be prevented by better interviewing. Too often, the wrong people come aboard because the interviewer has both failed to ask the right questions and failed to share relevant information that could discourage candidates from joining the company. Today, we’ll look at the first part of the equation.

Almost every interviewer will ask questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” And almost every candidate will have well-rehearsed answers to these questions—which means you’re not gathering any valuable information.

As an interviewer, you need to find out if the person you’re interviewing is really any good, or merely the beneficiary of a strong company, market, or product. You need to know how the candidate thinks, what the candidate does, and the underlying rationale behind his or her actions.

The following questions should help you obtain that information:

  1. How do you sell? Specifically, what do you say and do when customers call you for a quote or proposal, or you target and engage with customers who aren’t familiar with your company or products? Give me some examples.
  2. What is unique about the products and services you’ve marketed and sold? Why do customers buy them? How are they unique relative to what your competitors offer? Is there is a “good enough” product or process already in place for most of your customers? If so, how do you get customers to change and adopt your products?
  3. How do you choose which customers to target and engage with in the first place? What criteria do you use? How would you rank those criteria? Give me some examples of how you’ve done this.
  4. What problems do you have when selling? What stops you from selling more products faster? Rank the problems you have, and explain why you ranked them that way. Give examples and tell me about the results you achieved.
  5. How do you ensure that the revenue you’re responsible for delivering is profitable? How profitable are your customers in terms of gross margin? How do you measure profitability? What other costs do you and your company incur in selling to your customers? Give examples.
  6. Regarding selling, what have you changed your mind about during the last year or so, and why did you change it? What do you feel strongly about and why? What ideas do you have for improving results in your field? Have you implemented any of them, and if so, how did you do it and what were the results?
  7. What do you do on a regular basis to improve your skills and performance? Who and what do you read and listen to?
  8. How do you sell services? Please describe the steps involved. What do you say to prospects to get their attention regarding your services?
  9. What risks do customers perceive in buying your products or from your company? How do you address those risks with them?
  10. What return on investment can a typical customer expect from your products, and how is that ROI better than what your competitors offer?
  11. When and how do you talk about price with customers? How do you defend your prices when customers tell you your prices are too high?
  12. How do you add value to your organization? Relative to what you’re paid, how much money does your employer earn in return and where does that money/return come from?
  13. How do you spend your time in a typical week? How much time do you spend selling and supporting customers vs. internal company activities? How do balance your time between servicing your existing customers and pursuing new ones?
  14. How do you help and support other salespeople in your company? What questions do they come to you with, and how do you answer those questions? Give me an example.
  15. What do you measure your performance relative to? How have you outperformed “the market”? In other words, have you grown your business/territory faster than your industry and competitors have grown? If so, by how much?

Next time, I’ll give you my thoughts on the information you should share with candidates—and how you should share that information.

Building a Successful Sales Team: The Three Sales Roles

Once you’ve decided what you want your sales team to accomplish, the next step is to build your team. In order to do this, you need to determine what sales roles need to be filled to meet your objectives.

To my mind, sales roles fall into one of three general categories: Creating, Building and Maintaining:

Creating is about generating business from scratch and/or capturing business where very little exists. This is the hardest job in sales—it requires the creativity of an artist, the passion of an evangelist, and nerves of steel. It’s even harder when your product is new or unknown to customers. And it’s not for the faint of heart because creators typically function on their own, sometimes with very little assistance from their employers.

Building is about account development—taking an existing but underserved customer and growing that business. This role requires a high degree of sales ability coupled with strong project management skills. As you may have already discovered, these skills don’t often coexist in the same person!

Maintaining is just what it sounds like—keeping existing business and market share. This role is all about sustaining customer satisfaction and playing defense in the sense of fending off challengers.

Confusing or ignoring these roles is a common mistake, as is slotting a strong salesperson into the wrong role. I’ve seen previously successful creators struggle in maintainer roles, for example. And putting an experienced maintainer into a creator role nearly always ends in failure.

Additionally, even if you get the right person in the right role, it’s a common mistake to assume that previous success in sales ensures future success, especially when you introduce changes to products, pricing, or customers.

Success in sales is highly situation-specific. While previous success can certainly be a proxy for future success, careful interviewing is vital to ensure the new fit you’re considering is a good one in all important aspects.

Are you a good interviewer? Stay turned for my next installment, when I’ll explain how to ask the right questions to ensure you get the right people in the right roles.

Keys To Designing an Effective Sales Organization

Before you can recruit your sales team, set their objectives, and manage their performance, you’ve got to design the right sales organization for what you’re trying to accomplish—keeping in mind your products, company, customers, and resources.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the right objectives for us given our current competitors, customers, people, products, and other resources and challenges (such as compensation, training, travel, etc.)?
  • Why are these the right objectives?
  • What objectives could we achieve with additional investments in people, products, and training?
  • How much additional investment would it require, and when, to achieve slightly better objectives? What about much better objectives?
  • What is the ROI on those additional investments, and how and when would that ROI be realized?
  • Going forward, how much of our business will come from current customers/products, and how much will come from new customers/products?
  • Is it reasonable to expect that our current customers will buy more from us? Why? If so, how much? What will we do if they don’t?
  • Are our products and services well-known and accepted (easy to sell), or are we trying to create demand from scratch (harder to sell)?
  • Do our products solve expensive, widely known customer problems (easy to sell), or do they create a “better future” for customers who claim they don’t have any problems to solve (harder to sell)?
  • How well do the customers we’re targeting know our company, products, and capabilities?
  • Who or what is our main competition? Is it an entrenched competitor, or a well-known process that customers are not interested in changing? Either of these situations may be more difficult to overcome than you think.

These questions are not complicated, but many managers never ask them. This is a huge mistake.

Think of your sales process like an Olympic sport such as diving or gymnastics; there is an inherent degree of difficulty to what you’re trying to do with your sales process. More difficult maneuvers can garner you more points—and, ultimately, more glory—but they are more taxing and time-consuming to hire, train and manage for.

Whether you go easy or go hard is up to you, and there are merits to both approaches, but you need to know at the outset which path you’re on so that you can navigate it correctly.

Sales Management: The oft-overlooked game changer

Really great salespeople often get promoted to sales management positions. Unfortunately, there tends to be a big disconnect between the skillsets required to sell effectively and manage effectively.

Many of the sales managers I’ve encountered tend to act more like check-the-box administrators. Their primary contributions seem to be scheduling useless meetings, holding down compensation, and making sure the CRM system is always up to date.

Whether the cause is lack of know-how, the way they’re being managed and trained, or the way their jobs are defined, this is not sales management.

True sales managers—those who know how to hire, train, lead, motivate, retain and improve the performance of salespeople—can make a tremendous difference to a company’s revenue and profitability.

And based on hundreds of conversations I’ve had, salespeople are absolutely desperate for this sort of strong leadership. They want to work for people who can mentor them, who care about their compensation and career development, who are available to discuss better ways of doing things, and who simply “have their back” when things go south.

I’ve been training high-tech equipment salespeople for over 10 years, but until now, I haven’t coached and trained sales managers. That’s about to change.

In the coming months, I plan to provide a wealth of information and resources on the ways effective sales managers can:

  1. Design the right sales organization for your company, products, and current situation
  2. Identify, recruit, and hire salespeople who are best-fits for what you want to accomplish
  3. Train and coach salespeople to not only sell, but sell your products and your prices to your prospects
  4. Set the right objectives and help your people achieve them consistently
  5. Compensate salespeople to ensure they’re satisfied and that your company is getting the results it wants—a real win-win.
  6. Retain high performers
  7. Identify and develop successors for every position in your organization

Sound good?

If you’re a sales executive or sales manager, I’d like you to take a minute to think about whether you’re truly as effective as you could be. If not, what information or training would help you move the needle? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

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