In the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to interact with sales leaders in India, China, Singapore and Australia. One thing that everyone agrees is that selling, and more importantly, B2B selling is getting more and more challenging.
Buyers are getting more and more intelligent as they are able to do all the research even before inviting any sales teams in for discussion. This also means that most of the interaction tend to lean towards order fulfilment or what I call “Selling to Specs”. This is a zero sum game with no clear winners at all.
- The customers tend to believe that they know what they are doing due to all the research they did before connecting with the sales teams.
- The sales teams are hard pressed to show value in every interaction with their customers despite not knowing the real challenge that they are trying to help with.
- Train ourselves to be curious and inquisitive, ie, re-learn to be child like.
- Learn and practice the art of observation. We need to learn to observe not only our customer in action, but their customers in action, their competitors, their substitutes, try and delve deeper to understand the reason behind the specs that the customers have given us.
- Learn the difference between information and insight and keep looking until he/she uncovers new insights.
There are different techniques that employ the same process albeit in a little more polished way. One such methodology is “Challenger Selling” or applying the principles of ”Design Thinking” in the sales process.
One approach that i have found very useful in this scenario is to look at our customers business and their interaction with their ecosystem (including customers, employees, partners, suppliers,etc). If I am able to understand their interaction with their ecosystem and some of the challenges that these members of the ecosystem have with our customer, it provides a very interesting perspective and has immense possibilities for new insights to emerge, which potentially could provide a good discussion point and create a totally different discussion than the one that the customer intended in the first place.
This is exactly what you want as a sales executive. This again puts you in the driving seat and instead of matching specs, you are now in a position to define the challenges along with your customer and pitch in how you could play a part in solving these challenges.
In most cases, some of these challenges can be addressed by your product/services. The other part of the challenge that you are unable to solve, you could either suggest someone who could be of help or allow your customer to figure this out.
Irrespective of which methodology you use, the ultimate aim should be for the sales teams to learn to uncover insights that their customers are unaware of about their own business/process/challenge and use these insights to drive their sales process and continue to remain relevant and in control.
Do you agree with my views. Share your views and opinions as comments and we can continue our conversation.
Amazon Coins debuted among much fan fare in May this year and have mysteriously kept a very low profile since the high profile launch.
I am not sure if this is a deliberate strategy on part of Amazon or is it that no one noticed its presence (or maybe absence) in the past few months. The only time that i heard about Amazon coins is when they launched a promotion to give out 20 free coins if one downloaded a certain set of apps. Really?
Are these coins being used at all? If yes, how much is their usage? Or is it that we (including Amazon) are not willing to call it a failure yet?
What do you think?
Last week, I completed 3 years of blogging on wordpress. When I started on this journey three years back, I did not realize where this will take me. However after 3 years and 246 blog posts, I feel that I have only started to warm up. There is still a lot to talk about and a lot to learn and discuss.
As each milestone that passes does, this one made me to sit down and think about what keeps me going.
I would like to think one of the most important thing that keeps me motivated to keep writing blog posts is the fact that with each blog, i get to learn something new, about the topic and about myself. This discovery process is what keeps me motivated and helps me continue to on this journey to self discovery.
Unless we know what drives us, it is very difficult to do work that matters.
So, what is it that drives you to get up and do what you do every day?
Yesterday, I was running a workshop to introduce the concept of design thinking to a bunch of college students with the following as the challenge that they needed to solve by the end of the workshop
How might you make teaching interesting, fun and effective for teachers
We all had a great fun day and learnt something very important. All the ideas that the students came up to help teachers were to do with things that assumed that the teachers inherently were not competent people who can teach well.
I ran a similar workshop a couple of months ago with a set of 30 college professors with the following challenge:
How might you make learning interesting, fun and effective for students
And the results were very similar. All the ideas that the teachers came up with assumed that the students inherently do not want to learn while in college.
This made me thinking and I asked the students in yesterday’s workshop, to list out things that they could do in their classes (right away), which could help the teachers have fun while running classes. Collectively, they came up with about 44 different things that they could do in their classes to make them fun & effective not only for the teachers but also for themselves.
I guess this is human nature. We believe that the problem is with others and forget our contribution to the problem. Makes me question my contribution everytime i start to complain about anything.
So, what are your complaining about and what is your contribution to that?
Right now is the most important time of the year for a sales leader. Its the time when you not only are trying to support your teams to meet their annual quotas, but also supposedly need to be in the planning mode to make decisions on the sales quotas for the subsequent years.
If you are like most sales leaders that I have known, you are finding it difficult to maintain a balance among both these activities. And in most cases, the closure of the year takes more precedence than planning for the next year, which would be best to avoid by better planning at the start of the year.
So, how do you decide what sales figures you want to aspire for and how do you allocate the sales quotas?
Do you decide on a % increase on the current year sales figures as the aspiration? Say 15% year-on-year growth in top-line. Is this handed down to you by the CEO or the board of directors? Do you then add some cushion and divide this among your direct reports based on the markets and volumes that they currently run, who in turn do the same to their direct reports and this continues till you have reached the sales executive and communicated his quotas. There is always some negotiation at every level. Since both the parties know that this is a given, it loses its validity and people plan for these push-backs in the original quotas being suggested.
Now the sales executives are left to create a sales plan that can help them achieve their quotas. Smart sales executives create a plan for atleast 40% more revenue to ensure that there are no surprises at the end of the year and starts executing the plan with his set of accounts.
Now imagine that you also do the following exercise at the start of the year:
In November, you get your sales teams to take a day or two off and block it for planning. You could get the entire sales team do this on the same day or spread this out for different days for different teams. You inform all your sales executives to look at the accounts that they manage and come up with sales plays with each of these accounts. Then they identify the potential revenue from each of these sales plays. They create 3 estimates – Best case, Worst Case and Probable case. Based on the sales play, current macro conditions and the relationship with the customer, also estimate where they are in their buying process. Repeat this process with all their customers. Then you add the revenue potential for all the three scenarios from all the sales executives and also know the stage in which each account is in the sales process. This gives you a good idea of your pipeline from your existing customers/prospects. You also ask each one of your sales executives to come up with a list of 10-15 accounts in their market whom they would like to do business with and what would be the potential sales plays for those accounts, if they could come up with one. You would need to then take this list to your marketing teams and get them to create a plan on how they could support your team to get these customers interested in your products and services. You then set the quotas of the sales executives based on the worst case scenario and if you have to set sales quotas for the sales managers, set them based on the most probable or best case scenarios. Alternately, you could set the sales quotas of your sales executives based on the most probable scenario and measure your sales manages based on the % of their direct reports who achieve their quotas.
If your organization is like most organizations that I have come across, you would find that the revenue potential is much higher than any percentage increase in revenue that you had originally planned to achieve. In addition to that, you now also have a sales play defined for each one of your existing customers and the prospects already in the pipeline.
Now, it is very important for you as a sales leader to do this exercise in the last quarter of the year so that the entire team realizes that the planning process is as important as the sales closure for the quarter. This is the cultural shift that you could effect. Also, this ensures that the entire team is involved in the planning process and not just the sales leaders. This entire process will also ensure that you hit the ground running when the year starts. This process also ensures that your sales executives will not just concentrate on customers where there are current deals being planned but also continue to build his relationship with all his customers.
These are my thoughts. What do you think? Is this level of planning achievable? Do share your thoughts by commenting below or by tweeting your thoughts to me at @rmukeshgupta.
In 2006, I was being interviewed by Saint Gobain Glass for a role in their customer service, production planning and logistics team. I had to go through 2 levels of screening by the HR agency, followed by an aptitude test, an interview with the hiring manager, the HR manager and then finally by the MD himself.
I was told that the final interview for every employee hired in the organization was done by the MD himself (it was a 250 employee organization when I was being interviewed), irrespective of the role the employee is being hired for. That did not make sense to me at that time as the role for which I was being was too insignificant for an MD to conduct an interview for.
However, I now realize the importance of his actions. It is easier to hire people for their fit to the organization culture that you want to build as a leader than to change the culture later. No wonder we had a culture of high performance all around us and at the same time we all enjoyed working together in that organization.
So, one of the most important task as the leader of an organization is to ensure that you are hiring people whom you trust to be a good fit for the culture. Equally or even more important is for you to be decisive and quick in moving people out of the organization if they turn out to be a bad fit.
I understand that this can be a tough ask in a fast growing organization or an MNC with hundreds of employees being hired every day. However, in that case, as a leader, we still need to find time ourselves or hand-hold the local CEO/MD at the country/department to ensure that they meet and talk to every person that is being hired to ensure that there is no cultural conflict.
This is one of those activities that in the face of it doesn’t seem very significant, however in the long term there is no other action of the leader that can have the impact this one action can have.
So, in my opinion, the most important decision that we make as leaders is “Whom to Hire” & “Whom to Fire”
So, what is your hiring mantra? Do you hire for attitude or for culture? Do you know what is the culture that you want to cultivate in your organization? Do you know what kind of people will thrive in such a culture?
IF the answer to any of the above questions is a “NO”, now is a time for you to start thinking towards finding an answer. In the long term this is what will make the distinction between a good leader and a great leader.
In your opinion, what is the most significant action that a leader could do and why?
PS: Watch Tom Peters Talk about hiring the last One Percenters