Pretty odd subject for a sales blog, huh? If you are reading this than it got your attention. When I recently saw the FIG TREE sign, it got my attention as well but for reasons other than those the person who put up the sign had likely intended.
I was on my way to meet my partner to discuss Inventis Strategies things when I saw a sign along the road that simply said FIG TREES. Not FIG TREES FOR SALE or BUY FIG TREES or even WE HAVE FIG TREES, just FIG TREES. Frankly, I have driven by it for several years before even giving it a second thought until recently. Then it dawned on me – simplicity.
As sales reps, we spend hours trying to come up with the perfect message that will cut through the noisy world of our customers / prospects, gain their attention and, hopefully, peak their interest to take the action we desire. I can speak from experience when I say I have written some exceptional, poignant and emotion-inducing emails. Really, in my mind, they were works of absolute art. I covered all of the reasons why my product / service was worth their time. It was professional, courteous and included all of the action words I was told were needed in a business email. The result? More often than not...nothing. Which brings us to our friend with the fig trees.
I doubt the individual with the fig trees thinks about any of this very much. Frankly, if he didn’t include the “S” at the end of the word “tree”, we wouldn’t even know why he has the sign up. It was simply implied that the trees were for sale and there were more than one from which to choose. I knew what the product was and, if I wanted one, I could have my choice. There was no price stated on the sign. Why would there be? Unless you are an arborist, who would know what the going rate was for a fig tree so why give a potential customer a reason not to buy.
The point of this rather deep dive into an 8-letter sign is equally as simple. If you plan to reach out to a customer or prospect be it via email, phone call, etc. be direct and mindful of their time. Cut out needless pleasantries and keep on point. If you want an appointment, ask for it. If you have a question, ask it. When you call them, tell them what you do and what you want in as few words as possible and let them decide if they want to know more. Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and think to yourself, would I want to read this email or listen to this whole message?
Our friend with the fig trees did not go into detail about the benefits of owning one, how beautiful it would look on my lawn or even what I could do with a fig. I was driving by at 35 MPH and got the message he/she was trying to get across. Next time I head that way, I might even buy one. #Sales #Marketing #CustomerConversation
There are likely few in the B2B sales profession who have not heard the phrase "It is a marathon, not a sprint" at least once in their career during a weekly meeting or annual planning session. I, for one, would like to see this tired, stale reference retired forever. Here's why.
As legend has it, the story of Marathon is in reference to Greek hero, Pheidippides and his epic run which inspired the modern-day marathon. Pheidippides is said to have run from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a military victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. What is often left out is one important point. Upon finishing his run and delivering his message, the hero Pheidippides dropped dead of exhaustion.
Is this really the best message sales leaders can use to rally to the troops as they go into the marketplace to sell for their company? Grind it out for a long time against peaks and valleys until you complete your task and, well….you know. This may be a bit over-simplistic, but it was always a phrase that made me wonder…what other profession has a doomed distance runner as their source for motivation?
I believe sales to be a series of sprints, each with a beginning, middle and end but not one long, grueling trek. Like runners, sales professionals have to deal with rough terrain (competition), less than ideal weather conditions (marketplace), footwear issues (pricing) and other challenges they cannot control during a race. By approaching the year as a marathon, you are telling your team there isn't time to stop, survey the terrain and make adjustments.
One way to prepare your runners for success is to conduct routine a win / loss analysis after each sprint. It is a process to determine what worked, what didn't and how you can pivot to position your team for long-term success. This is a way sales leaders can help their team approach their sprints with a better chance to win vs. staggering to the finish, suffering the fate of the late, great Pheidippides.
To learn more about how a win / loss analysis can benefit your sales organization, please visit our site: Inventis Strategies Win / Loss Analysis
In early April, I had the opportunity to spend two days at the 2018 Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta Ga. For those not familiar, the Masters, which began play in 1934, is the first of four major tournaments in the golf year and arguably the most prestigious.
The tournament is special for many reasons that are evident from watching the four-day event on television. The course, with its lush fairways and greens surrounded by blooming cherry blossoms, tall pine trees and picturesque stone bridges, is at its most brilliant in early April. Caddies in their all-white jumpsuits and flower-laden “Amen Corner” are traditional images that add to the spectacle. Guest passes to the event are the most highly sought after in golf with a limited supply available to an eager public, many who have waited years to gain entry. Attending the Masters is a bucket list item of nearly every golfer alive.
What cannot be seen when watching the event on television is the unique customer experience that attendees are presented when entering the course on tournament days. Every detail to make the experience memorable has been carefully thought out and refined. Beyond the course and world-class competitors, the tournament officials and planners go above and beyond simply satisfying their customers needs, they create an experience like no other I have ever seen.
Below are a few observations I made while attending the Masters this year:
Food: A single day round at a golf tournament can last upwards of 10 hours meaning there are tens of thousands of hungry people roaming the course at any given time. Augusta National has several full-service food stations staffed with dozens of cashiers, beverage handlers and resupply workers. Their efforts ensure all attendees are in and out of the foodservice area in mere minutes, regardless of the crowd size. Food, incidentally, is extremely reasonable from a cost standpoint with sandwiches, snacks and beer / soda a fraction of the cost one would pay at an average ballpark or stadium.
Cell Phones and Devices: With the exception of cameras during practice rounds, no electronic devices, phones, iPads, etc. are permitted at Augusta National during the tournament. While there were many times I would have liked to tweet a picture, make a call or send an email, being unplugged was actually a pleasure. The lack of incessant iPhone video and picture taking, texting and talking (by myself and others) made for a truly relaxed atmosphere and easy conversation among attendees.
Restrooms: Strategically placed around the course, the facilities are often crowded but the wait is never very long. All are staffed with attendants whose job it is to make sure the line moves quickly and that each facility is used to its maximum capacity. All are immaculately clean.
Parking: Parking is free and operated by an army of attendants who herd cars into and out of the lots with military precision. Carts are provided for the elderly and handicapped to drive them to the front gates if needed.
Shopping: Although shopping at Augusta National pro shop is by no means inexpensive, the need to carry purchases around the course all day is negated by a UPS shipping window next to the shop exit. This allows tournament attendees to ship their purchases home immediately after paying without having to lug bags of hats, shirts, etc. around the course all day and worry about how it will fit into their luggage for the flight home. Since Augusta National is the only place where official Masters merchandise can be purchased, the number of bags can be quite substantial!
Course Personnel: Yellow-capped rangers, whose job it is to ensure patrons are only in designated areas, patrol nearly every inch of the course. When not ushering the crowds and keeping them out of restricted areas, they openly engage with patrons on the history of the course, past competitions, etc. answering all questions on the Masters and adding color and a personal touch to the experience. On a side note, each and every person working at the Masters (and there are quite literally thousands) offers a pleasant “Good Morning”, “Welcome to the Masters”, “How are you today?” etc. when walking the grounds. This creates and maintains a welcoming feeling that continues during and after the event.
What struck me the most, however, were the presence of iPads in different areas of the course to take surveys of customers to rank their visit and make suggestions on what can be done to make it better. It amazed me that an event, which has no apparent shortage of customers, would seek additional information from its customers to improve their experience. It gave me some perspective on how the tournament has been able to stand the test of time and continue to be as anticipated event today as it has been over the last 84 years. The Masters committee has created a unique setting by listening to their customers and going beyond customer satisfaction to create a one-of-a-kind experience. It is safe to say they are market driven in their approach and most likely considering mere customer satisfaction as an abject failure.
Prior to leaving on my trip to Augusta National, I had the opportunity to speak with several past attendees who, to a person, sang the praises of the event. They offered tips on what to expect, what to bring and how to act (decorum is a must). What they may not have known is they were, in effect, speaking on behalf of the Masters as brand ambassadors. How many companies can say that? Frankly, I know of only a few (Wegman’s and Chick-fil-A) that come to mind. Gallup has reported that 71% of customers are “actively disengaged” with the companies they patronize which means they are highly likely to change to a product or service that offers a better price, additional feature, etc. without much thought. If your company does not provide a memorable customer experience that the remaining 29% in the poll apparently offer, you will continue to fight an uphill battle for new customers along with the others who are part of the 71%. Studies have shown it can cost up to five times more to acquire a new customer than retain a current one, so an increased focus on creating the optimal customer experience is obvious, is it not?
In conclusion, when an organization claims to have very high levels of customer satisfaction, think about the folks at Augusta National. If they were content to simply keep customers satisfied and offer the same level of service over the years, the world would be denied a wonderful annual spectacle. One that has endured decades of change around them and continues to be the gold standard of customer experience not just in the world of sports, but beyond it.
The Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl recently, defeating the formidable New England Patriots with their future Hall-of-Fame duo of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots were in-line to win their sixth NFL title and adding to their reputation as the greatest team of all time. Standing in their way were the Eagles led by their second-year head coach Doug Peterson and backup quarterback, Nick Foles. It appeared the cards were stacked against Philadelphia as they entered the game, understandably, underdogs.
Press Taylor, the offensive quality control / assistant quarterback coach for the Eagles had the responsibility to research game films from every team in the league. As part of his process he evaluated successful “trick plays” that could come in handy should a situation warrant a special play for the Eagles. Taylor’s research uncovered a play the Chicago Bears executed for a touchdown in 2016 against the Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles “borrowed” the play and entered it into their playbook as the “Philly Special”. The “Philly Special” will go down as the most famous touchdown in Eagles history. Not only was it called at a critical time; it was also a very gutsy move by Peterson that many believe changed the course of the Super Bowl.
Switching gears to business, from a macro standpoint, many factors must come into play for a company to achieve its revenue growth goals. There must be a common goal for the organization; the right team must be in place to execute a strategic plan and leadership must calculate risk to select the best way to reach its objectives. A company must know what its markets require, understand the needs of its customers/prospects, and keeps a watchful eye on its competitors. When a company actively engages in research, they increase the odds of a successful outcome, as they are more knowledgeable than those with whom they compete. This practice is no different than what Press Taylor and the Eagles executed when identifying the “Philly Special” and using it to their advantage.
As research can be seen as time consuming and costly, many organizations will forgo it as a practice or use it to validate an idea they have already invested time and money in. However, if done with the goal to obtain insight that provides a competitive edge, it can be a wealth of knowledge that shapes every part of your organizations efforts. Sales become better informed on what customers and prospects want and who to pursue to improve sales. Marketing will learn what is most important to customers and addresses those needs in communications. Product teams use it to ensure what they bring to market is what is needed and wanted.
We at Inventis Strategies believe research must be simple to execute and provide the insight a company needs to reach its business objectives.
These are 4 critical steps we believe every company should practice yearly to gain insight and grow their business:
If you are struggling to identify where to begin or lack resources, we have built a tool for companies to apply that achieves all four steps called Market Opportunity Optimization or MO2. The MO2 is a combination of market analysis and planning tools that provide a complete picture of market opportunities, potential barriers to growth and issues a company will need to address in order to achieve / exceed its growth goals.
By uncovering the right information on the market, integrating it into a strategic plan and executing on the plan, we believe this is the right formula for a company to create its own “Philly Special” and overcome challenges to growth and achieve their ultimate goals.
I am a salesman. Although my LinkedIn profile says Manager of Customer Solutions, Account Manager, Director of Business Development, etc., I am a salesman. Regardless of title, my career has been to introduce the products and services of my company to those we feel would benefit from our expertise. Sales is a vital role in any organization and one that has become a revolving door. Why? Many companies have not modernized their sales strategy to create new opportunities. They continue to sell the same way as they have done in the past. It’s a numbers game, right? Make more calls!
For years, sales reps carried the water for the entire process. From prospecting potential customers to closing the deal, they are chief cook and bottle washer. Even now it is common to see a job description adding more responsibilities upon their shoulders. These range from managing accounts, lead generation, maintaining CRM, reporting, etc., many of which have nothing to do with actual selling.
What has driven companies to react this way? First, the pressure to sell and sell more is greater than ever. Innovations in every industry have flooded the market with choice and choice has increased competition making it harder to acquire customers. Second, most companies struggle with making the evolutionary changes required to stay competitive, especially when there is uncertainty a change will have the desired outcome. History is often the guide that companies use when trying to solve a problem. History has a record of successful solutions and previous pitfalls to avoid. This is why many companies avoid changing their sales approach and continue to spend large amounts of time and money on the revolving door of sales reps being hired and fired.
The problem with this thinking is that history is not the most successful guide in today’s new digitally connected world. While certain aspects of previous accomplishments can guide some areas of business, others have to be re-imagined and approached. Today’s customer, how they assess their needs, acquire insight and make choices has evolved faster than most companies’ approach to engage and acquire them as customers.
Today’s buyer has access to volumes of information that lead many to believe that 80% of the buying process is done before a sales rep is engaged. In Daniel Pink’s book To Sell is Human, Mr. Pink states the main difference – and it is a big one – between today’s sales environment and that of the past is information symmetry. Information symmetry is the condition in which all parties involved know all relevant information. Therefore, if the customer has nearly all of the information on the products and services of a company, there is no reason to engage a sales rep until much later in the buying process. Whether you know it or not, your company is being vetted and the customer’s decision to engage has been made long before your company is contacted.
Sales is no longer needed to open the door. Sales function is to focus their efforts on the final 20% where the client and rep are face-to-face and the rep is needed close the deal.
If you are spending time, effort and money on the revolving sales door by constantly rotating reps and expecting them to open doors, build relationships and nurture prospects, your approach is becoming extinct and eventually fruitless. Further, you are doing your company a disservice if you want to compete in today’s evolving world.
Where do you need to invest your sales dollars? In strategies that create the engagement before the rep is needed. It is more than just marketing. It is more than the buzzword “content” permeating from every digital provider trying to sell you the next advertising idea. It is about relevancy. Everything you do must be relevant to your customer, including making sure you are targeting the right customer. Marketing and social media are critical as this is today’s medium in place of television, radio, newspaper, etc. Content is the invitation to get to know your company, but more important than any tactic is to know your customer so well you can see their needs before they do. This is the evolution your company must make. For doing this and changing your infrastructure with right resources and expertise to fulfill this can shape that buying process in your favor. This is the 80% your prospect is experiencing before they speak to a sales rep. These efforts will make your marketing more effective, your social media will show an R.O.I and your content will have a true purpose.
Accepting this change in your sales process is necessary. If you do not your company will have to contend with another door, the one you are trying to open which will remain locked…and your reps won’t have a purpose because they won’t able to get inside to do what their is suppose to do…turn the prospect into your customer.
Disengaged (according to Dictionary.com): not involved or concerned; aloof
It was the mid-1990s; I was a young sales rep working for a now-defunct company that sold printed products and commodities to a cross-section of industries. At that time, the path to success was to grow your territory through a new business development, account penetration and, as time passed, assume accounts from departing representatives. As luck would have it, a senior representative from my company was retiring and his accounts were being reassigned to reps in the division and I was “lucky” enough to inherit the biggest and most profitable account. This account ordered like clockwork, had manageable receivables and was not very demanding of the company’s time or mine. It was a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare. The retiring representative graciously brought me to the client and introduced me in glowing terms saying they were in good hands and the company and I would continue to be responsive to their needs. Three weeks later their orders abruptly stopped and all daily communication from them ceased. The customer, I later learned, had been preparing for the previous representative to depart and had plans already in place to move their business to another supplier. I was devastated – this account was responsible for nearly 70% of my annual budget and it was only March. My year was over. To make matters worse, I found out by voice mail.
How could we not see this coming? The simple answer was the relationship between the previous rep and the company was the only reason the business existed. My company did all of the things to “satisfy” the customer. Orders were placed, shipped on time, billed correctly and routine problems were handled. Apparently, that was not enough. There was a detachment between the company and customer that is common in business then and now. They were indifferent to my company and we lost the business.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 71% of all B2B customers are either indifferent or actively disengaged. This is a staggering number considering the amount of time and effort it takes both the sales team and company to prospect, pitch and close a new customer. However, once the customer is on-board, is the company doing enough to manage and “exceed” the expectations of their customer to limit the chances of losing the customer to competition. Earning more business from existing customers, also known as organic growth, is the most cost-effective way to top-line growth. If only 29% of your customers are fully engaged, this is a tall order.
Organic growth can be achieved through different approaches:
Approach 1 - Accelerate Market Penetration (Sell More to the Same Market Segment): Researching and defining market segments helps guide your products, services and proposition so they better meet customer needs and result in accelerated market penetration thereby creating hockey stick growth.
Approach 2 - New Market Development (Sell What You Sell to a New Market): New markets, whether in or outside your core industry, may have different motivations, ways to communicate and overall goals that your products, proposition and approach will need to reflect in order to gain interest from these prospects.
Approach 3 - New Product Development (Sell Something New to Your Market Segment): Account reviews at a leadership level will create the insight to develop new product and service ideas expanding the relationship. This results in a ‘win win’ situation for both parties.
Approach 4 - Diversification (Selling Something New to a New Market Segment): Understanding the maturity of your products and markets is key. Moreover, it is important to have a pulse on where your customer is now and how their needs are evolving, so you and your products can keep pace before your competition leaves you behind.
It is critical that the sales representative and company work in tandem to exceed the expectations of the customer. As I wrote in previous articles, the sales representative cannot be the only face of the company especially if account penetration / organic growth are a part of the overall company growth strategy. Companies must be actively engaged with all customers and relationships must be forged from senior –level on down. If not, your sales rep may get a stinging voice mail message one of these days too.