How To Buy, How to Sell: Advice for Teams and Vendors

May 31, 2011 at 2:31 am | Posted in Business Development, Digital Strategies, How To..., Sales Tips | Leave a comment
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I come across both teams and vendors in what I do; and, as a sales and marketing guy, I have a few opinions on selling. But the more I think about ideas surrounding selling, the more it informs my ideas about buying.

First off – a few words about Vendors…

Vendors often don’t seem to follow a set sales process in the sports industry, and in the tech space surrounding social media and mobile, pricing often borders on ridiculous. Vendors often look at teams as organizations with huge budgets – and they do – for players. Business operations is a different story… there are budgets and they are often tight. The lack of foresight among vendors regarding a team’s’ financial capabilities often simply frustrates the buyer and can chill an opportunity or be lost to a competitor real quick. Teams see through these prices and will forge for lower until they get it.  The days of “shiny newness” regarding social and mobile are gone – the “must have” factor is always trumped by ROI eventually. Many of these buys are strategic, and when vendors employ a transactional process (in light of any process at all), price will always be the determining factor.

Some thoughts about Teams…

Many teams will look to leverage themselves as a point of entry to a vendor. The thinking goes a lot like, “If you give this to us for free, then everyone will come asking where we got this. We’re really helping you create business here…”. This makes sense internally; and to be honest, referrals drive the way almost anything happens in the sports business. But this kind of position just doesn’t hold water. Imagine if I went to my local grocery store with, “I’d like you to give me this food for free – I’m an amazing cook and everyone who eats my food will be asking where I got this from. I’m really bringing you a lot of business here…”. [Insert sound effect here] “Umm – Clean up in aisle 4″

Teams believe that a number of vendors will bend over completely backwards for the chance to work with them – but unless it makes business sense, they simply won’t/can’t.

Obviously, there are a number of other facets and factors involved in these complex sales – too much to tackle in a single blog post.

At the end of the day, this back and forth is frustrating and time-consuming for all involved. Vendors need to better understand how teams buy anything – how their budgets are structured, how does the product/service fit an overall strategy, how can they make the buying process easier? Teams need to consider how the vendor’s product/service meets their requirements, strategy and their ROI. If discussions start from a place such as this, both parties are off on the right foot…

What are your thoughts?

My Interview on 1to1Media.com

April 1, 2010 at 12:52 am | Posted in Business Development, CRM, Linkedin, Sales Methodologies, Sales Tips, Social Media | 3 Comments
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I was recently interviewed by Liz Glagowski of 1to1media.com regarding social media and sales.

Here is a link to the interview, but I have also included the text below as the site requests that you register to view it (which readers may not want to do here)…

Will Social Media Be the End of the Cold Call?

As social media’s adoption continues to grow in the consumer market, B2B companies are also now incorporating Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, wikis, and other collaboration tools into their business.

Social media tools for business started primarily in the marketing department for promotions and customer communications. Then companies like Comcast, Dell, and others began to use social media as a customer service tool, with positive results. The next logical step is to extend social media tools into the sales organization.

A recent study of more than 1,500 consumers by market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies found that 51 percent of Facebook fans and 67 percent of Twitter followers are more likely to buy the brands they follow or are a fan of.  “While social media is not the magic bullet that some pundits claim it to be, it is an extremely important and relatively low cost touchpoint that has a direct impact on sales and positive word of mouth,” says Josh Mendelsohn, vice president at Chadwick Martin Bailey.

As consumers adopt social media in their personal lives, their expectations extend to their professional lives as well. Many expect a salesperson to deliver a relevant message by doing some research to understand their wants and needs before calling. And much of that information lives on social media sites.

The current state of social media within the sales organization, however, is generally one of cautious optimism, with very limited implementation. For sales professionals, social media usually means one of four things:

1. A place to build a trust-based relationship with prospects and clients

2. A collaborative platform for internal sharing

3. Something marketing does

4. A distraction from getting real work done

“Many companies perceive social networks as ‘distractions’ or activities that take away from a sales force’s ability to sell,” says Carson McKee, owner of social media consulting company Direct Contact. “Many sales leaders think social media is about ‘friends’ and does not hold much value for business. But this is changing quickly…especially among companies whose industries are technology-based. These are places where the market is; sellers need to be there too.”

Social media is quickly becoming a business platform. A new Altimeter Group research report, Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management, highlights 18 use cases for social CRM. Three of them pertain specifically to sales: social sales insights, rapid social sales response, and proactive social lead generation. According to authors Ray Wang and Jeremiah Owyang, these efforts involve ranking social media platforms based on their influence with sales prospects; targeting sales efforts based on potential sales triggers with helpful conversation; and using the peer-to-peer advantages of social media tools to reach customers and potential customers who would like to be educated by the organization or its ambassadors.

Sites like LinkedIn and Ning, designed specifically for the business community, are perfect places for sales professionals to make connections, join networks, share their insight, and learn from others about what business challenges need solving.

“The benefit of using social media for sales is that it’s practically free mind reading,” says Chris Brogan, social media strategist and coauthor of Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. “Prospects talk about their day, about what’s on their mind, about what matters to them inside and outside of work. If you’re a salesperson who can’t use that information, what’s your value?

“The challenge to using social media for sales is that not everyone wants to mix their social tools with their business interests,” he adds. “Salespeople have to tread gently, work from the relationship paradigm, and remember to be human and two-way.”

Collaboration, not just fans
One sales expert thinks of social media in a different way. John Aiello, CEO of Savo, says sales professionals should use social media as internal collaboration tools to bring together sales with subject matter experts at relevant points in the sales cycle. “The term social media implies the concept of Facebook, Twitter, and others,” he says. “I think it’s about socially enabling the organization to make sure its best resources are being presented in every single selling conversation.” This means sharing information throughout the organization. Savo’s tools, along with others such as salesforce.com’s Chatter and Google Wave, are helping to put that concept into practice. “In the future, I think you will see CRM systems operating more like social networking sites do,” adds McKee of Direct Contact.

Brogan agrees. “I think learning how to wire the social tools much deeper into organizational execution is what will really change the game,” he says.

What the experts also agree on is that there is no one right or wrong way to approach social media strategy. “I believe that companies should evaluate and determine what kind of social media presence they want to have — what are the goals and what are the platforms they will use? This is important from an organizational strategy… Ideally, sales efforts would fit into this over-arching strategy,” McKee says.

The bottom line: What’s the ROI?
Social media’s benefits as a sales tool are numerous, but so are the challenges. The biggest challenge to the sales function is that it hasn’t been proven a revenue generator, and salespeople don’t want to waste time on fruitless efforts. “I don’t see tons of companies doing it, but I see that they’re picking it up,” says Brogan. “Small businesses are getting there faster. Enterprises are still wondering how to tip toe into the water.”

Most sales success stories currently come as a by-product of successful social media marketing initiatives. For example, Forrester Research recently published a case study about financial services company USAA, which posted customer ratings and reviews on its site. Requests for auto loan quotes jumped from 28 percent to 30 percent after the company launched the social tool, and led to 15,978 additional products and policies sold across its five main product lines in the first year. Other companies have seen higher website conversion rates and purchases from inbound marketing and brand-building activities done through social media, as well.

“Every large company is exploring social strategy to go where customers already are,” says Al Falcione, senior director of product marketing at salesforce.com. “We’re in the early adoption part of the cycle. Companies are listening to what customers are saying in real-time and joining the conversation.”

Brogan echoes the importance of just listening. “I think listening tools are the first and most important part of it all.”

McKee goes one step further, recommending all sales professionals join LinkedIn to start, and then operationalize a social media strategy. “No matter who you are or what you sell, you need to be on LinkedIn at the very least,” he says. “Adding a social media business development strategy to your sales process is not important — I believe it is essential.”

Why Math is Like Sales (And Why it’s Not)

June 24, 2009 at 11:34 am | Posted in Sales Methodologies, Sales Tips | 4 Comments
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Sales is a numbers game – how many times have you heard that?

Managing sales by numbers is part of it, but these metrics are more applicable to early sales process functions like business development activities.

X number of calls – Y number of appointments – Z number of meetings

It makes a lot of sense to track these ratios as they will indicate strengths, gaps and required efforts to keep a sales funnel on track. Later sales process management by numbers is focused on average sale value, closing ratio and funnel management.

Here is where I am going with this… Sellers have a direct impact on their numbers early in the sales process, and their ability to control and affect the sale decreases as it moves along… Sellers have direct control over their own production, but buyers have control over the dollars (by and large). Too many sellers try to take back that control far too late in the process – at the close.

equationsThe Math Analogy

Closing is simply like the “=” in sales. It is a function – a result. Mathematics does not happen at the point of “=”, it is a process that results in a value and the same goes for sales. In order to achieve the correct value in math, the process needs to be completed by following the rules and doing them in the right order. The calculations are similar to qualifying in sales – I have said many times that in order to be a better closer, you need to be a better qualifier – either way – if you rush through the calculations or the qualifications, you will get a result, but likely not the correct one. Sellers who focus too much attention on the “=” are missing the point of sales as  it has already happened; the “work” of sales is complete, closing is simply the result of a competent sales process.

This math process analogy can help sellers envision what closing is all about. Math is like sales in a vacuum – a repeatable process. In the real world, sellers are using psychology, presentation skills and benefiting from good timing.

Prove It – Value Drivers

September 11, 2008 at 2:51 am | Posted in Sales Tips | Leave a comment
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How do you know when a deal will close?

It’s what the sales funnel is all about. But forecasting when sales will close is something that most sellers are fairly bad at.

There’s only one way to know when any sale will close – Prove it.

So how to you prove it? By coming back to the Value Drivers behind the opportunity. Value Drivers are the core of any solution building process. Locating the business case for the solution, determining the impact of the prospect having solved/addressed their problem/goal… Value Drivers are the business reasons anything happens in a sale.

If you know what the Value Drivers are, then you will also have the reasoning and clarity behind timing and implementation. If you are unable to determine the Value Drivers, you are relying on the loneliest of all sales skills – Luck.

Embrace the Commodity Sale

September 4, 2008 at 2:03 am | Posted in Sales Methodologies, Sales Tips | Leave a comment
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The Consultative Sales Process – The dominant methodology in today’s sales thinking. I’d like to test that idea for a moment…

If you have ever worked with me, you’ve certainly heard it a lot – the migration of Value from Product to Seller, the challenges facing sellers today and how solution consulting can address those requirements to help sellers succeed in today’s market.

But to be honest – I’m seeing cracks in the plaster. There are alternate voices from smart people that I trust (check out Jeremy Miller) who are increasingly putting messages out there that we are moving into different paths and paradigms.

And I think this is a good thing (no Martha intended).

The role sellers provide in the sales process is changing again. Here’s my thought…

The move and positioning focused on employing the consultative sales process as a way of preventing or subverting the commodity or price driven sale is increasingly not the right path. It is a defensive stance that is losing ground – it is time to give in and embrace the commodity sale.

Now my thinking does not go so far as to throw out the consultative process altogether – but this is something I’m going to look closer at.

What does it mean to embrace the commodity sale?

Better yet – think I’m wrong?

Still “Pitching” your Prospects? No Wonder your Reading this…

April 1, 2008 at 1:18 am | Posted in Sales Methodologies, Sales Tips | Leave a comment
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My focus is on re-thinking the entire sales approach. Almost every “sales process” out there now is positioned from a seller-centric POV, but the trouble is that sales has become a buyer-centric reality.

When sales people get frustrated by specific elements of the sales process, it’s usually due to the fact that they are still “pitching” and “selling” to prospects. Selling is no longer something that happens “to” a prospect, but “with”… and this is proof of the buyer-centric world of today. Selling, when done at it’s best is a process of helping someone get what they value, of acting as an agent or broker of services to leverage what your company can do for the prospect.

It’s not just the latest and greatest idea from sales trainers – its based on a key facets of human nature:

People value what they think more than what they are told.

By helping prospects arrive at their own conclusions and by involving your prospects in the sales process itself, you leverage their buy-in and participation. Doing this automatically sets you apart from your seller-centric competition. You simply operate differently.

In a time of increasing commodification of products and services, the subjective concept of value has migrated away from product – and now resides in the seller. Too many sales people don’t recognize that shift yet, and therefore fail to provide value despite their best efforts to do so.

It’s not so much what you sell – but how you sell it.

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