Breaking Down Barriers…You First!

While sitting down over a bowl of oatmeal this morning, I had a deep thought…well, deep enough by my standards to write a post about it. I thought about conversations I’ve had recently with customers and peers about their frustration with prospects and customers. I can summarize their frustration in the statement, “These customers won’t share enough information with us, and they won’t help us gain access to other key people in their business.”

Sound familiar? Whether you’re a sales coach, a senior leader, or a field sales executive, you’ve probably heard something like that. Maybe you’ve been the one saying it…. But if we’re to be truly customer-focused…if we’re really going to put ourselves in our customers shoes, we’d be asking a different question. We should be asking, “Why would they give me this information that I need? Why would they make that introduction to so-and-so? Have I earned that much of their trust?”

If we’re answering that question of ourselves honestly, I am willing to bet that we’d say more often than not that we haven’t earned enough of their trust yet. If you were in the customer’s shoes, would you give that extra bit of information to help a salesperson make a sale? Would you make that introduction between a seller and a key decision maker or influencer? What assurances would you need from the seller in order to feel comfortable enough to open up a bit more?

As sellers, what assurances can we give? Do words matter? Do deeds matter? Can we stretch the truth or be less than candid with a customer about our company’s capabilities and still expect the customer to be open with us?

Being honest, we should all say, “No,” to that last question. If we want customers to break down barriers for us, then we must first break down the barriers that we put between us and them. Be candid. Be competent. Ask for more from the customer only after you’ve shown them that you have their best interests in mind. You can’t fake that. They’ll see right through you. And up the barriers will go, once again.

If you are on the same page with me, feel free to drop me a line at matt@usr-llc.com, or comment on this post at your first chance. I’d love to hear from you.

Talent Wars: 2011

The Deadliest Catch… Whale Wars… Dirty Jobs… Cupcake Wars? I just had a great idea for the next reality / competition show for basic cable TV. Clearly, the bar isn’t set very high for these kinds of ideas, so I think I have a real winner on my hands.

I’ll call it, “Talent Wars: The Hunt for The Next Great Salesperson.” It will feature a group of lovable but struggling business owners who are fighting to keep their businesses alive and growing. Their challenge? They have to choose one great salesperson who will deliver results for their business out of a cast of dozens who look the part but lack the skill, motivation, or discipline to actually be effective on the job.

It sounds like great TV, doesn’t it? Sales candidates will have to face challenges with names like “The Objectionator,” “The Low-Reactor,” and “The Commoditizer” to prove their worth as salespeople, and the business owners will have to judge based on their own, unique criteria. Only the “luckiest” business owner will win the prize at the end of the season, and the rest will lose something significant. Some may even lose everything.

Screen tests begin soon.

Listening to Neil Rackham

I had the opportunity this week to spend some time with noted author and creator of the “SPIN Selling” model, Neil Rackham.  Neil is perhaps best known as the author of not only SPIN Selling but a few other, terrific business books, Major Account Sales Strategy, and Rethinking the Sales Force.  Neil is also the founder of Huthwaite, the company that I worked for before I founded United Sales Resources.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I am fortunate now to have Huthwaite as a client, and I have a great deal of respect for that organization and for the people who work there.  If I appear in this blog to have a bias toward Huthwaite’s approach to consultative or value-based selling, it’s only because I do.)

Neil was speaking with a group of sales and organizational development leaders about issues that are significantly impacting the growth and the profitability of businesses today.  These “silent killers” as Neil and Huthwaite describe them, are all generally within a sales organization’s control to a degree, but they can be really tricky and, at times, painful to address.  One example of the “killers” was the “Feel-Good Funnel.”  (Look for Huthwaite’s white paper at www.huthwaite.com on this topic soon.)  As I was listening to Neil, my thoughts turned from the large companies that were represented in the room to the small to mid-sized businesses with whom USR typically engages.  I thought, ‘If the large companies represented in this room have overly optimistic views of their own sales pipelines, then smaller companies must suffer from the same overly optimistic feeling about theirs.’  They have no more analytical capability or more data to work with than larger companies.

In fact, small to mid-size companies often have very little or no data to support what is in their sales forecast…if they have a sales forecast at all.  As a small business owner myself, I understand how difficult it can be to make investment decisions when the future is even the tiniest bit uncertain.  Not knowing when you have a problem in your business pipeline is certainly worse than knowing.  And so… sipping my coffee this morning, I resolved that my staff and I will not only do everything in our power to help our clients capture their next, big opportunity, but we will do everything we can to help them see the future more clearly.  We owe them that.