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Is it OK to discuss Politics and Religion During Sales Conversations?

September 23rd, 2020

I suspect you’ve heard the assertion that “you should never discuss politics or religion!” There is certainly an argument to be made to support this statement. There is also a counterargument.

Do you (or should you) ever discuss sensitive “taboo” subjects like these during sales conversations? Let’s explore the pros and cons:

To say the least, these are interesting times.

Fires, storms, floods, and power-outages are devastating significant swaths of geography across the United States. Stay-at-home policies have destroyed many businesses and frustrated millions of parents. Traditional media, social media, and political activists are whipping people into a frenzy. Emotions are high, tempers are short, a number of cities are burning, crime is on the rise and the nation seems to be more polarized than at any point in recent history.

Unfortunately, many people have stopped listening, closed their minds, and dug into their respective corners. Confirmation bias is rampant.

With all of this upheaval, it might seem insane to broach any potentially emotional subject.

Before we decide to totally avoid these stormy waters during sales conversations, let’s explore selling a bit further and start with some very basic questions.

Why do people really buy?

Why would they buy from you, versus your competitor?

How do (should) you currently differentiate yourself from your competitors?

During sales interviews, what percentage of time do (should) you spend talking and sharing your pitches, benefits, expertise, opinions, demos, and product knowledge versus questioning, listening, understanding, and connecting with decision-makers at both an organizational and personal level?

Fortunately, we know the answers to these questions, backed by many dozens of studies and tons of research. In the interest of keeping this article relatively short, I’ll provide you with a summary of what we know:

Why do people really buy?

First, companies do not buy. People buy. Individual people who represent companies. You may be thinking, “duh, everyone knows that”. But in reality, few salespeople understand it, and even fewer use this reality to gain advantage. Most reps focus on selling to the company, not the decision maker.

Next, people who buy do not buy for intellectual reasons from experts. They buy for personal, emotional reasons from people that they trust. Buyers trust people who make them feel comfortable and connect with them at a feeling level. Some buyers may attempt to justify their purchase intellectually, but they will always ultimately make their purchase decision based upon how they feel. This is another basic fact overlooked by the vast majority of sellers.

Finally, purchase decisions include two primary components — Product and Process. Buyers decide based upon the product you offer and the process of buying (their experience). Most sellers believe that Product is most important, but research proves that the Process a buyer experiences has a much greater influence on their ultimate purchase decision.

 Why would they buy from you, versus your competitor?

Contrary to popular belief, buyers do not buy from people they like. They buy from people they trust, and they trust people they perceive share their values & beliefs. They trust people that they feel connected to from both a tangible (conscious) and from an intangible (subconscious) perspective.

 How do (should) you currently differentiate yourself and your company from your competitors?

If your company is like most, your product or service is not totally unique in the marketplace. If it were, it would sell itself. You likely have serious, tough competitors. Seeking to gain incremental advantages, your competitors probably pay more attention to your features, benefits, and marketing messages than your prospects do. Today, unlike decades ago, innovation and product development occur at lightning speed. In other words, if your product or service currently offers a significant advantage, you can bet that your competitors are working on erasing that advantage right now.

The bottom line here is that the only sustainable way a small to medium sized company can effectively differentiate itself is the manner in which their sales reps interact with their customers and prospects.

During sales interviews, what percentage of time do (should) you spend talking and sharing your pitches, benefits, expertise, opinions, demos, and product knowledge versus questioning, listening, understanding, empathizing, and connecting with decision-makers at both an organizational and personal level?

The correct answer is far less than you are spending today. If a salesperson is opining and presenting more than 15% of the time, they are boring the prospect, probably destroying trust, and rapidly diminishing their chances of success.

Instead, reps should invest their time seeing the picture through the buyer’s lens, not their own, and hopefully facilitating mutual discovery in pursuit of a new, better buying vision. Salespeople should be laser-focused on caring, connecting, infinite curiosity, facilitating discovery, sincere interest, and learning — not only about a buyer’s organizational or technical needs, but also about the personal, emotional, compelling, TRUE buying motives of the decision maker. These feelings and motives will never be revealed via pitches and demos.

Now that we know the answers to these foundational questions, let’s return to exploring whether or not it is prudent or wise to discuss politics or religion during sales conversations.

To review, we understand that people buy from people they trust, people they believe are like themselves, people they perceive to share their beliefs and values. Simon Sinek (and several others) have shared many stories and plenty of data supporting the fact that people buy from companies and people who care about the same things that they do. And it seems most care more today than usual about their respective ideological and political beliefs. With this in mind, do you think it might be advantageous to know how your buyer feels about these ultra-personal issues?

I’m not suggesting here that you start spewing your personal beliefs or ideological and spiritual views upon your prospects. I’m also not suggesting that you begin asking who they are voting for in November. Doing so could be extremely dangerous.

However, knowing about your buyer’s most personal views could be priceless.

So, proceed carefully, but assertively.

Salespeople must always earn the right to explore sensitive issues (like money or decision processes), and remember, questions are always more effective than statements when facilitating discovery. We never learn by telling.

The more you know about your prospect and the things they care about at a visceral level, the greater your chances will be of doing business together.

The more information you have about what your buyer cares about most, the better. Period.

The more a buyer is willing to share with you (about any subject), the better. And the more personal the issue happens to be to the buyer, the better.

In this regard, there should be no “taboo” subjects. The most successful salespeople know that there no good news or bad news, there is only information. And personal, emotional information is the most valuable.

So, the question is not really which subjects you should or should not explore with your buyers.

The crucial thing is the manner in which you explore them.

 

 

 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Sales Management: Your Biggest Potential Opportunity

August 12th, 2020

A GIGANTIC Opportunity

Is your Sales Manager (or sales management function) effectively growing, leading, and directing a consistent, productive, high-performance sales team?  If so, congratulations!

If not, I have good news, and bad news.

The bad news is that you are likely missing out on hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of dollars of profit year after year, and that things will likely worsen with a remote sales force.

The good news is that most of your competitors also lack effective sales management. In other words, you are competing with mediocrity. Many studies confirm that the vast majority of private companies conduct “sales management” reactively (versus proactively) as an afterthought. Group and individual sales meetings are random and inconsistent, if at all.  For most companies, Sales Management activities are conducted as a fly-by. They are ad hoc, only occurring “when there is time…”.

Businesses that employ effective sales management consistently outperform their competitors, but during times of rapid change and economic turmoil, sales management process improvements have an expanded effect. Today, they can help you quickly capture market share, grow your bottom line, and strengthen your company — a unique and tremendous opportunity.

Here are the facts:

  • Many SMBs do not have a dedicated manager of sales (or anyone who owns the sales management responsibility).
  • A large percentage of private businesses do not manage sales at all.
  • In many instances the “sales management function” is conducted part-time (and quite poorly) by one of the company principals.
  • Effective sales managers spend more than 75% of their time coaching, developing, motivating, recruiting, and holding reps accountable.  These are the Critical Activities. 
  • Most “sales managers” perform none of the Critical Activities.  Instead, they spend time reviewing accounts, generating reports, going on ride-alongs, and rescuing.
  • Less than 10% of salespeople have the skills and strengths to perform effectively working from home.
  • Remote sales teams require a much greater level of sales engagement and direction in order to succeed.  They also require an increased level of real coaching.

This may all sound daunting or overwhelming, but there is a massive silver lining and more good news.

  1. There are simple, time tested processes available to quickly upgrade your sales management effectiveness and team performance.
  2. Upgrading does not require a lot of time or money.  It simply requires using time differently, making some different commitments, and adopting some new processes and habits.
  3. The current economic and employment environment has created an unprecedented opportunity to upgrade the effectiveness and performance of your sales organization, for both the near and long term.

Few, if any, companies will maintain status quo in 2020.  There will only be winners and losers. Effective sales management will be a vital component of companies that end up in the Winner’s Circle.

 

 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Say Goodbye to the 80/20 Rule

July 16th, 2020

The 80/20 Rule (also known as the Pareto principle) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

In recent history, this rule has certainly proven to be true in Sales. For decades, approximately 80% of sales have been produced by 20% of salespeople.

While a very small percentage of owners have addressed this daunting issue and created a more effective team using time-tested sales, sales management, assessment, and sales recruiting best practices, the vast majority of business leaders simply exacerbated the problem by spinning wheels and spending too much time with non-performing reps, while coddling their top performers.

The 80/20 sales ratio is about to change. Here’s why:

  • Buying behavior has changed.
  • Margins are being squeezed.
  • Sales Cycles are becoming much longer.
  • All Sales Teams are now remote. They will remain primarily virtual for the foreseeable future.
  • Many companies are downsizing their salesforces.
  • High unemployment and reduced spending will weed out many of the weak and average salespeople, leaving only the best ones.
  • Unfortunately, most of the “average” or “good” reps will not possess the skills to grow sales, increase market share, and maintain margins. They will flounder.

2017 - 2019 studies indicate than 55% of sales reps produce a negative ROI, and over half of all newly hired reps do not last a full year with their employer; and these studies were conducted during the most prosperous economic times.

In just a few short months, the pendulum has swung 180 degrees from a Seller’s Physical Market to a Buyer’s Virtual Market.

To compound the lack of skills among salespeople, the vast majority of sales managers are unskilled when it comes to effective coaching and managing a virtual workforce.

Despite the fact that some of the most talented salespeople will finally be available and seeking new employment, most companies are still clueless when it comes to effectively locating, landing, and launching the great ones.

We are all now playing a totally different game, one that requires a highly consultative sales process, advanced organizational, listening, and social selling skills, superior mental toughness, and empowering Sales DNA.

Less than 5% of sales reps possess all of these skills.

Before 2020, one-fifth of salespeople generated 80% of the results. Going forward, we can fully expect the 80/20 ratio to look more like 95/5.

Think hard about this. The Top 5% will not win 80% of the profitable business, they will win almost all of it. The top 25% will take some low margin business. The rest will get only the spoils.

If your sales team is currently on fire and setting new records, congratulations! If not, you may want to seriously consider taking a hard look at the skill level and pipeline viability of your salespeople (and managers), and to honestly assessing whether or not they have what it takes to provide your company with a significant ROI. You can then decide whether or not it makes sense to make some adjustments.

Here’s the good news (I know it took a while to get here)…

The combination of predictive science, effective processes, and a very high (and perhaps short-lived) unemployment rate present a very unique, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to rapidly and dramatically upgrade your sales team, allowing you to produce much more with less. 

 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Virtual Selling - Turning Lemons into Lemonade

April 22nd, 2020

Many businesses will begin to re-open over the next few weeks. While there is certainly no shortage of opinions of the pros and cons of the timing, guidelines, and regulations, there seems to be many more questions than answers with regard to the speed and trajectory the economy will take from here, and the best success strategies for the rest of 2020 and beyond.

We do know for sure that selling has changed. While most salespeople tend to be optimists, it is highly unlikely that most will return to their pre-Covid19 activities, returning to their offices and territories and business as usual. There are many reasons for this, but here are just a few:

  1. Efficiency:  Time is all salespeople have. It is their best asset. Reps that invest their time skillfully succeed, those that don’t fail. It does not take a rocket scientist to quickly figure out that field salespeople burn up tons of time, and that salespeople selling virtually via videocom can visit with 2 to 4 times more prospects per day that those travelling around in their territories.
  2. Costs:  Again, it doesn’t take Einstein to conclude that selling virtually can save a lot of money.  Cars, maintenance, airfares, hotels, meals, and parking can cost a needless fortune.
  3. Coverage:  Geographical positioning and placement has always been a challenge for sales leaders and hiring managers. With virtual selling, this challenge basically evaporates.
  4. CRM: Since the advent of digital tracking systems, salespeople have been notorious for devising creative excuses for not updating their CRMs.  The majority of these excuses took some form of “too busy”, “on-the-road”, “lost connectivity”, or “away from my computer”.  Virtual selling removes nearly 100% of CRM compliance excuses.
  5. Your Customers & Prospects: Even if you and your salespeople DO want to return to face-to-face meetings, you can probably expect that a large percentage of your prospects and clients may PREFER to communicate via videoconference.  Some will even mandate it.
  6. Children: If your salespeople are ready and committed to get back in the saddle and hit the road to make sales calls, keep in mind that most kids will be home for the rest of the school year.  It is also doubtful that they will be attending summer activities like camp, and many may not be returning to school in the fall. If the kids are home, your salespeople will likely need to be home as well.

In other words, virtual selling may become a necessity — perhaps for a while, and maybe forever.   Is your company ready?

Re-shaping and upgrading your Sales Team for a Better Normal starts with a comprehensive understanding of the skills, strengths, DNA, and mindset required to succeed in the new selling environment.

While the post-Corona selling era and situation will present huge challenges for most businesses, any wise owner can quickly convert these challenges into a big opportunity. While most will fail, some salespeople and managers WILL succeed beyond simple survival – they will dominate.  I outlined some key success requirements in last week’s blog. Here are a few more critical factors to consider as you formulate your BETTER Normal Sales Strategy…:

  • Only 15% of salespeople have the questioning and listening skills requires, and only 5% have mastered all the consultative selling competencies.
  • Only 31% of all salespeople have the ability to thoroughly qualify an opportunity.
  • Only 41% have the ability to sell value.
  • Only 41% have the skills & strengths necessary to work from home, and only 7% of sales managers have the coaching skills necessary to develop a remote sales team!

Despite the fact that selling has been relatively simple for the last 3 years, less than half of salespeople were able to achieve quota. With selling freezes, demanding buyers, longer sales cycles, and more, it has never been more important for your salespeople and manager(s) to maintain margins.

The good news is that you have science and predictive validity in your arsenal.

If you’d like to learn more about which of your team members possess the skills to grow your business, maintain strong margins, and fill these various new, demanding sales roles, feel free to email me or click here.

Continued Success!

 

Joe

 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Selling Changed on March 1st

April 17th, 2020

In the beginning of March, the selling landscape changed Big Time.

For most of the last three or four years, nearly every phase of the economy was humming. Selling was easy.  New economic records were continuously being set, and even sub-par sales reps were occasionally making quota.

Those days are now gone — for the near term, and perhaps for many years. Buying behavior has changed dramatically, so only the strongest (salespeople) will survive. Going forward, here’s what you can expect:

  • Order takers are now Toast.
  • “Average” sales reps will have little to no chance of prospering in the New Normal.
  • Buyers will chew up Convinc-aholics, over-promisors, give-away artists, and demonstrators.  They will delay purchases and negotiate sales-weaklings into price discounts and all sorts of expensive concessions.
  • Although some salespeople may increase their volume of proposals, sales conversion rates, revenues and profit will all drop dramatically. Forecasts will become less and less reliable, frustrating the reps, their managers, and company leadership.
  • Sales cycles will become considerably longer.
  • Under these intense conditions, unskilled salespeople will surrender all control and embark in a frantic race to the bottom.
  • Only hyper-committed, mentally tough, highly consultative salespeople will have any potential to generate business and maintain margins.  Less than 5% of all sales candidates possess these attributes.
  • While the vast majority of sales reps will engage in price wars and bake-offs, ineffectively trying to protect any semblance of margin, the elite 5% will consistently facilitate discovery and challenge the status quo, differentiating themselves and changing buyer’s visions to win more sales and maintain margins.

While much of this may sound catastrophic, this combination of circumstances actually represents massive opportunity for those owners that act swiftly and skillfully.  Let me share a few other facts:

  • Unemployment was hovering between 3 and 4% during most of 2018 and 2019.  During this time, it was extremely difficult and very expensive to woo an elite salesperson away from their company.
  • Consequently, many companies tolerated even more mediocrity than usual on their respective sales teams.
  • Millions of Americans, including plenty of sales reps, have filed for unemployment in the last month. 
  • Finally, many elite salespeople are looking, and looking hard, to find a new home.  
  • These salespeople are highly skilled at hunting and closing, so they won’t be around for long. In other words, you snooze, you lose.
  • Now is an ideal time to eliminate mediocrity, hire superior sales talent, and upgrade the players, effectiveness, culture, and productivity of your Sales Team.

Those 5% of salespeople who have mastered consultative selling possess a unique combination of skills, strengths, and beliefs/mindset (aka: Sales DNA). Some of the most important qualities include questioning & listening skills, business/financial understanding, proper tone, and intense enthusiasm for selling. Elite salespeople also lack a need for approval, effectively control their emotions, are comfortable discussing money, understand how to accumulate vital knowledge before & during the sale, and follow an effective sales process. In the new normal, (and depending upon their specific role) a salesperson may also require the skills to effectively sell remotely, as videocons and similar interactions will likely increase.

Fortunately, there is a highly predictive science to sales force selection and an objective, time-tested Locate, Land & Launch process of attracting, hiring, and on-boarding sales superstars.

There is always both danger and opportunity in every crisis. From a growth and profit perspective, a lack of action will create extreme danger, as only superior sales organizations will survive the next several months and thrive into 2021 and beyond. Forward-thinking leaders will take action now to position themselves to capture market share today and to dominate their competition tomorrow.

Best Wishes for your continued safety, health, and prosperity.

 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.

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