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Willingness & Ability: Why Sales Training Doesn’t Work, Part 1

In my experience, I’ve found most companies approach sales training the wrong way. This might sound surprising, but hear me out. When sellers consistently fail to meet growth targets, the automatic assumption tends to be, “It’s a skills-related issue.” The company believes that all its sales team needs to succeed is proper training by an outside consultant or someone within the organization.

The truth is, skills aren’t always the problem. And if they aren’t, sales training will only be a waste of everyone’s time and resources. As a sales consultant and trainer myself, I’m continually trying to save clients from making this mistake.

Before your company invests in sales training, you should consider two important factors: the willingness and ability of each individual on the team. To what degree do your sellers want to contribute toward growth? And do they have the tools to do it? In other words, do you have a sales team that’s:

Able but unwilling? or Willing but unable?
(Or, unable and unwilling, which means it’s probably time to hire new sellers!)

Knowing these answers will determine if training is the right choice for your sales team.

Able but unwilling  

I once worked with a company that, despite having a great team of sellers, constantly missed its growth targets. There was plenty of demand for the laminated trade show booths, restaurant tables and signage they sold. However, all the training from the past had only made them better sellers to existing clients, not to new prospects.

Then I discovered this: The company wasn’t reaching its goals because the team, in reality, wasn’t willing to grow. The sellers were in a rural area with a very low cost of living and were on full commission. They lived comfortably, so they didn’t feel a need to push themselves to make even $100,000 a year. Short of forcing everyone to buy bigger homes and expensive toys, there wasn’t much we could do. Sales training would’ve been useless.

In another case, I saw age and experience have a direct effect on willingness. I interviewed a potential VP of Sales who, at age 42, was very successful. He was interested in working with a client of mine at a start-up where a major hunt for business was underway. Right off the bat, however, he said he wasn’t willing to make cold calls  ̶  that he was “beyond all that.” In the end, he wasn’t the right fit because he wasn’t willing to do the work needed and receive further training in that area  ̶  even though he was able.

Willing but unable

Let’s now examine the ability factor. Consider those sales teams that are willing to grow but can’t because their skills aren’t up to snuff.

For example, a client of mine works in a very mature market with a well-established team of channel partners and resellers pushing their products to buyers. Their sellers have never had to make cold calls, develop territories or request referrals before. The reason? The company’s resellers have always pushed the deals to the sellers and called every hour with leads.

Recently, though, there’s been a push to grow more aggressively and increase market share in response to stronger competition. Now the sellers have to do the work of the resellers. The problem? They were hired to be reactive versus proactive and don’t know how to prospect. They’re being asked for a 40 percent increase in sales – more than three times what they’ve ever accomplished – but their current growth rate is still hovering at 12 percent.

In this case, the sellers are willing but unable. Sales training is clearly vital in order to sharpen their skills so the company can achieve target growth.

Customize the training

Once your company decides sales training is the right approach, it’s time to gather input. If you’re a leader that approaches training based on what you think your sales team needs, you’ll likely miss the mark and nothing will get implemented. Sellers won’t accept new information nearly to the degree they would if the training were based on what they actually want to improve.

Before calling in a consultant for training sessions, ask your sellers to describe their trouble spots. This does the following things:

·         It ensures your company isn’t wasting time and money by addressing the wrong areas in training.

·         It allows your team to be involved in creating the solution. They’re being heard and see that training is being developed to meet their needs. This means they’ll ultimately buy in and implement the information.

If you option for one-on-one coaching, rather than a group training session, you can often skip this step because sellers will typically provide straightforward feedback during your coaching session. In this case, the material covered can therefore be adjusted on the fly to meet their immediate needs.

The next step

We’ve discussed, in overall terms, the effect of willingness, ability and customized training on your company’s growth. In Part 2 of this article series, we’ll get down to specifics. This includes how to determine what level individual sellers are at and how you can harness their talents. Further, you’ll learn how to fully implement sales training and use the power of accountability to ensure long-term success.

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Networking While Traveling: Part 2 - Prospects & Clients

Sellers nowadays are on the move. Those in B2B solution sales are hitting the road or hopping airplanes an average of one to two weeks each month for client meetings. Even inside sellers are stepping out more often to visit key contacts.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series (about tradeshows), increased travel means more opportunities to network. In this case, our focus is clients and prospects.

With some simple strategizing, you can optimize your relationship building wherever you go, be it 500 miles away or five miles from your office.

Locate your opportunities

The first step to better networking is to plan in advance. Before traveling:

·         Check your database to see who else is in that locale.

·         Ask your client to recommend someone else you should meet.

·         Look at associations you belong to – or should belong to – and find meetings that fit your schedule.

·         Research your destination’s business journal or Chamber of Commerce website for lunch/dinner events you can attend to network.

For example, when I was with PSS Software (now OpenText) we belonged to the American Records Management Association   ̶   today ARMA International. Whenever I headed to Houston, I scheduled client meetings around the ARMA chapter gatherings so I could network with new members and prospect. At one particular gathering, I met a buyer from an oil company I’d never heard of. My team later ended up closing a $150,000 contract with this prospect.

LinkedIn also helps to locate networking opportunities. Search for contacts in your destination. Send a message that you’ll be in town and request to meet up.

I always find people are more likely to meet me  ̶  and keep appointments ‒ because I’m from out of town versus a local they can see any time. (And, in reverse, by having clients elsewhere I’m seen as more of an expert in my own market!)

Even if a person doesn’t become a client, they can still point you to other prospects and act as a referral. And, if you can help them as well, this earns you Brownie points and future opportunities to exchange information.

Follow the ratio

When scheduling meetings ahead of travelling, keep 3:1 in mind: Three qualified leads for every client. By having three prospects in the pipeline, chances are you’ll close on at least one of them.

A new coaching customer of mine with a very small territory said she needed to grow $110,000 to $250,000 this year. Aside from seeing all her clients, I recommended the 3:1 ratio. That way, she’d always have a new sale and an existing sale on every trip, which is double what her territory earned last year. Now she’s on track to hit this year’s quota.

Optimize travel time

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, take car services or taxis whenever possible instead of driving yourself. How does this maximize networking? 
It allows you to:

·         Make calls, set up and confirm appointments, and plan for meetings. Also, it’s easier to spot signs for businesses that could be future clients.

·         Skip the traffic battles and arrive on time and refreshed. Being frazzled impacts your networking. You’re more likely to complain about your negative experience, which prospects definitely don’t want to hear!

If you’re flying and it’s just for one day, try to book an extra night’s stay. For example, I’ll spend that whole first day working with clients and prospects. The second day I’ll network with influencers, new leads and attend a local breakfast/lunch event for an association before leaving.

If you can’t do two nights, then avoid the stress of flying in the day of your meeting. Arrive the day before, attend an after-work or dinner networking event, and then spend the next full day working with clients and prospects before heading back.

Also, make use of that in-air time to take care of your work so you’re focused on the client/prospects when you arrive.

Know your own customers

Don’t forget networking opportunities with your existing clients. If you’ll be visiting, ask for introductions to their colleagues. Have them invite someone new to your meeting – like their “Number 2” and “Number 3” person. If your request for introductions is turned down, ask your client if you can make calls to arrange quick meet-and-greets since you’ll be on site. You want to meet someone new on each trip so you’re constantly building out your network of people inside the company.

One of our clients was in town taking a buyer to lunch and asked, “Who else in the company is using the software we installed?” Turned out it was the legal department. The seller requested inviting one of its key people to lunch. The result? He met the chief legal counsel and built a relationship that led to referrals to the company’s overseas divisions and partners.

In addition to finding these kinds of opportunities with your own clients, you’re also creating security. The more known you are to the company’s employees, the more valued you’ll be  ̶  therefore more solid in your business relationship. And, if one of your contacts leaves for a different company, you’ll have a new networking opportunity.

Keep the ball rolling

When meeting with a prospect be sure to carve out the next steps. That way, it won’t come as a surprise when you follow up. For example, tell them you want to give some thought to the ideas shared. Ask if it’s okay to send an e-mail in the next few days.

And finally, be sure to send a thank-you note. Ideally it should be handwritten, but an e-mail also works. Let the prospect know you appreciated meeting with them while you were in town. This will show you’re dedicated to building a future relationship with them.  

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Optimize Your Networking While Traveling: Part 1 - Tradeshows & Conferences

A top seller once told me an excellent story about networking at tradeshows. He arrived at an event, aimed at hospital workers, and spotted yoga on the list of extracurricular activities. So, each morning at 7 a.m., he did mountain pose with fellow attendees. Now, bear in mind this was a burly, ex-Army tank man. The idea of this fellow doing yoga instead of landing clients before the booths opened was surprising to me.

His reply? “Colleen, I’m on the road to make sales to feed my family. If I’m going to spend all this time away from my wife and kids, I owe it to them to spend every single minute maximizing my relationship-building time. If that means going to yoga, I’m going to yoga. Otherwise, I’m doing a disservice to my family.”

In other words, this top seller seized opportunities around him to network. And you know what? Those yoga classes were a real door opener. During the tradeshow, people would immediately recognize him from the morning session and stop by his booth. This ultimately led to new relationships and sales.

Given that salespeople   ̶  particularly those in B2B solution sales ‒ are traveling to tradeshows and conferences more than ever, there’s now increased opportunity to network. However, it’s easy to focus on what’s right in front of you  ̶  traveling to an event, working the booth, and going to workshops ‒ and miss out on chances to build relationships.

Here are some tips to help you optimize your networking for that next event:

Be wise with your travel time

Whenever I fly to a tradeshow or conference, I use that in-air time to complete any assigned reading for classes and look through the catalogue to pinpoint workshops I’d like to attend. I also check e-mails and knock out other business from the office. That way, I’m prepared when I arrive and have extra time to meet people.

If you’re driving a few hours to an event, tackle these things before you hit the road. Or, if the tradeshow/conference is close by, consider a car or taxi service so you can take the time to go over materials. An added bonus? You won’t show up frazzled from heavy traffic or getting lost. Appearing stressed is a major turn-off to others when networking.

Make yourself visible

As I mentioned in my article, Filling Up the Sales Funnel: 12 Tips for Earning Consistent Revenues  ̶  and Commissions ‒ All Year Round, you should volunteer to speak at events you attend. The same goes for every tradeshow where you exhibit. This bumps up your creditability and directs more attendees to your booth. If you aren’t exhibiting, it still helps to submit a proposal for a workshop or showcase. If you secure a spot, let your customers know you’ll be there and when they can see you. Also invite prospects to the event and schedule for them to meet folks at your booth. When other attendees see the flow of traffic around you, it’ll peak their curiosity and draw them right over.

Fill your schedule

Going back to Mr. Yoga, make sure to maximize your networking by going to not only every workshop or class possible, but to the extracurricular activities before, during or after the event. Even if tennis or paintball aren’t things you particularly enjoy or know how to do, join up anyway and maximize every hour you have to build relationships with your fellow participants.

The same goes for mealtimes. Make sure someone, if not everyone, from your group goes to the breakfasts and luncheons instead of just standing at the booth. Meals offer great opportunities to strike up conversations with others in a more casual environment.

Talk to strangers

It’s crucial to hang out with people you don’t know to increase your chances of building new relationships. Avoid the classic mistake of sticking with the people you came with. Remember, your colleagues aren’t the ones who are buying from you!

Delay the trip home

Even at the end of a tradeshow/conference, you can further optimize your networking by scheduling to fly out the next morning. I find this gives me more time to attend any closing activities without being rushed to catch a flight home. This is also great for wrap-up meetings with new contacts and for joining a smaller group of people who are also interested in some final networking.

By the way, when I suggest flying out in the morning, I truly mean fly out in the morning! No matter what time of year you’re traveling, you’re less likely to have flight delays, cancellations and other travel hassles if you avoid rush hour at the end of the day.

Business, then pleasure

When you’re on your way home, it’s the same rule of thumb as before. Use those flight hours to catch up on e-mails and take care of other business-related matters. That way, you can truly unwind when you get home and give your undivided attention to your family and friends. Aside from being crucial to everyone’s life, this personal time will also recharge your batteries so you’ll be ready for sales action come morning.  

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Know Your Ideal Client

You may have seen that Audi commercial featuring Star Trek actors Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto. The “old-school” and “new-school” Spocks race their cars to the golf course  ̶  Mercedes-Benz vs. Audi  ̶  in a battle of one-upmanship. It’s a blend of pop culture with images of success: high-end technology, swanky cars and famous actors.

This commercial illustrates that Audi knows its market: the young, hip and economically thriving. Forget all other drivers. This is what I call “ruthless discrimination.” Having the ability to say “no” to others in favor of your ideal buyer.

The most profitable companies in the future will be those who, like Audi, choose a target audience. Why? Because markets are rapidly growing and adding new buyers. That means more demand of time and energy for selling. That is, if we keep thinking all buyers are created equal.

Too many sales teams sell to those who don’t meet ideal targets or who won’t ever buy. The best companies I work with, however, clearly define their target market and sell only to them. They say “no” to buyers that don’t match their criteria.

Think about it. Ruthless discrimination frees up time for your most promising customers, allowing you to reduce closing cycles and sell more with less time and energy. Another bonus? With an ideal target, you can customize your information to attract that target buyer.

Now you’re thinking, “Great! But how do I get started?!” It takes two steps to find your target clientele. First, identify what they look like.

Target ‘worth’ and ‘willingness’

Base your best buyer list on your most lucrative and sustainable clients  ̶  making them your benchmark. Look at your current customers and ask yourself:

·         How much are they worth to me?

·         How willing are they to buy?

Better yet, consider creating a graphic of 4 squares; Your Ideal Target:

List the companies that have “Worth To You” vertically and “Willingness to Buy” horizontally. Place those that match both criteria in the bottom left square. Then, record the clients with both characteristics in the top right quadrant.

Now, note any further similarities:

·         Are they from specific industries?

·         Similar in size?

·         In similar geographic areas?

·         What’s their organizational structure? (Public, private, family owned, non-profit?)

·         What’s the title of the buyer?

·         What’s the average order size?

·         How long did they take to close?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be closer to finding your ideal target. Let’s move on to step two.

Find your niche

This time, we’re identifying your ideal “market segment.” By doing this, you’ll build solid relationships and establish a proven reputation more quickly than with a broad market approach. You likely have ideal customers and segments now but  ̶  if you’re like most salespeople ‒ they’re a small portion of your client list. And you haven’t clearly identified them!

Ask yourself, “Who are my best buyers?” In the business market, your ideal clients might be the biggest companies ‒ Fortune 100 if you sell internationally or the largest businesses in your area if you sell locally.

If you’re in the consumer market  ̶  a dentist, real estate broker or financial adviser ‒ your top customers are likely in the best neighborhoods. They have the most money and biggest sphere of influence. Look at your client list, identify where your best ones live, and then market to more customers in those neighborhoods. You’ll use the same amount of effort to nurture this ideal buyer as a general buyer  ̶  and I guarantee it’ll bring you higher profits!

Consider further what your current clients all have in common:

Are they…

·         Privately held or publicly traded?

·         Government organizations or consulting companies?

·         International or domestic?

·         All run by women?

Once you’ve found that common thread weaving together this “best of the best” list, use the same criteria to ruthlessly discriminate with potential clients.

Achieve record growth

Donald’s goal, when he first came to me, was to reach a million dollars in sales from temporary staffing jobs. His database revealed his best customers were in one specific market. We told him, “Be the number one provider,” for all the companies with that particular need.  

Next, we recommended he expand that group. Since the customers were all food producers, we asked him to consider the beverage, dairy and pet food industry. To branch off from that one target he was pursuing. As a result, Donald exceeded his target by 90 percent. Instead of a million in sales, he achieved $1.9 million! He zeroed in on a market and expanded to even more ideal clients. He displaced the competition by becoming an expert in his area. Sales became effortless. Amazingly, Donald achieved this record-smashing growth while those in his staffing market were being upended by the recession!

Targeting and becoming specialized works for small companies like Donald’s as well as for large firms. Consumer credit giant Experian segments its most strategic sellers by target market. Antivirus giants Trend Micro and McAfee also create sales teams by market size, and The Royal Bank of Canada divides its sellers by product type and scope of market. All are great examples of companies in a “nonstop sales boom.”

We’ve now found your ideal buyer and you can start ruthlessly discriminating. Find what works best for you. Whether it’s focusing on a specific geographic area, product specialty or service offering, the possibilities are endless. The key is finding customers you enjoy working with and vice versa. Determine their needs and concentrate on selling in a way that fulfills those needs

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Beware the Oversell

One day, while in my former job with Open Text, I saw a deal quickly turn sour thanks to a common yet risky sales tactic. My over-enthusiastic salesperson, on the brink of closing, tells the client, “This product is exciting because not only will it give you A, B and C ‒ which you want  ̶  but also D, E and F, which you’ll really love!” Immediately the client begins to backpedal. Maybe we’re paying too much with D, E and F added in? Maybe this product is too complicated? Do we even need D, E and F?

Overselling: The act of telling the customer they’re getting more than they need when they don’t require it, didn’t specify it and may never use it.

This is a dangerous sales approach for two reasons. First, your client will always be tempted to ask if they’re paying too much for a product that contains more than they need. Second, and even worse, you’ve raised expectations that you’ll always deliver more than the client requested.

To bypass this tricky situation, it’s important to be careful, be honest and be specific to the client’s needs. Overselling could mean no sales at all.

Here are tips to avoid the oversell trap and to close that deal:

Identify the client’s criteria for success

Find out what’s important to your client. Be sure your definition of success is consistent with theirs. NEVER assume you already know what a client wants. Great salespeople excel at helping people gain clarity. Why? Because to successfully sell or deliver good service you need to be clear about a client’s needs and wants.

Start off by asking leading, questions to clarify your assumptions such as:

·         You mentioned that A, B and C are important to you. Which is the most important?

·         When you say you don’t want to spend too much, what exactly do you mean?

·         What are your most important criteria for success?

Dive deep with additional questions

If your client is being vague with their answers, it could mean they haven’t thought the situation through. Or, they don’t want to speak the truth and be held accountable for their answers. Or, they’re simply afraid to take action.

When things are unclear, it helps to ask the client further open-ended discovery questions. Be sure to show empathy when presenting them. Explain that your questions are intended to help you better understand the client’s needs, prevent misunderstandings and deliver what they’re looking for.

Ask questions like the following:

·         What are your top three priorities for defining the success of this project?

·         Specifically, what is most important to you?

·         What needs to be in place for you to feel this project has been a complete success?

·         What does a successful project look like?

Then, continue with as many of these clarification questions as you need to ensure you are clear on the client’s definition of success:

·         How will you know when you have reached that level of success?

·         Can you give me some more background on that?

·         Can you provide me with an example?

·         When you say________, what do you mean by that?

·         Is that critical?

·         How important is that compared with ________ (insert some other criteria as a point of comparison)?

Specify through example

If your client is still unclear, introduce some common challenges they might identify with. It’s always easier for clients to discuss problems (especially with salespeople) when they hear that others are having the same issues, too. In this case, it works to ask closed-ended (yes/no) questions to help them determine what is or isn’t working.

You might start the conversation like this:

John, many executives tell me that although they’re happy with their business results, they have ongoing concerns with ________ (name a problem your product addresses). Is that what you meant when we were chatting about how you________?

The key is to pick one or two serious yet everyday problems your product can solve. That way, it’s almost guaranteed your client will recognize the issues and say, “Hey, those are problems for me, too!”

Follow up with clarifying questions such as:

·         How is that affecting you?

·         How long have you had the problem?

·         What have you done to try and resolve it?

Confirm and close the deal

Once you and your client are on the same page, it’s time to land that sale. Conversations that are question-based and focused on the client’s needs will ensure you have the criteria to close the deal. By demonstrating you want to deliver precisely what’s asked for, you’ll create a win-win situation for you and your client that can ultimately lead to ongoing sales and service  ̶  as well as referrals. Honest and thorough communication, not overselling, is the only way to uncover the real criteria for success and to give the customer exactly what they need ‒ NOT more.

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Which Clients to Up and Cross Sell with a Fraction of the Effort

Up selling and cross selling are profitable selling tactics. In fact, leveraging your current pool of clients is one of the best ways to increase your sales. I call this looking for incremental sales opportunities (ISO) But, to make these strategies effective, you need to be able to identify which clients you should approach.

The Sales Leader Classification System will help you identify which of your clients you should target with these tactics. The system helps you use levels of engagement and potential to group your clients into one of four categories: Maintenance, Key, Service or Growth Potential Accounts.

As discussed in an earlier post, you can also use this system to measure client growth. When you measure growth, take the time to reassess each account’s classification and change it if necessary. This process will help you discover which clients to approach with up and cross selling tactics.

For example, Key Accounts and Growth Potential Accounts are both characterized as having high potential for ISOs. Knowing this, you can focus your sales efforts on clients in these categories.

On the other hand, Maintenance and Service Accounts don’t have much room for growth, so looking for ISOs won’t be effective.

When you correctly classify your accounts, spend time measuring their growth, and understand how to use their classifications to your advantage, you can decide which ones to approach with sales pitches in a fraction of the time and with comparably little effort.

Growing Your Accounts

Keep in mind that it’s likely that some of your accounts will grow, shifting into a new classification. In fact, that is what you want. If you can bring some of your clients from the Service Accounts category to the Growth Potential category, you will have even more opportunities for increased sales.

How do you help your accounts grow? You increase your engagement, value and time to success.

Increase Engagement

First, proactively increase the level of engagement you have with your clients. Find more ways you can be involved with the accounts, more ways you can help the client and more ways you can sell your business.

To do this, you will need to build corporate rapport – that is a relationship with many contacts inside the account - and foster a relationship of trust with your client. Create an organization chart that can help you better understand where you need to focus time and who inside the company you have not met. Think of corporate report as infiltration. When you are heavily infiltrated with the client you are an insider. Insiders are exposed to more ISOs.

Next, sit down with your client for a business review meeting or a peer-to-peer conversation where you discuss your successes, failures, goals and how you can work together more effectively.

Increase Value from Vendor to Solution to Advisor

As you become more valuable to your clients, they will become more lucrative for your business. You may start out working with a client as a vendor, but if you can change that relationship to that of a solution and then finally to an advisor, you will gain new opportunities and increase your revenue.

How do you do this? The best way to increase the value you deliver by changing your relationship through high quality communication. Use benchmarks, trends, site visits, case studies and testimonials to prove how valuable you and your products are to your clients.

Speed up the Time to Success

Your job is not done when you have closed a sale and gained a new client. You need to continue to sell yourself and your organization to your current clients. How do you do this? Stay engaged and involved with your client, making sure they start using the product quickly.  This strategy ensures value is received quickly which will encourage the client to grow.

Speeding up the time to success involves staying in touch with the client, ensuing they are enabled as quickly as possible and use the full breadth of your solution. Until they are using everything they purchased fully, the ISOs remain low.

The best sellers, those who create perpetual sales growth know that closing only ends when the client is fully enabled. As such they have redefined the closing stage in their pipelines from simply meaning “contract is signed” to “the client is participating in our solutions fully.”  When you make this transition not only do you close more clients but you keep them longer and they become more profitable.

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Unexpected Strategies Proven to Get Sales

The best clients are always experimenting with new ways to attract the best new prospects. Hosting educational events and nominating your clients for awards are two of these experiments that have proven to be extremely fruitful.  

Hosting Educational Events

An educational event provides value and teaches your clients about something related to the products or services you are selling.  They can be webinars, or in person, small or large standalone events or attached to a bigger conference. Educational events can be as simple as a breakfast meeting, or as sophisticated as a multi-day conference. Pick the format that is right for your business and market. Also consider the fact that virtual events will only be their most effective after your community has had a chance to meet face to face. For this reason, host in person educational events first, and follow it up with virtual meetings.

The key is to have a mix of current clients plus key prospects so that they can interact and share ideas. Allowing prospects to hear directly from your current clients will bolster your standing with them, which will lead to more sales. And, because your prospects are more likely to be influenced by your clients’ word than yours, these sales will close more quickly.  As a plus, when clients are sharing success stories with your prospects, their loyalty to you is confirmed and improved.

A high profile and very advanced example is Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce educational conference. Once a year, thousands of current clients, as well as prospective clients wanting to learn more about the product, take over San Francisco for this user conference that features best practices, and seminars. Dreamforce is the must attend educational event for the CRM community. Many potential customers attend as part of their research and due diligence because they know that they will be able to speak personally with current Salesforce.com customers and receive real-life examples. They’re eager to learn whether or not the software is as good as the sellers claim. 

This educational event works to convert prospects because they feel an increased level of control. They are able to learn about the software on their own terms rather than being sold to. 

Regardless of the scale or scope of your event, try to implement three key practices from Dreamforce:

1.    Discuss industry trends, problems, challenges and opportunities your clients face.

2.    Show them how to use your products and services to the highest potential

3.    Carefully decide who you will invite and choose clients and prospects that can relate to each other.  

Another less complex example of an educational event is a road show where you and your clients speak to present case studies. You’re able to demonstrate to prospects what you can do for them. You can also present this material via an interactive webinar where you ask your clients questions or have a panel discussion.

Giving away executable  value in your market will enhance your reputation in any industry while cementing your reputation as an expert  These educational events act as a promotional tool that show potential clients that not only are you are interested in their businesses, but you want to help them succeed.

I know it may seem counterintuitive, but offering a free educational event for prospective clients will increase your closing conversion rate. Giving people a sample of what you have to offer is typically exactly what they need to persuade them to work with you.

Nominating Your Clients for Business Awards

First, make sure it’s OK with your client that you nominate them. Not all clients like the limelight.

This approach works because once a client is nominated, shortlisted and invited to the event, they will invite you to attend with them. At the event, they will introduce and promote you to their friends, family, colleagues and others in a positive light. After all, you nominated them for an award!  These individuals can prove to be valuable referrals and connections which can help you boost sales in the future.

But, even if your client isn’t invited to an event (or if there isn’t an event associated with the award) this strategy will still benefit you. The client will be grateful for the gesture and you will be adding value for them. Doing so will help you retain their business and turn them into advocates when you try to sell more to them.

Your client will also most likely tell their colleagues, friends and connections about their nomination, which can lead to valuable referrals that will boost your sales.

We have seen success by nominating clients for awards on multiple occasions. Here is a personal example. A few years ago, a woman I nominated as the Female Entrepreneur Of The Year invited me to sit at a table with 6 other local CEO’s at the gala dinner. At the end of the night, I had secured meeting requests from 4 of them.

At first blush, hosting educational events and nominating your clients for awards may not seem like sales strategies, but don’t be fooled! These strategies offer a 1, 2 punch! You’re enhancing your current relationships while putting yourself in a position to meet new prospects. Not to mention, when you put your happy clients and your ideal prospects together, you convert leads into clients faster than ever before.

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Two Events You Can Use to Get More Sales

You will stand out, get noticed, and speed up sales if you organize client conferences and power lunches.

Why? Because hosting events that encourage clients and prospects to network with each other allows you to leverage current relationships to build new ones.

Let me explain how.

Client Conferences

Client conferences offer the chance for clients and prospects to interact with you as well as each other. Just keep in mind that “conferences” don’t mean only in-person events. They can be any gathering, in person or virtual that bring many people together in one space. 

You can include banquets, holiday parties, summer gatherings, networking events, presentations, webinars, luncheons and multi day conferences. You could even piggy-back on an industry conference and host your own event before or after the show.

The type of event you hold isn’t as important as what is accomplished. As you plan the event:

1.    First, keep in mind who to invite. Strategically choose the clients that are loyal enthusiasts and who share common elements with your most important prospects.

2.    Next, set specific goals, of landing specific sales or building stronger relationships.

3.    Finally, spark conversations between current and potential clients by seating them together at tables, making introductions and allowing time for networking or questions during the event.

For example, before they were bought, restaurant point-of-sales software company Posersa hosted six annual meetings across the country to train their best clients on how to use their system more effectively to generate more restaurant sales. The events were free and provided a chance for clients to interact with each other as well as with company experts to learn to use their systems more profitably. Further, these elite clients were also taught how to attract new diners and grow their business. Finally, in attendance were a small selection of key prospects invited by the local sales team. At these meetings they had the chance to interact with both the clients and the experts presenting.

Whenever you have the chance to introduce your best clients to your best prospects the result is an increase in sales.

Involve Your Clients

Getting your current clients involved in the event is a great way to highlight your services and show potential clients what you can do for them. You can leverage your current clients by asking them to give a presentation, which will allow potential clients to hear directly from your current clients.

Our team has seen some amazing results with this strategy. For example, a few years ago, Engage Selling Solutions began working with a small-business telecommunications manufacturing company. With our help, a senior executive within the firm spearheaded a bold initiative to create an event focused on bringing key clients and key prospects together. Doing so, meant confronting one of their biggest fears—that their clients would just use this forum as an opportunity to complain about what was wrong with their product!

Instead, three interesting things happened. First, the clients began offering suggestions about product features, leading to entirely new applications that had never been considered before. Second, the company suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves with a wealth of success stories as their customers began to share with them and with each other all the ways that they were using their product. Third, the firm’s clients became deeply loyal, not just because they felt their input was valued, but also because they had a new sense of personal ownership in the new direction of the firm. And fourth, sales rolled in from the prospects who were in attendance because they were able to connect with clients directly and hear about their successes.

The outcome was ongoing. Referrals skyrocketed, leading to increased sales; and the sales continued to boom nonstop quarter after quarter for several years.

Power Lunches

Another, more intimate event, is a power lunch. A power lunch is not meant to benefit you directly, but to develop client-to-client sales and add value for your client. As you do this, your clients will be more willing to advocate on your behalf when you ask them to buy more from you.

A power lunch is as simple as taking two clients, or a small group to lunch so they can meet and talk about their businesses together. Where possible, try to connect peers who could benefit from knowing each other because they might be able to do business together. You will improve your relationships, which will lead to referrals. And, what could be better for building loyalty than when they credit you for helping them expand their business or find a new partner?

For example, an Engage client in industrial sales purchased a table for a local high profile fundraising event. He invited the CEOs of his seven biggest customers and prospects to join him at the table and they were able to network with each other. After the event he reported to me that it was a bigger success than anticipated because although they all were CEOs of local companies in similar markets, none of them had ever happened to meet personally. My client had created that opportunity. The connections made at the event strengthened the seller’s community and led to direct referrals to many other—and wildly disparate—CEOs with whom these powerful clients thought he should be doing business with.

Another Engage client in the business products market makes it a habit to have lunch each week with two clients who don’t know each other but should. By connecting his clients he creates a small but powerful community that his clients can leverage to create more value in their markets and that he can leverage to create more referrals, more testimonials, and ultimately more sales.

These corporate peer connections are invaluable for business to grow. When you facilitate them among your best clients either internally among themselves or externally with prospects you create growth.

Power lunches have an added bonus: they get people talking about you. Look at power lunches as investments that will provide long-term benefits. When clients recognize your relationship as something valuable, they will be more likely to continue doing business with you and to turn to you when they have a need.

Your goal for client conferences and power lunches is to leverage your current client base to get more clients, which is a powerful way to increase your sales.

Smart, successful companies today recognize the power that results from bringing people together. They don’t settle for sales teams who operate in isolation. They create client events and communities where everybody can learn from each other and gain from that expertise.

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How to Find Out What Your Clients Need

Have you ever wished you could find out what a client really wanted? While it would be a fun trick to read their minds, we can’t all be the Amazing Kreskin! Instead, let’s focus on what’s real, and what you can do differently this year to uncover what your clients really want and send your sales skyrocketing.

Host regular client advisory panels.

This one thing is the easiest way to get inside the mind of your clients and find out how you can do your job better, produce more products they want, and offer services they will by often.

What is an Advisory Panel?

An advisory panel is a meeting between you, members of your team and a group of your clients. The goal of the meeting is to discuss industry trends and your clients’ needs. It should be an open brainstorming session about what should be coming next.

Panels allows your sales team, your product development team, and other people in your business to become more client or market focused. Everyone will have a clear vision of what the client needs, paving the way for success in your business.

As a bonus, panels will also establish loyalty and create advocacy among your clients, which leads to increased sales, and referrals.

One last thing. An Advisory Panel is NOT a place for sales pitches! It’s a place only for open dialogue between your clients and your team.

Plan an Advisory Panel in Four Steps

In just five steps, you can plan and host an advisory panel that will uncover what your clients really want.

1. Host a Panel Four Times a Year at the Best Location

Hold advisory panels four times a year to get the most from this strategy. Hold it at a nice location, like a top-notch hotel or a high-class resort. Choose a destination people want to come to and that is easy to visit in just one day, so you won’t be taking too much of your clients’ time.

2. Hire a Third-Party Facilitator

Hire a third-party facilitator so your clients won’t feel like you are leading the agenda and to keep the conversation positive and efficient. A facilitator will also be able to guide the day and brainstorm without bias, which is a valuable contribution.

Another reason to hire a third-party facilitator is to prevent the conversation from becoming defensive. If your clients start criticizing your services, the facilitator will guide the conversation back to where it should be, and you won’t have to become defensive, which will ruin the tone of the meeting.

3. Keep the Conversation Positive, with No Competition

Don’t invite your two fiercest competitors to the same advisory panel. A competitive environment won’t lead to very effective conversations, and your advisory panel won’t be very beneficial.

Invite a broad range of clients that represent a variety of industries so you can get a good perspective on how your clients feel and what their needs are. The more points of view you have in your advisory panel, the more helpful it will be.

4. Cover Attendees’ Expenses

Cover your attendees’ expenses. Pay for their airfare and travel costs, reserve hotel rooms for them and provide lunch during the panel. Make this an easy experience for your clients and be very accommodating so that you foster loyalty and a positive atmosphere.

5. Act on your results

After you host an advisory panel immediately act on your findings. Reflect on what you heard from your clients, specifically about their needs, find ways to be their solution and implement your ideas.

The Importance of Listening to Your Clients

Listening to your clients will help you see your products and services in a new way and help you find out exactly what your market needs, so you will make more sales. Here is an example.

A few years ago, I began working with a small-business telecommunications company that offered no opportunity for their clients to provide feedback on the products, or sales process, and they were losing clients at an unacceptable rate each month. With my help, this company decided it was time to do things radically differently.

A senior executive within the firm spearheaded a bold initiative to create a client advisory panel. Doing this meant confronting one of their biggest fears—that their clients would just use the forum as an opportunity to complain about what was wrong with their product.

Instead, three interesting things happened. First, the clients began offering suggestions about product features, leading to entirely new applications that had never been considered before. Second, the company suddenly found themselves with a range of success stories as their customers began to share with them and with each other all the ways that they were using their product. Third, the firm’s clients became deeply loyal, not just because they felt their input was valued, but also because they had a new sense of personal ownership in the new direction of the firm. The outcome of this panel was immediate. Referrals skyrocketed leading to increased sales and continued to do so quarter after quarter for several years.

As you work to make sales, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know what your clients want and need. However, it’s likely that you have overlooked some of your clients’ needs or haven’t recognized that their needs have changed. Advisory panels ensure you don’t fall into this trap because the give you valuable immediate feedback direct from those that matter most!  

Your paying clients.

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GROWTH MINDSET

I find that there are typically two mindsets when it comes to business; a Sales mindset and an Operational mindset. With rare exception I find that business owners and executives have a preference for one or the other, which in turn influences their approach to managing their business and customer relationships. Unfortunately these mindsets are not mutually exclusive. In fact these differing frames of mind can often blur decision making ability.
 
During a talk this past week with over 300 Financial Executives I discussed the impact these two mindsets can have on business performance and provided the following perspective:

After you sell a product or service you must deliver on the customer's perception of your commitment. Failing to do so diminishes your chance of making a sale again.
 
There is only one mindset that matters in business; one that focuses on what the customer values. Everything else is waste.
 
Customer value helps us identify:

  • What offerings Marketing should create to appeal to and attract customers.
  • How Sales should position these offerings when meeting and interacting with the customer, and
  • How Operations should organize their people, processes and technology to deliver the desired value.

 
So here are a couple of questions to focus your mindset:

  1. What do your customers value in your products and services? Has your sales team asked them? Have you asked them?
  2. Are your Operations focused on processes that are self-serving, or those that directly contribute value to internal and external customers?

Of course you can choose to disregard these questions and risk remaining disconnected from your customers. But seeing how that has gone for Edward Lampert and Ron Johnson, I would suggest a "customer value" based mindset is the better approach.

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