Archive for the ‘Sales’ Category

Boastful, confident or diffident – which is best?

Yes, you’d think the answer’s a no brainer yet achieving the optimum mindset and behaviour is not a slam dunk.

Decades ago I learned when interviewing potential sales people for our department that most of the male applicants would be assertive (often verging on aggressive), “bigging up” the skills and abilities they already possessed, and their track record. The input from the majority of females on the other hand would be more along the lines of “I think I can do this job well with the right training”.

Since we invariably preferred to instill our own Thomson methods of training we were more interested in raw material potential than evidence of often bad sales techniques and habits that we’d have to train out to make way for what we wanted to train in… And we made it plain in our recruitment campaigns that experience was not necessary as full training would be given… Yet even so, the guys, by and large, exhibited what’s often referred to as the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” during the selection interviews.

Years later, when looking for interviewers for a substantial telephone marketing research campaign on behalf of a b2b client, determined not to be labelled as being descriminatory against either sex I interviewed guys and gals and came across exactly the same syndrome. I stressed that experience was not essential – a good , clear voice, pleasant personality and the ability to listen and make accurate notes was. I took on five of each yet by the end of two weeks had dispensed with the services of the guys: They just couldn’t get the interviews…


In my opinion this just doesn’t work. When I was going after a promotion to a management position many years ago one piece of advice was “Act like you already have the job” to which I responded: “I’ll act like I have the job once I get it – I’m not going about ordering my colleagues around in the meantime…”.

  • I was wrong and
  • The advice wasn’t specific enough

I believe what my well-meaning advisor actually meant was: “Think of the qualities displayed by those you admire who are already holding a similar position, and demonstrate that you, too, have those qualities (whether you get the job or not).” And I would have bought into that whole-heartedly.

Think about the examples here and see if they apply to you or any of your employees. Then see how you can help yourself or them to raise the game… :-)

My thanks to Lindy Asimus for starting me off on this train of thought… :-)

Is your networking not working?

Or maybe it’s not working as consistently well as you’d like? Well you could be in luck because I’ve discovered there’s now a networking University course on offer!

I didn’t register when I first visited a couple of weeks or so ago because the site seemed to me to want a lot of information from me, the potential “student”, without divulging much at all of what’s on offer… other than the name of a handful of modules, nothing about what cost and effort would be involved… and zilch information about who’s behind it and what their credentials are.

Returning to the site yesterday to research some more for us all I see that it’s changed out of all recognition, in look and feel anyway. The course “modules” that were headlined there then that I could see without registering have moved here and I see that the course appears to be of six modules, each one of 4 weeks duration. But I still can see nothing of any substance (sorry guys, nameless photographs and national flags don’t account to much) about who’s running it or their credentials. And still no upfront mention of cost…

Sharp End Training is the company offering this course. From its main site, appears to specialise in online training for small businesses – from building a website, using WordPress, writing a book… to individuals in employment – writing a CV, interview skills… And they’re currently using the main site to promote networking as their flagship course… I suspect because it’s likely to be the highest ticket one. Well, that’s enough free promotion for them!

So, what do I think?

With the varied results – from useless to reasonable to spectacular – that different people get frome their networking activities it would seem that some could do with a bit of help…

But is this online “university” (?) course over a 24-week period the best answer? I’ve no idea from the limited information that’s currently openly published on their site (and no price anywhere)

I need to confess something here so you can decide whether or not this me doing a bit of “Bah! Humbug!” I rarely do it here but this has prodded me into action and it’s time for my own bit of promotion…

I created an ebook on networking a few years ago: Opening Doors. And I drafted in expertise from business people whose skills I respect to add extra value. Gratifyingly, with hardly any promotion, it sold moderately well and continues to with hardly any atention from me until such times as I see other offerings that make me relook at my own. This was such a case for me and I wouldn’t mind betting that many of you have several “moments” too! :-)

Back to my book: Apart from some of the online and offline networks I refer to, some of which have changed, most of the content is not time sensitive and, at £24.95 (approx $US39.42 according to an online exchange calculation and conversion today), it’s exceptionally good value, even if I do say so myself! 😉 but it’s probably more useful for you to hear from somebody else:

Andy Lopata – Business Networking and Referrals Strategist says:

“This book is the perfect guide to ‘how to network’. Not simply the skills of working the room, but the approach, preparation and planning that need to go into networking effectively. Linda explains with beautiful clarity just what networking is, banishing many misconceptions in the process, and how important it is to the modern business. Opening Doors is immensely practical and written with good humour and common sense.”

So here’s an early snippet from the book


Some reasons why you might network

Is it any or all of:

  • Part of your overall marketing ‘mix’ to attract more business
  • An alternative way to cold calling to get business
  • To access and tap into the support of a group
  • To better get to know the needs of other businesses in your community
  • To collaborate or find potential new business partner(s) to promote your business
  • To raise your company’s visibility
  • To raise your own visibility and look for job/ career progression
  • To find potential employees for your company

Or is it any one of a number of other or additional ways you believe that networking will open doors for you and commercially propel you forwards and upwards? Maybe you’re a sole trader who just wants to meet, mix and socialize with other business people. Each and every reason is valid.

The point of this session is that, once we’re absolutely clear about what we want our networking activities to help us achieve, we stand a far better chance of getting the best results…

Bottom line

If your networking isn’t working as well as you want and need it to – get out there and do something about it! :-)

What help do you need or what advice could you give? Why not share here!
photo credit: JodiWomack via photo pin cc
photo credit: Executives International via photo pin cc

Is it “Goodbye” to Solution Selling and “Hello” to Insight Selling?

There are three real nuggets here that you can use in your business, so I’d stick with this post to the end or bookmark it and come back to it if you’re in a rush (or both, if you like :-) !)

As is often the case, it started with a not-overtly-enticing breadcrumb… that lead me to a trail of much tastier morsels… that enabled me to piece together the analysis of results of several different surveys/ studies (by the Corporate Executive Board at harvard Business School) from different angles and perspectives of those involved in the sales/ buying process of complex b2b purchases.

Now, don’t be put off by either “complex” or “b2b” if you think these don’t pply to your business – hang on in there and you’ll see why it’s worth it! :-)

It started with an email from a colleague with link to a post in the Harvard Business Review about the best sales people avoiding “talkers”.

The first seemed to be little more than another labelling exercise of customer contact types based on analysis of over 700 b2b business purchases. Here are the types, so you can see what you make of them for yourself:

Customer contact types

  1. Go-Getters: Motivated by organizational improvement and constantly looking for good ideas, Go-Getters champion action around great insights wherever they find them
  2. Teachers: Passionate about sharing insights and ideas, teachers are sought out by colleagues for their input. They’re especially good at persuading others to take a specific course of action
  3. Skeptics: Wary of large complicated projects, Skeptics push back on almost everything. Even when championing a new idea, they’ll counsel careful, measured implementation
  4. Guides: Willing to share the organization’s latest gossip, Guides furnish information that is typically unavailable to outsiders
  5. Friends: Just as nice as the name suggests, Friends are readily accessible and happily help reps network with other stakeholders in the organization
  6. Climbers: Focused primarily on personal gain, Climbers back projects that will raise their own profiles, and they expect to be rewarded when those projects succeed
  7. Blockers: Perhaps better described as “anti-stakeholders,” Blockers are strongly oriented toward the status quo. They have little interest in speaking to outside vendors

Usefulness of this information?

I’ve seen research like this on several occasions and, in my opinion, the information is only as good as the ability of the individual sales person to spot these characteristics early enough in the game to minimise wasted time and concentrate on the players that will help move things forward… And if they’re that good, surely they don’t really need the labels to help them???

Just as I was about to move hastily on to more worthwhile pursuits I hit on the second – “The End of Solutions Sales” link to another article which claims that the top 20% elite and most successful b2b sales reps no longer use solution-based selling… Now, bearing in mind the small business owner is often his or her own chief rep, I figured we should share these findings here… and that leads us nicely onto the second nugget:

  • A key finding in one of the CEB’s studies that involved over 1,400 b2b companies was that nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision was made before any initial conversation with a supplier
  • Customers are a lot more knowledgeable these days about their own needs and the various solutions available to them…
  • Now is it making a wild leap to suggest that in over half of cases the customer has gone through all the information gathering, long list, specifications, and so on and drawn up a short list of contenders before you’re even aware they’re in the market to buy? And by this stage the only influence you have may well be on price.

    Not ideal, huh? So what are the key considerations?

    Let’s look at the main differences between solution selling and what the CEB call Insight selling for some clues that make up the third nugget:

    Solution Selling V Insight Selling

    What kind of company to target?
    Solution selling: Organizations that have a clear vision and established demands
    Insight Selling: Agile organizations that have emerging demands or are in a state of flux

    What sort of initial information to gather?
    Solution selling: What need is the customer seeking to address?
    Insight Selling: What unrecognized need does the customer have?

    When to engage?
    Solution selling: After the customer has identified a problem the supplier can solve
    Insight Selling: Before the customer has pinpointed a problem

    How to begin the conversation?
    Solution selling: Ask questions about the customer’s need and look for a “hook” for your solution
    Insight Selling: Offer provocative insights about what the customer should do

    How to direct the flow of information?
    Solution selling: Ask questions so that the customer can steer you through its purchasing process
    Insight Selling: Coach the customer about how to buy, and support it throughout the process

    Usefulness of this information?

    In my opinion, now we’re getting somewhere! :-) We can see that the Super Star Elite are cleverly positioning themselves as a trusted authority – even before the customer realises there’s a need for one by:

    • Evaluating prospects according to different criteria from those used by other reps, targeting agile organizations in a state of instability, change or transmission rather than ones with a clear understanding of their needs
    • Seeking out a very different set of stakeholders: Now this is where that first research I virtually pooh-poohed comes into its own! It turns out that the average rep hooks up with Guides, Friends and Climbers – aka Talkers – whereas our elite and most successful top 20% cultivate Go-Getters, Teachers, and Skeptics – aka Change Agents – in their customer dealings
    • Concentrating on coaching those chosen customer contacts how to buy, not about their company’s purchasing process

    How about this approach for you?

    Is it sound? Yes.
    Is it new? Quite frankly, not particularly – I remember using it it in exploratory complex sales situations back in the ’90s and I’m sure I wasn’t the first! So, to my mind it just has a fancy new label :-)
    Who’s it for? If you’re in any kind of value service/ industry where your knowledge and expertise are a strong part of your offer
    Can you use it easily? Yes. In fact if you’re not trained in sales you’ll probably find it a more natural way to sell than many others
    Should you use it? Absolutely if you don’t want to be reduced to a commodity where your offer will be bought on price.

    So, a quick recap

    Types of potential customers
    Types of contacts

    I’d love to know: How useful has this been to you and what would you like to add? :-)

    photo credit: schnaars via photo pin cc

Innovation? Forget Silicone Valley USA: Think Sheffield, UK!

Anyone who’s been in sales going back a number of years will be familiar with the oft used scenario of selling widgets in training videos. And we trainee sales people always thought: “How boring!”

Imagine then how intrigued I was to read recently about how a Yorkshire man’s widget has become a (somewhat sexy, even) global brand!

How it started

The man in question is Hugh Facey who, as the story goes, was a successful salesman for a wire company back in the 1980s. A farmer challenged him that surely there was a quicker and more efficient way to attach two bits of wire together than was currently practised – grappling around with a pair of pliers and knots? Now I haven’t spoken to the entrepreneur so I don’t know whether it was a genuine desire to solve a perennial and time consuming task that faced many of his customers that spurred him
on to invent the simple yet brilliant Gripple (the size of a matchbox), but by 1989 he’d come up with the idea and set up his own company to make it.

Now think a bit wider about the applications: Wine and fruit industries rely on trellises to hold up their crops and the Gripple offered a way to repair and even construct wire fencing in a fraction of the time, saving thousands of labour hours. Gripple won the Grand Prix du President (highest accolade of France’s design contest, the Concours Lepine), in 1990. And joined the elite ranks of inventions such as the contact lens, and the ballpoint pen… The Prince of Wales Award for Innovation came the following year.

Gripple Europe was established in 2000 and Gripple Inc the following year

And the (not-so-humble) widget was just the start!

Hugh realised there were so far untapped applications for the Gripple in the construction industry – and his systems of wires and Gripples are now used for lighting for example instead of beams for buildings in earthquake zones. Loadhog, a sister company has been established to provide better distribution solutions… And now, at a time when many business owners would love to be taking things a bit easier, Hugh’s company has expanded to three factories and he is insistent that at least a quarter of sales come from products less than four years old.

Innovation, innovation, innovation!

The company has won the Queen’s Award for Eneterprise in every category at least once.

There is an Ideas and Innovation Centre in the newest factory, and the company employs a dozen engineers to use their imagination and push the boundaries. They have twelve police forces looking at an new system for taking forensic moulds of footprints – it takes 5 minutes instead of half an hour and is more accurate…

Forget PC: Think Commonsense and Community!

No accountants run Mr F’s business and there is no personnel department. All staff currently have to buy at least a £1,000 of shares by the end of their first year of employment and the long term plan is to make the business employee-owned, limited by guarantee.

The company has managed to maximise its energy efficiency, decrease electricity use, reduce landfill/incinerated waste, increase recycling, conserve our use of raw materials, and minimise packaging.

Each year it donates a percentage of its profits to charity as well as dreaming up and participating in fundraising events. Take a look at their 2011 newsletter for inspiration, though I personally think the two jailbreak winners – who blagged their way from Sheffield to Marmaris in Turkey within 48 hours and without spending a bean get my vote!

This isn’t an advertisement for a company. It’s an inspirational story that shows an example of manufacturing that’s alive and well in a corner of Sheffield and can be profitable and sexy when approached with an open and enquiring mind and not attached to a “that’s the way it’s always been done” attitude!

What could you learn from this guy and how could you apply it to your thinking and your company?

The Gripple and Loadhog web sites
Robert Hardman’s great article in the Daily Mail

Not getting the results you want?

The world is changing at, some say, an alarming pace… What worked yesterday might no longer work today and what works today might suddenly not work tomorrow.

Is this cause for hand wringing and despair? :-(

Not necessarily if we’re
a) Keeping our eyes open to what’s going on around us and
b) Prepared to change the way we do things and, maybe even what we do

So let’s have a quick look at the basics. In cases where you’re not getting the results/ outcomes you want, here are a couple of tips.

3 questions to ask yourself:

1: “What is it I really want from this business?”

There are always underlying ‘why’s to wanting material results, such as:

  • A great way of life for me/ and my family
  • Financial freedom
  • Pay for the kids education
  • Pay off the mortgage with enough over for a decent lifestyle
  • Something I look forward to doing each day – that gives me a buzz – that I can never imagine retiring from

And then you need to be able to describe what each of the above would look like)

Whatever your answers, they needs to be strong enough and mean enough for you to shift from wherever you are to somewhere better or you just won’t bother… If they do, you can ask yourself:

2: “What is it I need to do differently to create different and better results?”

Now the answer to this little beauty could include all sorts of areas to test:

  • Strategy
  • Product/ service
  • Message/ pitch
  • Target audience
  • Positioning and pricing
  • Focus/ concentration of effort

This can be a bit tricky as it’s unlikely to be just one thing. And so it’s imperative to bring in the old direct marketing adage here which is to change only one thing at a time and measure pre- and post change results before implementing and testing any other changes.

Why? Because otherwise you’ll never know which of your changes caused the different results you get! 😉

Another helpful question is:

3: “Where am I currently and how does that compare to where I want to be?”

You can then identify the gap between the two, do a gap analysis, define what’s missing and, finally, decide what actions are required to bridge the gap.

You may find you have all the skills and tools you need to work it all out for yourself or you may need help in some areas but at least you’re addressing the problem and not burying your head in the sand or running away from it! :-)

By the way, I’m asking these questions with the intention of applying them to business. When I step back and think from a different angle they can in fact be applied to all sorts of things, can’t they? Health/ fitness/ exercise/ diet, relationships… 😉

Have you tried any of these when you’ve been “up against it” and, if so with what outcomes? Or maybe you have your own favourite questions you’d like to share with us?

How Does Your Business Acumen Score?

I came across this at the back end of last year and thought I’d share it with you. I was making notes while listening to this presentation so it’s not word-for-word transcript but the gist and meaning is accurate.

Score yourself whichever number most closely describes your situation then we’ll look a little more closely at this exercise 😉

  1. You’ve studied a lot, done nothing and made no money
  2. You’ve studied a lot, done a few things and made less than you’ve spent
  3. You’ve studied a lot, tried several approaches, made some progress but no real money
  4. Some things are working, you’re making some money but doing everything yourself
  5. Some things are working, you’re making decent money, you’re gathering momentum but you’re flying solo
  6. You have a business that’s not growing enough; you’re making decent money but working too hard
  7. You’re working 80 hour weeks and growing a good business but you have no life
  8. You’re growing the business; it’s a full time job with weekends off
  9. The business is growing; it needs little attention, you’re making great money and you have a good life
  10. The business is growing without you; you have more money than you can spend and you’re loving life

What do you notice?

It’s very hard hitting and very obvious: Not much in the way of subtlety here! Unless you score yourself a 9 or 10, or possibly an 8, this little beauty is designed to make you feel uncomfortable and thoroughly dissatisfied with your lot.

But, and for me it’s a big but, it’s a very masculine approach. As an aside yet following the same thought, I don’t know if any of you have been following the Dan Kennedy Renegade Marketing video series recently? If you have it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that each of the people giving testimony to his brilliance is a bloke – there’s not one female entrepreneur in the line up! I wonder if that’s a comment on the number of successful male entrepreneurs versus female or the number of male clients he has versus female? I’m not questioning DK’s ability to help his clients make money but he certainly comes from an era when major buying decisions were made by men. Heavens – many women didn’t even have a bank account! :-(

All change!

I’ve heard data that cites up to 80% of buying decisions are now made by women. So, even if you think your target audience is male – you’d do well to address the feminine ‘hot buttons’, too. That includes your approach.

With regard to the questionnaire, I’ve been on this particular guy’s mailing list for a few years and there’s no doubt he’s made a name for himself as a successful entrepreneur who’s made the majority of his money selling programmes to help other entrepreneurs become successful. Yet over the last few months his communications come across as one who’s trying too hard: not far from coming right out with it that: if your business isn’t precisely where you want it to be, you’re an idiot if you don’t take him up on his offer – and pretty quickly, too as there are only so many places… yes, that old chestnut is still being trotted out! 😉

To be fair, the newer ‘kids on the block’ – blokes and, increasingly women – are taking a softer line. Their approach is more: “If this resonates with you and feels a good fit, let’s explore working together!”

I guess that’s a lesson for us all and it’s one I may explore some more in future posts because it’s not as straightforward as it may seem. For example, does it mean the questionnaire I’ve shown here should no longer be used?

What do you think? Leave your comment and share your view with us!

3 easy ways to get recommended!

I came across a really sweet reason for getting existing clients to recommend new ones to you and it’s one of those doh! :-( moments that, once you’ve heard it you’ll probably wonder why you never thought of it before!

Tune into WIIFM…

You get really honest with your clients and tell them that the more clients you get recommended to you the less time and money you’ll have to divert to sales and marketing activities and the more you can devote to what you love doing, your core business, which of course is serving them…

The efficacy of all this hinges on your clients being really happy with the service that you give them but that almost goes without saying because, if you don’t get that bit right you’re not going to be in business very long… And it can’t be just good service if you’re asking them to recommend others to you – it needs to be outstanding and they need to believe there’s enough in it for them to bother going out of their way and making an effort on your behalf.

So this brings the age old question of: “What’s in it for me?” that every customer and potential customer asks him- or herself really to front and centre, doesn’t it? If there’s not a strong enough distinction between your offer and another’s the customer will see your offering as a commodity and will buy on price – and that’s a slippery slope.

You fabulous you!

You need to be really, really specific on what makes you so different – we used to call it the USP – Unique Selling Point/ Unique Sales Proposition – it doesn’t matter what you call it so long as you have one

  • That’s true
  • That you’re prepared to stand by and
  • That your customers recognise and appreciate the value of…

… and no, “best value” and “best service” are too bland and just won’t cut it…

One of the most powerful persuaders to buy is when you offer a guarantee on something you know you can deliver on – and take the burden of risk off the customer. Research shows that only about 1% will claim a refund on a business that delivers on it promise and it’s widely agreed that the increase in custom you get as a result of providing the guarantee will far outweigh any returns you may have to give.

So as a Trainer/ Coach/ Mentor/ Facilitator/ Catalyst whose role with clients is to get them recognising and earning their unique value and having fun doing it, one of the perennial woes is lack of money so one USP I’d choose might be:

“The first thing we do is recoup your monetary investment in working with me.”

I know I can help you do that because there are so many ways – all legal and ethical :-) – there’ll always be at least one that will appeal to you that you’ll be able to adopt and swiftly put into practice!

One client hadn’t earned any money in six months yet billed (and received payment for) £3,200 of work within four weeks of me working with him. Was it work he out and out loved doing? No, but he didn’t really know what he wanted to do at that stage and he was happier than he’d been for about a year (so was his hard working wife who was delighted!).

The other thing is that, once somebody has decided to get help to up their game, I also know that they know full well that if they could have got where they wanted to under their own steam they would have already done so… And they are prepared to put the “work” in to make their change happen.

Another USP of mine that’s fun and I enjoy is:
“I help you get out of your own way and get on with the life you’d love” :-)

More than one of my clients say they’re sometimes not sure precisely what’s happened they just see the results (a friend of mine, Sarah, explains that as “you’ve been Linda’d” :-)

So, to wrap up for now

  1. Choose your best clients (after all, you want more like them…)
  2. Explain the 3 wins provided by recommendations they could make about your services (more of your time devoted to them and meeting their needs; less sales & marketing activities and expenditure so hold your prices; ethical ‘bribes’ – preferential treatment such as the opportunity to test products and services in development – get creative!)
  3. Make it easy for them by reminding them of (or giving them) your USPs

Who’s brave enough to post at least one of your USPs in the comments? It’s another shop window opportunity for your business…


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"I was very impressed by Linda's determination to help and the constructive, but persistent, manner in which she identified issues and then tried to resolve them. After recent progress I was again reaching a stage where I seemed to be spinning my wheels, and she has given me fresh impetus to start moving forward again."