Cultural Fit – The Toughest Element in Hiring Salespeople

There is massive latent brand risk in any employee who is a cultural misfit or emotionally disconnected from positive values. For this reason, one of the most expensive mistakes an organisation can make is to hire or retain misaligned staff – especially sales people who face stress and pressure constantly. It is important to manage this commercial risk by understanding that skills are easy to measure and evidence but values often live behind a facade of salesmanship.

Know what you’re looking for beneath the surface of a resume or LinkedIn profile and understand how to penetrate the persona being projected during an interview. It is very difficult to change someone’s personality or values, instead we should seek those who are aligned. Here are characteristics that the best leaders seek when hiring new people:

  1. Guided by solid moral values. They treat others as they wish to be treated and place the well-being of the corporation, team members and customers above personal interests. They never bully or undermine others through gossip, negative politics or passive-aggressive behaviour. They clearly understand what is right and wrong and have the courage to always act with integrity.

  2. Committed to being part of the team. They ensure everyone has a clear understanding of their role. They believe their personal value comes from the timely results they deliver and their positive influence; not from their position, knowledge or qualifications.

  3. Cares about quality in everything they do. They actively listen and ensure understanding before jumping to solutions. Proposals are well written and follow the brief or address the problems articulated. They proof-read everything, including e-mail, before sending.

  4. Driven to achieve results. They focus on what needs to happen daily to achieve outcomes and they treasure their time and respect the time of others. Although they have a bias toward action, they avoid the busy fool syndrome.

  5. Strategic thinker. They listen far more than they talk and they gather intelligence to create insight before making decisions. They consider the politics within an organisation and the various self-interests at play in complex decision-making.

  6. Focused on delivering value. They work intelligently but also know there is no substitute for a strong work ethic. They are committed to delivering tangible results with a focus on the customer’s business case and managing their risk.

Almost everything in this list is an attitude more than a skill. It begs the question: how do you hire for cultural fit and discover the truth about a person’s character? The psychometric tools that measure intelligence and identify dominant personality traits do not address the issues of values and attitudes. To minimise hiring risks it is essential to understand all the relevant factors, including how candidates think and operate. Sales people are especially adept at projecting a polished facade. When hiring sales people, focus on the following:

  • Past performance is an indication of likely future performance. Reject any candidate with a resume that fails to document consistent high performance against targets or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Be weary of people who claim to have achieved great things with past employers yet regularly move on within eighteen months.

  • Assess their LinkedIn and social selling profile for a focus on value and relevance along with a strong network. All this should be evidenced by the groups to which they belong, the posts they publish and the contributions they make to online discussions.

  • Explore their Social Proximity to you within LinkedIn and research them to either eliminate or validate in advance of an interview.

  • Use candidate skills, experience and qualifications to screen individuals out of the process and then obsessively focus on cultural fit with the remaining applicants. Dig deep using behavioural questions and push for real-world examples.

  • Ensure the candidate evidences claimed traits with examples of difficult situations they faced and the challenges they overcame. Ask them about their failures and what they specifically learned.

  • Ask them to define what strategic selling means to them and to provide examples of how they execute, both online and in the physical world.

  • Use reference checking early in the process, not as mere validation at the end. Most importantly, you select and request the referees you want to talk to and reject the ones proposed by the candidate.

How people sell and operate is incredibly important for every business as they represent the brand more than anything else. Hiring the wrong people is a massive mistake so never rush the process. If you have people in your team that you suspect need to be moved out, use my Rule of 24 to help make the decision.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Rory MacLeod

The Ingredients For Successful Selling

The ability to sell is especially important in leadership and business because failure creates the most severe problem an enterprise can face – lack of revenue. Almost every commercial problem is manageable except terminally low revenue, and forced cost-cutting inevitably moves a business into negative momentum. Sales people are therefore essential in driving the health of most organizations by providing the revenue needed to employ those in manufacturing, logistics, services, support, finance and administration.

Success in professional selling is dependent on operating in viable markets and being able to offer uniquely differentiated value. There can be no success without these two mandatory elements. On this foundation the sales person can succeed only if they can build good relationships providing accurate understanding of the customer’s requirements and the competitive landscape. The next step is developing strategy for aligning with the political power-base, creating genuine customer value, and dealing with the competition. Finally, the sales person must understand and align to the customer’s selection and buying process.

Whether selling products, services or solutions, all professional sales people must be competent in developing and managing relationships. Beyond this however, the sales person’s value is defined by the level at which they operate. Relationship sellers usually regard themselves as responsive and service orientated but their behavior often manifests as ‘professional visitor’, often with ‘sir-lunch-a-lot’ entertainment expenses. At the low end of this category they are usually trapped in ineffective relationships and function as market messengers reactively responding to existing demand. Tactical sellers operate effectively in competing against the opposition and they are sometimes characterized as hunters or warriors. Transactional sales people, regardless of whether they have a relationship or tactical bias, are rarely strategic in how they operate.

Strategic sales people on the other hand are driven to create value for both customer and seller. They identify significant problems and opportunities, and engineer genuine business value by engaging early at the highest levels within an organization. Strategic sales people leverage strong relationships by aligning to winning agendas and political power. They ask insightful questions and avoid talking too much. Strategic sales people are best characterized as engineers, working with the customer to create a mutually beneficial bias in the requirements. They also ensure they have a balanced pipeline of medium sized short-term deals and large strategic opportunities.

The best sales professionals prioritize activities so as to be effective and avoid the busy fool syndrome by understanding the difference between what is urgent versus the truly important. They are tactically excellent in execution and strategically effective in their positioning and creation of differentiating value. Good strategy is always dependent upon positive relationships for execution. Understanding people and managing their unique needs is therefore essential for selling at the most basic level.

No strategy can succeed without competent execution and selling is a fundamental life skill for positively influencing others. Success demands that you pay attention and be fully engaged so in every meeting; decide to 'be there now, and somewhere else later'. Don’t allow your mind to leave a meeting while your body is present. The seller must be fully there and focused exclusively on the buyer’s needs and preferred method of communication. Be committed to being there for them and completely focused on their concerns, agendas, problems, and opportunities. Be masterful at building rapport, developing trust and gaining accurate understanding.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: gfpeck

Your ‘Quota Crusher’ Profile Is Hurting You

Jill Rowley advises sales people to avoid the persona of a ‘quota crusher’ and Koka Sexton at LinkedIn says members should go “from resume to reputation” in their use of the powerful B2B social platform. Without doubt, many sales people are projecting the wrong image on LinkedIn by merely using it as their online CV. This is like using a Ferrari to deliver the mail… what a waste. The LinkedIn platform is most powerful when used for research, networking and to engage communities via LinkedIn groups.

Have a look at your LinkedIn profile through the eyes of a potential client. Is your photo professional and friendly? Do you describe what you do in terms of business outcomes delivered for customers? Do you have a credible network with plenty of recommendations and endorsements? Have you published a portfolio of quality thought leadership material? Are you active in the groups or communities that influence your industry?

Here’s how you need to think: You are the product and LinkedIn is the brochure about you. Is it compelling? Do you portray friendly gravitas, strong domain knowledge and customer-centricity?

Using LinkedIn to help secure another job is obvious but the real power is unlocked when you seriously build a personal brand, engage in relevant communities, begin to publish quality original content, and track social proximity and network to previously unimagined levels. But don't damage your brand or diminish the value of LinkedIn by inappropriate spamming, stalking or pitching at people. Respect those who allow you to connect.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: pasukaru76

6 Questions For Sales Qualification and Discovery

I ran a workshop yesterday for one of the best technology companies on the planet and we discussed how to best qualify a prospect. Most sales people are familiar with some of these qualification frameworks:

But qualifying is not just about eliminating time-wasters and nor should these be framed as clumsy closed questions. Just because some of the answers to qualification questions are negative, it doesn't necessarily mean 'walk away'. We should explore whether it makes sense to invest together with the prospective client because maybe we could help them build their business case or positively influence their requirements.

The best sales people blend qualification and discovery to build understanding, trust and to create progression.

No-one likes being 'qualified' by a sales person so we need to nuance our approach by asking open questions that uncover the truth concerning qualification elements. Here are my 6 open questions for digging deeper in a way that encourages the prospective client to engage with you to build trust and understanding:

  1. What happened inside your organisation that caused you to look at investing in this area?

  2. What's the business case for making the investment and changing the way things currently operate?

  3. Who's impacted internally and who needs to be on-board before you can go ahead?

  4. How is the project being funded and, beyond a budget, what sort of funding is already secured... is that enough for the whole project?

  5. Tell me about your timing and process for evaluating and then engaging the right supplier?

  6. When does this need to be implemented and delivering results... why is that date important and what happens if it slips?

These questions enable the seller to focus on how they can help deliver the necessary outcome and manage the buyer's risks. They lead to understanding about budget, decision authority, timing, and whether this decision is really a priority for the buying organisation.

The most important qualification factor is not any of the qualification questions, but instead whether the buyer will engage in a conversation that enables you to develop mutual understanding and trust.

25% of 'qualified' opportunities in CRM systems around the world are lost to client apathy / 'do nothing / the status-quo. Every sales person therefore needs to be able to answer the following three questions from their sales manager:

  1. Why will this customer buy anything at all?

  2. Why will this customer buy from us?

  3. What's our strategy to win and provide best value and lowest risk in the eyes of the buyer?

If the buyer seems intent on keeping you at arms-length and obsessively focuses on features, functions and price... then it's usually a safe bet to politely qualify out. Here are some links to other articles I've written that will also be of interest:

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image: Flickr: Brian Klug - Anonymous Captured

Six Things Politicians Can Learn From Sales

There is more to sustaining the support of the voting electorate than ‘bagging bin Laden’ or ‘shirt-fronting Putin’. Leadership is mercurial stuff and politicians have incredibly difficult jobs living their lives in a fish bowl with rock throwers and trolls everywhere. Worse than this, they face a mountain to climb every day concerning trust. People just don’t believe them because of the endless spin, broken promises, reannouncing old policies, and the disingenuous way in which they drive agendas (smiling and positive but with mud all over your hands).

President Obama is a master orator and his team leveraged social media like never before in creating real cut-through and momentum to rally those who were traditionally disengaged. But even if the American political system allowed for more than two terms, Obama would have almost no chance of securing a third. This is because he has a massive credibility problem – trust is lost when anyone fails to deliver or is perceived to be playing the public for fools.

In Australia, we have a new government in place following the most dysfunctional period of political rule in the country’s history. In 2007, Kevin Rudd won office but before his first term was over, his own party knifed him and installed his deputy, Julia Gillard. But Rudd remained in the background stirring the pot until he eventually had his day of revenge and engineered another ‘night of the long knives’ to overthrow a sitting Prime Minister for the second term in a row. Gillard was jettisoned and Rudd was resurrected in a desperate act by the party to limit losses. Incompetence, popularism and cannibalization were the hallmarks of this era in Australian Politics. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period was one where Australia went from having a massive surplus and huge ‘future fund’ war-chest to unprecedented levels of debt and out of control deficits.

Following the dysfunctional incumbent's implosion, the new government in Australia has been in power for less than a year and the honeymoon period is over. Their economic reforms are being blocked because they don't have the numbers in the upper house (senate). They have had success with stopping the tragic loss of life (>1,200 people) from people smugglers trafficking in ‘boat people’ but they’ve lost their way with how they’re communicating economic reform and are hoping that the Christmas break will help them get ‘back on message’.

Politicians can learn much from professional selling and here are some areas for them to consider:

  • Focus on the customer [citizens] rather than the competition [political opponents]. It may be entertaining but attacking the other side is a poor strategy. If you argue with an idiot, observers find it difficult to distinguish between the combatants. Listen to understand rather than for your chance to speak. Listening with empathy is the most powerful form of influence. Make it all about understanding and serving your customers [citizens].

  • Set a vision and agenda for an achievable future while solving problems and managing risk. Make the vision inspiring, and backed-up by competent execution. Avoid using fear as a weapon or to motivate because it loses its effectiveness very quickly.

  • Create emotional connection to every point you make. Rather than lead with information and logic, recognize that people buy emotionally and then rationalize with data. Lead with ‘why’ rather than with ‘what’ or ‘how’.

  • Positively differentiate with your values and by being transparent and straight-forward. Serve with purpose and make sure you are a ‘true believer’. If you have to change a policy or fail on a commitment, simply explain why, say sorry and be clear about what you will do next.

  • Deliver on promises with competence in execution. Strategy without good execution is fantasy. Policy without good execution is a one-term government. Be a person of integrity in all you do but if you cannot implement for whatever reason, then front-up and call it for what it is. Then you can move on.

  • Don't try to sell to those who will not buy. Focus efforts on those who can be swayed. Be gracious and polite to those who are committed to the competition but don't waste time there as it annoys them and frustrates you.

My vision and mission in what I do is to help selling be a profession of integrity and value; and I hope it comes through in my posts. Politics is a tough game with compromise being a constant reality, but it need not be a profession lacking integrity. We must all clearly define what we stand for and surround ourselves with positive people, each with a strong moral compass.

Call me crazy but imagine a world where we had 4 year fixed terms and all sides had to publish their ‘prospectus’ (vision, mission, values and specific policies, commitments and decision frameworks) 90 days before an election. Then after 3 years in power, an accounting firm conducts an audit and publishes the results against the prospectus – a balanced scorecard if you will across all the critical areas. Imagine the change this system could bring if politicians and union leaders were also subject to the same laws governing company directors; where fraud, corruption and misrepresentation resulted in going to jail.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Benson Kuo

Trust Is The Foundation Of Every Sale

Even in large complex selling, it’s individuals who actually make purchasing decisions and they care about value for money and assessing risk. But to even be considered on a short-list we must first earn trust through the way we engage and built on our evidenced credibility, genuine understanding and common values.

If we’ve successfully engaged early to set the agenda, helped build the business case, and influenced their selection criteria and process; then it will have been because of our ability to earn the trust of the customer. Make no mistake, our online reputation – corporation and individual – is critically important because professional buyers and executives do their research before a meeting.

If the lead has come to us, then the customer will be well advanced in their process (anywhere from 50% to 70% along the ‘buyer’s journey’) and our online presence and credentials will have been pivotal in being included on their list of potential solutions.

Whether we’ve arrived early to the dance or not, all the laws of strategic sellingstill apply. The sales person must invest time and energy in gaining, and then demonstrating, an understanding of the customer’s business. Anthony Iannarino describes this as ‘situational awareness’ and it includes becoming aware of their economic and market conditions, internal politics and power-base, problems and opportunities, and most importantly their biggest challenges with their customers. Failing to do the necessary homework before a meeting is a guaranteed way to fail in this regard.

So how do you build trust in a Social Selling 3.0 world where you need to blend online and physical world strategies and activities? It all begins with understanding how sophisticated buyers operate and this formula (informal or codified) is the basis on which they trust.

Trust = (Understanding + Shared Values) x (Capability + Reputation)

Here’s the insight concerning this formula: Most salespeople spend way too much time talking about, and seeking to evidence, capability and reputation. This is the obvious and easy thing to talk about because it’s the thing we know most about and what our marketing department has invested a fortune honing for us. But there is only one thing the customer cares about when it come to us… it is what we can do for them!

Evidencing capability and reputation is important but don’t waste airtime with clients on these topics. Instead use your LinkedIn profile, website and social media presence to tick that box. When you get to engage in a conversation with a customer, make it all about them by focusing on the front-end of the formula: genuine understanding of them, their needs, their constraints, their problems and opportunities, their culture and values.

The best sales professionals focus on gaining understanding and insight rather than pushing features and benefits. They frame what they have to say as thoughtful open questions. They are committed to working in the best interests of the customer and avoid trust-destroying rhetorical questions that are usually perceived as manipulative or redundant.

Plan every sales call and meeting. Lead with insight and strive to talk no more than one-third of the time when engaging with a senior executive. The reason this is so important is that we learn nothing while talking and listening is the most powerful form of influence. Listening and asking insightful open questions are the keys to gaining understanding and building trust in every situation, especially in selling, negotiation and conflict resolution situations.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Terry Johnston

Eight Secrets of Personal Success

Success is about being the person worthy of it (I think the guy in the middle of this picture looks to be the most worthy in the group) and here are eight principles that can make a huge difference in your life personally and professionally.

Expectation: Every act and creative outcome begins as a thought. Although bad luck can occur, we generally receive in life what we expect. Expectations placed on another person can be an enormously positive or destructive influence. Expect the very best of yourself and others, and learn the lessons in every disappointment or challenge.

Focus: We see what we look for. We become and realize what we think about, whether good or bad. Setting goals creates awareness of opportunities when they present themselves. Choose what you focus upon deliberately and wisely. Have written goals with visual representations for creating emotional connections to what you want.

Reciprocity: Also known as the law of attraction. Be the difference you seek – change yourself to change your world and results. If you want better friends you must first be a better friend. We attract what we radiate. Forgive others and don’t keep score. Jealousy, envy, bitterness and revenge all come back on us if we project these caustic emotions on to others. Work hard and be effective. Give and be generous with your time, energy and money. Be genuinely happy for others when they succeed.

Law of Diminishing Returns (Pareto Principle): 20% of activity yields 80% of the results. This immutable law was first articulated by Vilfredo Pareto and is often referred to as ‘the 80:20 rule’. It is to be observed by anyone seeking to operate efficiently and effectively. Where should you focus your time, energy and resources for the greatest return? Be courageous in cutting away unproductive activities and relationships.

Law of Momentum: Positive momentum is difficult to create and easy to lose. Treasure it and pay attention to the key input activities and metrics that ensure success. Be proactively consistent and avoid distractions. Know you KPIs and obsessively focus on them.

Law of Value: Scarcity creates value so embrace the difficult. Be unique in your ability to solve serious problems and achieve high value outcomes. Everything is worth what the market will pay, not what it costs plus a margin. Perceptions of value are defined by the buyer, not the seller. Price is only one element of value and only matters if the buyer wants what you have to offer. Value = Benefit less Cost. Value for money is the buyer’s weighted assessment of ‘fit for purpose’, risk and price.

Allow for the Law of Self-interest: Regardless of what someone promises, people rarely act contrary to their own best interests. Understand their agendas and plan for them to act accordingly as you formulate strategy. For yourself, scramble people's minds by acting in the best interests of others… be a self-sacrificial giver, not a taker. Lead like Mother Teresa!

Workplace Value: Your qualifications, knowledge and position are merely your ‘ticket to the dance’ – no-one really cares. Workplace value is instead defined by a person’s degree of positive influence and the results they deliver – plain and simple; that’s it. Be the change you want to see in the workplace.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Lori Photography

Artificially Intelligent Selling

Sales, the final frontier...

Social, Mobile, Cloud and Big Data have dominated the ‘trend’ conversations in 2014, and all four will continue to gain momentum as change agents in B2B and B2C business. But in 2015 they will be accompanied by three complementary technologies – the dawn of AI (Artificial Intelligence; yes the scary self-learning type), micro predictive analytics (BI leveraging big data) and the maturing of mobility proximity (beacons and geo-fencing). All seven of these elements together coupled with the dawning explosion of sensors everywhere, will represent unprecedented technological synergies and the use-cases are limitless in transformative customer experience. It’s already happening and Amazon is an example.

But almost all the hype around these advancements has missed an important consideration… technology is ushering in an era of distraction and artificial connection. The appearance of connection is not the same as real connection. An ‘always on’ and ‘always connected’ world means no-one is really concentrating and ADD is a constant barrier to meaningful conversation and genuine engagement. There are 1,000 channels but there’s nothing on. The noise is deafening but no-one can hear. The sheer volume of content, channels and workload is killing quality. In short – people are skimming, misinterpreting, clicking away and tuning-out. Miscommunication and misunderstanding is everywhere.

But technology is evolving at a faster rate than any of the creators could imagine. Where could all this take B2B and B2C selling? Could AI and the enabling data sources mean that technology could create relevance in every dimension, even assessing our ‘mood’. When process automation crosses over into automated engagement, then sales people are facing an apocalyptic threat. By 2020, could the majority of salespeople be replaced by AI? If the value of a sales person is defined by providing information and enabling someone to transact; then the answer, sadly, is definitely ‘yes’.

How can sales people avoid digitally driven extinction? The answer is value – the creation of value for customers and employer through traditional concepts executed innovatively with technology. We live in a human world and emotional connections are what influence us, motivate us, and inspire us. Everything old (value selling, solution selling, insight selling, trusted advisor, etc.) will be new again because it is how to best differentiate in a human world. But only for those who can adopt blended engagement models where differentiation is created through the combination of online and physical presence with digital and human interaction. This is future for the most successful sales people… the ones who will prosper beyond 2020.

I predict a great future for you in sales but only if you learn to create innovative mash-ups of proven selling principles combined with new world digital engagement to meet and serve your markets and customers where they are and how they prefer to interact. Sales must move higher up the value chain to conduct the digital symphony. In many ways, this will bring you closer to the customer than ever: if they let you in. You must be the signal in the noise to break through so I will write more on how to do this strategically in upcoming posts, to in essence, future-proof you.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: OiMax

The Rocks & The Sand

“The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” - Stephen Covey

There's never enough time in the day as a sales executive. You carry a significant number and you're looking to exceed quota. I know what you're thinking, when will you make the time to dominate social media while keeping everything else in the balance. You can schedule tweets, you can automate some of this but you still need an authentic strategy to navigate all of your responsibilities. At the end of the day, you've got to stay focused on the twenty percent of the opportunities that will drive eighty percent of revenue growth. This translates to actions, the percentage that will create eighty percent of the impact.

But how do you choose? The analogy of rocks and sand comes to mind and I learned this from Dr. Stephen R. Covey in First Things First. Each day when you get to your desk, don't even open your e-mail. Write down the top three things you need to accomplish by lunch on a pad and execute on those in the optimal sequence. These are the big rocks to fit into the jar of your life. These are the proactive lead measures you can affect to lever the Sisyphean boulder of your day up the proverbial hill.

The sand are the reactive prospect e-mails, the training video you had starred to watch, those social media notifications, the news of the day, sports scores, etc. What's important is that you take the time to clearly define what the rocks and sand are for you. If you put the sand into the jar first, you'll never fit the stuff that matters into your schedule – the rocks. You'll struggle just to play catch up.

Social media is just one tool in your arsenal. It's very powerful when you leverage batch processing. Utilize a social listening platform to track your greatest prospects in target companies first. Prioritize them. Prioritize everything. Companies like Avention, InsideView and Nimble can help you do this.

Watch what's trending with CXOs and take the time to comment on it. First listen to the stream and pick out the people with whom you'd like to engage. Then make it meaningful. Ten touches trumps one hundred when you make them count. Setting Google Alerts or a daily LinkedIn digest of group activity can give you an edge to find the signal in the noise. Batch process by having the discipline to take just thirty minutes when you wake up and thirty minutes before bed on this exercise. You'd be amazed how far you can get with a concerted mono-tasking effort on the target. The secret is scheduling time just like you would with cold calling and don't forget to still do that too. Yes, it can be a rock or sand. The choice is yours based on the due diligence and time you put in to picking the right targets.

LinkedIn Navigator is a watershed moment for front-line sales managers and sales people alike. It allows us to passively listen to just the targets we wish to pursue and then engage at the precise right moment. It allows us to receive a blended digest of these updates without needing to glue our eyes to the feed like a stock ticker.

The myth of social media is you have to spend all your time on it. Just as with tool such as the telephone, if you schedule your time, have an objective in mind and execute your plan in a concerted way, you can produce dramatic results. There's a major compulsion to 'always be on' because we fear missing something. But control this impulse and realize you can always catch-up at scheduled intervals. Listen to hashtags, listen retroactively to a custom list you built or just listen into the past; arguably even into the future.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Geoff Stearns

The Tao of Frost in Sales

Humor me, as there's much that seasoned enterprise sellers could learn from the enduring wisdom of Robert Frost.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

A testament to persistence, this quote embodies the concept that it's always lonely along the extra mile. Sticking in a deal is a remarkably winning trait. You must grit your teeth and boldly hang in there for that ninth month of an enterprise sales cycle on occasion.

“There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can't move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.”

This quote embraces quality enablement. The best managers are firm but kind. They lead by balancing the hand of love with the hand of steel. They understand the only way to fly is to get out of the nest. They coach you weekly to encourage and empower rather than stymie or condescend. They resist the temptation to do your job for you.

“There's nothing I'm afraid of like scared people”

It takes positive risk to gain reward. You can't sell fearfully because your prospects will not countenance it. Just as a dog can smell fear, potential customers can smell the insincerity coming from a mile away.

“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life. It goes on.”

Dust yourself off and try again. The way you handle rejection will define your career. It's not just the optimism you cultivate in boom times but the steely fire in the belly you harness when things are looking grim. Get a good night of sleep and give it your all each day. Know that following a solid process, day in and day out, will yield pay dirt. Chin up!

“Freedom lies in being bold.”

You want to challenge your customers' beliefs and embolden them to challenge the status quo. Teach with compelling insight she hasn't seen before. Study the data and find patterns that emerge via unique business intelligence that only you can bring having recently met with so many leading minds in the sector. 'The Challenger Sale' is a must read in this regard.

“The middle of the road is where the white line is and that's the worst place to drive.”

Have a definite opinion. Diagnose and be prescriptive. They’re looking for consultation and guidance. You’ll develop subject matter expertise in time and then lead the dance. Customize and tailor your pitch and proposal; conversion favors bold creativity and customer success abhors the generic.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

You’ll hear a great deal about the latest craze, that shiny object syndrome. Maybe it’s a proclamation that some technology is “dead.” Keep your own compass in the field of sales. Experiment and find your voice, seek the methodology that works for you, never eschewing strategies and tactics that are working. Study the classics, the sales pantheon and form your own opinion. Ultimately, you can’t sell with someone else’s script or style so find the 'mash-up' that works for you.

“The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”

Get out of the office, out from behind the screen. Walk the halls of your dream clients. Interact, shake hands, shut off your technology and listen; truly listen with warm eye contact. The journey will give you time to think and time to think deeply can help you create a winning strategy. As Steve Jobs would tell you, there’s great magic in a walk around the block or the deep woods for that matter. There’s a subtle kind of momentum in stepping away from a desk.

“We dance around the ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows”

Ultimately, people buy you. The great secret is it’s a buying cycle so make it easy for customers to buy. Peel the onion until you find their truth, the pain you can help solve, the opportunity you can help realize. It’s typically hiding in plain sight, cleverly disguised by our own tactlessness.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Joe St.Pierre

Sharks, Snakes, Lawyers and Salespeople

The challenge for all of us in sales is to break the stereotype and be business people of integrity rather than a sales people of persuasion. This is an excerpt from my book, The Joshua Principle, and I thought you might enjoy it. To set the scene, Joshua Peters is trying to close the biggest deal of his life with David Thomas, the CEO.

“David, we’re solving a serious problem here and it requires proper investment – what’s our solution being compared with?”

“Nice try but I would prefer you focused on reducing your price.”

Joshua changed tack. “I think now is the right time to organize for you to meet another CEO where we’ve already delivered. They have a similar profile and can provide evidence that we’re low risk and best value – that we’ll deliver.”

David looked sideways at Joshua. “When I was running my last corporation, I hosted an achiever’s club trip for our top sales performers and their partners. It was a lavish affair and we did an exclusive dinner at an oceanarium. The tables were arrayed in front of a massive viewing window. Anyway, as often happens, people drank too much and the leading salesman ended up showing off by climbing on the railing above ground where people were smoking. Staff yelled at him to climb down and he slipped and fell into the water. All hell broke loose. We were all seated having dessert down below when, all of a sudden, there was all this commotion. We were horrified watching him thrash around as a shark began circling. It sensed his panic and went for his legs ...”

“What happened?”

“Nothing – it darted away at the last second. There was no way it was going to bite him.”

Joshua was hooked. “Why not?”

David leaned forward. “Professional courtesy.”

The two men laughed before David continued. “I also tell that joke to every lawyer I meet. The only variation being that it’s a lawyer who falls in. Please don’t take it personally.”

“No offence taken. Most salesman jokes use a snake as the metaphor but I thought it was very funny. Next time we meet I’ll explain the difference between a software salesman and a software program. It has a comparable punch line that you can use to good effect. Our fifteen minutes is up, it’s time for me to go.”

The two men walked to reception and shook hands. “Thanks Joshua for coming to see me. What’s the punch line of your software salesman versus software program joke?”

“You only have to punch information into the software once.”David smiled. “I know just the vendor to use that on.”

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Paul Stevenson

Belief and Integrity Essential For Sales Success

Here is how I define Relationship Selling: Building relationships of genuine rapport and trust for a buying decision in the best interests of all concerned. The sale is achieved through the transference of belief and the delivery of tangible value supported logically with facts and evidence.

Tony Robbins defines selling as simply changing someone’s emotional state. He’s right because at the most basic level selling is the transference of belief; beliefs create emotion, and emotions drive decisions. We then appear to make rational decisions by justifying with facts and logic.

Enduring success in the sales profession is built on belief in yourself, your solution and the corporation you represent. But without sincere belief and integrity in your sales process and their buying process, trust cannot be established and maintained with both sides. Shallow attempts to manipulate another person’s emotions simply destroy trust.

Sales process integrity means being committed to a methodology for truly understanding what will make the buyer completely satisfied and establishing whether there is mutual benefit in doing business together. In this paradigm the sales person never asks for the business prematurely or makes wrong assumptions concerning the real value of features or functions.

High achievers project sincere belief in what they offer through listening and offering insights though questions. They focus almost exclusively on the customer. Although they are self-aware they are not self-absorbed. They understand the maxim that ‘nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care’. They genuinely convey that they are not there to sell (talk and push) but to fully understand the problems and needs of the prospective client.

They want to hear what the client has to say. They want to know what’s going on in the client’s world. They want to understand the client’s issues and how to best deliver specific business value for them. They achieve results through a values-based approach to building trust and solving problems.

There is no room for trickery and gimmicks in selling today because we all sell naked – that’s what Social Selling 3.0 is, it’s beyond the professional façade and a business card. It’s real-time context and transparent proximity to a credible network. Focus on what you and your company believes before you talk about the product or service you offer. This is how to attracted customers through alignment of values. Remember, beliefs create emotion and emotions move people to act.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Ken Teegardin

The Tao of Sun Tzu in Sales

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Great sales leaders can take a simultaneous macro and micro view. They can select the sharpest arrows in the quiver. Ready – fire! – aim. They course correct and adjust to the target in near real-time. Tactics never get in the way of a powerful strategy but a strategic mindset will not preclude diving into the details of how, once the why is identified. Don’t fall in love with only social selling, or solely the phone, colorful slide-deck presentations or the latest e-mail template. Build a cohesive strategy that spans across multiple channels (not every channel) that is refined for its receipt point. This could be the key executive you’ve researched, a provocative message tailored to solve a challenge within a specific vertical industry, or a genuine insight relevant to the person you're engaging.

“You have to believe in yourself.”

Even in 500 BC, Sun Tzu knew the power of self confidence. Keep your own counsel and be guided by a reliable compass. This is not to say you shouldn’t look to mentors and trusted advisors within your own leadership and sales mastermind group. Trust your gut instinct, an intuition cultivated over time and experience. Make a decision and strike with fervor in the direction of your vision for navigating the account. There are many maneuvers to run on the battleground of an enterprise sale and several may indeed work. A strong strategy coupled with intention and belief is unstoppable against an unseen counterstrike. With buyers who come to you being 55% - 70% through the decision process, they are looking to be lead to the promised land of increased revenue and efficiency and will choose a sage guide who can manage their risks and deliver for them.

“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.”

Never interrupt your enemies when they’re making a mistake. They will set traps and plant fear, uncertainty and doubt about your solution. There are always hidden factors in the deal, unseen competitors (just do a Google search), working clandestinely to sink your ship. Let them think they’re winning because their overconfidence exposes weakness and creates your greatest opportunity. Use your creative brilliance to innovate as you see solutions to problems. They may be working one or two targets in the account but you may up-level to the head of IT to win the technical buy-in whereas they’ve grown complacent as an incumbent with the strategic buyer alone. While they’re banking on a tacit close at the end of the fourth quarter, you’ve uprooted, disrupted and planted the seeds of change with willing leaders in the established fabric behind the scenes.

“Let your plans be dark and as impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

Advanced selling is similar to a three dimensional chessboard. You must think fifteen moves ahead. You must be prepared for anything. The biggest risk is 'do nothing' or the status quo. The sales eagles fly with speed and dexterity. They respond to trigger events. They exude almost a sixth sense for knowing what's going to happen, even before prospects do. They watch satisfied clients in one company move to another company and work within that new company to foster a technology renaissance. Be decisive. Shut off all the electronics, think deeply, white-board out the power base and map the account. Test several scenarios and plans. Then act swiftly! Do not doubt yourself as there is no time when you're dodging an arrow.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

In the realm of new business development, it’s smarter to play the games you know you can win. You have the luxury to continuously create pipeline and set stringent criteria for prospects with whom you engage. Improve your ability to segment and target, to qualify opportunities that make sense. My theory has been that the best farmers are wolves in sheep’s clothing, hunting in named accounts. You need to understand that every account is at risk unless you build rapport at multiple levels of the organization to indemnify against stakeholder churn. You must also understand that even a happy client is still playing on a battlefield: anything can change in an instant and competitors are calling incessantly to infringe upon your territory. Disruptive new upstart technologies that may undercut you on price or exceed your solution capabilities in one area emerge like water multiplying Gremlins. You can protect against these threats through consistent value creation, communication and active listening. Walk the halls, get a desk at your customer's office; literally and figuratively. Continue to educate your existing clients through content marketing excellence.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

Understand where you are weak. This is equally important as where you are strong. Partner up with internal resources inside your organization who can fill out your skill set. This may be a highly technical solutions consultant who can help to tailor the technological business case. This may be someone who has a highly developed statistical analysis abilities enabling them to build business cases that will lend power to your insight based approach. Take the time to study the competitive landscape, exactly who the executives are that you’re up against selling into your accounts. Understand how they typically engage, the messages they deliver, the agenda and traps they seek to set. Most importantly, know their weaknesses, without lapsing into 'negative selling'. Stay on the cusp of where technology is going so you can bring the new new thing to the table.

“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”

A leader is only as good as her team. Because 'they' are 'us'. Leadership is an inverted pyramid, it’s about empowering the troops. Serve your team members, empower and enable them. Help them to serve their best customers as helping transcends selling. You will build loyalty by building up people. Focus on their strengths and help pair them up with others on the team that can make them stronger with complimentary skill-sets. When you set big, hairy, audacious goals for a team, they can become achievable harness the synergy that is created by moving as a united force. When the chips are down, the numbers are being missed, hold meetings as a group and one-on-one. Invest ample time into providing training and coaching. Exhibit passion into ensuring their success. It’s a throwback of an idea but ride along and go into the field with them. Sell alongside them and even roll up your sleeves to collaborate on proposals and calls. Stand united by a common vision in your go-to-market strategy and be sure to include marketing in your cohort.

“Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?”

We only use a fraction of the capacity of our brain. Even in Sun Tzu’s day he was talking about the unlimited power of living up to our own potential as human beings. Avoid the 'busy fool' syndrome which is the height of folly. Doing everything at once is diffused effort. But applying effort in a focused direction and putting your back into it, your heart and soul into it and making your life’s work your magnum opus, is seldom seen. The greatest leaders focus, stay humble and give their all each day in serving others. They inspire this level of dedication and intensity in others though purpose in their cause. They enjoy maximizing effectiveness and efficiency toward an achievable goal. This is how they are able to consistently exceed the target.

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Winner’s win. It’s as simple as that. As you carve out turf inside an account, you can land and expand. Revenue growth becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Once you topple the status quo and help a client realize the inefficiency of their wasteful legacy systems, you’ll often see a domino effect where they’re looking to have you leverage you expertise as a budding trusted advisor to fully transform their entire business, applying your full suite of solutions across the board. Up-sells and cross-sells then materialize as a complex suite of solutions provide the answers within a trusted buyer-seller relationship.

Success in sales is similar to sports. You are exercising a mental muscle. Those that win are never satisfied. Yes, one must pause occasionally while summiting the mountaintop. Take in the fresh air and the view. In the panoramic distance is the next vista which is always yours to seize. It burns into your psyche, fueling your self-mastery. In the execution phase of fulfillment, clients often get even more excited about the value you can bring as a partner. Even as the ink is still drying on the contract, keep going because closing a sales merely opens the relationship to a new abundance of possibilities.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Johan Sisno

4 Competitive Strategies for Complex Enterprise Selling

Many draw comparisons between sport and selling but I prefer analogies that focus on military strategy. Yes, being pumped-up and working as a team is essential for success, but for those who consistently win large enterprise deals, cunning strategy is the force behind tactics and action. There’s nothing noble about leaping out of the trenches and running at machine guns – that’s just plain stupidity and a waste of life.

Strategy is actually a military term but essential in professional selling for managing political relationships and outmaneuvering the competition. Sales strategy can be defined as developing an effective plan or campaign after fully evaluating your strengths and weaknesses, understanding the competition (including the customer’s internal options), understanding the business drivers and mapping the invisible political structure within an organization.

Strategic enterprise solution selling demands that you engage early at the most senior levels and align with political and economic power to address the most serious problems or profitable opportunities. Solutions are then crafted with unique compelling value while setting an agenda that disadvantages or eliminates the competition.

I’ve always been fascinated by military history and I’ve also been a student of two great authors, Jim Holden (Power Base Selling, published by John Wiley and Sons Inc: 1990) and Keith Eades (The New Solution Selling, published by McGraw Hill 2004). Their thought leadership in adapting military strategy for the world of complex enterprise selling was brilliance. The following is adapted by me from their concepts and I also recognize Art Jacobs and his fine work: STRATEGY, The Art of Winning. All three of these authors have preceded me and I acknowledge them in this derivation of their work.

The four potential engagement options are:

- Head-to-head: Direct strategy based on product strength or market dominance

- Change the rules: Indirect strategy altering the selection criteria or agenda

- Incremental: Focus on a small divisional piece of business ‘under the radar’

- Containment: Engineer a non-decision so you can engage under new rules later

This flow-chart will help you decide the best competitive strategy in any given situation and detailed explanations follow the diagram.

Head to head. This is a direct or frontal strategy that works only if you have unequivocal product, service or solution strength with acknowledged market leadership. You use it when you are not afraid of ‘slugging it out’ against the competition because you have best brand, solution offering and market presence. Most sales people adopt this mode of engagement, and the competition’s price is often their main point of concern. This strategy is attractive because it is simple but demands superiority at every level. To be effective with this strategy you must have clear leadership with product and reputation, with a well established and positive customer base. This superiority must be validated from the customer’s point of view. Be careful with smaller customers who often associate product strength or market dominance with unnecessary functionality or service levels and excessively high pricing. If you are not the industry giant or leading niche specialist, consider the following strategy.

Change the rules. This guerrilla, indirect or flanking strategy is essential when you do not have the leading solution or leadership market position. This strategy is an ideal default position because it necessitates the gathering of information and forces you to search for unique value that matches the client’s specific requirements. This strategy should always be employed when nothing about your product, corporation or industry presence gives you a compelling edge. This strategy is essential when you cannot succeed based on the current engagement rules or selection criteria, typically because you were not there first. For this strategy to succeed you must have strong personal relationships with senior influential members of the buying center and power-base. Beware of fighting the good fight only to have a mystery senior executive veto the recommendation for your product, service or solution. Recommenders will often falsely give the impression they are embracing your strategy only to revert back to their original criteria at the last minute to placate the real decision maker further up the line.

Incremental. This ‘on the beach’, divisional or departmental strategy can be part of changing the rules in a large opportunity. The goal is to establish a beach-head or divide and conquer the competition by securing a limited piece of business and support within the broader organization from which you can expand. This strategy should be employed when you cannot win the whole account but there is a worthwhile piece of business that will give you an internal reference and influence for larger decisions at a later time. It is also useful when you are not seeking to displace another vendor but rather enhance the customer site (or market) by providing a complementary solution or additional functionality not offered by the competitor. This strategy is also appropriate when you decide to coexist with the competition and temporarily share the account.

Containment. This kill the deal strategy is a valid option if you are certain you cannot win and your goal is to prevent someone else from taking the business. It is designed to delay the buyer so you can re-engage under new rules at a later time. Rather than seeking to change the basis for a buying decision, you work to have the decision itself postponed. This strategy is high risk and should be used with thoughtful caution because customers do not take kindly to anyone seeking to interfere with their procurement process. A containment strategy has two major problems: firstly, it can be perceived as negative interference; and secondly, it can force you to invest further in scoping studies, trials, pilots or other resource-intensive activities. This strategy needs positive senior relationships and time to execute. The focus needs to be on how deferring is in the buyer’s best interests, and the message is ideally delivered by a credible third party.

Ask yourself these questions when considering strategy:

  • What is our relationship strategy and are we aligned with the power-base?

  • Do we truly understand the decision driv­ers and business case?

  • Do we understand their corporate mode and personal agendas?

  • Who and what is our competition and how will we position against them?

  • Does the customer have other projects competing for funding?

  • Which of our competitors is engaged with the customer?

  • How will our competitors seek to position against us?

  • What are our compara­tive strengths and weaknesses?

  • How will we engineer the customer’s focus on our unique value?

  • How will we prove or validate our capabil­ity and lowest risk?

  • Where will we position price to leave room to negotiate?

  • Do we have all necessary information and what don’t we know?

Whatever got you to where you are today is no longer sufficient to keep you there. Strategy is essential because political effectiveness demands strategy and relationships alone are never enough in complex selling. Relationships with the wrong people actually wastes time and inhibits success. A tactical plan is only as good as the intelligence and strategy that leads to it.

Competitors also learn every time you beat them and they formulate strategies designed to defeat you. Product features never win a deal but they can eliminate you. Benefits need to be positioned strategically; matched against the customer’s business needs and potentially set as ‘traps’ for competitors.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Adrian Askew

What I’ve Learned About Personal Leadership

As I write this, I’m 52 and our family just celebrated my son’s 18th birthday. His birth and also my daughter's arrival into the world changed my life and ever since then they've inspired me to be the best father, the best man, I can be. Here is what I’ve learned so far here on Earth and I share it with you because none of us lives long enough to learn the necessary lessons from our own experience and mistakes. If you’re younger than me, I especially hope this is of benefit to you.

We are the way we are for reasons we never fully understand. Nature and nurture – genes and our upbringing – combine with our world-view and beliefs to create our values and attitude. Also within all of us is an innate and irrepressible need to protect our self-esteem, justifying our defects or limiting beliefs rather than engaging in the process of objective examination and beneficial change. As evidence of our inability to see the truth of our own state, consider the fact that a camera captures a very different image compared with what we see in a mirror. We’ve all seen a video or photo of ourselves where we look grumpier or heavier than what we imagined. This is because the camera captures a third-party snapshot of how we really are rather than the filtered version we see in our own reflection.

The first step in overcoming any challenge is to face reality. In the context of leadership we must first overcome the conundrum of the ‘human condition’, which is prone to selfishness, short-sightedness, moral lapses and breathtaking stupidity. Beyond facing the awful truth we also need to be intelligently self-aware. The dictum ‘know thyself’ is most often attributed to Socrates and embodies the concept of self-awareness which has today been enhanced within the concept of EQ – Emotional Quotient. Self-awareness combined with genuine humility is an essential part of being able to lead others and build teams that leverage strengths and compensate for weaknesses. Successful leaders value difference and the opinions of others.

The very best leaders live by example and embody unbreakable determination in pursuing their cause, yet they do not bully or manipulate. Rather than create pressure they provide clarity, focus and energy for the people they lead. They focus on providing the right environment and ask the right questions rather than give answers. They are humbly self-aware, not self-absorbed, and they are honest, direct and accountable in their commitments and behavior. They understand that a good leader is first a good human being.

Much can be achieved when you don’t care who receives the credit and when you surrender the need to be constantly right. Leaders seek to understand before attempting to be understood. They know that lasting motivation comes from within and they therefore encourage their people to personally take ownership of outcomes. They build their people’s self-esteem and promote their team’s ideas by encouraging them to take calculated risks, stretching their capabilities. When things go wrong they provide support and do not lecture or punish. Neither do they rescue when the consequences are not catastrophic; instead they regard ‘opportunities to fail’ as useful. Later, without negative emotion, they facilitate reflection.

Great leaders are morally grounded in enduring values yet adopt purposeful pragmatism rather than judgmentally holding to narrow dogmas. They suspend judgment and accept diversity. Our ability to build other people in teams is more important than having all the ideas. Be counter-intuitive in your leadership style by humbly serving rather than grandstanding. Do what it takes rather than merely your best. You cannot lead from behind – pull people through rather than push. Accept the blame when things go wrong and learn the necessary lessons from criticism and failure so that you can adjust accordingly. Genuinely pass the credit on to others when things go well – success is always a team effort.

Time is the only real limited resource. Invest your time and treasure it rather than spend it. There is no such thing as wasted time if you always have a good book with you when you travel. Do not allow the trivially urgent to prevent you from doing the important. Make time for what matters most. Set goals and priorities, and regularly measure your own progress.

Less is more – less talking creates more influence and more learning; less clutter and distracting noise creates more clarity; less information creates better cut-through in the message. The best way to improve something is to reduce it. Cut the unnecessary elements away rather than add complexity or overhead. The more we take the less we become; we only become greater when we give and contribute. We can become our very best when we let go of what we treasure and embrace the very things we fear. What does not kill us can make us stronger. Building character and developing emotional resilience is a valuable foundation for future success. Failure can educate, and with resolve to overcome, we can gain wisdom and prosper.

Happiness is a state of mind concerning how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. Be grateful for what you have. Laugh as often as you can. Reject judgment, bitterness and revenge – they are self-destructive forces, devouring the host. Do not take yourself too seriously; instead have an optimistic attitude and positive sense of humor. Freely admit when you are wrong, and say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ every chance you get. Forgive and move on. Be prepared to take risks but without foolhardy recklessness.

Never be a victim; instead be fully accountable for your own success and happiness. Do not blame others or bad luck for failure and setbacks. Believe in yourself and earn the right to ask for what you want. Never bully or manipulate and do not allow knowledge to manifest within you as arrogance. Do not allow success to make you egotistical; instead learn genuine humility in acknowledging the contribution of others as well as good fortune or blessing.

Choose your friends and work environment wisely as both will change you through osmosis. Avoid those who are addicted to destructive gossip. Encouragement is far more effective than criticism – believe in the competent and help them become better. Expect the best of others and treat them with respect regardless of their station in life. Serve your employer, team and customers ahead of your own interests – trust the law of reciprocity to reward your integrity and ability to create value. Show thoughtful initiative and a strong work ethic. We learn nothing while talking, and making a noise rarely makes a difference. Instead become a great listener who is genuinely interested in others, asking insightful and powerful questions.

Success is living a life of purpose and achieving your goals, yet the passage of time is the only valid perspective for measuring achievement. There is no excuse for not being your best or failing to fulfill your potential. Barriers and difficulties are there to exclude average people, and for the purpose of ensuring the worthiness of those who achieve. Scarcity is what creates value. We all wish our circumstances would improve but it is usually we who must change first. Become better rather than wish it were easier. Be the change you want to see in the world – start with your own bedroom, garage, and backyard. You cannot manage an enterprise if you cannot manage yourself. Avoid gossip, criticism and judgment. There is genuine peace in not worrying about things that don’t matter (inconsequential trivia) are outside your control.

Knowledge and technical competence are not enough. Your value to your employer and customers is defined by your ability to positively influence and deliver results. Thinking strategically and executing masterfully is more important than adhering to methodologies – obsessively pay attention to excellence in execution.

Success or failure is the accumulated result of thousands of tiny decisions. Most people become disempowered through inner-corrosion rather than by a catastrophic event. Sustained success is the result of painful and diligent growth occurring below the surface, for the most part unseen by the outside world. Work on yourself rather than criticize others. Self- awareness, self-discipline, self-leadership and positive attitude are what attract success beyond mere knowledge and skill.

Work is not different from the rest of life – bring all of yourself to your work. Treat your sales career as a profession that creates value rather than being a competitive game. It has serious and profound lessons to teach if you are open to learning. Be the person worthy of the life you seek – success and failure, belief and doubt are necessarily conjoined. Finally, lessons tend to be repeated until learned – think about that one as you wonder why you’re so ‘unlucky’. You can find the problem and the opportunity in the mirror.

Leadership really is an inside job.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Edd's Images

The Key To Accurate Forecasting Is Process Alignment

Many in sales do an excellent job [not] of educating their customers about how to secure the lowest price and maximum commercial concessions. They do this by offering special pricing with hollow threats of taking the discount away after the end of month or end of quarter has ticked-over. This behavior simply trains prospects to take suppliers to the wire to extract concessions every time a major deal is on the table.

It is usually unproductive and damaging to seek to unnaturally force the pace of business. Never assume that price or other incentives will change the customer’s timing. Failure to fully understand the buying organization’s processes automatically introduces serious risk and makes it almost impossible to forecast accurately. Instead, sell on value and understand the customer’s timing and process for selection, negotiation, and procurement. Align with the customer rather than pressure them.

Are you actually aligned to your customer’s timing, decision drivers and processes for selection and procurement? The best approach is to understand the date that they need a solution implemented and then validate their commitment by asking what happens if the date slips or status quo prevails. Once you are certain the client is committed to a date for realizing benefits, identify everything that needs to occur to achieve the implementation deadline. Working backwards from this date, go through the list and create a time-line with critical dates for all milestones and identify the interdependencies. Now you have a realistic date for when a purchase order needs to be issued or contract executed. Align to this timeframe rather than your own end of month, quarter or financial year.

Work with your customer to understand and manage the risks, including whether they need to submit a business case or work through a convoluted process for approval and funding. They may need to adhere to an onerous procurement process. There may be critical reviews with steering committees, and there may be approvals required from senior management or at board level. There may also be tension with other projects or initiatives. When full understanding of all these things has been achieved, in partnership with your customer, then you are able to work with them to keep everything on track and adjust your strategy and forecast date accordingly.

Every business decision has a natural pace at which the selection and buying process needs to be fulfilled. Wise sales people ensure they have full understanding before forecasting when business will close. This means there are rarely surprises, just points of risk that can be managed with the customer. They avoid pressuring the buyer or creating unnecessary tension. Instead they build a close plan but call it a Project Alignment Plan with the customer. Consider these questions when thinking about the customer’s process:

  • What happens if they do nothing and defer the decision?

  • Is there a compelling event or a very strong driver for buying?

  • Are there external events that may impact the decision or timing?

  • What are all the points of risk in securing a positive decision?

  • What is the timeframe for delivery of outcomes with milestones?

  • Concerning the selection criteria and weighting of various factors:

    • Which features and functionality matters most to the buyer?

    • What are the technical issues that need to be considered?

    • Where do they perceive the risks in the project or initiative?

    • How important is brand and size in considering risk?

    • How important is experience and industry specialization?

    • How is commercial & product risk assessed and weighted?

    • What role will demonstrations and references play?

  • What is the required Return on Investment or payback period?

  • Are they more focused on price or value?

  • What are the preferences of the influencers and decision makers?

  • What is their approval process and who must sign-off?

  • Who can say ‘no’? Who has to say ‘yes’? Who has power of veto?

  • What is the process for handling negotiations?

  • If a contract is required, whose paper and can it be reviewed early?

  • How is a purchase order generated or contract signed once the decision is made?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: MattysFlicks

Be A Value Creator, Not a Value Projector

Creating value is more important than articulating it. Value needs to pervade every aspect of your engagement with the buyer and be embedded within their strong business case. This ensures the necessary funding is secured without risk of competing projects diverting money or resources. Value creation, evidenced by a compelling business case, can only be achieved with intimate understanding of the customer’s business through relationships at the right level that create or uncover value through solutions to serious problems or the ability to realize potential opportunities.

The goal of a professional salesperson is therefore ‘value creation’ before ‘value projection’. Once value is established you can then focus on communicating your value proposition which must be unique and compelling. Understand however that value differentiation is what the seller needs to achieve but rarely what the buyer wants to hear about. Differentiation is nevertheless essential because customers always have a choice of suppliers who can do the job for them. Whether you are selling soap or semiconductors, widgets or ideas, products or services, bundled value or real solutions – your value proposition must be compelling.

The solution must go beyond mere features of your product or service because the real problem is almost never uniquely solved by one particular product over another. Maybe the customer actually needs a reliable supply-chain, prompt service, effective change management or something else. The product or service you sell is not a solution until it is fully aligned with addressing the real problems and delivering genuine business value.

Every product, service or solution is only worth what the market will pay for it. Your value proposition must therefore be focused on specific and tangible benefits for the customer, and directly linked to the resolution of their specific problems or opportunities – the bigger the better. Features do not necessarily equate to benefits or represent genuine value for the customer. The most powerful differentiated value propositions usually include your people, expertise and methodologies; not just your product and service. Government buyers assess value from a blend of functionality (fit for purpose) and perceived risk; price is then included in the equation to ultimately determine value for money.

Individuals and organizations universally seek best value and lowest risk. The cheapest product or solution can be perceived as higher risk and inferior value. Value is defined by the buyer, not the seller. Comparative perceptions are determinative so when seeking to identify and leverage your unique value, ask yourself the following:

  • What do we offer that is of business value to the prospective customer, aligned to their specific needs and delivering tangible benefits?

  • Is our product, service or solution part of a strong business case?

  • How does the buyer prioritize projects and are we aligned with the required return on investment, payback period or net present value calculation?

  • Who and what is the competition, and what are our comparative strengths and weaknesses?

  • What combination of the following represents a compelling overall value proposition compared with the competition?

o Product or service features enabling business benefits

o Service offerings that reduce risk and deliver business value

o Individual and team skills and proven domain expertise, industry knowledge and methodologies that assure successful delivery and cultural fit with the customer

o Business model or geographic presence enabling lower risk or providing better efficiency

A strategy is only as good as the information that leads to it and is of no use unless you can execute effectively. Much of the risk in developing strategy comes from not being aware of what you do not know. The hallmark of great strategy is the obsessive gathering of relevant information then fully considering the probable consequences of any potential action. Based upon accurate intelligence, strategy must be formulated for managing key relationships, creating unique and compelling value, and defeating the competition. When considering strategy ask yourself:

  • Do I have all necessary information to create executive insight and do I truly understand the decision drivers and business case?

  • What is my relationship strategy and am I personally aligned with the real power-base; those with political and economic power?

  • How will I engineer the customer’s focus on our unique value and prove capability and lowest risk?

  • Where will I position price to leave room to negotiate?

  • Who and what is the competition and how will I create better value and win?

  • Does the customer have an internal option (IT Department, etc.)?

  • Does the customer have other projects competing for funding?

  • Which of my competitors are engaged with the customer?

  • How will my competitors seek to position against us and what are our comparative strengths and weaknesses?

Tactical mistakes can usually be corrected but strategic errors are usually fatal. Ensure you have all the information and that you run the various scenarios through in your mind and with your team before initiating pivotal actions. What outcome do you expect? How will the customer respond? How will competitors react? Thinking, rather than talking, is the most important activity in professional selling. There are specific engagement options for dealing with competitive threats. Jim Holden, Art Jacobs and Keith Eades are authors who have previously linked military strategy to professional selling and here is a framework for deciding how to engage competitively.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Kevin Stanchfield

The Most Powerful Questions In Sales

When dealing with senior executives, never use any form of manipulation. Instead allow them to feel in control and build trust through the way you engage and create understanding with the insightful questions you ask.

Outdated hook and tie-down questions are to be avoided with those in the executive suite at all times. Examples of these credibility destroying behaviors include: ‘If I could show you how to improve your bottom line, is that something you would be interested in?’ or ‘If I can demonstrate that we can meet that requirement, would you be willing to buy from us?’ These types of questions are closed and manipulative – don't do it when engaging at the most senior levels.

People are best convinced for reasons they themselves discover. Although there is a role for insight or Challenger selling for earning credibility, never forget that ‘telling is not selling’. Here are some powerful questions for C-level interactions that you may wish to adapt for your own purposes:

  • I’ve done my homework but there are some questions I think only you can answer – may we cover a few of these now?
  • What is really driving the need to make this kind of investment?
  • What has to be delivered in terms of business outcomes?
  • Where do you see the risks?
  • Who are the most senior people affected by this project; and how will they be impacted and what’s their role in implementing a solution?
  • What is your process and timing for making a decision and having a solution in place?
  • What are the other options you’re considering? Why are these attractive?
  • If we do business together, it is important for me to understand exactly what will make you 100% satisfied. What needs to happen for this business relationship to be successful in your eyes?
  • The meeting today has been very useful, what would you like me to do next?
  • You are very busy and have many people seeking meetings with you, so why did you agree to meet with me today?

Questions possess amazing power. The right question at the right time can create doubt, interest, support, self-reflection, decision or action. Plan every meeting and interaction; especially focus on planning the questions you will ask. Anticipate where the questions will take the conversation and go beyond the obvious of asking open questions instead of closed. Choose your questions wisely as they say much about who you are and how far the relationship is likely to go. Finally, focus on the why and when, rather than on the what and how.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Nana B Agyei

Sales Relationships and The New ROI ©

Every buyer seeks Return On Investment (ROI) from a purchasing decision but the seller also makes an investment in the sales process. In complex enterprise solution selling the costs are substantial and the sales organization also needs their ROI – return on sales investment.

But here is a new take on the ROI acronym. Sales ROI can only be achieved with Relationships Of Integrity, Relationships of Intelligence and Insight, and Relationships of Influence with the most senior people within the customer’s organization – this is The New [sales] ROI ©.

Sales success at any level depends on positive relationships because customers buy from those they like and trust. Recommenders and coaches within the enterprise may provide useful information and feed-back concerning how you need to position and price your product or service, but don’t rely on or be trapped with mid-level relationships. There is no substitute for starting at the highest level possible to thoughtfully and positively challenge the status quo. Diligent research, planning and alignment with genuine political power are essential.

Strive for Relationships of Integrity because trust is essential in all business dealings. Invest however with those who represent genuine power, more than mere influence or support. Instead of being trapped with recommenders, foster powerful business relationships that provide differentiating insight and alignment with political and economic power.

It is only senior relationships of integrity that provide what is necessary to win – intelligence, insight and influence. When considering the issue of relationships, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know all the people in the customer’s power-base?
  • Who are the influencers, recommenders and decision makers?
  • Do I know the puppet master, the person pulling the strings in the background?
  • Do I know every person who has the power of veto?
  • Have I mapped my team to all the individuals in the buying- center?
  • What relationships need to be established between my team and the customer’s key people, and how are introductions and linkages best facilitated?
  • Do I know every individual’s buyer type: economic, technical or business?
  • Do I understand every individual’s dominant personality traits, communication preferences, political agendas, decision drivers and risk versus opportunity mindset?
  • What relationships do my competitors have within the account?
  • Who influences the customer externally in the form of analysts or consultants?
  • What other companies are respected and watched by my customer and do these organizations use my competitors? If so, how successfully?
  • What reference site relationships need to be managed?

The best way to map and strategize an opportunity is to draw the organizational chart identifying the buying center (all the people who have a say in the selection and recommendation process), and then overlay the power-base which are the people with power of veto and who own the business outcome and funding. Who are the real decision makers? Who is really leading and engineering the selection outcome within the buying organization?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Photo by: Simon Cunningham

The 6 Risks Sales People Must Manage

Complex enterprise selling is about lots of things – managing risk is near the top of the list. Here are six risks that must be managed if we are to win large complex opportunities.

1: Not knowing what it is that you don’t know. I’ve won hundreds of millions of dollars of business by obsessing on this one. I’m always wondering what's going on in the client’s boardroom, what politics are in play behind the scenes, what my competitors are up to, what could blind-side me. I’m not negative, just positively paranoid.

The ABC of complex enterprise selling is not Always Be Closing; it is Always Be Cogitating! Be a gatherer of intelligence, a plotter, a schemer, a planner. A strategy is only as good as the intelligence and thinking that leads to it. Always seek progression in the process (closing, if you like, for the next step or action) and advancement in your standing with everyone in the power-base.

2: Inertia, apathy and status quo. Despite a customer’s desire to improve their business or department by implementing change, many a project goes nowhere. Amazingly, no one on the client side seems to damage their career – they instead see benefits in gathering lots of valuable information and, at the end of the day, saving the organization unnecessary risk: ‘All a very useful exercise for when we go ahead in the future’.

So ask yourself: Are they really committed? Do they know why they are doing this? Is their senior executive commitment beyond a mere sponsor? Is there either a compelling business case or compelling event driving the project or initiative? Is their level of dissatisfaction strong enough or can the incumbent salvage their situation? Why will they change?

3: Any negative force outside your control. This is a tough one – how do you manage something outside of your control? We need to anticipate competitors and circumstance that can enter the scene to create negative pressure. In response, we also need to be able to rally the support of those who can influence should the need arise. Think about what could go wrong and who it is that you would need the support of to address the situation. For example, could you ask your key senior decision-maker: ‘What will you do when our competition realizes they’ve lost and they offer you a deal that isn’t commercially viable for them?’ Understand the political power within the client organization and build relationships that can be harnessed to repel negative forces if needed.

4: Software or technology demonstrations. This risk is massive and for two reasons. The first is that it is very common for the seller to do a gob-smacking demo that completely misses the mark. Lots of features and functions intended to wow the audience with the capabilities of the product, simply cause concerns about training requirements, change management and complexity… ”We don’t need a Rolls Royce solution.” The second reason is that vendors seem to have a crack cocaine style addiction to showing the very latest in their product – the beta code that has the very latest functionality… and bugs.

When you are forced to do a demo, ensure that you understand what the buyer expects and needs to see. Never demo in a vacuum. Never demo without a script unless you are masterful. Ask your buyer: “What happens next if the demo meets expectations?” Most importantly, never demo to create interest! Remember that features and functions can exclude you from a deal but they almost never win the day. Pushing features and functions can actually create price or total cost of ownership (TCO) concerns.

5: Reference customers. They are your best resource in securing new business. But they often feel compelled to be ‘honest’ when doing reference calls or site visits. They can feel compelled to balance the good with some honesty. Worse than this is when your published case studies or marketing reference customer database is out of date. Never use a reference customer unless you know them and what they will say when asked specific questions. Manage this real risk in the back-end of the buyer’s process. Remember, reference site visits are all down side!

6: Your boss or other senior executives. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen senior executives just decide to wing-it when meeting clients. This is despite briefing documents and the polite exhortations of those below them to prepare well for the meeting. The worst situation is when someone above you wants to ‘touch the deal’ or ‘help you close’. There is no room for big egos in complex enterprise selling – everyone in the team needs to play their role. I recently helped a client win a $100M opportunity and the senior executives above the sales person were all amazingly brilliant in playing their role. It is amazing what can be achieved when no-one cares who gets the credit.

These six areas of risk are very real – you may have others. People within your customer’s organization will resist or sabotage change, often for reasons they themselves do not fully understand. Obsess about managing every contingency as this is one of the things that sets great people apart from the average.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Maria Ly