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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Discipline Essential for Sustained Sales Momentum

Positive momentum is precious – it’s difficult to create and easy to lose. Negative momentum, on the other hand, seems to happen all on its own but is actually the result of not paying attention or not methodically executing the necessary inputs required for consistent results.

To maintain momentum and avoid inconsistency in revenue performance you must recognize that there is always a lag between inputs and results. Most sales people work very hard when their list of qualified prospects is thin or sales are sub-optimal. But as their pipeline improves and sales come in they then tend to neglect pipeline development. They usually justify this neglect by rationalizing that there is not enough time to prospect and also work existing opportunities. But as sure as night follows day, poor revenue results follow low prospecting and pipeline development activity. The people who suffer from these ups and downs usually alternate between feelings of confidence and panic throughout their sales year.

The key to consistent results is consistently engaging in prospecting and pipeline development activities regardless of the demands of current qualified opportunities. Successful sales people measure these inputs and manage their activity levels accordingly. Every industry is unique yet there will be proven metrics for the required rates of cold calling, referrals, appointments, presentations, proposals, and other key activities. Understand the specific activity levels for your own industry and habitually honor the law of momentum by having a disciplined work ethic.

It is essential to have a balanced pipeline of qualified prospects for short-term and significant long-term opportunities. There should be a minimum of three times quota in qualified prospects, and achieving budget should not be dependent upon the largest deal alone. Continue with pipeline development activities regardless of how good current sales appear to be and despite how busy you are with current prospects. An abundant pipeline provides the luxury of choice in where you invest your time and resources.

What are your key performance inputs? These are the activities that drive sustained performance. The best book available on this topic is Cracking The Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan – buy it and read it.

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.

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Solving This Sales Problem Solves All Others

As a sales manager or CXO responsible for revenue and customer experience, everywhere you look there are problems to address. I won't give you a list here because it will just increase your blood pressure – you’ve had enough of victim’s excuses within your team or partner channel. But when you’ve looked at all the squeaky wheels and eliminated the noise, what’s the most important problem to solve? Which problem above all others, if solved, would remove tension between sales and marketing, improve morale, create productive staff, drive growth and increase revenue?

Here it is – a pipeline of quality opportunities.

In my 30 years of professional selling, leading teams and running companies, solving this problem makes all other problems become good problems. But when there’s a terminal lack of revenue, people think about jumping ship or the blame game spirals out of control. With a healthy pipeline of quality winnable opportunities, the business is happy to invest and more willing to be patient. The leaders can rally the troops and resource a bid, improve the quality of sales team execution, bring sales and marketing together, and drive strategy.

Yet sales people typically lack the marketing experience, knowledge or discipline for consistently creating early engagement [strategic] pipeline … this is where sales management leadership, and sales and marketing department alignment are critical. Here are some strategies and recommended reading for equipping your team to create quality pipeline.

  1. Use traditional press and social media to listen for trigger events that could indicate an opportunity that is on the horizon. Has there been a crisis or scandal? Has there been a change in a key role? Has there been a merger or acquisition (M&A)? Has a new competitor entered the market? Are there new regulations coming? (Book recommendation: Shift by Craig Elias and Tibor Shanto).
  2. Create industry and solution experts who can lead and equip sales people or themselves engage with target verticals on the basis of insights into: world’s best practice, trends driving change, emerging technologies or disruptive commercial models. (Book recommendation: The Challenger Sale by Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson).
  3. Train and equip your senior sales people to become masterful micro-marketers, adept with social media to engage in communities the right way. No clumsy selling and spam on platforms such as LinkedIn; just positive insights, praise and wisdom to build their brand and contribute without a sales message or hook being included at the end of every conversation. (Book Recommendation: The New Rules of Sales and Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott).
  4. Identify, measure and manage the input activities that create quality pipeline. Managers should invest more time in coaching and supporting these activities than firing-up the blow-torch at the end of the month and quarter when it is already too late… you cannot manage revenue, you can only manage the activities that lead to it. (Book recommendation: Cracking The Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan).

Every sales person needs a balanced pipeline of short-term tactical and long-term strategic opportunities. They need both types so that they can achieve their numbers in the now, while investing in the future by moving up in how they sell. It is vitally important not to allow the urgent to squeeze-out the important. Everyone needs to filter-out the noise and focus on what really matters fortomorrow as a well as today – is there a solid pipeline of quality opportunities on the horizon?

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.

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Open Powerfully By Not Talking About Yourself

Opening rather than closing is the most important phase of the sale. Initial interaction can set the agenda and establish a relationship of trust and value. The sales person should therefore possess gravitas and lead with insight to communicate business value and positive intent. But this must never manifest as being pompous or bombastic. The very best sales people are humble and customer-focused in how they establish credibility even before they’ve met their prospect face-to-face.

When engaging with senior people always be slightly early and show respect for their time. Provide context before detail and demonstrate insightful knowledge of the customer and their industry (domain expertise). Senior executives are always busy and easily distracted so you only have a limited amount of time to engage effectively. Lead with why the conversation is important and show that you’ve done your homework. Then get to the point and adopt an evidence-based approach by providing powerful examples of the business value you deliver for relevant clients.

Mentioning features or functions of your product, service or solution will immediately brand you as a sales person. Instead focus on the business outcomes that need to be delivered, understand the problems and implications, and act as a subject matter expert who can help them manage risk. Methodically ask intelligent questions designed to create understanding of the customer’s operational environment, business drivers, required outcomes, power-base and decision-making processes.

Here is a powerful challenge. In your next few meetings with prospects don't mention your product, service or solution unless they specifically ask you. Lead by being fascinated by them. How will you open with insight and earn the right to ask questions? Finally, make sure they do at least two-thirds of the talking – you should actually aim to talk no more than 25% of the time.

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.

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Why Organizational Politics Can Defeat You

Human beings are political by nature and politics pervade every organization in the form of an invisible power structure not apparent in an organizational chart. It is impossible to avoid politics when dealing with a group of people with competing agendas or differing opinions. Political tensions are the result of individual needs and agendas being misaligned with organizational structures and business drivers.

Although political factors are an unavoidable reality, they should be embraced in a positive and thoughtful manner by aligning with the right people and winning agendas. When seeking to influence the decision process within an organization you must first understand the political power structure as it overlays on the formal organization chart. The first group of people to consider may be described as ‘the buying center’. This is the group of people that make recommendations for a purchasing decision. Everyone in the buying center needs to be covered during the sales process but a recommendation can be stymied or vetoed by the economic decision maker or the power-base.

The power-base drives the informal decision process and transcends the boundaries of the organizational chart and is not fully visible to outsiders. There is almost always a senior person within the power-base operating in the background as the ‘puppet master’. Jim Holden refers to this person as ‘the fox’ in reference to the fact that you almost never see a fox, only the evidence of their work in the chicken coop. This person can be difficult to identify within an organization and usually resists engaging directly with sales people. The power-base players often, but not always, have a predetermined outcome in mind when engineering a buying process.

sales training tony hughes org chart.png

 

Government entities are particularly risk-averse and influenced by politics as individuals seek to manage perceptions of success and performance while delivering outcomes in complex consensus-driven environments. Whether dealing with corporate or government entities, the very best sales people do their research and take the necessary time and effort to understand human agendas and political power in planning sales strategies.

Politics need not be negative and dealing with the tension created by competing agendas can be done with integrity. Manipulation and subterfuge have no place in modern professional selling. The best way to avoid relationship errors or political misalignment during a sales campaign is to start at the very top and then be sponsored and coached by the leader as you work down in the organization – the leader’s agenda is always the right horse to back.

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.

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Winning Secret: Personal Agendas Vs Business Mode

Every organization is a collective of uniquely different people who have their own personal needs, priorities and agendas. Ideally, these are aligned with the organization but this is rarely the case. Internal politics, restructuring, takeovers, retrenchments and career changes are common. Honoring the law of self-interest is important. A person in the buying center or power-base of an organization may be in either a negative/conservative mode or a positive/ambitious mode. The motivations of individuals in either of these modes are as follows:

  • Protect their position or reputation versus look good, be a leader or hero
  • Avoid mistakes and maintain control versus receive recognition or promotion
  • Avoid conflict versus be an agent of change
  • Save money or reduce costs versus improve revenues or productivity

An individual does not function in a vacuum. They are part of an organization that will have certain business drivers that influence all decisions. Success in strategic selling demands understanding of personal agendas and corporate operating modes. Every organization operates in either a positive or negative mode and every commercial enterprise is driven by a need to increase profit. Most government organizations are instead driven by a desire to improve service levels, ideally without increasing costs. In both corporate and government entities, there is a universal desire to achieve ‘more with less’ and any proposal or business-case should focus on greater output (more revenue) from existing resources (greater productivity), or less cost or effort (improved efficiency).

The pace of business (decision urgency and priority) is influenced by the organization’s current operating mode. Growth and survival modes mean fast decisions, and maintenance mode means slow decisions. It is important to understand the operating mode when seeking to influence the decision making process:

  • Survival mode: Decision speed is fast. Business drivers are cost reduction and improved cash-flow
  • Maintenance mode: Decision speed is slow. Business drivers are productivity and profit while also reducing costs. In maintenance mode it is more difficult to identify specific drivers and close business. The buyer ‘doing nothing’ is often a real risk
  • Growth mode: Decision speed is fast. Business drivers are productivity and profit

Business State / Operational Mode – Business Decision Impact

The Buyer’s Journey – Impact of Seller Engagement

The very best sales people engineer alignment with personal agendas and corporate drivers. They understand the need to balance risk with reward for the decision-makers and to align with the natural pace of decision-making and change management. Most importantly, they know what drives the risk of doing nothing, within individuals and the customer 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.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Nguyen Vu Hung

Social Media Attacks Not A Zero Sum Game

Early in my social media journey, I witnessed something unsavoury. My friend Tibor Shanto makes a huge contribution to professional selling around the world and is very active in social media, especially LinkedIn. Tibor is a positive, genuine thought leader and he did an interesting LinkedIn post on professional selling. People were adding comments and engaging in constructive dialogue... then wham – like a great white shark launching out of the water to devour a seal!

Someone had jumped in with an unprovoked, vicious attack.

It really was nasty and Tibor responded with an eloquent and factual rebuff (link at the end of this post). It’s all entertaining… people love to watch a car crash or schoolyard fight but here’s what shows me the beautiful power of the best social media platforms. Done well, they are communities and any community with positive values does not tolerate bullies or negative trolls. LinkedIn is a superbly moderated environment with 160,000 LinkedIn Publisher posts every month and over 187,000,000 monthly unique visitors. Dozens of people started posting in LinkedIn to support Tibor, and without getting nasty with the person who had attacked him. Nice, I thought, we need goodwill and good manners in the world – especially on social media platforms.

A few weeks later, I became very active in LinkedIn as my new blog platform. I deliberately don't use my posts as bait to take people to my website or capture names for marketing purposes. I simply give my intellectual property away. I do this because professional selling has been very kind to me; I have no debt with a family lifestyle I am grateful for. I also have a full book of clients I enjoy working with and I'm building a good reputation as a keynote speaker – time to give back.

Then this same person who attacked Tibor lunged at me in one of my posts. He blog-bombed me with negativity and sarcasm while seeking to hijack the discussion thread claiming his ability to have ‘insights’ about my writing was due to the fact he had written a book – and of course he included a link to take people to his website. (Click here to see my 6 Sins Of B2B Social Selling.) I chose to simply ignore him and his negativity – I’d seen his form with Tibor and elsewhere. After about 10 days, I simply took that particular post down but now I think I'll put it back up. Why should any of us feel censored or bullied into not sharing our views?

Shortly thereafter he blocked me, which meant I could not see his profile or posts. I initially wondered if LinkedIn had put him in ‘LinkedIn Jail’ but then a friend emailed me to let me know he was now bashing my credentials too. My wife signed in to LinkedIn and we had a look at his profile and posts. We read his negative comments about me and also saw that he had retroactively cleaned up his diatribe against Tibor Shanto to mask its initial intent. He will probably do the same with his negative post about me once he sees this.

Please note that this person was a complete stranger to me until he lashed out. I feel compelled to share here as a sort of public service announcement and it made me wonder, how many times has this person done this in social media or otherwise? He appears to be aggressively competing with other writers out there by piggy-backing off of their efforts while simultaneously defecating all over them. Is the motive to sell more books by attempting to discredit other authors? Maybe he thinks negative publicity is a good thing. Not in my opinion; I don't want any association with negative people or haters. My personal brand is extremely important to me and I don’t understand why this person seeks attention in a way that causes them so much brand damage.

I was persuaded to write a book after 30 years as a consistent high performer in the APAC sales trenches having personally won 7 and 8 figure deals; and then as a sales manager, country manager and managing director having helped countless sales people improve their abilities. For the last two years I've been a sales leadership consultant helping clients improve their teams and coaching them to win deals as large as $100M. So questioning my experience or dismissing me as a dilettante armchair consultant, amused me to the quick. Just as with "Tibor" he "looked into my background." But clearly he did not. Wouldn't an effective adversarial approach begin with an attack grounded in facts? Better still, don't throw mud at anyone – we all know the analogy.

I think it's incumbent upon anyone in the sales leadership and development community to encourage professional discourse in social, especially on LinkedIn. Yes, let's foster passionate debate and freedom of speech as we seek to help others hone their craft. But caustic and nasty criticism of someone who's earned the right to express a viewpoint is disappointing. Let's be egalitarian, everyone has a right to an informed opinion but unprovoked attacks such as the one on Tibor have no place on LinkedIn.

There's a more positive way to engage if you have differing views. I'm often surprised by spam bots leaving negative comments or angry folks blasting off on LinkedIn to game the system driving fast impressions and clicks. What a myopic view! Impressively, these instances are few and far between. Kudos to LinkedIn's team for keeping this forum a positive place to interact. To me, sales training and authorship is not a zero sum game. If you attack someone, their supporters will rally to enhance the person’s brand but your brand will plummet disproportionately.

Some write a bestseller. Others may not ever get global distribution or recognition but have written a masterwork worthy of global publication. They have brilliant ideas however small or large. Let's listen to all and celebrate each contribution. I learn from my mentees every day. There are genius-level sales people from all walks of life executing with excellence in the field as we speak on every continent. We can learn from them and LinkedIn provides a forum for limitless wisdom and helpful information exchange. Let's work together to expand the pie so that distinguished sales degrees can be offered in higher learning institutions worldwide and we can restore dignity embracing the highest form of what professional selling can be.

Has anyone else had a run-in with a malicious player in the sales training community? Tibor chose a rapid and assertive rebuff. I chose to simply ignore and eliminate, and I plan to continue doing so – when you argue with an idiot, it soon becomes difficult for observers to distinguish who is who. There is no right or wrong but I’m interested in what others think concerning the best way to handle unprovoked attacks? After ruminating on this question, I thought there might be valuable lessons to be learned here by bubbling this up to the global community.

P.S. You can see Tibor Shanto’s eloquent response to the hostile attack here.

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: Ryan Hyde

Myth Buster: Objections Help You Close The Sale

Early in my sales career I was taught that objections are opportunities to close. I quickly learned that objections instead highlight misunderstanding, create resistance, and damage trust which reduces the likelihood of making the sale. In modern enterprise solution selling, an objection can be evidence of a sales person’s mistake.

Objections are caused by attempting to close the sale prematurely or by positioning features that are not linked to genuine business value. Positioning features and benefits without aligning them to specific acknowledged business needs can create price concerns or the perception that what you offer is over-engineered.

All professional sales people should however seek to create progression in every interaction. In this sense, the concept of ‘closing’ occurs right from initial contact. Closing is not an event at the end of the sales-cycle; it’s the process of negotiating mutual commitments at every stage of the customer’s evaluation and buying process. Success is achieved through developing real trust, understanding, and then the buyer’s attraction to genuine value. ‘Closing’ is therefore best defined as ‘confirming’. The best professional sales people are not interested in pushing or applying pressure, because it creates distrust and unproductive resistance. Instead they concentrate on how they can offer the highest value and lowest risk, and they focus on securing agreement concerning the next steps in making a decision and then finalizing the commercial arrangements.

Professional selling can be defined as the process of helping someone make a buying decision that is in the customer’s best interests. This paradigm of selling demands cooperation, understanding, trust, and alignment with the buyer’s needs and processes. In this environment, the old-school concept of ‘closing’ is redundant. Instead of defining the ‘ABC of selling’ as ‘Always Be Closing’, think instead: always be consultative; always be confirming; always be committed to understanding before seeking progression.

Concluding business should be a natural next step rather than a point of risk for the sales person or unwanted pressure for the buyer. Focus on understanding their requirements and processes and then the next logical step to help the customer achieve their desired outcomes.

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: Eldar_

Is Narcissism Killing Your Brand?

Tweeting narcissistic spam or posting egocentric updates is the fastest way to destroy a personal brand. For B2B selling, no platform is more important than LinkedIn and it needs to be used to answer a key question for potential buyers of your product, service or solution: Are you a credible person worthy of initial trust?

For most sales people, their LinkedIn profile reads as an online CV, targeting potential employers or bragging about past sales conquests. This is the last thing that will appeal to a potential buyer who needs your social footprint to convey relevance, credibility and trustworthiness if they are to engage. Although social platforms rarely deliver leads in the world of complex B2B solution selling, the best buyers will check you out online before a meeting. Does your LinkedIn profile evidence your domain expertise and credentials as a trusted source of information and insights? Are you a hub for relevant content? Does your network show you are connected at the highest levels in the industry? Do you lead relevant conversations? Are you committed for the long-haul in the industry and with customers? Difficult questions I know but social means transparency and LinkedIn is not a facade, it’s the fourth dimension of sales reality. Do the work, make the investment… it’s not optional today.

The term ‘Social Selling’ is a misleading allure for those in B2B sales because social selling is more relevant to the world of B2C. In B2B selling ‘Social Projection’ will get you nowhere. Instead focus on the power of social platforms and tools for research, networking, warm introductions (rather than cold calls) and publishing thought leadership without pushing what you sell. Think ‘Social Engagement’ and about how you can attract the ‘market-makers’ into your sphere based on high value content and a genuine persona of positive goodwill. Also understand that social media activity does not equate to meaningful connection. The importance of trusted relationships in B2B selling will never go away. Your social profile must therefore support the initiation of relationships based on credibility and trust.

Carpe Diem! Seize the day. Revisit your LinkedIn profile now and update it to appeal to a prospective buyer rather than a potential employer. Start investing in building your network and value online.

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: Bexx Brown-Spinelli