Thursday, January 26, 2012

Truth, Honesty & Perceived Truth

A few weeks back I wrote a blog about things that customers said to me that I just found to be unbelievable. Most of the people that read the blog agreed with me on some level and enjoyed it. I had a few people that did not agree with me. I welcome people that present a contrary point of view because I truly enjoy a good debate. One person that read the blog really did NOT like it and was very critical. Despite our disagreement with one another he did shine a light on one item that I did a poor job of clarifying. I said that the truth matters very little and what the customer perceives to be true is key to winning the business. So their are people who read my blog and thought " Mike doesn't care about the truth." To the Contrary, I certainly do care about the truth, and that is where honesty from a sales rep really comes into play. As salespeople, we often are in the very unfortunate spot where we must tell the customer something they don't want to hear. Other times, we must tell the customer something that is in their best interest but could significantly reduce our chances of winning the business. In both scenarios we must advise the customer of a truth that they are not yet aware of. The challenge here is, despite our desire to be honest and tell the customer something difficult, they often don't believe us. Either they just disagree or they think we are being dishonest for the purpose of trying to confuse them or manipulate them.
 A few weeks ago I received a call from a customer looking for high speed Internet access. During our meeting it came out that they currently used one of the largest national providers for their Internet access and the connection would often go down for 2 or 3 days at a time. I advised the customer that we would experience the same issues but because of our service methods that the down time would be shorter duration, even though it would probably be just a frequent. During our discussion I suggested the customer contact the local cable company and one of the local Wireless companies for pricing. Both of those solutions would bypass the problem. The client advised me that the cable company would have a VERY expensive installation charge that they were not prepared to pay and the wireless carrier had not returned their calls. I presented the customer with pricing the next day and (like so many other customers) once they had the pricing, they stopped taking my calls. About a month later I was able to contact the customer and ask what direction they went in and they told me that they went with the "other" Really Big National provider. Now in this scenario the truth is this customer will continue to have the same problems because this new provider was not dealing with the root cause of the problem. But this customers "perceived truth" is that the Big National Provider would do a better job of servicing them. Even though their experience told them otherwise.

So to be clear, Telling your customer the truth and being honest are absolutely critical to winning a sale. But it is even more important to understand what the customer perceives to be true and to tailor your presentation to that understanding if you want to win the business.

Thanks for reading today

Mike S.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Never Underestimate The Power of Stupid People or Things I Actually Heard Customers Say to Me This Year

Lets  take a look back at 2011 and some of the outrageous comments customers made to me this year.

First one up. A client in North Baltimore was deciding between my service and a competitor that is notorious for service issues. When I brought that topic up she responded "well if the phones don't work we can always use our cell phones and if the internet is down fora day or two, we just wont check email, really it's not a big deal." I wished that customer and hung up the phone

Second: a Potential client on Main Street told me that she believes in working with local companies and keeping money in the local economy. 1 month later she decided to stay with her large national provider when I asked her why she stated "well they employ people here in Maryland so that money is staying local." Think I may have called her an idiot before hanging up, don't remember exactly.

Next, A potential client in Just South east of town was using a competitor of mine that I knew had a faster internet product. They were getting ready to move across the street. I told her that as long as they could provide service at their new office that it was a good idea to keep them. 4 weeks later I get a call that the other provider dropped the ball and was having trouble delivering service. They asked me for a revised proposal. I gave  them one. Did not hear anything for another 4 weeks. I called them again and the service still was not up. I asked why they had not signed my paperwork and they told me " well, we are a small business and we just cant afford to increase our phone bill so much." The increase would have been $100 a month and I would have had the service up and running 6 weeks ago. How much business did they lose in those six weeks? I am willing to bet is was more than $1200 worth.

It just goes to show you that no matter how good you are, no matter how good your products are, there is always going to be a potential client that buys into fear or buys into the brand that the other company is selling.

Truth matters little, what people perceive to be true is the real key. Understand what your customer perceives to be true and you can sell them anything that aligns with that perceived truth.

Thanks for reading today

Here is to a great 2012


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Peace on Earth & Good Will to Man ( and Woman)

I have not blogged in quite some time. I was in a car accident in early November and have been dealing with a concussion and the terrible headaches that come with. But I thought it important to wish you all the best of times with friends and family in this Holidays Season.

Not Sales Tactics

No Sales Pitch

No Agenda, no ax to grind

Just some gratitude and appreciation to all the people that have read my blog this year, supported me this year, been my friend this year and have become customers and business partners this year.

Regardless of what religion you follow, this is the time of year when people reflect on the good in life, are grateful for the things they have and try to help others.

I wish you all the best now and in 2012

Mike S.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What America Needs is an Increase in Mediocrity

Now just hear me out on this one folks. If you look at everything going on in the Country right now it appears that there is a small minority at the top controlling things and there is a substantial pool at the bottom that is dragging many of us down, So who really gets things done around here? That's right, the Middle Class. The suburbia people with 2.4 children, 1.7 pets and an average annual house hold income of less than 80k. This really applies to sales as well. Consider this, every sales team has those one or two people that really knock it out of the park every month or every quarter and they also have those couple people that cant even get out of their own way and it's a miracle when they sell anything. You know who the sales managers are quite fond of? The "Tweeners," they never blow their number out and they never really crap the bed either.

The Star salesperson typically has one of 3 things happen to them. They burn out on that performance level after 6-12 months and start looking for a new job to refresh. They get noticed by upper management, get a promotion, figure out they are much better at being sales people than managers and either get demoted back to sales or look for a job with a competitor. If they are demoted, they don't deal with it very well for very long. Many of the privileges they enjoyed being a manager are stripped away and they now feel like they are being excluded. The worst scenario is that the rock-star salesperson starts to push for things to make the company better or to make them happier in their work place, they are summarily dismissed or ignored and eventually they move on to find a new job, probably with your competitor.
Think that's a load of crap? Take a look around your sales force. How many people have been there 3 years plus? How many have hit or exceeded quota every month, quarter or year? How many of them don't complain or don't push for things? Y'see this is the problem with the sales hiring model. All these companies say they want to hire the "best of the best." they want the people that "meet or exceed quota annually." Here's a hint, you are better off hunting Moby Dick. Truthfully, if you find one of these people, the likelihood that they will still work for you in 24 months is slim to none. Again, don't believe me? Take a hard look at the salespeople that have come through your door in the last 20 years. How many of  them truly lived up to all that hype you saw in the interview? How many of them sustained that high level of performance for more than 18 months? It is truly a rare occurence.

The biggest reason those people performed as long as they did is probably because they had a great relationship with their sales manager. If you poll sales people about why they left a company you will hear a great many of them cite that they just couldn't get along with their sales manager any more. They will surely cite company policy and earning potential as other reasons too. But if you think about it, the right sales manager can overcome the company policy issue and the earning potential issue, So when you interview potential candidates you need to evaluate them based on the sales manager and how they will fit together.  Consider Pro-football. Often times a Quarterback is a result of the system they are in and their coaches. If everyone is one the same page, like the situation you have with the San Francisco 49ers you take a washed up Quarterback Like Alex Smith and turn him in to a team leader and a division leader, because he and his new coach Jim Harbaugh are on the same page. The opposite is true as well. Donovan McNabb performed very well under Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles but fell apart in Washington and Minnesota because it just wasn't the right system.
To this point, so many business owners think they can manage a sales team. or A big box sales company will simply "plug and play" sales managers with their teams with little regard to the interaction between the reps and the managers.  If you want a solid sales team, hire a qualified sales manager and let them pick their team. Guide them, make recommendations, but let them build the team. To that point, if you lose a sales manager but have good sales people left on their team. Talk to them very candidly about who they want to work for and why. Perhaps you can transfer them to another team. Perhaps they can provide invaluable input to selecting the right candidate going forward.

As for the bad Sales people on every team, chalk it up to experience. You hired the wrong person, they aren't a good fit, either with your company or the sales manager. If you think they can sell but don't perform under their sales manager then consider moving them to another team, or perhaps it is the sales manager that is the problem and not the salespeople.

Now the "tweeners." every sales team wants them and needs them and here's why. Generally they don't complain. They show up for work on time they work a full day and they leave when they are supposed to. Sure they don't blow their number out but you know you can count on them to contribute month after month. They usually aren't trouble makers. They don't make demands and instead they generally offer useful and productive opinions when you take the time to ask them. They generally know what's going on and understand their competitive landscape. They usually know where their product fits and they don't try to oversell when their product isn't a great fit for the client.

So, if you want a burst of sales, a tumultuous sales office and high turn over keep searching for and hiring the  "Top-Elite Quota Crushers." But if you would like to build a solid team of people willing to work together and provide a consistent stream of revenue for your company then hire the right sales manager and build a team of "tweeners."

Thanks for reading today.


BTW: I hope you will come out to my networking event this Friday night in Baltimore. I am raising money for Autism. click this link to register, thanks!

Baltimore Networking Friday November 11th 7-10pm

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Should Be Happy to Have a Job in Such a Bad Economy

I often write my blogs as a cathartic expression of the daily grind that is, being a salesperson. Identifying candidates is 100 times harder than it was even 5 years ago and once you get the appointment, the decision process that used to take 30 days is now 6-12 months. I hear people say all the time " this economy is terrible" and I don't argue that point, to the contrary, as sales people we are told to sell through objections. But nobody tells the customer that. There is no one standing behind the small business owner saying "stop making excuses and go make some damn money!" I have a good friend who has been in business for himself for over decade and this poor economy has hit his industry very hard. He has a fantastic product that I truly believe in and I often suggest ideas or options to hopefully help him think outside the box and get things moving in the right direction. He politely listens to what I say but I don't think he really hears me. I think the biggest reason he doesn't hear me is because he is so focused on "fixing" the problem that he does not evaluate the problem and create a plan to fix it. I truly hope that business owners will read my blog too, but I know that for the most part they don't. Because there are several key factors they could implement to make the sales process easier on them.
Topic one, be a good listener. They teach you this in sales training all the time. It is important, not only to listen when people speak, but to truly "hear" what they are saying. The subtle word choice can indicate frustration that may lead to you asking more questions to find the right solution for their problem and make them a customer. This is the same for customers. I recently blogged about a customer that thanked me for being so persistent and then told me he would sign up with my company. During our evaluation process, one of the concerns he had was a new business venture that he was starting within his office  space. I told him VERY SPECIFICALLY that his decision to start this venture would have little to no impact on our solution and that he would need a second vendor to complete the task regardless of choosing my company or staying with his current company. A few days after our installation the customer called me yelling quite loudly that I dropped the ball. I asked him what he was referring to and cited the scenario I just explained to you. My response was " Mr. Customer not only did I not drop the ball, but I told you that a second vendor would be needed to complete the work you desire." He yelled some more. I then told him I have business partner I often work with that does that work and would be glad to introduce him. I told the customer he worked fast and was fairly priced. His response was "just get him to my office and send me the bill." I had to explain to him that he would need to visit the site, quote the project and then the customer would sign an agreement to engage him for services. The customer responded " I'm gonna remember this Mike, you didn't help me when you could have." The post script to this story is my vendor friend took care of everything for my customer in less that 5 business days and did so at a VERY fair price. Customer has yet to call back and thank me for helping him when he was in a self induced bad spot. Doubt he will.

Topic two, be honest. This is paramount to any good sales process. If it takes your company 90 days to deliver then you damn well better tell the customer that. If there is ANY chance it will take 120 days, then tell them that too. Don't sugar coat it, don't put a positive spin on it. Address the issue and move on. The flip side of this is that customers lie to sales people all the time. If you are any good at sales then you can probably catch about 70% of the lies a customer tells you. I hate these situations because the customer is lying to me A: because they want to spare my feelings because they like me or B: they have absolutely no respect for me and have already decided to go with my competitor but want to use me to leverage the price they are getting. As for the first reason, please don't. Eventually we will come to learn that you lied to us and it will only make us angrier. Plus we wasted a bunch of time  listening to your lies because we thought we really had a chance. Here is a big sales secret. It is not our job in sales to trick you into buying from us. We don't get paid to meet with you or send you emails or chat on the phone. We get paid for signed contracts, EVERYTHING else is window dressing. The more time we waste on your lies, the less time we have to pursue real customers who want to work with us.

Talk to the other side. Nothing is more frustrating than when a customer ignores our emails and voice-mails. I have many customers who have said to me "wow I just left you that message a few minutes ago!" That's right, if you thought it important enough to contact me the least I can do is respond in a timely manner. Even if my response is " I don't know the answer, give me two days to research that and find out for you." This gets back to my "don't lie" concept and it creates a tangible timeline. Here is another hint for you customers out there. If you are not ready to buy or what we are proposing isn't really  a high priority for you then you can simply say " Mike this isn't high on my priorities right now, lets pick this up again in 30/60/90 days." you wanna know what we will do? We will get back to you in 30/60/90 days? Y'know why? Because no amount of selling or persuading is going to convince you to sign on the dotted line this month & that is all we care about. You don't wanna do business this month? Fine, thank you for being up front with me. I will get back to you in the requested time frame, in the mean time I will work on my other opportunities that still can make a decision this month.

If I wanna be paid in November then I need to sell in October, period.

The customer that goes dark on us after meeting and "oh yes this all looks and sounds great" is a real time waster and no one gets what they want. As sales people we need to keep calling because you haven't told us ANYTHING! you didn't say yes, you didn't say no, you didn't even say maybe! we have no idea where this project stands. Our intuition will tell us many things but really YOU the customer need to tell us. And to you sales people that get emails or voice mails  from you customer, get back to them in 24 hours. Better yet, call them back today. If they want to yell at you that isn't going to change tomorrow, in fact it will be worse. If they have a simple question, then give them a simple answer. Think about this, your simple answer to their question may free them up to answer another sales person and in turn, free them up to buy from you.

So that's the blog this week. Nothing terribly controversial this week but hopefully this provokes some thought and is a call to action for you. One more thing, show this to a customer you have a real good relationship with. It may just lead to your next great sale.

Thanks for reading today

Mike S.


My Baltimore networking event is coming up Friday night 11-11-11 please use the link below to register, I would love to meet you in person. Beside you will be doing something good by raising money for children and a local charity. Did I mention it's a tax deduction?

Networking for a Cause in Baltimore Maryland 11-11-11

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cold Calling Sucks and Frankly, it's Really Stupid

I have alluded to this concept in previous posts, but today I felt it high time to really discuss this topic in greater detail. So let's set the table first. I started in telecom sales in 1999. It was my first real B2B sales position and I knew nothing about the Baltimore business landscape. My company preached "go out and collect 20 cards and make 20 phone calls every day and you will be successful." I hated collecting cards. I did so only when absolutely forced to. Usually this meant there was a national contest that participation was mandatory and their were prizes for certain categories. I always won the "most cards collected" one for my office. It was easy & I don't mean that I went a grabbed a fish bowl from a local tavern. What I would normally do is hit a medical building with 50-100 Doctors offices and collect those cards. Now, most of the names on those cards were the wrong person for me to talk to, but that isn't what the contest was about, it was about collecting cards, it made the bosses happy.
So you will notice that the OVERWHELMING number of people who advocate cold calling are either sales managers or people trying to sell "cold calling" techniques to sales managers. When I first started I only cold called. I would get contact lists from Dunn and Bradstreet and that would give me a targeted location, company name and contact person to speak with. In a given day I would make 100 calls, I would talk to 10 people and set 3 or 4 appointments. I usually did that twice a week and that gave me enough activity  to keep my manager happy. So here is a question for you good readers today. How many of you can genuinely tell me that the last time you made 100 cold calls that your spoke to 10 decision makers and set 4 appointments? So what changed? Do I just suck at cold calling now ( sure, maybe the answer to that is yes, but lets put that aside for a moment). If you make those 100 calls, how many decision makers do you get to speak to, 2 maybe 3? So right there the contact percentile has been cut by 70%. Now I don't know about any of you but I can't live on 70% less money than I did ten years ago. And there is one truth about sales that I agree with, it's a numbers game. You still need three times your quota in your funnel every month to hit your target. But that has become increasingly difficult, so back to my original question, what changed? I can't speak for every industry but I know telecom was wide open in 1999 and you could openly call people and get through to the right person. Depending on your market sector, that right person would often answer the phone. In 2011, that has changed incredibly. Thanks to the Snake Oil sales people out there that give legitimate sales people a bad name, the actual DM that will take the time to answer the phone is almost completely gone.

So how do you get people to take your call? There are lots of theories on this one. Here is what I have found success with. First, you connect with people through networking, the chamber of commerce and philanthropy. Find something you are passionate about and then volunteer. You build up a list of people that may or may not be good customers for you but most certainly can make introductions for you.

Step two, research. Use your local business journal, use the Internet, I am very fond of Linkedin and I research people on there all the time. Most specifically, I am looking for people with specific business titles that have mutual contacts with me. I will then ask that person for an introduction. If I have done right by this person in the past and introduced them to good people then the introduction shouldn't be a problem. If I don't have a mutual contact then I look for other common ground. Did we go to same college? Are we part of the same fraternity? Do we like the same sports teams? Do we advocate for the same or similar causes?You are looking for things that make you stand out as a person so that you are no longer just "another salesperson." Once I find that common ground I will call and ask to speak with them. Undoubtedly I will get transferred to voice-mail and that is my chance to introduce our common ground and see if they are willing to speak with me. If they have a receptionist/screener that says they don't have voice-mail  (here's a hint, that's a lie) I decline leaving a message and instead I look up their email through more Internet research (jigsaw is very useful for this, but that is another topic for another day) and when I send the email I mention the connection in the subject line. For example if it is my college then I say "hello fellow Retriever." for those that don't know, UMBC's mascot is a Retriever, so it has meaning to the alumni.  If none of this works, then go back your network and just start asking around. Eventually, if you bring a name up enough times to enough people, you will eventually get the right contact and the right introduction.
I actually just had this very experience. I saw a company article in the Baltimore Business Journal ( another favorite) about a new space opening. I did some research and found the right person. I called and asked about the new space. They said "not interested" and hung up. Very odd, because I knew that their new office would need my services. Even if they don't buy from me. So I went back to my network and found that the person I need to meet with has a mutual contact. I asked for an introduction. She told me that they are very tough to deal with but she would make an introduction for me "no promises." So a month or so went by and I sent an email back to the customer and mentioned that our mutual friend had indicated they are very hard to meet with and that they don't really like sales people. Told them I completely understand, that I don't much like sales people either. That little bit of humor seemed to be enough to open the opportunity. Now, it took me another 6 months from that email to actually get the meeting, but I did get the meeting and it looks like there is a great opportunity for me to do business with them and they will be a tremendous "named account for me in Baltimore.

So to all you sales managers and business owners that preach to your sales people the "Value" of the cold call, take a hard look at the success rate and instead, teach your people to build long lasting relationships that can create powerful referrals.  

And to all the "cold call Gurus" out there peddling your wares to corporate America here is a request " go sell crazy somewhere else, we're all stocked up here."

Thanks for reading today!

Mike S.

BTW, I really hope you can come out to my one of my networking for a cause events. Click the links below and I hope to meet you in person very soon.

Networking and FUNdraising in Baltimore 11-11-11

Networking and FUNdraising Ram's Head Savage Mill 10-17-11

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sales People Continue to Sell Despite their Lack of Professionalism

The general consensus in the sales arena is "Wow, it's tough out there!" I don't disagree with this statement, but I think we have to consider a counterpoint that says "Wow, there really are a lot of sales people that suck at their job." In this instance I am not referring to performance. I am talking about that sales person (and we all know a few of them) that actually manages to sell despite the fact that they are completely devoid of the sales fundamentals. Thought I would share some of my observations and see just how close to home this hits for people.
Punctuality: sales 101, schedule your time to show up 10 minutes early. Better 10 early than 10 late. I cannot tell you how many times I have shown up for a sales meeting or networking event and THE SAME person is 10-15 minutes late every time. I had a co-worker  about 10 years ago who lived in the city about 10 miles form the office. At the time I lived in the suburbs about 25 miles away. I made a point of leaving my house to get to the office 1/2 an hour early because I knew the traffic to the office could be very tricky. When I asked this person why they didn't leave earlier their response was "it shouldn't take me longer than 20 minutes to get to the office, I cannot control the traffic." But they certainly could control the time they leave for the office. This attitude almost always transfers over to all other aspects of life. The message is "it's really not that important." Whether someone consciously or subconsciously acknowledges this, it does resonate with the customer. It says "I really cannot trust this person to be reliable." No trust, means no customer. Hopefully lesson learned.

Your mobile device. If you go into a meeting, no one is more important than the person sitting across the table from you. I don't care if they are a CEO or your best friend from high school. There are times when you are expecting an important call and that is a reasonable excuse. When my wife was pregnant with our first child I would attend meetings and tell the customer "if my phone rings I will check to see if it is my wife, she is _ months pregnant, I hope you don't mind." This does two things, it shows respect to the customer and clarifies why this potential call is important. It also gives you common ground. I am no longer just a sales person, I am a husband and a soon-to-be father.
And this leads into my next topic, honesty. So many sales people are afraid to tell the truth, so they dance around uncomfortable topics or avoid them completely or they lie to the customer to make them feel better. It's is my experience that being brutally honest with the customer gains you a ton of credibility. If you're willing to tell them something they don't want to hear then they know they can depend on you to conduct yourself in their best interest, Trust equals customers.
You have got to know your company story. I am sure  this happens in many other sales arenas but particularly in telecom the sale often becomes a commodity sales based on price. If you don't know your company story and you cannot articulate your competitive advantage to the customer they will look at you as "just another bid." knowing your company story also allows you to know when you are meeting with a client that you have little or no chance of doing business with. Know your strengths, know your competition's strength and know what is important to the customer. Focus on the deals you can win, not the deals you cant.
Listen twice as much as you talk. Zig Ziglar is one of my favorites and he said many years ago " you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak." The reason for this is simple, as good as you may think you are at selling someone you have to know what they want before you can "sell" them what they need.
Your attire and grammar need to be appropriate. In sales there are many degrees of appropriate clothing and women seem to have even greater leeway. I tell you that your attire should be professional and should match your client environment. In addition, every region has little nuances to vernacular, when you are dealing  with a customer it's not okay to say "Mondy" when you meant " Monday." it's not okay to say "anythink" when you really meant "anything," even if the customer speaks that way. Your attire and grammar will show a level of professionalism and they help you convey reliability and trust.
The last one to mention is preparation. Nothing infuriates me more then when I have a networking event and someone shows up without business cards or folio for writing, or a pen. That's like showing up to a meeting without pants. It's just inconceivable. I know if they do it at my meetings that they also show up to a customer appointment or a sales meeting without these items or worse, they didn't research the customer and the point of contact. You are showing a complete lack of interest in winning the business. No interest means, no customer.

I hope you read this and got a good laugh at the horror show that is many people in the sales community. If you read this and thought "hey that sound"s like Bob" please forward this on to them. There's only a couple of reactions that can come from this. They will read it, learn and change ( good for you for helping). They will read it and say "hey! what's this about?" you tell them you enjoyed it and thought they would too or they read it don't get it and don't mention it. No harm, no foul.

Thanks for reading today.

Mike Shelah

BTW I have two networking events coming up, raising money for Autism. If you are in the Mid-Atlantic area I hope you stop by to say hello.

Networking for a Cause in Savage Mill Maryland 10-17-11

Networking for a Cause at MaGerks Pub 11-11-11