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Collaboration Software – The New Sharing

November 24, 2011 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Communication

‘The New Sharing’ was voted as the Number 11 Sales Trends for 2011. Just think, it was a milestone to have a shared calendar! Well, think again. We’ve come a long way. Look out for new collaboration software tools; people within companies are better sharing information, connecting, communicating and collaborating in secure online environments. Because of this, people can connect about projects, sales pitches, client accounts and daily work flow in real time across geographic locations and time zones.

bunch of social media

bunch of social media

Like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media networks, collaboration software tools are changing the face of internal information sharing within businesses as well as building connections to suppliers and clients. We know sharing and collaboration isn’t effective when it occurs in a vacuum. Real collaboration requires individuals working together in a coordinated fashion, towards a common goal. Smart leaders know this and use collaboration software to accelerate internal business communications. This approach sees interactive work systems and teams produce more effective, innovative, efficient and profitable sales results in 2011.

For instance tools such as Dropbox revolutionise the way people work together. Dropbox was founded in 2007 by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, two MIT students tired of emailing files to themselves and one another in order to work from multiple computers. Dropbox is a free service where people load photos, docs and videos and share them easily. There’s also a commercial arm where you can pay for higher end services. Dropbox means anyone can work online or offline from any smart phone, computer, or tablet and share docs, slides and large files easily with colleagues and clients. It allows people to get a team up and running in minutes, with the necessary administration controls to make setup easy.

This may sound too good to be true and it can be if security and systems is not up to scratch. You need to make sure that your collaboration software is backed by a legitimate business and has dedicated phone support, bank grade encryption and unlimited version history for all your files.

collaboration gears

Collaboration Gears

Other forms of collaboration include:

  • Video conferencing
  • Project management
  • e-calendars
  • Application sharing
  • Workflow systems
  • Knowledge management systems
  • Instant messaging

Social networking platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn prove people love to collaborate. These networks provide a fairly informal environment for people to use for this purpose. If you’re going to use collaboration software in your business make sure you do not over-formalise the process. Collaboration becomes a burden if management use it as a process control tool.

The benefits of collaboration software are not hard to identify:

  • Reduced costs associated with travel, time out of office, meetings, information sharing and project coordination.
  • Creation of new opportunities.
  • Faster response when groups need to collaborate.
  • Less likelihood of mistakes when collaboration supports well defined processes.
  • Greater transparency and accountability.

Wikipedia has a list of the wide range of collaboration software available. This list is divided into proprietary or free software, and open source software, with several comparison tables among different product and vendors characteristics. It also includes a section of “projectware” or project collaboration software, which can combine with cloud computing services to become a standard feature in an emerging category of computer software: collaboration platforms.

brain gears

Brain Gears of Smart Leaders

As more people work remotely, collaboration tools will become the norm. This is purely because they make the ability for remote workers to share and work in a manner that was once only possible in a shared physical environment easier.

Smart leaders recognise the power of collaboration systems to transform the efficiency and will use collaboration software to accelerate internal business communications as well as partner, supplier and client communication. Taking advantage of the collaboration systems available to your business will see your work systems improve and your teams produce more effective, innovative, efficient and profitable sales results in 2011 and beyond.

 

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, MD of www.barrett.com.au

Breast Ain’t Best: Why Sex & Selling Don’t Mix

November 17, 2011 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Sales Culture, Sales Relationships

‘Sex’ as a consumer marketing and sales strategy infiltrates our daily lives via advertising, celebrity endorsements, tabloids, publications and various other means and has done so for as long as we can remember. Using images of women (more recently men) in a variety of formats is supposed to entice prospective buyers (adults) and sell products and services. The ‘sex sells’ consumer marketing strategy is more recently infiltrating children’s markets creating much angst and debate about its merits and rightly so.

I want to make it clear that I’m not attempting to debate the use of ‘sex’ in consumer marketing here. Although I would like it on the record that I don’t support the sexualisation of children in any form and abhor using children in such advertising.

Exploitation of Women

Exploitation of Women

This article is about the use and exploitation of women in business, particularly, B2B (business to business) sales environments. Females are mostly great at sales. They usually have the right demeanor and emotional intelligence to do well. Using women to sell is a great idea, using women for their “womanhood”, I believe leads to the trivalisation of good business practices and of women as legitimate business professionals. This type of sales tactic reduces customers to the lowest common denominator and leads us down the slippery slope of the sexual discrimination of women in the workplace. Just look at IBM. A highly successful sales woman is currently suing IBM for sexual harassment by a male senior sales manager. Sadly the ‘show us your t#ts’ and other less than savoury fair is still making the rounds of some sales teams.

In my many years in business, I’ve heard many stories of people (usually women) being ‘used’ to get sales or increase sales. Often these people were not fully aware until after the fact, as to why they were allocated certain accounts. These people (usually women) soon discover that they are there because of their gender and good looks, not because of their ability to perform as professional business and sales people. One manager was heard to say to a young up-and-coming and successful sales woman after she questioned why she was being sent to a certain client who was less than professional in his dealings with her, ‘we sent you there because he (the customer) loves looking at good looking women’.

The women I speak to are clearly disappointed and in some cases alarmed at being treated as sexual objects. I know because as a 21 year old pharmaceutical representative, my manager knowingly sent me to call on a sleezy doctor whose reputation for sexual advances and other dubious practices was well known in the industry. What happened to me was, to say the least, very frightening. Once I entered the doctor’s surgery room he locked the door, offered me a whiskey (which I declined) and tried to sit right beside me. I was up and out of that chair so quick, standing at the door demanding to be let out. He tried to coax me back but I told him I would scream if he didn’t let me out. The door was unlocked and I bolted. I told my manager about what happened and he said not to worry I didn’t have to back there. Nothing was done about this doctor and it was all swept under the carpet. Not what I was hoping for and the cycle still goes on somewhere today. Not good enough.

By contrast there’s no doubting there are women who choose to use their sexuality as their sales strategy, positioning themselves as something other than a professional sales person. I am no prude but this type of approach leaves me and many other women cold, it is not how we want to be remembered.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to the ‘Women Sourcing Network’; a group of smart business women specialising in procurement for the IT sector. We discussed the sales profession and how sales and procurement practices are changing. The topic of ‘sex sells’ was also mentioned. One woman explained how an IT supplier sent in a young woman representative, whose ample cleavage was visible for all to see in her tight low cut business attire, to meet with the ‘procurement person’. The IT supplier had expected the women rep would be meeting with a man. When it was a woman, the shock on the representative’s face was clearly visible. The meeting was very uncomfortable for both the supplier and the customer as the initial intention of the sales person was to entice the customer for all the wrong reasons.

So how seriously do you want your business, yourself and your team to be taken?

Businesses are now relying heavily on the latest innovation, cutting edge ideas, expert knowledge and the ability of suppliers to help map pathways forward to the future. Surely flashing cleavage and other “bits” is more a distraction than an asset. It’s a dicey strategy to employ a ‘sex sells’ strategy in B2B sales. I’m not saying that all women are set up. Yes there are some women happily playing along with this game, however, in today’s world business ethics and transparency on all levels are key. The tactic to entice the male buyer – procurement person with ‘sex’ is wearing thin.

Does it help to look well presented? Yes. In fact, many sales people could benefit from some lessons in how to put a wardrobe together and lift their game on the presentation stakes. It’s important to look good, feel good and represent your company well. Taking effort to look good helps portray that you will also take effort with what you’re selling.

Does it help to look sexy in B2B sales? Well it’s all in the eye of the beholder. You could be well turned out, not overtly exploiting your ‘bits’ and still be deemed sexy by some, however, this is usually a private interpretation from the other person. The question is are you there to try and look sexy? How you portray yourself and how you are received all depends on your intention. If you go to market with the intention of being professional, well prepared and well presented then I find you are treated with respect. If you go to market with the intention of selling yourself through sex then you reap what you sow.

So what are you trying to say? What are you trying to sell? As a business woman how do you want to be remembered?

balance between masculine and feminine qualities

balance between masculine and feminine qualities

I fear we may have lost sight of the true value of femininity in business if it is being reduced to just about exposing flesh. Today’s world of selling requires a balance between masculine and feminine qualities to be really effective. Masculine qualities are about being proactive and focused with a “go-out-into-the-world and find the opportunity approach” (prospecting). Feminine qualities include skills which respond to the subtleties of more complex relationships; genuinely listening and patience, nurturing and dealing with ambiguity. Think of the types of conversations you now need to have with your prospective customers where listening, questioning, resolving problems, collaboration, empathy and understanding are encouraged. Clouding the issue with blatant sexual overtures is no help to an ever evolving, complex world.

Many say in business and in life it helps to be ‘attractive’ and that beautiful people are more successful. Maybe there’s merit in this view but intellectual substance needs to be of any value to your business, your customers and, above all, to yourself.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, MD of www.barrett.com.au

Why B2B Buying Decisions Are Taking Longer Than Ever

November 10, 2011 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Communication, Mindful selling, Sales Coaching, Sales Forecasting, Sales Leadership, Sales Management, Sales Measures - Inputs & Outputs, Sales Pipeline, Sales Planning, Sales Relationships, Sales Training

Are companies taking longer to make buying decisions or does it come down to impatience on the part of the B2B sales person, in a hurry to reach their sales targets? It seems nowadays buying decisions are taking longer to make than in previous years. This slow purchasing process isn’t just happening at the enterprise level in large scale businesses, it’s extended right across the board.

Protracted buying is dramatically slowing the sales process. The flow-on effects of such time delays are causing blow-outs in the cost of sale for many sales teams and businesses. Delayed purchasing results in longer lead times and inconsistent pipeline predictions for sales teams. Of course, this in turn creates panic at the ‘C Suite‘ when sales leaders can’t easily predict their forward orders and report on work in progress, thus leading to further indecision and so the cycle goes on.

Extended Pipelines

Extended Pipeline Length

So what’s causing this to happen?

Firstly let’s look at what isn’t the cause. We’ve all known sales people who have ‘prospects’ sitting in their pipelines for months on end going nowhere. Their ‘prospects in waiting ‘ have usually turned out to be nothing more than phantoms put there by the sales person to make up the numbers so their figures look more impressive. This “puffing up the books” is all too common and completely useless to the salesperson, the team and the business. Many sales managers have to conduct a ‘chat’ with the sales person about the validity of these so called prospects to determine their bona fides.

 

However, effective sales people are now finding that the timelines on prospects in their sales pipeline are lengthening and more work needs to be done to get deals over the line. It’s not just happening at the enterprise, large scale clients like government, semi government entities or large public companies. Dealing with multiple stakeholders was the domain of large scale businesses involved in large scale enterprise/contract agreements. Now, the lengthening of the buying process is occurring across the board.

So why are buying decisions becoming protracted? Are products or deals more complicated? It doesn’t seem so. What then, is causing these delays?

Once upon a time, you could deal with a key decision maker and an influencer or two; now you have to sell to a committee. It appears that many buying decisions are now being made by committees. No longer content to entrust the purchasing decision to one or two people who represent the whole business or division as the buyer, many are now roping in people from across the organisation to give their input, ideas and suggestions as well as being involved in the final decision making process. Buying decisions by consensus results in elongated sales cycles, more people to know and understand, more complication and increased cost of sale for the business doing the selling.

Uncertainty

Uncertainty

It seems that the real culprit is ‘uncertainty’. The current market conditions are making people reticent; more hesitant to commit and make decisions; they are looking to the opinions of others, seeing what ‘everyone’ is thinking before they make decisions. And even when they think they have made a decision something or someone else comes along and they change their mind again. Sound familiar? It’s not just businesses that are stuck in this loop, we see it on the political stage every day in poll driven politics.

Maybe there is some truth in this ancient Jewish prophecy which goes something like this: ‘There will be a time when leaders will act like dogs‘. What does this mean? In short if your pet dog is at the off lead park and gets ahead of you, notice how often it will turn its head back to you to see where you are and look at what direction it needs to go in. It takes it lead from you even though it is ahead of you and technically in the lead. That is how our political leaders are operating and perhaps this in now bleeding into our business communities where leaders are afraid to make decisions without excessive deliberation and consensus.

It is understandable that we need to be cautious as markets become less predictable and seeking people’s input to key buying decisions is important, however buying by committee is making selling and buying really challenging and we all know what can happen when a committee gets involved. If it’s not paralysis by analysis, it’s certainly more protracted. Here’s a five minute video that gives you some idea of the complications sales people face. Although produced with large business deals in mind, I believe this video illustrates how this process is being replicated in smaller deals across the board.

So what does a sales person need to do to meet the challenge of protracted buying decisions?

  • Understand the nature of the business you are dealing with
  • Identify how many people need to be involved in the decision making process within the customers business and in your own business and learn how to connect and communicate with different types of people looking for common ground on which to build a case
  • Get agreement on the customer’s vision and consensus on that vision so you know what they are aiming for and where you can work with them
  • Offer to meet with the committee to ask and take questions face-to-face
  • You may have one contact in the group but you need to get to everyone to understand their needs and priorities so that you are in the best position to demonstrate what you’re about and how you can help them
  • Understand and clearly specify all stakeholders’ key priorities and build a business case that addresses them all (if you can)
  • Be explicit about why you do what you do; how you do what you do; what you do; and how you help people achieve results. No fluff here. Provide your credentials in a professional format that is written for the client in language they understand and can relate to
  • Be prepared to engage in multiple meetings and be very clear on your purpose for each meeting or level of engagement – don’t leave loose ends
  • Account for the time involved in each stage of the sales process and factor this into your planning, forecasting and costs of sale
  • Don’t barrage your prospect with excessive phone calls or emails to try and speed up the buying process
  • Don’t assume to know the reason for their delays
  • Don’t be wishy washy or indecisive yourself as this will just fuel further indecision
  • Feel confident to ask for timeframes
  • Check if your sales cycle is costing you more than it is worth and where it may be eroding margins
  • Rethink your pricing strategies and ensure they cover your cost of sale
  • Manage expectations and be prepared to report accurately on your sales efforts and the pipeline so that Sales Leaders and the ‘C Suite‘ can manage their part of the business and make informed decisions
  • Control what you can control

Whether this is temporary or here for the long term, as sales professionals we need to adapt and work with what we have in the most professional manner possible managing expectations both internally and externally. So hang in there, be persistent and have enough deals in your pipeline so that you have options and are not caught out with all your eggs in one basket.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, MD of www.barrett.com.au

Learning how to ride the Boom AND Bust economy

November 3, 2011 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Business Acumen, Marketing, Resilience, Sales Culture, Sales Leadership, Sales Planning, Sales Results, Strategy

These turbulent, challenging and sometimes volatile times we find ourselves living in are making many of us rethink how we do business, how we live our lives and how we engage with the world. Unless you are hiding under the doona, the rest of us are witnessing and experiencing a major transition from the Industrial Revolution to a brave new world of the New Tech paradigm.

This transition is exciting and frightening at the same time because the ‘new order’ is not ordered at all. It keeps changing at a rapid rate leaving a constant sense of unease. Many of the old rules no longer apply and people are left feeling restless and confused. Some are thriving, of course, because they love the excitement of so many options and so much change. However, with too much choice how do we sort through so much information to make good decisions for ourselves, our teams, our businesses, our families and so on?

Is the 5 year strategic plan dead? Probably. Is the alternative not to plan at all? Probably not.

So how do we get used to this? How do we keep our focus and still be adaptable?

boom AND bust hand in hand

boom AND bust hand in hand

Welcome to the Boom AND Bust World.

The reality is we can no longer claim to operate in a Boom OR Bust economy, where repetitive cycles gave us some form of predictability. We now live in a Boom AND Bust world where some businesses, communities and countries are prospering and making the most of what’s on offer and other businesses, communities and countries are going out of ‘business’ because they can’t, won’t or don’t adapt quickly enough to have the foundations in place to ensure their future viability.

So how can we learn to adapt and keep our heads while others around us may be losing theirs?

We’re now seeing and will continue to see some industries and businesses halve their sales revenues and watch the disappearance of margins due to commoditisation, reconstitution or irrelevance of their products. Other businesses and industries are more than doubling sales because they’re reading the signals and subsequently innovating and adapting to an ever changing world. Couple this with the massive restructure in consumer preferences and how they like to buy. People are now looking for connections that are real and genuine as they sort through mountains of information. They’re looking for businesses, brands and people they can trust.

Some industries will not make it. They’re fighting for relevance, trying to hold onto the old model. Recently, I was amazed to see a double page advertisement in a major Australian newspaper’s weekend magazine extolling the virtues of GP Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives and how vital they are to GPs education and our wellbeing. However, according to a recent ABC Radio National Background Briefing report the majority of GP’s don’t want to see medical sales reps; they simply don’t have the time and they can get their information from the web. Those who do want to see medical usually hope to garner a free lunch or some other bonus unrelated to the medicine and our wellbeing. The relevance of GP medical sales reps is dying out. Another business model recently in the public eye is the hard copy newspaper business. What will this industry look like in five to eight years time? Will hard copy newspapers even exist? There’s been a dramatic and rapid drop in sales of hardcopy newspapers in Australia alone and new models are quickly stepping in to take their place..

jumping to a better place

jumping to a better place

These are two examples of high profile, powerful industries under pressure to adapt and change. Imagine the benefits of these changes. For instance, the costs of medicines going down because we as consumers are no longer funding large and expensive field sales forces. Well, one might dream Yet, instead of quickly adapting to change, it’s tempting to put your fingers in your ears or the doona over your head and pretend it isn’t happening. Not the best strategy for survival. Adapt or die I hear you say.

Instead of living in fear of change here are some tips to help you navigate your way on your journey and take action to stay on top, out the front or in the game:

  • Assess Risks: Identify and manage your risks. Engage your team and other key people (trusted outsiders) in a SWOT analysis and strategic review http://www.barrett.com.au/sales-consulting.html of your business . It’s a helpful exercise to do (SWOT = Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and gives you a good starting point with which to make decisions.
  • Control the Controllables: Work out what you can Control, what you can Influence and what you can not. Then define tactics and set out to do what you can to control and influence your thoughts, feelings and actions.
  • Seek out Opportunities: Look for opportunities where you can grow sales, build markets, create new products or revitalise old products. A great way to look at where your business can grow is to look at 4 segments: 1)Current Products with Current Customers, 2) Current Products with New Customers/Markets, 3) New Products with Existing Customers, and 4) New Products to New Customers or Markets.
  • Make Decisions: Questions deliver answers. Make sure you ask yourself key questions to help you make better decisions moving forward. For instance, decide why you are in business. Decide what you want to stand for. Decide what it is you do best and who would value and buy what you do. Decide if your current business model is still viable or not. Work out the decisions you need to make and then make them. Indecision is the worst thing you can do. Even if you make a wrong decision it is better than no decision.
  • Solve Problems: What problems do you need to solve in your business? Ask your people for ideas and input. Are these problems worth solving? Are they solved via other means other than what we are used to? Sort it out and then get on out there and solve them. No point doing a ‘BMW’ – bitch, moan and whinge.

We are indeed living and working in more challenging and unprecedented times. I propose that BAU (business as usual) is now a redundant term. The 21st century is all about being adaptable, innovative and quick on your feet as well as being a good listener and remaining patient and calm at the same time. Not your normal bed fellows.

I propose we are now experiencing the paradox of ‘AND’ where we live with ambiguity and need to incorporate ideas and actions that did not go together in the past. In order to thrive, not just survive, we need to get used to this ‘AND world’ and learn to live as comfortably as we can within the ambiguity and changes that surround us every day.

power of choice

power of choice

That said many people are not comforted by these changes or even by my suggestions, however our success lies in how we approach change. During any time, especially turbulent times there is one constant – the power of Choice. We are never without Choice in any situation and how we choose to respond. So make a decision and choose what is best for you, your people, your business, your customers, your family and beyond. Build your resilience, learn to ride the waves. Don’t sit back and simply worry because worry doesn’t fix anything, it just makes it tougher for you.

There is a wise Buddhist saying: ‘If there is a problem you can fix, why worry? If there is a problem you cannot fix, why worry?’

Welcome to the World of Boom AND Bust and enjoy the ride.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

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