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4 rules to best validate yourself with buyers

February 23, 2012 in Communication, Negotiation, Sales Relationships, Sales Strategy, Self Promotion

Ever been asked straight up at the beginning of a prospective client meeting, “So what do you do?” despite your sincere intention to ask questions of your prospective buyer rather than talk about yourself?

I bet you have and I bet you found yourself on more than one occasion feeling somewhat uncomfortable because:

a) You didn’t know what to say quickly and succinctly thus making yourself feel and look a bit silly;


b) You ended up talking about your business, your products and yourself ad nauseam while watching your client or buyer’s eyes glaze over.

Hmm Awkward … why do most of us find this awkward?

Because we have been asked to validate ourselves; establish our credentials; prove our worth to the buyer – quickly.

If we’re not prepared we can often find ourselves floundering and we don’t want to find ourselves stuck in a 15-20 minute monologue talking about ourselves and our company. However, we still need to answer the question “so what do you do?” in a manner that has our buyer feeling at ease with our answer and wanting to continue the conversation. With so much spin out there it’s only right that a buyer should know that we are who we say we are and we can do what we say we do so how do you positively validate yourself with buyers – quickly?

Avoiding these awkward situations is simple if we are prepared to look at ourselves through our buyers and clients eyes. Here are some simple rules we can follow to help us positively validate ourselves and position us positively in the minds and hearts of our clients.

Rule Number 1: What does your marketing material say to your customer?

barrett marketing material

some of barrett's current marketing material

Make sure marketing literature about your company and products is written for your buyers, not you and explains how you will help them.
Yet most ‘brochures’ are still written for the company, not the customer. Most sales people and frontline managers know this.

They’re often embarrassed to admit that most marketing material is written for the company – glorifying the company and its products and its founders or CEOs rather than speaking directly to the customer about their issues, concerns or aspirations. What’s crucial and often missing is the explanation about how the company is best suited to help the customer solve their problems, generate new ideas, realise their goals and achieve results.


Rule Number 2: What’s your statement?

NEVER answer the buyer’s question “so what do you do?” by handing out your company or product brochure. Instead make sure that you have a one to two sentence statement that quickly and succinctly explains:

WHY & WHAT: what you stand for and what you do.

For example here are a couple of our team’s versions from Barrett:

  1. We are an end-to-end business consulting & people development practice specialising in helping leaders create Sales Driven Organisations where people know that selling is everybody’s business and everybody lives by selling something.
  2. We are a business consulting practice that specialises in helping our clients optimize and improve both the effectiveness and efficiency of their sales operations, reduce their cost of sale and increase their own customer satisfaction.


Rule Number 3: The “Common Problems We Solve” hand-out

After opening with your statement of WHY & WHAT in Rule 2 immediately show your client your ‘Common Problems We Solve’ document. As mentioned NEVER start showing your prospective buyer the company or product brochure that makes no sense to them because it is not contextually anchored. Instead create a ‘Common Problems We Solve’ document/ page.

barrett's company brochure 2005

barrett's company brochure in 2005

Make a small list of problems you solve for your customers.
Each week we meet and speak with prospects and existing clients who have problems they want to solve or results they want to achieve. Our products and services sell because they solve problems for our customers and help them achieve results. A ‘problem’ can be interpreted as an issue, opportunity or priority a client wants to address. By understanding this, you can deliver value to your customer rather that just selling to them based on price and product. To ensure that you do not miss valuable business opportunities, always think about your business in terms of problems you solve for your clients.
As an example here’s a snippet of some of the problems Barrett fixes for its clients. So, when we’re asked ‘so what do you do?’ We begin with our version of WHY & WHAT statement followed on with ‘and we fix things like this’ then we let the buyer read the list and we stay quiet.

Common problems we solve for sales teams
  • Sales people making more excuses than sales
  • Sales or Service Team losing clients to competitors
  • No ‘Go-to-market’ sales plan/ strategy to follow
  • Sales team too reactive, unfocused, disorganised
  • Discounting prices to win business
  • Ad-hoc or reactive sales approach – no logical sales processes to follow
  • No prospecting for new business in new or existing accounts
  • Not meeting sales budgets/targets
  • Unaware of value & potential of clients – hitting wrong targets
  • Plateau in sales production
  • Team of Professional “Visitors”
  • Lots of client visits – few sales

We find the buyer begins to nod their head and we can see them doing a mental check list of all the things they can see in their business. Our list resonates with their set of problems. Now we’re in their world; in their reality and they know we can relate to them and their challenges. After they have finished reading the list we ask them ‘Is there anything on the list that is relevant to you now?’ The answer is invariably ‘yes.’


Rule Number 4: How do we do it?

Whether or not the buyer indicates their issues are represented on my list, we now have an opportunity to explain to them how we go about helping people (at a high level – no details or specifics yet).

How you do it … For example here are a couple of our team’s versions from Barrett:

  1. Whatever your priorities in this space we work holistically across six domains in Sales giving you access to Consulting, Strategy, Assessments, Training, Coaching and Brain Science services, where we help you work out how to achieve increased sales results, better margins, and happier clients and employees.
  2. To achieve this we provide an holistic service which includes sales Consulting, Strategy, Assessments, Training, Coaching and Brain Science.

boring monologue of a speaker

NB you can combine Rules 2 & 4 in one statement followed by Rule 3 if that seems to flow more easily. And it is important that you use your own words. These statements also help you out when you meet people in all sorts of other situations. These statements can also be used as your ‘Elevator’ pitch or your ‘BBQ’ speech however they may need some refinement depending on the level of your audience.

So, instead of drawing yourself into a 15-20 minute monologue or being caught like rabbit in the head lights, now you can quickly and succinctly validate yourself and position yourself to begin to ask questions and listen to their real priorities. Once you’ve established their priorities you can talk specifics about how you can help them, but not before.


Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barret Articles 2012, www.barrett.com.au,

(c)2012 Barrett

Make Sales Coaching THE priority & coach your way to success

February 16, 2012 in Coaching, Sales Coaching, Sales Leadership, Sales Management

What sales leader wouldn’t like to see shortened sales cycles leading to more comprehensive deals with better margins? These are just some of the benefits of effective sales coaching. ‘Make coaching THE priority and coach your way to sales success’ was voted the second most important sales trend for 2012 from The 12 Sales Trends of 2012 by our readers. This comes at a critical time for business. Selling is now a highly skilled role requiring skilful people to execute sales strategy, win new clients, grow and retain existing accounts, educate clients, facilitate opportunities, manage complex deals, work as part of a team, and so on. If you want a team of highly skilled sales people you need skilful sales coaches.

However, despite these findings and despite coaching being one of the top hot business topics for the last ten years, few businesses provide a true coaching culture where they can realise the long term benefits of coaching, especially sales coaching. In many companies coaching and sales coaching are being trivialized and treated as a token gesture, often poorly executed resulting in stagnant sales performance or loss of sales talent.

Cost Cutting Exercise

Cost Cutting Exercise

Worse still, in today’s business climate with cost cutting on the table and many middle management roles being stripped away, the climate for an effective coaching culture, especially an effective sales coaching culture is seemingly more remote than ever. The irony is coaching, especially sales coaching, is a key ingredient to business and sales success and the people usually charged with coaching are middle managers. So, stripping out middle managers from the workforce often rids an organisation of its coaches DNA and puts businesses at risk of further loss of sales.

So where does Coaching, especially sales coaching, feature in your business priorities? The highly effective companies know that regular and effective sales coaching does make a dramatic and positive difference to sales people and their sales results and they make it a priority. And they make sure their (sales) managers are properly trained in how to coach.

If businesses neglect to train their (sales) managers in the essential skill of coaching it will still leave them vulnerable. When managers and sales managers are properly trained to coach they quickly discover the positive outcomes for all involved- the coach, coachee, teams, and customers as well the positive impact on a business’ bottom line. Even families benefit from coaching.

When coaching is implemented properly, treated as a priority so it becomes ‘the way we do business around here’ businesses find that their managers/ coaches:

    • Are more committed to training and coaching their people seeing the link between sales results and their people’s wellbeing and development
    • More aware about how to build a environment where people can flourish, grow and succeed
    • Themselves have greater self esteem and positive leadership style which leads to better teamwork, staff retention and performance
    • Want to coach more as they see the way their people respond to this proactive development opportunity
Happy Sales Team

Happy Sales Team

  • Find they are able to use the coaching principles and tools in other areas of their lives (parenting, personal relationships, communities, etc.) which is leading to better work life balance
  • Experience increased job satisfaction.
  • Use coaching to enhance their communication skills across the business especially in the areas of active listening and questioning.
  • Feel well equipped to make a difference to their people and their businesses.
  • Are more self aware and very conscious of why and how they go about doing things.

With managers applying their coaching skills effectively businesses find their sales people are having similar positive experiences. They enjoy and benefit from the positive impact skilful coaching has on their wellbeing, work/life balance, job satisfaction and, of course, sales results and rewards that come with better sales performance.

That said, not everyone is suited to being a coach.

So who is charged with the coaching role in your business? It doesn’t always have to be the manager.

Who is best suited to having effective coaching conversations with your sales people?

Who should be coaching your sales people around sales strategy, robust sales processes (sales planning, prospecting, sales communication / consultative selling, account development, etc.)?

There may be a variety of people in your business who your sales people can learn from and be coached by. If there are those people who show an interest and talent in coaching them get them trained and out coaching. If you cannot find a suitable coach within your business don’t abandon coaching all together. Instead, consider outsourcing the function to trained business and specialist sales coaches with the relevant experience to bring coaching within your business.

sound behavioural markers

Sound Behavioural Markers

Another important point about coaching is to make sure that coaching is linked to sound behavioural markers or competencies which will make all the difference to your sales teams and sales results. Too many coaches don’t coach to the specifics – the details. They’re not practical enough. Our experience has shown that people need access to the practical details they can learn, apply and correct. When training and coaching people we look at three core domains and help our people develop to these:

  1. What do I need to know? – the Knowledge: General awareness or possession of information, facts, ideas, truths or principles across the organization and market place
  2. What do I need to do? – the Skills & Behaviours: The ability to do something well, usually gained through training or experience.
  3. How do I need to think? – the Mindset: The ability to see clearly and intuitively into the nature of a complex person, situation or subject; a set of beliefs or way of thinking that determine somebody’s behaviour and outlook.

If we remember that ‘Excellence is in the details’ we now have something to coach to. We recommend that you work out the specifics that are relevant to you and your business in each category to set you up for training and coaching people effectively. Smart leaders are making sure their sales managers spend time in the field and offline to develop their sales people and coach them to sales success rather than being continuously caught up in meetings and with administrative tasks.

Smart CEO’s and sales leaders make time to invest in their sales managers’ development. They make sure managers are properly trained, coached and well equipped to be sales coaches. There are good coaching programs in the market place, just be sure that you use sales coaching programs that have been designed for sales people and sales managers.

Many sales managers are seeing merit in being trained and coached themselves before they begin coaching their own and improving the bottom line. And it’s working. So this year, if you want to be at the top of your game and stay ahead of your competitors, get coaching.

Move Over Marketing Here Comes Sales Strategy!

February 9, 2012 in Marketing, Sales Leadership, Sales Planning, Sales Strategy, Success

The pundits (including Barrett) are always reminding sales executives of the need to plan. However, a major miscalculation made by many organisations is viewing their sales operations as purely tactical functions. The result – at best, sales plans become little more than operational imperatives bumping along one quarter to the next with no strategic intent.

More and more, the high cost of selling, longer lead times and the multitude of choice that customers have – coupled with rampant (and often aggressive and diversifying) competition, diminishing product differentiation and the subsequent prices wars – is taking its toll on businesses. Not only are salespeople being pressured to produce more sales revenue, at better margins, with less resources, but corporate return on sales effort isn’t what it used to be!

Master Servant

Master and Servant

So, what has been inhibiting sales from being truly strategic? One major answer is that the Sales Operations of business and its sales planning is often relegated to a tactical level becoming the poor servant of the Marketing Strategy, rather than being Strategic Player in its own right.

So What Has Gone Wrong?

Dr. Peter Finkelstein, Barrett’s Head of Sales Strategy, points out that in the late 1950′s marketing started its encroachment on the traditional role of sales – i.e. managing customer expectations. The theory then was that marketing was closest to the buyer, understood what buyers wanted better than sales, and could therefore give the company direction regarding the products and services it should make to satisfy buyer needs.

For decades the “mission” imposed on sales by marketing has been to sell the company’s products and services. Customer concerns, relationships, pre- and post-sales service, as important as these are, were merely tools and techniques used to achieve the sale. Few salespeople were viewed as being responsible for, or even capable of helping customers integrate their purchase and optimise real value. Sales was then (and still is today) seldom included in resourcing or crafting solutions, even though sales is the primary link between buyer and seller, and salespeople probably know more about the buyer’s requirements than any other member of the value chain.

Dr. Peter Finkelstein explains that sales, rather than being driven on a tactical (day-to-day) basis as an element of the marketing mix, should be viewed as an independent Primary Activity in the value chain, with its own, unique support structure and mission.

The failure on the part of sales leaders to develop their own sales strategies is rooted in both the one dimensional view of selling as a tactical activity and a degree of myopia in understanding the true role of sales, in the organisation’s value chain.

Change from 4P to SIVA
Change from 4P to SIVA

Selling is not merely a channel for marketing to reach its target! It is a primary activity that seeks out, creates and then harvests business opportunities offering fair value as an exchange! In reality, marketing (if it is to be truly effective) should be supporting the sales effort, rather than the other way around. In strategic selling terms the old supply-driven 4Ps of marketing (product, price, place & promotion) and has been replaced with a more customer-centric model – SIVA (Solutions, Information, Value and Access).

Dr. Peter Finkelstein cites that S.I.V.A. is a functional, customer-driven model that encourages sales to take a strategic view of the segments within the markets it targets. S.I.V.A. recognises that sales has a strategic role to play in sustainable competitive advantage. The S.I.V.A. model provides a demand/customer-centric alternative to the well-known, supply-side model of the 4P’s (product, price, place, promotion) of marketing, and clearly defines a more strategic role for sales – something that the 4P’s model has failed to do!

Companies in today’s customer-driven economy survive by producing goods that buyers are willing and able to pay for. Consequently, ascertaining buyer demand is vital for future viability and even existence as an on-going concern. But merely starting and ending the value chain with a customer focus and ignoring the middle portion (sales, logistics and operations) does only half the job.

In the Sales-Driven approach, consumer wants and needs are the drivers of all strategic selling decisions. No strategy is pursued until it passes the test of consumer acceptance. Every aspect of a sales segment offering, including the nature of the product itself, is driven by the needs of potential buyers. The starting point is always the buyer. The rationale for this approach is that there is no point spending funds developing products that people won’t buy.

For 40+ years Dr. Peter Finkelstein has worked with thousands of business around the world helping them develop and implement their sales strategies and achieve business transformation. This has given him firsthand experience of the challenges many industries and markets face, especially now that the world of business is changing so dramatically. He points out that the historically lopsided view of selling, as part of the marketing mix, has in many companies, become “conventional wisdom”.

growth through working as peers

growth through working as peers

This “conventional wisdom” is now a distinct danger to many organisations because it is not, in itself, helping them navigate their way successfully into the 21st Century. Dr. Peter Finkelstein says that what organisations need to do is to unshackle their sales operations from the underbelly of marketing and stand next to marketing as peers. He says that Sales Operations need to turn reactive tactical sales planning into proactive strategic sales thinking driving sales strategies which, in turn, allows organisations and their respective sales teams develop a sustainable competitive advantage and increase opportunities for incremental sales success and enhanced profit improvement.

It’s time for Sales Strategy.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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

Turning Underperformers Into Sales Winners

February 3, 2012 in Coaching, Sales Coaching, Sales Leadership, Sales Management, Sales Results, Sales Training

Underperforming sales people plague sales managers and organisations in every industry sector. Over the decades business leaders have adopted an assortment of tactics to combat and address this issue, with most showing little in return. Some large businesses have a policy to let go of the bottom 10-20% of sales performers each year and replenish with new sales blood. Other organisations are too slow to address the real issues affecting poor sales performance often tolerating incompetence. Neither strategy is useful, leaving people operating in a climate of fear or mediocrity.

However, the majority of sales managers do try their best to improve underperformers’ results, often spending 80 per cent of their time with this bottom 20 per cent. There are occasional miracles and much heart ache and this isn’t due to the underperformers, it’s mostly that the sales managers simply aren’t equipped for the job. So where do we start? How do we turn around underperformers and create a healthy, well performing sales force without neglecting the other sales people who also deserve our attention?

Many of us want to see the potential in others and give them a go. Is this wishful thinking on our part? Possibly. But, hiring doesn’t have room for wishful thinking. We need to hire for results not potential.

Sales Strategy

Sales Strategy

The preventative path to eliminating underperformers from being an issue begins with our sales strategy which determines the type of sales force that best suits our business, our markets and our customers. A well developed sales strategy helps us properly define the type of sales people we need; consultative sales people, new business development managers, account managers, internal sales people or a blend of all. Rather than wishful thinking we need to be discerning about the qualities and competencies we need to recruit to. What knowledge, skill and mindset do we need to fulfil the requirements of the various sales roles? Hiring people to these standards is a preventive approach to the issue of underperformance.

Another preventative measure following the hiring stage is to put in place a structured induction program which educates and trains our sales people in the following:

  • Sales processes: sales planning, prospecting, sales communication, account management
  • Knowledge: company story, product, pricing, customers & markets, competitors, message and marketing plans, business acumen, etc.
  • Operations: technology, CRM, OH&S, distribution.
  • Culture: vision, purpose, company values, code of conduct, customer service ethic, etc.
  • Goals: company, team & individual goals

Zappos, the famous online shoe sales business, actually pays people $2,000 to leave the business after their induction program if they do not think they can deliver the Zappos promise.

Following a good induction program (usually over a period of 2- 6 weeks) sales people perform much better if they then get regular coaching support out in the field (tactical or deal based sales coaching) and in more formal settings where strategic coaching (with a longer term focus) can take place. This would be supplemented with relevant training in core areas, as well as purposeful sales meetings and planning sessions.

one on one coaching

one on one coaching

So now we need to wonder how many sales people have been given an induction program supplemented by ongoing sales coaching and training that has covered the areas sited above in detail to give them the best chance at a good start? Sadly most sales people receive no induction or follow up coaching and training. Instead they are often thrown in the deep end expected to sell from day one trying to learn as they go by watching what other people do and working it out for themselves. No wonder we end up with pool of underperformers struggling to stay afloat.

If salespeople don’t receive a proper induction to the business and its sales approach how can one expect to turn underperformers into sales winners? It all begins with us – the sales managers, leaders and business owners. Have we set up the right environment? Do we:

  • Encourage open, constructive communication between ourselves and our employees.
  • Provide feedback on how people are doing on the job.
  • Allow for mutual understanding (between manager and employee) of each employee’s job responsibilities and performance expectations.
  • Facilitate identification of individual capabilities, strengths and areas for development.
  • Identify factors negatively affecting employee performance (e.g. work environment, job design, organisational policies and practices, personal issues, external factors, etc) so that action can be taken to alleviate them.
  • Use a structured and documented process that encourages objective evaluation and fair treatment.
  • Assist in the achievement of strategic goals.
  • Provide a consistent way of setting goals, monitoring performance and formally reviewing performance.
  • Create an environment for self-managing for proactive individuals.

Any individual will not be motivated to perform to a high standard if they are not supported and encouraged. This performance depends on a number of factors. Of greatest significance, however, are those factors that can be incorporated into the equation:

Performance = Capability + Role Clarity

Role Clarity

Role Clarity

Role clarity includes providing clear guidelines regarding responsibilities and targets to be sure they can be held accountable.

Capability can tie into intelligence, preferences and cultural fit. It is important to understand our team member’s preferences and values and how they may be similar or dissimilar to ours and the organisations.

Experts believe that at least 50 per cent of performance problems in business occur because of a lack of feedback. Managers simply don’t make the time to talk and listen to their people and find out how they are going. Sales people will not see a need to alter their performance if it is never spoken about because it will be deemed as acceptable by their manager or company. They are not mind readers. We have to give them feedback and check in with them.

Here is how we can check in when people are not performing at optimal levels

Below is a list of questions that we can use to probe those team members who are not performing at their optimum level. This may assist us (and them) with uncovering what is lying at the source of their current level of effectiveness:

  • How satisfied are you with your job and your role?
  • Do you feel a sense of purpose in your job and/or in working for the company?
  • Do you have belief in yourself and your ability?
  • Are you experiencing any personal problems (e.g. health/home life) that may be impacting your current state of being?
  • Are there any issues around your actual capability to perform any tasks incorporated in your role?
  • What is your level of commitment to the company?
  • Do you feel you have a lack of training?
  • Are there enough processes for you to follow?
  • Are you experiencing any relationship issues (either at work or in personal life)?
  • Do you think that your job description and KRA’s (key result areas) are appropriate and accurate enough to provide you with the guidance, direction and focus required for your role?
  • Do you believe that you are receiving enough recognition and acknowledgement for your level of performance?
  • Do you feel that you are receiving effective guidance and management?
need to find the fit of a sales person

Does the person fit?

We need to work out if the issue with underperformance revolves around the following problems; perception, resources, training, aptitude, expectations, relevance, or incentives and correct accordingly.

By creating the right space for our team members to share what they are experiencing and skillfully probing with the right questions, we are also creating the opportunity for both ourselves and/or them to uncover what lies at the source of any level of ineffectiveness. Doing this, we’re paving the way for an effective plan of action for their future development and improvement and of course, for our business success.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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

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