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Industry Experience and Product Knowledge aren’t enough

May 30, 2012 in Business Acumen, Education in Sales, Recruitment & Sales Recruitment, Sales Consulting, Sales Culture, Sales Driven Organisations, Sales Leadership, Sales Management, Sales Strategy

As much as people want Sales to be considered a science the reality is that Sales has always combined a collection of facts with human judgments (or estimates). What this means is that there is no analytic approach that can single-handedly guarantee sales success. Result – Sales is likely to always be a mixture of art and science. So how do you sure up your success to gain that competitive edge?

For the last few decades when transactional, product-pushing sales was all that mattered, most sales leaders justifiably had confidence in their judgment to employ salespeople with “industry experience” and excellent product knowledge. This worked for a while, when products could be easily distinguished from each other. However, the resulting impact of this ‘industry experience’ approach was that industries ended up recycling the same old people with the same old ideas and the same old results.

Today, with products looking exactly like each other and organisations left with ‘Me2′ salespeople recycling through their particular industries, there is not much left to differentiate one company from the next. What does any self respecting sales leader look for as an advantage and what do they need to measure to make sure they are getting that competitive edge?

only the right formula will yield results

only the right formula will yield results

Many of these sales leaders now confess to being less certain that industry experience and articulate salespeople are the right formula. That’s hardly surprising. Sales management has been perfecting the product knowledge playbook for decades. Whilst some new sales techniques were introduced (e.g. consultative selling, relationship-based selling and networking) in the main, salespeople have (and are still) doing the same things to the same markets as they have for decades, with little change in their approach and yet, with diminishing return on sales effort.

What is the solution then? What many sales leaders and sales managers have come to recognise is that simply employing articulate salespeople with industry experience and product knowledge, isn’t enough. Providing product-knowledge training alone only perpetuates old habits and leads to further anxiety when price becomes the single negotiable item.

This new generation of sales leaders has come to recognise that sales training without a sales strategy to drive it, won’t sustain focus, or drive improved sales results.

They also realise that sales training, beside the prerequisite soft skills, has to address the Knowledge Diamond – a four-dimensional knowledge base:

  1. knowledge of the customer
  2. knowledge of the market, competitors and industry
  3. knowledge of the products, services and their application across multi dimensions such a business case, environment, OH&S, distribution, etc. – not just product efficacy in itself
  4. knowledge of the organisations strategy, vision, purpose, core message and value proposition

If the sales force doesn’t have a complete understanding of all four knowledge dimensions, and more importantly, is unable to use this knowledge in practical ways to support customers and prospects and their achievement of business results, it is unlikely that sales will do more than stumble along into oblivion.

On the other hand, the converse is equally true. When sales forces have the knowledge and know how to use it to help their customers, when the efforts of sales are focused and driven by a sound sales strategy that has clear purpose and goals; sales ramp up regardless of competitive intensity.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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

What’s influencing your customers’ buying decisions?

May 24, 2012 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brain Science, Communication, Customer Service, Education in Sales, Neuroscience, Sales Psychology, Sales Results, Sales Strategy, Strategy

Product demand and brand scores are down and the reasons are tough to manage. There are a multitude of factors influencing buyers, some are within our control and many are not. Factors such as bad experiences with retailers and intermediaries, mediocre service levels, the increasing number of competitors with similar products and brands, cheaper pricing are just some of the causes. The tricky global situation is also creating a more conservative spending climate where saving is now the prevailing consumer mindset.

With all of this how do we influence our customers so that they want to buy from us? How do we successfully compete for their time and attention?

brain prioritising information

brain prioritising information

To try to understand what influences people it helps to understand how the brain prioritises information and how that influences behaviour. The brain is continuously receiving enormous amounts of information via our five senses and cannot process all this information consciously so much of the information is sent to the subconscious for storage and automatic retrieval.

However to function effectively the brain needs to prioritise information so it can make decisions about what it needs to focus on at any given time. The human brain is designed to pay conscious attention to four key areas and they are organised in order of priority:

1. Risk
2. Important
3. Pleasurable
4. Engaging

The conscious brain will pay immediate attention if something is a Risk or dangerous, this overrides everything and prioritises the actions of the person concerned. Given the current economic climate perhaps many people are now prioritising Risk as their many influencing factor. Moving to a more cautious approach they are scrutinising the ethics, viability, etc. of organisations.

Given there is very little differentiation between comparative products themselves and in the absence of other value added differentiators Price becomes Important to buyers.

Determining what Buyers or Customers see as a Risk and Important is critical for any business because this is where our brains focus. If the areas of danger and importance can be satisfied then we are in a position to focus on Pleasurable and Engaging.

So what exactly is influencing your customers and prospects?

The digital revolution and the explosion of social media have profoundly changed what influences customers as they undertake their purchasing decision journey. When considering products and services, consumers now read online reviews, compare prices and have easy access to literally hundreds of alternative sources of supply. This information is constantly interacting with our brains and causing us to reprioritise our Conscious Brain’s priority ranking system.

Once face-to-face with salespeople, customers are putting themselves in a strong position to drive hard bargains. Many of their Conscious Brains are being programmed by this information to look for bargains. And after the purchase they become reviewers themselves – demanding ongoing relationships with suppliers who they pressurize for added attention, incremental service and support levels, fundamentally changing the scope of the primary activities in a value chain.

What is surprising is that although sales leaders have access to terabytes of data about buyer behaviour many still can’t answer the fundamental question: “How exactly are customers and prospects being influenced and what is a priority to them?

How do you get your buyers’ attention?

how to get your product to stand out in the sales jungle

how to get your product to stand out in the sales jungle

One way to change this stereo-typical thinking is recognising that social media can be harnessed as a sales tool, rather than a sales enemy.

One of our clients – a global fast moving consumer goods producer – relied heavily on traditional marketing as its push, and traditional sales as its pull through strategy. Awareness of social media resulted in a shift from above-the-line television and newspaper advertising, which had become white noise and no longer a priority to their buyers Conscious Brains, to Internet-based social interactions with its consumers where interactions were much more important, delightful or interesting. This organisation then coupled this social media interaction with in-store promotion and support to the retail channel by their salespeople.

Sales no longer attempted to sell product. Once listed (at head office level), sales assisted store managers to determine the most effective in-store locations, shelf-space and promotions (in other words – sales focused on providing priority solutions, rather than just products). This change in mind-set and activity resulted in an increase in buyer spend, in spite of the premium prices charged by this FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company.

Beyond direct value/volume measures, there is a simple three-step approach that should be considered when developing the sales strategy that drives sales measures:

• Measure the impact of sales effort on “consciousshare of mind” of customers and prospects
• Measure the prospects’ awareness of the organisation’s value proposition – is it a priority to your buyers
• Measure the call-back that salespeople have had with specific prospects

A simple tele-research campaign with well constructed questions will soon tell sales management how well the sales force has managed these three activities and managed to capture our client’s conscious brain’s share of mind – either of the organisations current customer base or prospects in a territory.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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

How Meditation Can Make You a Better Salesperson

May 17, 2012 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brain Science, Emotional Intelligence, Life Skills, Neuroscience, Neuroscience in Sales, Resilience, Sales Psychology, Sales Results, Self Development, Success, Wellbeing

In this increasingly complex world emotions such as empathy, compassion and benevolence are emerging as critical qualities of highly successful people, teams, companies and communities. Even in the highly competitive world of business and selling, those sales people and leaders who are able to incorporate these qualities into their daily work and personal lives are finding greater levels of success. This is coming in the form of better sales results and healthier, more prosperous client relationships as well as better personal health, resilience, and overall job and personal satisfaction.

Not on the usual business checklist of qualities to be proactively developed and mastered, neuropsychologists have demonstrated that emotions such as compassion, empathy, and benevolence can be trained. What’s more, as soft as it may sound, a growing number of companies are buying into the notion that developing these qualities through meditation can alter the brain in ways that drive important organizational outcomes.

connected brain to the surroundings

brain connected to its environment using empathy, compassion and benevolence

So how do you develop these qualities – empathy, compassion and benevolence – and incorporate them into your daily life? And why should you bother?

Leaving behind the energy draining need of ‘striving for perfection and approval’, competition at all costs, and focussing on obtaining status via material possessions and power, all potential hallmarks of a 20th century ‘me’ focused culture, many people are coming to realise that practicing empathy, compassion and benevolence is allowing them to accept themselves as they are which in turn is allowing them to free up energy to accept others too. They are finding that practicing ‘self’ and ‘other’ acceptance is the basis for all healthy and productive relationships – at work and home.

Alongside a growing body of research, and a couple thousand years of anecdotal evidence (see Buddhism, Yoga, Sufism, and other spiritual practices), neuroscientists Antoine Lutz and Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison demonstrate that meditation can help with “positivity” training since it stimulates the area of the brain associated with emotions such as empathy or compassion. To verify this, Davidson mapped the brains of employees at a bio-tech company where more than half of the group completed 3 hours of meditation training. After meditating, participants noticed an elevation or boost in their mood and a decrease in anxiety. Davidson was able to vividly show that meditation produced significant increases in activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive characteristics like optimism and resilience, as well as “higher” executive functions as decision-making, judgment, and planning.

When we operate in the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain) we are able to think more clearly, make better decisions, listen more attentively, see other people’s points of view, come up with better ideas to problems and work together more effectively and more efficiently.

By contrast, staying stuck in the amygdale -the primitive, reptilian (hind) part of the brain- where our Flight & Fright response resides, we risk jamming our senses, limiting our thinking, and end up creating personal and work settings revolving around constant fear and distress. It is not to say we should avoid the amygdale at all costs – that is unrealistic too. The Amygdale is an important part of the brain, designed to help us deal with ‘life threatening’ situations which, under normal circumstances, only occur in short bursts. However the 20th century’s ‘Me’ focused culture has inadvertently set up ‘lifestyle threatening’ situations and management-by-fear business cultures leading many people to operate in the amygdale for sustained periods.

I want

... possessions, status ...

Worried about holding on to their possessions, status, and jobs, this striving for self preservation has led to many to experience a sense of entitlement (without responsibility) which, sadly, breeds the opposite of empathy, compassion and benevolence. The pressure of ‘keeping up with the Jones’, and striving for external validation of one’s worthiness is leaving many people suffering from sustained distress – not a condition of general life contentment.

And what’s worse, medical research is confirming that living in a constant or sustained state of fear – flight or fright, is leading to adrenal fatigue, lower immune responses, dramatic increases in heart disease and early onset dementia. In addition to the stark medical news, if we operate from a constant state of fear we see a reduction in feelings of empathy, compassion and benevolence across all walks of life. This can in turn lead to outcomes such as increases in road rage incidents, alcohol and substance abuse, relationship breakdowns, depression and other mental illnesses to name a few.

A recent US study estimate suggests that distress; operating from a place of constant fear, costs companies about $200 billion a year in increased absenteeism, tardiness, and the loss of talented workers. Not good for anyone, any family, business, or community.

What this study also revealed was that practicing meditation can increase job satisfaction and productivity. Rather than coming down hard on employees and sales people pressuring them to produce more or sell more with less with constants threats and fear of job loss, a number of companies are encouraging employees to take up meditation practices. This in turn is reducing distress and increases wellbeing which ironically helps people be more effective and productive. Working from a ‘can do’ approach, more leaders and their teams are finding better pathways to successful outcomes in this complex, busy world and rewiring their brains and their lives to suit.

office meditation

office meditation

Some MBA programs are even jumping on the meditation bandwagon as well. At Arizona State University, for example, Meditation in a New York Minute by Mark Thorton is on the required book lists for leadership electives. It also offers a ‘Neuroscience of Leadership’ course in its Business Masters degrees. Their challenge is to move beyond ‘fad’ status. As a practitioner of meditation and yoga for more than 20 years I can attest to the effectiveness however like anything it requires regular practice and attention.

So instead of living in constant fear of achieving our sales budgets, keeping our businesses afloat, and all that goes with it, maybe we could take some time out of our busy days and, at the very least, start to meditate, finding space in for reflection and contemplation – giving our brains and bodies space to be at rest and clear the daily distresses. By practicing meditation we can train our brains to start working in the prefrontal cortex and tap into our creativity and quality decision making, as well as our empathy, compassion and benevolence which clears a pathway thus allowing people to work together and co create, finding better more effective and efficient ways to be successful.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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

Know Thy Customer – Buyers in the Driver’s Seat

May 10, 2012 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Coaching, Communication, Sales Driven Organisations, Sales Relationships, Sales Tips

Robyn Creed our Head of Coaching hales originally from country NSW and recently spent a relaxing weekend mustering cattle on her sisters’ 11,000 acre property north of Jerilderie, in NSW. Here is her account of the cattle industry and how buyers are truly in the driver’s seat when it comes to customer buying preferences.

“Over the course of the weekend we discussed many interesting facts in relation to producing quality cattle and I realised that like the Apples’ and Samsungs’ of this world cattle producers breed cattle based on the specific needs of what their buyers want. Whether it is a vealer, yearling heifer or steer, cattle farmers who are producing for meat, need to maintain a grade score of C2 or C3 with a 200kg+ liveweight in order to compete in the market.

Wagyu Mother Nursing Calf

Wagyu Mother Nursing Calf

A story that appeared in a prominent country paper that same day headlined ‘Cash Cow – One Heifer goes for $55,000 in the race for a super breed to crash the Japanese market.’ Hitomi is a young cow with a very special heritage: she is 21/32nds, or 96.9% Wagyu, the Japanese breed that produces what some say is the world’s finest tastiest beef. Wagyus produce meat so highly marbled with fat that is rich in flavor that the Japanese will shell out more than $150 a pound for the choicest cuts. In addition, with the use of artificial insemination (AI) one Wagyu Cow can generate 30 or more offspring per year. No wonder Hitomi’s new owner forked out $55,000 knowing the potential return on investment she would receive. In fact she confides that just two days after the purchase, she was offered $100,000. Hitomi was bred with the specific requirements of the customer in mind, she was customised through high-tech breeding to attract the high dollar of the Wagyu Breeder.’

So whether it be cattle breeders producing to the tune of what their customers demand, Retailers such as Country Road and the Book Depository offering free shipping for all online customers because that is what is important to their client, or Grand Designs Australia’s latest couple Daniel and Andrew from Trinity Beach Cairns demanding a door jamb be re-made because it was a couple of millimeters too short, it is apparent that unless we know the finer detail of what our customers want our product offering will remain on the shelf.’

‘Buyers are in the driver’s seat’ was voted by our readers as the fifth most important sales trend in Barrett’s 2012 Sales Trends Report. Buyers in the 21st Century are intelligent, connected and techno-savvy consumers who know what they want. They seek to know what Return on Investment (ROI) they will receive on their investment with the aim of accelerating their business results. They want their purchase to be tailored to their needs and will not buy unless there is value in the proposition. Robyn’s story from Jerilderie, NSW illustrates this point very well.

Measure your customer to get to know them

Measure your customer to get to know them

So make sure you spend time getting to know your buyer. Understand what their buying motivators are by visiting their local hangouts or favourite places. Check out their ‘likes’ on Facebook , what are they tweeting, spend time with them at their warehouse or farm to see how they operate, understand their sales strategy and business vision and most importantly ask them what they want to have included in the product or service offering you are pitching.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett www.barrett.com.au

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations.

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