Tag Archives: sales process

Sales and the Art of Mind Reading, Part 2: The Proxy Statement

A very large bank with thousands of branches around the country promotes itself on its Web site, through the press, and in its annual report as a community bank, focused on building customer loyalty through excellent service, and supporting its communities through small business lending. They don’t have branches in California, but if they did, I might have considered changing my accounts, or at least paying them a little shopping visit just based on their PR.

Their SEC filings tell a different story. (So does Yelp, if you dig for it.) The bank’s officers are, more or less, paid to do one thing: acquire new banks, and lots of them. Relative to their peer group at other banks, these officers are paid “low” salaries and really big, big bonuses if they successfully acquire other banks, efficiently integrate them, and build assets, otherwise known as cash, to fund more acquisitions. The customer, service, loyalty, the community, and the small business borrower receive not one pixel of a mention.

While I found this to be one of the more egregious examples of smoke and mirrors PR, it illustrates well what might happen to the hapless salesperson who tries to position a solution with appeals to customer loyalty factors or easy-to-do-business-with lending practices. Not interested. However, positioning or selling solutions that appeal to cash management, or that facilitate some aspect of acquisition or integration will get this same salesperson an eager audience. This is true even in departments that, on the surface, seem far away from the acquisition action.

Do you ever wonder why your well thought out and craftily worded value proposition falls flat? Or worse, when your real proposal is met with an empty stare by an executive approver who couldn’t care less about fixing obvious problems in their organization?

Something more subtle is at play during these moments. If you’re lucky enough that your prospect is a public company, you may be able to hit a bulls eye rather than a big splat at these moments. Here’s how.

Buried in the mountain of SEC filings is a little jewel of a document called the annual proxy statement, or DEF 14A, in governmental parlance. Actually, the annual proxy statement is a long and bewildering piece of doggeral, but within its minutae, you will find a report from the compensation committee, usually around page 28 or 30. Among the valuable information in this report you will learn what the top officers earn, how they earn it, and most important for mind reading, what they are paid to do. If you’re very lucky, and your prospect is one of those “named” officers, you don’t have to mind read, you know the story.

Although this is public information, few people will openly discuss this state of affairs. Most people don’t openly discuss their money. However, most people behave in accordance with their incentives.

Within a senior executive’s goals and critical success factors, and those they create for everybody else and cascade through the organization, you will find the germ of these incentives, buried or in plain view. The executive’s incentives become part of everybody’s goals in some way; if the goals are intelligently created and the company is well run. If you can find the connection between the executive incentives and the various goals your solution might address, and put a little more emphasis on solving problems that are connected to someone’s bonus, you will have your buyer’s attention, no matter where in the organization they reside. This is not easy, it requires some subtle thinking, but it has a nice way of helping things work out for everybody.

In summary, part of mind reading is understanding basic motivations. Who do you know that isn’t coin operated in some way? Make the connection between what gets measured in an organization and how people are paid at the top, and you have found a strong clue on how to position value propositions and proposals people will really listen to.

There are some excellent courses on this subject, including one we offer called Know It Now. Please add your stories or comments below.


Building a Sales Process the Right Way – with Persistence and Patience – Leads to much Higher Profits

When it comes to building sales, a structured 12-18-month plan pays dividends.

Regardless of what the media tells us, it’s still tough out there. In a lukewarm or sluggish market, it is tempting, perhaps even desirable if you have an antsy Board, to hire your way to sales growth. Recruiting and retaining top sales talent is a tricky and expensive proposition that only the largest organizations can afford to do well. The reality is that many successful salespeople in these environments are little more than conduits in a chain of well-orchestrated events generated by successful marketing and product development departments.

I’ve heard many sales vice presidents say, “Success has a thousand fathers.” Their success often depends on keeping feet on the street, hiring people who have strong personalities and are good at pushing product in front of customers. In hot markets, it’s hard to fail. However, despite close to 100 years of sales skill development seminars and publications, many people still push what to them looks like, and indeed may be, a hit product. But what if you don’t have the latest greatest “sells itself” product? Or if your “product” is really a service offering, what do you do with sales people who only know how to push product?

We’ve recently gotten reports from two clients that do business with currently distressed sectors of the marketplace—temporary staffing. The sales results for both companies over the past twelve months were rather startling given the doom and gloom we all read in the papers: national accounts are up 15%; there are week-over-week increases in new account acquisitions; and major accounts are up over 25. These are results that would be astounding even during a hot market, not like now, when the bread-and-butter market of their customer base (the construction industry) is lagging.
Two things stand out about these companies: their service offerings are very straightforward—providing workers—and easily copied so there is plenty of competition; and, they have both taken methodical, almost textbook approaches to developing their salespeople and sales managers. The approach has been the recipe for their success.

For those companies that don’t currently have products and services that sell themselves, acquiring new customers and growing existing customer relationships requires a consistent methodical approach—and a heavy dollop of strategy (which we won’t tackle today). This path requires planning, patience—and, most importantly, getting your CEO on board.

Here are a few of the steps toward laying out an approach that provides results:

  1. No matter what sales process you choose, successful implementation requires first that you plan the journey well. Define your vision and mission with the mindset of an entrepreneur and customer’s point of view. Set solid, and real, twelve-month objectives that are measurable, and that you’re willing to stand behind. Develop real strategies that will inform your organization how to meet the objectives. And plan your projects and initiatives well, so that you stay focused on those strategies—not the shiny balls that appear along the way.
  2. Train your executive and management team in your sales process first, and then train them on how to coach and manage the process. Inevitably, our initial conversation with the Vice President of Sales starts with a request to train the salespeople. Since a large part of what we do is training, this is of course a natural request. However, we find that in close to 100% of situations that we could train the salespeople till the cows come home and nothing much will change. It’s the sales managers and sales executives who must get out front of the curve, learn the process, learn how to coach the process and lead the way. Once your management team is up to speed, then, and only then, roll out your sales process and train the salespeople.
  3. Even though your sales managers have become process experts, measure and pay them for their coaching capability, not their ability to rescue the deal. Your sales managers are first and foremost your coaches. Nothing kills momentum and dumbs down your sales force quicker than a team of heroic sales managers.
  4. Don’t create process silos where none currently exist. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and HRM (Human Resources Management) need to be tightly linked to your company’s sales process. In other words, measure and compensate only for the behavior you desire. Salespeople are coin-operated. They will do what you pay them to do.

You should count on a period of 12-18 months from conception to full implementation. This may seem unreasonably long in a dynamic market, especially when it’s so easy to just go out and purchase a training class, but following a well-planned process and not skipping the steps will pay dividends you can only dream of today. In company after company, in industries ranging from software to staffing to agriculture, over the past 28 years, we have found that taking this type of methodical process produces both change and big results.