The Sales Cycle

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Co-written with Amina Islam

When kids are asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” nobody says I want to knock on the doors of strangers, and have them slammed in my face 80 % of the time accompanied by rude comments, but that is the life of a door-to-door salesperson.

Before we proceed, let’s define the steps:

  1. Prospecting: Picking your potential buyers
  2. PItching: Developing a sales pitch
  3. Closing: Closing the sale so that value is exchanged between the two

Prospecting

Prospecting is the process of identifying your potential customers. To do that, you really need to understand the product you’re trying to sell; what problem is it solving, and who incurs that problem on a regular basis so they would be willing to part with their money to have it solved. Additionally, answers to the following questions need to be very clear:

  • What are the demographics of your potential customers?
  • Where do they live?
  • What kind of jobs do they hold?

Prospecting can be as easy as building a spreadsheet list of potential customers with their addresses or numbers.

Pitching

Once you’ve identified your potential customers, it’s time to pitch your product. Unfortunately we live in a world where salespeople think pitching is all about going to the field and shoving the product down someone’s throat. But it’s more than just presenting your product or service to the prospect. To sell, there are various social skills that need to be honed, such as attunement as detailed in Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human. At the end of the day, businesses don’t do business with businesses but people do business with people, and as much as we may think we’re rational beings, human emotions play a huge factor in closing a sale.

Attunement is the ability to align one’s actions and outlook so it comes into harmony with other people. It’s the key to resonance or clicking, and for attunement to take place, skills such as perspective-taking, empathy and strategic mimicry need to be practiced. Perspective-taking as the name suggests is the cognitive skill of taking your potential customers perspective. It is a cognitive skill. Empathy on the other hand, could be considered its fraternal twin, but it’s an emotional skill. Even though both successfully produce greater joint gains and more profitable individual outcomes during negotiations, studies have shown perspective-taking as being more effective than empathy.

This means when you’re trying to sell, you have to understand where your buyer is coming from, what their desires, needs and pain points are. To get all that, you would need to ask questions and actually listen instead of just launching into a pitch straight away. Essentially, during your pitch, you would need to answer for them the question, “What’s in it for me?”

You also have to make them understand the value you’re presenting and why they would part with their hard-earned cash to get that value. They need to be able to imagine that something in their life would improve after having the product or service.

Another interesting technique that could be done during a sale is strategic mimicry, which involves mimicking the mannerisms of the person you’re negotiating with. The trick is to do it subtly enough that the other person does not notice what you’re doing. Otherwise, this technique may backfire. To ensure subtlety, try to wait for 15 seconds before mimicking their action.

Finally, understand the pitch is not about you and how much you love the product or service. This is about them and why they should love the product or service.

Closing

Closing the sale is the final process where the value is exchanged by them making payment in return for the product or service. This is the most important step as there is no sale without closure and it’s the point we’ve been building all our previous efforts for.

Tracking

As best practice in the sales field, develop a simple monitoring and evaluation model that allows you to track progress and make improvements as you progress. This should be periodical i.e hourly, daily or weekly.

Tracking will be the start of a sales funnel i.e a pipeline of customers arranged in order of their readiness to acquire the product or service. For example, a client who promises to purchase the service on Friday will be scheduled for a visit on that day with the single objective of closing the sale.

For salespeople who are just beginning on their sales journey, evaluating the results of their work during the first month can help define goals for the next month based on the project or business objectives. This will help with the professional growth of the sales person, as repeating the sales cycle exponentially could help one become a sales superstar.

Remember that actually delivering a good product and service is essential to the growth of your business. This is not just about selling. You want them to refer you to other clients as well. Your work does not end with closing the sale but by ensuring that the customer is happy with whatever they’ve paid for.

 

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How To Build a High Performance Sales Team

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Teamwork.

It’s a crucial necessity in today’s workplace. Many leaders subscribe to the idea that hiring only A-players will take their companies to the next level. However, there is an inherent assumption being made: that A players will result in A-playing teams.

In a talk given by Margaret Hefferman[1], she tells the story of a man who studied chickens and wanted to know what could make them more productive;

“Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the indinike daybreak uomo checkerboard vans ochre hängemattengestell preisvergleich costume leopardato triangolo Italy nike air max aliexpress scarpe eleganti senza lacci años 20 hombre disfraz corsair ddr3 1600 balmain carbone fragrantica jayden daniels lsu jersey custom baseball uniforms meia com pompom aiyuk jersey jayden daniels jersey converse blanche et doré vidually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding. After six generations had passed, what did he find?

Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.

Unlike common wisdom, the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts.

Sometimes it’s less.

So what does it take to build a superteam?

During the last quarter of 2018, I lost one of my best sales teams due to an administrative error. That left me with only 2 weeks to recruit and induct a new team into a project whose aim was to acquire customers for one of my clients during the festive period. That presented a huge challenge as the minimum time I usually take to recruit and train is one month.

Undaunted by the task, I immediately got on my database and pulled out a list of 6 top sales resources that have previously worked on my projects and exited positively. After requesting every one of them to refer at least 5 people, I ended up with 38 resumes to sift through. Basing my selection on the following criteria, I built a new team:

  • Proximity of where they live to the site we work from: Due to the high transport costs in Nairobi, it was important that salespeople lived close to their work stations.
  • Attitude: I looked out for positive attitude, hunger for the job, language proficiency (both English and Swahili) and other basic communication skills.

Despite being a new team that didn’t know each other and neither had prior sales experience nor university degrees, they surpassed the monthly sales target by 36 %.

What was the secret sauce?

I don’t know exactly, but I suspect it was their chemistry; how they worked together.

They coordinated, supported each other, and covered for each other. In other words, they defined their own constitution and played — or rather, worked — well together.

This idea has been shown in literature by an initiative code-named Project Aristotle that Google embarked on to study teams and figure out what made the best teams. In his article titled, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team”, Charles Duhigg wrote [2], “As they struggled to figure out what made a team successful, Rozovsky and her colleagues kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as ‘group norms.’ Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather.”

Other lessons I’ve learnt in my history building high-performance sales teams for clients across the years are as follows:

1)Hire for positive attitude

It’s very important to filter for attitude. Bad attitude will ruin your team. Even if it’s just one person who is toxic, they can spread it to the rest of the team. The upside of this is that positive attitude is also contagious so hiring for positivity works wonders. Since selling is a road paved with many thorns in the forms of rejections, positive teammates have a tendency to encourage one another, keeping their collective spirits buoyed.

2) Share the sales vision from the beginning

Zig Ziglar said, “You can’t hit a target you cannot see, and you cannot see a target you do not have.” It’s important that the sales vision and targets are communicated to the team from the very beginning so they’re clear on what they’re trying to achieve. This also gives them a clear way to benchmark their performance and measure their progress.

3) Lead from the front

While leading your sales team, it’s important that you dedicate time to sell alongside your teammates regularly. This gives them a chance to learn from you and improve their selling skill through imitation, making the best use of mirror neurons; neurons that fire not only when someone performs an action, but also when they observe someone else take the same action [3].

While leading, it’s important not to forget other leadership qualities, such as owning up to your mistakes whenever you make them, rather than throwing your salespeople under the bus. Also, whenever a problem arises, it’s important to focus on fixing it rather than wasting time pointing blame.

4) Convey the terms of service clearly especially incentives

The terms of service need to be clearly communicated to the team, especially when it comes to defining incentives. I can’t emphasize this enough, as nothing breaks a good sales team like vague terms or service, especially when they realize after making sales that the terms were different from what they had initially thought. Such a scene leads to mistrust and an immediate drop in motivation. Also, monetary incentives need to be paid on time.

5) Conduct continuous performance reviews and peer-driven training programs

The last habit of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is, “Sharpen the saw,” which involves taking deliberate steps for continuous improvement[4].

It is hard to build a high-performance team without a system in place for regularly evaluating the performance of your team to define how they can grow and be better. This usually involves continuously reviewing their performance and training them. Rather than overloading the, with a lot of content from the start, I personally prefer to focus on multiple refresher sessions bi-weekly. This can be made sustainable by having team members trained by their fellow colleagues who are at the same rank. That way, they can modify content I’ve developed by giving practical examples from their own personal experience selling.

In summary, these are the main ingredients for hiring a sales team that performs superbly:

  1. Hire for positive attitude

2. Share the sales vision from the beginning

3. Lead from the front

4. Convey the terms of service clearly especially incentives

5. Conduct continuous performance reviews and peer-driven training programs

References

[1]M. Heffernan, “Forget the pecking order at work”, Ted.com, 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_why_it_s_time_to_forget_the_pecking_order_at_work. [Accessed: 07- Feb- 2019].

[2]C. Duhigg, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team”, Nytimes.com, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html. [Accessed: 12- Feb- 2019].

[3]”Mirror Neurons”, Brainfacts.org, 2008. [Online]. Available: http://www.brainfacts.org/Archives/2008/Mirror-Neurons. [Accessed: 12- Feb- 2019].

[4] Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York: Free Press, 2004.

 

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Are You A Visionary Sales Leader

Are You A Visionary Sales Leader

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In a world where the majority of people have become salespeople, it takes more than a title to be a sales leader, especially a visionary one.

And no, multiple years of experience selling does not cut it. Neither does marshalling the operations of a sales team.

Visionary sales leaders stand out, not only by what they do but also how they do it and why. Visionary leadership combines the two skills of seeing the potential for change with the ability to lead others to cause that change. Visionary leaders share the following traits:

They operate on a pull strategy rather than a push one. For instance, rather than push their product down their potential client’s throat, they pull them to buy it by inspiring a vision of how it could improve their life.

They also pull the best out of their team members by communicating the why of what they’re selling rather than its what only. For example, a visionary leader would explain to their team why they should be hitting their sales targets, and would also ensure that outcomes are tied to intrinsic motivation. By contrast, a typical sales manager would most likely use extrinsic methods of motivation, enforcing and reinforcing the carrot-and-stick approach.

They neither bark down commands nor micromanage. Instead, they know how to properly delegate. As a leader, your job is to set expectations and empower your team with the skills and knowledge they need to do their job well. Then you must give them autonomy and get out of their way. More importantly, every employee needs to feel like they’re part of the bigger vision, regardless of their position.

The best way I’ve witnessed that was in a company that made its sales target visible at the front office, and even the receptionist could explain to a visitor what that target’s achievement meant to the company. This made sure that everyone understood the value the company provided, and could potentially go out, and bring in more clients.

They know that selling is about building valuable, meaningful and trusted long-term relationships rather than short-term transactional ones. Imagine coming to the realization that you don’t have the capacity to deliver to a client according to their specifications, and referring them to a competitor with the capacity. The client would appreciate that you made a decision that was good for them even if it jeopardizes your position in the short-term.

Building relationships with their sales team is also important, as they nurture the relationship over a long period of time through continuous training and mentoring, leading to team chemistry and loyalty. This is in contrast with continuously recruiting market champions who come with great experience and contacts, but ask for a very high salary scale and are in many cases, less loyal.

Their mantra is ‘Value, value, value.’ They build sales strategies based on the exchange of value with clients. They also live coherently with personal values such as integrity and honesty.

They listen, patiently, to everyone. They listen to their team to understand the challenges they’re facing, and rather than criticize, they opt to give constructive feedback on their work. They also listen to their clients to get feedback on what they’re selling. They listen to the market to see where it’s going and if they need to pivot their product or service, or reframe the message they use to sell it.

They drop their ego, and let others shineThey don’t try to take credit for everyone’s work. They also keep track of their team’s progress, and hold them accountable to their goals, by keeping the lines of communication open.

This also means giving their team enough freedom to make mistakes, without fearing repercussions. This is done by building a culture where failing forward is allowed, and mistakes are dissected and distilled openly to understand the lessons learnt.

Last but not all, they tolerate risks because visionary leadership is about change…changing lives, changing sales metrics, changing the business, and change is never risk-free.

So how many of your traits describe you?

Leave your comments below.

Co-written with Amina Islam

 

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The Downsides of an Overly Optimistic Entrepreneur

The Downsides of an Overly Optimistic Entrepreneur

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The strength of a visionary entrepreneur is their ability to see something in their mind and bring it to life in the real world. The problem is that sometimes, they can become excessively overoptimistic that it could lead to their business’s failure.

Before I launch into my opinions on that, let me first state that I’m definitely not against optimism per se. In fact, if you’ve been following my posts, I’ve often written about the importance of optimism when it comes to running your own business or working in a sales career, as it takes optimism to build resilience in the face of multiple obstacles. It takes optimism to build self-discipline and charge forward even when you don’t feel like it.

In fact, according to research conducted by psychologist Martin Seligman, optimistic people tend to see negative events as temporary, limited in scope, and caused by external factors, which is the exact mindset you need to beat the odds of succeeding at building a great business. Optimism has also been shown to be a great stimulant for creativity as optimistic individuals feel that the environment is safe so they are more likely to seek novelty and experiment with ideas.

However, too much of it can be your kryptonite.

Why?

Being excessively overoptimistic makes you continuously underestimate risk. For example, you might underestimate the amount of time and money a project would take, and thus fail to sufficiently plan for it.

Being overly optimistic can also give your employees the impression you’re walking around with blinders on, as you excitedly exaggerate growth metrics, while hiding other elements of the truth that show there might be a problem within the company. Without admitting the company’s problems, you’re denying yourself and your team the opportunity to solve them.

Also, you cannot just visualize your way to success in business.

Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret brought with it people who’ve become obsessed with the ‘law of attraction’. They spend a lot of time visualizing, and visualizing some more, without actually doing anything to achieve what they’re trying to achieve.

The entrepreneur’s version of this is going from one conference to another telling the company’s story rather than doing the work.

“You must change reality, not just wish it away.” — Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor, known for his books on positive psychology, distinguishes between an irrational optimist and a rational one. While the former has a warped vision of reality that is grounded in desire, the latter believes that mindset does matter, but they also recognize that reality is part of the formula.

So what can you do to make sure you’re optimistic enough to run your company, without being too optimistic to run it into the ground?

Use Metrics. Numbers don’t lie. Though it is encouraged to be enthusiastic and passionate about your business, you have to use a set of consistent measurements tracked over time to gauge how the company is performing, and make decisions based off of that. The numbers will tell you whether you need to put in place strategies for growth, pivoting or failing.

Have an executive board that keeps you in check. Surround yourself with people who challenge you rather than agree with everything you say. Such people will help you stay accountable and grounded in reality.

In summary, while it is important to be optimistic as an entrepreneur, it’s also important to know when you’re becoming overoptimistic, leading your business towards derailment — and possible demise.

Last but not least, Jim Collins summarizes it best in Good to Great“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

 

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