Prime your prospect and sell more effectively

Today we’ll reflect on the fascinating story of the demise of Kodak, the huge Rochester, NY company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2012.  During its heyday as a growing profitable company, Kodak employed 145,300 worldwide, and in the 1990s it hit a revenue peak of over $16 billion and a market cap of about $30 billion.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedToday Kodak has a market cap of $351 million and employs 7,300, destroyed by the inexorable move to digital, which was foreseen by everyone except the Kodak executives who blindly believed there would never be a substitute for film. Looking back, it’s easy to see why they could not let go. At its peak, about 70% of the U.S. film market was in Kodak’s hands, and its gross margins were about 70% as well. Kodak was making a ton of money.

The saddest part of Kodak’s story is that it had the key to renewed success right in its hands, as digital photography was originally a Kodak invention.  The digital camera was invented during the mid-1970s by Steve Sasson, a Kodak electrical engineer.

Other companies were able to make profound shifts in strategy based on changing market demands.  IBM, a major early developer of personal computing technology, watched profits drop as personal computers became less expensive, so they shed their PC business and moved into the technology consulting sector. But Kodak’s attachment to film blinded it to the need to make a strategic change.

Kodak’s story is now well known, and I mention it here only as a follow-up to Tuesday’s newsletter in which we looked at solid research experiments in priming, and I promised to help you see how priming can help you sell more effectively.

Let’s suppose you sell technology, insurance, wealth services, treasury services or other financial solutions.  On your next prospect call you might begin with a plain declaration of the reason for your call:

“My most important goal when I call on a prospect or a customer is to ensure they are taking advantage of the latest technologies and advances in their industry, so that they don’t incur a competitive loss by missing out on good opportunities, such as Kodak did when it stuck with film.”

Then go on to recap the story above in your own words. Your intent is to prime the prospect to contemplate the distasteful possibility of loss, a subject which I have written about on this site in the past.  (See this post from June, 2013 on why professional golfers putt more effectively for par than for birdie.)

Remember:  Customers’ fear of loss is about twice as powerful as their desire to gain!

Now your customer will be happy to answer your discovery questions, such as,

“What is it that is most important for you to achieve this year and what gets in the way?”

“How are you using these services now? There may be opportunities to bundle for better pricing, or consider more effective alternatives.”

“What information do you need to have immediately for better decision making?”

“What will happen if you do nothing?”

Now you are in the customer’s wheelhouse discussing subjects that matter to him or her, and as long as your questions are thoughtful and helpful, you have a far better opportunity for constructive dialog.

Selling is easy as long as you remember to…

 

Think Like Your Customer!

Don’t swallow that Oreo cookie coaching idea

Last month I ran a sales management workshop for a client in Seattle, and I gave the group a few easy coaching scenarios to discuss and practice, which included an assortment of performance deficiencies. For example, one problem focused on the employee simply not having enough experience with a new skill, another with an unmotivated employee and so on.

But as the groups prepared to role play their coaching scenarios I listened to one of the managers make an astute observation.

“I think the best way to handle this one is just to get right to the point and tell the guy what he needs to do better. Why insult his intelligence by beating around the bush and telling him how great he is?  Once you do that you have to figure out a way to finesse in the corrective part, and it all sounds so phony.”

1331043005_OreoThe others agreed and one added, “I remember when we used to work for (name). When you went in to talk with him about something you did wrong, he was so afraid to mention it that you’d walk out feeling like you were doing great!”

I was proud of their conclusion, as we had just finished discussing what behaviors the great coaches engage in, one of them being that they get to the teaching point quickly.

This poor coaching approach of trying to soften up the employee has often been labeled the “Oreo Method” in which you begin the conversation by telling the employee something positive about his performance, e.g., “Bill, you’ve been doing this job for eight years and of course you are one of my most experienced and valued employees.  Here are just a few of the areas in which you have distinguished yourself as being one of the tops in the field…”

Then you squeeze in a vague comment or two about an area you would like to see improved.  Get in and out of that fast and don’t dwell on any corrective ideas!

Then finish up with some words of confidence.  “I know that with your loyalty and commitment, you’ll continue to provide the best possible service to all our customers!”

This disingenuous approach has been touted by HR people for as long as I can remember, and it’s bad. I sure hope you aren’t an Oreo coach!

Great coaches believe in their people and that confident belief must force them to always provide honest, direct feedback to help them improve.  Don’t disrespect your team with vague comments about performance, hoping they’ll “get the message.” Make them trust you as an honest leader.

Think Like Your Customer!

“I’m happy with my current provider.”

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

—Pharrell Williams

 

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedOf all the sales skill workshops I conduct, by far my favorite is helping salespeople get appointments with prospects and customers over the phone. In addition to giving the learners a number of important guidelines in making effective outbound calls (e.g., never say, “This is Name from Company, how are you today?”), we spend a lot of time helping them through objection handling, the biggest obstacle to the initial goal of getting a conversation started.

One of the toughest objections we all hear is that the prospect is deliriously happy with his current provider. Of course we know this is seldom true. Who on earth is madly in love with his bank for example?  But to hear the prospect tell it, you’d think they were holding hands.

In objection handling, you have to be careful not to sound defensive. In other words, you would never say, “Oh but you don’t know how great our services are!” It’s important to listen and be consultative.  Help the prospect solve his “problem” in the role of a thinking partner.

Do you need your Business Banking sales team to get more appointments?  Do you need your retail bankers to get customers to come into the branch? Do you need your investment sales reps to have more face-to-face appointments? If you’re in health care, do you want your reps to get into that hospital or those doctors’ offices? Of course you do.

So helping them become more effective on the phone is an important priority, and a great deal of their improved effectiveness will come from dealing smoothly with the “I’m happy” objection.  Of course there are other difficult objections which I’ve discussed here before: “Send me something in the mail,” “too difficult to switch,” “too busy to talk to you now,” and a few others.

Off the top of my head I can think of three very strong responses to “I’m happy” that will keep your conversation on track and lead to an appointment. How good are you at doing the same?

Here’s a deal for you.  Send me just one of yours by email and I’ll send you back my three, no charge of course.  Then you’ll have some good techniques to practice and share with your sales team. If this is an important issue for you, write me offline at:  Gregory at actionsystemstraining dot com.

I’d love to help you…

Think Like Your Customer

A sales management coaching tip from Lou Holtz

Some time ago I had an interesting conversation with Nancy Lieberman, the greatest female basketball player of all time, an Olympian, a pro player, the only woman to coach a men’s pro basketball team, and a Hall of Famer. Our conversation got around to coaching, a subject she knows a thing or two about, and I was fascinated by this story she shared from Lou Holtz, the former college and NFL coach and another superstar of motivation.

HoltzCoach Holtz positions this challenge.  “Say you have a big thick length of solid wood, about 2 feet wide and 4 feet long, and you place it over a couple of cinder blocks a foot or so off the floor.  You blindfold your player and challenge him to walk from one end to the other. He’d say, ‘That’s easy,’ and stroll right across. So his thoughts would be only about success.

But now suppose I tell him I’m going to raise the platform. I’ll put the wood between two buildings 50 stories high.  Now the player thinks, ‘Uh oh. I could fall.’  The challenge is exactly the same but the athlete’s confidence is now lower.”

Nancy adds, “So as a coach, you have to see that when goals are low, confidence is high, and when goals are high, confidence can start to slip away, even when the skills needed to succeed are exactly the same.  Your job as the coach is not just setting high goals. You also have to work on the player’s confidence, by keeping negative thoughts out of his head.”

Now back to you.  How well are you doing that as a coach?  Do you find fault, assign blame, point out the negatives, suggest what could go wrong? Or are you skilled at developing positive images of success in the minds of your team? When your sales team listens to you in meetings or one-on-one coaching sessions, do they walk out knowing exactly what to do, or are they more likely to be fearful of failure?

Let’s examine the business priorities.  You want to challenge your sales team with aggressive goals and you want them to be successful in achieving them, to make more money and profit for your company, your team and yourself.

But remember:  High challenges can cause low confidence.

In every coaching conversation with your sales team, work to build their confidence.

“I know you can do this.  You’ve done it before.”

“Focus on success.”

“Let’s talk about what you need to do to win.”

“I can’t wait to hear you tell me how you nailed this call.”

“How can I help you achieve your goals?”

Learn to think and feel the way your team does, in order to coach more effectively, just as you…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: Want great coaching? Play a round of golf at St. Andrews

If you’ve ever played golf using a caddy in the U.S., you know you’re going to get superb service.  The caddy will advise you on what club to use, tee up your ball, tell you the distance, and then praise your shot.  After all, the caddy wants a good tip.

But years ago I played all three courses at St. Andrews in Scotland, and the caddy experience is quite different.  The caddies will bet against their own player, crack jokes about the players throughout the round and are unconcerned whether they play well or not.  The golf was good at St. Andrews, but the caddies’ stories as we walked the famed courses were far greater.

On the first hole of the old course is the Swilcan Burn, a thin stream that cuts across the fairway, and because you cannot see it from the tee, it’s common to hit into it.  The caddy told me of an American golfer who swore that if he hit into it again he’d drown himself in it.  The caddy told him, “Na ya won’t.  Ya canna keep your head down that long.”

Later in the round I hit into one of those deep cylindrical bunkers and was fortunate to get out of it in one shot. Walking toward the green he told me another story of a golfer who climbed down into the bunker, looked at the steep walls all around him and asked, “Is it even possible to hit out of this thing?”  The caddy told him that he once saw Fred Couples do it easily.

So the guy takes a wedge and begins blasting away, and after 3 or 4 hacks at it he says, “I thought you said you saw Fred Couples hit it out of here,” to which the caddy replied, “Yah, but your na Fred Couples.”

fred-couplesI was reminded of the series of posts I wrote recently on the behaviors of effective coaches, one of which is that they all get to the teaching point quickly.  You can facilitate the solution with the salesperson, such as “What is your plan?”  “What do you intend to do about this?”  “What do you think the solution is?”  But when it comes to identifying the problem, get to the point quickly and directly. Don’t beat around the bush.

“You’re simply not calling enough.”

“You made no effort to find out what the customer’s problem was. All you did was present.”

“Customers aren’t impressed by a sales rep who has to read his own brochure to answer a question. You weren’t prepared.”

Do you think the other golfers in my foursome were offended by the directness of the caddies? You should have seen the huge tips they gave and heard them laugh as they related their own experiences at the bar.

In general, people appreciate being told the truth without sugar coating. It may sting a bit at first, but it’s important to get the performance issue out on the table in clear, concise language.  Show your player you’re thinking about him, just as you…

 

Think Like Your Customer!

Fable Friday: How to beat a grandmaster?  Change the rules of chess

1972 was the year that everyone was talking about chess, as the U.S. grandmaster Bobby Fischer unseated the USSR world champion Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland and claimed the number one title for himself.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedThe United States Chess Federation was located near my home in NY at the time and soon after the championships were over, our chess club was visited by Bent Larsen, the famous Danish grandmaster who at the time was ranked 4th in the world.  Larsen was staying as a houseguest of the USCF Director and to pass the time he decided to do a local tour of the area and play in a number of simultaneous matches. I was privileged to play against him in one of the early ones.

The story of how he slowly crushed me to death like an anaconda is not very interesting, but I do recall one amusing incident from that match.  A friend of mine, Dave Baker, had just returned from an Army tour of duty in the Far East and he had with him a chess set he had bought there.  The pieces, unlike the traditional Staunton set that is mandatory in all serious matches, were instead replicas of ancient warriors, with the knights looking like Samurais with huge swords, and all the other pieces difficult to identify.

I sat a few chairs away from Dave and watched as Larsen took in the set at his first move. “What are these?” he exclaimed.  Dave showed him each of the pieces as Larsen studied them in their home position.  But once the game began and pieces were all over the board, Larsen became more confused. “What is this piece here?  Is this a bishop?” I should point out that the strategy in a simultaneous for the grandmaster is that he moves very quickly, so he can get around the room faster, thus giving all his opponents less time to think. Dave was driving him crazy.

I wish I could say that Dave’s strategy of changing the rules on the grandmaster by playing with these exotic pieces was entirely effective.  Truth is, Larsen destroyed him. But it did slow the grandmaster down and gave us all a bit of extra time.  That was a fun evening.

The point here is that when you are in sales, and you don’t have a strong competitive advantage, give serious thought to changing the rules of the game.

Let’s say you’re a commercial banker serving the middle market.  The customary ground rules aren’t complex.  Customers will often borrow from institutions that give them the best rate and collateral terms, unless there is a very strong relationship in place. And because banking is a highly regulated industry there isn’t much differentiation in the offers available to you.

So why don’t you just change the rules?  Tell every prospect, “Of course we lend money, but we’re not solely in the lending business.  We offer our customers a sophisticated and technologically superior package of services that help you manage all your cash, from Treasury and Information services to investments, in addition to loans.  This gives you a 360 control position of all your financial needs, and saves you time, money and risk.  Why not let us explore all these areas?” And now you bring other departments from the prospect company into play, build additional relationships and influence the types of offers in the proposal.

And now you have effectively repositioned yourself as a provider of business solutions, rather than a temporary lender of funds.  And when your competitor shows up with his loan proposal, your customer will look at it and ask, “What is this?”

Think Like Your Customer!

Situational leadership?  Why not situational coaching!

How does the coach know when it’s a good idea to throw a chair across the basketball court, as Bobby Knight once did, or to sit down with an athlete to discuss and agree on areas to improve?

The effective coach must decide when to say, “You’re not getting the job done. Here’s what I want you to do and if you don’t you’re out of here,” or to use a more Socratic approach as in, “I have some concerns about your recent performance. Let’s talk it through and see what we need to do to get you on the right track again.”

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedSeems pretty obvious that specific situations call for unique approaches.  How do you know which one to take?  Hersey and Blanchard wrote some time ago about the notion of “situational leadership” in which the manager of an organization must adjust his style to fit the development level of the followers he is trying to influence. The same is true of the coach, but the coach must take into consideration not only the development level of the performer, but also the performer’s level of desire to improve.

Let’s look at two examples:

I was once married to a woman who was a very good golfer, single digit handicap.  She loved the game, played and practiced every chance she could and regularly took lessons to improve.  She was working with the pro at a course that often hosts the U.S. Open, a gifted teacher and coach, and he couldn’t seem to get her to adopt an athletic stance.  “Quit sticking your butt out when you address the ball.  Stand more upright with the weight on the balls of your feet,” he would remind her. And she would do it right for a bit, then go back to her old stance.

One afternoon she came home and told me about her lesson.  After she had taken her stance, the pro walked behind her and delivered a swift kick to her butt.  “I’m not going to tell you again, tuck your butt in.”  After that, she always addressed the ball perfectly.

The lesson worked simply because her desire to improve was stronger than her embarrassment on having her butt kicked.

Now let’s compare this scenario to the one from my newsletter last week, which you can review here.

The coach could have screamed and yelled, pointed out all the mistakes the sales rep made and let him know exactly what she expected to do next time. But if you recall, she simply asked the rep for his own review of the call and what he felt he would need to do differently, allowing him to self-discover the improvement path and commit to it, because the ideas were his.

Remember that your team members are always committed to their ideas, not yours. So while the golfer is so deeply committed to improving her game that she will endure a kick in the butt to play better, your employees on the job are likely to have a different set of goals and values.  Even a metaphorical kick in the butt may lead to a call from your HR department, if not an employee retention issue over time.

So the lesson is this. Carefully evaluate the desire to perform and improve for each of your employees on a situational basis and coach accordingly. Some need a careful dialog; some need a kick in the butt.  Do you know which is which among your team?

Think Like Your Customer!

Want to be a better coach? Do what the great ones do, Part II

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedLast week we discussed some of the best practices that great coaches do, leaving off with gaining the employee’s commitment to improve.  Today we’ll finish up that discussion with a few more.

Mutually discuss solutions. 

Great coaches recognize that they are not the only ones with good ideas, and they make a point to seek the employee’s input.

“What do you think is the best way to ask a customer about what’s important to him?”

 

Get agreement on an improvement plan on the spot. 

The coach knows that the key to ensuring that the session has meaning is to agree on a plan for the new behavior.

 “Okay, how about this?  Beginning first thing tomorrow, why not get some appointments with high-potential customers and tell them you and I will sit down with them.  Then I can have another chance to observe you doing these new techniques…”

Use frequent, informal positive reinforcement immediately following desired behavior. 

If the coaching discussion is worth conducting, it is worth following up.  Since coaching is a feedback mechanism, it’s important to let employees know when they are performing as desired in order to reinforce the behavior.

 “Jeff, I’ve been listening to the way you use those open probes with confidence.  You have a real professional approach now and people trust you.”

Maintain confidence in the employee’s abilities over time. 

This is different from expressing confidence in the employee.  Without a sustained commitment to the employee, expressions of confidence have little meaning.  The great coach shows that he or she is willing to let employees test their skills through empowerment and trust.

 “Paula, you’ve done so well with upscale customers, I’d like you to start making some calls on business customers as well.  I’ll give you some basics in the kinds of questions to use and then…”

Next post

So far in this series on coaching, we’ve discussed performance analysis, which helps us to know when coaching is the right remedy, and last week and today we’ve looked at a few effective coaching behaviors. Next week we’ll discuss the style differences in approach by effective coaches.

When is it right to facilitate the discussion in a gentle way and allow self-discovery by the performer?  When is it right to kick the performer in the seat of the pants? (And yes, I have a story about that.)  What is meant by “situational leadership”?

My monthly newsletter comes out next Tuesday, so there will be no blog post, but we’ll resume the coaching discussion in two weeks.

Think Like Your Customer!

How to be a better coach? Do what the best coaches do!

Effective coaches use many techniques and approaches to improve performance. Today we’ll look at some of the best practices and examples.  Compare your own coaching practices with those you see below.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 Cropped

 

The coach is committed to improving the performance of team members but must always be careful to keep them on the team and committed.  The most effective coaches have winning tendencies that you should strive to emulate.

In general great coaches…

Gain agreement that the desired performance is important.

Before any discussion takes place as to the method of improvement, the coach makes sure the team member understands that the right behavior is critical to a positive result.

“Mary, I want to be sure you understand how important it is to the company that all meetings with customers follow our Service Standards.  We have invested a lot in it.”

Gain agreement that the desired behavior is not taking place.

The employee may believe that the behavior is important but may not understand that it is not taking place.

“Jeff, when we talked about this last week, you stated that you were going to incorporate some strong questions into your needs assessments.  I didn’t hear any at all.”

Get to the teaching point quickly.

Good coaches analyze the performance problem to see the exact behavior that should be addressed.  They know whether the issue is related to knowledge, skill or feeling, and they get to that area in the discussion, so the employee knows exactly what needs to be addressed.

 “Let me show you a couple of ways you could have asked that question without sounding too intrusive.”

Deal effectively with excuses. 

The coach gets the employee to focus on how the behavior will be improved and knows that excuses only get in the way.

“I know it gets busy on Fridays and when you see a long line of customers waiting, the temptation is to hurry everybody along.  Let’s work on ways we can make the interactions more meaningful to customers while we have them there so they remember us positively.”

Describe the consequences of performance problems. 

Great coaches have a clear vision of the way things ought to be; they can also visualize what will happen when things aren’t working.  They help the employee visualize this contrast to assist the commitment to change.

“How do you think customers view us when they ask us a question about our checking accounts and we have to refer to our own brochures?”

Express confidence in the employee. 

The coach, through body language or the spoken word, convinces the employee that necessary improvements are well within the employee’s capabilities and communicates a “can-do” attitude throughout the conversation.

 “Jeff, the way you get along with customers, I know you can use this probing method to your advantage.  You’ll have them eating out of your hand.”

Gain the employee’s commitment and willingness to change. 

The coach knows that the employee has to want to engage in the improved behavior, and seeks feedback during the discussion to assess feelings.

 “How do you see these ideas working on a regular basis?  How do you feel customers will respond if you do this?  How does that sound?”

Note the positive tone of each of the spoken examples in italics. Do your coaching conversations sound like this?  If not, work on them.  Remember, employees rarely quit companies. They quit managers. Next week I’ll wrap up this discussion with a few more examples of how to be a more effective coach.

Think Like Your Customer

Diagnose before coaching—A quick quiz for you

Today I’ll give you a short quiz to see how well you remembered last week’s lesson on the importance of diagnosing the performance deficiency before you coach.  In this way you’ll see what can go wrong if you don’t diagnose, or do so incorrectly.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedWe’ll use K, D, F, for Know, Do, Feel.  In each of the scenarios that follow, answer K, D, or F to indicate if the performance issue is caused by information the employee does not KNOW, a skill the employee cannot DO, or an attitudinal issue, how the employee FEELS about the work.

  • One of your sales reps has worked for you for three years. She has recently attended a training program in making referrals in which she performed very well.  Now back in the office, she has not made a single referral to any customer after four weeks. _______
  • The company has introduced a brand new product, which is fairly complex. You held one brief sales meeting to go over the highlights of the product but none of the staff is very familiar with it.  You overheard one of your sales staff give a customer an incorrect explanation of how the product works.  ________
  • Your new customer service rep has been on the job for only six weeks.  She is trying to use a Customer Needs Assessment form but is having some difficulty listening to the customer, recording information on the form and then asking the next question.  It sounds very awkward to you as you listen to her customer conversations.  ________
  • You have conducted several sales meetings in which you have stressed the importance of taking time to understand the customer’s needs before mentioning products or discussing features and benefits. Nevertheless, one of your sales reps launches straight into a presentation of all the company’s products and features the second the customer says, “I would like to speak to someone about opening a new”  _______

Did you get them all right? I’ll give you the correct answers next week right here. But for now, try to predict what can go wrong if you mis-diagnose, and then try to coach.  A poor diagnosis usually leads to a poor intervention.

Think Like Your Customer