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Tag Archives: coaching

On assumptions and lost opportunities

Stop assuming and start digging

When I was a kid (all those years ago) I saw a comedian advising his audience never to assume because “when you assume you make an ass out of u and me”. He was right about the assumption part anyway. It is particularly dangerous in a rapidly changing environment to make decisions or act based on unfounded assumptions. This is especially true when talking to sales people about opportunities. It is especially especially true if the discussion refers to existing customers or opportunities that have been examined in the past. The basic message here is that everything changes.

“Have you spoken to client X about product Y?”

“They don’t need it”

“How come?”

“We discussed it last year”

This is the trap many sales reps and even their managers fall into. The point should be that we don’t reject an opportunity unless we can swear on whatever holy book or relative’s final resting place that we have followed it up, revisited it or looked into it and we are sure beyond a reasonable doubt that there is nothing there.

The other common assumption is that existing clients actually know what we sell. Customers build up an image of their suppliers and in many cases don’t even consider them for services or products that for some reason fall outside the scope of what they have come to conceive as your range of offerings. You need to talk to more than the usual contacts in companies and gain a thorough understanding of what they do and which suppliers they use, namely your competitors both direct and indirect. You will be surprised by the number of times you will receive answers along the lines of, “I didn’t know you guys did that!”. These days, in many cases the lines between direct and indirect competition are blurring as companies adapt and become more elastic in their effort to increase share. Throw in commoditization and a reality check and you may be opening up a whole new world of opportunities. How wide is the line that separates two market segments? Can you turn a boundary into a continuum?

Make sure your sales force has disabled preconceptions before they visit prospects. Get out on the road with them and lead conversations that uncover possible hidden opportunities. Give a fresh perspective. Then let them follow it up. They should then go out and emulate this in their own way. Hey! A coaching ride! Stress the importance of meeting with different people in your clients’ organizations. New acquaintances will, most probably, not be familiar with your offering and may well be in other departments that you can cater to with an additional product or by adapting one to their needs. Another assumption you should stop making is that everybody in a client company (especially the bigger ones) is talking to everybody else and knows what is going on three divisions down the road. If your service is something of a commodity, don’t assume that top management actually knows the details. You need to take the differentiating factors to them.

Stop losing opportunities because of routine thinking.

 
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Posted by on 17/10/2012 in Managing sales

 

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Training: getting the best out of your people without permanent damage

Make sure to keep it genuine

In my post on recruitment (Recruitment is everything, Aug 29) I refer to the importance of getting the right people on board. If your basic building blocks aren’t high quality material, you can train until you are blue in the face but you can’t turn lead into gold (the physics involved cost too much). Having said this, even the best of people need training unless you are running a business which sells something people are born to. Some of these are illegal in most countries but I am sure that even in these more specialized areas training comes into the equation at some point.

Sales and customer satisfaction are, in my mind, directly correlated to the level of training provided by a company. You should train your people for everything: how to answer the phone, what to say to customers, what not to say, how to handle or escalate complaints, how to sell, how to dress, how to negotiate, how to compare your offering with that of your competitors, how to comment on competitors – you get the picture. This ensures that you are projecting your company to the outside world as you have strategically decided to do so. Leave nothing to luck and, God forbid, common sense.  Also training, when done correctly, can be very motivating as demonstrated by today’s image.

Training manifests itself in various forms. Let’s look at three common manifestations:

1. Training: Sit everybody in a room and talk at them about how to assemble a PC. With diagrams.

2. Mentoring: “I’m great at what I do! Come, little Grasshopper, see how I do it”

3. Coaching: “We hired you because we believe you are suitable for the job. Let’s see how we can aim you in the right direction. Oh, and by the way, here are some tools”.

Horrifying as it may seem, I believe you can’t avoid any of these three types. “Let’s discuss the processor speed of the new tablet we launched. How fast do you think it may be?” You sometimes need to sit people down and brief them. But you can make it interesting and fun. With chocolate prizes for the ones that stay awake. It is, of course, necessary to let people watch the experts at work. And it is crucial to develop a coaching program. This is where you support intelligent people (the ones you correctly recruited, remember?) to develop their skills and knowledge so that they can fly solo. My apologies to the control freaks reading this.

Whatever the mix you choose, your people need to receive training, even for the basics. You need to massage them into the company culture. You don’t have to spend huge amounts. If you run a small business you may even run some sessions yourself on a Saturday. You will probably also do most of the coaching. Throw in lunch. This is especially important for sales people (the coaching bit, not the lunch). In these days of crisis I would go as far to say that on a typical coaching ride (you sit back and observe the neophyte at work and then go back to the office and talk about it) it may even be ok to breach coaching etiquette and step in if the rookie is about to blow the 100K deal.

By the way, having trained your people, you can be very specific about what is expected of them.

 
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Posted by on 26/09/2012 in Managing people

 

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