Lock in with your customers

09/09/2014

Ambitious high growth entrepreneurs should spend at least 3 days of their official working week living in the customer’s world. Viewing the market place from the desk is extremely dangerous, being immersed within your industry and the needs of your customers provides real-time market intelligence. This helps to tailor propositions specifically to the wants and needs of your market place; it also supports new product and service development. Gazelle companies create a massive gap between them and their competitors because they deploy innovation and imagination to problems, this inspires and very often leads to development and evolution of propositions that the customer didn’t even know they wanted! They occupy uncontested space. Others will soon start to copy and replicate – your job is to stay one step ahead of the game.

High growth businesses we have studied stay close to their key stakeholders. More specifically, they spend time:

  • Looking at the factors that impact their customer’s performance – this provides opportunities to provide new solutions
  • Understanding their customers strategy – this facilitates a partnership working model
  • Looking at how they can help improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance performance.

Getting close to the market helps to drive what I term “customer lock in” – that phase of the supplier/customer relationship where there is a true partnership, mutual respect and a genuine win-win. Moving to lock in can absorb an enormous amount of time, mini-padlock-912519-meffort and energy, however the rewards can be big. It also makes it very difficult for competitors to move in and occupy your space. Being embedded means any new entrant would have to untangle lots of relationships, systems and processes to get a foothold. A word of caution – never take relationships for granted and be aware of performance vs. KPIs. Customer complacency represents a real danger zone for businesses. Lock in delivers true competitive advantage.


5 Rules of Selling for Growth Companies

08/01/2013

Any business owner will tell you that the ability to sell lies at the heart of success, however the term frightens the life out of many, as it conjures images of unethical smooth talking individuals manipulating others so as to get their own way. This is not the case; great selling is grounded in ethical behaviour coupled with a mindset of offering real value through a passionate belief in the proposition offered. Over the years the shelves have become crowded with books teaching the art of sales and more specifically, how to close a deal or overcome objections. However, selling is not about imposing a product or service on someone at any cost; this fairly old-fashioned view provides a strong basis for failure and mistrust, which can damage your company reputation. Here are my rules to ensure sales success:

Rule 1 – Your business must be in good shape

Selling is inextricably linked to all of the other functions and processes that help to build a great business. You could be the best sales person in the world, but if you can’t produce or deliver on time, then orders will quickly dry up. Ensure all of your team understand how your internal processes are linked, and how they impact on order fulfillment. That way they will realize how they fit into the overall sales process, even if their role doesn’t sit within that function

Rule 2 – Know what makes you different

Everyone wants to stand out, whatever market you’re in. However, it is important that everyone within your team understands what your unique selling points (USP) are, as opinions can vary. When talking to customers, or simply having conversations with suppliers, partners, or other members of the team, your USP should remain at the back of everyone’s mind to ensure you’re always positioned as you want to be. With this in mind it’s also crucial that your whole team keep an eye on competitors and the market place so your USP remains competitive. For example, if another company launches a product just like yours, your sales team will need to understand why yours is better, and explain this clearly to your customers.

Rule 3 – Behave like a customer

Ensure your sales team truly understands the value of aligning products and services to customer needs. If there is an opportunity for them to spend time in a customer’s world, then they should take it. The art of empathizing with a customer allows you to explore options and suggest the most appropriate solution, not just the one you want to provide. By really getting under the skin of your target audience, your sales team will be able to highlight what your products or services can do for the customer and tailor their approach, rather than listing a series of features which may not be relevant or interesting to the person buying. Remember the importance of service/product impact and be able to  evidence it – be specific!

Rule 4 – Never stop innovating

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious link between sales and innovation, but in fact every sales person should be innovative in their approach. As your business grows and evolves, your sales team will need to think of new ways of doing things. Those businesses, which are growing the fastest, aren’t just those who invest in product innovation- they focus on keeping everything fresh, including the way they sell. If your sales team make customers feel excited by what you have to offer then you are already half way there

Rule 5 – Be energetic and passionate

Sales people generally have to be focused and mentally resilient to deal with a sale falling through, or targets potentially not being met. They don’t just turn up for meetings, they prepare mentally and professionally and are never complacent. If you are just beginning to build a sales team, you should look for passion and energy as much as you should product knowledge, as this positive approach will prove invaluable to nurturing client relationships and getting the best results. Likewise, you must show how passionate you are about helping them succeed, as motivation and drive are key.


Inner strength – where does it come from?

10/10/2012

Business invariably brings with it challenges, stresses and strains. It’s amazing how some entrepreneurs keep going when the odds are against them. The winners who I have met draw inner strength from many different places. Thought for the Day on Radio 4 yesterday morning delivered by Rev Canon Dr Alan Billings (an Anglican priest in Sheffield) summed it up for me, he said –“We can get through difficult times if we have some sense of where we are going”. He went on to add, when we have vision it creates purpose and that keeps us going.

I am increasingly of the opinion that help for entrepreneurs does not necessarily lie in business schools. Its philosophers, theologians and sociologists and their wisdom that provides help in difficult times. Inner strength does not come from an Excel spread sheet – its derived from a force far bigger and more powerful…


Old school sales training – should be banned

03/10/2012

Selling from within is the philosphy outstanding sales people have mastered. As one person said to me the other week “I sell best when I don’t realise I am selling – the engagement comes from the belief in the products I sell!”. This is the view point of many high growth entrepreneurs I have worked with over the years. They communicate with clear value, consistently bring new thinking to the table and always think win-win.

So why is the market still flooded with old school training methodologies that use gimmicks and trickery to get someone to buy something when they don’t want it? Great selling often involves walking away if the deal is not right, you leave your reputation intact and the door open for another day. I came across a list of 63 closing techniques the other day the most bizarre being the puppy dog close. Is this for real? Do people actually teach this nonsense.

Closing starts the minute you open your mouth – no magic wand or closing technique does the job if you have been winging your way through a sales call. My advice is stay clear of old school training methodologies that promote this stuff because you are wasting your money. Effective sales people keep one foot in the customers world and one foot in the company till. An imbalance in this mindset does not deliver the required win-win.

Great sales people have conditioned themselves to truly believing they bring added value  with their propositions, they don’t blag it, they provide solutions and alternatives. If you are an entrepreneur looking for the right sales person check their integrity, track record and ask them to evidence how they have been honest and trustworthy in the past. Are they passionate about what you have to offer? Will they fit your culture? Have they got the right attitude? Do they understand your market, products and services?

If you have a sales force and they are not performing please don’t immediately send them on a sales training course, think it through, many such programmes are nothing more than a sticking plaster, more often than not they fail to provide a ROI  – the problems maybe more fundamental.

The best sales people love their products and services, they solve problems and they are keen to please – they avoid at all costs working through a checklist of objection handling techniques or weird closing methodologies.

Sell from within – it brings a quantum leap in new and repeat revenue.


Superior Selling – A Recipe For Success

30/09/2012

Any entrepreneur will tell you that the ability to sell lies at the heart of success, however the term frightens the life out of many as it conjures images of unethical smooth talking individuals manipulating others so as to get their own way. This is not the case; great selling is grounded in ethical behaviour fused to a mindset of offering real value through a passionate belief in the proposition offered. Over the years the shelves have become crowded with books teaching the art of sales and more specifically, how to close a deal or overcome objections. Whilst these have their place in the world of business there is a much more spiritual side to selling – one that is based on win-win, give before you receive and indeed if the product or service is not right then walk away. Selling is not about imposing a product or service on someone at any cost; this old school view provides a strong basis for failure and mistrust. Such behaviour ultimately results in the demise of both personal reputations and a company’s brand.

The function of selling does not sit in isolation, it is inextricably linked to the functions and processes that help to build a great business – in other words you can be the best sales person in the world but if you can’t produce or deliver on time then orders quickly dry up. Great sales-led organisations are built on solid foundations, in particular they have

  • Strategic clarity and strong customer-focused leadership – they know where they are going
  • Memorable propositions commonly referred to as unique selling points (USP)
  • Embraced a culture of innovation
  • Spent time living in the customer’s world, so the products and services are aligned to their needs
  • Well-managed systems and processes
  • Strong values and culture along with a brand synonymous with quality and integrity

These building blocks provide an effective platform for frontline sales staff because customers feel comforted in the knowledge that they are working with a credible and reliable supplier. It makes the sales process far easier when the customer-facing individual operates within the robust framework of a sound business model. With this in place the sales role becomes one of having sensible conversations that deliver a win-win for both parties.

Entrepreneurial selling –  three pillars of excellence

Effective selling is built on the three pillars of Functional Mastery, Customer Connectivity and an ability to build Momentum. So how do these work?

The sales process starts with exploring real customers needs, very often looking for problems that can be solved. Functional Mastery, the first pillar of great selling relates to product knowledge; as the cliché goes if you can’t explain it you cant sell it. Personal credibility is built on a sound understanding of products and services and every sales person must be armed with the ability to talk confidently about what’s on offer. Articulating propositions with passion, evidence and impact contributes massively to an engaging conversation.

The second pillar, Customer Connectivity is the art of empathizing with the customer’s situation, exploring options and suggesting most appropriate solutions. All great sales people build rapport and ooze credibility, their personal brands help to support one of the most important aspects of selling – trust- a key contributor to long-term sustainable relationships that build profitable lifetime value.

Finally, Momentum is a trait exhibited by the most successful sales individuals. They are focused, mentally resilient and maintain high energy levels. More importantly they are able to bounce back and when they fail, they do it fast and move on. Great sales people don’t just turn up to meetings, they prepare mentally and professionally – they avoid complacency and come across with passion and energy, they excite customers and leave them with a memorable experience.

When a sound and robust business model comes together with the three pillars of sales effectiveness a truly superior revenue performance is consistently delivered.


Scary Strategies

02/10/2011

Bravery and courage are important traits of successful entrepreneurs. All too often there is a very fine dividing line between success and failure, the implications on either outcome can equally profound. Rene Carayol, a leading management thinker and person I truly admire talks about the need to sometimes practice “scary strategies”. These are methodologies that need to be employed in order to achieve a breakthrough or pursue big personal/business intention. They often involve raising the bar and extension of our natural comfort zones. Scary strategies are particularly appropriate in difficult selling situations where there is a real need to demonstrate competitive advantage e.g. dislodging an incumbent supplier from a long-standing relationship or as a small business pitching against a global brand.

In considering the deployment of a scary strategy we must pay due recognition to:

– Challenging the status quo and encouraging the customer to change their outlook, in other words try to change their mindset

– Bringing a different approach or one that is unconventional but truly brings benefit (however, there is a fine dividing line between genius and madness)

-Challenge existing practices that are old-fashioned and out of date

Scary strategies should be considered when all traditional methods of winning business have failed. Doing something memorable that is innovative, inspiring and displays a real sense imagination can sometimes win the day.

An approach taken by major London ad agency in the 90’s is one of the best examples I have come across.  In the days of British Rail, the top management turned up at the agency ready to be pitched to. An uninterested receptionist, filing her nails, made them wait in the foyer, which was decorated with coffee-stained tables and overflowing ashtrays. The minutes ticked by and nobody came to meet them. Furious at their treatment, the BR managers were about to storm out when an agency Director and his team appeared. “That’s how the public sees BR,” the Director told them. “Now let’s see what we can do to put it right.”


High growth companies actively pursue “customer lock” in strategies

27/09/2011

Ambitious high growth entrepreneurs should spend at least 3 days of their official working week living in the customer’s world. Viewing the market place from the desk is extremely dangerous, being immersed within your industry and the needs of your customers provides real-time market intelligence. This helps to tailor propositions specifically to the wants and needs of your market place; it also supports new product and service development. Gazelles companies create a massive gap between them and their competitors because they deploy innovation and imagination to problems, this inspires and very often leads to development and evolution of propositions that the customer didn’t even know they wanted! They occupy uncontested space. Others will soon start to copy and replicate – your job is to stay one step ahead of the game.

High growth businesses we have studied stay close to their key stakeholders. More specifically, they spend time

  • Looking at the factors that impact their customer’s performance – this provides opportunities to provide new solutions
  • Understanding their customers strategy – this facilitates a partnership working model
  • Looking at how they can help improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance performance.

Getting close to the market helps to drive what I term “customer lock in” – that phase of the supplier/customer relationship were there is a true partnership, mutual respect and a genuine win-win. Moving to lock in can absorb an enormous amount of time effort and energy, however the rewards can be big. It also makes it very difficult for competitors to move in and occupy your space. Being embedded means any new entrant would have to untangle lots of relationships, systems and processes to get a foothold. A word of caution – never take relationships for granted and be aware of performance vs. KPIs. Customer complacency represents a real danger zone for businesses. Lock in delivers true competitive advantage.