To be competitive in the market place today, you had better be a market-oriented organization. Your sales team may be increasing the number of potential clients they present to and, ultimately, increasing revenue, but if the whole organization isn’t aligned with delivering what the client wants, you may soon be seen as replaceable by your customer.
Being a market-oriented organization means that every employee in every department is focused on the customer with constant two-way communication between the organization and the customer at every touch point. By being market- oriented, the organization is better able to gather information about customers and competitors, more able to analyze the information that is collected, and thus more able use the knowledge gained to guide current and future strategies.
Market-orientation is actually quite rare, so organizations that take the initiative to become market-oriented will have a significant resource for sustaining a competitive advantage which leads to several benefits being realized:
- Better Marketing Programs: Because the organization has multiple opportunities to gain feedback from clients about their needs and about what competition is doing, marketing programs are able to be tailored to clients and market needs instead of a general approach that focuses on the product only.
- Increased Client Retention: Because the customers now have the ear of the organization on multiple levels, the customers receive faster responses to their needs and thus feel like they are receiving the attention they deserve. This makes it much harder for competition to gain your customers’ attention and makes it much harder for the customer to entertain the competition.
- Stronger Strategic Relationships: As the relationship between the organization and the customer becomes more involved, values become shared, strategies co-develop, and mistakes tend to promote a two-way dialog on how the problem can be solved together. The intangible value that is delivered by being market-oriented allows the organization to become a partner rather than just a vendor.
To become a market-oriented organization, marketing can no longer be thought of as an activity to just facilitate the selling of goods or services to a potential customer. It must now turn to a customer-centered set of values and activities that focus on the organization’s mission to provide superior value by delivering what the client wants.
“You are the CEO of your territory so you should act like one.” I was told this all the time during my years of selling and leading sales teams in various industries. I have since passed this advice on to every sales person and sales team that I have worked with since I started my practice.
More than any other position in the company, sales has a tremendous amount of autonomy and like a CEO, this freedom gives the sales people an infinite amount of latitude in how they are going to achieve their goals. Sales performance is based on success like that of a CEO and therefore the best sales people should approach sales like they are a CEO.
What should sales people and CEO’s have in common?
They leverage others to help – they don’t try to do it all themselves. Great sales people know how to leverage the entire organization. Good and average sales people try to do it all themselves.
They show leadership – without leadership it’s impossible to gain the support of the organization, to build support teams, to rally the client, and get those teams you need behind you.
They have problem solving skills – problem solving is one of the greatest, unmeasured skills today. Great CEO’s solve problems. Great sales people solve problems for their company and their clients. They have an uncanny knack for understanding how to get around hurdles, address challenges and accomplish what others can not.
They have Business Acumen- It goes without saying that CEO’s have great business acumen and unfortunately, most sales people do not. Sales people should embrace business knowledge and grow their understanding of complex and simple business concepts.
They take Risks – by definition, CEO’s take measured, calculated risks. They understand that nothing is guaranteed and growth comes from expansion. Selling is no different and the best sales people take risks. They understand the next big sale does not come from doing what everyone else is doing.
They have a Vision – Like CEO’s the best sales people have a vision and they see the forest through the trees. They can see where the industry is going and see where their clients “need” to go. They know when a product is going to loose its edge 12 months in advance and use that to their advantage.
They are committed to personal development – CEO’s become CEO’s because they are constantly striving to get better, embrace personal development, and are always growing their skills. The best sales people are constantly evaluating their skills and should always strive to get better. They know what they are great at and what they need to get better at. They leverage their strengths and surround themselves with those who are great at what they are not.
I am a huge fan sales people and during my 25 plus years of sales leadership, I have watched sales people that have these traits succeed farther than myself and I have watched sales people fail because they were unable to change the way they conducted themselves in business and embrace these ideas. If you can embrace and integrate the characteristics of a CEO, then you can be great in sales.
The question “How do we grow sales quickly?” is asked in every business on a weekly basis. The easy answer for us is that you would not have to ask that question if your sales function was doing three simple activities on a regular basis.
Asking for additional business from existing clients
When was the last time you met with your top clients to review the current business you were doing with them, showed them what else you could do for them better than others, and asked what they were planning that you might be able to help them with?
Asking for referrals from existing clients
Your clients have stayed with you for a reason. When was the last time you asked them who they knew in the industry that you could help as well and who else they do business with where you might be a fit?
Asking for new business from other “ideal” future clients
Can you identify your best clients and why you have been able to be a partner with them? Take your success and replicate it by producing a marketing piece about why people do business with you and send it to other “ideal” prospects with a call to action about engaging you.
These simple activities are often overlooked because businesses get caught up in their business and do not focus on them. Make these activities part of your regular sales meetings and their will be no need to have conversations about how you can grow sales quickly.
Salespeople are expensive to organizations and are expected to have a return on investment anywhere from 3 to 10 times their value depending on sales margins. However, most salespeople only sell 60% of the time because they are involved with too many non-selling activities. This in not necessarily their fault and the problem can be corrected by integrating the non-selling activities into the internal job positions they already have.
Activities without providing proper resources:
- Supporting customers
- Providing quotes and RFP requests
- Collecting payments
- Developing marketing materials
- Coordinating internal resources
Activities with the proper resources in place:
- Networking with strategic partners
- Collaborating with current clients on additional opportunities and referrals
- Meeting with more qualified prospects
- Closing more ideal clients
- Making more money for the company and themselves
Don’t let your revenue generating positions do non revenue generating activities. Any organization can increase their opportunities in the market if they have the right people in the right positions doing the right activities.
Recently on American Idol, Phillip Phillips sang Stevie Wonder‘s “Superstition” to close out the first “American Idol” finals round.
Steven Tyler said, “you just are…Okay”…. Jennifer Lopez liked how he made the song his own and said “you killed it.” Randy Jackson liked his originality and liked how he interpreted somebody else’s song and told him “You drive your own car in your own lane!”
That hit a point with me about the entrepreneurial companies I work with on a weekly basis and how they have had success doing things their way but are not always fully understood.
When an entrepreneurial company wants to do something new, navigate into a new market, or develops a new way of doing things, they do not always get positive feedback from the direct “stakeholders” about what they envision or what they are trying to accomplish. Two reasons for this are 1) that they have not effectively communicated why they are trying to do something new, and 2) they do not have the right people in place to execute their vision.
Have a vision, set a goal, create a plan, communicate the plan to all parties involved, inform everyone of their role in the plan, live by example, and do what you say you are going to do. Once these things are in place, you can hold people accountable to their role in the plan and you will be driving your own car in your own lane and continuing your success.
The word “Consulting” has become just as eyeball rolling to business leaders as the word “sales” and the joke is that if you are not part of the solution, there is money in perpetuating the problem. Not having the right expertise to work within your organization to make the necessary changes properly has the same effect as not being able to complete a project before you start another one. It is the same problem that new employees experience after 18 month of employment…..They get caught up in the minutia of everyday business and eventually become part of the problem.
Companies have downsized their management and senior knowledge holders, lost their internal expertise, and the employees that have survived are so multitasked that nothing is able to be improved because no single individual is able to focus long enough on the task at hand.
A good “consultant” is able to work with their client to help identify a problem, develop and plan to fix the problem, use internal resources efficiently to integrate the necessary changes, and then leaves the client with a sustainable solution.
In a conversation at lunch with my first client that is still a client, we started to talk about all of the ongoing projects in the company outside the scope of my delivery and what is keeping them for accomplishing them.
I discovered that my client falls into the classic seven-eigthers group that most companies become part of when they cannot complete even one project before the next idea and direction comes from the top. Hence they only get 7/8 of the projects completed and then are surprised when there are still in the same position they were two years ago. Their agility and ability to move forward is non-existent.
Ever been told to finish what you start? FIFO is an accounting term for First-In-First-Out and if you apply that same principle to project management then every new good idea would see success because it would be placed at the bottom of the pile before it would be addressed. A simple practice that if re-purposed would help companies maintain their agility in the market place.
I am proud to report that all projects managed by me as it pertains to building their sales engine have been completed on schedule and the client is currently experiencing an increase of 38% in revenues over the same period last year.
A mentor recently reminded me that the word “sales” is not always perceived well when used in a conversation. It is unfortunate but true because some “sales people” have ruined the reputation of all of us through non-standard practices that are remembered and shared with others. Even those companies and employees that I coach have trouble being called “sales people” even though what they do does have an impact on company revenues. Maybe that is why most businesses do not even print the word “sales” on business cards.
The primary duties of anyone in the business development field is to create opportunties for their company by finding a need in the marketplace and filling that need the products or services that their company offers. How do you do that without being “sales’ like? I would offer that the activities that you do have an impact on how you are perceived and that some of the best sales people I have know have never been described to me as “sales people”.
What do these people do differently that leads to increased opportunities for their companies?
- Perform strategic business reviews with current clients that helps them understand how you have added value to their business and what other services you offer
- Conduct lunch-n-learn sessions for account managers in other companies that can refer you to opportunities in their client base.
- Schedule breakfast and lunch meetings with centers of influence that are secondary stakeholders in targeted companies you want to work with.
- Focus your free time and champion a non-profit by volunteering your services to help with their fund development.
- Ask current clients for referrals.
- Introduce your clients to prospects, strategic partners, and other service providers that help them grow and improve their business.
- Make sure all of your family and friends know what you do.
Working any of these tactics into your activity calendar will help you increase your opportunities without the traditional sales tactics that are taught in videos and highlighted in the movies.
It has become quite apparent lately that employees in non-traditional selling roles are being asked to help create more opportunities for their organizations. Attorneys, specialized consultants, sales support personnel, engineers, bankers, and traditional account managers, executive directors, and even board members are all attending meetings and being given new “selling” tasks…usually with a reply like “If I wanted to be in sales, I would have applied for it!”
Downsizing, budgets cuts, shrinking margins, shrinking markets, and changes in client buying behavior, and increased costs are finally leading organizations to realize that they have to pick up the phone, they have to go knock on doors, and they have to go out and build relationships in the community…..and guess what, there is no budget to hire someone specifically for “sales”.
Sales is not a dirty word
The stereotypical image of a used-car salesman is that he is a pushy, arrogant, egotistical deal maker, and a bad dresser, to boot. Good sales experts are just the opposite of this clumsy, thoughtless, ugly stereotype. Think of a time when you left a selling interaction and thought to yourself, “That was a really good salesperson.” The positive attributes are universal:
• They listened
• Asked good questions
• Cared about me
• Gave me options to think about
• Was interested and genuine
Are these not the traits that we would all like to have and be known for?
Selling is not winning a deal at any cost, it’s being realistic
Selling is about doing what is best for the customer. It is always about creating measurable business results for the client. If you can’t help your clients with their business, you shouldn’t be doing business with them. Be willing to walk away from situations that aren’t right, and when you may not be the right fit for the client be willing to offer a referral to someone who has the expertise you don’t.
Sales success is about building and leveraging your relationships
You know lots of people from many different areas of your life. Consider your community groups, hobbies, volunteer organizations, sports, service providers, family, neighbors, and friends. The list goes on and on. Companies are asking you to leverage these relationships by finding out who these people know, what their network is, and who they might know that would be interested in what your company does.
You’re not asking your contacts to do business with you. You want to know whom they know and how and when they can refer you to opportunities in the market place. People are actually very delighted to help when they are asked.
Do not look at it as “selling”, look at it as creating opportunities
Several clients tell me they don’t “sell”, and we can’t use the word “sales” in our discussions. I agree! Look at it as creating opportunities for the organization that were not there before and you are accomplishing that by simply talking to people you know about what you do. Good salespeople are authentic and genuine and when you are sincere, care about your clients, and ask your contacts who they know, you are helping your organization grow.
Are you willing to help your organization grow?