Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What Kind of Training Should Salespeople in your Business Receive?

You might be wondering why am I making such a silly question. And you are right. It sounds silly but it isn’t. It may not be your case, but in many companies there is the belief that just because a person defines itself as a "sales representative", with a wealth of experience in selling and backed up by a good network (even better if within the product-to-be-sold same industry), is enough to guarantee the candidate will bring in excellent results for the company, because such belief is not true, at least, it shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee on itself.

How much do your salespeople get to know about the company?

Keep in mind each member of your sales team becomes the tip of the iceberg, the face your customers see when going through the decision making process and finally purchasing your products or services, and this is a matter of great relevance if we look at it from the “customers acquisition and retention” point of view.

I’ve been surprised to find about companies that spend very little time, or don’t spend any time at all, making sure their salespeople are deeply familiar with the company itself, its mission and vision, its defining core values ​​and principles, with its short and long term goals. In brief, with all the things you might consider important for them to be completely aligned with the company itself.

Usually companies just make sure candidates are skilled enough to do the selling, have the ability to do the talking (in formal language, they do have strong communication skills) and that’s it: out the door they go, in a blink… with a product catalogue on their hands (when available) and business cards. And there you’re, the business owner, sitting back at your office just waiting for those wonderful results to start coming in, as you expect them to or, we should better say, need them to.

This is therefore the first area in which your sales team must receive proper training: becoming deeply familiar with the company they represent.

How deep do your salespeople know the products your company offers?

And this is a mistake often committed when the candidate comes from another company within the same industry as yours. It’s easier for you to think that, since the candidate has already sold the same products or similar ones, or has even been selling for one of your competitors, such candidate is fully prepared to sell your products, and that there is nothing else you should be concerned with.

Did you make sure your sales representatives know what sets you apart from your competition? Do they completely understand what your value proposition is?

Proper product training is of vital importance for a sales representative to achieve its best results. Without this knowledge, the representative will simply have "gaps", and by that I mean there will be questions for which it may not have answers because there is a lack of proper training.

A sales representative who doesn’t deeply know the product, projects a poor image of your company.

And these gaps will be visible to the buyer, who will simply get the message that either your representative is not properly prepared, or that you don’t value enough how important their work is and don’t provide them with the corresponding training, and, in either case, it’s not positive for anybody: neither for your company, nor for the customer and even less for the rising relationship between the two.

As you can see now, you have two areas in which you should properly train your sales team: becoming completely familiar with the company and corresponding product training.

Caution: Don’t take it lightly. Dedicate these two areas as much time as it takes to your sales representatives to become your company’s true ambassadors and properly convey your brand’s image to actual and future customers.

The “always-missing” area: Recurrent training.

Have you noticed that knives, as the time goes by, no longer cut as sharp as they did at the beginning? Do you know why we have to sharpen them regularly?  I know it sounds a childish thing but the answer applies to the proper management of your sales team (and I would dare to say to all areas of your business): We sharpen knives regularly to make sure they always make the cuts accurate and smoothly, in other words, efficiently.

With sales representatives happens fundamentally the same way: As the time goes by, salespeople have a tendency to lose effectiveness on their sales speech, to accommodate themselves with the product features that have become more popular and effective among customers, and don’t continue to develop new responses to customers’ potential concerns, and therefore, as with the knives, they don’t reach their best performance.

Recurrent training of salespeople is a tool that allows them to maintain their efficiency on its maximum levels.

This is why recurrent training is so important: It allows each representative to deepen its product knowledge, keeping up with industry news, company updates as well as with the product catalogue, giving you the opportunity to discuss with them all things that have come up within the market as well as to be completely prepared to answer unknown questions, since they will always be your best source of fresh information about customers, based on their continuous face-to-face contact.

How to get things moving and give proper training to your sales team?

It is very simple: training about the company and its products can usually be offered through printed materials, literature, PowerPoint presentations, instructional videos or the format that's most convenient and manageable to your business.

The advantage of having this type of material is that you can make use of them regularly on each training session your company has to organize.

Recurrent training can take different forms: brainstorming sessions, Q&As, role playing sessions, and so on.

My favorite one is the role playing session, in which a representative of your company takes the place of the prospective buyer, and behaves the same way a regular customer would do during a sales presentation, asking all sort of questions and posing every possible challenge to the sales representative.

Do you remember a while ago I published in this blog a post saying that "to have a successful product, you should become your most demanding customer"? Role playing sessions with your salespeople allow you to have this opportunity to become your most demanding customer and put your reps through the test, with the advantage of being within the protected environment of your office and not in front of real customers.

In any case, the important thing is that you take into consideration and, properly value, each of these three areas while training your sales team: familiarity with your business, its products and recurrent sales training.

Photo credit: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

Related articles in this blog:
Want a Successful Product ? Become your most demanding customer.
Cold Calling Sales: Where can you start from? (Part I)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

For How Long Will We Continue to Say " It’s Not an Option"?

There are no absolute rules in business.
I’m not sure if it also happens to you, but online I constantly find myself with posts whose titles are something like "( ... ) is no longer an option. It’s mandatory" and one can enter into the parentheses virtually anything you want:

"Being in social networks is no longer an option. You must do it"
"Advertising on Facebook is no longer an option. It’s mandatory"
"Having a website is no longer an option. If you don’t, you simply exist not"
"Optimizing your website for SEO is no longer an option. You must do it"

And on the same way, you'll find hundreds of entries in which people practically tell you the future of your business is at serious risk if you fail to do that one thing, or the other one, or if you don’t follow a quasi- perfect recipe or the "ten commandments" that someone has put together about a specific activity.

Since the day Albert Einstein said "Nothing is absolute, everything is relative” we should all take this approach when looking at things: There is no absolute truth at all for anything, and managing your business is not the exception to the rule. Everything is relative.

What we do have is a big, huge “It depends”

And it's really like that: It all comes together and makes sense when you approach it from the "it depends" point of view, because all important decisions you have to make in regards to your business will depend on something:
  • The money you have available.
  • The product you are selling.
  • The audience you’re going to be approaching to.
  • Your business’ philosophy.
  • Your emotional and professional situation.
  • Your business partners and their criteria.
  • The economic environment.
And we could continue forever listing in here elements that can influence your business decision making process.

I remember from my years in advertising, when annual budgets were confirmed, we would regularly apply a template to allocate the money: 50% for TV spots, 30% for radio and 20% for print and less traditional media.

Keep yourself away from the "template" approach.

And we would take it as a guide no matter what. It was a common industry practice and used to work fine. Instead of starting from a detailed and specific analysis of each client’s situation and its needs to build the strategy, we would take a rather "generic" approach for everyone.

It’s happening likewise nowadays: pre-built strategies that guarantee your success, specific roads will allow you to become rich in a matter of months, people recommending you to manage your business the same way successful companies have done it so that you can be as successful as they have, when what we really have is a tremendous arrange of possibilities that can be implemented depending on each business reality and particular situation.

Each and every business, yours included, is a unique reality.

Why nothing is obligatory but optional? As always, let me explain myself and the way I understand it with an example.

I remember reading a post written by my friend Joaquín Requejo on his blog, entitled "How not to sell social media" (sorry, it’s only in spanish) and which reflected a reality that we can see repeated every day, not just in the area of digital marketing.

Let me share with you what I have learnt from a case I have experienced myself recently: I'm assisting a company in developing their international customer base. The product they sell is highly sophisticated technology-wise and their business prospect (the audience which has the actual capacity to recommend or decide the purchase of this type of product) belongs to a highly professional and technical group, mostly engineers and professionals deeply immersed in the industry.

None of my potential customers are on Facebook, for instance, and the few who are, have very little activity, if they have any at all. It is then worth for me to put time and effort in this network? Who am I going to be talking with if my potential clients are not there?

The same thing happens with Twitter: My potential customers are so busy that they don’t care about tweeting. They have other things in which to invest their time. The question comes up again: Is it worth investing my time in this network, when my clients are not there either?

And we finally get to LinkedIn. Almost all of my business prospects are there and I already have had the opportunity to develop interesting conversations within this network and even generate business opportunities. Is it worth the time and effort? Obviously yes!

Following the same path, many of my potential customers’ web pages do not come up neither on the first nor the second page of Google SERPs. In fact, many of their web pages have rather poor design. Do they stop being of interest to me because of this? Not at all. They remain my potential customers. I will look for them even if I have to keep on searching and searching through SERPs. As a matter of fact, it’s easier for me to find them in professional directories rather than Google.

What is the moral of this story?

For your business, use of all available tools existing today is simply optional.

And the selection of one over the other, or a group of them, depends entirely on your current situation, your reality as a company, business, and all the factors I mentioned you above among many others, including the goals you’re going after.

"How this tool fits within my business plan? How does it help me in achieving my own goals?"

So when someone tells you that there is an action you simply have to do, no matter what, or emphasizing that a particular option is the way to go, without any further reasoning, always ask yourself this question: "How this tool fits within my business plan? How does it help me in achieving my own goals?"

Keep in mind your job is not to feed the person offering you the tool, but meet your unique business goals.

Nothing is absolute. And it’s also true when it comes to your business.

Article I recommend you to read:
"How not to sell social media" written by Joaquín Requejo (In Spanish)

Related posts in this blog :
In social networks, the important thing is to be where your clients are.
Social Media: Don’t stop halfway down.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How can you figure out where to find new buyers for your products?

How to find your new customers?
It happens very often that the simplest of concepts are the most difficult to explain or are those which people find more difficult to understand, or a combination of both.

And one of them is "how can I figure where to find new buyers for my product", a problem that gives the title to my post today.

And although we’ve already talked about it a few times before, and also about the need  to segment your market, to not be focused in selling to the whole world, to clearly identify who the buyer for your product is and what places he uses to hangout more frequently, I still meet with people who ask me:

"But how do I find buyers for my products?"

So let’s start from the very beginning: Do you really know what product you sell?

And although it might seem like I'm kidding, I'm really not. Often the problem starts right here: you haven’t clearly defined what is it that you sell, what is the core business of your company, for which needs you’re providing solutions for. In a nutshell, you haven’t identified your product with absolute clarity.

Why the problems start at this point? Because if you're not sure about what you’re selling, then you will hardly know who is the kind of people who is your “most likely buyer”, which in marketing is called "potential buyer"

Every product on the market has a “potential buyer”

Whether that "potential buyer" is a large group made ​​up of millions of people, or just a handful, each and every product has its “potential buyer”

Two key questions you should ask yourself: What do I really sell and who is more likely to pay for it?

And once you've given specific, objective and understandable answer to these two questions, then you can move on to the third one, which "supposedly" is the hardest one: Where and how can I find my "potential buyers" then?

And to illustrate the point, let me share with you a situation I experienced last weekend. Maybe I haven’t told you, but we now have a pet at home. She is called "Paris" and is a 16 months old doggie, an "almost-fox-terrier" (almost because we don’t have her pedigree). My children and I gave it to mom as her birthday’s present .

My wife, as “the pet’s owner”, was searching online for a place she was told we could go with the dog and let her (the dog) hang around, and she found a special park in a nearby city, exclusively designed for dogs.

Yes, just for dogs. It’s a place where you take your pet, you take away the leash and let her run freely throughout the park, which by the way is totally fenced and protected so the dogs can’t just run away and never come back.

The story I want to share is that, while being at the park we stopped in front of the bulletin board located just at the entrance, and found a flyer advertising the: "Furminator. Professional brush for dogs and cats. Removes 90% of dead hair."

And there we were, my wife and I, right in front of the board reading this flyer, and becoming interested in a product that, if it isn’t because we have a new pet and went to such place, we wouldn’t be interested at all and probably wouldn’t be something we would have searched for on the Internet. I’m 100% positive on that.

So, what’s the process to find your “potential buyers”. What should you do?

And I 'll explain it starting from the story above:

  • The company clearly identified their product: "Furminator. A professional brush for dogs and cats. Eliminates 90% of the dead hair." Note it is not a brush for squirrels, rabbits or parrots. It's for "dogs and cats", nothing else. What a good example of product segmentation.
  • Who would be interested in buying a "professional brush for cats and dogs"?: Well, obviously a person who, first of all, owns a dog or a cat, and cherishes and takes good care of them. But you must have either a dog or a cat. That is mandatory.
  • What do people who own dogs or cats do? Since they cherish their pets so much and treat them well, they tend to buy good pet’s food, accessories, toys and they are also more likely to go to PLACES LIKE THIS ONE, where (in this case only dogs) their pets can run free and at ease.
  • What did the company that wanted to sell the "Furminator. Professional brush for dogs and cats which eliminates 90 % of dead hair" do? They put themselves in their potential buyers’ shoes and also found this place, and then they put their advertising directly in front of the eyes of people who were clearly potential buyers of their product.

You see how simple it is? Their advertising message right in front of potential buyers.

The same process applies to all products and services.

  • You must clearly identify what the product is, what it does, what it doesn’t and what needs it meets, which problems it solves.
  • Then you must identify, with the same or perhaps more clarity, who would pay for something like that, who the potential buyer for your product is.
  • Then analyse, with as much detail as possible, what characteristics define this “potential buyer”: which groups and associations do they join, what’s their lifestyle (it’s not the same thing to sell a yacht, than a boat ride for three), what use they give to the product, and all relevant information that can help identify where they can be found more easily.

Then go after them, find them, engage and build relationships with them, right at the places they are more likely to be effectively impacted by your product and its features.

It’s vital for your business to know who your “potential buyer” is.

I remember reading an article a while ago about the fact that every human being plays different roles in their daily lives and, while playing each role, we would be more or less interested in certain types of products or services.

For instance I offer consultation on these areas of business management and marketing, but I'm also a father of two little angels whom I love dearly and also enjoy a lot taking long rides on my bike.

And these three features alone (among many others for sure) define me as a "potential buyer" for a wide variety of products and services, at different times.

If I were not a parent, I would definitely behave differently as a consumer. It would be the same if I did not like so much riding my bike. Can you see the main idea behind all of this?

That is why, to know exactly where to find new buyers for your product, you must do this exercise and ask yourself.

  • What do I sell?
  • Who is most likely to pay for it?
  • What kind of a lifestyle do they have?
  • What do they do and where are they more likely to hang out?

And then put all your promotional efforts on those places. You won’t miss.

You'll soon notice that, by doing things this way, your results will start to be much better and the return you get for the money you are investing on advertigins will start to increase.

Related post in this blog:
Segmentation: One product for all? Or all for one?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How to sell in the "Social Buying" days.

How to sell to the "Social Buyer"
The new Social Buyer has forever changed the way you sell. Or at least, should have changed it.

If you’re among those who think that since your clients are now on social networks you can find them easily, shoot them with your sales pitch and convince them to do business with you in the blink of an eye, then I truly recommend you to think about it again.

Instead of becoming shorter and simpler, the sales cycle has gone the opposite way: It has grown longer and more complex, and now includes a stage that is completely out of your control: the search for information about products that buyers perform before making the purchasing decision.

Day after day, hundreds of thousands of notes, comments , posts and product reviews are published online in different social platforms, whether it is LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

There are several "not so famous" communities where users gather to share their thoughts and opinions about products and services.

And that's just to name the main ones, and reminding you that there is a big handful of communities where its members meet with simply the idea of sharing their opinions about products or services, and the companies that offer them.

A long time ago, selling was much easier.

Back then, when you were to make a buying decision, the only option you had was to put yourself in front of the company you wanted to do business with and ask them about information on the products and services they offered that you were interested in.

At that moment, you were extremely and completely vulnerable to information they were willing to provide you with. Because it was at their will.

And usually what you were going to receive was simply the sales pitch for what you were interested on, whether as a brochure, a product profile or a company presentation. Basically, sales talk.

To know if their products or services were good or not, that was on God’s hands or, in the best case, if you could have, or were lucky enough, to know another person who had already done business with or bought products from the same company, who could offer you its opinion and advice. Little more.

Let’s fast-forward to the days we are living on and you find yourself with a huge market of digital and anonymous, "invisible" potential buyers, who are increasingly using social media to conduct the investigation prior to the purchase process, and letting themselves to be influenced, on a major or minor way, by the information they receive to make the final decision.

I am a big fan of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, and I have a handful of sites to which I have subscribed to receive information about updates, new aircrafts, tips, hints, updates and even I have had to resort to these communities to solve problems that I have had while using the product, and read product reviews before buying new add-ons.

Be aware: None of these conversations have been with Microsoft directly. Instead, they have happened with product users, like myself, who have taken the time to put their experiences with the product together, the solutions they have came up with when having incidences, recommendations and suggestions, and shared them with other product fans like myself.

You need a radical change of strategy: Engage in relevant conversations.

To help you adapt to this new way of doing things, you must understand that the concept of "selling in a social environment" means that you do not continue to be the first place your potential buyers go to gather information about your products and services, therefore you are no longer the “owner of the conversation” and it’s no longer about yourself or your products.

Instead you are now simply one more participant in a "huge digital conversation" which is focused on your customer’s concerns. And, in most of the cases, you are not even notified when these conversations are happening, unless you're really interested in listening and paying attention to them.

And through these conversations, if you actively participate by listening, you will have the opportunity to build relationships with your actual customers, and possibly your future buyers as well.

From invisible friends, to invisible buyers.

There was a famous personality in my country, Arturo Uslar Pietri, who had a TV show named "Human Values​​" in which, each time a new show started, he cordially welcomed his "invisible friends".

And by that he meant that he was completely sure and confident about the things he was going to explain during the program, but did not have any way to control what would happen on the other side of the screen, and even less during those years before the Internet existed.

These "invisible friends" will create their own opinions abouth the program and will share them with whoever they wanted to.

Well in our days, the digital market is filled with a huge crowd, who are not your friends, but "invisible potential buyers" who easily hide behind their computers, laptops or smartphones, querying, searching, and having access to digital content to educate themselves about the products and/or services they are interested in.

Thousands of people hide behind their smartphones while they search for information on the products they are interested in.

And through such anonymity they can read recommendations of countless people they probably don’t even know, but who have very valuable information: they have used a product or service in which they, your invisible customers are now interested on.

For sure even your own customers know more about your business than you can imagine, even before making the initial contact.

Armed with an arsenal of knowledge.

Or what we have now decided to call "Customer 2.0". In other words, consumers are now equipped with an arsenal of knowledge, with both good things and not-so-good-things, about your company, the products you sell and even those which your competitors sell.

Instead of being influenced solely by your marketing message, as it was in the past, this new generation of consumers is making their purchase decision after an extensive process in which they ensure, the best they can, that the product or service they are acquiring is the one they really need.

What does this mean for your business and how you can adapt to change?

We have always known that "word of mouth" advertising or “following the recommendation of a friend”, is worth more than any advertising you can pay for, because it has a double value: It's a personal testimony and a direct recommendation at the same time .

From being the only one who talks to becoming the one who must be paying attention and listening closely.

Such conversations are happening every day, not only in social networks, but in other platforms too, and play (or should be playing) a major role in your marketing and communications strategy.

This whole thing means you have to adapt to the change and move from being "the one who dominates the conversation" to become "actively involved in the talking" and bring in the best and more valuable content you have to an audience hungry for such information.

This dynamic environment will allow you to get a real time view of what is happening in your market and better understand individual needs of your potential buyers.

Tools there are many, from simple Google Alerts, to more specialized ones, but the basic principle behind them all continues to be the same: "You have to give up your desire to dominate the conversation, become an active participant, provide valuable content and actively listen to discover business opportunities for your company and its products"

Do you have any idea on how many people right now might be looking on the Internet for information about products and services like those you offer, and you don’t even know?

Related post in this blog :
Are you listening? But .... Really?
Social Media: From a conversation to a brand new sale in 6 simple steps.

Image credit: subbotina / 123RF Stock Photo