As I’ve been watching and reading over all of the news stories and tributes to Steve Jobs, I notice that they’re missing one of the biggest insights to Jobs’ success.
While every story makes mention of Jobs returning, very few of them acknowledge just how close to death Apple was when he returned. What of the most important lessons I learned in business cam from watching Jobs turn around the company.
How did Jobs do it? He cut to the core. He took 22 products that were in Apple’s go-to-market pipeline and cut them down to 4, 2 consumer products and 2 business products. He knew this would result in Apple becoming (temporarily) a smaller company. He told Wall Street, customers and employees:
“Apple will get bigger, first by getting smaller. We will cut to our core, we will focus on our core, and we will forever grow from our core.”
For nearly 15 years, Apple did just that and the result was transforming a company worth $5 billion (and nearly bankrupt) to the most valuable company in the world, valued at $350 billion. A 70x result!
To me, Steve Jobs will also stand for the power of three critical elements:
I’m excited to share a new initiative with you. Starting Monday, September 26, we will be introducing Your Weekly Fast Growth Tips for those looking for insights to fast growth. While, we can’t give you a roadmap to fast business growth success – we can provide some markers.
Our weekly tips complement this blog, and in no way replace it. The insights we share there will be different than the content you’ll get on this blog. With Weekly Tips we’ll be focusing on specific areas that are important to your go-to-market efforts. Typically, we’ll spend 6 – 8 weeks on a subject. Here are some of the areas we’ll be focusing on:
- Successful Lead Generation
- Making Marketing Work
- Shortening The Sales Cycle
- Building Effective Sales Processes
- Building a High Performing, Quota Busting Sales Team
And much more.
Every week, you’ll get a short (100- 200 words) insight to making your efforts more effective.
The news today is dominated by the challenges and tribulations of our economy. Slow growth, debt ceiling debate, record unemployment, consumers slashing spending and so on. Then you read this headline:
What can small and mid-market B2B companies learn from this? It’s easy to dismiss Apple’s success to the fact that they’re, well, Apple. That would be a mistake. While CEO after CEO has used the recession as an excuse for failed initiatives, Apple just grows.
While the headlines are all about the problems and pitfalls of the economy; quietly, select small and mid-market companies continue to grow, exploit their competitive advantage and drive increased profits and company equity value.
Make The Adjustment
I want to share five critical adjustments that the best small, mid-market B2B sales organizations are making to bypass the economy, take control of their destiny and shorten the sales cycle.
I don’t know about y ou, but I’ve gotten sick and tired of the confusion, frustration and wasted effort inherent in the sales process. As a salesperson and business owner, I simply got tired of living on “the treadmill of life.” Every day I felt like I needed to run faster and faster, just to keep up.
What’s exciting is I’ve learned how to get off that treadmill. How to make the reward I and my company received greater than the sales efforts I put forth.
In this article, I’m going to share with you five, extraordinarily simple actions you can take immediately that will begin to get your company off that treadmill. By embracing these simple secrets will allow you to get off the treadmill, bypass the recession and see your sale and profits grow.
There is a tremendous difference in strategies, tactics and the overall approach used by companies defending a market position versus those that are attacking a market.
Very few small and mid-market (SME) companies are in a position to defend a market position. Yet, I constantly see SME’s implement sales and marketing programs designed to defend, when they need to be attacking.
Inherently, the underlying position for a firm defending a market is safety – they’re the safe choice. Think about IBM in its heyday. The battle cry was, “No one ever got fired buying from IBM.” This is the default position for large firms. While they make a bunch of promises, firms like GE Finance, Pacific Life, Wells Fargo, UPS, etc. all promise that if you hire them you won’t look stupid.
When you’re defending a market position popular marketing terms like brand, awareness and top of mind are key. This is large companies advertise during football games. By simply being there, they reaffirming their position. This is true of most traditional marketing approaches.
Implementing “defense tactics” when you are not in a position to defend, not only fails to drive growth, it puts additional pressure on price and margins. Small and mid-maket B2B companies must use attack strategies. Their message must provoke the customer to become aware of issues they’re not currently paying attention to. It must demonstrate that the cost of the problem is far greater than the risk and effort required to solve the problem, and that the status quo is no longer viable. It must open the customer up to take new approaches.
Here are three key attributes about this type of marketing that are far different from traditional marketing:
- The message is about the problem and is anchored in the customers world. At ABC Company we do this, that and the other thing is out.
- The message shares knowledge rather than protects it. Read your next ad, your next marketing piece or prospect letter and ask yourself, if you were the reader, how would you be better off for just having viewed it. If the prospect needs to contact you to gain any real value, it’s not going to work.
- It must be consistent. One message, one email, one paper doesn’t cut it. The effort builds over time.
In my experience, applying these three rules will get you well on your way to growing your markets and expanding your margins. If you have any other rules that work – I’d love to know about them.
When recruiting salespeople your are COMPETING with every other sales opportunity out there.
Recruiting salespeople is harder that selling your product or service. It’s an interesting riddle. First, there are a finite number of great salespeople. Second, there’s a finite number of great companies. You’d think it would be easy enough to match the two – the problem is that it is not, actually it’s quite to the contrary. (For those thinking, “Gee, I don’t need a “great” salesperson, good will do,” should read this post immediately!)
The signal to noise ratio is off the charts. Far too many companies have been ripped off by hiring inadequate salespeople and far too many quality salespeople have been ripped off by working for companies that don’t stack up. The result is that so many barriers have been put up, that it’s almost a miracle when the two find each other.
So if you’re in the market for a salesperson that can drive results, what should you do?
Most importantly, stop sounding like every other company that treats salespeople like a commodity . For example:
- If you’re talking about your product/service as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, STOP! Just like my mom told me, “If the opportunity is too good to be true, it probably is.” If you’re a salesperson who moves the needle you have no shortage of opportunity. Rather than hearing about great vision, amazing technology, unlimited market sizes, etc., quality salespeople want to hear about execution. What are you going to do, how are you going to do it, how can they help?
- Like it or not, quality salespeople have the leverage. There are far more companies looking for quality salespeople than there are quality salespeople. This doesn’t mean that you should be stupid in the hiring process, but stop talking to these quality professionals about taking all of the risk. Quality salespeople bring value to the table – and they expect to be paid for it. You wouldn’t hire an operations manager on commission only, and you shouldn’t hire the person responsible for getting you to the right people, in the right way on 100% commission either.
- Be honest. Quality salespeople can smell bullshit from a mile a way (remember, a key to their success is their ability to separate real opportunities from fake ones). Quality salespeople are not afraid of a challenge. They just want to know that there’s a realistic approach backing them up. I remember when I interviewed for a position. They told me how they the “right salesperson” could bring in $3 million in new business. So I asked how much business they were doing. When they told me that they’d been in business for 12 years and were doing $2 million, I knew that was the wrong opportunity for me.
- Talk to any sales consultant and they’ll tell you the care and feeding of quality salespeople is a must. Remember, care and feeding begins long before the salesperson starts. Does your website speak to the salesperson? Do you have the tools and process that a quality salesperson can utilize to make their life easier? Do you demonstrate the ability to respond to market feedback, and to adjust as necessary?
- Stop talking about accountability as a one-way street. All executives are really good at telling salespeople whet’s expected of them. How much time do you spend talking with salespeople how they can hold you accountable? What can they expect from you?
Remember, the salespeople you want are wanted by just about everyone else out there. You must have a proposition and process that stands out from that competition.
The good news is that so many companies are doing a horrible job at this, that a few changes will help you stand out.
The best advice I ever got as a financial advisor was that there is an important distinction for investors between “news” and “trends.” I was taught that “news” was for traders. News was important if your job was to maximize your trading profit for the day. Was the Fed going to raise rates? Lower rates? That’s critical information if your time horizon is one-month or less; not so much if you’re looking to the long-term.
Investors hurt themselves when they pay attention to the news. Instead, they benefit from paying attention to trends. Is the trend favorable to capitalism? Is fiscal policy stimulative? Is regulation choking the ability for businesses to compete? These are questions that are answered over years, not days.
The same advice applies to business, and sales efforts. Don’t get lost in the news. These days, if you involved in selling, you’d be better off just ignoring the news. Now, more than ever, you need to keep your focus on the end. Keep your goals in mind. Adjust. Respond. But don’t be reactionary. We’ve been here before. We got through it. We’ll keep getting through it.
A good friend of mine is a cardiologist. One of my favorites stories that he shares with me is how young doctors respond to emergencies. They run to an emergency; and as my friend says, ‘You should walk briskly, but you should never run.”
When you run you allow you reptilian brain to take control. Your adrenaline pumps, and your heart beat races. When dealing with an emergency, control and calm are critical.
The same is true when dealing with business crisis. When sh stuff happens, our reptilian brain starts firing. We see danger everywhere we look. Minor issues, become insurmountable obstacles. Suddenly we try to do everything – AT THE SAME TIME!!
When you operate from this position, you’re going to make mistakes and the likelihood is that you’ll just dig a deeper hole.
It’s important to remember two rules:
- You were never as good as you thought you were when things were going well, and you’re never as bad as you feel when things are going poorly.
- Without confidence you can’t do anything.
So slow down, take a breath, and follow these three rules:
- Practice what my long-term coach and friend Dan Sullivan teaches. Do a positive focus. List all of the things that are going right. Then every day, at least until you are through crisis, start the day with a positive focus by listing at least 5 things that are going right.
- Pick the most important issue and put your full attention on that.
- Limit your priorities to no more than 5 items a day.
- Breath, and remember, this too shall pass.
I remember years ago a friend of mine was having money trouble. He was talking to a financial advisor who laid out a plan to fix his financial problems, and then to build financial independence. My friend was frustrated with this advisor’s recommendations and he came to me expressing frustration for how long the process was going to take. My response was, “It took you 35 years to create this problem, what makes you think you can solve in 6 months?”
I’m constantly reminded of that advice when I talk with CEOs who are working to drive real improvements in their sales organization. It’s not new, people have been looking for the short-term fix for as long people have been looking for anything. The problem is that every time a CEO focuses on the short-term over fixing the long-term they merely delay the solution, and make their organization weaker in the process.
Look at RIM, the makers of Blackberry. In January, I asked if Blackberry was a dead product walking. I chastised them for ignoring what made them special and fighting for short-term market share, rather than focusing on what would make them successful in the long-term. Since then, RIM has continued to aim for the quick fix. Last week they announced they are laying off more than 10% of their workforce and they find themselves fighting for their survival.
It pains me to tell you: THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES.
It takes 12 – 18 months to begin to see the impact of changing your go-to-market efforts. That number could be longer if you’re dealing with a complex, long sales/buy cycle. If you feel like that’s too long, I’ve got a simple question for you: Are you planning to be here in two years? If so, why not spend that time making your company structurally stronger so you can reap the rewards for years?
Please do not misunderstand, I am not saying that you should ignore the short-term. There are many tactics you can take that will increase your win rates, lots of things that increase leads, a wide variety of ways to get more conversations going. But, please (PLEASE) do not confuse any of those things with SOLVING THE PROBLEM!
You must balance your desire for short-term gain, with the actions needed to drive long-term results. Sometimes that means accepting more pain in the short-term than you’d like.
When the short- and long-term are in balance, great things happen.
I never thought I’d feel sorry for a company with a $160 billion market value, but I’m really feeling sorry for Google. Increasingly I watch what they do and I cringe.
In February 2007, I wrote a post called, “Why Google Wins.” I shared: “They do not expose you to advertising or direct you to content (what’s in it for them) until the viewer has gotten something of value (the response to their search). They create value before they receive value in return– that’s a rule we should all live by.”
Back in 2007 Google was the poster child of innovation. Stories were written about how Google required employees to spend 20% of their time just creating new things and exploring new ideas. The result of these efforts – a company increasingly creating solutions where problems don’t exist, and a company struggling for relevancy.
- Google Voice
- Google Wave
- Google Plus One
What do these have in common? Lot’s of hype and no relevancy.
Now Google’s trying to come up with their next version of “the social network.” Here’s my question – why? Does this really play to Google’s strengths, or are they just trying to protect their turf?
Think about it – in 5 years Google has tripled their revenue and their stock has gone nowhere! With the most successful advertising business in history and the introduction of the second best (okay, I couldn’t help myself) mobile phone OS – their stock has performed just like the index.
Personally, I think they’re heading on a downward spiral. I think they’ve forgotten their highly successful formula.
What can the rest of us learn? When you stop focusing maniacally on creating value – you lose plot, and tough times won’t be far away.
One of the things that I love about competitive sports is the ability to measure success. Wins and losses…Hits…Errors…Goals scored…Goals given up…Averages…and on and on.
Those are the obvious ones. If you’ve ever read the book Moneyball you know that the obvious numbers aren’t always the best measurements. Too often numbers like hits, runs or home runs measure correlation with success rather than causes.
Anyone who’s spent any time analyzing the sales function quickly makes connections to the sports world. We talk about wins, home runs etc. But, how often do you really think about the value – the true value – your salespeople are creating for you? Last year I wrote about an idea I called salesperson alpha. Recently I’ve been thinking about another number.
In baseball (any surprise I’m referring to baseball Beth?) they use a measurement called wins over replacement(WAR). WAR basically looks at a player and asks the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a minor leaguer or someone from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” More and more, WAR is being used as a key measurement when negotiating player contracts. And you’d may be surprised by some of the big names that have low numbers, and some anonymous names that have high numbers.
How often do you ask the question, “If I were to replace my current salesperson with someone else – would I lose anything?” Or, “What would I lose if I replaced an existing salesperson with someone paid less?” My experience (since been backed by a study conducted for Harvard Business Review) is that most companies wouldn’t lose much.
This is NOT an argument to pay salespeople less. Quite the contrary, I think one of the major obstacles small and mid-market companies have in growing their business is that they underfund their sales function, and, as a result, get salespeople that don’t drive real results and end up commoditizing themselves.
This IS an argument for maniacally assessing your people and acting upon those assessments. We all need to take advice from Netflix’s management philosophy:
Last weekend, while coaching my son’s baseball team, one of our pitchers asked me about some of my coaching advice to him. I had been advising him that he needed to slow his body down to maintain more control and pitch better.
He listened and went on to pitch his best game of the year. After the game, he asked me if the speed of his pitches stayed up when he slowed down. I told him that not only did he maintain his speed, he actually increased it. His response, “Huh. Weird.”
It’s counter-intuitive to think that if I slow myself down, the result will speed up. It’s one of the things that makes pitching so hard.
I’ve learned that, most often, counter-intuitive is the key to success.
- Want to speed up the sales cycle? Don’t go to the close it too fast.
- Want to increase your sales? Focus less on “selling.”
- Want people to think you are the best? Don’t talk about yourself.
- Want more control? Delegate more.
What are some of the counter-intuitive lessons that you’ve learned?
In bowling, if you want a strike you don’t focus on all ten pins; you focus on only one or two.
In business, if you want growth there is much to be learned from The Bowling Alley.
It is way too difficult for any company – and especially small and mid-market companies – to try to be a whole bunch of things to a whole bunch of people. While this is, in essence, the approach that 90%+ of businesses take; it results in a commoditized message, a failure to resonate and a life lived in The Commoditization Trap.
It is far more effective to isolate your message, your sales approach and your execution of those few things that make you indispensable to your core customers. This enables you to stand out, as you stake the ground of BEST. This approach allows you to allocate the necessary resources – time, money, energy – to the limited opportunities that provide the opportunity for disproportionate rewards.
Figuring out where can you be the best, and who can serve the best is what I call defining your Headpin Market™.
The beauty of this approach is, like a set of bowling pins, when you succeed in your Headpin Market, it builds the momentum allowing you to succeed in other markets and growth scales as a result.
So take the time now and define your Headpin Market:
- Who are they?
- What do they do?
- What are they trying to accomplish?
- What do they worry about?
- Why are you indispensable to them?
When your Headpin Market is clear, growing a business becomes much simpler.
- Hey, let send out a email blast.
- Let’s host a webinar.
- Why don’t we open a Twitter account?
All three tactics work – they just don’t work as one-offs.
The new world of communication provides tremendous opportunities for small and mid-market companies to connect, engage and influence. It can be the great marketing equalizer; allowing SME’s to share their knowledge and demonstrate their capabilities – toe to toe with larger companies. For me personally, it has been instrumental to allowing Imagine to grow, creating millions of dollars of documented benefit for me.
That said, it only works as part of a coordinated effort. The value of a single blog post, article, newsletter or webinar is virtually nil. The value of each increases as the number increases. It creates a network effect.
The goal is to:
Get rid of the campaign mindset. Sending out one email won’t make selling easier. Hosting your first webinar won’t fill your funnel. Letting people know you’re at booth 132 won’t make the trade show successful.
Doing all of them – constantly and consistently – will allow people to understand:
- Who you are.
- What you do.
- What you matter.
Send out that email. Host that webinar. Just don’t lose excitement if the first one (or five) don’t live up to your expectations.
With no offense to casual baseball fans; one thing that annoys me about them is that they only pay attention to the outcome of a play. They ignore the inputs. If a pitcher throws the ball and the batter misses it, the assumption is that it must have been a good pitch and cheers go through the stands. If the batter hits a ball off the end of his bat and it sneaks past the second baseman, fans cheer, “What a great hit!”
Those people that really know and understand baseball don’t look at the same things that casual fans look at. They don’t care if a batter hits a pitch – they care about whether the pitcher threw to the intended spot. Knowledgeable baseball people don’t pay attention to whether the batter “got a base hit,” instead they worry about whether his mechanics were solid and repeatable and if the ball was hit squarely.
Knowledgable baseball people – just like knowledgeable salespeople – know they only control a small portion of the end result. They realize that they can do things right (hit the ball squarely) and get a bad result (end in an out), or they can do things poorly (throw a pitch to the wrong spot) and get a good result (the batter misses). What they want is a repeatable process that maximizes the probability of success – on a consistent basis.
I often advise sales managers that they need to focus on efforts every bit as much as outcomes. An effective sales system is far more than “just making sales.” Successful selling, like baseball, is very complex. Circumstances are constantly changing, and cause and effect are no easily identified.
The goal of an effective sales process is to maximize the probability of consistent, sustainable success. It requires truly understanding the inputs (or mechanics) that contribute to success. Management, monitoring and rewards systems must be put in place based upon those inputs. Sure, sales are important; but how you are getting the sale is equally so.
With increased frequency I’m getting requests from owners, CEOs and VP’s asking for recommendations for a recruiter who can “find ‘good’ salespeople.”
What’s unfortunate about these requests is that even if these companies do find good salespeople (a difficult task in and of itself) there’s still only about a 10% chance that the salesperson will be successful. A study reported in Harvard Business Review revealed that only 1 in 250 salespeople actually exceed their targets.
It does not take a genius to realize that a 99.6% failure rate is not a people problem. It’s a system problem.
The traditional selling system is broken.
There are two fundamental problems with traditional selling.
- First, as I have written extensively, traditional selling is solutions focused and commoditizes the selling organization.
- Second, traditional selling (as it is implemented in 95% of small and mid-market B2B companies) puts way, way, way too much of the client acquisition burden on the salesperson. In today’s complex, fast-paced, ultra-competitive world there is simply too much pressure on the capabilities of an individual to succeed. As a result, the rate of commoditization, and failure, increases.
Great salespeople, and great selling organizations, are the result of excellent systems. IBM created the greatest selling force of all-time, not by hiring great salespeople, but by plugging normal people into a superior system.
There are four parts to every effective selling system:
- Solid positioning. A successful sale begins long before a salesperson arrives – it begins with effective positioning. Do you have a clear, powerful message? Is your value proposition understood, and valued? Are you clear on who your core customers are? Is your pricing strategy clear?
- Outreach. Great selling organizations are very focused in their go-to-market approach, while average ones are tactically opportunistic. Are you earning and capturing the attention and awareness of your best few markets? Do your salespeople know precisely who to focus on and what the resonating issues are? Does your marketing efforts clearly support your sales efforts?
- Cultivation. The buying process is far, far longer than the selling process, beginning even before the potential customer knows that they are looking to buy anything. It is triggered when the customer starts to investigate their issues and uncover their problems. This is where the fundamental flaw of traditional selling rests – and 95% of small and mid-market B2B companies completely skip this step. If you’re not optimizing this step of the system, your results could be negatively impact by as much as 75%. Are you regularly creating content that educates your customers and causes the sale?
- The Sales Process. The fourth – and final – part of an effective selling system is the sales process. An effective sales process ensures consistency, repeatability and effectiveness. It unleashes the power and capability of good salespeople, making them great. And it makes great salespeople stars.
To win in the competitive world that we find ourselves, you can no longer rely on hiring good people alone. You must match good people with effective systems.