The Partner Commitment Challenge

The “C” word (Commitment!) strikes fear in many.  Yes, you must make a commitment to succeed with partners.

Companies that want to scale their business need to consider partner channels.

It seems so appealing to engage with partners…leveraging their sales organization, utilizing their operational infrastructure, gaining access to new customers, opening new markets for you, providing a broader geographical reach, enabling synergies with complementary products and services  – all at a reduced cost and quicker than trying to do it all yourself.

Beware…there is a price for all of these partner benefits.  If you think partners are a “can’t lose” arrangement for growth – think again.  It takes a commitment to partners for companies to realize the potential of this channel.

You must take an “all-in” approach to win with partners.

As you would in finding a mate, you can casually “date” partners.  You may have fun at first and think how wonderful your engagement is.  But over time, will you still be having fun with your partner?  It requires significant company time, energy, money, resources, and people to build a relationship that yields results over the longer term with a partner.  You need to support the partner and ensure they make money, too.  How much might it take for your company to build a productive network of partners?

Many technology companies see the partner channel as a short cut for scaling their businesses.  Big companies needing to expand, mid-sized companies wanting their growth to continue, and start-up companies that must scale quickly all find the possibilities of partners doing their work, appealing.  Beware of the siren call of partners.

It takes COMMITMENT to grow your business through and with partners.  There will be a big payback for doing so.  Are you willing to commit?

 

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Say Hey!

If you’ve ever played or love baseball this post is for you!

The connection you have with your baseball glove transcends most other relationships.  It is not just a piece of leather, but a sacred and vital tool for executing on a baseball diamond.   It is a molded extension to your hand – it is part of you on the field.  With YOUR baseball glove, anything is possible!

As a kid, any glove may do when you are starting out.  For me, when I got MY two-toned black and gold glove everything changed.   I was no longer a little leaguer,  I was now an aspiring major leaguer.  On the pitching mound with my glove, I believed I was unhittable and invincible.

Soon, I outgrew this mythical glove.  The tool no longer served me adequately because it was too small for my growing hand and too worn to be useful.  I had to find a new glove – not just any glove, but a replacement for MY glove. I never did find a replacement that gave me those special powers.

At some point,  I realized that my new glove had to be made to be a functional asset to me in playing baseball.  I repeatedly smacked a ball into its center for days to build it’s pocket. I oiled it and tied string around it overnight to give it shape and flexibility.  In the end, I created a glove that worked for me.  Sure it wasn’t the same as MY black and gold model, but it soon fit me “like a glove.”

Around the same time, I changed positions on the field now playing center field.  My new glove came with me.  This glove, it turned out, was perfect for my role as an outfielder with a larger pocket and more flexibility.  Before long, I became an All-Star center fielder.  Was it the glove?  I will never know.  I do know that unexpectedly with that glove, I believed I could play center field like Willie Mays.

So, why do sales leaders cling to methodologies that served them so well in the past when they are no longer best suited for current purposes?  I can’t help but think that it’s because those approaches feel good, like your old glove that worked so well.

Playing and winning the game requires adaptation.   New processes and new tools need to be applied.  Being open to reading the changes in your customers and the market, will allow you to play the game well.  When you are also pursuing new approaches to managing your team, redesigning customer engagement practices, and gaining new insights by utilizing new tools, you may find that ANYTHING is POSSIBLE.  It may just transform you into Willie Mays.

 I still own my glove…you never know when I might need it.

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The Perfect Pairing

Just like the taste of a steak can be enhanced when paired with a good Cabernet Sauvignon, a great sales strategy coupled with a good sales plan of action is the perfect pairing.  The Cabernet may be good when you drink it by itself. It becomes an excellent wine when paired with the right food.

In a similar way, a “naked” sales strategy may be something to admire and appreciate on it own.  However, if it doesn’t create productive selling activity to complement it, it never reaches its full potential.  Exceeding revenue expectations can only be achieved through the perfect pairing of planning and action.  This pairing has proven its value in achieving sales results in every era.

Why then, do so many sales leaders neglect focusing on getting the balance of these two elements, right?

With pressure constantly increasing on leaders to achieve sales now, short cuts for meeting revenue goals are taken.  There becomes a need to focus on closing deals (action) and a corresponding reduction in focus on evolving sales strategies (planning).  When you run out of actions that can yield short-term results, sales leaders may be faced with the realization that they should have invested more time enhancing their plans.

There is a sales continuum that starts with strategy and ends with tasks.  Effective sales leadership requires managing every step on this continuum to achieve award winning sales results.   We develop processes that link the steps along this continuum with the expectation of optimizing sales.  A constant monitoring, reviewing, and adjusting of both plans and actions should be the norm.

A good winemaker will not rush the development of the grapes he uses in his wine.  If he cares for the grapes and manages the wine making process and then, allows for the maturation of his wines, he is in position to produce a fine wine.  No one can predict if the weather will support the winemaker’s strategy, but he can quickly adapt when conditions change.  His strategy will be the foundation for taking the most productive actions when the situation changes so he gets a fine wine that can become great when paired with the right food.

Sales leaders should follow a similar process by building solid sales strategies, employing tools and their experience to manage plan execution, and allowing for the necessity of sales plans of action to change.  When its time for “harvesting”“ (deal closings), if they have applied rigor to this process the expected sales results will be achieved.  They also will have established a strong foundation for long-term growth.

A great sales plan coupled with managed sales activity, is the perfect pairing.  Take the time to get the balance right so you can enjoy the results.

 

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The Ultimate Buying Decision Criteria

When selling to a customer, what is the most important criteria they will use to make the decision to buy from you? Price, delivery, support, features…which one?

The ultimate decision criteria is TRUST.

The buyer will make a decision to buy because he trusts that your product or service will provide him with the value he is expecting. The personification of the trust in the buying decision is the salesperson that represents your company.

Today’s buyer doesn’t need to trust your salesperson. Instead, he wants to validate that his/her perception of your company, its products/services, and management are worthy of his trust. He has already researched you and possibly engaged with you through other channels. Now, he wants to know whether he can trust you to deliver on your value statement – by meeting your people.

The salesperson is the last vital human link in the customer engagement chain. Does s/he understand the buyers business? Can s/he demonstrate knowledge of how your product/service will deliver value to this buyer? Will s/he ensure that your buyer acquires what he expects at the price and service level needed? Will this salesperson be viewed as a trusted ally in helping the buyer meet their business objectives?

The salesperson must embody all these trust elements to secure an affirmative buying decision. This human link in the chain of trust however, is only as strong as all the other links previously represented to the buyer. How strong are the bonds of trust within your company and with your customers, partners, and suppliers?

Arm your salesperson to succeed by ensuring that this buyer will have their trust in you validated.    Trust throughout the customer engagement cycle will result in a YES buying decision.  All organizations in your company must be involved and aligned around establishing this trust with the buyer so a salesperson can effectively apply their interpersonal skills, to close the deal.

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Who Cares!?

Who Cares!?

My first sales training included role playing with this phrase as a focus.  Effectiveness in getting customers to recognize that your solution is something they need to care about, is still a primary challenge for sales people and sales leaders in the tech industry.

Our companies invent or innovate with new technologies, products, and services and we believe that these exciting innovations hold significant revenue potential.  Executive management teams are confident that customers will want this new technology and buy it.  They conclude that with a handful of good sales people this new technology will be adopted by many customers and be a big success.

When sales goes out they find out that in the real world, buyers often doesn’t act in alignment with these beliefs.  When introduced to a new technology, buyers often act like they “don’t care.”  The challenge becomes finding the triggers or identifying the needs of the customer so they care enough about what you are offering, to buy it.

In my early sales training, we were instructed that when we meet with customers to imagine that they had the words “Who Cares!?” written on their forehead.  This was meant to be a constant reminder when meeting with prospects, to stay focused on providing the buyer with a solution that they care about. The successful sales person would be the one who could explain their product or offering to that buyer, in terms that connect with their needs.  This sales skill engages the buyer and motivates them to act (buy).  In other words, “who cares!?” was a representation of the “solution selling” process.

It is still the case today that providing a solution to the needs of a customer is a key selling skill. However, today’s buyers don’t feel compelled to meet with sellers.  A buyer who does want to meet with a sales person, may not want to do so face to face.  He is unlikely to tell you what he thinks except when he is ready to buy, thereby limiting the effective use of this sales skill.  In addition, each purchase often involves multiple decision makers within the customer each of them having different “Who Cares!? perspectives written on their “virtual” foreheads. How can sales people be effective selling new innovations given this limited access to buyer’s inputs?

More importantly, how can sales leaders ensure that their sales teams are effective in selling technology to today’s buyer?  It easy to conclude that “solution selling” doesn’t work anymore.  What then, is the preferred alternative sales methodology?

The answer lies in adapting sales processes to the buying processes of your customers. It requires parallel but mutually supportive customer engagement practices being employed with them. CRM systems and other tools need to be utilized to get better visibility on what customers care about, what they act upon, and for identifying when they will buy.  Sales practices supported by data from websites and other customer interactions coupled with practices that allow sales people to act decisively when a customer reveals what they care about, must be implemented.

Astute and knowledgeable salespeople working with informed buyers are finding ways to drive revenue growth.  The best have also learned that they serve as the “voice of the customer” to drive adaptations by their own company so it can more effectively (and efficiently) provide more customers with what they care about.

The role of the sales leader is to facilitate the integration of company innovation and knowledge of customer needs into decisive revenue generating action by sales teams. The evolution of their role, requires that he/she take primary responsibility for aligning company resources around discovering and providing the real solution which customers buy.

“Who Cares!?”   It must be everyone in the company who wants revenue growth and successful engagement with today’s buyer!  Sales leaders need to serve as Chief Revenue Leaders (CRL) within their company, to drive internal as well as external practices that accelerate adoption and use of technology solutions by customers.

In addition to identifying and utilizing better sales methodologies and practices, an expanded view and acknowledgment of the key role of sales leaders in shaping as well as implementing customer engagement strategies, must be a business adaptation that tech companies make.  Sales leaders must be proactive in assuming this role.

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Spear Fishing and the Art of Selling

I read a great quote recently from a CIO who wants to work with VARs (salespeople) who are ”spear fishing” when contacting him. It struck me that this was the perfect metaphor for selling today… sales expertise is like being an adept spear fisherman!

Now, I should say that I know nothing about spear fishing.  Whatever I do know about it (not much), I learned by watching Ozzie on the TV show “Survivor.” But, I really like the imagery.  See what you think…

Today’s salesperson must be focused in finding his “prey.”  He may only have enough air in his lungs (don’t waste time) to be able to navigate (be efficient) directly to the location (be specific) in which he will fish.   When he finds the fish he wants (know which buyer or buying group to focus on) he must use or throw his spear precisely (prepare) and be sure his one attempt (you won’t likely get another chance) is a bullseye (close the deal).   Lastly, leave enough breath to be able to bring the fish back to the surface (after all that effort, be sure to bring in a deal that will be acceptable to your company).

Then repeat the process.

Today’s buyers don’t want salespeople who are “fishing” for a deal. They want to work with salespeople who understand them and their company, and can offer solutions that they know will meet their needs when they are contacted.  Use your “spear” prudently, thoughtfully, and decisively and the buyer will want your solution.

We know that today’s “informed buyer” has investigated what he is seeking before a salesperson contacts him.  The one he wants to talk to, is the one who has the answers to his specific use case needs and can deliver the crafted solution.  In an “ocean of choices,” the buyer wants to work with a salesperson who uses the limited access provided to him, to offer something he knows will work .

A good spear fisherman will not flail around looking for something to catch. He will muster his resources and be prepared to strike, when the fish he wants is sighted.

The challenge for today’s sales leaders is preparing their sales teams to be effective with buyers like this CIO.   The successful sales leader is developing salespeople and preparing his company to be the best spear fishermen.  The top sales leaders design processes for making the spear fishing more productive.  They finely craft those processes, they train their sales people in the art of spear fishing, and assess the results of each “dive” made. They ensure that the processes are repeated continuously and then, make incremental improvements.

How are your spear fishing leadership skills?

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Perspective: On Being a LEAD

It was on Sept. 1, 2011 that I became a lead.

I didn’t start out that way. Initially, I was one of 45,000 ”attendees” at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference. By the time I left the San Francisco conference, the ecosystem of vendors who exhibited there had “converted” me to a “lead.”

During the last six weeks I’ve had the opportunity to see the SaaS industry companies in action “working” a lead – me. This was a chance for me to observe a cross section of this industry’s lead generation and qualification practices. It was both interesting and revealing seeing how each company in their own way, attempted to move me through their customer engagement process.

If my experience was representative of how most prospects feel when they are” leads” going through selling companies processes…well, there is plenty of room for improvement. Did my experience reflect the state of the B2B lead generation and qualification practices we are implementing with our customers? I think it does.

At Dreamforce, I visited about a dozen exhibitor booths. Yet, as I walked through Moscone Center I was approached (accosted?) by numerous “hawkers” from booths I didn’t go to who still wanted to scan my exhibitor badge. I was probably on at least two dozen vendor lead databases by the time I left the show. Thankfully, I attended for only one day.

Surprisingly, not all vendors followed up with me after the show. In fact, a couple of the booths that I spent time at where I was genuinely interested in their offerings, didn’t contact me after the conference at all. I would surmise that quantity of leads generated was probably the metric for success at the show. The corollary, is also likely true – the metric of success was not qualified leads generated.

I did get contacted after the show by mostly those vendors who I had limited interest in and a bunch that I didn’t even remember. I received phone calls, emails, and invitations to attend webinars. Each vendor applied resources to follow up with me. How they did so varied. Unfortunately, most conveyed that contacting me was a formality and not a sincere desire to connect with a potential customer. Correspondingly, I did not feel compelled to respond to them, although that’s my professional inclination. It was “once and done” for most of the follow up activity. A few did try several different channels (call, email, etc.) to connect with me.

Overall, it struck me that none of the contacts were meant to be from sales people. The industry seems to have standardized around “soft” contact with early stage leads, and did not want to represent a hard sell contact by using sales resources.  Although a good practice, I wonder whether this had another effect that was not so good – conveying a sense that they didn’t genuinely care about me.

There were vendors however, who conveyed through their engagement process with me a sincere desire to provide me – the Informed Buyer, with information that they presumed I needed. They recognized that my visit with them at the show was because I had an interest in their service or product. They wanted to provide additional information to me now. I commend those vendors.

Through a regular set of communications (not too often), with different offers of information they demonstrated  their interest in providing me with something of value. They left a positive impression on me about their company. When I am ready to act upon the information they have provided, I will know exactly who to contact.

Isn’t that the objective we are trying to achieve in our lead generation activities? It should be.

The industry overall, did not do a good job in interacting with me once I became a “lead.” My view of how the industry manages its leads now is with chaotic contact and sterile attempts at engagement and connection.

I learned a lot of from the handful of vendors who did it right.

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Buying Processes are Changing – Are you?

When was the last time you called a restaurant to find out what’s on the menu and to make a reservation? It’s likely you’ll have to search your memory to remember. As a consumer, I know I go to the internet first, learn all I need to know about the place and finally complete my reservation on-line without every having to talk to the restaurant itself.

This same conduct is now becoming the norm for B2B buyers in making their decisions and even their purchases. Granted, there are many more decision processes and constituents internally for a business to decide to acquire a product or service than we have as consumers. Yet, the similarity as it relates to selling processes is the same.

Instead of talking to a salesperson or accepting a call from a sales person, a B2B buyer today doesn’t need or even want a salesperson to be included in their buying decision process. Why talk to the restaurant (salesperson) when I can go to Yelp and hear what others who have eaten there have to say?  It would be even better if a friend has eaten there and recommended it

Yet, for selling B2B products and service many companies still have sales processes that ignore or have not fully comprehended this change and the paradigm shift that has occurred with B2B buying processes. How do you sell, when the buyer (even serious ones) won’t engage directly with you? How do you influence a decision to buy from you in this situation?

The answer…adapt your sales activities to have the customer find you and engage with you – on their time line, in alignment with their buying process. Are you ready to sell this way?

In the tech. world, we often have some degree of complexity to the customer engagement process. Not only does the customer need to learn more about your product and service, but he needs to know how to use it and get it to work for him. The rate of change with new technology options and the shortening time line for buying companies to get your product or service functioning to meet their requirements, means that technology companies selling to the B2B buying entity have an extreme challenge.

Selling now means….adapting to the lack of access to the customer, being ready to sell when they are ready to buy, and ensuring that the type of selling being done is consultative with crisp responses and directly applicable actions.

Share your comments on how buyer behaviors have changed your selling practices. What further changes do you see occurring?

You may view a recorded webinar that I conducted on this topic called “The Informed Buyer” – The Challenge for Today’s Sales Leaders” by clicking on this link: The Informed Buyer: The Challenge for Todays Sales Leaders

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Welcome to Sales Leadership – The Valley View

Welcome to my world.

This blog is about sales leadership from a vantage point inside the technology industry. It is about finding or inventing ways to overcome challenges to growing revenues in the tech world. It is derived from my experience and insights in leading sales teams. It incorporates the wisdom of my colleagues who have faced these same challenges. It is about B2B selling in Silicon Valley.

“Sales Leadership – The Valley View” will strive to provide you with a Silicon Valley perspective on effective sales leadership.

The ever changing, demanding technology industry requires sales leadership that knows more than how to build a sales team or motivate salespeople. It is about constantly adapting to sales issues created by technology innovation, exponential rates of change, and global competition. It is about designing processes, recruiting and motivating talent, and scaling sales practices while in a constant state of market change.

Those who succeed as sales leaders here know how to plan, create, implement and adapt while also able to “control” the elements for meeting/exceeding ambitious venture capital influenced revenue goals. While racing to meld the various elements of sales, customer, and company requirements at what appears sometimes to be steroid enhanced speeds, the best Silicon Valley sales leaders manage to deliver results. Is it any wonder we marvel at Lance Armstrong’s performance results?

How do we become effective sales leaders in “The Valley”?

The answers are not written in stone. No, that’s too permanent. The “Valley View” is of sales leaders who combine experience, expertise with the skills of sales, intuition, superb interpersonal skills, and continuous learning- coupled with a big measure of daring, to be declared great sales leaders.  The rewards of success may forever change one’s life.  Failure however, is not an option.

For most, effective sales leadership abilities are not something they are born with. They are an acquired form of people, process, personality, and performance synthesis.

Join me in these discussions so that together we can share and find the answers to sales leadership effectiveness.  I will be your guide in exploring “Sales Leadership – The Valley View” – but, it is through your participation in the dialogue that will allow all of us to learn and grow.

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