My job is selling technology. Actually I'm more of a translator. I sell technology to other businesses and that's where things get weird. There is a bewildering array of tech out there and unfortunately many companies think technology sells itself and the value that the technology delivers should be obvious. Wrong. That's where I come in. I said I was a translator. My job is to translate techno babble into value that customers understand. This blog share my adventures with high tech sales. Selling high tech is fun so come join me on my sales journey!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Economic theory is flawed

With rising energy prices, today I decided to purchase some high efficiency LED light bulbs to replace some fluorescent bulbs and some small halogen bulbs (there are no fluorescent equivalents for).

These are lights that are frequently used in my house so the economics of switching to LEDs makes sense.

In total I spent £60 on these bulbs - the price of LED technology has fallen significantly. I ended up buying them direct from China since that's where they are made. I could have bought them in the UK for £78.

So you may be wondering how I came to the conclusion that economic theory is flawed from this simple purchase?

Firstly VAT played a role in my purchase decision. £60 + VAT = £72.  The UK supplier would make £6 on the transaction. If there was no VAT I would have opted for the UK vendor.  Postage times from China/Hong Kong vary wildly. I've had 3 days from order and also had 3 weeks hence £6 would be worth improving the predictability. That being said I've also have 3 months for something to be delivered by Royal Mail....

So VAT is a barrier to UK GBP. My transaction with China doesn't register as GBP other than an balance of trade import.

Does that count as economic theory is flawed ? Not quite.

The real hit to economic theory is the fact I am doing the right thing by being energy conscious.

The purchase of these items is small beer in the economic impact. In total I bought 13 bulbs.
The bulbs they are replacing are high usage bulbs. Assuming these bulbs have a 6 year life (10,000 hours), which is actually on much lower than the 50,000 hours life quoted by the manufacturer, the bulbs will save £405 over that 6 year period. Not bad for £60 investment. That's based on today's electricity prices which if they rise, will improve my return on investment.

So in otherwords, the electricity company is losing out by me doing the right things. GDP will fall.

If every household in the UK (approx 22M houses), did this then it will wipe out nearly £9Bn over 6 years of GDP for the energy companies. If there was the drop in GDP then it would be deemed bad yet saving costs and conserving energy is absolutely the right thing to do. Hence my observation that economic theory is flawed.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Sales isn't important

I learnt an interesting thing today.   Sales is not important to the global population.

That's quite remarkable given the trillions of dollars of trade and GDP of countries - much of that will be as a direct result of sales.  If a company doesn't have sales it is dead so it's not that sales is not important. In fact in today's globally competitive markets I would argue that the role of sales is more important now than it's ever been.

So why am I making this claim that the global population doesn't consider sales important?

The answer is Google.  Google has a wealth of statistical information about what people are interested in.
They provide access to this information through the Google keyword tool

So let's look at some search terms entered into Google

How to sell                      85,380 global searches per month
Sales training                      1,810 global searches per month
Sales coaching                   2,060 global searches per month
Learn to sell                          110 global searches per month
Learn how to sell                     40 global searches per month

Yet the population occasionally wants to learn how to sell and this is reflected

Sell my car                      49,500 global searches per month
Sell my house                  37,210 global searches per month

I discovered this low level of interest in sales by accident.  I discovered that sewing is more interesting than sales

How to sew                  472,850 global searches per month
Bernina sewing machine   72,580 global searches per month

So a brand of sewing machine that I've never heard of is searched for 5x more popular than learning how to sell.....

I suppose the good news is than more people are interested in how to sew than celebrity news

Celebrity news              301,000 global searches per month

So what to make of this?

I'm concerned that so few people are interested in improving their sales skills.  On the one hand it's good news for me since as a sales professional I am constantly looking for new ways to improve my sales technique and that gives me the opportunity to excel compared to my  competition however it's also worrying that so few people want to improve their selling technique which means that poor standards of selling will continue.

If we assume 1 in 100 people are involved in sales  in just the UK and USA there are  3.1 million people in sales but the search popularity on Google translates into each of these people search once every 3 years.....

Even if we assume that it's only the top 20% of sales people who are proactive, that only translates to 1.5 searches each year. Hardly continuous improvement.

The quality of sales skills needs to improve yet do we overcome this apathy?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Winners never cheat - deceptive sales

The more I look at sales, the more deceptive practices seem to be everywhere.
We look down on sports people that take drugs and cheat and yet if we want to employ someone in sales, we seem pretty keen on selecting those that cut corners and maybe cheat.

I was recently reading a sales book that was advocating the use of false reviews on the web to build business. Sure it may increase business, but is it ethical?

The review may be written to be totally truthful but I still can't help thinking this is cheating. It's like taking drugs or cutting corners on that marathon race.

One sales practice is the switch and bait.  Grab their attention with one thing to create an expectation then switch to another for the sale.  I've had doorstep sellers use this approach - their opening line is "I'm not selling anything" when in reality the offer of a free survey is to sell something later. Winner or cheater?

So why are these practices everywhere? What is driving people to cheat?

Unfortunately it seem that sales is the answer.  Buyers have become so conditioned to sales tactics that sales people are adopting more and more extreme practices in order to gain the buyers scarce attention.

How can we stop all this deception and cheating?

Sadly that seems to be far from easy.  It's hardly possible to get all sales people to switch to ethical selling tomorrow.  Even if they did, buyers would still have preconditioned behaviours to block amorous sales advances and would still have distrust of the sales process.

I don't have thee answers but would be interested to hear how we can drum out deceptive and cheating sales practices.  It would be great to get back to a time when sales is honest and trusting.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Need, Want, Desire

One of the textbook sales mantra's is you can't create a need in sales.  If you're not solving a problem for your prospect then  there isn't a need. Certainly you can't force a customer into willingly buying what you're selling. You can of course force a customer into unwillingly buying what you're selling - that's high pressure sales.

It may be possible to create a need however it's unlikely to be a romantic affair. Forcing a need is a bit like rape. It's probably more about your needs for a sale than theirs.

The sales textbooks then progress to creating a want.

I need a new car.  I want a Bentley.   I could have opted for a cheap entry level car but I want a Bentley.

This is where things get interesting.  My normal perspective on sales is that it's a lot like dating. In fact my first book Romancing The Sale is based on that simple observation.

So wanting a Bentley may be completely irrational. I may not have the money.  I could be a builder so loading the Bentley up with bags of cement and other construction materials may be totally impractical. Yet I want a Bentley.

Love is blind.

When a want turns into a desire the purchase decision has shifted from a want which satisfies a need into something totally emotional and all consuming.  The buyer may be totally infatuated with the prospect of owning the item. In fact the lust and infatuation may be better experience for the customer than actually owning the item. It may turn into a disappointment. I'm sure some of you may be feeling similarly deflated about some previous romantic experiences.  The lust for your hot potential girlfriend/boyfriend was more exciting than actually having him/her.

Creating a want an progressing in into a desire for your prospect is the art of sales. To achieve this you are playing with emotions and desires which may be completely unrelated to the thing you are selling. The challenge is to find a meaningful link which triggers the desire.

As a builder I may need a practical vehicle for carrying bags of cement yet I may have the desire to show my mates that I'm a builder that's going places and I will own the construction company. Suddenly the impracticalities of a Bentley may become secondary if my desire to express my aspirations are greater than mere practicalities. OK this might seem a crazy example yet I've seen "love and desire" lead people to some very illogical decisions.

Humans are animals and we are driven by emotions. Successful sales people will be skilled and reading and playing with those emotions.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Everyone's talking but no-one's listening

In today's world, we are all being encouraged to share our thoughts and opinions. Facebook this. Twitter that. In fact I'm doing this right now - I'm sharing my thoughts and observations on a blog.

It does seem that everyone's talking but no-one's listening.  Attention is scarce.  Un-divided attention is a rarity.  We are all eager to give our opinions but we are unwilling to spare the time to give the gift of attention to other people.  Giving your attention to some-one else is actually a very scarce resource.

So is the blog just yet another article that voices an opinion and changes nothing?  I hope not.  I genuinely believe that listening to what other people say makes a difference.  In sales it can really make a difference. It can be your differentiator. Since so few people are prepared to spare the time to listen, you say seem unique. People crave acceptance and listening elevates the speaker and shows acceptance.

Genuinely listen. I don't mean using the time when they are speaking to plan what you are going to say next. I mean really listen to what they are saying and taking it in. 

I would love you all to spend just 3 minutes a day genuinely listening to a loved one as a result of reading this post.  Listening in sales is just good  practice - it shouldn't be done with an ulterior motive anyone than you should give your 3 year old child your attention because you have an ulterior motive. 

We seem to have lost the ability to respect other people by listening. Let's make a change and promise to listen intently to each other for at least 3 minutes per day - after-all  it's probably 2 minutes 50 seconds more than you listen per day!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Where have all the prospects gone?

Any sales guy will tell you that it can be hard finding prospects and it's one of the most time consuming activities of sales. Building a pipeline of opportunities is critical to success in sales. No prospect. No selling. No sale.

I haven't been fortunate enough [yet] to be given a nice list  "These people want to buy our stuff. Ring then and they will buy".  It's been more of a case  "where's the list?"

Knowing where to find the next prospect, is like  the "little black book" of girls you can ring when you find yourself single. 

In an ideal world marketing is supposed to build a list of leads and these leads need to be contacted to convert into prospects and ultimately customers.  Nice dream!

Sales guys need to build their own list of prospects.  Creating that list of prospects isn't an easy task.

Selling technology has it's challenges. Let's start with something simple like water.  Everybody in the world is a potential purchaser of water. It's something we all need. Yet not everyone needs technology. In fact some technology is incredibly specific. In some cases selling incredibly specific technology is easier. You can name the people who will buy.

Let's say I was selling fibre optic transmission systems.  Your average man on the street doesn't need one yet telecom operators might. So a good starting point would be to get a list of telecom operators. OK. Do these telecom operators own or rent fibre optic cable? If the answer is yes then Bingo! They might want to buy....provided the rationale for buying or changing vendor makes sense.  When the customer profile is very specific, there may be a very limited number of customers in the world. It can therefore be a time consuming task hunting for new prospects. There simply aren't many of them.

This example is a vertical so it's often clear which companies would need what you are selling.

Now lets pick some more generic technology such as databases. Databases can be used for a wide range of things and they are not industry specific.  This is a horizontal product. Healthcare providers might use databases for storing patient records whilst a car manufacturer might use it to store inventory information for a factory.  Horizontal products often have a larger potential market than verticals yet they can be more challenging to sell. 

The market is less specific for horizontal products and therefore there are often many more  potential customers for this type of product yet this can be a challenge to figure out who will buy. People don't buy databases. They buy what it can do for them.  If I started explaining to a hospital the benefits of databases for car manufacturing inventory management, I would at best get some blank looks. A hospital is not involved with running a car factory. They want to hear what it can do for them. They probably aren't interested in how wonderful the database schema syntax is.

The challenge is therefore one of domain knowledge. To get the attention of a horizontal prospect you need to be able to communicate the value the product delivers in the language of the prospect.

The other aspect of horizontal products is they are often looking for a problem to solve. Lets look at hospitals again.  So wind the clock back 100 years.  Did we have hospitals? Yes. Did we have patients in hospitals? Yes. Did hospitals have access to patient records?  Yes. Did they have databases? No. Was there a market for databases? No.

Hospital's had a paper based system so the challenge is to find a commercial reason for changing from paper to a database. "You'll be able to access patient records far faster" [so what] "When a patient is admitted you'll have their information in seconds" [so what] "The time it saves to get the patient records could save their life".

Now who do you sell this to?  Let's start with nurses. They don't understand databases. They probably want to save lives but haven't got the authority to sell.  The challenge therefore is to find someone that has the authority to make such a profound process change (switching from paper to database) and wants the value delivered - in this case saving lives. Finding the specific prospect for this decision can be time consuming.  As you are selling a vision of the future, it also means it can be difficult to get their attention.  Imagine the challenge of selling a database 100 years ago - you are talking a foreign language.

In summary finding prospects for vertical sales can be a challenge of scarcity whereas the challenge for selling horizontal products can be one of targetting and messaging.

Good luck with the prospecting!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Has the Amazon Kindle goldrush passed?

Amazon's Kindle is a wonderful thing. It has truly disrupted the publishing industry. It has enabled many wannabe authors to be exactly that by lowering the cost of publishing.  The Kindle has removed the barriers to publishing enabling authors to self publish without the gate keeper of a publisher.

This has however had some unintended consequences.  Many of the ill's and evils we have seen on the Internet have found their way into publishing.   Spam books - books which are little more than spam have emerged.  Copyright theft - books repackaged and sold under different titles.The sins of the Internet have infiltrated publishing.

In the past the Internet lowered the barriers and suddenly any one could have a web page and now Kindle has enabled anyone to be an author and monetise their words.  There has been a goldrush to get onto Kindle.

One of the reasons that goldrush has happened is that Amazon has enabled it. Amazon's KDP programme allows authors to give away their books for free for 5 days per quarter.  I've succumbed to this gold-rush myself - I've written several books such as Romancing The Sale. My thought process about giving my book away for free is that it's a great way to get my book into the hands of those who don't know me. The quality of my work should speak for itself - either they will love it or hate it.  If they love it they will tell others or buy one of my other books. The reviews and feedback for my books has been positive - this encourages me to write more.

Now you may be thinking giving books away for free doesn't make good business sense. You are right.  In 2012 Amazon's KDP programme did however create lots of sales.  By giving away your book for free you shot up the chart.  It was perfectly possible to be up there with 50 Shades of Grey in the best seller list. When the free promotion ended, you didn't automatically drop back to zero, there was some legacy sales which persisted because you were top of the chart.  People paid real money for your book.  Many authors probably sold more copies that way than through any other mechanism.

Around November 2012, Amazon changed it.  Probably quite rightly.  Now when the free promotion ends the book simply exits chart. It is listed in the free chart not the sales chart. No freebie sales for authors now.

Amazon has also closed a number of other holes such as tagging.

So where does this leave all these authors?  Well the reality is they are stuck with promoting their own book. No get rich quick options.  Writing a book is easy - it's probably only 10% of the task. The remaining 90% of the task is marketing and selling the book.  Yet the throngs of authors flooding to Kindle are still coming.

The average book sells less than 100 copies in it's lifetime.  I can vouch that if you do nothing to promote your book, you will be part of this statistic. So we have a perfect storm.  A large swathe of books being published - flooding the market with content yet I suspect people are not buying more books. Classic economics. Over supply of content and static demand of attention.

Authors are usually not marketeers or sales people. So how do they promote their book? The instant reaction is to drop the price.  The author sets the price not Amazon.  That probably has created negative inflation in the Retail Price Index with book prices jumping around on the whim of authors.  It is however classic economics and conomics tells us that if there is over supply, prices will fall. We've seen examples like Life of Pi being just 10p.  A truly best selling book priced at a bargain price.

Ultimately Amazon love Kindle.  No books to stop. No warehouses. No packaging. No people putting books in boxes. No factory. No shipping costs. Yet I suspect Amazon failed to anticipate the effect they would have on the economics of selling and authoring books.

I think the gold-rush has ended yet the prospectors keep turning up.  I'm wondering if there's a shovel I can sell them....