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!

Thursday 20 December 2012

Trust Based Sales

People don't trust sales.  In today's modern society, people have developed  highly tuned senses, able to detect a looming sales pitch with very few cues.
I noticed it myself this week  in an email from someone I hadn't spoken to in a long time. It wasn't
pushy but a couple of words triggered a response that put me on guard that  if I wasn't careful I would open
the sales flood gates.

This has led me to wonder whether we will see a change in how successful sales may happen in the
future.  These future sales may be based solely on trust.

I've seen this kind of pattern in the Open Source Software community. Some software vendors
provide free fully functional versions of their software products. The commercial version is more
thoroughly supported and have more sophisticated features.  Here the "sales" people are the
company's technical support.  They provide support (for free) to the community, fixing issues
and generally fostering trust in the product.  Once the trust is established, up-selling is possible.

Many consumer products, particularly web based ones, provide a free watered down version
of their product to gain customers in the hope they can up-sell to more sophisticated fee paying

Giving all this free stuff away may work in software where there production costs are low but
I can't see Ford, Fedex or other similar organisations adopting these kinds of loss leaders.

This recipe is not guaranteed.  The challenge (and I think this is a marketing challenge) is to identify the minimum viable functionality to give away free.  Give away too much and customers will fail to
see the value in purchasing a commercial version.  Dropbox I think has this problem.  I can't
see the value in upgrading - the free version meets my needs.

So what can we learn from this trend?

Well giving stuff away free can't work for every business and it clearly depends on whether there is trust already.  Take a new chain of supermarkets.  Provided the products are familiar, I am happy show in
a different supermarket.

Relying on customers to consciously decide to up-sell themselves is not a good way to achieve revenue targets.  There needs to be a balance between trust and familiarity and pushing the up-sell.

People don't consciously do things.  Reputation based selling requires people spread the positive word and that doesn't happen by itself in the same way that bad news is spread.

Take 100 sales.  You might get 1 or 2 people spreading the word if you do a good job and they may only pass the good news onto 1 or 2 of their friends.  Whereas if you do a bad job, then 30-40 of your disgruntled sales will spread negative opinions to 10 or more people.  Negativity is more powerful than positivity. This explains the phrase "loyalty takes years to acquire but can be lost in a second".

The temptation may be to be unethical and employ paid ravers - some unscrupulous companies do this. Not a great tactic as your reputation can be destroyed in seconds if this is ever discovered.

The future holds challenges for companies to operate with trust, without being pushy and rely on word of mouth with integrity.

Friday 30 November 2012

Using LinkedIn to promote ebooks

Yesterday I started a promotion of my Kindle book, Romancing The Sale by offering free downloads for 3 days.

It was moderately successful with 98 downloads from the USA, 40 from the UK and 1 from Germany. I did a free download promotion on the day I launched the book which was significantly more successful however interestingly although this was a much smaller number of downloads, it was enough to get me to a ranking of 1,050 in all books and #1 in the sales and marketing category. Previously I was around 7,000 so maybe people buy less books this time of year!

So how effective was using the social media aspect of LinkedIn?

The approach I used was to post a status update and encourage people I know to like the status update. I had 46 likes for my status post. The status post lead to this blog and in the blog was a link to the book on Amazon.  I used an Amazon affiliate account to track the Amazon views.

I had 98 visitors to the blog page outlining the offer and there was a link to the book there. The Amazon affiliate account showed I had 31 visitors resulting in 3 purchases - sadly none of them my book.

So 31 out of 98 people viewing the blog went to Amazon (32%) and zero downloads.

Free should eliminate risk but it shows even when risk is eliminated there is not 100% take-up.

Clearly I was getting downloads from somewhere.  I had set up announcements on about 20 of the ebook review sites such  as Pixel of Ink so it looks likely they were driving the traffic and not LinkedIn.

Interestingly I did discover LIKE and SHARE have different behaviours on LinkedIn.  I'm still not entirely sure what SHARE does as it is inconsistent.   Some people shared and it effectively spawns a new status post from them but not always....maybe someone can explain it to me.

So now to experiment number 2.  My day one experiment was a little convoluted with the blog in the way so today I have linked direct to the product on the LinkedIn status post.  Let's see what results that brings...

Wednesday 28 November 2012

FREE: Download Romancing The Sale for free

I am giving away my book, Romancing The Sale for free - well for 3 days anyway.

From Thursday 29th November 12 to Saturday 1st Dec you can download it for free on the Amazon Kindle store.

All I ask in return is that you place a review on Amazon when you have finished.

I've had quite a few people say they don't have a Kindle. You can still download and read it even if you don't have a kindle. There are Kindle readers available on iPhone/iPad,  Android and even PC.

Download Romancing The Sale

It has seven 5* reviews and one 4* review so I'm sure you won't be disappointed. Here's a sample review of the most recent review:

5.0 out of 5 stars A unique mix of tongue in cheek stuff with very serious no nonsence sales advice!, 24 Nov 2012
This review is from: Romancing the sale (Kindle Edition)
I must agree with many of the other reviewers - this is an original book which has some excellent advice within its (electronic) pages. The authors analogy to dating sounds a little cringey perhaps but stick with it - its well worth the read. Many people will resonate with this approach as they read through this book but there is also a very serious side to this work. It thus gives a unique insight into the world of sales and there's lots of facts and stories from the real world too. Highly recommended.       

Enjoy the book.  I'm busy working in my limited spare time on the sequel  Romancing The Sale: Word Chemistry  and a short free book on the mindset you need for start-ups.

On a different note I have been sharing my experiences of how successful  the different strategies for book promotion are, on my blog. I will share at a later date, the results of how effective free promotion and social media campaigns are.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Magic Words

This week I was lucky enough to see  Phil Jones presenting about Magic Words. Phil is an excellent presenter with a real flair for conveying simple yet powerful concepts.

His presentation pretty much covered the contents of his book Magic Words which I found very useful. The book covers simple psychology techniques to make your words have more impact.

I particularly liked the techniques for heading excuses off at the pass.  Phil used to lead the sales team for DFS furniture stores and they wanted to sell the coating to protect the material on the furniture as it was high margin.  The number one excuse why customers  didn't want to buy it was that "We never eat or drink on the furniture".  To solve this problem he used the "I bet you're a bit like me" technique.  He would frame the conversation using "I bet you're a bit like me. When you work hard you come home and you want to crash in front of the TV with a beer or glass of red wine. Maybe even some crisps and snacks".  The customers agreed they do this sort of thing.

Now when it came to selling the protective material coating they can't now say we never eat or drink on the furniture! 

A few of the ideas and concepts are covered in my book but there is enough novel content here. I will be experimenting with the techniques over the coming weeks and will report on success.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Effectiveness of advertising to sell books

Following on from my earlier post on selling my book, Romancing The Sale, here are my experiences of using on-line advertising to promote awareness and ultimately sell copies of my book.

This was an experiment and I enjoy measuring the results of experiments so here are my findings.

Well it look like advertising is a waste of money and completely ineffective - at least when it comes to selling books. If you you are an author, I wouldn't recommend advertising as a vehicle to promote your book!

I set up a Google AdWords advertising campaign to display adverts to potential prospects for my book based on carefully selected keywords.

I had a selection of different adverts to measure which adverts achieved the best response rate.

My adverts were displayed a grand total of 58,000 times and I had 97 people click on the adverts. Just a 0.16% click through rate at a cost of £28 (approx £0.29 per click). My best advert has a 1.25% click through rate which is very high.

As my book is on Kindle I wanted to measure the conversion rate. The sales process by using advertising is:

Advert is display -> Attracted to the advert -> Clicks on the link -> Views Amazon page -> Decides to buy -> Add to cart -> Pays for shopping cart -> Purchase complete

Amazon doesn’t provide statistics on how many people have viewed your product page. The only stats are for purchase complete. I had heard that Amazon have an 80% shopping cart abandon rate and they are one of the better performers in the industry. Well my experience seems to back that up.

In order to measure the stage from my advert being clicked and eventually being purchased, I set-up and Amazon Affiliate account.  This enables me to see a little more detail once my prospect clicks on the advertising link.

So my 97 click throughs translated into zero sales on my book but interestingly it did sell other stuff which I will cover shortly. I'm currently selling an average of 1 copy of the book per day so these sales are clearly not coming from advertising but other activities such as social media and word of mouth. I have a big campaign sheduled for the end of November so I will be able to compare other marketing vehicles and their effect on sales.

I had originally assumed a 1 in 4 conversion rate to purchase. Let's assume my 97 clicks through is actually 100 click throughs.  I assumed of this 100 that 25 would decide to buy the book. Deciding to buy and actually buying are two very different things. Amazon's 80% shopping cart abandon rate means only 20% of people that decide to buy actually buy (good old Pareto yet again).

Based on my numbers, it would mean that I should have had 5 sales but I had zero.  Interestingly with an Affiliate account you can see what people did buy and I had 4 consequential sales - someone bought a nice sofa and the other 3 bought books (not mine). One person bought a how to book on murder which is a little different to my Romancing customers.

Although it is interesting that I created consequential sales it doesn't achieve my primary goal of selling my book.

So what would it take to sell one book through advertising?

I think my original 1 in 4 conversion rate should be 1 in 5 (20% again) since this would match the 4 resulting sales. However the additional sales step is important. There is a decision to buy something and there is a decision to buy my book.  I think Pareto kicks in again and only 20% of those that decide to buy decide to buy my book - the rest decide to buy something else like a new sofa.

So to sell one copy

1 @20% = 5 people who actually buy something
5 @20% = 25 people who  decide to buy something
25 @20% = 125 people who are looking to buy something
125@0.16% = 78,000 adverts need to be displayed

So I need 125 people to click on links in order to achieve 1 sale. Assume 30p per click, this means spending £37.50 to achieve one sale! I need to increase the price of my book to make this viable!

I'm now abandoning my AdWords campaign since it is clearly not effective.

I am now experimenting with the LinkedIn advertising to see if that it more effective. It wasn’t very effective in the past on other campaigns I've run.   I'll share the results in the near future.  So why LinkedIn.  Google doesn't have user profiling - the adverts are displayed based on keyword triggers. LinkedIn has excellent user profiling so my adverts can be displayed to my target audience.  In this case I am restricting it to show to people in the UK and North America that have the word sales in their job title and have specified a skill of either complex sales, professional sales or relationship based selling. 

Tuesday 30 October 2012

I'm not selling anything

Have you ever had someone ring you or knock on your door and one of the first things they say is "I'm not selling anything to you".  This has got to be the most stupid things to say.  I can only think of a couple of scenarios  where this might work:

1/ the person  has been living in a cave all there life and never ever been sold to and so believes you
2/ the person is totally thick and believes you
3/ the person is too polite to tell you to f*#$ off.

As I enjoy studying people's sales techniques I  recently let the sales process run it's course when I was  cold called in this way.  The technique usually switches to some no obligation survey or promotion. To me it is clear that the survey will find something wrong giving them the opportunity to sell something.  On this particular occasion I let them feel secure and then started asking questions about once the survey is completed would anyone try and sell to me. OK the face told me the answer was yes even if the words had switched to "there is no obligation to buy".

My logic is it's hard to buy something unless someone is selling some thing....

Conversation terminated.

I was tempted to confuse him by start selling my book to him given that he had inadvertently given me permission to have a face to dialogue.

Clearly "I'm not selling anything" is a lie or at best a half truth "I am not selling anything to you right this second, but I will very soon".

Lying is never a good technique in sales.  Why would I trust a company when their opening line is "I'm  lying to you so you don't slam the door in my face".

A far better approach for this particular door-to-door salesman that cold called me. "Hi,  I noticed you have a few broken tiles on your roof and lots of moss that could cause damage to your roof in a cold winter.  We have a team of roof surveyors in the area next week. I wanted to just let you know they will be putting an estimate card through your door and if I hadn't knocked you might wonder what it is. They will survey your roof from the outside and put the card through your door with an  estimate of how much we would charge to fix these issues. There is no obligation to buy - you decide. Thank you for your time"

No lying
No pressure
You outline a problem and some risks if the problem is ignored
Result - I trust these guys a bit more.

Lying gives sales a bad name and doesn't establish trust - why do it!

Friday 26 October 2012

Selling business books on Kindle

Last week I launched my first business book, Romancing The Sale  and I have been busy learning how to sell books. Not my normal fare of sales - I'm more used to face-to-face encounters and selling complex stuff.

Selling books requires a different mindset. Without being able to see who you're selling to it's rather like attending an orgy in  a pitch back room - you're not sure what you're grabbing hold of. Retail selling is clearly about throwing enough stuff out there and hoping some of it sticks on the right people.

So after 1 week I can now state that I'm an expert on selling business books on Kindle.  I've read 5 or 6 books this week on book promotion. I've read blogs and of course thought about it and done some of my own things. This  puts me in the top 5% of knowledgeable people since most of the information out there is ill considered rubbish.

Let me share my new found knowledge with you.

1. Business books are not fiction
The vast amount of information out there on book promotion is aimed at mass market fiction. Business books are a niche and so the recommended websites are off target. Although my book might have the right title, announcing it to the Romance and Lovers book review club is not going to propel it to best seller in its category.  I have yet to find a business book review club equivalent.

The second observation is that  there are loads of  book review websites out there.  No clear market leaders. The Pareto principle tells me that 80% of the benefit will be delivered by 20% of the websites.  I've yet to figure out which ones I need to invest my time with.

I'm also dubious about book review clubs that want to charge me $49 per month for advertising my book before they will review it or even list it. Sure their website needs a business model but is their readership on target?  What is the conversion rate I can expect from their advertising - information which sadly lacking. Will readers consider them impartial when they know they are charging me for the privilege of being on this website?

2. Build a Promotion Platform. Not

The other advice out there is to build a promotion platform for your book. Blogging, social networking etc so you can promote your book through this channel.  Hmmmm. How long is that going take to realise sales?  Building a loyal following on a blog  takes time and lots of effort producing content. I've been doing this blog for coming up to 1 year and get a few thousand readers per month.   Say 1% of my readership purchases my book from this blog then I get a few tens of book sales.  Horrary I'll be able to retire on that (not that the intention of my book was to get rich quick anyway).

The problem with building a Promotion Platform is that it is yet another product which you need to promote. If you already have a large following (100,000+ followers) then it would be a viable vehicle. Building yet another thing in order to promote a book is ludicrous. If I was seduced into going this route I would think "Why not build a platform to promote all books rather than just limit it to mine?" (even though it is clearly the best).

Make a Killing on Kindle is one of the best books on book promotion I read this week. It's a no nonsense approach to promotion. Ignore the get rich quick title - there is some great advice in there.

3. Advertising

I've experimented with using Google advertising as a book promotion tool this week.  I wasn't expecting big results from paid advertising.  I was working on the basis that I wanted to build a readership therefore revenue from my book sales is being ploughed back into Google AdWord advertising.  I was expecting to come out neutral (the advertising cost generated sales which matched the margin from resulting book sales).Zero cash gain.  Sadly it is on-track to come out negative.

So a little explanation on how Google AdWords works. Google displays my adverts. The adverts display based on what the person at the other end is searching for. I declare which keywords I think are relevant for my book. Google don't charge to display the advert.  If someone clicks on my advert I pay. This is called click-throughs.  The industry average is 0.3% click through rate.  So in other words, the advert needs to be displayed 333 times before someone clicks on it.

I've done a lot with Google AdWords in the past so I know how to optimise it quickly to control costs.  My initial click through rate was 0.12% (833 ads per click) so worse than the industry average. Google recommended I bid £1.75 per click (guess what I didn't pay that). A click takes my prospective book lover to my Amazon page where they have the option of buying my book. Of course every single one of these prospective book lovers will buy it won't they?  Nope. I guessed maybe 1 in 5.

So lets do the business case.

5 x clicks @ £1.75 = £8.75 in order to sell a book priced  at £7.20 (with VAT) - negative case

I wasn't prepared to pay £1.75 so I bid 45p - it got me a top 3 ranking which is good enough.

So revised business case

5 x clicks @ 0.45p = £1.25.  This could be viable to promote it.

The reality is the conversion rate to a purchase is closer to 1 in 20. £5 to get one purchase. Into negative margin territory.

So lets do the math.  0.12% click through 5% conversion.  In other words I need to display 16,000 adverts to get one sale!  It looks like there are about 50,000 advert banners displayed per week so 3 book sales per week with negative margin. Horrary. 3 book sales per week is sure to make me a best seller!

I've experimented with my keywords and the average is improving.  Some of my keywords are now yielding an amazing 6% click through rate but the sales conversion is still only 5%. I'll keep you posted on how this works out as I experiment with this.

Advertising is therefore not a viable vehicle to get a best seller. I'll keep using the advertising since I want to get readership. Conclusion - it needs to be a part of my overall promotional sales strategy.

4. Free Download Day

The most successful promotional tool this week has been the free download day.  I dropped the price to free for one day! This proved a massive draw with hundreds of copies flying off the virtual shelf around the world.  Clearly the zero price eliminates perceived risk from the buyer and is an effective way to get a readership.

Free is a great way t get the book out there but not a great way to make money.

 And Finally

It's been an interesting journey this week learning about a whole new dimension to selling.

One of the statistics I've learnt is that 30% of new authors sell less than 100 copies of their book. How depressing would that feel.  There are plenty of books out there advocating writing a book as a way to generate  income so you can quit your job and live the high life.  Get real.

A book is a product.  Creating  a product is 10% of the job. 90% of the job is selling the product.  Why should books be any different to anything else in the real-world.

Selling is necessary for success.

Thursday 18 October 2012

My book is out on Kindle

I'm feeling guilty that I have not posted a blog for nearly 2 months. Particularly as I made a promise to myself to blog an article at least twice per month.

Hopefully my excuse is acceptable. I've been working hard in my spare time (the time when I would normally find time to blog) on my book. It's now out on Kindle!! Romancing the Sale, as the title suggests is about winning sales by making your customers love you.  It takes a fun look at sales by comparing the sales process with the world of dating.

Some of the things you will discover in my book are:

Find out why using the same sales technique on your mother-in-law, that you used on your girlfriend,  will get you a slap or unexpectedly into bed with her.

Why Mr Spock, the character from Star Trek, is useless at selling?

What's going on in your head and your prospect's head during the sales process?

I have a limited number of free samples of the book to give away. I need to read the Amazon documentation again as it wasn't clear how to give these away.  Ping me if you're interested in reading it and you have a Kindle (or Kindle app). The only thing I would ask is that you write a review. Once I figure out their system I'll

I enjoyed doing writing the book so much that I'm already thinking about my second (and third) book!

Romancing the Sale is available on Kindle now priced £7.20 in the UK and $9.99 in the US. The paperback version will be out  January 2013.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Change the Sales Curve

Change curves are a powerful tool – I think they ought to be taught at school since few people are well equipped to deal with all the challenges that relationships present. Change curve stem from how people behave when they experience a shock such as an unexpected death. The typical stages are something like Shock, Denial, Resistance, Exploration and Acceptance.

Many of these stages are common to sales. The cold call is where you'll hit Denial or Resistance. “We don’t need that”. “The problem isn’t that serious – we don’t need to fix it”. Using the change curve can help you in sales. By understanding where your prospect is on the curve, you can tailor your message and help progress the sale towards Acceptance.

Change curves don’t solve all problems – just like real life some people can get stuck on the curve for example not being able to accept and come to terms with a death which happened 20 years ago. 

So don’t expect all your sales to be magically turned around. Change curves can help you look at the sale from a different perspective - you'll be working on the sale not in the sale!

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Getting Past the Bouncers

It seems getting the attention of prospective customers can be one of the hardest thing in sales. Once you've broken the ice things often seem to flow much better. The trouble is that people have night club bouncers guarding their brain – protecting it from unnecessary information. There's an almost automatic defence reaction - “Whatever you're selling, we dont need it”.

Why is that?

Interestingly you may think people are highly rational but the reality is the reptilian brain  (the oldest part of the brain which is separate from the left and right brain - it's job is to keep you alive) is usually in control. It's busy filtering out all the irrelevant messages. You might think getting past the over zealous secretary is hard – reptile brain can be far worse.

On the first encounter, the prospects' reptile brain is evaluating your opening message and deciding – fight, flight or ignore. If you're pitch looks like something else that's been rejected then guess where you're headed.

How do you get past security then? Just like stage hypnosis, you need a mechanism to get past this zealous protector of the brain. Stage hypnosis works by using shock or confusion – if your sales pitch causes shock or confusion , the reptile brain needs some help from the more intelligent brain since your confusing message is beyond the processing power of the dinosaur relic.

Examples of how to cause confusion. “We don't need xyz?”. “Abolutely. That's exactly why we should meet to discuss”. Here they are expecting you to argue but instead you agree! OK this was a simple example but it will throw them off guard for a couple of seconds. You need to use those couple of seconds before the defensive shutters come down again.

Other ways to get past security are to not be seen as a threat. If you are asking too much of them then you are a threat. If you are simply asking for a few minutes of their time to ask a few question to see if you MIGHT be able to help then you are not making too big requests and not making wild claims so there is more willingness to have a short exploratory conversation.

In summary using confusion (in a positive way) can create openings and making sure you are not seen as a threat are the ways to be more successful in the opening approach.

Sales partnerships

It seems fashionable to say your customers are your partners.

How many sales partnerships truly operate on a partnership basis?
I usually come back to the real world of relationships to validate concepts and this one is no exception.  A marriage is a partnership.  I'm  a bit hazy on exactly what I signed up to on that big day many years ago but I definitely remember something along the lines of "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health".  Pretty much it said "Hey guys you're entering into a partnership - it could be a roller coaster ride - are you happy to accept that the value of your relationship can go up as well as down?"

So back to our partnership selling - does it really extend to the same level of commitment?  The seller may think they are in a partnership but does the buyer?  What if the seller has convinced the buyer that they are in a partnership and then really call upon their "friendship".

Customer: Things are not going so well.  We need to invest in the factory to reduce our costs but haven't got any cash. Will you lend us the equipment for 1 year to see us through this tough time?
Salesperson: That's a big ask! I don't think we can swallow that.

I think most sales partnerships are fair weather relationships. I also think most sales  relationships are one sided.  The customer usually holds the power to walk away from the relationship more than the seller.

I think when most sellers use the term partnership, they are thinking about what's in it for them - locking in the customer. Some buyers do think of some sellers as partners - it's when the cost of walking away from the relationship is high - one that causes a lot of heart-ache and angst.

How people behave in parternships is also different to a classic transactional relationship of buyer-seller.

I recommend reading Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.  It's kind of an economics book but he does some great real world experiments that are very relevant in sales.  There's one example which I think was fascinating. It revolves around a child day care centre that had a problem with parents collecting their children late.  So the care centre decided to introduce a financial penalty for late collection.

Interestingly this changed the social norms of this buyer-seller relationship.  Parents were in fact feeling guilty about late collection but the transition to one where it was financial had the unexpected effect of parents being even later collecting their children.  There was a social norm part of this "partnership" and the rules were changed. The care centre didnt want this so they changed it back but too late - the damage was done. The parents now had the benefit of a guilt free late collection and no financial penalty either !!

Prior to the rule change parents had guilt - they hadn't put a price on guilt.  Charging for late collection changed that - it now had a price and parents could weigh up how much being late was worth to them!

What's the moral of this story?  Well if you intend to run your sales on a partnership basis because you're following the fashion, understand what it is you're signing up to.  Once you operate on a partnership basis you are in this for the long haul - just like a marriage. Changing the rules mid way because things have got a bit tough can have unexpected consequences.

Marriage is a good benchmark for behaviour in a partnership.  What kind of change to your marriage relationship would you get if your wife presented you with a price list for sexual favours?

If you're inheriting an account make sure you understand where you are.  If the previous account manager had shown lots of good will and flexibility supporting the customer and you come along with a black or white approach to the account, the mood of the relationship will change - beware!

Monday 23 July 2012

Purpose Outcome Structure Timing

Having a plan for sales meetings, before the actual meeting will improve your chances of success.

Winging it is not a good strategy. You really need to think in advance what is the Purpose of the meeting and what is the Outcome of the meeting.  You want the Purchase Order (PO) so think about the Purpose and the Outcome.

Be realistic about what can be achieved in the meeting.  Ideally think about what  the customer wants from the meeting - not just what you want. If you draw an analogy with dating - you might want sex on the first date but is it realistic?  Having a clear view on small incremental steps forward towards the end goal is important otherwise you can end up in a protracted Engagement and never get Married (get the sale) or worse still turn the sale off by being too pushy!

Using the POST (Purpose Outcome Structure Timing) tool will help you have more effective sales meetings.
Purpose - what is the reason for the meeting.  If it's a first meeting the purpose might be to introduce yourself and the company and what's in it for them. 

Outcome - the outcome from a first meeting might be to confirm there is an opportunity for what you are selling and agree to further meetings

Structure - might be a face-to-face informal meeting over a coffee

Timing - a 20 minute information sharing session.

Thursday 19 July 2012


This is an interesting article.

The jist of the article is that glass half full people are more successful than glass half empty.. If you think about what things you have done well it will lead to success whereas if you dwell on the things that went wrong (even if they were a success) then it breeds internal resentment.

Certainly the brain can be conditioned and build negative emotions so there is no reason it cant build positive emotions.

My personal take on this is that  there are some people who are perfection driven and they are quite clearly glass half empty people. These people tend to be "away from" motivated - their drive for perfection is they want to get away from imperfection.

This article is more about self gratitude however I think an interesting side effect of glass half empty mentality is that generally if they feel unhappy about their own progress they are probably going to feel unhappy about other people's progress.  Showing gratitude to other people and recognising and rewarding effort, particularly when the person doesn’t feel confident of their abilities can be a powerful motivator.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Truthful selling

Selling  does have a bit of a reputation for being dishonest. Not necessarily lying but then again not fully exposing the full facts.

If I contrast that with relationships - trusted relationships require a good degree of honesty and truthfulness.

So does being completely open and honest win you more business than being selective with the truth? Whilst researching this, I found several articles suggesting this tactic works well, there was however little empirical evidence to show that is that case.

Exposing the truth can clearly  un-sell something - I've had direct experience of this myself but I've also had situations where the sales person helped convince me by divulging short-comings.  So what was different? Why did one sale progress and the other not?

In the first case I can barely remember the sales person yet in the second, I can recall them quite well and their approach helped me feel that they were trustworthy.

Clearly my analysis here is based on a sample size of two but I think the difference here is where the truthfulness was in the sales cycle.  In the first sale, I was not sold and therefore not yet convinced I wanted to buy. Exposing negatives just helped me to convince myself  that I didn't want to buy.

 In the second example I was sold on the product.  Reflecting back on this, the sales person new what was important to me and the product fitted those requirements.   I'm pretty sure he knew the volunteered down-sides were not important issues for me, so in reality volunteering the information didn't detriment the sale of the product - it improved my perception of him as being a truthful person.

So contrasting that with relationships I came up with the following.  Lying on a first date will probably not win you long term success with a relationship since you will be probably found out - the same must be true in sales. Exposing all the negatives about you on a first date will not help you win the heart of your date.  Do you  think they really want to know about your bad habits?  As a relationship matures, the dark secrets of your bad habits can be leaked out and provided they are not show stoppers (for example you killed your whole family) they can probably be accepted and will not detriment the relationship/sale.

So does it pay to be honest and transparent early in the sale?  This week I did an experiment to find out. It was a very first sales engagement for a new technology.  The prospect was aware of the competition but hadn't done any evaluation.  In this case there are about 5 companies in the world to choose from - each one is different and because it is a new area, there is a lack of clarity about which product is the "right tool for the job". Although I am representing one of these 5 companies, the approach I took was to act like a consultant.  By helping the prospect understand the strengths and weaknesses of each product, it lead to a more open discussion - much quicker than I would have expected. Again this is a sample size of one and maybe the rapport would have built up quickly anyway without this approach.  Although I am not telling the warts and all situation at this stage, comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses was a useful approach since it helped flush out what was important to the prospect. This is a new area so he didn't really have a good picture of what his needs are.

As this sale progresses, I provide updates on any insights I glean from this approach.

I would conclude being truthful in sales is a good strategy but timing the whole truth requires judgement. No product is 100% perfect so the trick is to make sure the negatives for your offer don't take your product from 90% to 0%.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Relationship Selling

I read this blog post How to Turn a Relationship Into a Sale.

It raised some interesting points so I felt compelled to write a blog post. The essence of the blog is that if you have a strong relationship within an account it can be high value.  I think it's worth focusing in on the word 'relationship'.  I'm busy writing a book on selling drawing comparison between selling and dating (romance). Not all sales warrant a relationship.  You'd think it a bit freaky if the person selling you a pair of jeans wanted to hang out and be friends.  Complex sales require an on-going relationship since there is an on-going need after the initial sale for example product support, maintenance and enhancement. Ultimately it is like a marriage.

The jist of the blog is that if you give into the sale it will be beneficial. Now contrast that with a marriage. If there is no trust then the relationship will fail. If there is no give and take in a relationship, it will lead to divisions and rifts.  It should not be a surprise that in complex sales relationship needs to be two way. It is not simply about taking the order and shipping product/service.

Strong relationships can overcome differences, challenges and the hard times.

I have come across my share of sales "professionals" that weren't bothered in helping me out unless they saw a purchase order as a result.  I may have needed them but it was not a mutual relationship. They wanted/needed my money but not necessarily me !  In the long term this relationship was at risk of suitors coming along and whisking me off my feet with their attention.

Fostering long term mutual relationships can be a powerful way to retain account loyalty.

As with real relationships, this gifting and mutual exchange needs to be real.  It can't be just going through the emotions otherwise it is like being in a marriage of convenience without love.  Simply giving because of some Machiavellian ulterior motive will come across as false. The relationship needs to be genuine.

Interestingly I've come across situations where a strong relationship can be a hinderance. When I have
tried to sell into former employers, this deep knowledge of their business can trigger defensive behaviours.
I compare this to someone of the opposite sex that you've been friends with since childhood. To suddenly be in a romantic relationship with them is a change in the relationship - it is not a straight forward transition or evolution - the roles of the relationship have changed. 

Looking at long term sales relationships, I can see some organisations reacting when they read the How to Turn a Relationship Into a Sale blog post. Any change in a relationship needs to be done carefully and evolve over time. 

I liked the "You know what I do. Is there anything we can do to help you?".  A powerful right brain question.

A good blog post which has given me some ideas for another chapter in my book.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

The 7i's of selling

You may have heard the cliché “There are no Problems only Opportunities”.  This isn't just a cliché, it is a mindset from which you can form the foundation of successful sales.   You can successfully sell solutions to problems  if you  Identify an Irritation which you can turn into a Issue which has Implications. You need to be Interested in their Issue and learn about it by Inquiry so you can Identify the Impact it has on them. By quantifying the Impact you raise the Importance and Illuminate the Issue. Do not raise the Importance of an Issue you cannot solve otherwise you will look like an Idiot. By raising the Importance, you can create an Intention to solve the Issue which you can Improve.

It took me at least 5 minutes to dream up lots of words beginning with the letter 'I' so this will now be known worldwide as the 7 I's approach to sales . I chose the letter 'I' because it's the thing you don't want to hear coming from your mouth but you do want hear from your customers.  If it's coming from your mouth it means you are talking about yourself which the customer has no interest in whereas if it's coming from their mouth they are talking about themselves which you are very interested in.

Identify → Irritation → Issue → Implications → Impact →  Importance →  Intention →  Improve

This is a good approach to build up the need for action from the buyer but the problem with implication questions is they are negative. You can make the customer feel suicidal as you expose the scale of issues that they were blissfully unaware of before you turned up.  OK you can  make them feel better by turning the situation around which your beacon of hope of a solution but being with you can feel like an emotional roller coaster.

There is another side of  “There are no Problems only Opportunities” which is rarely covered in sales books. It is preserve of the sales dream weavers. Dream weavers don't just identify issues, they appeal to the right side of the brain with Imagery and Identify the emotions such as greed, lust and power to motivate the buyer. They are selling a dream. It is a selling style which is usually only appropriate for something that is a game changer/ revolutionary.  The compact disk is an example. People didn't realise they had a problem with records or cassettes until it came along.  It will probably not surprise you that Apple use this style of selling in their advertising.

First you need to Identify an Irritation. It's likely the customer doesn’t consider the Irritation an Issue. You could go down the path of making the Irritation an Issue but instead you plan the seed of alternatives – breed discontent with the status-quo and appeal to the inner demons of greed, power, lust, Importance to get the customer hooked.  It might be to appeal to a CEO that they can dominate the competition or sell to a middle manager that this will lead to a massive promotion.  The products or services you are selling are unlikely to be taken up by the leaders in the field. It's the ambitious upstarts who want to be on the map – it's a high risk,  high reward sale.

The selling process creates Imagery about the Irritation and shows an alternative – you're planting the seeds on an Idea of an alternative future. The Inception of an idea which you are Inseminating.  You directly appeal to the right side of the brain with Imagery where they Imagine the alternative and the benefits (to them) that it can bring.  I invented a new word Inpower for this.  You are appealing to their Inner power and emotions such as Power, Greed, Lust, Importance and the feeling of being Invincible.  The outcome of this is that they are Inspired and Infused with energy. You have Ignited their desire. This can lead to Infatuation with the Idea creating an Impetus for Immediate action.

Identify → Irritation → Idea → Imagine → Inspire → Infatuation → Impetus

The positive of this approach is that it doesn't dwell on the negatives much. It is a positive, enthusiastic, forward looking approach and means you're seen as a fun enthusiastic person rather than the harbinger of doom that is always exposing internal problems.

There you have it. Two lots of 7i's to achieve sales success.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Sales myths

There are  many myths and preconceptions about sales. Today we'll cover some of the more common ones.

Myth #1: “Sales is about having the gift of the gab”
Professional sales is not about coercing people into buying. People love buying if they want to buy.
Extroverts are usually confident and they tend to talk a lot. Fast talkers rarely do well in sales. The buyer will sense the pressure and confident buyer will push back losing the sale.

The diagnosis is incorrect. Confidence is the important personal quality not having the gift of the gab. Confidence is critical in sales. If you say “this is the best solution for you” but your body language and voice lack conviction, then you probably wont get the sale. Listening to the customer and letting them talk is far more likely to get you the sale. Confident introverts are well placed to be sales superstars. Introverts are naturally good listeners and will outsell a fast talker any day of the week.

By listening to the customer, you learn about them, the company, the things they are struggling with and what's important to them. If you're too busy talking, you wont learn any of this. You wont build a relationship, wont understand their problems and your chances of making the sale are greatly reduced.

Myth#2: “Sales is for those that cant do anything else”
Some of the highest paid people in the world work in sales. It is not unusual for top salesman to be paid more than the CEO. Sadly there is some truth to this myth. Some of the lowest paid jobs are in sales too. However these poor unfortunates are given no training and sent off knocking on doors.

By adopting a proactive approach to learning how to sell, you will be at the top.

Myth#3: “You have to be thick skinned to be in sales”
Why would you need to be thick skinned? Presumably because of all the rejection. Sure you will hear “No I don’t need that” a lot more in sales than other jobs.

Nature has built in a “fight” or “flight” response into our bodies. Both are bad news in sales.

Firstly don’t let rejection lead to a macho tough guy persona. Developing an aggressive attitude will lose you sales. I've certainly come across testosterone fuelled sales guys talking about “going into battle with the customer”. If you start to become aggressive or confrontational when you suffer rejection then the sale is lost. The customer is not obligated to buy.

Equally the “flight” response can be dangerous. You'll be thinking “let's get the hell out of here” and afterwards become introspective as your mojo takes a hit – losing confidence in yourself is fatal. You'll fear future encounters which will lose you further future sales.

Fact. You will suffer setbacks in sales. You need to have the strength of character to accept the rejection. The rejection should not be considered personal – the customer doesn’t need or want what you are selling. In your head say “yes” - I accept the rejection. Then in your head say “and here's what I'm going to do next”. Things change. You might move companies. They may need what you're selling in the future. The best possible outcome from rejection is that you stay in touch with this person and you learn from the rejection.

Monday 18 June 2012

Obsessive Innovation

Mention innovation and you usually think technology.

Is innovation a good thing or a bad thing? Innovation is change - there is good change and bad change. Some companies change things because they feel that because it's new, there has to be change. Take Internet Explorer - I can't figure out how to do things that I used to do with ease in the older version - it might look less cluttered and simpler. Is this form over substance? Google Chrome similarly confuses me - I cant seem to do some things easily that I used to do back in those pioneering days of Netscape. What's going on?  Am I turning into an innovation kill-joy?

To me, it seems the world of technology has become obsessed with innovation. So let's dig a little deeper.


1. something new or different introduced:
2. the act of innovating;  introduction of new things or methods.

The etymology says pretty much the same - innovation is merely something new. Yet  the word 'innovation' seems to convey some kind of disruptive, model changing, radical kind of concept. 
If innovative technology is merely something that's new, we can more easily accept that new doesnt automatically mean better.
Yes this obsession with innovation makes me wonder "Are we living through an 'innovation bubble' ".   The currency is innovation and everyone has become obsessed with upping the ante on more innovative (read radical) ideas?  Will, like most bubbles, this 'innovative bubble' pop and all the new ideas come crashing down?
I'm beginning to think we are living through a bubble.  I always revert to my old friend Pareto.  80% of new ideas are rubbish.  20% of new ideas will survive.  Only 20% of that 20% (just 4%) will be a success. 
If I type the word innovation on google, I get 413 Million page hits - that's a lot of innovation ! If I looked at one page every second, it would take me 13 years to look at them all...apart from the fact it's a moving target.

The problem I see, is the obsession with innovation hasn't got a purpose other than to be innovative (read new). 
Is innovation just features in disguise?  
Compare these sentences: 
"We've got some new features on our product" 
"We've got some innovative new features on our product".
Innovation makes it sounds more exciting, more sexy.
If I look at some of the new big ideas (possibly hype), I often struggle to get it.  I dont mean that I dont understand the new technology - I usually do understand what it does - I just fail to see the point of why anyone would bother to do it and importantly for me - pay me money for this new stuff. 
Some ideas I get instantly - I can articulate the benefits even if the innovator can't.  The benefit might be cost, simplicity, usability......Customers buy into these benefits - they dont necessarily buy into innovation.

The iPhone user interface is a great innovation - it's fascinating to see my wife pick up cameras or other people's non smart phones and try and do zoom gestures. In fact she gets confused why it doesn't zoom! Here is a clear innovation that is a success - the benefit is ease-of-use. 

Clearly some innovation ends up being still birth - it fails to gather traction since the innovator cannot articulate (sell) the benefit. Yet some innovations seem to gain traction and support without the benefits being clearly understood. Why is that? Is it strong personalities hyping up the tech or do some memes live even though they should die? 

Innovation is fascinating - the challenge I make to all innovators is - make my job easier. 
Think about what benefits your innovation delivers - it saves me a lots of time eliminating the duff ideas !

Sunday 17 June 2012

Talking Binary

I'm usually banging on about not talking features and instead how it is important to talk about benefits and value in the selling process. Well today I'm going to contradict that and talk about the need to talk binary and obscure technical details in the selling process.

Imagine you've done the perfect pitch to the board to solve their complex technology problem. You've got their attention :- you understand their need, what they want to achieve and they think you are credible, understand them and can solve their problems. They are pretty much ready to buy.

Now comes the due diligence. If you are selling something complex that integrates with your prospects business the value your solution proposes may well be insignificant compared to the risk it could present to the business. Time for the wizard inquisition.

You will be passed over to the back room boffins that speak binary. Your will need your own wizards that speak binary. This is a critical stage in the sales process since the boffins can influence the decision either way. If your wizards cant speak the same language and they don't have good responses to the spells the boffins are throwing at them then you can quickly loose credibility as a supplier or partner – you may lose the sale.

If this process goes well there can be a new level of respect. The peer level of respect between the boffins and wizards can be very valuable.

Don't leave this stage to chance. Wizards and boffins can be highly principled and honest. Too honest. You need to make sure your wizards understand the sales process too. I was once a wizard and looking back I can think of one particular sale where the sales lead made a massive mistake. He didn't educate me on the goals of the business, in other words what was important and I wasn't really trained to handle objections. In this situation, the boffin raised a valid point that the solution looked inefficient. I started digging a hole which was putting the sale in jeopardy.

Looking back I should have said something like “Yes I can see why you think this looks inefficient. Can you tell me more about [why this is a problem for you] [what you are comparing this to]”, rather than me trying to justify where we were. Technical inefficiency doesn't really matter unless there is a consequence. If the solution costs more than the competition as a result then it's bad news – if it burns more of their resources then it's bad news. If it's less efficient but still still a step change in say density, which the customer understands saves them money because floorspace is expensive, then it really isn't an issue.

So what's the message? Make sure you're prepared for the technical inquisition. Make sure you're wizards are well briefed and understand the situation and what is important to the prospect and that the wizards see an objection as an opportunity to gather more information rather than switch to a defensive argument about your technical approach.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Technology Failure

25% of new businesses fail within the first year.
66% fail within the first five years
After 10 years only the fittest 29% will remain.
Technology based businesses are more likely to fail than average in the first 5 years.

Failure is not limited to new ventures – well established names like Woolworths have disappeared from our high street in recent years. Take the technology space - what happened to Winchester hard drives, Sinclair and Kodak?

These startling statistics reveal that the odds of survival are stacked against new ventures – it truly is survival of the fittest. What are the most common reason businesses fail? What can be done to increase the odds of survival? Why are technology businesses more likely to fail? We cover failings not just in start-ups (a terms which has become almost synonymous with technology ventures) but failings in more established ventures.

Let's start with the top 5 most common reasons for failure:

1/ Cashflow

Money is blood to a company. If there isn't enough cash to pay the bills then the company is on its way to insolvency. There are three main areas impacting cash-flow.

  • Insufficient funding
  • Failure to control costs
  • Over expansion
Let's start with funding. In the current climate where raising cash is tough, it is fashionable for start-ups to “boot strap” themselves (self finance) to get off the ground. Although admirable, it is probably storing up problems for later on – there still needs to be plan. When will the self financing run out? Where will we secure additional funding and how long will it take to get it? When will the cash from the first sale come in? What is the burn rate? How many sales do we need to cover costs each month? With interest rates so low, there are no shortage of investors out there – is boot-strapping really just an excuse for failing to come up with a viable business plan and convincing investors?

As a company grows, so do the expenses of running a company. Many companies fail to understand forward financial commitments (accruals) and budget for them. This could be VAT, payroll taxes or contractual agreements to pay for some item in annual instalments. At the other extreme is companies that receive a large tranche of funding or get the big sale and then go on a spending spree on items which eventually turn into a liability, for example plush rented offices. The majority of businesses have seasonal fluctuations in demand – is there sufficient cash in the kitty to get the company through the lean periods?

Over expansion is similar to a failure to control costs. Investing in a large new factory for example creates a cash lag. It may take 1 year for the factory to come on line with cash burn in the meantime yet it may take another 6 months from coming on-line to get cash from the new capacity. What happens if the demand doesn’t materialise or the market changes? The new factory has become a liability. In this situation, doing what-if scenario planning before the risk materialises could save the company's life. Similarly a company may want to increase sales so invests in new sales personnel. Depending on the market, it could take between 3 and 12 months before they bring in sales – can you afford to employ them before they pay their own way?

2/ Lack of Focus

After investing all that effort creating your offering, you start getting customers. Great news! You're so pleased people want it. You start getting customers asking for customisations, customers in far away places. “We love your product...can you just add this feature”. It's all going great....or is it.

It is critically important to prioritise and focus. Not all customers are equal. The reality is 80% of your profit (not necessarily revenue) will come from 20% of your customers. Delivering customisations in the product, service or support may be costing you more than it is worth. You need to understand the real costs and ensure you're making profit from all the extras.

Your business is extremely unlikely to have a surplus of resource. Are you spreading yourself too thinly? Resource is finite – it needs to focus on the things that really matter and add financial value to the company. Never adopt strategic pricing – pricing to win business with a view to the customer being profitable in the long term when they buy additions.

Focus is nutshell is your marketing strategy. You need to be clear about who you are targeting, why they will buy which means knowing what problem you solve for them. Be prepared to say 'no' to some customers. It can take real courage to say 'no' – if you're not prepared to say no, then you must question and review your business plan and strategy – which parts don’t you believe in?

Focus is a particular problem for technology companies. Technology companies are usually created by technologists. The majority of technologists are not strong at marketing or sales, which we will come to shortly.

3/ Perfection

Quality is important. Is the quality of your product good enough for the needs of your market? If you have the perfect product and it's not costing you more than the market needs, then great news! If it is costing you more but your customers don’t value your perfection then disaster – your costs are too high.

At the other extreme we have products and services that simply aren’t up-to scratch. They either don’t work, are too unreliable or don’t do what the target customers need them to do. Guy Kawasaki famously said “It's OK to be shitty if you're first”. This is right – get something out there – the early adopters will tolerate it but be fast and responsive to fix the issues they highlight.

Perfection is an area where many technology companies suffer. Left alone, engineers will take forever to deliver the product – they will redesign parts they have already developed because they can see a better way of doing it. They will fill the product with great ideas and functionality that was never asked for.

The consequences can be severe – product is never delivered. The product might end up being too expensive to build or the product may be brimming full of differentiated features that no-one knows is there.

The last point is an important one. Marketeers are forever going on about USP – Unique Selling Point. There may be some hidden gems in the product that the technologist have put in there but the marketeers don’t know exist and therefore the sales people don’t know they can sell the value of these hidden features. Alternatively the commercially aware technologists may have put some features in there which they think are great and real differentiators. The problem is the end customer really doesn’t care – the features have no value to them – end result wasted effort and additional cost. We'll come back to functionality and marketing later.

4/  Inability to change

As companies grow, they become more entrenched in their market and way of doing things. A dangerous side-effect of focus in specialism. Evolution tells us that species adapt to improve their ability to survive, yet extinctions are common events. Companies are no different.

Environments change. Kodak couldn’t let go of it's origins despite every omen saying the world was going digital. It is not a good idea to be in a declining market unless your strategy is clearly to exploit that with a clear plan to move onto something else. Marketing is not just promotion too l to sell what you have. It is understanding the environment in which you operate and positioning yourself for success.

Similarly being reliant on a small number of customers can lead you to extinction. Look at the statistics at the beginning of this article. If you have 5 customers, there's a pretty good chance one of your customers will go out of business. This could at best leave you with bad debts and at worst push you over the edge as your cash-flow is impacted.

5/ Ineffective sales and marketing

The final entry in our top 5 is ineffective sales and marketing. The opposite to over expansion is not selling enough or selling at a loss. Price your product below cost and watch your cash flow out the door.

Make a load of product in volume to reduce costs but fail to sell it – watch your business die – look what happened to Rover cars – fields of unsold cars yet the factory kept making more.

Technology companies are particularly susceptible to ineffective sales and marketing. Technologists are very good at technology but poor at articulating the benefit and ultimately the value of their technology.

Fact. People do not buy technology – they buy what it does for them. My children didn’t buy an iPod – they bought downloading free apps and playing Angry Birds. They bought the ability to listen to THEIR music in the car on boring long journeys. They bought “fitting in” with their friends who all had iPods.

Technology companies talk about features. Excellent marketing translates features into benefits. Excellent salesmanship translates benefits into value for a specific customer. Selling features and benefits which have no significance for a customer raises objections – they will be paying for something they dont want or value.

The linkage between marketing and sales is key, yet most companies rarely have joined up marketing and sales. Marketing may even be viewed as a luxury. Marketing is not advertising. Marketing is not promotion. It is not PR. It can include these things but it is ultimately about getting effective sales.

Sales is a tough job. You need to be thick skinned to handle frequent rejection. In a typical selling scenario just 3% of your target customers are ready to buy. Targeting is important – wasting effort selling to people that have no need for what you have is stupid. In a business to business context, there is no excuse nowadays for targeting the wrong companies and the wrong people. Some salesmen will strike lucky and sell to the 3%. But it does mean 97% of of viable prospects will say no. They will say no because they simply haven’t removed the filters. When I decided I needed a 4x4 car, I suddenly started noticing how many different types of 4x4 cars there were. Prior to that my brain simply filtered these alternatives out.

Joined up marketing and sales opens the eyes of your prospects enabling selling.

Getting it right

Marketing and sales plays an important role in technology company survival. Most companies are getting it wrong. Don’t be a dodo.

If you are a technology company within a 50 mile radius of Harlow in Essex, Market Footprint will help you get it right.

Friday 8 June 2012

Sales effectiveness

Following on from my last post on experimental sales, it seemed appropriate to talk about sales effectiveness and metrication of sales.

How effective is email as a vehicle for cold calling?
Time is money - is it cheaper to use email for cold calling than ringing?
How many calls do you need to make to get a sale?

As with all metrics, it is easy to come up with lots of new measurements.
The classic question remains - are you measuring the right things or things which are easy to measure?

Building a pipeline remains a critically important task. Even if you are selling complex solutions where there are a handful of potential customers on the planet, you always need to be thinking about the next sale.

A typical sales person should be spending around 25% of their time prospecting. Assuming a 40 hr week, this translates to 480 hours per year - a large amount of time. So ensuring this time is being used effectively.

If you are selling in a business to business context, with LinkedIn it is a relatively easy task nowadays to identify who you need to target in the organisation you want to sell to.  It is usually a pretty easy task to get their email address whilst getting their mobile number to cold call them is non trivial.

So in terms of effectiveness, does it make more sense to email 20 people in the same time it might take to get hold of one person via the telephone.

Latest statistics suggest that about 18% of unsolicited emails are opened.  If your message is on-target and well crafted you might have a 1 in 4 response rate from those that bother to open it. That means from 20 emails you might 1 response. So it is comparable in reach to cold calling. If your cold calling is on target you might get 80% response so actually in terms of effort expended on emailing is comparable to the effort required to speak to someone. 

However is the goal to get a response? The goal is to progress a potential sale - email is impersonal whilst speaking carries impact. It is difficult to quantify and measure the rapport which can be built up over a phone call versus an email.

One thing is clear - in order to improve sales effectiveness, it makes sense to measure the the process in order to understand where effort is best spent.  The key resource that a salesman has is time. Time needs to be spent wisely. It is all to easy to get wrapped up in the activity of selling and it is important to take time to reflect and consider whether you are doing the right things,

Do the right things rather than do things right.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Experimental Sales

You may not be aware of it but most of the big websites such as Amazon regularly run experiments on you.

You (and some others) may see a web page which is different to the majority. What's happening is that you are part of an experiment where they test your behaviour compared to the majority.  It's kind of like evolution. If the experiment is successful (I guess their normal measure is you buy more) then the experiment is adopted across the site.  One of Amazon's most successful experiments was "Customers who bought this also bought this".

I really like the concept of running low risk experiments - it drives innovation.  Running these experiments on a web site with millions of visitors is pretty straight forward since it's possible to determine what is normal behaviour for a group and the control group is large enough to be statistically relevant and show how the change deviates from normal behaviour. 

In  sales, decision makers are getting tougher to reach and sales practices which worked 10 years ago may not be effective today. Without evolution, sales will surely die.  I love the quotation "Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity". If the sales approach isnt delivering results, why continue to do it the same way? Enter experimentation.

Market Footprint sells complex high value technology to business customers. It is not a high volume sales model, so how can we apply the experimentation mindset in this context?

If you have ever worked with six sigma, one of the sampling methods is to take a small sample of 100 things. Given 100 is not a statistically significant sample size, I am always fascinated to find that even in a small sample it is possible to gain insights in behaviour.

When selling high tech, a sample of 100,000 is extremely unlikely whereas a sample of 100 is perfectly feasible.

One area where I experiment is email.  Finding mobile numbers for people you want to speak with is tricky whereas email addresses are pretty easy to find. Sending introductory emails is therefore a routine task.

And here the lab experiment begins. I regularly tweak the wording to see if I get a better response rate. I might send the same email to 10 targets and a different email to another 10 targets and see what response rate is for each group. One email might be very clear about why I want to contact them whereas the other email might be very vague and talk solely about benefits. 

I find even with small samples there is a difference is response rates. Just like Thomas Edison, I like to continue experimenting - as a result  "I know hundreds of selling techniques that dont work".

I would be very interested to hear what other sales experiments people run - feel free to comment.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Don’t sell technology

This week, Howard Thomas our Head of Marketing writes about not selling technology....

I love technology. I have spent my career working with it, whether it be access systems, ASIC design, optical transmission systems or more recently in two technology based start-up companies. I have been in the design side as well as the Product Management of Technology and it’s all been a blast.

The pace of change and bewildering array of technology means I struggle to keep up.... I-pad, I-phone, I-don’t know what, Twitter and the really popular BookFace which everyone is using. In fact I love that you can’t really keep up with it all – we do well to keep up with some of it.

However, one of the things that I do note as I look at the ads in Tech magazines and technology companies web sites is that tech companies often push the technology (features).

Sounds a little odd doesn’t given what I have just said but what I want to know is what will all this lovely tech stuff actually do for me?

Many tech companies are in fact poor at marketing. They talk about fancy features and give them even more confusing acronyms for example Sony's XR400 motion flow technology.....totally meaningless twoddle.

Examples are everywhere. Sexy technology that runs this operating system, or does more mega-flops than an inebriated amateur diver is all well and good – and if you’re a tech head I’m sure it’s all very interesting. BUT… what does it do for the end user?

You know, the poor person who is actually the customer. Yes that’s right, the individual who actually splashes his or her hard earned cash on this wonderful product – what benefits does it deliver?

If the product doesn’t deliver any tangible, measurable benefits then what’s the point? But of course the vast majority of products DO deliver benefits but the company’s marketing just doesn’t make it clear. But boy can you read about the technology. And as for those mega-flops….

As a Product Manager I got into the habit of asking the tech-heads the “so what?” question. It would go like this.

Tech Head:   “This device can send 5 gazillion bits down this ying-yang”
Me:               “So what?”
Tech Head:    “Well we can squeeze more into the ying-yang”
Me:                “So what?”
Tech Head:     “Well it improves the utilisation of the ying-yang”
Me:                “So what?”
Tech Head:     “Well it lowers the cost per bit down a ying-yang”
Me:                “So what?”
Tech Head:      “Well a new ying-yang is mega bucks – they dont need to buy another one”

The point I’m making is that all this technology must have a purpose. It must bring some benefit to the customer – in this case the benefit is lower cost and the value is it avoids the need for new investment in expensive ying-yangs .

The “so what?” question is a tad old now, and maybe it’s gone out of fashion but it really is important. I think there are many companies – not just those in the high tech sector - who should ask themselves this question. A business needs to be really clear on what they are selling and why customers buy what they are selling.

Another way of looking at it is to ask a slightly different question. I was speaking with an Angel Investor recently about a Music Technology product that is being developed by a small start-up company that I was working with. I thought I’d clearly outlined the benefits – my 30 second elevator pitch was very polished... or so I thought.

He then simply said this: “What problem does it solve?”

Like the “so what?” question, this can help focus the mind and we would all do well to remember this.

Customers dont buy features, they buy the value that benefits deliver. Value to customers is when a feature has value. If the customer has lots of unused ying-yangs the benefit of lower cost per ying yang will probably not light their fire!