Case Study: Is the Problem Marketing or the Marketer?

Lead Generation and Lead QualificationThe Phone Call…

“Am I going crazy?” Having just answered the phone, I had no idea who was calling and asking such a question of me. I responded with a courteous, but cautious chuckle saying, “Well…I think I’ll need a little more to go on. With whom am I speaking?”

She paused, told me who it was, laughed rather distractedly, then proceeded to dive right into describing her dilemma from today’s meeting with the Marketing Director from her “problem division.” She is the Sales Director of a firm in which I knew a bit about, particularly with the company’s background and this particular division’s struggle.

In summary, sales were strong across all of her other divisions and lines, each of which had their own marketing leader, while she led the Sales across all divisions. Things were great, that is for all but this one division. Sales continued to decline year over year and had high lead dependency from Marketing, thus her concerns.

The Rest of Her Story…

The sales model is B2B with an outbound sales team that sells consumer products ranging from $200 – $1,000. As described earlier, they are highly dependent upon Marketing to deliver leads.

The Division Head and Marketing Director were both new to this division in 2011 and had stepped in with a new, radical, $1M cost-reduction strategy for marketing. The new marketing mantra became for the next two years, “Less Quantity, More Quality!”

This strategy resulted in lead reduction of 60% in 2011 compared to 2010. In 2012, the leads dropped another 40% from 2011. Not surprisingly, sales had correspondingly declined steeply, more so than any other recent period. While sales did have a dramatic decline, it was nowhere near the rate of decline for the lead volume.

The Sales leader saw neither quantity nor quality from marketing, and as she describes it, the numbers supported her version of the story. Despite the numbers, the Marketing Leader and Division Head remained committed to defending their original strategy a year and a half into it with major revenue losses, and subsequently showed no openness to a different, or better strategy.

Towards the end of 2012, she managed to get a commitment from Marketing for substantially more qualified leads in 2013, although to the Marketer, ‘qualified’ apparently meant email, number and “Request for literature.”

Additionally, the Marketer’s commitment was simply to an aggregate number of leads on a monthly basis, but not by geography, firmographic, demographic, product type or other. His tactic? Email marketing….it’s part of the ‘cost-reduction’ plan.

Today, prior to the call and after her meeting with the marketing team, she made her plea for more qualified leads as the current lead quantity left her outbound team with capacity in excess of 60% going into their largest quarter of the year.

After her meeting, she shared that in addition to the quantity of leads being a third of what they needed, 80% of them were for two of  their 10 product lines. This meant that they had on average  a half-lead per rep to call on each day for the remaining products….not enough to meet the sales plan.

“A Lead is a Lead is a Lead!”

Through frustration, the Marketer responded to her plea for more balanced and qualified leads with saying, “A lead is a lead is a lead. We know that regardless of what product type we market, more than half of the prospects will want something different anyway. We could collect leads on just one of our products and it wouldn’t matter. All that matters is that you have leads of any type, then your team can determine what they really need.”

Again, the sales exec says to me…this time through tears…“Am I going crazy? Do I have my expectations set too high? Is it unreasonable to ask marketing to know the customer well enough to hit who they’re aiming at? Maybe I am the problem. I don’t feel like I am but it just seems like we need to change our approach to marketing.”

I responded, “Being crazy and unreasonable is not your problem, although your 2-year tolerance may be a part of the problem. It sounds to me like there is a much larger issue at play here…”

Change the Marketing, or the Marketer?

I speak with people in Sales and Marketing roles from all over the country. From executives to analysts to reps. Lead generation and qualification is by far, one of the most common frustrations I hear.

No matter who I am working with or from what field, I am pretty quick to keep the responsibility and accountability with each respective group I am working with. Most companies needing my help typically don’t have their respective ‘houses in order.’ Therefore, I keep Sales concentrated on their own responsibilities and Marketing, theirs so I don’t create an all out Game of Thrones. I work with the executive leadership on cross-departmental improvements before circling back to the departments.

For these reasons, offering up an anecdotal recommendation to this Sales executive to “change the Marketer” after merely an hour-long conversation would be ill-advised, no matter how apropos that may seem. There is always more to the story, especially when it comes to Sales and Marketing alignment.

What Advise Would You Give?

Given the very limited facts we all have here, what advice would you give and to whom would you target your comments? The Marketing Director? The Sales Director? The Division Head? Who would you love to spend 15 minutes with and what would you tell them?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

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Sales: Those that can’t close, can’t open

Prospecting Sales CallEver get bad advice? I read a post this morning that struck me as such as it advised 3 Questions Sales People Should Ask Every Prospect. The three questions [taken from a longer ‘disqualification checklist’ of questions] recommended asking the following questions of every prospect:

1. What is your biggest [YOUR INDUSTRY] related challenge?
2. Why is what you’re doing now not working?
3. How do you go about making a decision like this?

In my post a couple of months ago, Are Your Questions Killing the Sale, I addressed the problem of exploratory questions like the first question suggested above.

In this post, I would like not only to implore sales reps to avoid squandering opportunities with prospects through exploratory questioning, but also provide compelling stats on the need to get the message right — from the opening question, through the closing of the sale.

Do you have the right starting point?

CEB had done a survey among 5,000 executives and decision makers that deal with sales reps, in which 86% of them indicated that the sales rep’s message had no commercial impact whatsoever to them.

86% of executives/decision makers believe sales rep’s messages have no commercial impact!

According to Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer for Corporate Visions, he describes the buyers as coming away from conversations with reps believing that what they are currently doing right now…the Status Quo…is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

Sirius Decisions had similarly shocking results from their PMM Survey suggesting that the biggest inhibitor to achieving quota was the rep’s inability to communicate messages of value. Not surprisingly, what we communicate and how, is of great import to our results.

Yet, so many take the approach of winging it with prospects, and exploring their way through the sale.

3 Steps to Approaching Prospects Differently:

  1. Know your prospects and know your story. Don’t call indiscriminately looking for any customer that may or may not fit your solution. Be specific and call those whose story you know and that you can help based on prior experience. Have a solid understanding of the issues those similar to them are facing in their industry
  2. Establish credibility quickly. If you have the right story and the right prospect, you will be able to demonstrate understanding of the typical issues those in their industry face. After stating your purpose for the call, open with a statement that summarizes the business issues affecting their industry.
  3. Validate with the prospect. Successful selling is not a monologue, but rather a well-choreographed conversation. Therefore, rather than assuming everybody has the same problem and moving on without them, follow your statement with a question to validate if they are experiencing any of the same issues you just described.

Putting the three steps together, the opening of your call with a prospect sounds something like the following:

“We work with businesses similar to yours from all over the country and have found that each commonly face one of three business issues, given the [current condition]. Their most common issues tend to be [X], [Y], or [Z]. Is your business currently facing any of these same problems?”

If you have a solid understanding of the typical issues similar businesses are experiencing, not only will you get quick confirmation, but often times they say they are struggling with most or all three areas. This allows you to start walking down the path to lead them to the center of their own story.

Even if they mention a different problem, you are still on a better path to zero in on their issues and create complete unrest with their status quo.

If they are not struggling with any of the issues you described in your opening, then you either have the wrong story, the wrong prospect, or both. Go back to step 1 and dedicate the time up front to get this right as you likely circumvented the full process and have just cost yourself a prospect and your credibility.

On the other hand, if you dedicate appropriate time to these first 3 steps of opening with credibility and delivering a message of value, you will see immediate improvement in your close ratios.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

A Metaphor for The Challenger Sale

Reframe HooksIn my post, Challenger: Reframing the Reframe, I spoke of the common struggles many organizations are having with the Reframe that are implementing The Challenger Sale.

The aim of this post is to provide a picture of how the Reframe functions and the role it plays within the context of Commercial Teaching and Commercial Insight.

While I hate the negative connotations that can be associated with ‘sales’ and ‘lures,’ I saw some constructive applications that may help to make the point. So let’s all agree up front, that none of us are intending the imagery to be derogatory towards customers nor the way responsible Sales professionals behave.

The Role of the Reframe
The authors of The Challenger Sale make reference to the Reframe as being the “Headline” of the insight. The goal, of course, is to attract the customer’s attention and ‘set the hook’ with an unexpected viewpoint (insight), thus the imagery of the lure.

It is at this point where the differences between Insight and Reframe can be confused as many would define the lure as the Reframe. It may help to recognize that Reframe is a verb, not a noun, but let’s define this further in the metaphorical sense. Keep in mind that no metaphor is perfect, though I hope we can have some fun with this.

A Picture of the Challenger Sale
To help get a clearer picture of how the Challenger Choreography functions with respect to Commercial Teaching, Commercial Insight and The Reframe, following are definitions and descriptions cast within the context of a fishing metaphor.

  • Lure = The Warmer: It appears attractive and familiar; Operates within and relates to the customers world
  • Hook = Commercial Insight: A part of the lure, tailored to the customer; Creates discomfort with status quo
  • Setting the hook = The Reframe: The customer is hooked unexpectedly, compelled to go a different direction
  • Line = Rational Drowning: The fishing line, or business case, ties the insight to the customer’s story
  • Reel = Emotional Impact: The reel is symbolic for drawing the customer into the center of their own story
  • Pole = Commercial Teaching: The fishermen uses a pole to skillfully deliver insight at the right place and time
  • Flex = Constructive Tension: Pole flex represents tension when drawing customers to the center of their story

The Metaphor in Action
So now that we have definitions set, here is how this looks in action.

You, the skillful Sales professional cast your lure into the specific area of the lake where your customers are known to swim. It is a place where not many other people fish, as they seem to prefer where the waters narrow. The locals call it The Funnel. You prefer being upstream, at the top of the funnel where your customers aren’t use to seeing what you fish with.

You cast your insight right on target so as not to intrude, but rather to meet them where they swim together to be social (Social Media). The others fishing the Funnel, create a splash every time their lure hits the water. They refer to this as their ‘prospecting call.’ It sends the fish into hiding every time. Those fishing are not dissuaded though, as they are known to spend inordinate amounts of time just looking for any customer that is attracted to their lure.

However, the customer you are looking for is specific and is currently entertaining your lure. Upon seeing your lure, it feels immediately  familiar and agreeable to them (The Warmer), looking like it belongs in their world and was made just for them (Tailoring). In fact, it looks quite appealing.

The customer likes what they hear as you describe the waters in which they currently swim and they start to nibble at the lure. Normally, after a nibble they drift off, but rather than needing a nap, they are engrossed with what you just shared (Commercial Insight). After all, what you just shared was that the waters where they currently swim are having a direct impact on their growth.

Being somewhat disoriented by what you revealed, and fearing you are correct as you give a little tug to set the hook, they find they are hooked (Reframe) and going in a different direction than they thought they were originally going to go with you.

You let out a little bit of line as you continue to make the business case (Rational Drowning), but never so much as to let the flex in your pole (Constructive Tension) go back to slack (Status Quo). Too much line can allow them to go in unproductive directions, getting tangled in the roots and rocks of the lake bed (False Positives).

This could cause harm to them, which was never your intention and is why you don’t reel them in too fast either (Destructive tension). In fact, you care so much for them that you are willing to endure some initial discomfort, because you know their future is better with you than without.

As you skillfully reel them to the center of their own story, they come to realize that fighting to remain where they are at…their status quo…is now untenable. They know the consequences of remaining are detrimental. There just has to be a different way… or even a New Way out of this mess.

With confidence and care, you compassionately share that which you couldn’t wait to talk to them about earlier. Your Solution. But you knew, bringing this up any earlier would be too soon for them. It would have sent them racing to the center of the Funnel to find comfort with their peers. That is why you patiently led them in a way they could follow.

In Summary…
As a humorous way to demonstrate the rest of the metaphor relative to the customer’s Status Quo and Our Solution, I thought this would fit with the metaphor…

Disrupting Status Quo | Repeatable SuccessIt has been said that the fish can only grow to the size of its fishbowl. There’s a better way. Wouldn’t you agree?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

 

Sales: Beware of False Positives

What are False Positives?
As a term often used in the medical community, a False Positive is defined in the Medical Dictionary as, ‘A result that indicates that a given condition is present when it is not. An example of a false positive would be if a particular test designed to detect cancer returns a positive result but the person does not have cancer.’
False Indicator

In sales, when prospects self-diagnose and present a symptom as the issue, this is a false positive. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier they surface in the discussion, especially when unsolicited, the greater the likelihood you are dealing with the symptoms, not the root cause.

Beware of the Trap
As research from CEB and others have shown, customers are deep into the purchasing process before they choose to engage a sales person. For all intents and purposes, consider this as the customer’s process of self-diagnosis.

The problem comes when rep’s respond to issues raised as if it is the root cause, without recognizing it is a false positive. Doing so will derail your conversation rather quickly, and will likely result in introducing products or solutions prematurely, as if that is the cure. It is not, however. It is a trap, that both parties enter into unwittingly all too often.

Here is an example of how it might look:

Customer:  “We are struggling with [insert problem], and are looking for a product to solve that.”

Rep:  “Our products have been designed to solve exactly that and are rated #1 in customer satisfaction!”

Implications of Pursuing False Positives
The example above shows just how quickly conversations can go to product or solution. The prospect demonstrates what appears to be ‘pain’ and points specifically to something the rep’s product can solve. Why not proceed?

Two reasons:

  1. The rep would likely be solving the wrong problem
  2. The rest of the conversation will center around the product’s features and benefits, leading to price

In the example above, the prospect is framing the discussion to be about product. It is all too easy to answer the prospect’s questions, which will continue to keep the focus on product features, benefits and price.

Some reps will be excited by the interest shown and are just positive the prospect will choose them over their competitors. Chances are, the prospect will see all the differences pointed out as similar [enough] to the competitor’s products, therefore it is simply a matter of best price.

This, from my perspective, is a disastrous conversation which could have been prevented by identifying the false positive, and reframing the prospect’s original premise into a new way of thinking about the issues they are really struggling with.

How to Identify False Positives
It is said that when the FBI trains agents to identify counterfeit money, they begin with and focus primarily on what genuine bills look like. As a result, agents are quickly able to identify counterfeit money because they know the identifying characteristics of authentic bills. To train otherwise would require knowing the characteristics of every counterfeiter. Impossible!

Now consider the sales professional. Customers present endless combinations of  characteristics of their issues, many of which are ‘counterfeit,’ or not the real issue. Sales professionals have been trained for years to dig for customer’s pain points, but if you don’t know what you are looking for, there are two resulting problems:

  1. Anything resembling “pain” will lead reps to believe they have successfully uncovered the problem
  2. Exploratory digging for pain, when you don’t know what you’re looking for, is cruel to prospects

Responding to false positives  as true positives, shows itself in close rates. So how can you tell if what they are surfacing is the real deal – a True Positive? The answer is simple, but not easy.

In the example of detecting counterfeits, there is a standard (i.e., the genuine bill), by which counterfeit bills are held up to. Anything that doesn’t match the genuine bill stands in stark contrast.

When it comes to customers using your unique product offering or solution, what does genuine or authentic look like? Be careful not to focus on product or solution, but rather the customer relative to your product or solution.

Customers that use your product/solution should function differently…uniquely…optimally from those that don’t. Understanding in what ways, and what are the characteristics of ‘genuine’ or ‘authenticity’ in your organization will be critical.

This is the part that isn’t easy. It requires investment of time by you and your organization, cross-departmentally, to determine these answers.

The investment of time in this area is well worth the effort as it will change the trajectory of your next conversation.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger: Use a Warmer to Build Credibility

Challenger Sale WarmerIn my previous post, Are your questions killing the sale?, I framed the ineffectiveness of reps using exploratory questioning with prospects to get deeper into their business issues.

The consequence of this approach is that the prospect gives little more than short answers to your questions, with no meaningful information shared. This is because your initial questions suggest you know less about the type of problems they face than they do.

If you are a rep that struggles to get deep in conversations about real issues with prospects, or a Sales Leader struggling to improve your team’s close rates, this post is for you.

Brief Recap of the Problem
Your opening statements and questions will immediately convey one of three things to the prospect about your ability to address the problems they are facing, or will face in the future. Your question will either show:

  1. You know more than the prospect about these areas
  2. You know equal to the prospect, or
  3. You know less than the prospect

For example, if a rep asked the following question of a prospect, what would it suggest about their knowledge of the customer, their industry, and/or the issues they are likely to face?

“What are some of the challenges your business has been experiencing?”

If you chose #3, you are correct as the question suggests the rep knows less about the prospect, their industry, and problems they will face than the prospect does.

Important to note is that questions or statements that infer you know equal to or less than the prospect creates no value in their mind. They have no need for you unless you can successfully demonstrate you have traveled this path before and have successfully navigated businesses like theirs to better outcomes. The trick is not to make it all about you.

Aim Higher in Your Opening
The goal of the Warmer in The Challenger Choreography is to build credibility by quickly demonstrating you understand business issues like those that they face. This is a critical first step, especially since the next step is to Reframe the way they have been thinking about their issues.

“A proper frame (a.k.a. The Warmer) must be in place before a Reframe can occur”

A proper Warmer statement contains 3 elements:

  1. Relate – This gives the prospect the sense that the businesses and issues you work with, will relate to them as well. They aren’t alone. (e.g., “I work with businesses similar to yours from all over the country”)
  2. Demonstrate – Saying you work with others like them isn’t enough. You must demonstrate understanding by identifying the issues they are likely facing. (e.g., “Three of the most troubling issues we see them face are [x, y & z].”
  3. Validate – This is not a monologue. Therefore, take a minute to validate you are on track with what they are facing by asking a question. (e.g., “Are you experiencing these [business issues] too, or are there others you would add?”)

If you truly know and understand what businesses like theirs are experiencing, the underlying message to the prospect is, “I understand you and companies just like you.” This builds their confidence and your credibility, which will lead you into deeper discussions with prospects more quickly.

Warnings on Assumptions and Arrogance…
It is common for reps and leaders to ask, “Isn’t it arrogant to assume we know more than they do without talking to them and asking them questions first?” My answer? If these concepts are misunderstood and misapplied, then “Yes.”

The only real assumption made here is that if you have worked with many other customers, affected by similar issues, you have a reasonable belief that this has, or will, affect them too. If so, you have a broader perspective and expertise from which to help. That isn’t arrogant, nor assumptive.

Upcoming Posts…
Next, I will be addressing what I have labeled the ‘PreFrame,’ followed by the Teaching Point. Both of these precede the Warmer, but the Teaching Point should precede any interaction with a prospect or customer.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Are your questions killing the sale?

Sales question gapsProspecting can be tough and so can getting calls returned. When a sales person finally gets that prospect’s call, many fail to quickly establish credibility and ultimately lose the sale, without ever realizing their fatal flaw.

Whenever I begin working with sales teams and leaders struggling in areas like prospecting and quickly establishing credibility, I typically look at their first phone conversation with prospects, and where the reps begin.

Reps who struggle with establishing credibility and getting to deeper business issues are starting at the wrong level!

If you are a sales rep, consider your typical opening statement and question to a prospect and consider what level of expertise your question says about you. For the Sales Manager, consider how you are advising your reps to begin conversations with prospects.

Are your questions killing your opportunities?
Whether you realize it or not, your opening question suggests a lot about your ability to be a credible solution for the prospect.  Consider it this way – When it comes to demonstrating your knowledge about customers [similar to the prospect], their industry, and the biggest issues they face, does your opening question suggest you know…

1. More about these areas than the prospect?
2. Equal to the prospect?
3. Less than the prospect?

Considering the picture above, if what the prospect knows about their own circumstances and how to solve them is the upper hand, the questions asked by so many reps comes in at a much lower level. In other words, the rep’s beginning questions are probing and exploratory, suggesting “I don’t know you, so let me ask you a number of questions that will allow me to better understand you. Once I know enough, I can help you.” If you are unsure if your questions fit the criteria, the questions typically start with, “Tell me about…” or the Five W’s.

The Challenger Sale [appropriately] refers to this as Solutions Fatigue.

Keep in mind that while the rep has already implied that they don’t know the prospect, the prospect doesn’t know the rep either. Since the opening question suggested that they know less than the prospect on business issues similar to theirs and their industry, the prospect has one goal in mind… be brief and share as little as possible to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

After all, for the rep to be able to help, the prospect would first need to bring the rep up to speed, train on where their problems occur and why, then expect the rep’s learning to surpass their own, so that the rep can lead them to better outcomes with the supplier’s solutions.

Talk about a tough sell. There is a better way.

In my next post, so as not to leave you hanging with the problem and no proposed solution, I will address what The Challenger Sale refers to as the Warmer. This is where the aim is to build credibility quickly without being a supplier-centric monologue about yourself or your company.

As a preview of the next post, the aim will be to give a practical example of leading to questions at a higher level – one which suggests you know more about customers just like them, and their industry and typical problems they are encountering…or about to encounter.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Implementing the Challenger Sale, Visually

Making a Powerful Impact, Visually

In January 2012, I was giving a keynote address on becoming a ‘Challenger’ to a room full of highly competent sales reps, who were self-described as Relationship Builders in their selling approach. In fact, this approach was reinforced by the whole organization as it had been centered around relationship building for more than three decades.

To create an impetus for changing what had been endorsed as the preferred selling approach (a.k.a., status quo) for decades, I had to create a constructive tension in a visually compelling way.

This post is aimed  at showing how I did so in a way that resonated with 5 different sales teams that didn’t know this was a problem.

Background: The Sales Team’s Profile
As aforementioned, the 5 various team types (i.e., B2B, B2C, B2I, 501(c)(3), and licensing/franchise sales), were comprised of highly competent professionals. Most of the team had tenure between 5-20 years and knew their customers, their issues and aspects about how the products, services and solutions would benefit customers more significantly than any competitive offering.

Due to a very unique, well-defined marketplace that is not very large, the relationships that had been formed over many years with customers were very strong. From the customer’s point of view, the reps were highly regarded. Furthermore, these reps were instrumental in taking market share from competitors year after year.

Why Change?
After a deep dive into the metrics, processes and behaviors, I saw an opportunity to go from good to great, especially after identifying that the intentional behaviors were not leading to predictable and repeatable results. As a side note, whenever I see leaders and/or teams that don’t have these 3 characteristics (intentionality, predictability and repeatability) in their performance, I see risk and ripe opportunities.

Additionally, having worked years ago with a 100 year-old company who mistakenly believed that relationships were key to their successful sales, I saw this as the Achilles heel, that not only would bite them, but already had some overlooked signs of performance drains.

Relationship Builders
When it comes to the Relationship Builder, statistically, this sales profile has the lowest probability of success for becoming high performers, particularly in a higher complexity sales environment. According to the Sales Executive Council’s research, only 4% of Relationship Builder’s are likely to be high performers in a complex sales environment, whereas the Challenger profile, at 54%, was very likely to succeed in a complex sales environment. (See Fig. 2.4 from the SEC below).

Challenger Sale Effectiveness

A Visual Case for Change
As with any change effort, it is never just one thing. There are many aspects to leading a successful change effort, much of which is not described in this post. That said, I wanted to share of one specific and practical way to illustrate your point in an experiential and visual way.

With the data shown above in Fig. 2.4, and my diagnosis of where these teams stood to make transformational improvements in their performance, I did the following. I made a life-size bar chart on the stage as the backdrop for my keynote address. I used stacks of the company’s products to make the representative bars for each respective sales type (i.e., One stack for the Relationship Builder, one for the Problem Solver, and so on for the Hard Worker, Lone Wolf and Challenger).

Each product represented 5% within the stacked bar . I took the organization’s most iconic product, which measured approximately 14 inches high in its package, and made the graph with the Relationship Builder profile at 4% on one end and the Challenger profile at 54% on the other end.

There were two aspects of the visual representation that made the effectiveness of each sales profile particularly hit home:

  1. First, the Challenger bar stood over 10 feet high, towering over me as I made my points
  2. Equally as stunning, was the Relationship Builder bar – The fact that I had to cut 20% of the product off the top to accurately represent 4%, since each product represented 5%, had a sobering effect

The stark contrast between the two ends of the life-sized bar chart not only was visually stunning, but resonated with each of the reps who recognized the gaps between what had been and what should be for them.

Challenger Profile Statistics

Life-size bar chart of Challenger statistics

The Results?
A year after The Challenger introduction and implementation, performance improved across all teams. Following are some stand out achievements from three different teams:

  • Team A had a 22% performance improvement from the year prior with all reps far exceeding quota, and within 1-2 points from one another
  • Team B sells registrations, of which post-sale cancellations are also expected. They used the Challenger approach to reduce cancellations, which led to the lowest cancellation rates they had ever seen
  • Team C had an individual from the team that went from being ranked dead last in performance, to consistently #1 or #2 for 6 months in a row by changing to Challenger behaviors

Reflections:
Many leaders wait until they see problems before they initiate a change effort. How about you?

  • Do you know what to look for?
  • If so, do you know what to do about it?
  • Are you challenging the status quo?
  • Does your team know which behaviors to be intentional about that lead to predictable, repeatable results?

An answer of “No” to any of the questions above can have dire consequences if not addressed. If that describes you, seek out a trusted resource, colleague or other business professional with a solid track record of improving performance in these areas.

If you would like to receive other insights on The Challenger Sale and how to get intentional, predictable, repeatable results from your team, follow my blog.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger Sale: Change Your Trajectory

Challenger Sale Choreography

Sales growth begins at the root and is unseen

Have you ever experienced planting your lawn by seed rather than laying sod?

If so, you are likely familiar with the concern you feel after seeing no growth nor signs of life after the first week. This leads to subsequent doubts, which come to you in the form of questions such as, “Is this working?” or “Did I do it right?”

Without visible signs of growth, you are left with doubt…that is, unless you know what to expect!

We have become more of a ‘sod culture’ in which one minute we have dirt, the next, green grass. We love the simplicity of processes like ‘First, lay sod with green-side up, then water daily until lawn is established.’ Easy!

No Root, No Fruit!
For the experienced lawn professional, whether laying sod or seeding, they understand that the most important step is in the preparation of the soil. Once seeds have been appropriately planted, the lawn pro is not distracted nor deterred by lack of initial growth above the soil. That is not expected at this stage.

The professional recognizes the most critical growth is that which is unseen…below the surface. Therefore, they are committed to the right process and follow a certain choreography, which allows the roots to be established and eventually leads to a beautiful, lush lawn.

For growth to happen above the soil, it must first happen below the soil

When it comes to sales professionals, there often times is a lack of commitment to follow the choreography, which intentionally penetrates the surface to establish roots, resulting in break-through growth. The Challenger Sale choreography aims squarely at doing this, getting well beneath the surface from the Reframe straight down through Emotional Impact.

Not so for the Relationship Seller as their interpretation of the Challenger choreography treats the Warmer as bonding and rapport, which leads to their Solution as the rapport builds. For these reps, their natural tendency will be to keep conversations at or above the surface as if to maintain a conversational stasis or equilibrium.

The problem?
If they never get to the root, there will most certainly be no fruit yielded from the conversation. Instead, count on a long, fruitless, sales cycle and a rep that mistakenly believes that, “It’s just a matter of time before they are ready to buy. After all, our conversation went very well.”

Conversation Choreography

“I have the solution to your problem! By the way, what is your problem?”
Another common [but highly ineffective] approach reps use to maintain this pleasant equilibrium is to introduce the product or solution immediately into the conversation. Prospects are often quick to get to product as well, especially when the reason for your call to them stemmed from a lead.

A couple of years ago, I was brought in to improve a team’s ineffectiveness with conversions. I did a time study to evaluate how soon  into the call they brought up their own solution. 83% of their calls introduced their solution within a minute or less of the prospect answering the phone. 14% of the calls had solutions introduced within 2 minutes of answer. The remaining 3% were generally customer service calls.

While the problem above may seem severe, it is not unique to this team. In fact, a cursory review of some of today’s most popular sales forums reinforces how often this does happen.

Therefore, to help sales and marketing teams better understand the problem, I created the visual above based upon CEB’s framework for The Challenger Sale Choreography. This visually illustrates the foolishness of expecting the growth seen at the Solution stage, despite skipping over the Reframe through Emotional Impact where the seeds are just beginning their growth.  By overshooting this and going straight to solution, the rep has significantly lowered [if not eliminated] their chance of conversion apart from luck.

In Summary…

For the Sales Leaders or Reps that are already familiar with The Challenger Sale, this is a reminder to stay committed and disciplined to the well-defined choreography that CEB’s research turned up.

For those unfamiliar with the specifics of The Challenger Sale, but have merely heard about the research, I highly recommend you buy the book to better understand how to create intentional, predictable and repeatable results.”

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

LinkedIn: Are you in the Top 1%? If so, bummer!

LinkedIn Top 1%LinkedIn recently reached out to 10 million of its members with a ‘Congratulations’ for having one of the Top 1% [or Top 5%] most viewed profiles in 2012. This was their way of ‘thanking’ those that contributed to its 200 million member milestone.

Great news, right? Not so fast. That all depends on why people are seeking you out. For many, I suspect they are down right proud of such an accomplishment…one in which they had no idea they were shooting for until LinkedIn said, “Congratulations.”

As for me, I am a bit more cynical on why people are looking at my profile that often. Is it because I am special? Can’t be. I know me. So what, then?

With social selling becoming a much more significant way to prospect, what LinkedIn may actually be calling out is that those in this elite group are getting the top 1-5% of the solicitations from hungry sales people. So my special notification from LinkedIn would have been more appropriate, had it said…

“Jeff, congratulations! You are in the Top 1% that is most likely to get solicited!”

Of course, I am over-generalizing in terms of how this is used and I certainly realize the many benefits of being found where people are searching, but it is interesting seeing the different perspectives on the topic.

For instance, the other day I read a post of one SEO Consultant on his achievement of the Top 1%. I was surprised to see Mr. SEO quickly cite his top reason to how many first-level connections he had. He went on to share that he receives 15-20 connection requests from strangers per day. His subsequent reasons then pointed to Keywords and frequent Updates to his LinkedIn status.

One of his readers commented on his post that they too made the top 1%, but have less than 10% of the connections he has, and spends little to no time at all on their LinkedIn profile. He responded by saying, “I believe if you had more connections you would definitely do even better.” Hmm?!

So what gives? How do two people with completely opposite profiles and far different behaviors in their dedication to their LinkedIn profiles end up with the same result of a top viewed profile?

Turns out that keywords are pretty important, after all. Even more so than number of connections, Mr. SEO.

So, if you are looking to increase solicitations from prospectors, make sure to research trending keywords that relate to you and include them in your profile. Do this, and YOU TOO can join the ranks of 10 million other members to balance the load of solicitations you are sure to receive.

Jeff MichaelsJeff Michaels | Repeatable Success is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger Sale: The Reframe Exercise

Challenger Sale Reframe

Practice reframes with ordinary objects

The Challenger Sale Choreography
If you are familiar with the Challenger Sale, you will quickly recognize the six components of the Challenger Choreography described as follows:

1. The Warmer
2. The Reframe
3. Rational Drowning
4. Emotional Impact
5. A New Way
6. Your Solution

A cursory review of what each stage of the choreography is intended to accomplish is largely unsurprising, and in five of the six stages, looks similar to many selling systems* out there.

There is more than meets the eye, especially as the real point of differentiation tends to hinge on the second stage with the Reframe. Being able to Reframe, or share an insight in a way that the prospect hasn’t thought of or considered before, is paramount to moving successfully through the rest of the choreography.

*Just a quick note to remind people that The Challenger Sale is not touted, nor intended as a ‘selling system.’ Brent Adamson shared the following on the topic in a blog post back in 2012…

“The Challenger Sale isn’t so much a “selling system,” as it is a way to think differently about how to approach customer interactions.”

— Brent Adamson

Cultivating Rep Proficiency with the Reframe
If you are looking to build proficiency in the way your sales and marketing staff successfully communicates reframes, perhaps the exercises we had done in weekly team meetings will be helpful to you in working with your teams.

Getting people to think differently about something in ways they have never done before is not an easy task, especially for those that had not been thinking that way. Therefore, we were looking to develop and cultivate competencies in this specific area so our team could recognize unique points of view and deliver them without the feeling of “starting from scratch,” as some had described the process.

The ‘Reframe’ Exercise

Following is an exercise I led the teams through to not just teach them what to say, but rather teach them how to think to create effective reframes.

Each Team Leader would bring a mystery grab bag of everyday items to the meeting. The team would pair up and grab an item from the bag. Representative items included things like scissors, a whiteboard eraser, aspirin, etc.

The pairs would take 5 minutes to come up with their Teaching Point, followed by a Warmer and a Reframe on their respective item. Next, they would present to the team for a team evaluation. We would then debrief with the whole team by asking a series of questions, such as, “Did they lead WITH the solution or lead TO the solution?” and “Did they share an insight in a way you hadn’t considered before?”

In one of the exercises, the teams were tasked with reframing the same item – a wire coat hanger. Some groups went down the path of calling out the many uses for a wire coat hanger (e.g., “perfect for unlocking car doors,” which is the stereotypical, product-centric, ‘lead WITH’ approach). We debriefed and they understood where they made their mistake.

However, following is what came from one group [in abbreviated form] as they had a better handle on the reframe process…

Teaching Point: Homeowners are often short on closet space and fail to realize the main culprits of closet space are plastic and wooden hangers which are 5-10 times the width of wire coat hangers.

Warmer: “We often hear from many of our customers that closet space at home is at a premium as they cite that they have too many clothes and their closets are too small. Is this something you experience as well? [They validate with the customer, so as not to assume a problem they don’t have]. The customer/prospect is invited to share the specific details of their problems.

Reframe: “We hear that a lot. In fact I hear solutions ranging from changing out their clothes for each season to complete remodels to build larger closets. What is interesting is that when you consider the #1 choice of hangers for most people, it is the plastic coat hanger. Have you ever considered the fact that a plastic hanger is 7x thicker than a wire coat hanger? Perhaps a different question is why your local dry cleaners don’t use plastic coat hangers? While many believe it is due to cost, their reason is that they would need to build a facility 1.3x larger to house the same number of articles of clothing that they currently house by using a wire coat hanger.

We call the process batting practice as it is a way of warming up before sales calls. This process has been fruitful with our teams as they have started to recognize and develop reframes on the fly to get people to see things differently all throughout the day.

In fact, for several, they have begun to pass along affirmations to their colleagues in the form of, “I never thought of it that way before,” when they have successfully reframed whatever the point was in which they were speaking. They are having fun with the process and the audience, be it customer, prospect, family member or friend, benefits as a result of the new insight.

Following is a resource you can use with your teams to practice Reframes of common everyday objects.

Reframe Exercise Worksheet

Share your insights on exercises you have used or are using with your teams.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.