Constructive Tension through Insights

Constructive TensionIf you are anything like me, I learn best from real life examples. This morning, I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a major retailer a number of years ago, that not only got them to think differently, but caused them to adjust their whole strategy. Below is an abbreviated transcript of that conversation.

Background:

A major retailer saw themselves as ‘The Headquarters’ for our type of products and as such, having a broad assortment was a key part of their strategy. Regardless of how they perceived themselves, their sales in the category continued to decline. They had the wrong strategy, and it was costing them sales and market share.

Following is an excerpt of my conversation with them:

Me: As I understand it, your corporate strategy for [X] category is to provide a broad assortment of brands and give a fair representation of each brand’s line. Is this still a key part of your strategy?

Buyer: Absolutely. Customers have depended upon us as their HQ for years.

Me: I would imagine carrying the top 3 brands in this category is important too…

Buyer: Definitely, it’s critical.

Me: Do you know who is #1 in market share for this category?

Buyer: If you are asking, I am sure it is you.

Me: You caught me, how about #2?

Buyer: (The buyer and Division leader make 3 incorrect guesses, naming our competitors)

Me: I’m afraid not. The three you just named only make up 8% of the market combined. #2 on the list is X [private] and they only sell through their own stores, so as you know, you aren’t able to carry their products. Any guesses on who #3 is in market share?

Buyer: Not if it is someone different from who we already mentioned.

Me: It is. The 3rd largest segment in the market is WYO (an industry-specific term), which rules you out altogether of carrying two of the top three that you said was critical to your strategy.

Buyer: Hmmm.

Me: Do you know what your $/Kit sold is for the other product lines?

Buyer: Do you mean how much in kits we sold?

Me: No. I mean how much ancillary product you sell for every kit sold.

Buyer: No, we don’t track that.

Me: Hmmm. That’s important to know. The reason is that with each of the other lines you carry, the purchase of the kit is all you will make of that sale since they don’t offer ancillaries. Were you aware that for every one of our kits sold, the typical sales on ancillaries are 9 times greater than the kit alone? In fact, that’s what is lost every time you sell another brand. Let’s multiply that by # of kits sold per store times number of stores.

[Figure calculated and presented]

Buyer: Wow! I had no idea. We hadn’t looked at it that way before.

Me: Can you name another category in your stores that achieves this same level of revenue and profitability during this same season?

Buyer: Nothing comes close. The other categories are down when you guys hit your peak.

[Light-bulb moment for the customer with new insights and discovery]

Me: Exactly right.

[The President enters the conversation]

President: What should we do?

Me: You currently have a strategy focused on promoting breadth and fairness to ALL brands. Research shows that 54% of consumers have predetermined the brand they will use before purchasing…

President: Is that your brand?

Me: …It is, and another 34% will compare with only 1 to 2 other brands. You carry 16. In just 2 months time, your strategy of ‘brand breadth and fairness’ cost your stores $xM in sales & $xM in profit. Even worse is that you have lost 7 points of market share. So, in answer to your question, I recommend a strategy change if you want to remain in this category, or otherwise allow us to help you successfully exit the business altogether.

[President pauses and is now at the crossroads with the Status Quo]

The President, after dismissing the buyer and division leader, asked how quickly we could reset the category and serve as category captains.

Doing so would require concessions, if they were serious. He assured me he was. We ended up getting key placement and dedicated signage in the stores, along with many other things that they offered to help them earn back market share and profitability. That following year, they had grown their business with us nearly 30%.

On a related note, we took this same approach with two other major players in the market who achieved even better results that year – One achieving 71% category growth, and the other in triple digits. They remain the market leaders today in their categories.

Summary

The questions I asked revealed that they did not know the answers to key questions. They were looking at things the wrong way. The questions helped to prepare them for a series of commercial insights that created a rich environment to hear a hard truth…that their key strategy was amiss, costing them market share, sales and profitability.

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: 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.

Challenger Tip: Practice what you preach when coaching

Practice what you preach when Sales CoachingSales Leaders were gathered around the conference table to debrief the progress of each respective team’s reps in The Challenger Sale.

There were some great successes shared, with one story of a Relationship Builder who was consistently ranked last, rising to #1 for the last 7 consecutive months. All because she changed her behaviors.

The discussion then centered around those reps that have yet to embrace the Challenger Sale. It was a few minutes into the debrief and diagnosis when we realized we had fallen into the very trap we were advocating against…

Battling the Status Quo
It wasn’t that the sales reps struggling with the Challenger implementation were blatantly resistant to change. They just weren’t sure it was necessary. Their performance was relatively strong, with nearly all achieving quota. Yet there were points in their daily discussions with prospects that were not effective. Their leaders knew it and they knew it.

Reps would approach their respective sales leader with the problem…or vice versa. The leaders would then point to the corresponding Challenger behavior that would address the problem, then coach to the behavior.

Seems reasonable, right? Wrong! We were circumventing the process in order to speed up coaching and performance. They had a known problem. We had the solution. The Challenger Sale!

A New Way
At the heart of the matter was that the reps with their very legitimate problems, were hearing the ‘solution’  from their leaders. In the Challenger choreography, this is the equivalent of going straight from Warmer to Our Solution. See my previous post on the consequences of doing so.

When we don’t adjust our prospect’s thinking (or in this case, our reps), and expose the problems with the status quo, we fail to ripen their appetite for a new way. For these reasons, the Reframe followed by Rational Drowning into Emotional Impact are critical, especially when teaching new behaviors.

Challenger Tip
When coaching, don’t assume you can jump to the solution because reps have sufficient information. What is not needed is more information. What is needed is a different way of thinking about their problems. Therefore, always follow the choreography. The choreography’s brilliance is that it uncovers and exposes faulty beliefs. Beliefs that lead to complacency in the Status Quo zone.

Take the time to do it right by setting a foundation for a reason for change. Then lead them as a Challenger would do. As a leader, you will benefit by reinforcing your Challenger behaviors (not theories). Your reps will benefit from seeing it in action and the effectiveness in bringing about change.

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.

1 Minute Leadership Test…Will You Pass?

The role of the leader is a difficult one, to be certain. Done well, it is one of the most rewarding professional and personal experiences for the leader and those they lead. Done poorly, and at best, your team may achieve incidental success from time to time…despite their leader.

After two decades of working in leadership and developing leaders, I continually see one common area in which leaders often fall short. This one minute video clip sums it up as King Leonidas asks Daxos’ men one simple question. After playing the clip, see how quickly you can spot the problem?

Leadership Test: If those you lead are asked about the organization’s or team’s top priority, would your team answer like the Spartans or more like the Arcadians?

How did you do? May I suggest that if your first thought was to evaluate the person who leads you, you’ve already failed. This is not a message just for CEOs or only leaders with teams. The message is to the leader within us all…to rise up and paint a better, more clear picture than what others can see for themselves.

If your team is lacking a “WAR! WAR! WAR!” response, time for the mirror test. How they respond is your responsibility. For additional tips on how to create more intentional, predictable and repeatable results, see this post on Vision.

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.

Effective Presentations: Communicate with Impact

Exercise in FutilityRecently, 2,500 Children’s Ministry Directors from around the country convened in Chicago to attend KidMin, a conference dedicated to their profession. I had the distinguished privilege of leading a workshop for an audience in which was far different from those I have traditionally worked with before.

Nevertheless, my objective was the same regardless of profession, topic, or other. My primary goal was to create dissatisfaction with the attendees’ status quo and compel a different way of thinking about and solving their issues.

This did not mean giving a compelling ‘speech’ or ‘presentation,’ but rather creating an impactful experience. This is often easier said than done.

Experiencing the gravity of their problems is different from talking about the gravity of their problems!”

It is easy to stand up front and tell people about the problems they are experiencing. At best, you will earn credibility, but that is not enough to compel people to change. The status quo can feel pretty comfortable to most people. Despite the gravity of a person’s problems, significant behavioral change rarely comes from the safety of a shared observation, but rather from their own experience. Experiencing the gravity of their problems is different from talking about the gravity of their problems.

Experiential vs. Presentation
In order to help these Directors better understand the gravity of what they were dealing with, and the impending consequences of not addressing the issues in a different way, I needed to create a constructive tension between their current status (Status Quo) and where they were aiming to be.

Therefore, I created an experience that would help the attendees ‘feel’ the impact of the problem rather than tell them about the impact. The experience was as follows.

Creating the Experience
When we went to our breakout session, I organized people into smaller groups giving each group five different sized boulders (larger than a softball, but smaller than a bowling ball).

The first part of the exercise was to discuss within their group the biggest issues they were all facing. They would then agree on the top 5 issues and use a marker to write their biggest problem on the biggest boulder, using a word that best described the issue they were facing. Then they would do the same with the 2nd through 5th issue on each respective boulder.

As we reconvened, I selected one volunteer to come to the front to serve as our representative Director. We loaded a backpack full of the five boulders, identifying each one as they went into the pack. Then I had her put the backpack on and describe the immediate impact. She shared that it was heavy, but she was okay for the moment. A term for what she was experiencing, coined by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), would be Rational Drowning.

I went on to talk with her about how she dealt with each of these issues on a daily basis and the impact this had in shifting her focus from where she was aiming to take her ministry, compared to the urgent focus of trying to solve the problems (i.e., The boulders in her backpack). During our discussion, she shifted her weight and adjusted the pack due to the weight. Here I used the physical impact to lead to her Emotional Impact, another CEB term.

Standing on stage, she described [through tears] that she was incapable of solving those issues. They were too overwhelming for her to handle all at once. She also realized that these issues were lessening her effectiveness with her children in the ministry as well as supporting her volunteers. you could have heard a pin drop from the other attendees, because in large part, this was their story too.

The Moral of the Story
As you can imagine, there is a lot more to this story and what we unpacked in our sessions together at the convention. But the point of this article is merely to call out the importance of what we communicate and how.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I could have easily stood up front and ‘presented’ the scenario by talking about it. Heads would have nodded in agreement that the problems are real, and “Yes, I should do something about it,” but few would leave the convention changed, just inspired…or motivated. But we know where that leads.

Before I could talk with them about ‘Solutions,’ I had to effectively communicate in a way that would compel a change in their behaviors, away from the comfort of the status quo.

For those whose business requires communication with others (e.g., Sales, Marketing, Business, Ministry, etc.), consider creating experiences that draw people into the center of their own story.

In CEB’s Challenger model, this would be the process of leading them from Rational Drowning, where they recognize the story (with a sense of distance), into Emotional Impact in which they recognize it is their story. It is at this point where change begins to occur.

I would love to hear your stories of how you have created experiences to deepen the message you were communicating.

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.