Lesson #2 – Sales Reps – The Changing of the Guard

My thoughts on Sales Staffing has less to do with anything in the book and more to do with my experience.  Interested in your comments, thoughts, experiences as it relates to Sales staff.

Like many functional areas in your business as your market matures and as you are crossing the chasm the skillsets of your employees will need to change.  Sales is a bigger challenge than most due to the Rock star culture and image that good sales folks earn and carry with them.

In the early days as you are trying to sell your product, service, solution one of the biggest jobs your sales rep has is to convince your customers that they need something that they don’t even realize that they need.  This is NOT easy and takes a patient yet persistent sales rep that is prepared to invest the time and build a really trusted relationship over a frustratingly prolonged period of time.  After they have done this they still need to be a more traditional sales rep and manage a process and close.  This is more of a patient farmer personality than a pure Type A aggressive sale type personality.

Now the problem.

The person who is successful at doing this and who closes absolutely critical sales for your business in its early critical days is more than likely NOT the right person to be selling as and  after you cross into a more mature selling environment.

As the market for your solution matures people start to understand that they do in fact need what you are selling.  They are probably building RFP’s to address those needs and you probably have more competitors than you have ever had since inception.  The main task for the Sales Rep now is not to convince prospects that they need what you sell but rather it is to be a trusted advisor of the prospects and to aggressively, competitively outsell the competition.

It is hard to change the horses that brought you!  As Jim Collins has taught us though it is critical that we have the right people on the bus and as difficult a change as this can be it is imperative that you make it.  Given the breadth of experience, history and knowledge that the original sales rep has it is often advisable to try to find a position within the company for them BUT I am NOT a fan of making up positions for people.  If the original Sales Rep wants to sell it may be best for you and for them if they can go find another company that is in a market still in its infancy and repeat their success their.

As you recruit for your new sales rep profile there are some considerations and this is where I am really interested in other experiences because there are a couple trains of thoughts but the main crux of the argument is…what is more important domain knowledge or pure sales skills.  If you sell a solution around physical asset performance do you NEED to have someone with specific knowledge and contacts and background in that space OR are you better off going and finding the best pure sales person around regardless of what they sold???

There are definite arguments for both but I tend to prioritize the must haves in this order:

  1. Industry/vertical experience – given you need to be on the front end of RFP’s and you need to have trusted relationships to successfully close deals I think having existing relationships in your target vertical or geography are critical because you may not have time to build them in a mature market.
  2. Pure sales skills – demonstrable experience that you have sold over quota consistently in your past and you can walk through and articulate, debate with me and convince me that you are a rock star.
  3. Functional/domain expertise – I rated this last because there are numerous other areas in the company where this type of support can come from if the candidate has #1 and #2 above

Love to hear your thoughts and experiences and what has worked for you??

Crossing The Chasm – Lesson#1 – Marketing In The Early Days

Where Do We Start??

Initial Assumptions:

  1. I’m going to assume you have a business concept, a strategy, some funding (bootstrapped or otherwise) and a product in some stage of development.  You may have some customers or you may be looking for your first but you are fairly early on in your company’s life but perhaps beyond pure start-up.

  2. I am writing from a B2B perspective but most of this is applicable to all businesses.

  3. While Crossing The Chasm ("CTC") focuses mostly on marketing and selling I will touch on product planning and development as well.

  4. Lastly, I will assume you have read the book and are familiar with the concepts without reviewing and reiterating the great teachings in the book.

Given you can see as clear as day how you are able to solve some of businesses biggest problems and help them save or generate huge amounts of dollars it is only fair to assume that someone closer to that business (the customer) will see your solution as the answer to all their prayers, right?  WRONG. 

Education is one of the single biggest portions of  a sales cycle in the early days.  In most cases you are trying to sell them something that they don’t even recognize that they need yet.  I know in my situation we spent countless hours and dollars trying to educate prospects on the basic NEED for what we do.  We also spent untold amounts trying to build awareness and lead generation marketing campaigns through the years.  In hindsight I would have ENTIRELY cut out these programs.  Money is tight and intuitively you think getting your message out to the masses will build brand awareness and will mass educate the market on your fantastic approach to solving their problems.

RECOMMENDATION #1 – DON’T SPEND WASTE MONEY ON MARKETING PROGRAMS IN THE EARLY DAYS

If I had to do it again (and by that I mean, the next time I do this) I would spend all those efforts on tracking and speaking to established bleeding edge early adopters within the target verticals/customers that have the most strategic value to me as a reference.  Finding bleeding edge early adopters should be the single focus of marketing efforts.   I want to be clear that when I say target early adopters I am talking about PEOPLE NOT COMPANIESPeople lead the early adoption of new technology.  Yes Corporate culture and willingness to take on these types of projects is important but in my experience, even in a let’s say less than progressive industry or company, you can and MUST find people who are visionaries and those are the people you need to market and sell to.  Seems pretty logical but tactically how do you execute against this?  Here’s my lesson’s learned for your consideration:

  1. Regardless of the type of solution you are offering and the functional area of the organization your solution is applicable to it is usually easier to find someone in the IT group than on the business side simply because of their background.  This person will be your sponsor, your advocate and it is important that in the early days you really view them as a Partner more than a Client.  Many of these people can be found using bleeding edge technologies as that is their disposition, so social media tools, SXSW type events is where they will be hanging out to try to get info about the newest and shiniest things happening in their world.
  2. Look for companies that have already crossed the chasm selling into the general space you are in and reach out to them.  They will have lessons learned that will be as and more valuable than what I am telling you here.  The most important thing they will have is the name of PEOPLE that they dealt with at the companies they sold into.  Early adopters typically don’t change, even when unsuccessful.  Finding a person inside a target company that sponsored/led/bought another visionary offering was critical to our success.  This is the person you need to contact, court, and convince that you can help them.  They will understand more than anyone else the problem you are solving and the evolutionary way in which you are going about solving it.
  3. As you look into your target industry for ideal strategic candidates, in my experience the ones who are most likely to be open to your message as Company’s are the ones who are in the Top 20% of the industry and the ones who are in the bottom 20% of the industry.  The top 20% are there for a reason and have a couple things that are very important to you as you look to sell/partner with someone.  First, they probably have access to cash more readily than weaker companies in the space and second they also have an interest in staying ahead of everyone in their space and are willing to invest in new technologies that will continue to push their performance and create further distance between them and the middle class in the industry.  Bleeding edge people are attracted to these types of companies and are given more flexibility to thrive in this type of an environment.  Companies in the bottom 20% come at it from the opposite end but are viable for a different reason.  Finding a bleeding edge person is harder (but not impossible) in these companies but the culture of the company is more open to leading edge change because in many cases they have fallen so far behind the industry leaders they know that they need some game changers to get back in the game and in a lot of cases they have tried all the “non-evolutionary” solutions available to them with little or no effect.  Both of these are good customers for different reasons which I will get into in another post when I talk about “Sales In The Early Days”.  The middle performing companies are much harder to get into when Crossing because the risk of them investing in something new and having it fail from a personal perspective is very high.  The company is performing OK and often the culture of (the risk of) failure in a mediocre company does not support individuals stepping out and taking risks where in successful companies this risk taking and failure potential is accepted and frankly expected!

SUMMARY-KEY LESSONS

  • DON’T SPEND PRECIOUS FUNDS ON MARKETING INITIATIVES
  • KEY IS FINDING EARLY ADOPTERS…PEOPLE NOT COMPANIES
  • FIND PEOPLE WITH A PROVEN HISTORY OF SPONSORING LEADING EDGE INITIATIVES
  • RESEARCH OTHER TECHNOLOGIES THAT HAVE BEEN ADOPTED IN YOUR TARGET BUSINESSES AND FIND OUT WHO SPONSORED
  • FISH WHERE THE FISH ARE…USE CUTTING EDGE TECH/MEDIA TO FIND CUTTING EDGE PROSPECTS
  • OFTEN EASIER TO LOCATE IN ‘IT DEPARTMENT’ THAN IN THE BUSINESS
  • TARGET COMPANIES THAT ARE TOP OF CLASS LEADERS AND BOTTOM OF CLASS LAGGARDS IN THEIR INDUSTRY

Agree, Disagree, please share your experiences.

Seek Out The Truth…

As you engage with your community and especially your customers, prospects and trusted advisors ALWAYS seek, ask for and encourage the truth. Too often people meet with others in their industry and have drinks and chat over how great everything is going and how wonderful their respective companies are. It is nice to meet with friends and exchange pleasantries but DO NOT mistake these meetings for confirmation that you are doing the right things. If you want to get better YOU MUST seek out the truth.

Here is what I believe…

If you are not getting better every day you are getting worse. There is no such thing as standing still.

In order to improve your business you need to understand your strengths yes but you also must understand your weaknesses either real or perceived. If you are not meeting the needs of your community and fulfilling your deliverables than someone else will. Engage in REAL conversations with people who are friends and foes. Here are some of the people you should seek out:

  • customers
  • employees
  • industry experts
  • competitors
  • business partners
  • lost customers
  • customers on deals you lost

Some of the questions to ask and data to acquire about your company:

  • Did you end up purchasing a solution to assist with your business needs ?
    • if so who and why
    • if not, would you consider doing business with us in the future, why or why not
  • How would you describe your experience in dealing with us
  • What could we have done differently in the sales process
  • Were there aspects of our product/solution functionality that did not meet your needs
  • Were there aspects of our implementation/methodology that caused you concern
  • Was our pricing competitive
  • Was our sales representative professional and effective at addressing your questions
  • What is your perception of our Company
  • How would you describe us versus our competitors

It is important that you talk to many different people and get many different viewpoints. What you are looking for is a pattern that comes across from several non-related sources that become themes. It is this data that you need to assess and evaluate as you look to steer your business forward and become the better tomorrow than you are today!

Don’t let people tell you what they think you want to here DEMAND the truth. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Conquering Fear

I Twittered today about potentially starting to use some video-blogging to add a new delivery media and to engage better with my audience. Interested in any thoughts people may have around pro’s and con’s and why they think it is good or bad. I enjoy blogs that have a mix of video and written posts and given that most communication and engagement is done orally I think people tend to engage better when they can see and hear the person delivering the content. The underlying assumption is that the content is good, without that the media is irrelevant. I will try to keep the content as or more interesting and historic posts.

Biggest problem…I’m worried I am going to suck at video-blogging so I am a little afraid of taking this leap. Not doing something because your afraid is weak. Leadership involves making decisions and taking action that is risky and may not work. We do learn from failure and accepting failure is healthy as long as you learn from it and do not make the same mistakes over again so here is the deal…..

I am going to prepare, plan, practice and take the leap. What I need from you is honesty. Tell me what you think, tell me if it sucks, tell me if it rocks. I want to continue to deliver content that is useful to my audience and I want to continue to improve and find better ways to get you better stuff. If video-blogging is neither better for you nor an improvement let me know. Watch for it….it’s coming.

What is your fear? Post your stories here, tell us how you conquered your fear and what the result was. Was it worth it? How has it changed your personal or professional life?

Take the leap…don’t be afraid of failure be afraid of complacency!

How Was Your Day Today?

This is a question most spouses and friends ask each other when they go home at night. How do you normally answer this question? “It was ok” or “same old stuff” are common responses. If this is your response day in and day out I want to encourage you to change that.

Doing the same thing day in and day out is not the right thing for you or for your company. Look at new ways to do things and challenge the “we’ve always done it that way” paradigm. Customers want and demand for us to get better everyday. I am big believer that people and Companies that remain status quo are getting passed and risk becoming irrelevant. Every day you either move forward or backwards because if you aren’t improving your competitors are.

Take a minute each day and look at what you are doing and why you are doing it and how you can do it better to add more value to your customer. Talk to peers over lunch about it. Push yourself, your peers and your boss everyday to get better and try to come home each night with a story, anecdote or example for your family (or your dog) that is not “the same old stuff”.

Push yourself to get better…start tomorrow, don’t wait.

Post stories and examples here, share and encourage each other. YOU can make a difference.

Changes and Challenges

It has been a long while since I posted to this blog. I have missed the therapeutic effect of thinking through issues, problems, successes and strategies and getting comments on those thoughts from people who follow me and who I follow.
There have been so many things that have gone on in the past few months that could be written on personally, professionally, politically, macro-economically, etc, etc. I will start to work through my thoughts on all of those things in the upcoming days and weeks. I have gone through many difficult and trying times in the past weeks at work and have been presented with the opportunity to lead a group of highly dedicated, focussed and smart people at Ivara Corp as President. We, like many businesses, are going to be entering some very uncertain times in the marketplace and have had to make some very difficult decisions to proactively prepare for this uncertainty. Some of those decisions, which occured over the past week, were the most difficult that I have made in my professional career and I feel deeply for the people that were affected by those changes and will continue to work with them as required to ensure they will land on their feet, which I have no doubt they will.
Looking forward we have a year filled with Change and Challenge but with change comes opportunity. Opportunity for us to refocus on the customer experience, to gather information about why our customers like us and don’t like us, to change our product and our offering to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers in the market. It is important that we engage now more than ever with our customers and prospects to stay close and work with them to drive value in their business and grow the Ivara community. While change is a true constant it is not easy. People like the routine and comfort of consistency but the reality is that those who lead change in the marketplace, who allow their community to take them places they otherwise may have resisted, who are open to and embrace change engage their community and drive forward. A truly engaged and passionate group of employees, customers, prospects and stakeholders are unsettled with the status quo. They love what they do, what the company does and because they are engaged they want to make things continuously better than they were.
I love Apple! I love their products and I love their pace. Apple is a company that realizes if it does not constantly antiquate and cannibalize it’s own products someone else will. Is the current iPod a great product? Most would argue yes (and sales numbers would support) but in very short order Apple will release a new iPod that will make the current perfectly good product obsolete. Apple does not accept the status quo, they know that the market will continue to change, customers will want new things and that engaging with their community will require them to provide those things (at the expense of their own existing product line) to ensure the community is and continues to be engaged and they remain the leaders of their space.
I will continue to blog here but will also do so at Ivara’s blog. I will continue to Twitter personally and will begin to do so at Ivara. One of our great employees Jason Diller has started a Yammer initiative internally which is growing through his care and feeding and is facilitating much needed cross departmental communication. All these tools are just that…tools. Yammer and Twitter and blogs and Facebook are all excellent tools to facilitate community. This will be a year of change for me, this will be a year of change for Ivara and this will be a year where we start to form and engage with our community in new ways. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t have a silver bullet because their isn’t one. I will look to engage through meeting face to face with employees, with customers…both happy ones and especially those less so…with trusted advisors and through social networks. Collectively this group of passionate people will generate the ideas required to drive Ivara forward to success through these turbulent times.
Success is a process, one that in my role I will support and foster among a great tribe of people at Ivara and within our community. Our success will be a group success and will come from ideas, thoughts, challenges and changes that I will endeavour to enable but will inevitably come through the community of dedicated employees, customers and prospects who will push us to the change we need.
I look forward to meeting with each of you along the way.