Archives for category: Sales

Sometimes, in business and in life, you’re slightly ‘off your game’. You’re not quite there, you can’t put it together, the muscle and brain memory is not firing right for you. It’s a tough rut to get out of, without doing a reboot or calling it quits and sleeping on it.

In sport it’s easier to see when you’re slightly off your game, because it’s pretty binary. It’s either in or out, a hit or a miss. You either win the point or you lose it, win the match or lose it, pretty much.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was playing table tennis. I used to play competitively for many years and am currently getting back into it more regularly after a decade and a half on the side lines. The other day was one of those days when I was slightly off my game, and at a certain level of ability the margins are so small. The ball was clipping the edge of my bat a lot, rather than hitting the sweet spot, because my timing was slightly off and I couldn’t get either my conscious or subconscious mind co-ordinate the hundred or so muscles in quite the right way.

The ball was also missing the table by small margins, and hitting the top of the net a lot. With table tennis, the ball is maybe a quarter of the height of the net, so you get a lot of shots hitting the net cord, compared with tennis or badminton. When you’re sightly off your game, you hit the top of the net a lot, and the ball either comes back on your side, or dribbles over the other side, or else sits up for the other player to crush past you. Either way, it’s really hard for both players to establish any kind of rhythm.

A couple per cent degradation in your execution and the result is maybe 20% worse, easily the difference between winning comfortably and losing comfortably. Frustrating.

I know you either win a deal or lose it, and a lead either becomes an opportunity or it doesn’t, but business, projects and sales cycles feel a lot less binary to me. If you’re slightly off your game, you don’t necessarily get direct feedback from a prospect or customer. You don’t necessarily know that a specific campaign hasn’t converted a specific individual, or that your answer to a sales objection has been answered satisfactorily.

All you can do then is go back to the data and study the statistics over a larger number of similar circumstances rather than an isolated, specific interaction. And work hard all the time to reduce the occasions when you’re slightly off your game.

I travel on Ryanair a lot, at least twice a month. It’s an affordable, efficient and on time airline. I’ve written about the airline a lot on this blog, too many links to insert here and also I notice there’s no search function on my blog, which I must fix – but, trust me, I’ve written about Ryanair a lot.

They’ve improved the way they treat customers over the years. After flying with them hundreds of times, I’ve never had to amend a pre-booked flight before, however. It’s a scam.

Many months ago I booked a long weekend away for me and Her Ladyship to Rome. She’s never been, so we were really looking forward to it. Out on the Friday morning, back on the Monday evening. Perfect.

Then my good lady got offered a new job, a great job. The only snag was that she had to start the Monday we were flying back from Rome, so I needed to cut short the holiday by one day and rebook the return flights.

Firstly, they stiff you €40 per flight to re-book. Painful, but not the end of the world. Secondly, the new return flights were for some reason really expensive, more than the original out and back flights combined, so I parked the change for a day or two to think about it.

As luck would have it, the next time I looked at the new flights I was in a brand new browser session, and had forgotten to follow the process of re-booking the pre-booked flights. Lo and behold, the price of the ‘net’ new flights was less than half the price of the ‘rebooked’ new flights going through the re-booking process.

Armed with this insight, I looked at re-booking both the outbound and return flights and going somewhere much cheaper that Rome, either Edinburgh and London. The re-booked flight prices were over twice the price of making a brand new booking.

So Ryanair charge you €40 per flight to change your flights and more than double the prices for the pre-booked flights. It’s a really laborious, painful process in their legacy system, too. It’s also a scam, plain and simple.

The original flights to Rome were €370. Brand new return flights to London were less than €100. To change the Rome flights and re-book to London would have cost us an additional €180, after the €370 credit had been applied.

I’m now looking at cancelling the flights to Rome. I’m not hopeful of getting anything back.

Don’t change your flights once you’ve booked them with Ryanair. They have you over a barrel and will ride you like a rocking horse, to mix some wooden metaphors.

Software can help us improve our productivity and automate our operations, which in turn can feed better revenues and increase profitability. Many of us feel strongly that automating B2B processes are the way to go. Removing manual tasks helps people focus on the areas where they can really add value.

With new software coming in, it’s easy to forget that you’re not actually buying software, you’re buying change. This is where the problems start, because you need to manage change. It’s not something we humans are particularly good at it. It’s why 70% of change programs fail.

With any kind of change program, you also need to change your processes. Before you start the change, you need to audit, improve and tweak your processes. Then, with the new processes in place and properly embedded, you can bring in the new software, the change.

If you don’t do this, you’re simply spending money and automating the mess, the current mess you have.

And that’s probably worse than doing nothing at all.

In the B2B sales and marketing conversation it’s hard to imagine anything more important than content. It’s important to have lots of content, because then you can design more workflows to build the engagement and you’ve a larger base of material to recycle from. But the quality is more important than the quantity.

In the good old days, by which I mean the noughties, it was about attracting people and then working the leads.

That doesn’t cut it these days. It’s no longer about aiming solely for a form submission with some precious contact details because someone wants to download an ebook or register for a webinar. If the content is poor quality, you lose them and they won’t come back. Today’s best companies nurture their prospects with good content and score their leads according to fit and the degree of interaction. Good companies only pass leads onto sales when those leads have passed a certain score and demonstrated they are interested to a certain degree.

The good marketing companies – with good content that they trust – are not passing over a lead as soon as someone submits their details for the first time. This is why the content has to be good. If it’s poor, it’s probably the end of the relationship before it’s begun.

‘Let’s maximise our webinar registrations and then call them all in case they don’t attend. Also, the ebook is not quite what it’s built up to be, so let’s make sure we follow up with everyone who’s downloaded; we don’t want to lose them.’ Nope, you already have.

This is the real importance of good content. It’s not a hook to get them in and lock the door behind them. It’s an invitation to build something, and throughout the ensuing relationship you’re only as good as the last piece of content they got.

One of the most vivid phrases you hear’ll – mostly in business – is to ‘crash and burn’. An example: let’s do loads of practice for this presentation to the company; we don’t want to crash and burn up there.’

It’s actually a horrifying phrase, especially if you’ve ever been – or known someone who has been – involved in a bad transportation accident. There must be a better phrase.

I have invented – and prefer, for the reason above – the phrase ‘physics and chemistry.’ It’s not as catchy, but it’s certainly less offensive.

When I was at school, we struggled with definitions of the differences between the two vast disciplines of physics and chemistry. Generalising grossly, physics is about movement, sound, weight, dimensions, and sometimes a little bit of heat. Chemistry, on the other hand, is concerned with much more heat, so that things combine, transfer and change into other things.

So a crash is a physical thing, burning is a chemical thing. When we experience physics and chemistry in business – or indeed in life – there is a sudden, shocking noisy event, followed by a major adverse change in our circumstances.

So there you go. Next time, if you’ve got something important going on, make sure you avoid the one-two punch of physics and chemistry.

Ah, the cold sales call. By cold sales call I mean the broad concept of any call to a person or company that may or may not remember you, or in fact know you.

I don’t know many people who enjoy picking up the phone and working through a list of cold names, trying to get through and then strike up a rapport with a near total or total stranger. Most sales people I’ve worked with, who are supposed to be good at developing a conversation, hate them and avoid them whenever possible.

They have good reason to, most of the time. A progressive, strategic and process-oriented business-to-business company shouldn’t have to make cold calls, but on occasion you can’t avoid them.

A couple of things I’ve learned about calling are these. First, you have to be in the right frame of mind. Positive, optimistic, keen to get things done. You have to want to embrace the call. An early and genuine ‘no’ frees you up to the next call where someone who’s not a time-waster might want to speak to you.

Second, it’s irrational to put them off because once we get started, we’re fine, we get through them. We just need to start.

Third, what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing much, except that the more we fail, the better we’ll get at them.

Many moons ago – probably about 280 moons in fact – I was responding to an invitation to tender for the design and production of an annual report.

It was for a national tourist body, and we’d been working for years to get on their roster of companies that they would invite to bid for their larger projects.

I was reading through the brief and there was one sentence I couldn’t understand at all. It was talking about the partners’ hip. Nope, me neither. I assumed it was the partners’ hip since the apostrophe was missing and I tut-tutted my way over and over the sentence trying to make sense of it.

What did they mean by hip? Was that some kind of cultural reference key to getting inside the essence of the brand, I wondered. I debated calling the customer, but was conscious of the fact that we hadn’t really clicked the first time.

I plucked up the courage to call and ask her what she meant by partners’ hip. If she didn’t actually snort down the phone she must have come very close, as her tone was dripping with derision. ‘No, it should say partnership.’

Bloody hell! Bloody typos! It wasn’t the typo I thought it was, it was another typo entirely, the addition of an unnecessary and misleading space turning one word into two, contorting the meaning completely out of my understanding. I had looked at the sentence so many times I overlooked the most obvious explanation staring me in the face.

Suffice it to say we didn’t win the bid, and I don’t remember ever winning any work from that customer. Their typo, my punishment, and an expensive one at that.

Expectation is to my mind very closely linked to perception. It’s like the future tense of perception. What I think about a future event is governing my feelings about it. I might be excited, nervous, mellow or downbeat.

I was reminded of this when I had an apple the other day. I like my apples fresh, with a hard, crisp texture, and a flavoursome but juicy centre. I don’t like them soft, mushy or ‘woody’, as my Dad used to term it. The apple felt firm, I was really looking forward to it and then when I bit, there was a palpable sense of disappointment as I realised it was soft and not particularly nice.

Expectations count for an awful lot, which is why we should manage them with the people and companies we deal with. If we set the expectation as close to the likely reality as we can, they will have a more consistent experience. Better still, we’ll avoid the situation of the phantom where we build demand for something and then annoy our customers if they can’t get what we’re promoting.

Better again, if we can set an expectation that we then exceed, we’re moving the mindset and emotion of the people we’re dealing with in an upward manner, not a downward one.

People settle at their own level, or certainly tend to, I think. It’s a question of fit. Partners, spouses, friends. You can’t pick family 99% of the time, unless of course you marry into it.

Companies are the same. You get the type of customers you deserve. You also get the suppliers you deserve, the staff you deserve, and – I would argue – the boss you deserve.

These are your just deserts. If you don’t like the profile of your customers, suppliers, staff, or boss, then you need to work hard to change it. This is really hard to do as an individual.

It boils down to culture. The collective values, ethics, atmosphere and ambitions of the place where you work govern the stakeholders you interact with, and the individuals within those stakeholders.

To change your just deserts, you need to work harder, smarter, better and more honestly. If you can’t do it where you are, perhaps you could move to somewhere where you don’t need to?

The other day I posted on Facebook a sentence lifted from a BBC sports report into a match featuring the professional soccer team I follow. The post went like this:

‘Story of the season, in fact story of most teams I’ve followed, ever: “Wolves were competitive throughout but lacked a cutting edge.”

A cutting edge is a wonderfully graphic phrase which has been so over-borrowed over the last decade that it now risks becoming a sporting cliche, along with ‘we’re taking it one game at a time,’ and many, many others.

It occurred to me at the time, and it still resonates with me now, which is why I’m telling you about it, that having a cutting edge is a vital requirement in so much of our working lives, especially in business. It’s no use being competitive if we lack a cutting edge. In other words, if we’re not executing on our plan, if we’re not getting it done.

I’m not talking about the kind of cutting edge or leading/bleeding edge you hear trotted out with technology companies. We’re on the cutting edge of nanotechnology. Purlease. Indeed, in that context it’s another phrase so well-worm as to be threadbare.

Lacking a cutting edge in sports and business means we’re not sharp, we’re blunt, unsophisticated, ham-fisted even.

So what gives you a cutting edge? Focus, practice, skill, anticipation, commitment and timing. These factors combine to allow you to capitalise, not capitulate, on opportunities.