Advice from business’s best thought leaders made easy to understand and practical to implement - Jeremy Gray
Advice from business’s best thought leaders made easy to understand and practical to implement
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Selling has become Simply Selling. By Sushant Khandelwal, David Deming, Jens Friis Hjortegaard, and Wade Cruse
In summary their research finds:
Leading commercial organizations also use prescriptive sales plays—that is, coordinated sales and marketing actions to create and win an opportunity with a specific customer or prospect.
The pandemic has changed every aspect of how we interact with clients, customers, friends, and families. For almost all businesses, how to gain customers when you cannot meet face to face has been a problem that needed a solution. And predominantly that solution has been Zoom meetings and remote demonstrations. Indeed, surveys show that customers are increasingly preferring the virtual approach. A recent survey by Bain & Company found that 92% of buyers preferred virtual sales interactions – up from 75% in May 2020. Only 8% of buyers preferred to be visited by a sales rep.
On the other side of the coin, sellers appreciate the benefits of virtual selling citing 3 advantages, faster more frequent communications with customers, cost-effective interactions and the ability to interact with more prospects.
I am sure it will come to no surprise to you that execution often falls short in effectiveness and efficiency. Bain reports that executives expected an 88% improvement in win rate due to virtual selling and front-line staff expected a 62% improvement in win rate, the actual improvement was 45%. If this 45% increased win rate is true, to my mind that is a pretty remarkable result. If I came to you saying I could increase your sales team win rate by nearly 50% I think you would pay me quite a sum of money for that result. The article does not define executives but to expect nearly a doubling of the closure rate by switching to virtual selling seems to be widely optimistic.
But clearly there is something in virtual selling, your customers likely prefer it and it can deliver a significantly better win rates. What can we learn from Bain’s research? They have identified five areas that you should focus on.
Their first piece of advice is: Win the sale before it gets to the sales rep. Maybe this ties into the fact we learned earlier that only 8% of customers want to see a sales rep in preference to being sold to using virtual technology. But Bain says this is because in most B2B markets there is a big gap between the sellers’ beliefs and the buyers expectations. Bain states that roughly 80% of buyers have set their expectations before talking to a sales rep and 35% of buyers already have a vendor preference. Buyers prefer digital sources of information. This should come as no surprise; I would expect many of my listeners to have made an on-line purchase without ever talking to a sales rep. Sellers on the other hand overstate the importance of in person forums such as trade shows. Personal connections are much less important these days. Professional procurement executives do not assess buying decisions based on how much they like the sales rep.
The necessary actions are clear. Customers doing research online should be able to find a potential supplier quickly, and you want that to be you. Your product line should be clearly explained via videos and web-based demonstrations, so the customer can find the product, or service, that meets their needs. And then they need to be able to order it with little fuss, if they are ready, or seek additional information via chatbot, live chat or talking with a salesperson.
In my career I have been advised not to terminate employee X because she or he has a strong relationship with an important customer. I have always found the advice not to have a basis in fact.
I have always said sales reps are expensive, in addition to their salaries, there will be lucrative incentive schemes, they will likely have a company car and an expense account. I did not say this to be negative but to remind folks that the sales organization is an expensive resource that needs to be used effectively to get the best return on your investment. Using virtual selling you can now direct this scare resource, your sales team, to customers who demand it. Sales managers can allocate the rep to the most important deals.
As your sales force moves towards virtual selling you need to help support this transition. Your sales teams will likely have a cross section of ages, talents, selling techniques and willingness to adopt something new. Some of you sales team will take to a mix of virtual and in person selling like a duck to water, others will need guidance and some will struggle and need support. The Bain article recommends action in two major operational areas.
Spell out for your sales team a model that can adapt to different circumstances that they can follow. This should outline how sales reps, experts and others reach out to customers and when.
Train your team on the use of collaboration tools such as Slack, Teams, Share Point etc. Too often I see these tools being rolled out without sufficient training in their use. A simple terminology guide that ensures everyone uses the same expression for a particular action can help avoid confusion. Also, I would recommend a guide explaining when someone should be specifically highlighted should be provided. You do not want your collaboration tool to become like e-mail with some many folks in the recipient list that the impact gets dulled. When an employee gets a message that they have been mentioned it should be a call to action, not just informational. Maybe RACI has a place here. Who is responsible? Who is accountable? Who should be consulted? Who should be informed? Take lessons from your virtual selling stars to see what they do differently from the rest and make that knowledge available to the team.
There are a lot of free online videos on how to use Zoom etc. Take the time to find some that resonate with you and your company’s style. Then encourage your sales team to watch and learn.
It is likely we will never return to back slapping, donut buying sales rep, and a good thing too. It is ridiculous to expect a company to quickly replace an existing sales team with digitally fluent virtual sellers. To do so would lose so much institutional knowledge. Provide your sales team with the tools and skills to sell virtually and you can have the best of both worlds. A knowledgeable sales team who shine online.
A quick extra item for you now. This comes for the World Economic Forum and their publication Aligning to Net Zero, How CEOs can get on board with the transition. In their publication, the World Economic Forum defines Net Zero as cutting CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030 and getting to zero by 2050. Although this article focuses on CO2, Methane is a greenhouse gas that needs to be managed and this will be particularly important is you are in agriculture and energy sectors.
Once Covid stops dominating the headlines it seems probable that climate change will return to the top of mind. Governments will mandate measures to be taken, consumers will pressurize companies to be more environmentally responsible, employees in the future will be keen to work for socially responsible companies. So, whether you are driven towards doing something about climate change by personal belief or business imperative it is time to ask yourself four questions:
2030 is not that far away. CEOs and business owners who act early to prepare their businesses for a net zero world not only shield their business from risk but also position themselves for growth in new green markets. Wind energy used to be so expensive that it required government grants to be viable. It is now a profitable business. By planning ahead you may be able to get grants to make the necessary changes to your business and get your government to fund your investment.
Now it’s time for a little self-reflection: Are you and your managers causing your employees stress? Is this impacting their job satisfaction and therefore their productivity? In an article from McKinsey Quarterly called The boss factor: Making the world a better place through workplace relationships Tera Allas and Bill Schaninger say it’s quite likely that you are and it is costing you money.
The authors cite a survey where 75% of participants said the most stressful aspect of their job was their immediate boss. That’s 3 in 4 folks who say their boss is causing them stress. And not too surprisingly, those reporting very bad or quite bad relationships with management reported substantially lower job satisfaction compared to those who had a good relationship with their boss.
This gave me pause for thought, I have never thought of myself as being a cause of stress in my employees. But if 75% of employees report that their boss is a major cause of stress, then it seems likely that with over 40 years of management experience and probably hundreds of direct reports I have been guilty if this mistake. I doubt that many of the managers of the 75% knew they were the cause of stress. In my career I can only think of one manager who used fear as a management technique. I am sure he knew he was causing stress and did not care; he was a very senior executive reporting directly to the CEO of an American Multinational. At least he did not care until he was fired for the unhappiness he was creating within his division.
There have been many studies that show a link between employee satisfaction, customer loyalty and profitability. One study showed that call center workers weekly sales increased by 25% when their happiness increased by one point on a scale of one to five. Now I believe happiness in this case was linked to the weather rather than working conditions. Happy employees are more productive employees. You cannot control the weather, but you can control the working environment for your employees.
Two aspects of a good workplace under the control of your managers are a good work organization and providing employees with psychological safety.
Good work organization means providing employees with context, guidance, tools, and the appropriate amount of decision-making authority to minimize frustration and make their jobs meaningful.
Over the years I have seen the authority to make decisions being eroded within organizations. The fear of being sued or taken to court has led to senior managers strictly limiting delegation of authority within their organization. This is a shame, there is nothing more frustrating for an employee than waiting for the authorization to implement a clearly needed decision. An extreme example of this that I experienced was on a project that I was leading that was progressing fine when HQ felt they needed to examine the options available. It was a quite complex project, so it took them a year to get this done and at a high cost, with execs flying from Europe and America to Asia. A year wasted, only to come to conclusion that the course of action that I and my team had proposed was indeed the best one for our company. Hire people you trust and give them the authority to get the job done.
The other aspect, psychological safety is the absence of fear as a driver of employee behavior. Fear can paralyze an employees into inaction, it has been shown to be a lousy motivator. The floggings will continue until moral improves, which could have come from the public school I attended, but it is loosely ascribed to Voltaire.
What can your managers do, what should you do, to increase your employees job satisfaction so that you can reap the rewards in better business performance?
The article introduces the idea of the servant leader. The leader who is continually asking his or herself “How do I make my team members life easier?” There are benefits to the team and the manager with this approach. People are happier and feel their roles are more meaningful when they are helping others.
The problem? Servant leaders are exceedingly rare. This should come as no surprise, consider the traits that often lead to promotion. People who get ahead tend to be current high performers or those who appear most leader-like. Traits which are unlikely to lead to a servant leader mentality. In fact one organizational psychologist in an HBR article, Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? Published in August 2014, suggests leaders achieve their position by being self-centered, overconfident, narcissistic, manipulative and risk prone.
You will not be able to quickly and significantly change the attitudes of your leaders, but you can encourage them to adopt behaviors that will improve the situation. The article highlights four practices that have shown to help.
1) Show empathy and compassion. A manager who genuinely cares about an employee’s well-being will show an interest by sincerely asking “How are you doing today?” and showing empathy with the answer, no matter what it may be, gives the employee an opportunity to raise issues that are concerning them.
2) Show gratitude. Employees like being thanked, it makes them feel valued. Regularly, frequently and generously thanking team members cost nothing and will deliver enormous benefits. But this must be genuine. We all have an ability to detect fake expressions of gratitude or praise. Employees will quickly recognize when managers are merely following a script. I recall a Vice President who, without fail, would congratulate everyone for a “great job” at the end of a meeting or presentation. We would wait for it and snigger to ourselves when told we had done a great job. It became meaningless.
3) Provide positive feedback. This builds employee confidence and reinforces desired behaviors. The article says this should be unconditional. I am not sure I agree with that. If something did not work or go well that should be pointed out. Positive criticism has its place. But remember to always end feedback with a positive. Two positives, one negative followed by another positive is not a bad formula.
4) Be self-aware. Managers will lead better when they are aware of themselves and hopefully at peace with themselves. We all have bad days, a row with your spouse or teenage kids can spill over into your work life if you are not mindful of your mental state. During my pilot training I was introduced to the I’M SAFE checklist before flight. It stood for Illness Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue and Emotion. All of these can impair your ability to perform well. It’s a pretty good self-awareness tool.
What can you do as the CEO or leader of your company, division or department? You need to create an environment where the traits of the servant leader are valued. I am sure your mangers want to do the right thing, but in a fast paced and demanding environment it's not easy to stick to good habits, especially if those habits are not recognized and rewarded.
The authors recommend four actions. I have changed the order to reflect my views on which of the actions will be the most effective.
Being a role model. You should not underestimate how much you influence the actions of people around you. And you should not overestimate how much you are the part of the solution and not part of the problem. Initiatives will fail if you pay lip service to the idea and do not walk the talk. Like fake praise we mentioned earlier, employees will quickly detect if you are committed to an idea or not. Demonstrate the behaviors you want to encourage and that will trickle down through your organization.
Skill and confidence building. Research shows that as people gain power, they lose the ability to judge a situation regarding how others perceive their actions. They also lose some of their ability to empathize with folks lower down the ladder. Formal training may play a role in educating leaders, but informal counselling is a better choice.
Becoming part of the formal company culture. A couple things you can do. You can include the expected behaviors as part of the performance reviews. Praising and promoting managers who manage their team with their staff in mind.
The fourth point made by the authors which they list first is described as Understanding and Conviction. It suggests the use of stories to educate managers about the impact both negative and positive on their employees. If employees provide feedback in their exit interviews that lack of understanding or support was a reason for leaving, this can be discussed with the manager.
No one wants a stressful environment at work. It is not the right atmosphere to foster cooperation, productivity, and growth. It seems likely there could be an element of manager induced stress in your company, so consider how this can be reduced.
Finally, we turn to MIT Sloan Management Review for our last article. Avoiding the Cringe Factor in Marketing to Gen Z by Adrian Montgomery.
As seniority often comes with age, connecting with the next generation has always been a challenge for business. But connecting with Generation Z, which are those born between the mid to late 1990’s through to early 2010’s the challenge is unprecedented. Generation Z is in control of its own media in a way never seen before. Called digital natives they have grown up with widespread internet access, social platforms, and mobile media. They interact with each other in ways that were not available to earlier generations. Gen Z are key to the future of your business, as they grow older their spending power will grow. A report from the Bank of America found that Generation Z account for the largest slice of the world’s income by 2030.
Research has shown that Generation Z’s brand loyalty increases dramatically as they age. I suspect in this they are not much different than earlier generations. Given their massive economic power in only a few years’ time there is a short window to gain their trust and build connections.
The author has worked with internet stars who have developed a strong track record of engaging with their fans. They discuss products, services, and issues seamlessly within their content.
This can be highly effective but can also backfire. We have talked quite a lot during today’s show about being genuine, in any era the younger generation has rolled its eyes when the older generation tries to speak their language. This is the Cringe Factor of the title
The author suggests that when
targeting Gen Z marketers consider the following:
Involve team members who know your target demographic. This means involving folks who are young. Based on the definition, the oldest Gen Zer is 26 years old, and most are younger. You will need to consider how you gain access to this generation.
Pay close attention to time frames. If you will be releasing your ad campaign in six months don’t involve the meme that became an internet sensation a couple of weeks ago. Likely it will be ancient history in six months’ time.
If you are going to work with influencers make sure they match the message you want to deliver. The influencer's personality, the brand personality and the target audience personality should be aligned.
Empower the influencer to be authentic. Allow the content creators to decide what they want to say and how to say it.
Most influencers are professionals, they understand their audience and how to engage with them. This is how they make their living. They will guide you to ensure that missteps do not happen, so you can avoid the Cringe.
On next week’s show we will discuss:
From McKinsey: Speed and resilience: Five priorities for the next five months
As businesses recover from COVID-19-related disruption and reimagine themselves for the next normal, they need to ask and answer five questions.
From MIT Sloan Why Pivoting People Is a Strategic Priority
To best prepare their organizations and workforces for post-pandemic changes, leaders should think through a set of critical questions.
From HBR How good is your company at change? A new system for measuring and improving your ability to adapt.
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