From a Good Sales Call to a Great Sales Call: Book Review

From a Good Sales Call to a Great Sales Call focuses on improving Sales’ post-decision debrief process with prospects, referred to as win loss analysis in the competitive intelligence world. I like how the author, Richard Schroder, adds ‘post-decision debrief’ as the 7th element of the sales process. He insists Sales asks customers for their permission to conduct a post-sales interview during the presentation of your company’s solution rather than waiting until after the buying decision. A professional way to approach your prospect is: “We promote continuous improvement, and whether we win your business or lose it to a competitor, we value your feedback.”

Apparently only 18% of US companies have a formal win loss program. Thus, in most new business situations, sales people don’t have a complete and accurate understanding of why they won or lost sales. If armed with such data, Sales can make behavioral changes to improve close rates by 15%.

According to Anova Consulting Group’s research, the sales process is often a top driver of the purchase decision, whether the business is won or lost.

Key reasons for losses from the sales process include:

**Lack of a customized presentation

**The salesperson doesn’t accurately uncover and understand the prospect’s unique needs, including decision making criteria

**The salesperson and/or team does not thoroughly prepare for prospect meetings and the presentation

Richard believes that sales people should not conduct these win loss interviews since they often take the loss too personally and might try to re-sell the customer on their solution, be aggressive, defensive or dejected, which causes the customer to clam up or just to tell part of the story, the part that doesn’t involve Sales. Prospects can also be uncomfortable talking with the salesperson whose solution they just rejected.

Yet, Richard gives great suggestions to help Sales conduct win loss interviews:

**Do not attempt to gather win loss feedback during the same call when you learn the sales outcome.

**Schedule a phone call or in-person visit with the decision-maker a couple of weeks after the sales decision.

**Take time to prepare the questions you want answered and seek input from your sales organization.

**This debrief questionnaire should include questions around the customer’s decision-making criteria; qualitative questions around your firm’s strengths and weaknesses; benchmarking against competitors; and the sales process (more detail to develop a win loss questionnaire).

**This preparation will get you grounded, and will help you neutralize your emotions around the win or loss and let you focus on how and what you can learn.

**At the end of the win loss interview, ask your customer if you missed anything. In my experience, this is when the floodgates open.

The book is chock full of ways to sell better:

**Build rapport. Learn as much about your prospect(s) as you can through the Internet, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter and industry associations.

**Don’t just plan your presentation: prepare the initial discussion you will have with each prospect. Ask some open ended questions to engage them.

**Develop a second approach to build rapport in case the first approach doesn’t work.

**When in doubt, de-sell. For example, “Perhaps my service doesn’t quite fit your needs.”

**Be consultative: if your product or service is not what the customer is looking for, refer them to someone who can help them.

**Remember people want to buy from experts, not salespeople. Research Research Research!

Appendix B tells Sales Managers how to implement a win loss program. It is practical and well thought-out. Two factors stand out from my experience with developing win loss programs.

1. Does the program have executive level sponsorship and comprehensive buy-in from critical areas of your company?

2. Will the program be well integrated with existing processes already developed at your company?

I have learned the hard way that buy-in is essential at all levels. Some programs never get off the ground due to this lack of communication, sponsorship and integration.

My only criticism is Richard’s strong bias towards using a third party to conduct the win loss analysis. I agree a third party brings less bias to this process, and can offer customers anonymity when reporting back to your company. However, I experienced good results conducting win loss analysis for my company prior to consulting. There are some advantages that internal sources have: they know your company’s products and services better than any third party since this is their full time job. Thus they can probe more deeply in these areas than can a consultant. They also know your company’s culture. Sometimes consulting firms recommend change that won’t work with your company’s culture, even though it’s a great idea.

I recommend this book for those in marketing and sales who want to implement a win loss program. I particularly recommend this book for salespeople who want to be BETTER. It clearly defines the value proposition for conducting win loss analysis, especially for Sales. Don’t be left out!

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How to Encourage Cooperative Communication from Sales

Many in competitive intelligence, marketing, research and product development complain about poor communication from their sales force, who has a direct conduit to your customers—one of the best sources of knowledge about what your company is doing right and wrong as well as ideas for new products, services and tweaks to your existing products that can be revenue generating!

So how do you encourage cooperative communication from Sales?

1. Give to Get

This is a golden rule with any person or group that you deal with, but especially with Sales who has a very short attention span. You need to feed them snippets and golden nuggets which help them sell. I can’t tell you what they are: you have to figure that out since it changes constantly. But responsiveness and a cooperative attitude of giving, along with supplying those nuggets, will convince Sales that you’re worth giving back to.

2. Teach Sales How to Give

As you provide Sales with golden nuggets, teach them how to give. One way I have been successful is by teaching sales people elicitation skills. This means creating a purposeful conversation to get customers to share what they know about the competition, innovation, and improvements to your products and services—including customer service.

Oh, and by the way, elicitation skills help Sales close more deals, sooner, which is the value proposition to Sales. In my sales experience, customers are almost waiting to be asked since it’s human nature to want to teach, share and correct you. However, beware, as your sales force starts asking, your customers will also be asking more about your future products and services. Make sure Sales is armed with the right information to share at the right time!

3. Make it Easy for Sales to Share

This is the downfall of many organizations. They make it hard for Sales to share. What are they already sharing through their sales process that you can access? Can your information sharing be tacked onto what they already do? Can you set up a tips line, so they can just call it in? Text it in? Email it in?

4. Acknowledge Sales Contribution

Go beyond Thank-You. Write up the best sales tips in your company magazine, Intranet site—wherever is most likely to be noticed and read. Get on the agenda for sales force gatherings such as conference calls and meetings where you can share the good news about great tippers that individual sales people have given, and specifically cite how they have helped. Write their boss and/or Sales VP about their contribution.

5. Share Share Share

Go the next step and set up a mechanism to share tippers you hear from one sales person to your sales force. This can be high tech if your company is set up that way, but it doesn’t have to be. Talk to top contributing sales people to get clarification and insight that goes beyond information sharing. Share that insight with your sales force, marketing, product developers and whoever else will benefit from this insight, AND acknowledge that sales person or sales team.

My shameless sales plugs.

1. AMA’s Spring Marketing Workshop (April 6-8): I will be leading a workshop (April 6) which teaches sales elicitation skills among other best practices to improve sales and marketing’s productivity.

2. AIIP’s annual conference (April 6-10): I will be sharing a poster session (April 7) on how I have reinvented myself in my 18 years in business from primary research collector to win loss collection and analysis to workshops such as elicitation which empowers Sales to close more deals and provides companies with needed sales intelligence.

Your Employees are Your Competitive Advantage, REALLY

How many companies say “Our Employees are Our Most Important Asset,” but their actions don’t match these hollow words?

This is not the case at Southwest Airlines, where employees are valued in all phases of their relationship with the company’s management from the hiring process; allowing them to do their job and to make decisions that don’t quite follow the “rules,” but are often the right decision for the circumstance; to letting an employee go—tough LUV—who isn’t a match for the company’s culture.

Colleen Barrett, Southwest Airlines President Emeritus, was our keynote speaker at ASP’s (Association of Strategic Planning) annual conference. Her recently published book, Lead with LUV, co-authored with Ken Blanchard details Southwest Airline’s formula for success.

One of my favorite quotes from the book epitomizes Southwest Airline’s history:

“Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people and taking care of your customers.”  The airline has been profitable since 1973 two years after it was formed. Hmmmm treating your Employees as Customers works!

Another favorite quote: “We’re in the Customer Service business—we just happen to provide airline transportation.”

Southwest Airline’s employees do their best to ensure that Customers have a safe, on-time flight, for a reasonable price, with as little stress as possible, in a caring environment with a little humor to boot. In these tough times, Southwest Airlines does not charge an extra fee for luggage, unlike all its competitors who do. A resulting customer benefit is that the planes are not crammed full of luggage which takes a long time to stuff into compartments. A resulting operational benefit is passengers get on and off the planes faster, so Southwest Airlines can turn them around faster than the competition.

Employees follow servant leadership practices where they serve first and lead second at every level of the company. This promotes the egalitarian attitude that prevails at Southwest Airlines and makes it such a desirable place to work! Servant leadership was inspired by Robert K Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership by James Sipe and Don Frick . In addition to traditional approaches, such as sending out cards on employees’ birthdays or anniversary dates of hire, the company sends notes of sympathy and condolence to employees when their family members are sick or die. As in cooperative intelligence leadership, all levels of management pitch in to get the job done. When the plane lands, everyone rushes to clean it out, including the pilots, as one of Southwest Airline’s competitive advantages is the speed with which that aircraft is back into the air producing revenue.

Southwest Airlines has a painstaking hiring process, and they run a lean operation. While many candidates have simlar professional qualifications and experience, it’s the right attitude and behavior that differentiate those who are hired and who stay—which is most employees. What differentiates my experience with Southwest Airlines, is the fun that the employees share with us customers.

One of my favorite customer service stories Colleen shared was just after 9 11 when one of the pilots rented a bus to take his stranded, stressed out passengers to the movies. He didn’t have to ask management’s permission, and didn’t tell management what he had done. Management heard from delighted customers. Southwest Airlines has many, many delighted customers. It has grown to be one of the largest US carriers from its humble roots in 1971, where it had to fight hard against the major US airlines to even enter the business.

Southwest Airlines is true to its original goal to make air transportation affordable for most people. What’s interesting to me as a competitive intelligence professional is how Southwest Airlines has publicized its competitive advantages for years giving its competitors the opportunity to study, analyze and adapt them to their operation. The one thing that just doesn’t translate is the supportive, egalitarian and fun loving culture that Southwest Airlines has valued right from its inception.

I was one of the lucky ASP attendees to win a copy of Colleen’s book which she signed “with LUV”.

Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing business and how to keep more of it!

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