The Consequences of Unaware Leadership

The above title for this blog is a bit of a mouthful so you may want to read it a few times; the consequences of unaware leadership.

Another way to say this is the consequences of a leader’s actions/words work many times against them and they have no idea.

So here is the point:   Employees are a helluva lot more interested in pleasing their boss than they are the customer.

Are you surprised? Don’t think it is true? I bet you lunch for a year in many of the organizations I walk into I can find examples of this happening. The needs of the boss become more important than serving the needs of the customer. I scratch my head every time I see this and when it affects the work that we do, I want to scream.

You see, I am like everyone else. I like to be respected and appreciated. I appreciate having my instructions followed and to be listened to.  I like to think I am a pretty good manager and leader,  however, when team members become more concerned about keeping me happy at the expense of satisfying the customer, we are heading towards a nightmare.

In one of our clients a few years ago, the president of the company prided himself on running a very lean management team. When his department heads periodically had too much work, they would not bring this to his attention and just soldier through it. Their response to customers would lag, and they would not respond when promised and the customers would be annoyed.  Not enough to leave or complain just enough to be annoyed and put out. Just enough of an aggravation that they start taking our competitor’s calls. In another example, one of our clients lost one of the biggest customers we had ever landed. This one cost our customer tens of millions of dollars in sales. The person managing our new customer was extremely deferential to his boss and would go out of his way to shielded him from bad news. If his boss was upset with a customer, he would try to solve the problem only taking the company’s perspective and ignoring the customer’s interest. He avoided problems and did not address them when they were laid right in front of him.  It did not take long for the new customer to dismiss us.

In both of these examples, the boss never had an idea that their management wasn’t working. Not once did it dawn on the boss that their management style may have had something to do with these problems.

Our management style and approach has positive and possibly negative affect being unaware of the consequences of your leadership is a recipe to continue to have the same problem.

Earning the Conversation

One of the skills of a very good salesperson is someone who recognizes in a meeting or a phone call when a prospect is opening up and sharing good information.  Decision makers in busy organizations who are being approached by numerous salespeople do not have the time to talk with everyone who calls. If they are getting a lot of calls they eventually we become very selective about who they speak with and what they reveal. This is a common characteristic of buyers in busy companies in competitive industries.

When I or one of my salespeople is having a hard time getting a hold of someone I will ask them, how are you earning the conversation? How are you distinguishing yourself to the buyer? Are you using all methods of communication; phone, emails, and regular mail? Are you calling at different times? Do you leave pleasant and upbeat messages? Are you embracing the challenge of getting a hold of someone?

In one of our projects recently we sent out 30 toy trucks to buyers that we had been chasing for months and in some cases for years. Our client is a last mile delivery trucking company and we have been calling on some of the biggest retailers in the country. The logistics folks for these companies can be extremely difficult to reach and are involved in deciding on millions of dollars of business. Even when we did happen to reach them they were quick to blow us off.

The trucks were white and about six inches long and about two inches in height and looked like a typical delivery truck; a nice little toy for a logistics professional to stick on their shelf or bring home to their child. We slapped the name of our client on both side panels of the truck, and we included a letter which stated, “We will load out your Last-Mile, White-Glove delivery problems.”  We also included a handwritten note that was tailored to each person.  Pretty clever? Don’t mean to brag but we thought we were being pretty creative.

The first week after we sent these trucks out, we got our first meeting with someone we had been chasing for over a year. The next week we arranged two more meetings with very high value prospects. Each time the buyer mentioned the trucks. One actually
called us. The following week we got another meeting.

This worked because these buyers knew we were after them.  They knew who we were and what we were selling.  We had been very consistent being persistent. The trucks broke through the busyness of these buyer’s day.

They gave us the meetings because we earned them.  Professional selling at its best.

It is not about you!

Apparently some folks never got the message regarding the world. No matter what your mother told you or the special attention your father or grandparents gave you, vendors/buyers do not really care about you. I remember when I discovered this. I was walking the streets of Kansas City selling encyclopedias door to door and realized that not one person in that neighborhood cared a whip about me, what I wanted, or how important it was to me to make a sale.

I was talking with one of my clients the other day and the sales manager was lamenting that a certain prospect should give us the business we were bidding on. Most of his reasons were based on what he thought they should do and how we deserved this work. I almost screamed. I did not have the heart to tell him what he wanted was totally irrelevant and frankly was the exact opposite approach to take in order for us to be successful with this account. It is fool’s gold to spend anytime ruminating on the thought that what you want is relevant.

A great salesperson gets into the mind of their prospect, spends time understanding the company’s decision making process, and learns some of the key departmental or organizational objectives.  I have said this before. Sales is not black magic.  When you discover and identify the needs of the prospect and meet those needs, the buyer will buy. When you set aside what you want and totally dedicate yourself to understanding the needs of your future customer, success will find you. Now after you have clearly met the needs of the organization and everyone is in agreement and you still are not making the sale you may have to play a few tricks but this is senior level selling which I will explain in a future blog.

Full Contact Selling

The other day I said to one of my clients, “You spend so much time chasing sales that you never understand your market.” This is so true of the typical small business owner. The ownership runs around chasing sales without ever understanding that they have no idea of developments in their market.  If you want to grow your business for REAL, you had better understand your market.

One of the companies I work for recently hired a new salesperson which I am helping to train. The company for the most part has operated without any full time salespeople throughout its existence. The owner has had salespeople working for him on and off for the last 20 years but for the most part they were not successful and they did not stick around long. The owner has a technical background and to this point has not spent a lot of time understanding salespeople and more specifically how to manage salespeople. He would hire someone and cross his fingers and hope they would work out.

In the training of this new salesperson I have been telling him not to worry about making sales. He has been with us two months and I keep preaching to him to do a couple of things. First, go find people who are buying a lot of what we are selling and 2) initiate and have meaningful conversations with these folks.  I want him first and foremost to understand the needs of the companies we are selling to.  If he understands the needs he can help us figure out ways to sell them.

In order for him to have meaningful conversations he needs to understand the typical problems these companies have. He needs to be able to speak their language. He needs to have excellent listening skills. He has to be able to develop the ability to recognize faulty logic and illogical assumptions on the prospect’s part. He needs to have the ability to ask excellent questions so he reveals this poor logic at least to himself if not to the prospect.  He needs to be able to identify the real problems that they have and then have the courage to get confirmation from the prospects that this is indeed a real problem.  He should be reading a few books and regularly reading magazine articles about the industry.

I have come to call this type of selling Full Contact Selling.  In football you have flag or touch football and then you have full contact.  If you want to make an impression on a running back lay him out with a bone crushing tackle and he will probably remember you.  In Full Contact Selling you get to deeply understand the company you are trying to sell to by asking thoughtful and insightful questions. You ask the questions no one wants to answer. In the process of this you gain an understanding of the company that enables you to help them solve their real problems and they remember you.

While making cold calls with our new salesperson recently, I told him he was spending way to much time trying to get people to like him. This is the good ole boy sales approach.
The salesperson talks about everything else other than the business; the Chiefs, the weather, weekend plans and avoids talking about anything of significance.

Meaningful conversations revolve around what is really going on in the business and the identification of real problems.  The value to us and the competitive advantage we will develop is if this salesperson continues to bring back excellent business intelligence about what problems prospects in our market our struggling with. This information will help us make numerous sales to numerous prospects in our market. The salesperson will actually help us understand our market intimately and completely.  This type of salesperson puts their companies in a position to dominate which is almost as satisfying as a bone crushing tackle.

Are You a Capitalist?

Everyone who is having success in their business is a capitalist these days. They believe in a free market.  Big government is bad; free markets are good. Let the consumer decide.
Our governor here in Kansas is trying to privatize everything in the state including my kitchen sink. I would have a lot more faith in these folks if I actually believed that they did indeed believe and respect free markets.

In order to be a great salesperson you have to trust the market. At least if you are going to be an ethical great salesperson. I recently was on the radio doing an interview and my interviewer, Ryan Rink, asked me why people have such a hard time making cold calls. One of the reasons people have such a hard time making cold calls is because they think they have to sell somebody something. They believe that they are going to have to convince someone to do something they do not want to do. If you ever pick up the phone and listen to a salesperson from a credit card company or the phone company you know exactly what I mean. They are trying to push people to do what they want using a myriad of manipulative techniques. They are not communicating they are pushing something at you.

If you trust the market and if you really believe people need and will benefit from using your product or services you can immediately end all the manipulation. You can call people and interact with them in a way that they will see that you really have their interests in mind. You can have an open mind. There are people who need your product and there are people who do not. You can interact with people with the intent of trying to figure out whether they may actually need your product.

I love to ask this question when I am talking to someone on a cold call or a first meeting,

 If you are happy with your current vendor why would  you change?

Listen, I am not asking people this question as a trick question or in any way trying to manipulate them. I trust the market and I know that there are people who need my products and can afford to buy my products. I am sincerely interested in having an adult conversation with them to see if they really have a need and if I can really help them.
Cold calling is not so horrific when you actually give a damn about the person you are talking to and you sincerely have their interest in mind.

So here is what I say to myself before I pick up the phone:

  • Can people/companies benefit from this product?
  • How will they benefit?
  • What are some of the problems my products/services can solve?

This puts me in a frame of mind where I can call people and focus on having a quality non-manipulative conversation.  I can talk to the person who answers my call as I would a friend. I focus on listening and deeply understanding the situation. I ask thoughtful
and clarifying questions. I communicate my message so they easily understand. My message is not slanted. It is not filled with hyperbole or industry jargon. I leave out the silly sales lines. My message is straight forward, efficient, to the point and honest. I do this because I trust the market, my offerings, and the people in the market. You see, I really believe in free markets.

One of the great door to door salespeople I have ever met told me sales is more about identifying someone who is interested than selling them.  He was right. He also deeply trusted himself, his product, and his market.

Landing New Customers

Whenever I start working with a company and they want to grow their sales, we first focus on what markets we want to grow in and which customers we want to target. We identify companies that are buying a lot of what we are selling. We ask ourselves what our strengths are and what value propositions we are bringing to the table. Why would someone give us a significant portion of their business? What skills do we have and what type of equipment do we have that put us in a good position to make our case? You can never really know if you have the skills and approach to win customers until you get into the market and start making calls.

After we have identified some possible prospects then we will make calls and arrange some meetings with these folks. Most people will see you if you can get a hold of them and make an easy to understand and straight forward approach to why you want to see them. You are not telling them you are God’s gift, you are telling them that you think you might be able to help them in this particular area and you would like to meet and discuss.

In these meetings it’s important to follow a few general guidelines.

  1. We talk 20% of the time and we listen 80% of the time.
  2. We ask a lot of open ended questions.
  3. We spend a lot of time understanding who they are, what they do, who they are working with, what problems they are having, how satisified they are with their current vendors or situation, how much work they have to put out,
  4. We do not spend a lot of time selling.
  5. No selling until
    you find someone who is worth selling to.
  6. If at the end of your questions, you believe that you truly have a value proposition to offer, you offer it and explain it. Believe me if you have spent enough
    time asking good questions and listening, many times people will be so appreciative that they will actually help you find
    ways to work with them.
  7. Vary rarely will you close any business on your first call when you are selling business to business. You have done very well if they give you a chance to review or quote on something.
  8. If the meeting went well and you feel like you can help them, then ask them if they have anything; you can look at, quote on, or review. From here on forward whether you are on the phone with them or in person always ask
    if they have something you might be able to look at.

In your first pass through the companies you have identified and called on, you are looking to identify

5-10 companies that you would like to work with and you think you could offer something to. In the first pass qualifying them and understanding them is more important than selling to them. When you leave a meeting you should be in a much better position to have the discussion internally whether or not they are a prospect worth pursuing. Remember don’t sell initially, Qualify! Qualify! Qualify!

Nothing Happens By Chance

Any good thing that takes place consistently is due to planning and effort. Nothing good in business just happens by chance, nothing. I am always amazed at how small businesses actually believe that new business is just going to magically appear. The few times that a new customer walks through the door reinforces this ridiculous idea that if they just keep doing what they are doing, good things are going to happen. Management needs to commit themselves to understanding the process of bringing in new customers. I say to my clients all the time, “This is not rocket science”. It is not indecipherable. Management has to spend the time to understand their company, their offerings, their prospects, and their industry in order to secure new business.

This week one of my clients and I made a presentation to a new customer with enormous opportunity for new business. We just landed this customer about a year ago and have secured a couple of projects with them since our first project. In preparation for our presentation we studied the company’s white pages, their annual report, their website, and their products. We researched the industry by reading current periodicals and industry reports. Our team met three times to discuss the presentation. It went pretty well, we represented ourselves well and made some very important connections, and took a significant step forward. But we did not actually identify and discuss any significant problems. Even with all this work, we did not uncover any problems or challenges this company was experiencing with their current vendor base that we could fix.

Small businesses can land huge new customers if they solve a problem the big company is having. This does not happen by chance. The large company does not come to the small business to ask them to solve the problem. Small business owners have to identify the problem. They have to find the opportunity, and this takes effort, focus, thoughtful conversation, and research. It requires deep commitment to understand the prospect and their industry.

Those small businesses that are waiting for good fortune to smile on them or the magical rainmaker to show up don’t understand the process and are leaving the company very vulnerable.