Sales Managers: Why Are They Different?

Sales Managers: Why Are They Different?

We recently completed fascinating research on corporate training and development programs for sales managers. In a recent webcast (Research Update: Developing Sales Managers), research underwriter Business Efficacy’s Kurt Theriault joined me for a preliminary review of the study findings.

The research show that firms spend less, per-person, on sales manager training and development than they do on similar salesperson investments. Unsurprisingly, companies rate their sales manager bench strength – the ready pool of promotable manager candidates – as very poor. Both findings are concerning, given the critical impact on firm performance of the first-line sales manager – and even more surprising given respondents’ expected sales manager headcount increases.

How good is the training sales managers do receive? Not good, according to our study: among those skills ratings ranked lowest were those most fundamental to the sales management role: leadership skills, delivering effective coaching, and assessing salesperson performance. Yikes.

To net this out: sales managers – despite their outsized impact on performance – are disadvantaged by low levels of training investment, waste time in training that doesn’t deliver on the sales managers’ most basic developmental requirements, and are unprepared for the role when they start. Oh yes, and we plan on adding more – 14% more sales managers, on average, over the next 18 months. As this unhappy convergence of challenges indicates, training and developing sales managers is something companies find very difficult.

Are these issues unique to sales managers? Compared to say, other managers in the firm? Most likely not; my hunch is that manager development and training is generally lousy in many, many firms. I would submit, however, that training sales managers is harder than training other managers; and that it matters more.

Kurt and I pulled up from the research findings to speculate on this question: Why is training sales managers harder? Our thoughts are available below in the webcast excerpt (Sales Management Association members can view the full webcast archive here). In a nutshell:

Salespeople are harder to manage. They are often paid to be independent actors, an autonomy they value and even seek out. They may therefore be less warm to group think, management initiatives du  jour, or close supervision.

Sales teams are distributed. Direct salespeople are often not within arm’s reach of management. This forces managers to improve communication quality and leverage non-direct media (e.g., phone, web meetings), and consistent management processes.

Salespeople are highly focused on achievement, and are held accountable as such. The lights are brighter, the stakes higher, and the rewards are greater than in other firm functions. On top of that,    they’re competitive.

The sales function is a change-intensive environment. Disruptive sales organization change now seems pervasive. Managers must therefore be adaptable and nimble.

Sales managers are harder-pressed to develop their direct reports. The need to improve salesperson performance is a critical skill for managers, who must manage up low-performers up fast, and    maintain constant team improvement to meet productivity goals.

Our list is likely not half-complete. What would you add? Be sure to check out the full research report and webcast archive (for Sales Management Association members) for more detail on our research on Developing Sales Managers.

 

AIDA: Attention-Interest-Desire-Action

“Free gift inside!”

“Dear Jim, You have been specially selected.”

“Calling all Parents.”

Every day we’re bombarded with headlines like these that are designed to grab our attention. In a world full of advertising and information – delivered in all sorts of media from print to websites, billboards to radio, and TV to text messages – every message has to work extremely hard to get noticed.

And it’s not just advertising messages that have to work hard; every report you write, presentation you deliver, or email you send is competing for your audience’s attention.

As the world of advertising becomes more and more competitive, advertising becomes more and more sophisticated. Yet the basic principles behind advertising copy remain – that it must attract attention and persuade someone to take action. And this idea remains true simply because human nature doesn’t really change. Sure, we become increasingly discerning, but to persuade people to do something, you still need to grab their attention, interest them in how your product or service can help them, and then persuade them to take the action you want them to take, such as buying your product or visiting your website.

The acronym AIDA is a handy tool for ensuring that your copy, or other writing, grabs attention. The acronym stands for:

Attention (or Attract)

Interest

Desire

Action.

These are the four steps you need to take your audience through if you want them to buy your product or visit your website, or indeed to take on board the messages in your report.

A slightly more sophisticated version of this is AIDCA/AIDEA, which includes an additional step of Conviction/Evidence between Desire and Action. People are so cynical about advertising messages that coherent evidence may be needed if anyone is going to act!

How to Use the Tool:

Use the AIDA approach when you write a piece of text that has the ultimate objective of getting others to take action. The elements of the acronym are as follows:

1. Attention/Attract

In our media-filled world, you need to be quick and direct to grab people’s attention. Use powerful words, or a picture that will catch the reader’s eye and make them stop and read what you have to say next.

With most office workers suffering from e-mail overload, action-seeking e-mails need subject lines that will encourage recipients to open them and read the contents. For example, to encourage people to attend a company training session on giving feedback, the email headline, “How effective is YOUR feedback?” is more likely to grab attention than the purely factual one of, “This week’s seminar on feedback”.

2. Interest

This is one of the most challenging stages: You’ve got the attention of a chunk of your target audience, but can you engage with them enough so that they’ll want to spend their precious time understanding your message in more detail?

Gaining the reader’s interest is a deeper process than grabbing their attention. They will give you a little more time to do it, but you must stay focused on their needs. This means helping them to pick out the messages that are relevant to them quickly. So use bullets and subheadings, and break up the text to make your points stand out.

For more information on understanding your target audience’s interests and expectations, and the context of your message, read our article on the Rhetorical Triangle.

3. Desire

The Interest and Desire parts of AIDA go hand-in-hand: As you’re building the reader’s interest, you also need to help them understand how what you’re offering can help them in a real way. The main way of doing this is by appealing to their personal needs and wants.

So, rather than simply saying “Our lunchtime seminar will teach you feedback skills”, explain to the audience what’s in it for them: “Get what you need from other people, and save time and frustration, by learning how to give them good feedback.”

Feature and Benefits (FAB)

A good way of building the reader’s desire for your offering is to link features and benefits. Hopefully, the significant features of your offering have been designed to give a specific benefit to members of your target market.

When it comes to the marketing copy, it’s important that you don’t forget those benefits at this stage. When you describe your offering, don’t just give the facts and features, and expect the audience to work out the benefits for themselves: Tell them the benefits clearly to create that interest and desire.

Example: “This laptop case is made of aluminum,” describes a feature, and leaves the audience thinking “So what?” Persuade the audience by adding the benefits”.giving a stylish look, that’s kinder to your back and shoulders”.

You may want to take this further by appealing to people’s deeper drives”… giving effortless portability and a sleek appearance and that will be the envy of your friends and co-workers.”

4. Conviction

As hardened consumers, we tend to be skeptical about marketing claims. It’s no longer enough simply to say that a book is a bestseller, for example, but readers will take notice if you state (accurately, of course!), that the book has been in the New York Times Bestseller List for 10 weeks, for example. So try to use hard data where it’s available. When you haven’t got the hard data, yet the product offering is sufficiently important, consider generating some data, for example, by commissioning a survey.

5. Action

Finally, be very clear about what action you want your readers to take; for example, “Visit www.mindtools.com now for more information” rather than just leaving people to work out what to do for themselves.

Key Points:

AIDA is a copywriting acronym that stands for:

Attract or Attention

Interest

Desire

Action.

Using it will help you ensure that any kind of writing, whose purpose is to get the reader to do something, is as effective as possible. First it must grab the target audience’s attention, and engage their interest. Then it must build a desire for the product offering, before setting out how to take the action that the writer wants the audience to take.

Tie-Downs Are Critical To Sales

If you knew two little words that could improve your sales, you’d use them, wouldn’t you?

When you see your customer has some reservations, it makes sense to get the issues out in the open, doesn’t it?

And after the ink is dry on the deal, you should make every effort to make sure your customer is satisfied, shouldn’t you?

So why all the questions?  They illustrate a simple technique – sales tie-downs – that can help you improve your sales.  By getting your customers to agree with you in small steps along the way, you have a better chance of reaching agreement when it’s time to do business.

The salespeople who effectively use tie-downs are more successful.  The ones who don’t aren’t nearly as successful.  It’s that simple.

So what exactly are sales tie-downs?

They are short phrases that can be added to statements to turn them into questions that get your prospective customer to start saying yes long before you go for the close.  You ask these little questions throughout your sales presentation to engage your customer and get them used to saying yes.  Psychologically, they will then be more likely to say yes when you ask for the sale.

John Eliason, CEO of First Financial Merchant Services, a credit-card processing firm in Minneapolis, gives the analogy of Gulliver’s travels.  When Gulliver goes to the land of little people and falls asleep, he wakes up and is tied down to the ground.  Gulliver is the sale and all these ropes are the tie-downs.  John says, “If there were only one or two ropes they would not be strong enough to tie down Gulliver.”

Too often, sales reps just regurgitate their presentations and expect that strategy to work.  It doesn’t.  People tune them out because they aren’t engaged in the process.  The remedy is to ask little questions along the way, and monitor the feedback.  Doesn’t that make sense?

You know what I mean?  Are you following me?  These are tie-downs.  End statements with questions like:  Wouldn’t you agree?  Is that right?  This simple technique serves to tie a statement down.

Tie-down questions can be as simple as:

  • Aren’t they?
  • Can’t you?
  • Isn’t it?
  • Shouldn’t it?
  • Won’t they?

Perhaps you have been using these questions with your customers all along and didn’t know there was a name for this technique.

Tie-downs have to become a natural part of your conversation before you can use them in your sales presentations.  Be aware of your tone so the questions don’t sound threatening or argumentative.  Learning how to use tie-downs effectively takes rehearsal.  Practice tie-downs on your spouse or friends.  Have some fun using them in role-playing exercises with other sales professionals.  That will help you develop a rhythm that will include enough, but not too many tie-down questions.

Unfortunately many people in sales don’t ask these little tie-down questions and lose their customers at some point during their presentations.  Give your customer a chance to respond and ask questions of you.  Pay close attention to their reactions, because that will lead you to your next tie-down.

There’s another benefit to tie-downs as well.  They keep you in control and confirm that your customers understand what you are saying during your sales presentation, and that it’s okay to continue.  Are you with me?

Most often, sales people use tie-downs at the end of sentences, but they can be used at the beginning of a sentence as well.  For example, if you are selling an alarm system you might ask:  Isn’t it important for your family to have peace of mind?  Can you see how this will provide safety?

A lot of sales are based on price, so you want customers to agree that savings are important.  You might ask:  Saving money is important to you, isn’t it?  If I could show you ways to save, is that important to you?

Another benefit of using sales tie-downs it that you don’t need a big close, as many sales reps believe. You risk losing your customer when you save all the good stuff for the end.  Keep the customer actively involved throughout your presentation and watch your results improve.

Now let me ask you again, if you knew two little words that could improve your sales, you’d use them, wouldn’t you?  I think you know the answer.

Are You A Sales Leader Or Merely A Sales Manager?

You can buy someone’s physical presence, but you cannot buy loyalty, enthusiasm or devotion. These you must earn. Successful organizations have sales leaders who focus on the future, rather than cling to the past. Leaders bring out the best in people. They spend time developing their people.

Here are the qualities of a leader:

• Leaders have a clear vision of what they are working towards. They don’t keep their vision a secret – they communicate it to their people.

• Leaders are consistent – they keep their principles and values at all times.

• Leaders can and will do what they expect of others – they are prepared to walk the talk.

• Leaders are not threatened by competence – they enjoy promoting people and are quick to give credit to those who have earned it.

• Leaders enjoy developing their people into leaders, not followers – they train people to take on more challenging tasks and responsibilities. They develop people’s confidence.

• Leaders don’t betray trust – they can treat confidential information professionally.

• Leaders are concerned about getting things done. They don’t get embroiled in political infighting, gossip and backstabbing – they encourage those around them to do likewise.

• Leaders confront issues as they arise. They do not procrastinate – if something needs fixing, they do it right away, even if it is uncomfortable. The longer things are left, the more difficult they become.

• Leaders let people know how they are doing – they reward and recognize performance that is above expectations and they help people identify ways of improving poor performance.

• Leaders are flexible. They welcome change – they do not stick to an old position simply because it is more comfortable.

• Leaders are adaptable – they see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.

• Leaders are human. They make mistakes – when they do so, they readily admit it.

• Leaders reflect on and learn from their mistakes – they see errors as a chance to improve their skills.

• Leaders enjoy challenge. They are prepared to take risks and encourage others to do likewise – if they fail, they treat the exercise as a learning experience.

• Leaders focus on the future, not the past. They anticipate trends and prepare for them – they develop a vision for their team and communicate it to them.

• Leaders are open to new ideas – they demonstrate their receptiveness by supporting change.

• Leaders treat staff as individuals – they give closer attention to those that need it and lots of space to those that deserve it.

• Leaders encourage and reward co-operation within and between teams.

Team Leadership

• Leaders develop guidelines with their team – they constantly enlarge the guidelines as the team becomes willing to accept more responsibility.

• Leaders change their role according to the demands of the team – for example, they become more of a coach or facilitator.

• Leaders listen to their team members.

• Leaders involve people in finding new ways to achieve agreed-upon goals.

• Leaders create the opportunity for group participation and recognize that only team members can make the choice to participate.

In Summary

Without managers, the visions of leaders remain dreams. Leaders need managers to convert visions into realities. For continuous success, organizations need both managers and leaders. However, as most seem to be over-managed and under-led, they need to find ways of having both at the same time. Perhaps the best way to handle this paradox is for managers to aim to be managers when viewed from above, leaders when viewed from below and to remember that the need for leadership grows as we move up the organization. This is only one of the challenges that can make working life fun

Six powerful prospecting tips

Why is it that some sales reps consistently earn a six-figure annual income while other reps, putting in the same hours, selling the same products and trained by the same sales manager struggle each month financially to make ends meet? The answer to this question is painfully simple: the six-figure sales reps spend more time on the phone and never forget to ask for referrals!

Top producers don’t need to be told to ask for referrals or follow up on hot leads, because they understand that prospecting is a necessity and not just an activity. The good news is that prospecting for new business, like any other skill, can be trained and developed into a habit.

Here are six powerful prospecting tips to build your business.

 1. Don’t forget to ask for referrals

When it comes to asking for referrals, timing is everything. Research indicates that the most effective time to ask for referrals is right after you’ve made the sale or provided a valuable service for your customer.

Asking for referrals prior to closing the sale is a big mistake and may even jeopardize the sale itself. Once the sale has been completed, your customer will be on an “emotional high” and far more receptive to the idea of providing you referrals.

2. Train and reward your advocates

An advocate is a person who’s willing to go out of his or her way to recommend you to a friend or associate. Most customers are initially reluctant to provide referrals without some basic training and motivation.

Once you’re given a prospect, it’s a good idea to take the time to role-play with your advocate to demonstrate how to approach and talk to their referral. A brief role-playing exercise will build your advocate’s confidence and keep them from over educating their referrals. During your role-play session, be sure to prepare your advocate to expect some initial resistance. This training will pay big dividends by making your advocate more effective and less likely to become discouraged when faced with rejection.

Always take the time to thank your advocates and give them feedback on the status of their referrals. I recommend that you call them and then follow up by sending a thank you card and or gift.

3. Strike while the iron is HOT

Prospects, like food in your refrigerator, are perishable and therefore need to be contacted quickly. Each day you let slip by without making initial contact with your referral dramatically reduces the probability of you making the sale. Develop the habit of contacting your referrals within two-business days or sooner.

Have a system to keep track of your referrals so they don’t end up falling through the cracks. It’s critical to have a computerised client contact management system to record your remarks and track future contacts and appointments. Relying on your memory alone is a very poor business decision that will cost you dearly.

 4. Schedule a minimum of two-hours a day for phone calling

Make your phone calls in the morning while you and your referrals are both fresh and alert. Treat your prospecting time with the same respect you would give to any other important appointment. This is not the time to check your emails, play solitaire on the computer, make personal phone calls or chat with your associates.

Avoid the temptation to try and sell your product or service over the phone. Your objective for every phone call is to create interest, gather information and make an appointment. If your prospect asks you a question, get in the habit of going for an appointment rather than giving a quick response.

Don’t shoot from the hip; use a script. It’s important to use a phone script when you contact your prospect so you don’t leave out any key information. It’s a good idea to role-play your script over the phone with your sales manager until he or she feels you sound confidence and professional.

 5. Qualify your prospect at maximum range

Unfortunately, not every prospect will be interested or qualified financially to purchase your products or services. Successful sales reps don’t waste time chasing after low-probability prospects and know when it’s time to cut their losses and move on.

 6. Don’t take rejection personally.

Selling, like baseball, is a numbers game, pure and simple. Rejection is to be anticipated as a natural aspect of the qualification process, so don’t take it personally. Learn from rejection by using it as a valuable feedback mechanism. Salespeople who take rejection personally lack perseverance and seldom make the sale.

For the majority of salespeople, prospecting for new business is without a doubt the most challenging and stressful aspect of the selling process. Selling is a contact sport and daily prospecting for new business is the key to every salesperson’s long-term financial success. By integrating these six powerful prospecting tips into your daily business routine, you’ll be able to keep 

The power of positive thinking in sales

In aviation, the word “attitude” is a term that refers to the angle that the plane meets the wind, if the wings are level with the horizon and whether the aircraft is climbing or descending. The pilot who fails to take responsibility for the attitude of his or her aircraft is in serious trouble. And likewise, any leader who fails to control his or her thoughts and take responsibility for their attitude runs a similar risk.

As a sales manager, you not only set the pace for your sales team, but you’re responsible for setting the tone as well. For better or worse, the leader’s attitude is contagious and permeates throughout their organization. Positive, upbeat companies are always led by positive, upbeat managers. While we’re not always able to control our circumstances, we can and must control how we respond to life’s difficulties, setbacks and challenges. We have a choice about how our day is going to be.

What do you say?

How often do you talk to yourself and what do you say?

Research in the field of psychology indicates that the average person maintains an ongoing mental dialog, or “self-talk,” of between 150 – 300 words per minute. Unfortunately, not all of these thoughts are positive. In fact, it has been estimated that of the thousands of thoughts we have each day, approximately 40% of them tend to be negative and self-critical in nature. Most of us are generally unaware of this negative background chatter, let alone its sabotaging effect on our emotional state, performance and well-being.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, for they will become your character. Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny.” – Anonymous

Earl Nightingale, co-founder of the Nightingale-Conant Corp., concluded that life’s “strangest secret” is that you become what you think about all day long. If you want to know where your predominant thoughts lie and what you believe, look at what you’re experiencing in your life. Your thoughts are creative by nature and express themselves through your emotions, which in turn, drive your actions. Everything you say both positive and negative is in fact an affirmation and reflects your belief.

Whatever you think, feel or say about your life today is the scaffolding that builds the events you will experience in the future.

Affirmation and positive self-talk

William Shakespeare said, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” The first step in the process of changing your belief system is to monitor your thoughts and the next step is to control them through the power of choice. Once you become conscious of the critical aspects of your internal dialogue, you can choose to reframe your negative thoughts by substituting affirmative statements.

World-class athletes understand the value of affirmation and recognise the impact of their mental preparation on their physical performance. They use the power of positive affirmation to reduce anxiety and increase their expectation of achievement.

To be of maximum benefit, an affirmation must be simple, encouraging and stated in the present tense. By repeating an affirmation over and over again it becomes embedded in the subconscious mind.

Do affirmations really work and can they propel a person to greatness? As a teenager beginning his boxing career in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay would frequently affirm, “I am the greatest of all time!” While many considered him boastful and few took this 89 nine pound, 12-year-old seriously, Mohammad Ali used the power of affirmation to become the greatest boxer of all time and arguably the most recognisable sports figure in the world.

Henry Ford was right when he said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.” Your belief system, like your computer, doesn’t judge what you input; it simply accepts it as the truth. The key to cultivating and maintaining a positive mental attitude is to use your power of choice and take control of your thinking. It’s a challenging task to develop a calm, focused mind, but well worth the effort.

Action plan

Here are some suggestions to help you have a good day every day.

Establish the habit of getting up early.

Upon rising, read or listen to something positive and inspirational. Clinical studies indicate that our mind is most receptive to suggestion during the first 15-minutes upon awakening. Here are some books that will help you start your day off on the right foot.

How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Sellingby Frank Bettger

The Magic Of Believingby Claude M Bristol

You’ll See It When You Believe Itby Dr Wayne W Dyer

The Power Of Positive Thinkingby Dr Norman Vincent Peale

Think and Grow Richby Dr Napoleon Hill

Psycho-Cyberneticsby Dr Maxwell Maltz

Take a few moments to consider the upcoming activities of your day. Visualise events flowing. See people accept your ideas and your day unfolding in a harmonious and productive way. This is a good time to verbalise your affirmations.

Take time for some physical exercise.

At noon, take a 10-minute mental break to relax and replenish your energy

Keep calm and sell more

‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was a propaganda poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities.

Personally, I think that this was a brilliant move during times of distress and great fear and I wish that the slogan would be applied more often, especially during times of stress.

Sometimes, I feel that sales is viewed as a practice where practitioners are expected to hassle and scramble rather than taking a step back, taking a deep breath and carrying on with the plan. Especially, in a consultative sales environment panic appears when sales don’t happen because the sales cycle is typically longer.

What happens if sales don’t happen?

Usually, panic. And panic leads to more panic. When sales don’t happen, very often the CEO thinks s/he needs to step in. Then you have situations in which CEOs are doing the sales training, or CEOs being on first sales calls and getting involved in everything and anything that has to do with sales. They fear for their company’s survival and that’s understandable.

And what about the sales managers in these situations? Well, as there is no success to show they often panic as well. In these cases they often just give in and let their CEOs take over instead of putting their feet down and demanding to stay on track. They tend to go along with their CEOs rather than providing clear measures, guidelines and leading developments in the sales process.

This can have a snowball effect on the sales team. The sales people might fear that they could lose their job or that they won’t be making any money.

The sales managers do both. They panic and fear, both for their team, for their compensation and for their reputation.

Why don’t the sales managers keep their CEO in check?

I have always wondered in situations like that why sales manager wouldn’t stick to their guns? Is it because they are afraid of repercussions or is it that they are not confident enough to make a case for a structured and meaningful sales process?

Or is it because CEOs are used to being powerful leaders and end up steamrolling their team? Or could it be that CEOs are not always good at allowing other opinions?

It’s probably a combination of all of the above but in all fairness, it really shouldn’t be the job of a CEO to establish or drive the sales process. When they take control it’s usually stems from lack of results and trying to be helpful.

Sales managers need to manage their CEOs

Sales managers are tasked with building and managing an effective and successful sales team. To be most successful, though, they will need to build an effective and successful relationship with their CEO. That includes open and full communication, documentation and also managing your CEO’s expectations. Embracing the CEO’s vision but also making sure that your CEO understands and embraces the sales process you put in place. Provide reports on progress, share success stories but also reasons why sales might stall. This will help you as a sales manager or sales person to support your credibility and it will help your CEO understand why things might take a bit longer.

What is the solution?

Stay calm and on-track. If you have a plan, success will follow. It might just take a bit longer. It’s better to wait a month or two as oppose to changing everything and getting derailed completely. When CEOs feel that things are structured and on track, they will go back to doing what they do best, rather than dictating the sales process. Sales people and managers need to manage up.

CEOs often don’t have a background in sales management, so help them understand the process, manage expectations, stay positive and Keep Calm and you will Sell More!

Intelligent consumers influence sales, marketing tactics

You will have difficultly finding an organisation that gives you a non-biased story; they are not going to tell you the negative points about their product or service, only the positive points.

Being interrupted by a brand so that they can give you their sales or marketing pitch is a pet peeve of many consumers. Online media platforms, such as Facebook try and resolve this by offering advertisers contextual advertising, whereby consumers only see adverts that are relevant to what they are currently doing. And on the personal engagement front, how often do you have to tell a store assistant that you are “just browsing” when they interrupt you in a store, resulting in you being able to avoid the one sided sales pitch.

Let’s face it, people do not want to be sold to anymore, they want to feel like they are in control of their buying decisions. Even if you see a contextual ad on Facebook, you probably still feel irritated with that brand and may make a subconscious decision not to buy from them, like I do.

Online research

For most purchases, both for individuals and for businesses, the average buyer conducts a fair amount of research online to narrow down their choices and allow them to make an informed decision. This is why, so often, when you are approached by a sales person, and you ask an intelligent question, they then need to refer you to the product specialist to answer it, because they are not ready to deal with your intelligent questions.

The fact that buyers now turn to the internet and become educated before they begin looking at potential suppliers means the job of the marketer has changed. Marketer’s need to educate potential buyers through content that can be trusted, they need to add perceived value to the buyers and they need to capture the buyers attention way before they begin evaluating suppliers.

Marketing strategies need to evolve from incumbent outbound marketing whereby messages are pushed out that interrupt people, hoping to find someone wanting to buy, to inbound marketing strategies whereby buyers find brands through the outstanding content they have provided.

Likewise, sales strategies need to evolve from the outbound approach whereby potential consumers are approached in-store and hurled with the standard sales pitch, or randomly cold called and also flung a sales pitch.

Larger responsibility for revenue generation

With an inbound sales and marketing strategy in place, marketing teams take a much larger responsibility for revenue generation. Not only do they take care of creating awareness and generating leads, but once that lead is found the marketing team can nurture that lead until they are ready to purchase, and only then hand over to sales to conclude the deal.

Globally, inbound strategies are being adopted by marketing teams and in many cases the separate functional areas of sales and marketing are being merged to form a single powerful revenue-generating unit.

For these new content driven strategies, and particularly for those brands adopting them in Africa, special consideration needs to be given to mobile platforms. A large portion of research would take place on a mobile device, and so awareness building, lead generation and lead nurturing content must be mobile device friendly.

Sales rehab: how to make targets and rest easy

A lot of B2B companies are using the truculent economy as a scapegoat for many of the ills that plague them. At the end of the day, they’re not making as much money as they used to or perhaps they’re even running at a loss. The fact is, though, that an economy resembling a wounded sloth only serves to highlight and magnify the problems that already existed.

And every company has problems.

It’s no secret that, in times of plenty, companies are protected by the fat but when times are lean, there’s little lard buffering the harsh realities of retrenchments versus the unbounded joy of swelling coffers.

It’s also no secret that it’s then that sales managers begin to bald prematurely, wake up in the dark of night in a cold sweat, and quaff one consecutive coffee after another while chain-smoking like a legionnaire.

Needn’t be the case

The reason for their accelerated ageing is that they don’t know what to do to remedy the situation. But that needn’t be the case.

The causes for lacklustre revenues range from misalignment of sales people with sales management to few sales people meeting their targets, poor forecasting, underused vendor relationships, poor closing ratios, non-existent or ill-defined sales methodologies, and no or poor differentiation, or a poor sales strategy.

What sales and business unit managers in complex sales environments must do is gain visibility into their sales processes because it is then that they can start to take appropriate, relevant and effective actions to do something positive for sales.

They will know, for example, which leads offer immediate potential – if any at all – based upon factual metrics derived from accurate sales data, and distinguish them from those that will not be closed in the immediate future.

Where to focus sales effort

That will tell them where to focus their sales effort to get the maximum returns. They will gain the ability to differentiate their service or product.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Sales environments become increasingly complex as organisations grow in size. The larger the business, the more territories in which it operates or offices it maintains, the more sales people it employs, the more divisions it spans, the more products or services it offers, the greater the complexity. It can be an epic task to drill down into the data and learn what’s really happening.

And when managers do try to look into the reasons for poor performance, they are often stymied by the poor forecasting that runs riot through most businesses. Forecasts are typically based on past performance; they’re based on supposition, they’re an enigmatic brew of science and art, thumb sucks, bum covering, and the whole gamut of corporate ethics, mixed as they are.

The plan

So how is a sales manager or business unit manager (BUM) supposed to come up with a plan? And while they’re at it, how do they come up with a plan they’re pretty sure will succeed?

First, they need to know what’s going on. Without a sales methodology, process and proper tools in place, they cannot even begin. Those three components give them a common language and qualification that leads to qualitative selling. But not without coaching that will allow sales managers and BUMs to put the three components to proper use.

Take those steps and sales people ultimately end up with clear differentiators and compelling reasons why clients should choose them, which means they don’t have to resort to the unsustainable business practice of discount selling. Sales managers and BUMs gain visibility into where to maximise impact through focused, appropriate, and effective actions. Sales people cannot fudge forecasts and activities.

Sales people become more productive and more effective – or they leave. It’s the ugly side of sales performance management but right-sizing can cost companies an inordinate sum unless the situation can be reversed.

Clear and factual metrics

Clear and factual metrics will identify under-performers and top performers without prejudice, and under-performers without the will to change typically leave of their own accord once it becomes clear.

Those that do wish to remedy the situation, however, will know precisely where to make an effort and how to do so and sales managers will be able to support them as they become more productive for the business. It’s the most attractive option for everyone because, ultimately, companies exist to make money and any working person, particularly a sales person, is no different.

Six simple test cases to help increase online sales

Test everything, assume nothing! This is one of the core values that I live by, especially when it comes to generating online sales. The reason being is that I have learnt that after all these years on the internet, you just never know what strategy or angle is going to work best for you until you test it. This applies even to your star-performing strategies, because there’s always room for improvement.

The bottom line is, testing is the only way to discover what works and what doesn’t on your website, and it’s the best way to start increasing your sales exponentially. And if you take the plunge and use just one of the following tests, you’ll learn just how true this is, especially when you start seeing a dramatic improvement to your bottom line.

Test #1: Rethink your headline. Adding in different benefits of your product / service in your headline has a huge impact on your sales ad it’s often the first thing visitors to your site will see so it must grab their attention and compel them to read on.

A successful headline should highlight a problem your target audience faces and stress the main benefit of your product or service in solving this problem. Let’s look at an example that illustrates how a headline can be changed for maximum impact: “PuzzBox – The Amazing Toy Storage Box For Puzzles.” The problem with this headline is that it tells you what the product is, but not what it does for you. It doesn’t give a visitor any good reason to continue reading the rest of the page.

Contrast that one with this: “Finally! Discover the Secret That’s Got More Than a million Puzzle-Crazy Kids Worldwide Actually LOVING Clean-Up Time!” This headline presents a major benefit of the product and a solution to a problem – in this case, how to get kids to clean up after themselves and actually enjoy it.

Relating to your audience

Test #2: Establish a problem and solution. In the first few paragraphs on your home page, you need to go into more detail about the problem you highlighted in your headline – showing your audience that you relate to them. (Only when your audience feels you understand their problem will they feel confident that you can solve it.)

Once the problem is established, you can then begin introducing your product or service as the solution to this problem. By emphasising exactly how your product or service will solve your reader’s problem, you’re guaranteed to see quite an interest in your product or service and this will lead to a boost in sales.

Test #3: Adding credibility to your copy. This will enhance your visitors’ trust in you. It’s through this process that your visitors come to trust you and feel comfortable enough to buy from you. There are several ways you can do this effectively and we’ll talk about two of the quickest and easiest ones here.

One of the best ways to establish your credibility is to include customer testimonials in your sales letter. These should be excerpts from genuine emails or letters from customers expressing how your product or service helped solve the particular problem they faced.

Please note that a customer testimonial that states how your product benefited them is much more effective than one that just says something like, “Your product is great!” or “I love your product.”

Secondly, also enhance your credibility by adding a section to your copy that outlines your credentials, experience and any background information that makes you qualified to solve your target audience’s problem. Your aim should be to effectively convince readers that you are the best person to offer them a solution to their problem.

Creating a sense of urgency

Test #4: Instill urgency in your copy. Achieving this will convince readers they need to buy now. The best place to do this is towards the end of your sales letter, near your call to action (where you ask for the sale). Here are a few of the most effective ways to create a sense of urgency:

Offer additional bonuses for free if visitors buy within a certain time frame, eg: a free service for a month or a free eBook containing tips and advice.

Offer only a limited quantity of your products or services.

Offer a limited quantity bonus.

Offer a limited-time price discount where visitors must buy before a certain date in order to qualify for the discount.

Test #5: Reposition your opt-in offer. Your opt-in offer is your tool for gathering your customers’ email addresses and building your email list, which allows you to regularly keep in touch with your subscribers, build relationships of trust and loyalty, become a credible source and sell them your products or services.

But did you know that where your opt-in offer appears on your site can have a huge impact on how many subscribers you attract? Yes, it’s true; you can boost your opt-ins and build a bigger list of loyal subscribers.

Test by placing your opt-in offer in as prominent a position as possible on your home page. According to usability studies, the top left of a page is where visitors’ eyes are often drawn first. At the very least, test placing your opt-in in the “top fold” of your home page – the area of screen first visible to a visitor before they scroll down the page.

You should also test placing your opt-in offer on every page of your site so it’s always in front of your visitors. Remember, the more sign-up opportunities you provide, the more subscribers you’re likely to get.

Less products, more detail

Test #6: Minimise your product or service offerings. Try offering just one product or service on your home page and if you sell a number of products or services on your website then I’d strongly recommend you test whether or not this is the best strategy for you. I’ve found that offering fewer products in one place with more copy describing those products always translates into higher sales.

Instead of trying to please everyone who visits your site by offering a large range of products with minimal detail about each one, offer just one product, or one set of related products or one key set of benefits and answer all the possible questions and doubts your visitors might have about that product. You don’t have to stop selling your other products as you can always offer them to your customers from your other web pages or by using follow-up offers.

Of course, the only way to find out for sure if this will work with your target audience is to test it! Write a sales letter for your lead product, and put it on your home page. Then run the test for a week or two and watch the numbers.