My Dog Lou Lou

The One B2B Buyer Tactic Salespeople Must be Prepared for – but Most Aren’t

My dog Lou Lou gets her dinner every night at 6:00. At 5:55 on the nose, she starts her cajoling to get us up off our home-office chairs and onto the important business of providing chow. How she knows that it’s time, I don’t understand. But everyone with a dog will be shaking their heads right now in recognition of the phenomenon.

As soon as she’s done eating her own dog food, she’ll look to see whether the cat has left any tasty morsels behind that she can sink her teeth into.

The expression “eating your own dog food” in the business world means something else entirely. It means that a company uses their own products–the very products and services that they ask their customers to buy and use.  There’s an obvious reason for that. Imagine an Apple executive at a customer meeting excusing herself to take a call–on her android mobile phone. Or Pepsi choosing to serve Coke in their cafeterias instead of Pepsi. It’s just not going to happen.

It isn’t reasonable to expect customers to use your products if you don’t use them yourself.  It would be an indication that you don’t believe in your own products or that they’re so complicated even you can’t figure out how to use them. Buyers know to look for this. If you’re a salesperson you had better watch out for a new tactic that your prospects are using to weed out companies that don’t eat their own dog food.

It happened to Etien D’Hollander, CEO of Front Row Solutions and he recounted the story in an interesting blog post, “Dogfooding: Is it part of your CRM Selection Process.” Seems he was calling on a very savvy prospect who had given great thought to the 4 features he felt were most important. Then, he proceeded to meet with his prospective suppliers including Front Row and put them each to the test.

When Etien’s meeting with the prospect came to the end the prospect said, “Ok, so you just had a sales meeting with me. I want to watch you submit your sales report from your mobile device into your CRM system.” Gasp! Not to worry. Etien promptly retrieved his cell phone from his suit pocket, tapped a few buttons, and the call report was completed. The prospect was duly impressed and shared the results of his experiment. Turns out seven CRM reps were asked to perform the same task and only 5 of the 7 could do it.

It’s not surprising to me. Many products only work the way they’re described when it’s a perfect world scenario. In a perfect world, those CRM reps would be intimately familiar with their call reporting system because they use it all day, every day. But the perfect world isn’t often the case.

If your salespeople are proposing a product or service that they themselves should be using, they better be prepared to be tested. Fortunately, this is also the case for your competitors. And that’s where you can gain a competitive advantage if you play your cards right. Unlike the prospect Etien called on, many prospects don’t know what or how to quiz the salespeople that call on them. Use that to your advantage.

Create a handy list of suggestions—a “guide”—that can be given to each prospect. The list should include the key activities they should ask each vendor under consideration to show them. If you happen to know that your CRM’s sales call reporting capability is the slickest on the market, that should go on the list of must-see-in-action features.

If you can encourage prospects to ask specific questions or require the demonstration of certain features important to the prospect and which, coincidentally are ones that you triumph in, that’s a good thing. It’s not enough for your reps to demo the features alone. The handy guide is key to the strategy because your prospect WILL NOT remember. Reps can even use the guide as a talking point to learn which areas are the most important for the prospect. It’s a helpful exercise for prospects and it will help your reps know where to focus the conversation as well as the demo. At the end of the meeting, the rep should suggest that the prospect use the list with each vendor they’re considering. This is a great technique to trip up your competition and possibly cause them to reveal their weak points or the fact that they don’t eat their own dog food.

Think about your products and your salespeople. Are they eating their own dog food? Can they readily demonstrate that to prospects? What would happen if prospects asked your salespeople to prove it to them like Etien’s prospect did? Would they be able to rise to the occasion with equal aplomb?


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.


Why a Shorter Sales Cycle Isn’t Always a Better Sales Cycle

Why a Shorter Sales Cycle Isn’t Always a Better Sales Cycle

I recently had occasion to pick up an old copy of Spin Selling, still one of my favorites – which I’d recommend to Sales Management and Sales reps alike. Something caught my attention that I didn’t see the first time around — fast sales cycles are not always the goal. Now, if you’ve been managing your team by providing KPIs around the timing or linearity of deals; your might take pause at a counter-intuitive idea such as this one.

But it stands to reason, doesn’t it?

The reason sales cycles are fast is usually that there are fewer total individuals involved. That includes fewer of your sales team, and fewer unique individuals on the customer end of the engagements.  Fewer people involved usually indicates that deals are smaller. That which can be approved by one or two people is usually smaller than that requiring six or eight people.

Would it then be prudent for Sales Management to analyze sales cycles within their organizations and keep trying make them shorter? I don’t expect that this is the right goal. In and of itself, a consistently diminishing sales cycle mean is probably not a good thing. Why? Because it is probably accompanied by a diminishing total average deal size within your sales organization. This could mean your sales reps are selling the solution short, going for the quick win.

How much bigger could the deal be if you allowed them the extra time? There are many variants on this question. Generally speaking, for sales cycles, the goal for sales management needs to be – watching for patterns – determining how long most sales cycles are. And how do sales managers, in this regard, determine how one individual rep compares to the average for the organization, the region or the product?

How do your new reps compare to your existing reps? This is key for sales managers in reorganizing sales teams or in hiring new reps. Most sales organizations will have some rule of thumb about how long it takes for a new rep to “get up to speed.” But this measurement is very likely tribal and anecdotal. To measure sales cycles by rep, by product; would be a great judge of how long it REALLY takes to get up to speed. I’ll bet most sales organizations would be surprised.

Net/net, it is a great idea for sales management to measure sales cycles, especially if you can compare it apples to apples across your organization. The question is why? You can motivate your sales teams, better enable them, and better and gauge pipeline – as a result.


Why Most Demos Are Useless

When you’re selling B2B solutions, at some point in the sales process you’re likely to end up doing a demo.

Too bad. Most demos are useless.

They usually don’t help the prospective customer make a good choice. They just confuse and bore them.

And they don’t help the vendor make the sale, either. That’s especially true for software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.

A demo isn’t a sprint

When most vendors prepare a demo for a prospect, they treat it like it’s the speed round on a game show.

The Account Rep or Sales Engineer – all wired up and ready to go – look at the demo as a sprint. How many features can they show in whatever amount of time the prospect has allocated?

The demo they put together is all about the features… and as many of them as possible.

Lost in this approach is one fundamental notion:

The customer doesn’t care about features. They care about solving their problems.

Even the label, “demo,” is all wrong. Demo means “we’ll demonstrate our product to you.”

Instead, it should be called something like “solve,” as in “we’ll show you how to solve your problems using our solution.”

For SaaS, feature fixation is especially pointless

For SaaS companies, in particular, demonstrating one feature after another is especially pointless.

For one thing, many SaaS companies will add new features regularly over the life of the subscription. Whatever you demo today will be out of date in a few weeks or months anyway.

Besides that, customers are buying more than a set of features. With SaaS, they’re buying support, reliability, performance, integration, and security as well.

Prospects are making their purchase decision based on whether they think you understand their problems and you have the knowledge, resources and commitment to solve them.

They’re buying into a relationship, not a set of features.

Build trust, solve problems

Demos don’t have to be useless… but you need to show prospects more than feature, feature, feature.

You need to talk about your experience in their industry, about other customers you’ve worked with and their results, about the entire scope of your solution.

In short, you need to solve their particular problems, address their particular concerns, and help their business.

Stories beat features every time

I’m not saying you can avoid showing the product. If you’re selling an enterprise solution, you’ll invariably get pulled into shoot-outs and bake-offs.

I’ve been through lots of these, sitting on both sides of the table. Most of the time, every provider does a good job ticking through the complete list of tasks that the customer has specified.

In fact, after 3 or 4 of these demos – “We can do this. We can do that, We can do this too.” – all of them look the same. The prospective customer can’t tell one solution from another based on the features.

Here’s what sets the winner apart:

They provide context. They explain how the solution helps the business, how it solves problems, why it will make the customer more successful.

The winner doesn’t do it with features alone. They win with the story that goes with them.