Saturday, March 25, 2006

Selling Power Sales Leadership Conference

On Tuesday I went to San Francisco to this conference. To be honest, it was a bit of a toe in the water, as I’ve spent the last few years discouraging sales people from attending conferences and trade shows. It’s not that I don’t think they’re useful, but I’ve always found that there are better and more intimate ways of engaging customers. Anyway, that being said, I though I’d give it a go from the perspective of positioning Third Core in the U.S.

All in all, it was an average use of time. Most of the subjects covered in the discussion periods were derivative and fairly mundane – very sketchy coverage of compensation, marketing integration, sales process and the other usual suspects.

The highlight was the session discussion led by Bill McDermott, President & CEO of SAP North America. Bill is definitely the real deal, and had a great effect on the audience. He also spoke my language when he referred to sales learning: “80% of what they learn will not be in the classroom. It’s in the field, on the fly.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s what I’m positioning Third Core to help our clients with, and it’s starting to really resonate will our clients. Thanks for making me feel validated, Bill.

Otherwise, this conference needs some real help to have the kind of impact that it should have.

I also got the chance to hook up with Chris Sterbenc, VP Partners at Apparent Networks. Chris is an altogether good man and we had a great time talking sales, golf (which he plays and I don’t) and some more weird stuff which made the people who sat next to us giggle, but which I can’t write here…

Friday, March 24, 2006

I'm a bad blogger

Must try harder.
Must try harder.
Must try harder.
Must try harder.
Must try harder.
Ian Gilbert
Third Core Communication

Sent via BlackBerry

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Product corner

Lots of sales people ask me for recommended reading. Any web search will show you that there’s a lot of material out there. My experience is that most of it is substandard, and a lot of it is stolen or ‘paraphrased’ from a few original texts.

By way of summary, then, here are the ‘classics’ of sales methodology, handed down from father to son etc etc.

Spin Selling               The best questioning method there is.

Power Base Selling     Easy reading political sales starter kit – useful if your employer uses Target Account Selling, or anything derived or ‘paraphrased’ from TAS.

Strategic Selling     Good, all encompassing account selling methodology. Good on execution and tactics, in my opinion.

Consultative Selling     Value-oriented methodology predicated on the contribution of fiscal improvement to the customer.

Solution Selling     Pain-centered sales methodology. I like it because it helps you use SPIN in a strategic fashion.

To be honest, one methodology looks pretty much like the next one to me, and there’s so many derivative methodologies offered by training companies worldwide that you never quite know what you’re getting.

I’d say this, if you’re earlier in your selling career, start with SPIN and Power Base Selling and then move into any on of Strategic, Consultative or Solution. If you’ve already mastered the first two, roll the dice and dive into any of the three main methodologies. Because of the similarities in their principles – value creation, executive engagement & relationship building, political insight, competitive activity, strategic execution – the nuances are not that critical, and all of them will support you in executing whatever sales tools and methodology your employer has been sold by the latest, greatest training company.

Bum note

Feedback received last night from Mark Sterling at Tandberg, regarding an in-field development session:

“Thanks again for a fabulous day.  Kinda like going to the dentist, the proctologist & the mother-in law all in the same 8 hrs.”

How does he know?

The final word on CGI feedback

I lazily waited until a bunch of feedback arrived - and now it's all getting posted at once:
“Thanks again for a great adventure.The Third Core experience was definitely a positive one! I felt that not only did I learn a good deal about ‘sales’ and team work, but it really helped identify personal challenges and behaviors within myself.It was great to meet with the executives (who were fantastic) and get a clear understanding of how I am perceived and what issues I need to work on going forward to be successful.Some things which I felt that could be improved on, was the lack on 1:1 feedback in between meetings. It seemed that our team had not enough time in between meetings to get an idea on how we could really improve on our previous experience and strategies on how to accomplish those goals.One final point is that although we did get great feedback from the executives, I felt that it was only their opinion, and I was hoping to get more feedback and comments from the trainers to solidify those comments, and help with how to improve on these points.All in all a great experience which was very helpful and I thoroughly enjoyed it!!!”Andrea Gorgonio, Business Development

“I expected a little more individual coaching and some coaching around putting together a convincing sales presentation. I felt the coaching between sessions was very helpful but the rapidity of the appointments limited our abilities to put a call plan around some of the suggestions. We tried to incorporate the suggestions as best we could and generally worked better as a team as the first day wore on.Two facets of your approach stood out and offered tremendous value; 1) the executives were excellent in that they responded as real customers and were very credible in their roles, 2) the team participation requirement forced the leaders to be inclusive of their team and also forced everyone to increase their level of participation.On a personal note, I believe this training has already helped me to be more effective in my approach to client interaction and look forward to further interaction and support with Third Core.”David Barber, Business Development

“I must say the weekend following the two day program wasn’t spent reflecting, but more catching up on sleep and relaxing. The last few days though has been a real time for me to review the feedback I received and reflect on my experience. While it was the most intense 2 days I have experienced in my working career, it was also the most rewarding. The intense agenda really forced you to focus on the customer and their needs. Focus on asking open-ended questions, then really listening to the customer’s responses to expose their needs.I felt feedback between the ‘calls’ on the first day was too quick. I would have liked a little more time to digest the feedback before the next call. In fact our group didn’t receive feedback after one of our afternoon calls.”
John McNally, Business Development

“The exercise was well worth the effort; however, a little more upfront information may have been useful and avoided some of the unnecessary anxiety. There seemed to be a lot of mystery around the whole thing in the days leading up to it which I think was not realistic.My comment regarding the Vince Lombardi quote about perfect practice was aimed at wanting more detailed and individual feedback at the end of each session so that I could put into practice the suggestions being made. I appreciated the feedback on the Friday afternoon but it would have been more useful earlier.A total of six interviews in rapid fire succession on the first day were also unrealistic and it was difficult to assimilate all the information and pick up on the ‘political’ nuances.Overall, I enjoyed the experience. Others in our organization would benefit from it as well.”Fred Silvestri, Business development

“The session was fantastic; it is always great to gain some insight from real Executives in a safe environment. I personally was very pleased with the feedback I received from Carol playing the role of CEO. The feedback on the presentation was also priceless. The experience allows you to “tweak” your current approach to improve. I have also had the opportunity to use what I learned in a number of customer meetings. The result was instant respect, credibility and a number of “thank you for taking the time”!
What could be better?
1. A kick off session on Day 1 (perhaps an hour) to learn more about Human Behavior and how we have “Time to Respond” to all feedback good or bad. Take it for what it is worth, which is the intent for you as a sales person to improve. Don’t dwell on how you messed up, learn from it and never do it again. As an example it’s “not all about me”. Your customer wants you to sell them something as it would provide a solution to their problem. Your peers want you to be great and not fail. 2. We could also discuss how to sit, where to place your hands – improve on the “ACT” so to speak. EBS – Equal Business Stature to ensure what we do is deliberate.3. We were left alone too much to ponder about what to do next. Tight time lines impacted this I am sure.4. Feedback has to start with a positive – Ian you are very good at that, but your counterpart once or twice just brought up negative feedback. Although he meant well, it did impact one of our team members to the point that they could not focus for most of the day. This could also be because we had little to no time to discuss what went well and what we could do better in between meetings. I understand that this would not have happened had we had our 3 full days. You were challenged with a 2 day schedule and pulled it off with great success. I have been on many training sessions - this is the best ever!!”Paula Connor, Business Development

“I was very impressed and pleased with the sessions and outcome of same.The only comments I would have would be around ‘our’ end of the process as it relates to including a broader section of support staff to really build on the ‘team’ aspect.”Wayne Beck, Vice President IBS

Thanks everyone for the feedback. We took it all on board (it was very consistent) and will be adapting the logistics of our simulations accordingly - creating many more and longer windows for coaching, guidance and feedback.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Back to the coal face

This week we've re-started our in-field work with a number of clients.

We were very successful last year at helping to create some sharp sales results growth for clients such as Tandberg. We got there by spending time in front of clients with their sales team, honing their approach on the fly. It's a pretty specialized approach that you can only pull off if you know what you're doing. Because we actually engage the customer while we're out with sales people (as opposed to taking coaching notes in the corner), this activity is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for traditional sales coaches and trainers. We'll be doing more of the same through 2006.

The first quarter sees a continuation of our work with Tandberg, plus some new activities with CGI and Bell Canada. Without compromising any of our clients, of course, we'll be reporting back as we go.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Feedback re: CGI Simulation

Just received the following feedback from Gord Kaufman, one of the participants on last week's program:

"The memory of this exercise will not fade for me. I am still excited.
Seriously, the simulation was very real and very valuable for me personally - these were real executives acting and behaving as they would in everyday, workday life, yet we had "safe harbour" access to honest feedback directly from them. This is not something I can see getting again (outside of your program).
I know 2 days was brief but the hallway feedback was fine for me.
The real test becomes my ability to exploit these lessons in my day-to-day work. In fact, less than a week later, I feel I am already being tested with one of my clients, so, my political antenna is more fully outstretched thanks to you.

However, I didn't get as much individual feedback as I would have liked - I would love to have got some coaching to help me directly. If the program had more 1:1 stuff, it would be better overall in my opinion."

Just to reinforce Gord's point, I was definitely unhappy with the amount of 1:1 feedback we were able to provide, versus the amount of group coaching and feedback. Back at the office, we've now had a chance to reconfigure the program layout based on group sizes and program length, and think we've solved this issue for future iterations.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Update on Tandberg session

One of the executives who worked on the Tandberg program two weeks ago has just emailed me with the following feedback:

"In your posting, I think you captured very well the limitations in the experience for the Tandberg team caused by the very short schedule and the room.

Interestingly, the first Tandberg team who really struggled with the sales conversation came through with the winning presentation. The team that did very well on the sales conversation made the cardinal sin of ignoring the rule of "different contacts, different values" and got quickly shot down.

Hopefully, you won't have to have all groups view all the sales conversations again. If you do, it may work better to have the execs have different roles for each team i.e. CEO & COO for one group, CFO & CMO for the next group, etc."

Good feedback. Don has reinforced my own feelings that we tried to cram too much into a half-day program for Tandberg. He has also highlighted a developmental area that we see often in the salespeople we work with - namely, insufficient focus on the people behind the roles, leading to unnatural conversations that can lack credibility and direction. It doesn't matter who you engage - from IT manager to CEO - the best results come from understanding personal and political differences. After all - these areas are what actually drive decisions in the corporate world.

Jim Holden published one of the originals of political and relationship selling - Power Base Selling - decades ago. It's still the right start point for salespeople to get a good grounding in the art of seeking and working around personal differentiators.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Back at Base - CGI experience

The second client that we completed work for during the last two weeks was CGI Insurance Business Services. Once again we completed a simulation for them, but this time we had the luxury of two days with their sales team (as I've mentioned before, the ideal time to spend with a sales team is three days - but two gives us a good shot). We provided the 'full monty' for this client - we rented office space in Markham, Ontario, for a fictitious company called Third Core Insurance. We set up a web site for the company, including an annual report with detailed financials. We then worked, as always, with a group of exeperienced executives. Carole Salomon (who has worked with me before), Joy Rychlik and Edward Rychlik were superb in their roles for Third Core Insurance, and gave great value to the sales team with direct, honest and helpful feedback.

The first day of the program gave the sales team, split into two competing groups, the opportunity to call and hold meetings with the members of the executive team. I haven't received any feedback from the participants yet, but I know what I think - we crammed too many meetings into the first day, and sacrificed time for feedback and guidance. My mistake, and one I won't make again. Each group conducted 6 customer meetings on that first day, and we rushed our feedback into corridor conversations that just didn't give us enough time to discuss ways of improving performance.

The second day, when the groups had to present to the executive team, was better paced. The groups received about 90 minutes of feedback from the executives on a collective and individual basis. My experience on previous programs was that participants ran out of energy by about 3pm on the final day. However, whilst this was true on the three day version of the program, there were still participants with the appetite for further feedback and discussion once the program had formally finished. My gut feel is that the rushed feedback on day one left them wanting more.

My fix to this issue - and something that worked perfectly on this CGI program - is that the good people at Tandberg (especially Cherif Gress and Norman Bell) were on site with their video capture and streaming equipment, grabbing everything that was going on in all the meetings and presentations. After the material has been indexed and moved to Third Core's website, I will work with CGI to provide further coaching and guidance based on our recorded program observations.

On the last day, it took one of the participants to remind me of the purpose of the Selling in Action simulation program, and to motivate me to look hard at our performance over the last two weeks.

Fred Silvestri gave me the following quote, which he accredited to Vince Lombardi: "Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect". Once again, our program was good, but not perfect. I'll be looking forward to the feedback I receive from the other participants on this program, and will publish it as I get it.

Back at Base - Tandberg feedback

Just returned to the office after two weeks of client work. One of the services that Third Core provides is to run selling simulations for our clients. We use real executives to create a lifelike selling environment, and then we run a number of role plays that we use to assess and improve salesperson performance.

The first one this year was in Vancouver for Tandberg Canada. This session was a real rush - it was held on the last afternoon of their global sales conference - and as a result was not as effective as it should have been, in my opinion. We worked with two excellent executives, Bill Gibson and Don Linder, but we crammed the exercises into too short a period (Best program length for a full sales team is three days, we have found). Also, we had to let everyone stay in one room, which meant they could watch each other going through the exercises (we normally keep everyone seperated, and encourage them to compete against each other). As a result, I don't think we helped the sales groups as much as we could have.

So far we've had the following feedback:

"Overall I really liked the session. There is tremendous value in practising one's craft in a "risk free" setting. Gaining access to CEO's and learning about their "hot buttons" afterwards gave me incredible insight on how to improve calls when dealing with "Power" players. I would have preferred to do the initial interviews without seeing and critiquing the other group interviews. I know we go "one on one" in the field with you to learn but I would have preferred going solo in this session to gain maximum feedback on my own performance. Personal feedback would have been preferred." Andy Zuk, Regional Sales Manager

I found it quite good overall. I found it a great forum to try sales techniques with executives and determine if they could be used in the real world. The notion of the real sales call with real executives was excellent. That is what we experience more often then not. Having to sell to the CEO was awesome, as that is were we all need to get to more often. It helped me for sure." Tim Rollwagen, Regional Sales Manager

"I felt overall it was a learning experience.However having only a few minutes to prepare is not authentic, and having to do so in front of peers is very nerve racking.The fact that everyone had to participate in some form meant that I found that I was interjecting at times, where normally I would not have." Rick Bell, Sales Engineer

Format and content are dead on for Sales. Love the concept and the actual way it was put to work. From my perspective however, I would love to see more meat on the SE side of the business. In my experience SEs have been too often labeled as supergeeks, yet their sales impact on an account can be tremendous. So a bit more Sales content/direction for the SE and less technical talk has always been a challenging item. Other things I would have loved to see: More time to prepare the final presentation; More individual feedback; More high-level direction on how to improve" Cherif Gress, Sales Engineer

This is good feedback, and I thank the Tandberg team for being so candid.. We have a potentially excellent program, but need to focus more effectively on delivering it in a meaningful fashion. We definitely compromised on the feedback element of this program. I'll publish more feedback from Tandberg as it comes in. Anyone who wants more info on what we did for them, just post a comment to this entry.