Thursday, March 31, 2011

Play Ball!

It is opening day for Major League Baseball. This is a magical day. Every team is tied for first and every team has an equal chance to win it all. Is this your companies opening day?

By this I mean do you ever wipe the slate clean to start a new season? Zero out the stats and start over? This has two effects.

First, you can say to all your employees and customers, what have you done for me lately? Yes, they have been a great customer….last decade. He is your best salesman averaged over 15 years…. I love walking into a restaurant that has a best place to eat award on the wall from a local paper from 20 years ago. Mmmmmm what’s cooking?

Second, you can forget that past and look forward. We have always lost money on that customer, but I kept changing services. His utilization has always been less than others…but he documents processes like nobody’s business.

The body of work is important, but selective memory has its place too.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


When is it time to do a hard reset? Are the patches, fixes, workarounds, subpar performance, still cutting it? If not, then it is past due. This applies to all aspects of your business. Offices, hardware, software, business processes, people.

Simple question. Does it work? If the answer is no, then we have an easy starting point. If yes, then we need to know if it works the way you want it to, and is the way you want it to work optimal? My guess is it isn’t. So we have a big task ahead of us.

Review our processes, iron out the bugs, and implement. This may be a shock, but remapping your processes should not be a secret. Involve your staff and have a re-launch party. Generate some excitement about making positive changes in your business and encourage this behavior in others.

Sometimes task manager works, but sometimes it takes a reboot.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Danger Will Robinson

Are you getting business advice that breaks the prime directive? Do you feel that your company is getting placed in harm’s way following expert advice? You aren’t alone.

How is this possible? Shouldn’t the experts know the proven ways to grow and secure your business? Well as they say, the particulars of your case are fact dependent. There are few businesses that are the same, and fewer with the same customers. So beware of one size fits all “training”.

Let’s play a game. Are you a service provider? Do you have customers? Do customer’s computers need backup? Is hosted backup affordable? Based on you saying yes for each question, I could tell you that you need to be selling hosted backup to every client. An expert opinion based in fact. Totally wrong.

So every piece of advice you are given needs to be tested against your real world facts. Who are your customers? What are the compliance regulations they need to follow? What is their risk tolerance? This is what makes a best practice a right practice.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Niche Itch

Do you have an itchy niche? Let me rephrase, you have a market segment that you service that you have expertise in? Do you find that market growing? Now what can you do with that itch?

First thing is scratch it. If your customers have a need that you are providing a solution for, you should be able to expand this market. Leverage your expertise to new clients as an entry point to gain their business. Don’t forget another untapped market for your services, other service providers.

I spoke to a service provider last week that had a group of clients exclusively in the pharmaceutical industry. He had worked as an IT director for companies in this market where he developed an expertise in the compliance requirements for this industry. Once he left the corporate grind to run his own company, he found a ready market in this industry.

He was in a quandary, he was looking to grow his business, but was going to need to look at other types of companies. There were no more Pharma companies in his area and he had lost the desire to travel outside of his home base. I told him he had a ready new stream of income available. Providing his Pharma regulatory expertise to other service providers as a service.

We provide services. Don’t exclude a ready market for your services, your peers.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Elephant walk

How do you eat your elephants? No, I’m not asking this because I had a double wide burger in Nashville, but how do you do accomplish the hard, difficult, and impossible goals for your business?

Procrastination heads most peoples list. I don’t have time to do it, so I’ll just keep on keepin’ on and hope I can’t  see it in my rearview mirror. This is hardly a winning strategy.

The best way to get any large goal done, is to set small obtainable tasks. Once you have your goal set, you know how much work you need to do to get it done. So you need to set some short term steps, that you can measure, and block time out on your calendar to accomplish these.
But before you do another thing, do an immediate task towards your goal. This allows you to have instant lift. 

For example, if you wanted to do some marketing for your business. It may take some time to setup a proper email campaign, but I bet you send many emails every day. Make sure you have your email signatures fully branded. Web, blog, phone, logo, etc. and don’t forget your plain text phone signatures.

Immediate items, short term tasks, complete goals.

Friday, March 25, 2011

You are what you eat

Ever over eat, or eat something that didn’t quite sit well? Uncomfortable isn’t it? Self-induced pain and discomfort. I bet most of you knew how you were going to feel, yet kept eating those hot wings.

What is the spicy food in your business? What do you do that you know isn’t healthy, but just can’t stop? Is it bad marketing? Discounting? Pricing? Bad hiring? Apathy?

You need to look at your business, really look at it to see what is causing you pain. Often having someone else look at this is a help. They are able to help you see the light. Peer groups do a great job of making you toe the line.

So if your business is not growing stronger, maybe it is something you are eating.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Where the rubber meets the road

What drives your business now? Services, Sales, Magic? Is it your level of service? The customers you have? What makes your business move? I ask because I’m surrounded by 400+ IT services providers at Robin Robins Boot camp in Nashville, looking to capture lightning in a bottle.

Everyone wants to grow, expand, develop, and generate. More leads, more prospects, more customers. Well who doesn’t? But do they and you have the ability to handle more business?

How would your customers say you are doing now? Are you supporting your customers the way you would want to be supported? Do you have the bandwidth to do more? Can you track and measure your business? If the answer is no, you don’t need to stop marketing, but maybe you need to market yourself to your customers.

You can only apply enough marketing horse power to make your business go faster, not spin your wheels.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Country Style

What is your style? Do you have a sales style? It is kind of like an accent, you may not know you have one, till someone makes fun of it. Let me assure you, you do have a style.

One thing I have learned is not to fight the style you are comfortable with too much. Gentle nudging is generally a much better solution. Our style is generally learned through trial and error. Try something and watch what happens, remember what worked, try it again. Did it work again?

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Why? It is one of a couple things. First, is it the client? Are they the same type of customer with the same needs? Is it your delivery? Some lines can sound way too rehearsed and slick. Is it your location? Regional differences can make a huge change, and if the region is another country, all bets are off.

The lessons to remember about your sales style, be you, be topical, be clear, keep it simple.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Male Assist Needed

I’m flying to Nashville for Robin Robins Boot Camp and people just amaze me. I know I fly a lot and know what to expect. I know how to pack, what I can and can’t walk through the metal detector with, and to take my damn shoes off. So how well does your sales staff make it through your customers TSA?

The security your clients have is no less stringent. They may not limit the amount of liquids you can carry in to the building, but they have rules, both spoken and unspoken. Break these rules and you have more problems than a body scan.

Most of these rules your staff should know, they start with basic respect. You are a guest, ask permission before you do something. Thank people for their time. Some are domain knowledge that you will need to rely on your contact or champion for. Don’t be afraid to ask about these. Is there anyone I shouldn’t talk to? Times I shouldn’t call? Places I shouldn’t go? Some of these items are political, some are a religion.

Remember what your mother told you, don’t talk about religion and politics in public or with strangers. I’m sure you know even having these discussions with friends can cause friction. If you don’t ask you will never know. If you don’t know, you will make mistakes and these mistakes will cost you money.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More or Less

I had a talk with Kate Hunt from today on their weather report Podcast. One of the side points we talked about was how important is sales engineering in the cloud based sales environment? Go listen, I’ll wait till you get back…..

Ok, so one of the points being made was the skill set of a sales engineer will change based on many different items. Products you sell, the way you sell them, who you sell them to, will all change what skills one needs. I feel that selling cloud services as opposed to selling local services requires less technical skills, but more communication skills. Generally there is less to setup, but more to explain.

So if it requires less technical skill can’t the sales staff do this on their own? Do you need to have a sales engineer or use your valuable technical resources time to fill this role? Well, yes and no. Yes, a salesperson can, but they will not carry the same credibility as a technical resource.

Time is money, and if you can cut the time to sale by adding some technical skill, it seems like money well spent.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Running Strong

What’s your pace? When you are moving through your day are you moving at a walk, jog, or run? Do you maintain this pace or not?

Finding you pace is as important as, or more important than going fast. Ever find yourself driving too fast on a slick road? Not a comfortable experience. Too fast is out of control. Too slow isn’t much better. Driving too slow can make you anxious.

So moving at your proper pace is the speed you feel right. Fast or slow makes little difference. If you can’t finish, you can’t win. Find a pace you can run all day, every day.

Don’t think the pace you are running today is the pace you need to run. The more conditioning you have, the better your pace will be. Hire a coach or practice on your own, but find your pace.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sushi anyone?

So I was watching the Blue Planet documentary. Made me think, what kind of fish am I? I’m I one of those finger length plankton eaters, snapping up my dinner, never getting any bigger? Or am I a Yellow tail Tuna, eating plankton for a year, then fry, then anything that I can fit in my mouth? Growing, eating, and growing some more?

Some of the fish are hunters. Always looking for a meal, making their own opportunities. Some are opportunistic, relying on others to serve up a dinner. Some just float along, eating what they run into. Sound like anyone you know? Is this your business?

Hunters are fast, out probing, hunting, making a market. The opportunistic ones hang back. See where the market is going, then nibble on the helpless scraps. Floaters sell something if someone begs them to.

The reality is the Ocean is full of all kinds of fish. I’m not saying what kind of fish your business should be, but no one is ever going to write a book about or close the beaches because of a floater.

Selling air

Well a cloud anyway. Selling what you can’t touch, feel or see. Can you develop this skill? I’m sure you already have it. Do you believe it?

Let’s say I have a pen in my hand and I’m trying to sell it to you. So I might explain what it does, tell you why it is better than your current writing instrument. I might demo it, write a sentence or two. Do you understand what it is, why you need it, how it works? Could you, and would you buy it? So selling a tangible item is straight forward.

Now I have to sell you a hosted pen. I can’t show it to you. I can’t demo it, I can tell you about it, but is that enough? Will you buy it? I’m selling you something you know and understand. You have a writing instrument now. You know what it does, how it works, its problems. 

So the surest way to sell an intangible item is to relate it to a tangible one. Compare and contrast it to what they know. Don’t try to make them understand something virtual and relate it to what they know. Talk about what they know and expand it to encompass the virtual.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Write when you find work

Where do you store your SOPs. You know, Standard Operating Procedures. Sales process, escalation procedures, workflows. In a knowledgebase, Wiki, Word Docs, or your head? I bet many of you have it in multiple places, started a Wiki, added some files to your Share Point Server, then added a couple of half-done text files to a shared folder. No I haven’t peeked in your network..

So what is the first rule of quality? Consistency. So if you want a quality output, you need a consistent process. Any way to document your processes is fine, so long as you do it the same way every time. But you do need to have written processes.

If you can’t write it down, you can’t do it, you can teach it, you can’t grow it. So, document everything you do and keep it updated. Date your documents and track your revisions. The only thing worse than missing documentation is incorrect documentation. If the process is missing someone might ask what it is, if it is just wrong they will follow it, and be wrong.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No, I said a Bud Lite

Setting Expectations. How do you make sure everyone is on the same page? Do you use SOWs, Master agreements, meetings, email, calls, hope, luck? I’ve used all of these with varying degrees of success.  

So this process has several key points. Like all good stories it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. At the beginning we are talking to the prospect/client. Words mean things, watch your phraseology. Clearly and accurately at all times state what you or your solution will do, don’t get wishy-washy. If you find yourself in a downward spiral, stop, deep breath, and restate.

The middle is providing a documented set of deliverables. No matter what you call it, SOW etc. it is the bible. Do not put it in there if you are not going to do it or can’t show that you have done it. Anything that falls outside of this that needs to be done requires a change order. Whether you bill for it or not you need to document the change order. Set the expectations of what will be delivered.

Then we have an end. Mutual sign off. This should be one of the easiest things to do. You either have or haven’t performed the documented items. If it is open to interpretation you didn’t do a good job in the middle phase of documenting.

So 3 easy steps for every project you do. Say what you will do. Document what you are going to do. Show what you have done.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Persona Non Grata

Who are you? I mean who are you really? Would your work friends be surprised if they were to spend time with you and your home friends? Do your clients have a completely different view than those two? The first question is why? The second question is who are you cheating?

Now even I admit that I have to rein it in a little when I’m in front of customers. (Hard to believe I know) Moderating your personality is different that attempting to change it. I have mentioned many times that in order to present and sell well, you have to feel comfortable. Well how comfortable are you if you aren’t you? It is hard to remember to act like that person you think you should be, and remember your messaging, and all the other things you need to do to move the sales process forward.

The obvious answer is you are cheating yourself if you are not being you. You are putting yourself at a disadvantage that is hard to overcome. It is easier to convince a client than yourself. All things being equal, people buy from people they like. If you don’t think you are likeable, how will they?

Don’t try to be someone you think the customer wants to buy from, actually be that person.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Build, Buy or Steal

It is time to expand the sales team, how do you start? Well, you have a couple choices. Easiest option is to place a sales help wanted ad. You can then sit back and see who sells themselves to you the best. None of this means they can sell services or solutions worth a damn.

Option 2 is promote from within. Do you have a technical resources who aspires to try their hand at sales? If so, this can be a safe option. This will allow you to slowly transition this resource from their technical role to a sales role. If for some reason they do not workout in sales, they can move back to their technical role. Do not lose 2 positions if you don’t need to.

The third option is to hire an experienced IT services sales person. A proven producer. This may be harder is a smaller area, easier in a larger. But remember that when you hire this known entity, you are getting the good and the bad. Check references closely to make sure these resources match your company’s culture.

So the build, buy, or steal method can all generate a quality sales people, but there is no free lunch. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Get while the getting’s good

When is it time to cut and run? Just decide that you can’t win and pack it in. If you’re going to do this, earlier is better, but when? As will all parts of your business, this should be a rational fact based decision.

Time tracking. Are you tracking your time? All your time, pre and post sale? Do you have an average number of hours you spend on sales? How close are you to exceeding that average? Now sales is an art and a skill, and cannot be completely charted. But these should be guide lines.

History should be a great teacher. You should be able to set a baseline by getting your average deal size and the average amount of effort. If all lights are green, but you just have a slow time consuming process due to a difficult customer or some other items beyond your control, by all means proceed. But if you find yourself struggling trying to make a deal fit, generally chasing big dollars, and you are eating up lots of time. Now may be the time to stop swimming upstream.

Another thing to keep in mind is your capacity. If times are lean, you may have more time and slower deals. When times are hopping, you may have less sales cycles to spend on slow deals. So as with all parts of your business, support those that are productive, and trim those that are not.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Birds of a feather

How custom do you demos need to be? Customers exact environment? Customers exact data? Exact workflow? I have found that the less technical the buyer, the more exact it needs to be.

Technical users can see an idea and understand how they would apply it to their situation. How it would apply to their data, in their environment. Depending on your sales process, you can see how convincing the customer’s technical team first is a huge advantage. Once you have them convinced, they can be a great help.

By having a technical resource as a supporter, they can help guide you through the meetings with the non-technical users. Than can provide you information about the personalities involved. Additionally they can give assurances that the solution meets the requirements. This will provide a warm fuzzy for your client you can never match.

Now even if you sell the clients technical staff first, this doesn’t mean that you will not need to a detailed demo for the end users, however, it should be easier and smoother. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

First and Ten

American Football. One of my favorite sports. It has so many business lessons to teach. I’m going to talk about one or two here.

Technical Sales like football is a team sport. If everyone doesn’t do their job we can’t win. The goal of football is to score a touchdown, we call it a sale. In football the longest you ever need to go to score is 100 yards, is sales it varies. In football, you get 4 attempts (downs) to move the ball 10 yards, then you get 4 more chances. In sales the downs vary. It is not necessary or advised to try to score a touchdown on every play. The closer you get the ball to the end zone the better chance you get to score.

So if you have seen football, the team gathers in a huddle. In the huddle the quarterback gives the play, lets everyone know what they need to do. When is the last time you had a pre-meeting huddle? Once you do this, you can go to the meeting ready to run your play. What play will you run?

The only time you see a football team throw a Hail Mary pass, is when they are running out of time. I advise you to do the same. Most teams will run a play that moves the ball down the field, towards their short term goal, a first down. So should you. In the huddle we determine how we want to move the sale. What are we going to do, what is our short term goal? What you need to do will change based on many factors.

In your sales cycle, set short term goals and keep moving the chains….

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Houston, we have a problem.

When do point out holes in your solution to potential customers? Right up front, or do you play the pray game? Pray they never bring it up, so you can keep selling? This is not the Army, don't ask don’t tell doesn’t work here.

So let’s talk upside and down side of each option. First the upsides, by not pointing out holes you should have a smother quicker close. Less technical discussions. You are able to show more perceived value. If you point out the gaps, you are showing you are an ethical person and company. You show your expertise. You identify deal killers quick.

Downside? By not pointing out the holes, the customer finds them. Lots of lost time in the deal. Thinks you are unethical. You lose the deal. You lose a customer. Pointing them out, you lose the deal. So if the risk is losing the deal in both choices, why not do the right thing?

Now to be clear, I’m not talking about explaining every possible thing you can’t or don’t do. If in the discovery process you uncover needs that your solution does not fully address, you should point those out. Once the gaps are on the table, we can talk about what we do, what we don’t and the work arounds. Then we ask, is this a deal killer? Most of the time it is no. Now we continue the sales process with confidence, we are hiding nothing. If it is a deal killer, this is the time to find out.

Why you ask? ROI for the lead. If we have invested a couple of hours on a call and blow a deal up, we have invested very little. What if I wait till the end of a 60 day sales cycle. 20-40 hours of technical non-billable hours, travel expenses, it goes on and on. So the sooner you identify the holes, the longer you have to fix them. If they can’t be fixed, the process cost far less.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sleeping like a baby.

I talk a lot about value. Selling value, showing value, defining value. Many things help define value, one of them is time. How soon is too soon to sell a new widget to replace the widget you sold before? Well, that depends, did they get good value from the old widget, and will the new widget give more value?

When we have an established relationship with a customer, we have a responsibility. A responsibility to sell solutions that provide value, the ability to maintain those systems, and to replace those systems when needed. What defines needed?

Need is not defined by being able to show value with a new solution, but when the current solution no longer has value. So it is your responsibility to continue to evaluate your customer’s solutions and products, not only function, but value as well.

When your customers know you sell valuable solutions, and understand their business enough to provide new valuable solutions as needed, they and you will sleep well.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mixed Messages

Great news! I have the whole team together for 2 hours for you to present your solution to them. Words that should chill you to the bone. It is hard enough to present a clear concise message to one person. Now you get to do it to a group, all with a different agenda, all with different technical knowledge. Without them falling asleep.

This type of meeting is ideal for the client, one lump of time for everyone, and then they are done. In fact if they have multiple vendors pitching to them, they may block out the whole day, order pizza, and watch demo after demo.

This is a sales nightmare on ice. Are you first? Last? Which is better? (future blog) The truth is it doesn’t matter. The client might as well throw darts to choose, because everyone will be so mentally tired there is no way they can properly assess the solutions.

You have a couple of options to consider. Say no. Schedule separate targeted demonstrations.  Accept one big meeting, but break it into smaller logical groups of people, by department or use case. Have each group show up as they are needed. Or do as I normally have to, the way the client wants. Let me talk about this one.

Risk assessment. What is or biggest risk? Being boring. Get too technical, half the people eyes roll up. Keep it too simple, higher level employees think you are an idiot. Concentrate on one department, others start thinking of Facebook. Simple solution.

Workflows. I don’t know what you are selling, but I guarantee it is more than a collection of features. Don’t demo features, demo process workflows. This allows you to engage all your audience, no one has a chance to get bored. They get to imagine how they will be using it. By showing a logical workflow, you stay out of the weeds, but have presented something that is appreciated by the technical people. By all means take questions, but dodge landmines by offering to explain 1 on 1 for highly technical questions. Don’t let your message get mixed.

Fine Line or Slippery Slope.

You have heard me say before that Technicians like to figure things out. Well Sales Engineers like figure things out and then teach or at least tell others about them. I think most Sales Engineers could be teachers, if they wouldn’t get bored. So this raises the point, are you training your prospects, or selling them?

Where is the line, can you see it? The location of the line depends on many things, primarily the technical level of the prospect. The amount of information you have to tell the prospect grows exponentially to their technical level, but even though you are providing much more information, you still are not training. You need to provide enough information to inform your prospect enough to make an informed decision.

Here is a basic example. Explaining that a specific process is possible is informing, showing them how to set it up, is training. If you have answered that it is possible, and they want you to show them, what do you do? Showing how to do something is still informing, so do that. Setting up items is training, and boring, don’t go here.

So remember the line is a moving target from deal to deal, but it should be easy to identify where it is after your discovery call with the prospect. When faced with a mixed group of technical and non-technical people (subject of a future blog), the short answer is who do you need to convince to get the check signed?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes

The quickest way to lose the battle is to engage the opposing forces before you are ready. You need to have your troops ready and prepared. You need to have your intelligence so you know what you are up against. You need to pick the spot to launch your attack with the best effect.

Try to have any kind of sales call without the same data, and you will be able to smell defeat in the air. Not to say that you won’t win some of these battles, but they will be much tougher and take far longer. We know there will always be times when we have to jump in and take our chances. Because we know these will happen, we should do everything we can to prevent these situations when we can.

Are you and your staff ready? Up to speed on the products and services you are pitching? Have you thought about what to say if they ask about pricing? Do you have a contract ready to go? They may just want to buy and boy will you feel silly if you can’t get the contract signed.

How is your knowledge of the prospect and their needs? Do you know what they need? No, not what products, what is the problem or issue? How many employees do they have? What do they do, how will they use the solution you are proposing? Are there any gaps in your solution? Better to know it now.

Sometimes the smartest attack is to retreat. When you have a very aggressive client who is pushing you when you are still early in the process, I want to see a demo today, do you have time now? A smart general knows when the odds are against them. They retreat, regroup, and live to fight another day, when they have the advantage. We want to win the battle and the war.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sail Ho!

So like the wind powers a sailing ship, you move your business. So what kind of wind are you? Are you a trade wind or a typhoon? Do you move steadily in a consistent direction, or do you move in starts and jerks in many directions? Both cover a lot of ground, one is much more productive.

When you want more business, do you hope the winds blow harder, or do you do something to take advantage of what wind you have? Like a sea captain who would raise more sail when he wanted to go faster, you can add resources and/or services to do the same.

So one way to grow revenue is to grow your business, another is to change course. You can make small changes in course, that will make a huge difference. You can even sail against the wind if you want. But if you want to make any real progress on this new course, you have to stay with it.

You can’t count on a quick hit, typhoon like process to make any real process. If you try Managed services, or try a BDR, or try a vertical, you will be left adrift. Make a plan and stick with it long enough to know if you have found a new trade route or not.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Eject, eject, eject!

What is the greatest risk to your technical talent? The competition down the street, starting their own business , leaving the industry? All those are things they may do if they leave, but the biggest danger is boredom.

Do you have a growth plan for your technicians? Training? What they want to learn or what you want them to learn? We technical types are curious. We like to figure out problems, solve mysteries. When the mystery is over most likely the job is too. Our minds need to stay challenged, keep us challenged and you’ll keep us happy. Few technicians leave a place where they are happy.

So the easiest way to know what your technicians want to do is to ask them. Ask them what they would like to learn. Ask them where they want to be in 2 years, 5 years, 10. Do they want to be a tech forever? Many do.

So you spend a lot of money recruiting and retaining your talent. You might be able to spend less and have happier employees. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Physician heal thyself

What is your technical labor overhead cost? Not sure? This is an essential part of any business plan, especially one that is service based.

So you track all of your time you spend on clients’ right? What?!? I know, I’m not shocked. The excuses are the same. Takes longer to create a ticket than to just do it, system is difficult to use, it’s under contract, I don’t bill less than 15 minutes…it goes on and on. So if you are not able to track all of your client facing time, how are you ever going to know your own overhead costs? Your true profit?

None of the above statements should be true. They are just excuses, not reasons. You should be able to create a basic ticket in a couple of seconds, track time in a couple more. Bill your time, don’t bill your time, I don’t care. (I do), but I really care if you track it. Customer facing and non-customer facing.

The reason this is so important is so you know your costs, understand the internal time you are spending and increase it. You heard me right. Most IT companies are not spending enough time working on their own systems and processes. Now I don’t mean maintaining servers and backups, I mean learning and tuning your business system. Updating processes and workflows.

Minutes today will save hours this month. You may have a new technician worth of time savings in your inefficient systems and processes. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Keep your friends close

Everyone hates a whiner. You don’t do this, you didn’t do that. Why can’t they just be quiet? Many of them do, and you never hear from them again. I call these ex customers.

There is one primary reason people complain, they want you to know they are not happy. Why they are unhappy is not that important. That fact that they are telling you is. Why? They care. If they didn’t care they wouldn’t open their mouths except to call the competition.

Every complaint is an opportunity. An opportunity to make customer relationships fireproof. How? Like any relationship, the more troubled water you get over, the stronger it is. Step one, listen. Step two, acknowledge. Step three, ask. Step four, resolve.

Listen to their complaint with love in your heart, don’t have an attitude.
Acknowledge what they said, make sure you heard the real issue.
Ask what you can do to resolve this issue. Often it is less than you would offer to do.
Resolve the issue. Reach a mutually agreeable solution.

Following this process, you will be able to make difficult customers raving fans. So while it is easy to keep your friends close, it is more important to keep your whiners closer.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Batter up!

How far is far enough? I’m posing this question as a technical engineer. When you’re involved in the sales demonstration process, how far is too far? Well that depends, let me explain.

What is your role? If you don’t know, stop. Ask. Find out. Without this information your margin of error is huge. Let’s say we are playing baseball. We need 9 people, one for each position. Each position has a function, an area they are responsible for. If the centerfielder decides to wander over towards 3rd base, it leaves the whole team exposed. So, what is your position when you take the field?

This boils down to a couple possible roles with many options. You are either the leader, you have an active role, or you are passive.

Part of this will be determined by other factors in the deal. Who is the salesperson? Seasoned Pro or nube? When were you invited to the party? Early or last minute? How involver is the deal? Simple or complex?

So if you get called in last minute by a sales pro on a simple deal, there are most likely 1 or 2 questions that need to be answered to close business. I would also bet the salesperson has answered the question, but the prospect wants a technical warm fuzzy. In this deal you should be passive. Answer when asked, stay on topic. Don’t introduce any issues by showing one more cool thing….

If you are involved early by a Sales Nube on a complex deal, you will want to take lead. Guide the process and keep it on track. Be sure to debrief with the salesperson after every call and tell them what you are planning on doing next. Sales Pros aren’t born, they evolve.

Everyone has a role, whether they know it or not. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall!

Oh I remember those days. East verses West in everything from gymnastics to nuclear warheads. Entire industries designed to do nothing productive, except keep one step ahead of the other guy.

Do you have a long simmering cold war on your planet? Is your sales team going toe to toe with your technical team? If so, whose side are you on? Come on, I know you aren’t Switzerland and everyone in the office knows which side you are on too. So you are shifting the balance to mutually assured destruction of your business.

Fear not, there are ways to help resolve this. First step is to identify the issues. Is it jealousy, misunderstanding, different goals, personality? In my experience it is all of these in different mixtures.

Generally Service and sales people are incented differently for different results. Salespeople get paid to sell new stuff (yes, I know they sell services too). Technical resources get paid to fix broken stuff. Hmmmmm… anyone else see an issue here? Different goals

Technical resources generally get a larger base and a little commission (if any) for doing their job. Salespeople get very little base and bigger commissions for closing business that the technical resource most likely worked on.  Jealousy/personality

Salespeople show up at the customer’s site for a meeting in their BMW, while the Technician shows up in the company van or their 1994 Escort wagon. Jealousy

The salesperson makes a deal they can get done with the least amount of resistance, often this involves discounting the services. Technical resources feel devalued. Misunderstanding

So if we provide commissions or finder’s fees to your technical resources, it makes it easier for them to put old yeller out of his misery and help drive new sales. This commission should be extended to technical resources that function in a presales function. Now we are pulling in the same direction, working together. Different goals/Jealousy

A sales process should be established that is clear about the level of effort required to implement, before it is quoted. Being able to track this will help all understand the value of the sale, as well as letting you see if you are making any money. Misunderstanding

Personality. Ok, this one is cats and dogs sometimes. But the more they work together, are compensated together, and the more they interact together, the better your team is.

So leader of your free world, ready to move the doomsday clock back?