Friday 5th October marked one year since the death of Steve Jobs, but his legacy as an entrepreneur lives on. In particular, there are important sales lessons that we can learn from Steve Jobs.
In particular I admired his ability to release new products that people didn’t even realise they needed until he released them! At which point they became must-buys for a lot of people — and that’s coming from the owner of an iPod, iPhone, Macbook Pro and iPad 2.
So what sales lessons can we learn from him?
1. Don’t be afraid of being different
Steve Jobs was never afraid to stand out from the crowd and to pursue things that other people thought were stupid. Until he did them and the people stood back and applauded. In a sales context, what aren’t you doing right now because other people think it’s stupid?
2. Love what you do
One of Steve’s favourite sayings was “love what you do”. My question to you is “do you love what you do?” The answer for most salespeople, and most people in general, is “yes, when things are going well”. I’ve always said that in my opinion, sales can be the best job in the world when things are going well…. And the worst job in the world when things are going badly! So for those of you that don’t currently love what you do, you need a more compelling reason for doing what you do.
3. Turn your TV off!
I remember Steve saying: “We think you watch television to switch your brain OFF, and work on your computer when you want to turn your brain ON”. I’ve always loved that saying. When I ask most salespeople “how much time do you spend on trying to improve your sales or your sales career against how much time do you spend watching TV?” guess which one is normally most popular? Most salespeople I meet rarely work on their sales career outside of work and even inside of work they rarely work on improving it — they just end up doing it.
4. Create a buying experience
Steve Jobs and Apple were fantastic at creating a “buying experience” every time you bought one of their products. Anyone who has bought from Apple will confirm this! Whether it’s an iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac or anything else in their product line, if you’ve bought one you’ll know that it’s a bit different from the usual buying experience.
An Apple store experience is just that — an experience. The majority of people on the shop floor know exactly how to answer your query, or find someone who does in a minute. Does that have any impact on how many people buy more products from Apple? Of course it does!
5. Don’t fear failure
The majority of people I speak to, at some point, have to deal with failure. So therefore most people also have to deal with a fear of failure. Something that happens in advance of an event that they think will mean failure for them. So one of the things that I do when I work with an individual or sales team is to look at what failures they’re afraid of. Number one on this list is usually cold calling, or in some cases, any kind of sales calls at all! How many of you or your team are putting off calling a prospect that could be a really good source of income for you, because you feel like you’re not ready?
Selling has changed over the years although much remains as it always was. Many of the attitudes of a successful salesperson have remained consistent but to be successful, salespeople also need new types of behaviour, skill sets and knowledge.
A useful model is BASK (Behaviour, Attitude, Skills and Knowledge)— getting all four right is essential for successful selling. Attitudes tend to be constant within a person. And while we can choose our behaviours, they naturally align with attitudes. Meanwhile, both skills and knowledge can be learned.
There has been a big shift in recent times. Our customers are more discerning and knowledgeable than ever. Sometimes they may have picked up the wrong information, or only have partial knowledge but it’s our job to use our knowledge and sensitivity so the customer doesn’t feel they have it wrong.
Don’t be pushy
We know that customers go through a buying process, no matter what they are purchasing. Salespeople have to guide customers rather than “push product” at them. Our approach needs to reflect that buying process rather than solely focus on a sales process. A successful sales process is structured and yet flexible and it helps the customer through their buying process.
It’s all about finding “congruence” — the point where the offering meets the customer’s needs and aspirations and the salesperson and the buyer are agreed on a course of action. And that is when the sale is made.
Understanding the personality of the customer is a vital part of the process. Some customers may find a particular approach patronising or even annoying.
Being congruent is not about imitating the customer, but it is about making our approach more acceptable to them and engaging with them more readily. Some may call this rapport — although we believe true rapport takes longer to form — but at its simplest, it is about establishing a connection with the customer.
There is no doubt that in a web-enabled digital age, the role of a salesperson has to change. Quite simply, in most markets, prospects now have more access to choice and information than ever before. This has altered the way buyers access choice and make decisions. Simple logic would, therefore, dictate that sellers have to react and alter their own behaviour.
Below are three questions every salesperson should be asking themselves today:
1. Where do I add value?
Quite simply, salespeople used to provide value by turning up. In a world where there was limited access to information, seeing a few sales reps was an efficient way for a customer to find out what was going on in a particular marketplace. This is no longer the case. Today, customer perception is that they can find out most of the information they require online. Therefore, salespeople have to define where they provide value in a face-to-face meeting. Regurgitating information that is already widely available, is not enough. Today, salespeople need to provide “insight”. That is, a perspective and understanding of which the prospect was previously unaware. This means that salespeople now have to be real experts in their field.
2. Do I understand the context of the purchase?
In a world where the customer is empowered, they have often undertaken much of their own research before they even speak to a salesperson. This means that salespeople are often seeing prospects a lot later in the buying cycle. In this scenario, it is imperative that the salesperson understands the context in which the purchase is being made. No-one ever wakes up in the morning and decides they want a new software system, training provider or photocopier. Understanding the events that are driving the interest in the purchase is vital.
3. How do I create a sales experience?
The web has provided everyone today with a voice. If they choose, people can post comments and views on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others and be read by an audience of which they could only have dreamed, a few years ago. People have become empowered and more active. For example, nearly all of the biggest shows on British TV today allow the audience to decide the outcome. People no longer want to be passive recipients. Now, they want to be involved in the process. In this context, just going through a boring sales presentation will not capture the imagination of a customer. Today, salespeople need to get the customer involved in the process. In other words, they must provide an experience.
These are just some of the new paradigms that salespeople have to deal with today. It is the best salespeople who will consider these type of questions and outperform others who are still trying to make the “old models” work in a world that has moved on.
You can read more about improving your sales in our dedicated sales strategy section.
The summer holiday period can be a frustrating time for salespeople. Buyers and decision-makers are on holiday or are busy covering for colleagues who are. Your own production, warehousing and delivery staff are off and you may have been away as well.
If we’re not careful, that summer holiday feeling can drag over into late September, and even October in some cases. And by the time you come to your senses, it’s nearly Christmas and your sales figures are nowhere near where they should be.
To avoid that summer holiday hangover, follow the simple tips below and just watch the impact on your sales figures.
1. Take a long hard look at your pipeline
September is a great time to sit down and analyse your sales pipeline. You’ll have had a number of people say to you “call me back after the holidays”, and perhaps now you’re struggling to get hold of those people? Or they suddenly don’t sound as keen to meet you (or buy from you) as they did before the holidays?
That’s probably because the “call me back after the holidays” was a simple objection, and you didn’t deal with it very well! Now, it’s a few weeks later and their level of interest (if they had any in the first place) has cooled from lukewarm at best to pretty much cold. Sometimes you can revive it, and sometimes you just need to move on.
2. Be more realistic
As salespeople, we tend to be positive. Sometimes we’re even guilty of being over-positive. And nowhere is a better example of that than with our own sales pipeline.
I’ve worked with some salespeople in the past that are entirely convinced that everything in their pipeline is going to come in, and probably this month. And most salespeople probably need the majority of it to come in, to have any chance of hitting their target.
However, September is the time for more realism about sales pipelines. If the people who said “call me back after the holidays” are no longer that interested, get them out of the pipeline.
3. Re-qualify if necessary
This is a really important point and one that is overlooked by the majority of people. If it’s several weeks since you spoke to the prospect last then there is a good chance that their situation has changed.
This means that their buying motivation may have changed, the drivers behind their initial interest and potentially the business or divisional goals may well have altered in that time. Therefore it’s imperative that you re-qualify the sales opportunity to ensure there is still good potential for bringing in this piece of business, quickly.
4. Get things moving
Once you’ve taken the above steps, for any potential deals or prospects that are still in your pipeline, it’s important to get them moving. Far too many salespeople sit on a big pipeline, with deals or customers that have been stuck at one stage or another for ages, without any idea of when or how they’re going to move to the next stage.
Depending on the length of your sales-cycle, if you’ve got deals or prospects that have been “stuck” at one stage or another for a while, you need to take a close look at them and determine some actions to get them moving through the pipeline, or get them out.
Sales managers and directors much prefer realistic pipelines to ones that are pie in the sky. It also can be quite demoralising for a salesperson to have an unrealistic pipeline, as the more deals or prospects that don’t convert, the worse the sales person feels, and their confidence, attitude and motivation are affected — therefore they’re less likely to bring in the other deals.
So, be more realistic about your pipeline, get the deals or prospects out that are unlikely to convert, re-qualify them if necessary and get what’s left moved through your pipeline — and you’ll see an immediate impact in your sales performance.
It’s always interesting how many sales people fall for the “call me back after the summer holiday” objection.
The problem is that when you call those people back after the break, they either still haven’t made a decision, they give another excuse, you can’t seem to get hold of them ever again — or worse, they have chosen to buy from someone else.
Why is it that decision-makers give us the summer holiday objection? Sometimes, there’s a genuine reason — perhaps a colleague is away that needs to be involved, perhaps there isn’t a budget until later in the year or perhaps that person is so focused on delivering existing projects, they just can’t think about another one.
Often, however, decision-makers use the summer holiday objection as a convenient way of getting salespeople to go away — and they keep using it because it works!
Unless you learn to do something about it, you’re going to suffer the same problem year after year. So here are some suggestions:
1. Be prepared
You know you’re going to start getting these sorts of objections so why not consider how you’re going to deal with them and practice your responses? This means working out your objection handles, then practicing them with friends and colleagues. Don’t leave this until the last few moments before your telephone call, client meeting — or even worse until you’re waiting in reception — do this on a regular basis.
2. Think about what they really mean
What does the buyer or decision-maker mean when they say, “call me back after the summer holiday”? Some people use that phrase when actually what they really mean is a flat-out “go away” Or perhaps they are saying, “your offering isn’t important enough for me to look at right now”. As someone who originally trained as a professional buyer, I can guarantee you that’s the case! If you are after new business, the likelihood of them fobbing you off is much higher. If you’re with an existing client that you have a good relationship with, it’s more likely that they’re telling the truth.
3. Make your call more compelling
If you are making new business calls in the holiday period, make them more compelling! Generally speaking, people will be busier as they’re either about to go on holiday, just back from holiday, or covering for someone else who’s on holiday. Whichever of those it is, they’re going to be time poor, so make sure your call is as good as it can be. Take a closer look at your voice tonality and your message. Does it sound as though you and your call are important? Does the outcome that you are suggesting sound like a must-do? Is your close short and to the point?
4. Ask better questions
Most people I meet struggle with asking good questions — questions that get them information that their competitors don’t get, questions that make them look good and questions that make the decision-maker think.
So when someone says “call me after the summer holiday”, that should not be the end of the conversation. First you need to get the information you need. The most important thing to find out here is if they’re trying to fob you off, without accusing them directly! If you can establish that there are genuine reasons to put the order on hold until after the break, it should be easier to pick things up from where you left off come September.
5. Have the right attitude
Your attitude is vital in getting the results that you want. I’ve seen far too many people trudge round on appointment after appointment, or from phone call to phone call looking and sounding like they’re terminally depressed! Not many people are going to buy from you in that state, are they? If you pick up the phone or walk into a meeting expecting the other person to say “call me back after the summer holiday” then that’s what you are likely to hear.
If you’re in a competitive market you can bet that the decision-maker is talking to other suppliers, and all it takes is for the salesperson at one of those companies to be better at dealing with the summer holiday objection than you are — then when you ring back in September you’ll find they’ve bought off someone else!
The decision maker might say, “oh we went with xyz firm because they had a better proposal” or “we went with abc because they have us a cheaper price” but in most cases what they mean is “we went with xyz because they dealt with the summer holiday objection better than you did and that won them the business”.
Now that you’re aware that’s often the case, you’re not going to let that happen to you in future are you?
Sales management is a thankless task, even in the best of times. Steadily increasing revenues have to be delivered every quarter, requiring good people management as well as expert organisational skills.
In the worst of times, customer decisions are often deferred, leaving sales pipelines empty further than three months ahead. There may be plenty of attractive-looking prospects, but recessions make converting them ever more difficult, especially if buyers sense an air of desperation in the people selling to them.
This is especially true for companies that are purely product-based. Customers become more frugal and less likely to replace products when times are hard. My advice to business owners is to try and re-position your company as a service provider.
At least a fifth of every product offering can be defined as a service, such as support or training. All you need to do is ask the customer what they want; more often than not they will ask for additional services.
The dream of every sales manager is to have a healthy pipeline of customers who provide them with recurring revenue as part of a long-term service contract.
Managing a sales pipeline should be the same process as managing people, with a service rather than a product mentality. This approach will seem more natural and thus sit well with both your salespeople and the customers themselves.
Some companies end up at this point by accident; others set themselves up specifically to take advantage of this mutually advantageous business relationship.
Steve Booth started his sales career in advertising and then moved to a security company specialising in closed circuit television systems for retailers. He soon realised that the value was not so much in the hardware itself, but in the data that it generated.
While preventing shoplifting was important, much more valuable was to use the captured data to help improve retailers' knowledge of the footfall around their outlets. Margins in retailing are notoriously thin, so any competitive advantage is highly prized.
His first foray into this business in 1997 was not a success, ending up in administration. Booth puts this down to bad timing, difficult market conditions and the wrong combination of unproven technology and investors.
In 2002 he started again and formed Springboard, which now provides automated customer counting services for high streets, shopping centres, retail parks, entertainment centres and even transport interchanges.
Among Springboard's customers is the British Retail Consortium, the trade association, which uses Springboard's system to monitor shoppers' activity.
Retailers spend significant amounts on marketing to get people to visit shops and once they are there an even greater effort is made to convert them into regular customers.
Crucial to this process are the valuable services that Springboard provides on a recurring basis, which must make their sales manager sleep much easier at night.
The recurring revenue concept is a fundamental part of Springboard's business model. The company develops a long-term relationship with a client, providing a continuing service based on measurable outcomes. While the software and hardware are interesting for the technical people, they are seen merely as detail in the delivery process, rather than an end in themselves.
This neatly summarises the business challenge of every high-tech start-up, including those where I was responsible for selling the software. Smart people had written clever software that had dozens of potential practical applications, but none that were yet proven in the real world.
What was needed was to combine hot technology with a real social driver to deliver a genuine business benefit. Looking back, I was mistaken to try and sell technology as a product.
If I had re-positioned the software as a service, not only would it have been easier to sell on an incremental basis, it would also have ultimately delivered a long-term and recurring service revenue, once proven.
Springboard can be found at www.spring-board.info
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright © Mike Southon 2012. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.