Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pick Up The Phone!!

“So then I sent the rep an email…”

“I’m waiting for support to respond to my status update request”

Whenever I hear a phrase similar to these in one of my consulting engagements, I know I’m close to finding a problem, or at least uncovering a major symptomatic issue. Let me explain ..

After four months of travel in 2012 running enablement and training workshops, May has been kinder and gentler and I have been working on a couple of “take-home” consulting opportunities. Both involve some badly broken internal processes at a couple of mid-sized companies. These processes were affecting both the effectiveness of presales and ultimately the win-rate of sales. You know when a process is so badly broken that the injured parties readily admit that they spent more time trying to fix the blame as opposed to fix the process, which is why a third-party comes in to obtain resolution!
In both cases, email was to blame, and the people who relied upon it as their primary communications mechanism. (I am going to write a longer article about this topic but I need to get it off my chest now). Instance #1 involves a company with incredibly poor Discovery habits and instance #2 a company where presales spends 35% of their time bailing out customer support. Repeatedly, an email was
A)     left unanswered
B)      sent solely as a CYA (Cover Your A$$)
C)      incomplete and poorly written
D)     partially answered
My response in both the situations was to say “pick up the phone!”.  An email is linear (in the good old days we’d call it half-duplex) as only one party can communicate at a time. An email can’t contain (much) emotion – I don’t feel there is much room for smiley-faces in business communications unless you really know the other person. A phone call allows you to get all your questions answered (you’re in presales – you know how to ask questions and get them answered!). Plus a phone call leaves no audit record other than that the call was actually made. So you can say things in a call you cannot put in an email.
So if you are frustrated in some internal process (or even in a customer communication) see if email is in the communication chain. If it is – ask yourself what would happen if you picked up the phone rather than send another email?
Maybe things would magically get better.
In my two engagements, the discovery rate doubled and presentation standards have improved dramatically in just three weeks for one customer, and the other customer reports that post-sales time has decreased from 35% to a still-high 22% and is trending downwards.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The No Discovery Demo

This month's lead article is the Zero-Discovery Demo.

We’ve all been in that situation when you walk into the conference room, or start-up your webcast, and you have no idea what the sales call is about or what the customer really needs. It is variously known as the “spray and pray”, the “dog and pony show” or “the three hour tour”.

 We also know that although it is usually a complete waste of your time, these calls do happen in real life and the professional SE needs to be prepared to deal with them. So, two days from now you are visiting a customer and the only information you have is the name and address of the company and the guidance of “they just want a general overview of our products and what we do.” What happens next?

My article gives you some tips and techniques to gain some additional information so you can at least pretend to be a professional - so I won't repeat them here..

One other interesting question, put directly, is "Who Is To Blame?". Is it

  1. The Salesperson who thinks Discovery is a 2-line email with the prospects name, location and time of the meeting?
  2. The Customer who won't share information with a vendor in case it gives away some negotiating power?
  3. Your Manager who tells you to "suck it up" and make the call?
  4. You - for participating in the call, despite knowing what will eventually happen?
The answer, I believe, is all of the above. And .. the situation can be fixed by some behavior modification. As far as management and the salesrep are concerned, I prefer the personal analogy with plenty of guilt. I used some variation of:

a) "You know, I coach a girl's 12 year old travel soccer team. I spent more time scouting and preparing for their next game than we have preparing for this call."
b) "It's like sending your children to school in the morning in their underwear, with no book bag and no money for lunch. Plus... it's snowing."
c) "If you tell me to "Bring My 'A' Game" one more time on a call like this, we're both going to end up with an "F: - for Fired!"

For the results-oriented rep, I'd compare and contrast either them against a very successful rep who did allow Discovery before her calls, or even directly against one of their own calls when we were properly prepared.

My point is .. you can't sit back and just enable the behavior. Even if you do go through with the demo/presentation (and do it with a positive attitude), there needs to be some consequences. Don't whine, don't complain, just point out how it can be done better. Ultimately it puts more money in the reps pocket, and more money in yours.