This week has been enlightening. On Monday we had our Sales Leadership Conference in Miami
at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Here are my key takeaways:
1. What are the burning subjects on sales leaders’ minds? The day prior to the conference, we organized a dinner in a private dining room for our distinguished speakers. I asked them to share briefly one burning question each that they’d like to get answered, with the intent to share their questions with university professors who are always interested in hot research topics. Here is a sampling of questions that deserve deeper examination:
a) What are the best ways to drive up employee engagement?
b) How do we use branding as a tool for engagement?
c) Is there a relationship between branding, engagement, and customer success?
d) How do we evaluate our sales managers’ skills in an environment where all things have changed?
e) Why is it that in difficult times, salespeople go back to behaviors they’ve learned in the past and no longer work in the present?
f) What is the “new normal”?
g) How do we create better comp plans that reward salespeople for those behaviors that will improve the bottom line?
h) How do social-media strategies impact the sales process? What are the new rules and best practices?
i) How can we get salespeople to focus more on filling customer needs – without getting side-tracked by trivia?
j) What are the best practices for selling to the C-level suite and winning larger accounts?
k) How can we get our salespeople to do what they need to do consistently?
l) How can we get sales managers to stop selling and start coaching?
m) Why is it that sales managers are not as good today as those who were trained by the great corporate learning centers like Xerox, IBM, Armstrong, etc.?
n) How can we enhance innovation in execution?
o) What can we do to drive up sales effectiveness?
2. Is selling an art or a science? To open the conference in the past, I wrote out a speech and created a PPT presentation. Then I realized that we are in a conversation economy. Conversation drives commerce. I decided to turn my presentation into a dialogue with the audience. How? At first, I thought we’d have a town-hall style meeting, but then I came up with a different concept. I used a three-minute video clip of Mad Men and then engaged the audience in a conversation by asking a chain of questions. This video is a great jump-off point for a productive conversation.
In this video, Draper presents the Kodak Carousel. His message is creative and powerful. He talks about the emotional connection between a product and people. Great salespeople know how to use logic and emotions to lead the buyer to say yes. Great actors know how to establish a powerful emotional connection with the audience.
In the video, one client was so moved by Draper’s presentation that he left the room, all choked up. After showing the video, I started the conversation with the question, “Is selling an art or a science?” I had no script, no notes, no agenda, and 45 minutes ahead of me to fill with content. With 150 sales leaders in the room, I had no problem with getting people to share their views. Instead of pumping information into the audience, I was able to tease out rich content, reflect on and reframe it based on my own experience, and extended their current understanding with new questions. Here are some of the more relevant points:
First, selling is both an art and a science. The role of sales leaders is to advance both and expect more of their salespeople in the future.
Second, we need to teach salespeople how to create a deeper emotional connection with the company’s product or service, while marketing needs to create a deeper emotional connection between the company and the market.
Third, sales managers need to be clear about what they expect from a salesperson. In many companies, salespeople are not exactly sure what their company wants them to do, and they are not always clear as to the steps to take that will lead them to success.
Fourth, when sales managers communicate to their salespeople what needs to be done, salespeople don’t listen well and misinterpret the manager’s instructions.
Fifth, sales managers know that coaching can make a huge difference, but they prefer closing deals for the salesperson.
Sixth, the science part of selling is technology, and it is external. The art of selling lies in establishing an authentic connection that begins with salespeople and then translates into an authentic connection with the customer.
3. “We suck less than the competition” was a funny but sarcastic comment made by a CEO of a $30 million company who privately complained that he traveled too much, worked too hard, isn’t getting enough sleep, gained 15 pounds this year, had the worst August sales in years, and experienced the best October ever. “We suck less” seemed to resonate, since the comment caused many to respond with chuckles of approval.
4. How do we lead in times of uncertainty? Sam Reese, CEO of Miller Heiman, chaired a blue-ribbon panel of sales leaders who shared their expertise on managing change in uncertain times. The panelists agreed that many sales executives are clinging to yesterday’s tools. In times of stress, people revert to behaviors that worked well in the past. They ignore that the world has changed (and thus they regress), and when they realize that they don’t get the results that they’ve gotten in the past, they become frustrated and discouraged. Kevin Hooper, VP of Hewlett Packard, got the most audience votes. Kevin joked that it must have been his British accent.
(So much more content to follow. I’ll share why we invited 15 sales students from the University of Central Florida, why this conference was so special, plus photos.)
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