The Ultimate Sales Improvement Skill

Sales training article by guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

These are incredibly difficult times for sales people.

Competition in almost every industry continues to intensify.  At the same time, customers seem to expect more and more service and demand lower margins.  Most markets are rapidly changing, and it’s hard to keep up with the changes in technology and products.

Customer’s demands seem to be a moving target.  Sometimes it seems like the lowest price is all anyone is interested in, while at other times they talk about the need for trusting relationships and partnering with vendors.

            These rapid changes are a mark of our times.  In fact, if anything, the indications are that the rapid pace of change will continue.

            Consider this.  In 1900, the total amount of knowledge that mankind had was doubling about every 500 years.  Today, it doubles about every two years.  And the pace continues to increase.  One futurist predicts that today’s high school students will have to absorb more information in their senior year than their grandparents did in their entire life.

            That incredibly rapid pace of new knowledge drives the forces of change at an unprecedented rate.  It’s almost as if a malevolent spirit were stalking our economy, rendering all the wisdom of the past useless, and casting a spell of confusion and uncertainty over the land.

            As a consultant, I work with executives and sales people in a variety of industries.  And almost invariably, during my first interview with a new client, I hear words something like this, “You need to understand that things are changing very rapidly in our industry.”

            I do understand, because I see things changing very rapidly in virtually every industry with which I work.  And the indications are that this rapid state of change will not be a temporary phenomena we all must live through.  Rather, it will be the permanent condition we must accept for the foreseeable future.

            Howard Stein said, “All I know is, things don’t work like they used to work.  So don’t plan on doing anything based on the past.”

            But rapid change is only one of the forces that is surging through our culture and contributing to the uncertainty of our turbulent times.

Relentlessly Growing Complexity

            In every direction we look, we see the world becoming more complex.  On a world-wide basis, the evening news is dominated by reports of wars between countries we didn’t even know existed a year or two ago.  The Soviet Union was one entity a short time ago.  Today it’s incredibly more complex.

            Closer to our own lives, we see our markets splintering into more and more fragments.  Products, energized by the explosion in knowledge and new technologies, are becoming increasingly more complex.  For example, can you imagine a piece of equipment today that doesn’t have a computer somewhere in its innards?

            The services we buy and sell are becoming more complex as computer capabilities are folded into services of all types, and providers respond to the market demand for personalized service.

            For example, a few years ago we had one number to call for our phone service.  Today there are so many vendors of various phone services that we need to employ people just to deflect their incoming calls.

            Unfortunately, the trend toward growing complexity in every area of our business also shows no signs of weakening.

            The business environment in the near future, therefore, will continue to be characterized by rapid change and growing complexity.

            All this means that the skills, strategies, and tactics that have served you well in the past may be becoming obsolete.  But here’s an even more sobering thought – because of the rapid rate of change, the new skills and tactics that you develop today may well be obsolete in just a few years.

            That means that in order to deal with these difficult times, sales people need to be able to continually change what they are doing.  They need to absorb new information created by our changing world, review their tactics in light of it, and change their behavior in positive ways.

            In other words, they need to continually learn.

            The ultimate self-improvement skill in the 90s and beyond, is the ability to master “self-directed learning.”

            When most of us hear the word “learning” we often associate it with formal school, or perhaps seminars and company-sponsored training programs.  While these are all means of facilitating learning, they don’t capture the essence of the ultimate self-improvement skill.

            Self-directed learning is the ability, on the part of the individual, to absorb new information about the world, and to change one’s behavior in positive ways in response to it.  The key is behavior change.  Learning without action is impotent.  Knowledge that doesn’t result in changed action is of little value.  Constant change in your behavior is the only reasonable response to a constantly changing world.

            Self-directed learning differs from the traditional approaches to “training” in that it requires the individual to assume complete responsibility for his own behavior change.  The stimulus for the learning must come from the individual, and he/she must develop his own learning program to expose himself to new information, and to change his/her behavior appropriately.

            Let’s look at two fundamental areas of a sales person’s job in order to see how the need to “learn” is critical.

Products

            The explosion in information has led to technological innovation and change at a dizzying rate.  This means that new products are coming into the market – every market – more quickly and more regularly than ever before.

            The competent sales person can no longer rely on his/her product knowledge.  The product that is today’s hot new seller will likely become an obsolete dinosaur within a couple of years.

            So, sales people must acquire the skills of constantly learning about new products and new technologies.  There will be a continuous string of new language to learn, new features to understand, and new applications to new needs on the part of their customers.  How long ago was it that none of us knew was a “486” was, or what to do with a “CD?”

Markets

            On the other side of the selling equation, the markets – our customers – are changing just as rapidly.  On one hand, there is a great deal of change in the names and styles of the players (WalMart instead of thousands of independent businesses), while on the other, every industry is becoming more complex as the trend toward specialization creates a kaleidoscope of market segments in place of the homogeneous markets with which many of us grew up.

            Sales people will have to continually refine their interactive skills and deal with each customer as a unique individual.  That will require them to learn more intently about their customers and the processes which are most effective with them – a never-ending challenge.

            At the same time the world is changing rapidly for ourselves, it is changing just as rapidly for our customers.  One day it seems that the lowest price is the only concern.  While the next day they talk about long-term “partnering” with trusted suppliers.

            The competent sales person not only has to keep up with changing customers, but also customers who change in their needs and demands.

Lifelong Learning

Preparing to Master Self-Directed Learning.

            Proficiency at the ultimate self-improvement skill demands some new competencies from sales people.  While the specific skills are too detailed for this article (my book “Menta-Morphosis” describes a systematic approach to “self-directed learning” in detail) we can describe some of the qualities needed to enable a person to become an active self-directed learner.

            First, they must have an attitude of “pro-active” responsibility for their situation.  In other words, they must believe that their actions have consequences, and that in order to change the consequences they must change their actions.  This sounds so fundamental as to be ludicrous, yet it seems to be a concept that is foreign to situations on forces outside themselves.  As long as we remain a victim of someone else, we have no responsibility to change our own behavior.

            So, sales people must accept the responsibility for their own behavior and for the consequence of that behavior.  As one of my clients said to me, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”  Therefore you need to change what you do, if you expect different consequences.

            Next, sales people engaging in self-directed learning need to have an openness to new information.  Probably one of the sure harbingers of pending failure is the attitude that you know it all.  Sales people who will continue to improve themselves understand that they don’t ever have all the answers.  There is always something new to learn.  And, like magnets, they’re continually searching for new ideas, new perspectives, and new information.

            And finally, they need to be able to follow through on their plans.  They must have the ability to act on decisions they have made, and become creatures whose actions arise out of conscious thought rather than unconscious habit.

            Given this set of attitudes, a sales person can begin to master the procedures and disciplines that will characterize him/her as a “self-directed learner” and equip him to be successful in our turbulent times.

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved

Image “Lifelong Learning” by Carol VanHook on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

CRM Software – No Training Required

Hard at Work

Got your attention haven’t I and isn’t this exactly what small businesses want to hear?  It sure is and it’s the “tag line” of the majority of CRM vendors who sell to the small to mid-size business community.  Why?  Because it’s the only way to sell to this segment of the industry and it works.

No one wants to hear that they have to invest time in training or customization to address their business requirements.  The darn thing should just work out of the box and make my organization a more efficient sales and service organization.

The Myth of Low Cost CRM

Thousands of small to mid-size businesses have jumped on the CRM bandwagon due to the plethora of low cost CRM systems that you can simply download in minutes over the internet. Despite documented reports that as many as 70 percent of these companies fail to realize any measurable results they continue to buy these programs anyway.

What is it about CRM software that leaves this false impression – that you can improve how you market, sell and provide service to your customers by simply buying an online CRM system over the Internet?   More importantly what makes smart people believe this?

The Truth about CRM

Here are a couple of facts to think about…

Fact: CRM software is a tool

Not unlike a hammer or saw, it requires people to take hold of the tool and do something constructive with it.  By itself the tool does nothing.

Fact: Easy CRM is not the same as Functional CRM

If the CRM software you select is incredibly easy to use, it probably will not provide much value to you.  Certainly if you’re looking to simply get rid of your Excel spreadsheet and get a database of accounts and contacts you will be fine. But if you require much more than this then forget-about-it.

A Successful CRM Implementation is More Affordable than you Think

One CRM software firm that is having a great deal of success in the small business CRM sector is Commence Corporation.  Commence offers an affordable online CRM solution that has proven to help small businesses improve sales execution and customer service, but it’s not downloadable over the Internet.

In addition, Commence strongly suggests that its customers take advantage of the company’s expertise in sales, marketing and customer service by engaging in what Commence calls its on-boarding program. The on-boarding program ensures that Commence customers realize immediate value from their solution. The program engages the professional services team at Commence to tailor the CRM system to meet your unique business requirements and then train your staff on CRM workflow automation.  It’s a small one time investment that returns measurable results and has helped catapult Commence to a leadership position among small to mid-size businesses seeking customer relationship management software.

Image “Hard at Work” by Will Vanlue on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

CRM No Commitment – Means No Results

Your success, our commitment

Select a CRM Vendor Committed to Your Success

As an executive of a company servicing the Customer Relationship Management software sector, CRM has become a bit of an oxymoron for me.  I believe that building long term business relationships with your customers requires a commitment to providing quality products and great customer service.   This traditionally involves reaching out to your customers and engaging with them so that they realize the maximum value from your product.

But many small to mid-size companies and CRM vendors that service the SMB sector just don’t see it this way.  The vendors prefer that you just buy their product over the internet. If you need assistance send an e-mail and they will get back to you when it’s convenient for them. The buyers seem to feel comfortable with this and often hold the position that if I need assistance using your product, then it’s too hard so I’m not interested.  It’s almost as if they view CRM software as nothing more than a commodity.

Your CRM Success Needs Your Commitment

Interestingly enough industry reports have indicated that there is as much as a 70% failure rate among CRM implementations.  This is far worse than any other segment of the software industry.  Much of this occurs in the SMB space where companies never get off the ground and as a result discontinue the service.

You could place the blame on the CRM software providers for developing products that are too hard to use; or perhaps the management of the company that purchased the system for failing to properly match their business requirement with the vendor’s offering or assign a champion who’s in charge of the CRM system. I blame the management and here’s why.

The CRM sector is crowded and highly competitive, with several hundred solutions ranging in price from free to more than $200 dollars per user per month.  Most of the offerings targeted at the SME sector offer basic functionality and as such are very easy to use so this is not the problem.  Furthermore, they are designed to offer limited to no customization so that the customer can’t get themselves in too much trouble. This is because with price points of free to $15 per user per month the vendor cannot afford to hire the resources to provide customer service.  So when you see CRM products offered for free — no contract, or go month-to-month with no commitment, they mean it.

The real problem lies with the management of these small to mid-size businesses that have limited resources, are stretched thin and often do not understand that in order to improve how they market, sell and provide service to their customers they have to do more than download a cheap piece of software over the Internet.  This commodity mentality is what I believe has led to the high failure rate in the industry.  So how does this change?

Successfully Implementing Your CRM Solution

First, the management needs to agree that No Commitment – Means No Results.  The first task is to make a commitment to put someone in charge of the CRM process. A champion who will document the business challenges such as ‘we need to improve lead generation‘. Then focus on finding a CRM solution that will address these challenges and a CRM vendor who can provide advice, counsel or value added services that will ensure results.

CRM is a two way street and you need to feel comfortable that the vendor has the staff and experience to make a commitment to your success. As I stated earlier you won’t get this by putting your credit card over the internet. This does not mean you have to mortgage the business to find a quality product and company that can deliver both at an affordable price. There are several good ones and you may be surprised to find out that the difference between a low cost CRM product and a CRM solution provider offering the value added services you need may be less than you think.

About the Author:

Larry Caretsky is President of Commence Corporation, a leading provider of online CRM software for small to mid-size businesses.  Caretsky is considered an expert in the field and has written numerous white papers on the subject and the book, Practices That Pay – Leveraging Information to Achieve Selling Results.  All are available from the company’s web site at www.commence.com

Image by Piero Fissore on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Best Small Business CRM 2013

Small businesses have the same challenges as larger businesses. They want to improve how they market, sell and provide services to their customers. They want a dashboard that provides a snapshot of current business activity and they want real time reporting so that they can make informed business decisions.

CRM software offers an array of automation that can meet this challenge, but smaller businesses have one disadvantage larger firms do not, and that’s resources.   Due to the low cost of newer online CRM software programs that you can purchase and download over the internet, smaller business have been purchasing CRM software in record numbers and failing just as quickly with them.  Why?  The answer is simple. They are not prepared to make the investment to ensure that the CRM system gets properly implemented and utilized.

Becoming a more efficient sales and service organization isn’t just about buying a CRM system.  It’s about automating internal business processes that in many small businesses don’t exist.  So now you have a CRM system and don’t really know what to do with it so it becomes shelf-ware.  In addition, many of the lower cost CRM systems offer only basic functionality which is why they are so cheap.  Businesses that select these free or low cost solutions are often quickly disappointed when they cannot meet their business requirements.

One of the leading small business CRM companies that services the small to mid-size community is Commence Corporation.  “What has made Commence CRM a leader among small businesses is not just the software” says Tom Gibson, the company’s sales manager, “but the value added services we provide. Many of the firms that select us are looking for guidance in establishing a structured approach or methodology for managing leads and the sales process.  It’s new to them and a sales process has to be established first before it can be automated.  Our professional services staff can help customers implement business processes in sales, marketing and customer service. Because the software is so flexible it can be tailored to meet unique vertical industry requirements and ensures that new business processes are adopted by the customer’s staff.” says Gibson. “The impact is substantial and is often the difference between realizing a return on investment and shelf-ware.”   To learn more about Commence CRM, visit the company website at www.commence.com.