Category Archives: Revenue Risk Management

Wild Pitching! Some Sales Tactics Are Just Plain Stupid

When the Washington Nationals played the Houston Astros on Monday, September 20th 2010, not one player was hit by a pitch. But fans got pounded.

Photographers, armed with digital cameras, roamed the stadium and pitched hard for a share of the fan wallet. “$17.99 for a photo? Why not? Just add it to the $43.29 for a ticket (ninth highest average in Major League Baseball), $25.00 for parking, $7.00 for a beer, and $5.00 for a pretzel.” With easy credit, any family can take out a loan for a trip to the old ball park. The Lerner family, principal owner of the Nationals, has elevated separating fans from their money to an art form. If they were as talented at producing a winning team, the Nationals would be World Series champions–but I would settle for a record over .500.

To guests—as stadium-going fans are called—this quest for revenue comes across as near-maniacal. Within two minutes of entering Nationals Park, photographers approached my son and me asking to take our photo. I stopped counting after the fifth request. The stalking continued in the stands, prompting the father-son pair behind us to say “yeah, they asked us seven times. It’s ridiculous.” So here’s my question: at what point does selling become excessive? For me, it happens when selling becomes an unabashed “numbers game.” Somewhere in that equation, great customer experience gets poisoned.

22,600. Ask a Nationals revenue analyst about that number, and he or she will tell you that it’s the team’s average attendance this year. If just five percent of fans buy a photo, every home game generates over $20,000 in revenue to gorge the bottom line. Burp! Profit is spelled d-i-g-i-t-a-l p-h-o-t-o-s. There’s no inventory to carry, no space to commit. Camera shutters make an audible ka-ching at Nationals Park!

Driven by backroom calculus that the more you pitch the more you get, Nationals’ management cheer while fans seethe. Business yin and yang. Anyone who has walked past the Nationals Stadium front-entrance paparazzi understands what I mean. But the return from wild, indiscriminate pitching has a point of rapid decline. Just ask a guest. What Part of ‘No’ Don’t You Understand?

Following the Astros game, I couldn’t resist the temptation to talk with someone about the questionable wisdom of this high-pressure hawking. So I contacted Printroom, the company that operates this concession.

My email:

“I visited the Nationals game vs. Houston on Monday night, 9/20. I am writing an article about my experience at Nationals Park, and wanted to include FanFoto in my discussion. The questions I have would best be answered by your VP of sales, or Director/VP of Marketing . . .”

Printroom’s response:

“Andrew, You’ll need to contact the photographer for an answer to your question. You can usually find the photographer’s contact information on their homepage. Sorry we couldn’t be of more assistance. Did I answer your question(s) completely or address your concerns thoroughly? If not, please let me know right away.”

I let the representative know right away, but no reply. Maybe she’s still working on it.

So, do I have this correct: Behind the veil of a popular baseball brand, an outsourced company deploys a sales force to engage the intrusive activity of photographing fans at a baseball game. Then, they post the digital photos online on a public website–all while being purposely opaque and unreachable. That’s creepy—and it’s not even Halloween!

Pursuit-of-the-almighty-dollar doesn’t have to diminish the great feeling that comes with a trip to the ballpark–except when it’s unchecked. According to a McKinsey Survey (December, 2009), 35% of respondents identified “too much contact” as the most destructive selling behavior. Could the disdain for too much contact really be a plea to refrain from the wrong contact. After all, if sales contact is valuable, respectful, and engaging, it’s hard to have too much of it. Printroom’s tactics violated all of these. Three strikes, you’re out!

Oh, before I forget—if you want to see the photo of my son and me at the ballgame, click here.

Toward a Social Sales Force: Ominous Lessons from Rutgers

In late September, two Rutgers University students clandestinely videoed a fellow student’s private liaison with another student, and tweeted about it as events were unfolding. The victim, freshman Tyler Clementi, committed suicide on September 22d. An incendiary mix of circumstances fueled outcry from around the world. Mr. Clementi’s partner was male. His privacy was invaded. Social media technology played a significant role. A promising life, needlessly lost.

Did the actions of Mr. Clementi’s fellow students cause his suicide? Did they catalyze his despair? Were the perpetrators naïve, hateful, or both? These issues merit open debate. But they should not obscure three painful truths: 1) the outcome of this incident was tragic beyond anything that words can express, 2) the behavior Mr. Clementi faced was undeniably cruel, and 3) vast space surrounds limited legal protective boundaries—especially in the digital age.

Sadly, we’ve only started to see the dangers emerging on the horizon. And they’re coming to your sales force. The two students implicated in this incident, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, aren’t archetypal evil misanthropes. According to a segment on NPR yesterday, friends describe them as “outgoing, bright, athletic, and computer savvy.” Attributes anyone would want in a new sales hire.

But could this tragedy occur outside a college campus? Say, in a sales organization? A better question is what would prevent it? An unpleasant topic, but one that must be confronted. According to the Christian Science Monitor, (Rutgers Student Death: Has Digital Age Made Students Callous?, October 1, 2010), Dartmouth freshman Nina Montgomery, who attended high school with Clementi in Ridgewood, NJ, “says her generation of digital natives is getting bored and looking for ways to experiment with new technology. As a result, she believes, more cases as severe as this one at Rutgers will occur. ‘I don’t think people understand the great responsibility that comes with the power of the Internet,’ she says.” Corporate risk managers, take note: information technology might be a strategic enabler, but it’s a force multiplier for stupidity, bad judgment, and malice. Get ready! The class of 2011 will have resumes online before summer.

The article continues, “Other observers of youth culture and media culture believe the media environment – including reality shows that use hidden cameras – is desensitizing young people to the hurtful effects of their actions. One recent University of Michigan study found that college students’ empathy declined by about 40 percent between 1979 and 2009 . . .”

Empathy down by 40%? So much for customer-centricity and outside-in process. Great ideas while they lasted, though. There’s more. A picture is coming into focus, and it’s not pretty. In an interview with New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, NPR’s Robert Siegel said “I haven’t heard you answer the question about Photoshopped images of the Obamas dressed up as a pimp and a streetwalker.” Paladino’s response? “I apologize to anybody, okay, who may have been offended by my resending of emails. I didn’t create them. I re-sent them.” Nice try. Paladino proves that the failure to see a connection between social media use and personal responsibility isn’t limited to millenials.

Malicious broadcasting of videos and emailing disgusting altered photos–who thinks this stuff up? Apparently, very ordinary people. And that’s the point. If you were interviewing a sales candidate, how would you uncover such bizarre proclivities? Which is why corporations face insidious risks when they don’t monitor the online behavior of employees, and when they don’t prescribe guidelines. What would Carl Paladino, Dharun Ravi, and Molly Wei do if they were competing for a top sales rep bonus? If they wanted to discredit a competitor that was gaining an advantage in a key account? Or if they had a former boss who, in their view, stiffed them on a commission check? If those questions don’t cause you to shudder, check your pulse.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social sites have mingled personal and professional social media content—probably forever. So when we discuss “the power of social media,” we need to understand the risks imposed from the darker, negative side, and not to simply assume a positive connotation. We need to understand how people, absent an ethical compass, can warp ordinary goals by taking malevolent actions, or by taking ordinary tools and using them for malicious purposes. We need to understand how technology can propel those actions at warp speed, and what this means for enterprise risk. Finally, we must understand, in every dimension, the damage that can result.

Nina Montgomery, the Dartmouth freshman, is right: we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Three Myths About the Connection Between Social Media and Selling

“Friends don’t let friends become salespeople.” At least that’s what we might deduce from what many experts are sharing online–that salespeople have lost their mojo, and that the selling profession faces threats from many forces.

While some of what’s posted might contain a truth here, and a fact there, things aren’t what they seem. I’ll separate myth from reality, countering the social-media inspired flames that engulf the weakened image of the once-powerful sales hunter, the extrovert with social skills and street smarts undaunted by rejection, but supposedly endangered by obsolescence.

Myth 1: Salespeople are dinosaurs

Truth: Salespeople who don’t adapt, innovate, and change will become dinosaurs, along with the ossified organizations that employ them. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts “Sales and Related” job growth that will exceed 6% through 2018 to 16.9 million. (Occupational Employment Projections to 2018, published in the November, 2009 Monthly Labor Review )

OK, 6% doesn’t get me particularly excited either, but dinosaurs died, and 6% is still a positive number. Check what’s happening underneath the 6% growth, and you’ll find sea changes that are more emblematic of what’s happening in our profession: telemarketing jobs will decline 11%, door to door sales workers and news and street vendors will decline almost 15%, and—drum roll, please—retail sales jobs will increase 8%! Whatever happened to bricks to clicks? Because retail sales jobs are notoriously low-paying, one big, honking question from this data is whether overall a sales career will be as lucrative as it was. But that’s another story for another blog, and in the meantime, nobody can say with certainty that sales jobs will become extinct!

Myth 2: Customers have information power.

Truth: This would be a true statement were it not exactly one word too long, because the more accurate statement is, “customers have information.” Period. If anything, information power is shifting to favor vendors. Remember how these recent headlines elicited public and legislative horror? “Facebook in Privacy Breach,” (The Wall Street Journal, Monday, October 18th, 2010), and “’Scrapers’ Dig Deep for Data on Web,”(The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, October 12th, 2010).

If you can find customer information power in these developments, let me know, because power-preserving privacy just shifted from consumers to producers. I’ll agree that online search windows and social media communities offer consumers unprecedented information benefits, but they’re Tinkertoys compared to the tools vendors have at their disposal, including rich databases, sophisticated software, and predictive analytics. “Insight from complexity,” business intelligence vendors call it, if you’ve heard the sales pitch. Meanwhile, consumers receive plenty of complexity and questionable insight, through web pages and product reviews gushing from of the Internet fire hose, which pundits misconstrue by coining the phenomenon “consumer information power.”

If the myth were true, we wouldn’t need FINRA, you’d know whether an organized crime syndicate profited from supplying the components in your Blackberry or iPhone, why the quesadilla your child ate at school today included calcium pantothenate in the recipe, and why marketing DNA test results to consumers might not be a great idea.

Myth 3: “Customers have largely decided on a solution before getting a salesperson involved,” or “customers are waiting until further in the buying cycle before getting a salesperson involved.”

Truth: The common assumption from these ideas, that salespeople are marginalized, is false. These might not have made the list if we could precisely define when buying cycles start, when they end, and what exactly is meant by “getting a salesperson involved.” We can’t, which makes these assertions hard to prove. Regardless, according to a 2009 McKinsey survey, a cumulative 29% of US and European business buyers selected “lack of industry knowledge” or “lack of product knowledge” as the “most destructive sales behavior.” If the myths were true, salesperson knowledge—or the lack of it—wouldn’t be a blip on the customer’s pain radar. But the McKinsey study suggests that the knowledge that salespeople bring to buyers is both important and valued.

In light of these trends, I probably wouldn’t pull an upcoming college graduate aside and say in an avuncular manner “door-to-door sales” as a career recommendation, but for Sales2.0 and beyond, I’m still bullish on salespeople, the value they bring to buying relationships, and the strategic importance they hold for enterprises of all kinds.

Self-deception Puts Sales Opportunities at Great Risk

“You’re in the hunt!”

“Great demo!”

“We’re really impressed.”

Whether truth or malarkey, salespeople love encouragement from prospects. It’s raw material for the sales forecast Sunshine Pump, through which salespeople report what management wants to hear. We search for the best needles in conversation haystacks, and we’re elated when we find them. “Their CFO said our numbers look great.” Add 10% to the probability of closing!

In a recent Dilbert cartoon, Scott Adams perfectly captured how corrosive deception becomes when Dilbert asks a salesperson “Can you give me a quote by next week?” The salesperson responds, “Your demeanor tells me that you will never buy our product. You only want the quote as a point of reference.” To which Dilbert replies, “Or maybe I’m giving you false hope because it’s less awkward to end the meeting that way.”

Shhhhhhhooooooonnnnkkkkkk! Bullseye! An arrow to the heart! We coach salespeople to be honest and transparent, but we fail at providing strategies when behaviors are not reciprocal. What to do, what to do? The best advice I could find comes from your third-grade teacher, Ms. Dunbar, who probably said, “it’s not what people say, it’s what they do!”

Reflecting on that wisdom, I identified three actions that portend a Positive Sales Outcome. You won’t find research or analytics behind my opinions—just experience from twenty years of stubbing my toe, offered to readers at no extra charge:

Time. Prospects who invest time in a vendor’s product or service are likelier buyers than those who don’t. Prospects who are genuine and sincere attend appointments. They read what you send, and they learn from related information they find on their own. They don’t routinely cut discussions short, postpone meetings, or cancel them at the last minute. They’re available when you call. And they don’t make excuses for not being available by saying they’re “super busy” or out of town.

There’s a big “Yes, but . . .!” here, and I won’t duck away. Prospects can spend gobs of time with suitors that are virtually out of contention. In the buyer’s mind, the raison d’etre for these vendors is not to compete, but for backside protection commonly known as “CYA”. When the winning solution is presented to the Executive Committee, the buying team must have a good story to tell: “We did our due diligence. We spent a lot of time considering XYZ Company, but they were expensive compared to the vendor we selected. The end.” XYZ’s unenviable role is known in sales vernacular as Column Fodder. Fortunately, Action #2, Access, exposes Column-Fodder risk . . .

Access. Genuinely interested prospective buyers provide a vendor access to others within their organization, including influencers, decision makers, and people who can authorize expenditures. For emphasis, I’ll add the converse: Disinterested prospects block access. “Everything on this project has to come through me or my department.” Ugh. We’ve all heard that at least once, and I can’t remember a time the declaration was accompanied by an eventual purchase order. And if you’re at risk for being Column Fodder, you’ll know, because you’ll get pounded to provide proposals, quotes, demos, engineering details, and product development plans. But you’ll never see the inside of a decision-maker’s office, let alone talk with one. (“Hey! At least they’re giving me time!”) I rarely recommend giving up, but without access, you’d have better chances selling faux minarets in Switzerland.

Engagement. Prospects who engage with others to discuss challenges, problems, and concerns are more likely buyers than those who don’t. Engaged prospects have taken the bull by the horns. They’ve identified what moves them, and they’re taking action by asking questions, writing, talking, and communicating. They’re engaging at your local technology council, in online forums, blogs, LinkedIn groups, and on Twitter and Facebook. It’s easier to sell to an opinionated prospect than an apathetic one. Grab on, the buying flywheel is already in motion.

Even with buckets of searchable social media at our fingertips, there’s plenty of buying information hidden from view. So it’s understandable when salespeople lapse into self-deception. After all, we depend on what we perceive, and we’re acutely wired to hear positive sentiment. But action “fact patterns” provide the truest insight into how well an opportunity is progressing. When positive patterns match positive statements, we know we’re on the right track, and when they don’t, there’s a red flag.

Sales Enablement 2011: What’s Hot and What’s Not

If you enjoy the thrill of bungee jumping, you probably found 2010 an exhilarating sales year. From SpaceX, to the iPad selling three million devices in less than three months, to the introduction of the Chevy Volt, we saw great selling strategies propel some fabulous innovation.

On the other hand, some executives just forgot to attach the bungee cord before making the go-to-market leap. The new Microsoft Kin was yanked after Microsoft patiently waited three weeks watching sales numbers go nowhere. Other products, like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner keeps Boeing’s sales force in continuous-innovation mode, thinking of new ways to say “We’ll deliver yours in another few months.”

Successes and flops remind us that, despite current technology, insight, knowledge, and know-how, sales enablement is subject to uncertain events and forces, and suffers from flaws in our assumptions. For many organizations, improved sales capabilities are accompanied by growing complexities. And laws, from Moore’s to Murphy’s, exert pressure to refresh strategies and tactics, because we know they might not work next year, if not next month.

Going into 2011, we need effective sales enablement more than ever. According to Execunet’s 2010 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report, recruiters forecast the most hiring growth in business development (18%) and sales (17%). That’s encouraging! But will these executives be able to hit the ground running?

To uncover the answer, I compiled a short list of Hot and Not for sales enablement:

Hot: Buying Cycles. Buyer-centricity has enabled the revelation that the buying decision flywheel begins turning well before our established traditional sales cycle, and that customer engagement and relationship building must be re-defined.

Not: Sales Cycles. Looking at selling in terms of internal timelines, absent steps for customer collaboration, helped create our battle cry, “Close! Close! CLOSE!!” We achieved short-term revenue, but were left wondering why we weren’t getting enough leads, and grappling with high customer churn.

Hot: Opening relationships. Social media enables many new ways to open relationships, and sales forces are just beginning to reap the benefits for sharing the love. But that means abandoning “get your foot in the door” thinking, and old-school cold calling and prospecting.

Not: Closing business. “After we received our order, we never heard from our salesman, and his company was no help at implementing!” If we think about desired sales outcomes differently, our customers will have better experiences.

Hot: Engaging in conversations: That people spend more time using social media than using email reveals that people want dialogs, and there are many new ways they prefer to have them. When there’s a place, a topic, and kindred people, there’s an opportunity to engage in spirited dialogue, and a new opportunity for salespeople to grow awareness and trust.

Not: Listening to conversations. Today’s sales force won’t achieve its objectives by emulating a spy network. Save that for the CIA, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Hot: Referrals. Conversations about how to solve problems often begin long before Dire Need. Go to any search engine and enter “who has experience with . . .”

Not: Triggers. Keyword alerts have leveled the trigger-monitoring playing field. Anyway, by the time the press release is issued about a plant opening next year in Tianjin, China, requests for vendor referrals have long since been Tweeted.

Hot: Individuals. Axel Schultze of Social Media Academy said that social media’s value is in creating individual conversations, not in automating them. Our ability to get granular detail about what moves individuals, who they influence, and who influences them is unprecedented and it holds profound opportunity for selling.

Not: Target audiences. Nothing gets in the way of personal selling faster than tossing people around in sacks called groups, targets, or average prospect—especially when we have the means to see people as individuals.

Hot: Return on Effort. Work smarter, not harder. Intelligence as a strategic differentiator! Now we have tools for insight into which activities are valuable and when they’re valuable.

Not: More Effort. We’ve searched endlessly for techniques to “get salespeople to make more prospecting calls.” . . . And how’s that flogging thing workin’ for ya?

Hot: Business Knowledge. Tomorrow’s sales achiever will possess the operational insight of a COO, the financial understanding of a CFO, the strategic knowledge of a CEO, along with the passion needed for discovering what’s unknown.

Not: Bullet Knowledge. Recitation of features and benefits doesn’t bring sufficient value to sales conversations. But consider leaving them in the PowerPoint.

Hot: Information Flow. Companies that identify, capture, present, and disperse information quickly will offer customers great value. This has already been exploited by companies that have embraced Twitter for resolving customer problems and Websites for sharing product reviews.

Not: Information Stockpiles. Would FaceBook be valuable if you only received updates monthly?

Hot: Sales force development. Staffing a sales force in the past meant recruiting, hiring, and retaining great salespeople. That’s no longer enough. A top-producing sales organization must also excel at developing salespeople, and that means ongoing leadership, mentoring, training, and sharing knowledge.

Not: sales force training. When training is scatter shot, and not part of an employee development program, it quickly devolves into shelfware.

Hot: IT-Sales Alignment. “Digital touchpoints, whether on a smartphone, Website, social network, or kiosk, are increasingly important to customer experience,” according to an article in InformationWeek (IT and Marketing: Can’t They Ever Get Along?, October 11, 2010). The article cites a survey from the CMO Council indicating that 69% of CMO’s believe they drive digital marketing strategy, and only 19% believe the CIO is important to setting that strategy.

Not: Marketing-Sales Alignment. Sit down, sit down! I didn’t say that containing the friction isn’t important, just that we’ve already identified the problem, and we’re workin’ on it!

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