The 10 spookiest things about Selling

spooky things about sellingWhat keeps you up at night? Is it the imaginary monster you remember from your childhood that is still hiding underneath your bed? Is it the ghostly sounds that you hear outside your window while you’re trying to sleep? Is it your black cat that’s scratching your bedroom door?

With Halloween fast approaching, what are the 10 spookiest things that scare you the most about selling?

1). Not getting enough qualified sales leads

You want leads? Sure, here’s the Yellow Pages – start calling! Seriously, most salespeople complain about the lack of leads or the quality of what they receive from their marketing team. But hey, thanks to the Internet, there are tons of free and paid sources now available. So stop complaining, and don’t be afraid of doing a little research.

Need help? Here are a couple of books you should consider –

New Sales. Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development, by Mike Weinberg and S. Anthony Iannarino.

Power Prospecting: Cold Calling Strategies For Modern Day Sales People – Build a B2B Pipeline. Teleprospecting, Lead Generation, Referrals, Executive Networking. Improve Selling Skills, by Patrick Henry Hansen.

2). Getting little or no training

You were told by your employer that you would receive training after you were hired. Instead, you were introduced to your work area and given a prospect list – now start selling. What should you do? Start reading. That’s right – start reading sales books, blogs and articles. Start watching YouTube videos about selling. Study your company’s products and services inside and out until you know them by heart. Do what you have to do to be successful – because while your employer may not care, you better give a damn about your job. After all, what’s even scarier than little or no training is standing in the unemployment line.

Don’t know where to begin? Here’s help –

Here is a link to a guest blog post I wrote for Will Reed Jobs, an Austin based job hunting agency for young salespeople –

Ten books that New Salespeople should Read

And HubSppot has a list of the 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.

don't panic in sales3). The “no show” prospect

I know. The prospect accepted your meeting calendar invite to view your short webinar, but he disappeared. Where did he go? Did he fall down a pit? Are you going to curse the darkness? Of course not! Don’t panic. Just pick up the phone and try to reschedule the appointment. Things happen. Prospects get busy. Don’t take it personally.

4). Competitors who lie, cheat and steal

Hate them or respect them, competitors exist in every industry. You can either be afraid of them or fight them. The choice is yours. While you may want to boil your competitors in a cauldron of oil, the better approach is to stop worrying about your competitors and just do your job. In the long run you will succeed while your competitors fail.

5). Cold calling

A cold call isn’t cold unless you make it so. Do a little research first before you call a prospect. Is he the key decision maker? Do you feel you have a solution that will help him? Or better yet, try to get a referral.

6). The mysterious marketing department

You heard about the mysterious marketing department, but you’ll be damned if you know if it really exist or not. Is it a ghost department that only comes out at night when everyone else has left work? You were told that the marketing department was going to provide you qualified leads, but you haven’t seen any for a while. Did the leads end up in the quicksand?  (See number 1 about finding your own qualified leads). And if your company’s social media efforts are still in the dark ages, start your own blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account, and become more active on social media yourself. While your marketing department may be invisible, you shouldn’t be.

salespeople pouncing on trade show attendees7). Trade Shows

So you’re afraid to stand at your exhibit booth during trade shows. Don’t be. Chances are, most of the attendees are just as scared as you are because salespeople are pouncing on them like vampires every time they near a booth. Rather than asking good qualified questions, those salespeople are sucking the life out of attendees. Don’t be like that. Act cool. Show some respect. Don’t scan and scam. Take a more consultative sales approach when meeting with attendees. Believe me, in the long run it will pay off.

Here is a good article from Jane Applegate on “How to Work a Trade Show.”

8). Conversions of your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system

You love your CRM. It helps you keep track of your sales notes, customer contact information and all of the records you need to do your job. But another salesperson came along and sold your employer on a better CRM. Now what? It’s conversion time – that long, lengthy, agonizing period of exporting all of your data into the new CRM. Scared? Hell, you should be. Because sometimes important data has a way of ending up in a dark hole that will never be found again. (I’ve gone through 5 conversions in my career. In one case, the programmers forgot to transfer our sales notes. In another case, they forgot to transfer all of our expired clients). But don’t be afraid – instead, download and save all your information or print it out. But whatever you do, protect your information or it may disappear.

Here a good article from Chuck Schaeffer on “Lessons Learned in CRM Data Conversions.”

bogeyman as a sales manager9). Bad sales managers

Yes, we’ve all been there, done that. But your sales manager may not be the bogeyman you think he is. Like you, he’s under pressure to make quota or achieve sales goals. The only difference is that he has to depend on you and the entire sales team to make it happen. That’s scary. There are a lot of books and articles on how to deal with difficult managers – here are a couple –

A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses: Dealing With Bullies, Idiots, Back-stabbers, And Other Managers from Hell, by Gini Graham Scott Ph.D.

Dealing With Horrible Bosses: How To Handle Bad Managers at Work! (difficult managers,poor boss,difficult bosses,work bullies,bad bosses,bullying at workplace,bullying at work), by Damon Lundqvist.

And VorsightBP, a Northern Virginia based sales consulting firm, has an excellent webinar on “10 Tips to Transform Sales Leaders From Micromanagers into Great Coaches.” (You have to submit your contact information to watch it, but it’s worth it).

10). Slow sales periods

Every industry has its slow periods. You know, that time when most clients are not buying because it’s the holidays, or it’s the summer, or whatever lame excuse you are given. So does that mean you slow down? Hell no. Find other prospects to contact. When I once worked in the accounting industry, tax season was considered a slow time to call on CPAs, accountants and tax preparers. Unless you loved getting chewed out by stressed out accountants facing the April 15th tax deadline, you pretty much left them alone. While that made sense, we didn’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves – instead, we contacted libraries, nonprofit organizations and financial institutions that we thought would be good candidates for our tax research program. You do what you have to do to hit your quota.

What scares you about selling? Please send me a comment.

CRMs, should you switch?

I recently wrote a three-part series about Customer Relationship Management (CRM). I came across this great article written by Gene Marks in Forbes called “11 Terrible CRM systems for your Company.” I would encourage you to read it.

Among other things, he makes a valid point that CRMs are great tools to use, but you need to ensure that your sales team is properly trained to learn how to use the systems.  I would take it a step further and add that you also need to find a CRM that your sales team likes to use.

I once worked for a division that was required to convert from its existing CRM to the main company’s CRM. However, there was a problem – people in my division didn’t like the main company’s CRM because they found it to be too cumbersome to use. In addition, it was difficult to generate accurate reports. Within a matter of a few months, my division switched back to their old CRM, and essentially told the main company this – “once you improve your CRM, let us know and we will consider using it again.”

Some employers don’t realize that a CRM can make or break you if you don’t select the right one. All CRMs have strong and weak points. While I personally like salesforce.com, there are certainly other tools you can use. Each tool has its strengths and weaknesses.

When selecting a new CRM, what are some factors that you need to consider?

1). Why are you switching to a new CRM? Write down a list of all the problems you are having with your existing CRM. Can you fix those problems yourself or have the vendor fix them for you? Weigh the pros and cons of fixing those problems yourself or with a vendor versus buying a new CRM. Remember, buying a CRM is not like buying a new laptop computer. You have to consider investing time and money in converting your data from one CRM to another. You have to weigh the pros and cons of perhaps losing data during the conversion, and then having to still rely on your old CRM for archival information (this actually has happened to me twice in my career). You have to consider the expense of training your sales, administrative and other staff members in learning how to use the new CRM. You also have to pay a license fee to the new vendor. You have to ensure that your data will be secure in the new CRM.

2). Should you create your own Homegrown CRM? I once worked with a company that was using salesforce.com. While everyone liked the tool, the biggest problem was that the company couldn’t integrate salesforce.com with their order entry system. The order entry process would take between 20 to 30 minutes – a lifetime in sales. To make both the account management and order entry process go a lot smoother and faster, the company decided to create its own CRM. The obvious advantages of having your own Homegrown CRM is that it is tailored to your company’s needs. You can also upgrade the system on your schedule and you don’t have to pay a license fee.

3). Will your employees like the new CRM? It doesn’t make any sense to go through the time and expense of buying a new CRM if your employees don’t like it. I’ve actually heard of salespeople quit their jobs because they found the new CRMs to be too difficult and time-consuming to use, and thus, was hurting their abilities to generate more sales. I’ve gone through CRM Model T, CRMconversions where one day I felt I was driving a Porsche and the next day I felt like I was driving a Model T. While I didn’t quit my job because I was now using a lousy CRM, it certainly made my work more difficult and definitely slowed down my selling process. So before selecting a new CRM, bring your sales team and other employees into the decision-making process. Get their input and advice. If they can trial a new CRM, please have them do a test run before you make a huge investment.

At a bare minimum, the CRM needs to be user-friendly. As a general rule, if it takes more than two days to train your staff, and they still find the new CRM cumbersome to use, you will have a serious problem on your hands. You may have bought yourself a lemon. That applies not just to off the shelf CRMs, but also Homegrown versions too. For example, I once used a Homegrown CRM where it literary took 15 minutes to enter call backs. Everyone on the sales team became so frustrated with the call back feature, they finally gave up and started using Post-it Notes and Outlook calendar to schedule their calls.

Finding the right CRM for your company is tough. Take your time. Do it right. It will save you an enormous amount of time and money down the road.

photo credit for Model T: Don J Schulte via photopin cc

CRMs, Beware of Conversions, Part 3

In part 1, I gave a brief background about CRMs (Customer Relationship Management) In part 2, I discussed three commons mistakes when using CRMs. In his post, I will discuss conversions.

Conversions are when your employer converts your data to a new CRM. This is done for several reasons. Maybe your employer feels it’s time to upgrade to a better system. But usually the most common reason is that you are going through a merger or buy-out, and one company has decided to switch to one database to cut down on costs, confusion and ensure better workflow.

Conversions are scary. No matter how well planned a conversion is, there is always the risk you will lose information. I have gone through four conversions in my career. It’s never fun. In fact, it can be very nerve-racking. I had one situation where a conversion was done and the programmers forgot to transfer the sales notes. Fortunately for me, I still had access to the old database for one year. However, it was time-consuming to have to constantly toggle back and forth between one database to another while making sales calls.

How well or badly a conversion is done is a good sign on whether you and your colleagues will survive a merger or buy-out. As a general rule, if the dominating company rushes through a conversion, and forces you to use a lousy CRM, and doesn’t care about your concerns, that is a good sign you will be laid off. For example, one division at one of my former employers based in Maine was forced to use three CRMs at the same time! Each sales person was required to toggle back and forth between each CRM when viewing customer information, entering information and submitting orders. It was no surprise that a few months later, the entire sales and customer service was laid off.

I went through a similar situation after one buy-out. The dominating company dumped our great homegrown CRM and replaced it with an inventory style CRM that had no sales tools or features. It was extremely difficult and time-consuming for us to use. Under the new leadership, we were not allowed to use the dominating company’s better CRM. Since we already knew they were going to get lay off the entire sales team anyway, we were not completely surprised that we were forced to the lousy CRM until they got rid of us.

As a rule, the longer it takes the programmers to do a conversion, the better for you. This means the programmers are taking their time and doing it right. I’ve gone through rush conversions where critical information was not transferred over. In one instant, all my old expired clients were not transferred over. I frequently call on old clients to see if they want to order from me again. In that case, I had access to the old database and I was able to manually enter the better old expires in my new database.  But that is a very time-consuming process.

CRM conversionsWhen a conversion occurs, you must speak up and make sure the programmers understand your concerns. Programmers are not sales people. It’s your job to make them aware of any critical information that must be protected and transferred over probably. When my company was bought by a major corporation, I was pretty much out of the loop in terms of making suggestions. I was low man on the totem pole. However, I knew some of the programmers who were doing the work. Because I was on friendly terms with them, I sent them e-mails with suggestions on what to transfer over. I was completely surprised when I found out they were not planning to transfer sales notes to the new system. When I pointed out the importance of this, and where this information was located, they quickly agreed to move the data over.

You may think I’m being overly cautious about warning you of the potential dangers of conversions. Maybe this story will change your mind – Long before I started working for a major publishing company, that company did a conversion in the early 1990s. The conversion was so bad, that the company could not create or print renewal notices for more than a year. Field reps were forced to visit clients door-to-door asking for renewal payments. Not only did this incident hurt the company financially, but it was a major embarrassment for everyone.

Conversions can make or break you. Speak up.

Normally, you will be given plenty of advance notice before a conversion occurs. That’s good. Because you need to plan ahead and protect your customers and prospects.

Here is what you need to do to prepare for a conversion –

1). Have all your customers backed up on your computer, and if possible, in print. Put your printed copy in a secure place. Use a lock and key if you need to.

2). Make sure there will be no disruption in your call-back calendar. If your call-back calendar is not going to be transferred over, make plans to save it so you don’t miss important calls.

3).  Make sure you take some downtime to learn the new CRM. Yes, I know. It’s a pain to learn a new system. But the sooner you know it, the faster and better you will be doing your sales job.

4). Will you have access to the old database after the conversion? In most cases, companies do keep archive files of the old databases. No matter how successful a database conversion is, I always found myself going back to the original database to access material. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you can access the old records if needed.

Conversions are a necessary evil in sales. If you are unsure about something, or have some concerns, you must speak up.

It’s your information too. If your employer loses it or screws up, it will dramatically hurt your sales and could set you back for months.

CRMs, 3 common mistakes, Part 2

In part 1, I gave a brief background about CRMs (Customer Relationship Management). In this post, I will discuss the three common mistakes that you need to avoid when using a CRM.  These include taking no or little notes, falling behind on your call backs and not maintaining good contact information.

1). Failing to take good notes: If you are dealing with a lot of customers and prospects, it’s difficult to remember each person, every conversation, and every order that you have entered. While you may think that taking good notes is a waste of time, believe me, in the long run it will save you a lot of time. Also, if you are absent one day, and one of your co-workers receives a call from your customer, you want him to have accurate information to draw from to help your client. Nothing sounds more unprofessional than a sales person fumbling around trying to figure out what your customer needs.

Many sales departments have developed a “hit by the bus” philosophy when it comes to note taking. What if you get hit by the bus tomorrow, will someone be able to understand the needs of your customer when he inherits your accounts.

Sometimes sales people just don’t get the message. I heard of a sales rep who worked at one of my old employers who actually was fired for not entering notes into the database. He was warned repeatedly, but refused to listen.

taking notes while on a sales callI generally take good notes. I’m not just entering basic information, like which order did the client place, or what products he may be interested in purchasing later. I try to take more personalized notes about the client’s family, favorite hobbies, recent or upcoming vacations, etc. I will also take note of the customer’s tone during my conversations with him. Is he angry, anxious or happy? You are not a telemarketer. You are salesperson. Your goal is to develop a long-term relationship with your customers. The best way to do that is to have personalized conversations based on good note taking.

2). Falling behind on your call backs: The second biggest mistake sales people make is falling behind on their sales call backs. I know of situations where sales people would have weeks – if not months – of call backs entered in their calendar, because they don’t follow through on making their call backs or have unrealistic expectations of their time. Don’t do this. Keep up. Depending on the CRM you are using, you may want to rank your call-backs from the highest to the lowest priority. Your highest priority call-backs are clients who are about ready to place an order, or finalize a contract, or trialing your service, as well as qualified inbound leads. Your lowest priority calls should be courtesy calls to see how your clients are doing, or prospects that are on the fence about your product.

3). Not entering good contact information: And finally, the third biggest mistake people make is not providing or updating good contact information. It may sound like common sense, but many don’t include the full names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, titles and other critical information that makes your job a lot easier.

A CRM is a tool. It is only has good as you use it. Use CRMs wisely, could save you money and time down the road.

In part 3 of this post, I will discuss the problems of CRM conversions.

CRMs, Brief Background, Part 1

Most of us have used a wide variety of  Customer Relationship Managers (CRMs).  But in case you are new to the sales profession, a CRM is a software system designed to maintain and update customer and prospect records. Those records would include basic information such as names, company names, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses. More sophisticated systems would include order history, sales notes, billing information, and a call-back schedule to plan your upcoming calls or meetings. Marketing tools may be included to help track customers and prospects using social media. Still others will allow you to develop and keep track of marketing campaigns.

CRMThe major purpose of a CRM is to maximize your time, set priorities, and target those customers and prospects you believe will generate the most sales. In short, it is designed to save you time and money.

I have used seven different CRMs in my career. Some of them are homegrown, and others are off the shelf tools like Advantage,SalesLogix,TeleMagic,Salesforce.com, and Microsoft Access. While I have never used them, I’ve heard positive feedback from sales people who have used Act! and Goldmine.

The Homegrown databases were created specifically by my employers and are not available in the open market. Some employers believe that developing their own CRMs tailored to the needs of their sales, marketing and billing staffs are worth the expense. In the long run, homegrown CRMs are easier to maintain and upgrade and no license fees are paid to a vendor. If the employer decides to convert from his homegrown CRM to another one, he doesn’t need permission from a vendor, or have to deal with the hassle doing a conversion within a limited time frame. I once worked for a mid-size publishing company that was forced to dump all its records from one CRM to a new CRM on a strict deadline because the vendor was upset about the switch. The fast conversion process created a total mess of records in the new CRM that took months to organize.

My favorite off-the shelf CRM is Salesforce.com.  I find the interface easy on the eye, is user-friendly and does a great job of maintaining customer records and call-back schedules.

If you glance at most help-wanted ads these days, you will find a lot of employers require you to have experience using Salesforce.com. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to use the database. Most employers will train you. I was able to learn how to use the basic features of the program within a couple of days. There are also several books on the market to teach you how to use Salesforce.com if you want more detail.

No matter which database you are required to use, take some time to learn how to use it properly. Any of these tools will save you an enormous amount of time and make you a more effective and efficient sales person.

In part 2 of this post, I will discuss the common mistakes of using CRMs.