Monthly Archives: May 2011

In my last post I talked about how salespeople create differentiated solutions by effectively applying three disciplines of innovation: building block 5 of 6.

Assess Performance and Identify Sales Best Practices

In this blog I will talk about the Positive Deviance Rapid Slice Assessment (PDRSA)™. This protocol is designed to quickly and effectively identify sales best practices. It will also determine if your sales organization is effectively creating and implementing a differentiated solution.

The ultimate objective of the assessment is to raise the performance of the middle performers, approximately 60% of your sales force. This is accomplished by analyzing the knowledge, skills and abilities of the top 20% of your sales force, then getting those practices to the next 60% of your sales force. The bottom 20%, is in my experience, comprises new salespeople or chronic low producers. In either case, they are unable to take advantage of the sales best practices and need different kind of help.

So how does it work? There are two steps:

  1. Identify the superior knowledge, skills and abilities that make a difference and spell consistent success.
  2. Imbed these into your sales force.

These steps are simple yet difficult. How and why? Let me explain.

Simple because most assessments do an excellent job in the early steps. Sales management can easily identify top producers by the numbers. The one thing you want to be clear and certain about is the criteria. You should consider who the consistently good sales performers are, and then identify the moderate performers—those who should be producing better but are not. Then talk to a cross section of salespeople and sales managers about who is best and why. The key here is putting their actions into behavioral terms. Create a list of what has been learned, then discuss with the sales management group which few behaviors are critical to achieving sales goals for this year and beyond. That’s all well and good but a key step has been missed.

The key step that most skip, yet is one the most important steps, is observing (this is the difficult part) the salespeople and sales managers at work. My experience and extensive research by others on the subject strongly indicate that identifying best practices simply by asking and discussing falls short. That is especially true if the best practice is subtle and only effective when used at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way. This subtle difference in behavior, also known as positive deviance, can easily be missed by a process that focuses on asking rather than observing.

The effectiveness of observing behavior has been vividly documented, and I want to share an example. It’s a story about a small Vietnamese village and work that was conducted there, under the auspices of the NGO, Save the Children. The research was managed by Jerry Sternin. Inside this small village, best practices were discovered by observing the actions of parents as they related to food gathering, preparation and consumption. This led to a discovery about food gathering that was missed during the interviews, and the discovery of this best practice led to a major reduction in malnutrition rates. You can read more about the story in the book by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin.

The other aspect of this assessment is applying a thin-slice approach. I first read about this approach in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink . In it, Gladwell describes thin slicing as the ability for the unconscious to find patterns in situations and behaviors based on very narrow slices of experience. There is a wealth of research available on the subject indicating that we can effectively apply the thin-slicing approach to sales best practices. It’s not without its detractors, however.

I believe the thin-slicing approach can work, but for it to do so, you need an objective observer. This is a simple concept that is difficult to execute.With the data gathered, analyze your observations and quantify to determine if the best practice has a positive ROI. If yes, then make it part of the sales culture. Goldman Sachs Private Wealth Management has successfully applied this process whereas Merck and Company had early wins but then squandered the gains, as described by Pascale, Sternin and Sternin.

Learn more about how to imbed your sales best practices into your sales culture! Click here and I will send you a description of a five-step process.

In my next blog, I will summarize this series on differentiation and invite you to attend a free Webinar on differentiation.

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Effective Disciplines of Innovation for Salespeople In my last post , I talked about the 1,048,576 ways to create a unique solution that is a key aspect of your sales strategy. Now, I will talk about how to create a differentiated solution by using three instruments of innovation: styles, tools and sales leadership.

  • Styles: Each of us has our own style or approach to innovation, so it’s smart to get input from those around us on styles that differ from our own. The four innovation styles, as developed by William C. Miller in The Creative Edge , are visioning, exploring, experimenting and modifying. My style, for example, is Visioning, which includes characteristics like the desire to uncover insights and make decisions. Another style, called Experimenting, places heavy emphasis on facts and stresses the importance of gathering information. As you can see, using just one of the styles has limitations and gaps, whereas using multiple styles will help to avoid gaps and uncover new solutions that can be implemented.
  • Tools: There are a number of tools that are very helpful in being creative. Here are four useful in general for generating ideas that are in alignment with each innovation style :
    • Wish list – Visioning
    • Force field analysis – Modifying
    • Matrix analysis – Experimenting
    • Symbol analogy – Exploring

Most are commonly available tools; however, the symbol analogy may be less well-known, so I’ll describe how works. It starts by asking each member of a team or group to draw a symbol or picture that captures the essence of what s/he sees as a possible solution. You don’t need to be a graphic artist; the level of drawing skill is not important. What is important is having each individual describe what the symbol s/he drew represents to that person. It is in these descriptions where you will find terrific ideas that probably would not have been uncovered if you just asked for a list of ideas.

  • Leadership: I am referring to leadership wherever it needs to appear, including the salesperson leading her post less his team, or the sales director of the region or industry focus, or the VP global sales. It is human nature to resist change, especially change that’s been initiated by others. I remember telling a friend that I love change and embrace it. His response was, “Yes when you can initiate the change and control it.”

In order the help the team accept change, the sales leader needs to be prepared to do the following four things:

  1. Accept that there will be resistance to change and be aware of acts of resistance, especially subtle ones.
  2. Approach the resistant person in the most effective way, whether that’s a face-to-face conversation, or a team meeting.
  3. Discuss exactly what is different and what the implications of the changes are.
  4. Challenge by asking focused questions, to help the team member overcome his or her resistance and re-engage in the initiative.

says it best, “When you solve an interesting problem you open a new door.”

Your best salespeople are already successfully applying the four aspects of innovation, but doesn’t the other 80% of your sales force need help be more innovative? Providing them with tools will increase their confidence and their contributions will lead to a differentiated solution, which in turn will help you grow sales, profitably.

Look out for my next blog, I will talk about a fast way to determine how effective your sales force is at creating and implementing solutions that matter to your customers and differentiate you from your competition.

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differentiate from your competition 1,048,576 Ways to Create a Differentiated Solution for Your Sales Strategy In my last post I talked about what a salesperson needs to do to create a differentiation strategy. In this blog I will discuss the 1,048,576 (that is 2 to the 20th power) components that can be utilized to create a differentiated solution. One secret: Proactively chose the components early in your sales process. This will impress you customers, as you are anticipating their needs. Additionally, it will allow you to test for fit the components you have selected and make adjustments based on the customer’s feedback.

There are four categories, composed of 20 components that can be utilized to create a differentiated solution. By choosing the right combination of components to create a differentiated solution, you grow sales, profitably.

The four categories are as follows:

  • People : Your people are your best sales resource; therefore, a lot depends upon whom you assign to each account. The particular salesperson can mean the difference between a win and a loss, or a small one-time customer versus a strategic long-term customer. Most organizations use a simple, straightforward and effective process to assign customers to the appropriate salespeople within the organization. Do not follow this process blindly! Your organization may assign people based upon geography so that the closest salesperson to the customer gets the account. As a sales manager there may be times when going outside of accepted processes will work to everybody’s advantage. Let’s say you have a lead in Chicago that has all the makings of a strategic large long-term customer for your business, but your account executive in Chicago is brand new. Not a very promising combination. Instead, consider teaming the new account executive with a more experienced one, thereby ensuring that you wow the customer and win the business, while developing a less experienced account executive and rewarding an experienced account manager.
  • Product : You want to figure out ways in which you can slightly modify your product so that it makes it easier for your customer to use, while not costing you an arm and a leg. I am talking about tailoring a product in the field, one customer at a time. Consider who will be using the product and how, and create a solution that will make it easier for them. Let’s say you sell an enterprise learning management system. The customer likes your system and wants to replace their current one, which licensed many years ago, no longer meets the needs. However, the customer is unsure about if and how the data on their old system can be imported to the new one. Effectively addressing your customer’s need to import data could make the difference between winning and losing the deal.
  • Service : While every company provides services to meet their customers’ needs, the services are frequently designed as one size fits all. As a salesperson, I want to determine what aspects of that service can be easily and effectively modified to meet my customer’s needs, both stated and implied. For example, it may be company policy to provide a single point of contact for your customer; however, your customer prefers that there be a contact for each site, of which there are three. Adjusting to your customer’s requirements will help you win the deal.
  • Financial : Every company has standards around payment terms, invoicing processes, volume discounting and multiyear contracts. It won’t take long before your competition learns what your standards are and either models those or offers better standards. You can get ahead of the curve by finding out which of the financial components might be slightly customized to meet the unique needs of your customer. You certainly don’t do this on your own; involving your sales manager, finance and others is critical before you start talking to your customers about what you might be able to do for them.

A detailed description of the 20 components will be available soon, so make sure to check back.

My expectation is that your top salespeople already know which combinations of components create a successful differentiated solution, but what about the rest your sales force? In my next blog I will talk about how effective salespeople create a differentiated solution.

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Guest post by Kathleen Stinnett.

In my work in training sales leaders to coach their sales representatives, I often find that having all of the performance data can sometimes be an impediment to great coaching conversations. Sales leaders have an abundance of data at their fingertips, which highlight performance strengths and weaknesses:
— How is the sales rep doing compared to plan?
— Compared to others in the team?
— Compared to everyone across the country?
— On each product and service line?
— Each day, week or month?

I recently shadowed a high-performing sales leader working with his team members. He worked for a financial services organization that had established very clear goals for each rep regarding the specific products and services s/he was expected to sell each month. Reps received training, shadowing and coaching so that they understood the product lines and how to position them with clients. This sales leader met with each direct report one time each week for “coaching.” Here was a typical conversation:

Leader: “Let’s review your progress and see how you are doing and where we can help you improve in your numbers.”

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