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Setting Annual Expectations

in Columns/Sales
Tom Woodcock

By Tom Woodcock

As the holidays pass and we barrel into the new year, companies scramble to forecast next year’s performance. Numbers will be thrown around, projections made, and hopes elevated. Ownership will almost always demand better results in either revenue or profitability, or worse, both. Then the great master plan is formatted and presented at a company meeting. At that point, virtually everyone walks away leaving the sales team to make it happen.

Kinda comical if you really think about it. Marketing budgets get cut, entertainment expenses reduced and owner engagement wanes, yet you’re tasked to increase business. “Do more with less!” is the new company motto. You sit there wondering how you’re going to pull it off, if at all. It might be easier to just start making your excuses now as opposed to when the projections are blown. It seems to be an annual ritual. The real question is how do you project what an upcoming year will hold?

Projections can be very strategic or de-motivating in nature. Most are unrealistic in scope and cause unnecessary sales stress. Many have no formulation on how to achieve the numbers. Whether revenue, profitability or expansion of customer base, projecting results without having a plan is a shot in the dark at best. There are a few key areas related to sales that will require a strategic approach. Otherwise, reaching a projected goal will be a seat of the pants proposition. Hitting these main points will at least allow you to hit the basics:

  1. Market Conditions: Understanding and calculating what is taking place in your specific markets is paramount to setting your company’s sales rudder. Is demand trending up or down? Are there economic factors that dictate market direction? Has the customer base shifted in need or demand? These are important questions to answer. These influences can send you in the wrong direction if not addressed.
  2. Historical Sales Data: I find many organizations evaluate their sales teams via gut reaction. You “feel” like someone is doing a good or bad job and approach that person accordingly. The sales data may reflect the opposite of your impression. It’s impossible to project where you’re going without knowing where you are. What’s the starting point? What increases have you been averaging year to year? If historically you’ve realized a 5 percent increase year over year, you’d better have some strong data supporting an expectation of a 20 percent increase for the projected year. Unrealistic growth is never realized.
  3. Ability of Sales Personnel: Being realistic with the talent and work ethic of your sales team can assist in determining what you can truly expect that team to produce. Are they seasoned veterans? Developing rookies? Maybe a combination of both? Break the team down by individuals and measure the past contributions of each to your sales total. Use that as a baseline then incorporate the information you attain in the first 2 points and project growth. Combining the individual results will give you a company wide It’s useless to predict a high level of growth when you don’t have the players to get there. It’s like expecting your nine-player baseball team to hit 90 home runs when no one has ever hit more than five. It is just not possible.

If you’re diligent in at least these three areas, you can expect to make reasonably educated forecasts. Hitting projections will fuel the motivation tank. Over analyzing causes paralysis, insecurity and mistrust. Set your direction and stick with it. Be sure everyone clearly understands the requirements and the result of hitting or missing goals.

Recognizing that your company can fall into the trap of letting external factors dictate your success will keep you working on your strategy. You really do control your growth, not Wall Street or the next President. Rising above circumstances requires more than effort. Having a strong sales strategy tied to that effort has virtually a zero percent chance of failure. Of course each company has its own idiosyncrasies that can affect success, but having your sales ducks in a row can mitigate the negative and extenuate the positive. You are in control.

I’ll be sitting with the companies I work with over the next few weeks setting projections. Owners will argue with me and want to push the numbers. My response will be; “Okay, how are you going to pull that off?”. That will at least light the fuse. From there, reality will kick in and we’ll end up with a good, aggressive, yet achievable projection. Which, truth be told, is exactly what both they and you need. Don’t give in to the wishful thinking of pie in the sky expectations. The eventual result is a bad taste in your sales mouth.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com or at 314-775-9217.

Don’t Accept the Slow Season

in Sales
Tom Woodcock
Tom Woodcock

By Tom Woodcock

Winter is approaching. Work conditions will decline, ground will harden and everyone goes from holiday mode to winter blah. No one is spending any money and projects are scarce. Time to hold your breath and ride your line of credit through this annual recession.

Not so fast!

Throwing in the towel before the season even changes is awfully defeatist. The real course of action is to dig down deep and drive your sales effort. Opportunity may slow down, but it doesn’t disappear.

I’ve worked with enough contractors to know the difference between those that thrive through the winter and those who starve. The firms that go hungry are those that resign themselves to the norm and do nothing to move the bar. The true winners are those that look for every sales vehicle possible to get in front of the customer base therefore, opportunity. They gain a presence physically, electronically, and proactively. They’re not sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring or surfing the Internet for hours at a time. They understand that it takes work to find the projects that break over the winter. Not just those that bid this time of year, but also those that begin.

There is always pressure to go with the historical processes that the construction industry has sustained. Get fat over spring and summer then hibernate over the winter.

I refuse to let my clients accept this logic. We sit down and develop aggressive sales schedules and implement them. We keep the company accountable and review the results. Areas that we feel are the most likely to produce opportunity get the greatest sales attention. We then attack from a selling perspective and don’t let up. These opportunities may take more face-to0face customer time but often we’re the only ones actively pursuing them. This presents a great opportunity to steal a regular customer from a competitor.

Most people think that when they are actively engaged with a customer on a project, they’re selling. Not true. That’s servicing.

It’s what you do with customers when there isn’t a project on the table that falls into the sales category. It’s easy to communicate with a customer in the middle of a summer project. There are details to cover and schedules to meet. That’s a main component of a contractor servicing their client. It’s much more difficult to communicate when you’re not reviewing those elements, to actually talk to your customer on another level. Because of that difficulty, few people actually do it.

So this is the scenario: few people are actively calling on customers, you have time, and projects exist. Seems like an ideal situation for securing some business.

The challenge is to have the discipline and the plan to go after it. The first step is eliminating the “slow season” mentality. I’m not sure about you, but I prefer to be busy year-round. It can make sales projections easier and growth more possible when you gain business every month of the year instead of just nine.

Once this becomes part of your sales program, it tends to grow stronger year after year. You begin to recognize the vertical markets that produce opportunity during the winter months. You can then continue to develop your approach and marketing efforts to capitalize on the seasonal opportunities.

It is kind of like landscaping in the spring and summer and plowing snow in the winter, a common practice in property maintenance. Translation in construction terms: ground up in the spring and summer then renovation in the winter. That is just an example.

You can superimpose that formula on almost any construction trade of dynamic, if you’re willing to. That’s the rub. It’s easier to simply ignore this opportunity and kick back. Some see it as a time to catch their breath business wise. In reality, it’s more like holding your breath.

Investigating which market segments are progressing indicate where projects exist. Developing a sales approach to those markets and enacting it can unveil opportunities. Few people do this kind of sales work in the proverbial slow season.

The size of your company is irrelevant if you truly prioritize the sales effort. Breaking the trend is the most difficult part in conjunction with extending patience till results begin to occur. Selling is never a situation where you simply snap your fingers and the business magically appears. It requires planning, effort, and diligence, especially in a season that traditionally is not productive.

Anyone can secure business when there’s plenty for everyone. The real sales professionals secure it during the leaner times. When the bit players disappear and the field opens up, more commonly known as the Slow Season!

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com or at 314-775-9217.

 

True Sales Support

in Columns/Sales
Tom Woodcock
Tom Woodcock

By Tom Woodcock

I understand sales personnel need to be as accurate as possible before moving transactions to sales support. The better the information on the front end, the better the support effort on the back. With that being said, true sales support is tough to find.

The sales process may vary from company to company or product to product, but each sale has a process. Securing the customer and landing the deal are only the first steps. In construction, there are many additional facets to the sales transaction, any one of which can make or break the transaction.

Efficiency in the sales process directly relates to the customer experience and success rate of the corporate sales effort. Don’t let paperwork, material ordering, or communication with subcontractors interrupt the project or sales schedule. Not keeping the customer first lets details get bogged down in procedures or red tape. Throw a dose of company politics, mixed with mutual disrespect between sales and administration, and a mess develops. This can cause customers dissatisfaction and frustration, which often ripens into negative reviews and lack of referrals. Perish the thought of ever getting another project if that customer has recurring business.

Many companies have brought me in to help generate greater business volume. They want a full backlog of work at great margins. They tend to feel their front end sales approach is the problem. Often, I find their sales process is lacking or broken. There is no sense of urgency, little initiative to help the selling party and often resistance to sales if the documentation isn’t perfect. Whether it’s an issue of control, lack of understanding of the customer’s experience, or a perceived respect problem, the customer takes the hit. This can manifest in delays or cost overruns.

Support personnel need to understand that securing business in a sales environment is the most important aspect of any business. No sales, no paper. Not that their position isn’t critical, but those charged with getting business are there to do just that. Internal support networks are built to do just that, support. They end up making the sales agent look like a rock star, or incompetent.

The reinforcement of the commitments made by the sales rep goes a long way towards the establishment of the company’s credibility. By counteracting the sales person’s commitments, they send the customer the message that the rep is less than genuine and the company is inefficient.

I’m very aware of the fact that many sales agents promise the impossible, but that’s a different topic. Doing everything that you can to meet the customer’s expectations, if at all possible, is the essence of great sales support. The easy thing to do is to not perform and then blame the sales individual. That may be accurate, but it’s not optimum for the company.

I’ve mediated many battles between sales and support, some of them pretty nasty situations. Mutual understanding and respect for each party’s role in the sales process closes the gap between them. Good communication back and forth, verbally if feasible, clears up discrepancies. Avoiding condescending tones, venting, and blaming shows a higher level of business maturity. Few companies take the time to cultivate this type of environment. They let these internal relationships develop organically hoping for the best. Rarely do they end up with the result they hoped for.

Merely stating that you need cohesion between sales and support isn’t enough. It’s a daily practice that needs to be nurtured and reinforced. Ignoring a problem can result in delayed transactions, disgruntled employees, and loss of personnel, all of which are detrimental to a strong sales effort. Investing in training on the internal customer for sales personnel and the critical aspect of sales for the support personnel can bring an awareness of each party’s role.

Companies that work to develop the relationship between sales and support end up with a smooth flowing machine. They achieve a higher standard and set the bar high for competitors. This all takes self-evaluation and effort to be successful. Companies willing to practice this development will enjoy the fruits of it: high morale, extra effort, and increased revenue. Not to mention the value it brings to customers.

The reasons are critical. Gaining separation from the competition is not just the result of value, which is what is often taught. It is also the culmination of team effort, a value proposition rarely taught and seldom seen. The greater the customer experience front to back, the greater the value they perceive. This can reduce competitive influence and breed loyalty.

True sales support is simply part of a more profitable equation. The alternative can only result in more price competition and number shopping. Usually, contractors blame the customer for this behavior. In reality, looking internally may be the solution. Interesting to realize that the way we interact with one another in the sales process is so influential on the sales success of our companies.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com or at 314-775-9217.

The Risk of Selling on Cruise Control

in Columns/Sales
Tom Woodcock
Tom Woodcock

By Tom Woodcock, Seal The Deal

As companies in the construction industry begin to see life in their sales, they take a big sigh of relief. Finally they have some breathing room. No more stressing on every bid opportunity. Contractors are filling to the brim with work and the insane pricing war is coming to an end. They feel they can sit back and wait for the phone to ring. To be honest, it is ringing more.

Not so fast! Thinking you can put your sales effort on cruise control can be a tragic mistake, a quick way to declining revenues and shrinking profitability. The concept that a sales effort can simply be turned on and off is a flawed philosophy. Any true sales forward company will tell you they are always selling.

Opportunity can be elusive. When it’s plentiful, everyone’s happy. When it’s not, panic can ensue. I regularly challenge my clients to keep pushing the envelope on their sales efforts.

Don’t become lax in approach, financial commitment, or time commitment. It’s easy to do and it is extremely commonplace in the construction industry. Why does it occur? There are some very common causes:

Tangibility: Sales has many intangibles. Sales work often seems fruitless. Most people don’t understand the cumulative aspect of sales work. The construction industry is notorious for wanting A to B results. I put A effort in therefore, I should get B result. You’re fooling yourself if you believe this is the reality of selling. Much of the fruit of a strong sales effort is difficult to trace to a specific action. That can drive owners nuts. They want to try and justify a sales event, lunch, or ballgame.

The sales agent states that the investment was worthwhile, but the bid or order is a long time in coming. This is where I see many companies back off on their efforts and shift into cruise control to handle what simply comes to them. A couple months pass then the well is dry. I’ll have clients that will stop working with me and feel they’ve got it. Then, a month or two down the road, sales are down and the bid requests aren’t flying in at the same high rate. Since sales is far from black and white, contractors struggle with the lack of tangible results.

Fatigue:  Sales work takes effort, such as going to events you’ve been to before or meeting with clients and tracking customer data, to name a few practices. Consistently practicing these disciplines, along with repetitive presentations of competitive differentiation, can sometimes border on monotonous. That can tire even the most enthusiastic of sales personnel. Losing occasional evenings or weekends can be a challenge, especially if you can’t immediately see the results of your efforts. It’s much easier to rest and handle what you have. The more tired you are of selling, the easier it is to stop doing it.

Buy In: Having a staff that doesn’t buy into the effectiveness of sales work can produce pressure that makes that effort even more challenging. People that don’t sell for a living, and are in a support position, can kill the sales drive by challenging the need for a strong selling effort. Selling is a team effort. Getting each department or staff member in lock step is important to maintaining a continuous sales plan. Then all members work together to keep each other accountable in pursuing quality opportunities.

Simply coasting along and not looking to be innovative and consistent in your sales approach can result in a severe drop off in business, especially if the market shifts or competitors target you specifically. Trust me, it will happen, usually before you can get a handle on it. The key is to create a sales culture that permeates the company front to back.

Thinking you’ve locked in your sales direction and believing you can back off on your effort is not a beneficial mentality. Whether done consciously or not, it can result in a deficiency in future sales direction. Panic is no foundation for going after business. Customers sense it and it causes companies to do crazy things, like bidding at cost just to have activity. I’ve seen this happen on many occasions.

Thinking you can slow down or stop selling and fly on cruise control may seem okay, but in reality it is a bad decision. Keeping a good, consistent sales plan based in customer engagement will prevail. Even if you don’t have the capacity to take on more projects, you’re communicating with your client base about exactly where you are. This makes you a desirable option. When you have the room to do so, you can grab the opportunities. The last thing you want to do is disengage with the customer base. Reengaging can be a difficult proposition, which is all the more reason to avoid hitting cruise control.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com or at 314-775-9217.

Sales Systems, Uhhhh…Really?

in Columns/Sales

By Tom Woodcock

So you’re telling me a sales system will take your business to the next level?

Your customers will adapt to your systematic approach to selling? Your people will work the system to a tee? Their personalities will freely flow in the confines of a step by step process? Plus you’re being promised a close rate of 80 percent if you incorporate this program?

All you have to do is spend 10, 15, 20, or 100,000 dollars to get the results you want? Plus, it works in any industry, just watch!

Then you go through the seminars, your people whining or fake telling you they love it all the way through, and “voila!” no results.

The only growth is in the sales system provider’s bank account.

I’ve gone through all of the biggies. There is a good point here or there, but in reality, you and your team are responsible for sales success.

I probably just ticked a bunch folks off that invested in one of these program formats. Believe me, that’s not my intention.

I’m just passionate about sales and hate when companies burn good money trying to make their sales dynamic a formula, especially in the construction industry, where you have a bidding pricing structure. Throw in the nature of the customer base and there isn’t a formula in the world that will create an a to z result if you follow all the steps there within.

I’m even seeing as young, inexperienced trainers implementing those programs. They’ve been trained on the teaching components and philosophy, but have little experience closing deals and finding opportunity. But they sure know how you should do it!

Okay, what’s the alternative? Get the Zig Ziglar type and rah, rah my employees to success? Well, I am one of those types at times, but I go a bit deeper.

Some people have an innate ability to connect with people. They own the room, make friends, and quickly gain trust. I couldn’t give you the percentage of people that fit in this category, but it may be larger than you think. These people are relatively receptive to sales and, with some training on sales basics and a decent CRM program, they’ll thrive.

For those that do not have quite the same skill set, selling can be a challenge, but successful nonetheless. Solid product knowledge, a good marketing plan and specific customer sales strategies can be worked effectively.

The greatest factor in driving a group to sales success is motivation. It is that simple.

Even a great rep is only going to have a 30-percent-to-40-percent close rate. That’s a lot of rejection. This can cause people to avoid sales work, make excuses, and reduce customer contact activity.

The more optimistic and genuine an individual is, the greater the results. Positive attitude and enthusiasm can overcome technical sales mistakes. They still require positive internal sales meetings and an industry specific, outside sales trainer to come in and reinforce company goals on occasion. But, that is much more cost effective and time conserving than buying into a “sales system.”

Much of what brings sales success is common sense. There is a certain amount of blocking and tackling, but in all honesty, it’s not very complicated.

Innovations do come into the sales process and those need to be evaluated and then implemented when effective. The problem is the more complex the sales formula, the less people will apply it.

Companies that try and force selling into a structured program negate the human aspect of sales. They insist that if you properly walk a customer down a certain path, you’ll get the desired result. That works in mathematics, but not in sales. Hard closing, cold calling, and making the customer uncomfortable make no sense when trying to get a customer to choose you.

Ask yourself this question; “Do I like being hard closed, cold called, or made uncomfortable?” Then why on earth would anyone think their customers would.

I’m fairly certain any sales organization reading this article is saying my name in vain. They’re probably trying to discredit me as an old fashioned sales guru who just doesn’t get it.

Zig! Hearing that up in heaven?

The thing is, I accomplished more in sales by being myself, supported by the companies I sold for and staying true to sales basics. Throw in a little creativity and BAM, sales success.

So, if you’re spending a ton of money on a formulaic sales system and you’re not satisfied, cut your losses. If you love it, awesome! My question to you would be two-fold. Are the promised results there? Are your people really embracing it? Obviously I’ve seen plenty of proof to wager the answer to both questions is “no.”

Maybe it’s time to go old school. Trust the talent you have or you’ve hired and work to support them internally as much as possible. The results may be pleasantly surprising.

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com or at 314-775-9217.

Sales Coaching, Is it Worth It?

in Sales

Sales Coaching, Is it Worth It?

By Tom Woodcock

I’ve been penning articles for this esteemed construction publication for years. My hope has always been that I help the industry move forward in regards to sales dynamics. Now, I speak of what I know best, sales training.

Having trained tens of thousands construction personnel over the years across the country, I’ve witnessed the value training brings. The companies that invest in training their people in regards to sales reap definitive improvements in sales performance. Those that don’t often make significant mistakes in the sales process. They feel the results of that amateur sales approach in both revenue and profitability numbers. They are either frustrated with their sales team or blame customers and the marketplace for their failure. In reality, without training, what would they expect?

Why doesn’t the construction industry embrace training their people to sell?

There are several reasons. I’ll try to outline the most prominent.

  • Performance Based Selling: Contractors historically have believed that they get the next project based on how well they performed on the last. If we do a good job, the client will use us on the next. This philosophy has long since faded away. Performance is the ante. It’s expected by the client. Competitors tout their performance as much as you do. Throw in extensive contract language and litigation methods, and the project
    owner feels very insulated from poor performance. Sorry, performance is not a sales vehicle in this day and age.
  • Price Selling: Price is the weakest sales methodology. It merely requires a calculator. Estimating to the point you make as little as possible on a project to win it is a losing business format. The companies that function this way the most are usually the least trained in sales. They put little value on customer relationship and sales work. They also rarely have any sales or marketing strategy. Their close rate is meager.
  • Wrong Personnel Selling: It’s rare when I find any contractor with a dedicated business development rep (sales person truth be told). They have estimators or project managers, who excel in calculating and math principles, doing their sales work. Really? You’re expecting a numbers person to have strong people skills? Owners of construction firms back off the sales effort as they begin to get work. Then they wonder why business tanks 6 months down the road. Having the right, trained person in place to get work will easily bring a great ROI.
  • Disrespect of Sales Trainers:  This one hits close to home. The lack of respect of professionals that train people to sell is pervasive. The concept that they don’t understand “your” sales situation is extremely  shortsighted. If sales is the most important aspect of your business, and it is, professionals that focus on teaching sales are worth their weight in gold! Find the right one and use them!

Now, being a sales trainer you’re probably thinking I’m being a bit of a homer. To be honest, I’ve actually toned down my perspective. I’ve seen spending on marketing go through the roof while the company makes no investment in training personnel to follow up on that marketing. They may as well set the money ablaze!

I have worked closely with dozens of companies to train their people and retool their sales efforts. Those that implement the changes see success fairly quickly. The ones that balk at change usually struggle in the same fashion they already are. Often they’ll increase spending on their marketing, buy a $1,000 sponsorship at a golf tournament, and don’t show up. They’ll attend networking events with no clue as to how to work the event. Many can’t even name their top ten customers. They’ve set zero customer targets and hope the bid invites come in the mail. Amazingly, they refuse to train their people because of expense.

Structuring a sales training program that is geared towards your personnel and specific trade is a must. Put the proper sales format in place and work at it diligently and it will produce.

The root of any training program is targeting your top end revenue, profitability or both. Reducing estimating time by raising your close rate allows you to sell more effectively. The process builds upon itself and your greatest challenge will be keeping up with the volume on the performance side of the business, which, hopefully, you’ve got down pat.

I tend to be very selective about which contractors I’ll do training for. If you’re not willing to incorporate the proper sales practices and implement an accountability plan, I’m not interested. Expecting a sales trainer to wave a magic wand and fix your sales dynamic is a bit pie in the sky. This is especially true when you’ve neglected doing any training for years.

The good news is you can turn around a sales effort fairly quickly if you roll up your sleeves and get after it. The alternative is to continue to find excuses to leave your team untrained in relation to selling. I hope my contractor clients compete against you if you choose the latter!

Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached at his website: www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com or at 314-775-9217314-775-9217.

 

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