“It’s like trying to change the engines on the plane while it’s flying at 30,000 feet.”
That line speaks to the enormity of making rapid change in the way we do business. It reminds me that this isn’t easy (and that consultants have the easy job: give advice and leave town immediately!). But most of us would agree that if we don’t change, the cost of inaction is very scary. We must change.
I write that as I continue to think about the most powerful line I’ve heard all summer, “Clients used to fall in love with TV. Now they fall in love with the solution we bring them.” A mid-market sales manager, one who makes a ton of calls each month, told me that. And I believe it is a profoundly important line and also 100% true.
I think that if you accept his statement as truth, it changes everything about our sales development process.
Today a massive percentage of TV sellers are package pushers. Even some companies that profess to have a customer-focused sales approach revert to package selling when business gets soft. I believe that close to 85% of TV sellers fit into this “peddler” box. Want proof? Ask your AE’s how often the first thing a new business prospect says to them is “What do you have for me?” Clients have learned that a massive percentage of reps actually do have something. They have a package to pitch them.
So, just to be clear, I am not opposed to package selling, especially when an AE can present a package knowing it has elements that solve a client’s business challenges. I always tell our stations that the problem isn’t packages. The problem is AE’s who take each week’s packages to the same 10 clients. That’s a peddler for sure.
And peddlers will fade away in a time where finding the solution that clients will fall in love with is now the new business development priority. We must be solution sellers.
So, what should leaders do? Let me offer some ideas that seem simple but can, if executed well, make a huge difference.
- The number one difference between peddlers and customer-focused salespeople is how much time they spend in the needs analysis part of the sales process. Customer-focused sellers spend 4x more time in diagnosis than peddlers. Many peddlers think they are customer focused but their questions to a client are mostly about advertising. We need to teach AE’s that a good diagnosis call involves a researched business conversation for 25-30 minutes before a discussion about where the client is advertising ever takes place. Trust me. The AE who spends 25-30 minutes talking about the client’s business is incredibly rare. We need to create more of them. Those are training, coaching and hiring issues.
- That requires sales leadership that gets it and knows how to do that themselves. You can’t teach what you don’t know. Many of today’s sales leaders came into our business before we had such a huge need to do new local development. They are great at transactional. But we need leaders who can lead their teams to huge new business success. I feel like Senior Leaders need to really focus on quality sales leadership. Can your sales managers lead in a time when we need clients to fall in love with the solution? Get that right and good things happen. But if that piece isn’t right….
- The single difference between high performing teams and the average ones is the quality of their leadership. “When a ship misses the harbor, it’s seldom the harbor’s fault.”
- Have a new business process that is just like the words on the back of a shampoo bottle where it says “lather, rinse, repeat.” Great business-focused diagnosis calls lead to customer-focused, solution-based presentations. Lather, rinse, repeat.
- We need to keep score. I’ve written about this before. We must measure the number of formal new business presentations, closing percentage and the critical average first 90-day order. We have to make sure our new business schedules are big enough to solve the client’s problem.
- Have the courage to deal with people on our teams who can’t or won’t make the transition to this way of selling. If you hang on to them while the plane crashes, you haven’t done anyone a favor. That makes recruiting a major part of our Boot Camp agenda in January even more important.
- TRUST. I remember a conversation years ago with the president of a TV group. He believed that if there was a good idea in one of his markets, he should scale it to the entire company. So, 25 stations had a tornado guide to sell or a print piece for high school football. What he failed to realize is that he had inadvertently created a sales team of peddlers. He knew there was a better (and more lucrative) way, but the packages had become like drugs to an addict. He asked, “Why can’t I have both?”
- We can’t talk through both sides of our mouths to our teams. We are either going to have a customer-focused selling approach or we’re not. It’s that simple and that difficult.
- A larger issue, and one I’ll write more about soon, is the kind of people we hire. We’ll need smarter people who can draw from our various platforms to find the solution that makes the most sense to the client. They’ll have to understand the marketing opportunities in our digital solutions so that we aren’t selling geo-fencing to every client just because the AE understands it, but rather we are selling what can really help that client. We’ll need people who have a strong orientation to serve their clients.
Changing the engines on the plane at 30,000’ is incredibly hard. But as Zig Ziglar used to say, “It’s a cinch by the inch, but it’s hard by the yard.” What are the one or two things you can do with your team to move this even more fully in that direction?
I love your comments and ideas. Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to continuing the conversation.