2009 Health Care Reform Initiative Lesson #6: Without a Road Map Your “Administration” Will Attempt Too Much, Too Fast and Not Achieve Any of Your Goals

 philly map

 

It is an all too common problem;leaders trying to execute to many  things and not doing any of them effectively and thus missing their goals. Our current 2009 Health Care Reform is providing another lesson for business leaders throughout the world;

“Buy a Map!”

It was the late 1990’s and my independent sales representative Randy and I were working downtown Philadelphia looking for a new video game distributor. As we drove in what felt like circles we were obviously lost and frustrated. We must have passed the same hot pretzel street vendor three times, so I asked Randy to pull over in the next gas station so I can ask directions. As we pulled into parking lot and parked, I got out to ask directions, (Randy quickly locked the doors.) I thought …after all I am in the “city of brotherly love”…surely someone will be happy to give me directions… As I walked up to the bullet proof window the clerk said: “What?” I explained I was looking for the following address and I will never forget what he said…

map

Buy a Map!”          

 …little did I know then how profound that advice was when you feel lost.

A Road Map helps your organization (administration) understand where you are, where you want to be, and maps the 2-3 key initiatives  (from an overview standpoint) you plan to execute. In addition to identifying 2-3 key initiatives versus 23 or more, it also shows where you do not plan to go. Will your road map change? Sure, you may encounter a roadblock in your marketplace and you will adjust your trip plan, however you will recalculate the course to get to your desired destination.

A Mistake businesses leaders make is trying to do too much, too fast, and not execute any of your initiatives and miss your goals. When this occurs, your market loses trust in you, and you lose their votes. ( orders)

The current administration in the white house came in after a poorly executed stimulus plan. The market was already Leary of Washington’s ability to execute.

The past launch failure caused a lack of credibility and trust in the market.

Very quickly they announced the following plans;

American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.”

Close Guantánamo

Education Stimulus

Auto industry bail out

Tax Cuts

Increase Efforts in Afghanistan

Stop the Iraq war.

North Korea

New Energy

Plan for Immigration

Normalize relations with Cuba.

Auto higher mileage standards

Estate-Tax Plan

Confront Iran

Gun control

Climate plan

Plans for Israel

Is it any wonder the current administration will miss its budget projection by $2 TRILLION DOLLARS?

“Buy a Map!”

Again, this was not meant to me a political commentary but an example for us all to learn from. When you list all the initiatives your team is working on I think it would surprise most business leaders.

An exercise I often do with new clients is I meet with all middle and senior leaders and ask what they are working on. Very quickly I determine if I am helping a team that has a road map and is aligned.

When I polled CEO’s not long ago asking what concerns them the most;

Finding out six months into a launching a strategic plan that my team members are not executing to the plan.

The leading cause of teams taking on too much and team members acting on their own initiatives not in alignment with the overall corporate strategy is the lack of a road map. So…

“Buy a Map!”

Once you develop your map you must prioritize the initiatives that made the cut. You must assess what your team has the capability, financial resources and skill sets to execute. You will identify 2-3 key initiatives…not 23…54…or 76 .

Market leaders assess their capabilities and create a road map for their organization and share it with all team members.

Market losers lack self control and alignment that results in many initiatives and they fail to execute any of their objectives.

Market losers resort to name calling and blame-storming.

Less is more with a Market leading Road Map.

How about your …administration?

Have you added initiatives to your plan to hit your numbers or identified 2-3 you plan to do well?

Do you have a way to filter new opportunities?

What causes your team to be distracted from the road map?

Do you know your companies road map?

Do you and your leadership team need to …”Buy a Map!”?

 

“Our Competition Sucks Selling”, one of the signs of a Market Loser versus a Market Leader

 

One of the things that used to drive me nuts as a VP of Sales and Marketing was if one of my regional managers or a independent representatives used “Why or competition sucks” selling. You know the guy, he talks about the competition more than his own product. He shares “horror stories he heard from other customersimages thumb about your competitoin that may or may not be true.

This out-dated style never impressed me, and today with a sales enablement 2.0 environment, it actually creates an interruption. Interruptions  turn customers and possible customers into shoppers. The internet has given buyers the ability to see behind the black curtain of sales product information and they can conduct research without talking to a salesman. When your rep challenges a competitor, particularly when that competitor is a current vendor of that buyer, he is actually challenging the buyer. Do you want your sales rep saying “Hey, what are you an idiot or what for buying ______?” no, I didn’t think so.

The recently published Razor Fish report indicates what influences buyers; “Trust plays a key role in influencing a consumer’s interest in purchasing a product” Peer networks and influencers play a major role in the buying process today. So when your rep is selling against a particular vendor, he is not only challenging the buyer’s decision making, he is also “calling out” that buyer’s peer and influencer network who he went to before he made the purchase.

If you have rep(s) using the “why our competition sucks” method it must end. To turn these reps around use the following guidelines;

· Product knowledge– make sure your salesperson understands your product and more importantly the problems it solves for buyers as well as the process buyers use to buy your type of product

· Listening, as I wrote in warning….. Buyers share why they don’t buy, reps who do not listen was the #1 reason buyers do not buy, NOT PRICE

· Conversation distribution – they say there’s a reason the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth. If you are talking you are not listening. Monitor buyer meetings with particular focus on the amount of time your rep talks in relation to the buyer. A good rep will have no more than 30% of the conversation time

· Echo – when you learn customer pain, echo back what you heard. This does two things; first it tells the buyer you are not like the 90% of other reps calling on him as you are listening. Secondly, it will help clarify your understanding if the buyer corrects your echo of what you heard.

Besides, market leaders are focused on serving their market. They do not focus on what the competition is doing as much as solving customer problems. After all, if you focus on beating your competitor, you are limiting your success based on how good your competitor is. Companies who obsessively focus on competitors assume their competitors are smarter than they are. What if your competitor is also launching products that no one is buying? Following competitors often results in a “follow the leader death spiral” that becomes very difficult to pull out of.

Understand your buyers, their needs, and how they buy and you will quickly outpace your competition.

Let your competition spend time studying and criticizing you instead of listening to your buyers and understanding their needs.

Let your competitor salespeople keep using : “Our Competition Sucks Selling”, while your team listens and solves customer problems…..while breaking sales and profit records for your team.

13 “old school” steps to hiring the right independent sales representative

I have worked with independent sales representative firms throughout my career and wanted to share how I found firms that produce rapid results. These results include increased sales revenues, market share, and rapid strategic account product placements. As I discussed in my previous post “Should you hire Independent Sales Representatives?” before you hire an independent sales representative (ISR) you must understand the role they play as well as the role you will play supporting their efforts. For example, good ISR’s have a close network of buyer relationships and lines of complimentary products. Their goal is to sell as many of their product lines to the buyers they have built trusted relationships with over the years. ISR’s rapidly increase your speed to market and placement. At the same time they are “independent” if they wanted to be “managed” they would not own their own business.

So how do you hire the right ISR for you? Today there are many online tools to help you find ISR’s, from online rep finders to blogs and legal sites that even provide templates for ISR contracts. However sometimes the ways we did things prior to the internet, prior to the availability of so many tech based tools is still the best way. Below are the ten steps I learned to use over 15 years of experience on how to find top producing ISR’s.

1. Identify the accounts you want to sell in a region

 

2. Determine the appropriate buyers who purchase your product category at each account

 

3. Call each buyer, explain you are planning on hiring a independent representative and ask what are the top three firms you would recommend

 

4. Review your current markets where you have independent representatives and what complimentary product lines do your high performing firms have?

 

5. Call the sales managers at these complimentary firms. Ask them who they hired in the market(s) you plan on developing, and who they would not recommend and why

6. Take the lists you now have and prepare a letter of inquiry to introduce your company, your products, and the sales opportunity to the various ISR’s. Ask them to respond by a specific date with a presentation of their firm, the lines they currently carry and any other information you require.

 

7. Note the firms that called to confirm you received their information and asked if you had any questions. Weight them higher than those that do not follow up.

 

8. Sort all the responses and weight them with buyer and other manufacturer referrals. Review the lines they represent. Do not quickly dismiss firms that have competing products to yours as good independent firms will drop poor performing lines for product lines with bigger revenue opportunity or bring with them entrance into other strategic accounts within their territory. You may already have a relationship with an account in their market they have not opened, so representing you may open a door to a new relationship and sales opportunity for all their other lines as well.

 

9. Call the firms you are interested in working with and get a feel for their professionalism and phone presence

 

10. Book a Hotel room with an attached meeting room in the desired market and meet with all your top candidates. Request that not only firm principals attend but also some of their salespeople. A mistake many firms make is hiring an ISR based on meeting the principal of the firm, and they actually work with a team of different people.

 

11. How well did the firms you met with sell their firm and the value they can add to your organization?

 

12. Listen to your gut. Ask yourself honestly: How well does this firm match our team’s culture?

 

13. You also need to insure your product line will not get lost in their portfolio of products. How important will your product line be to this firm? Will your line provide 10%-20% of their overall commissions or will you “just pay their light bill?”

 

The above steps consistently produced high performing ISR’s in the markets I have served. It may seem like a lot of upfront work, however I have found the time you spend upfront finding the right firm for you will pay multiple dividends over the years, result in explosive growth quickly and a strategic partner to help your company grow year over year.

 

How about you…do you have a technique you use to find independent sales representatives?

 

Are you an independent sales representative? What do you want manufactures to know?

 

How do you know when it’s time to hire a new firm?

 

What do you do if a key account says they do not want to work with one of your ISR’s?

 

What is your policy on “house accounts” in the ISR’s market that you do not pay commissions on?

Should you hire an Independent Sales Representative?…the right firm is a key partner, not a necessary evil

I recently answered a question on linked in with regards to working with independent sales representative firms (ISR) that is all too common. The Vice President who posted the question mentioned his frustration with independent sales representative firms. He went on to say “how do you hire good representatives as he has to change representatives often, and none seem to be opening new accounts and growing our companies’ market share?” I really do not have enough information at this point to answer his question.

I have hired independent representatives for over 15 years of my career. Good independent representatives are worth their weight in gold. The company that chooses to hire an independent sales force needs to understand the role of these professionals. The main role of independent reps is to use their current relationships, established through supplying complimentary product lines they represent, to get your product placed. They have built trust with buyers in their market, and their relationships with their accounts will ALWAYS be more important than your rep contract…and their relationship with you. Factories come and go, but the accounts in their market limited. Just as you may feel risk when you hire an independent representative firm, the firm actually has a greater risk. Each product line they represent is both an opportunity to become more important to their buyers and increase their income, as well as a risk. Should they agree to represent your products and your company fails to do what they say they would do, and or your product fails to meet your brand promise, the local sales representative not only loses potential commissions, but they run the risk of a break in trust. (Their most important asset they have with buyers)

If you are thinking of hiring independent sales representatives, I would ask you to answer the following questions…

So tell me…

· What market are you in?

· What problem does your product solve for that market?

· The representatives you choose, how did you choose them?

· Did you profile complimentary products that touched the same buyers, and then hired those representatives that had those lines?

· What is your commission structure in relation to the industry, other lines the representative carries?

· When you hired the independent representatives, where did you get their names?

· What % of the independent firms overall income do you represent in relation to the time required to sell your product?

· How well do you know the buying process for your products?

· Do you have sales tools you have developed to help the sales process match the stages of the buying process?

· Do you have written buyer personas?

· How does your competitor(s) sell? Direct, or with independent representatives?

· Did you hire them with base revenue in each market, or will they only “eat what they kill”?

· Do you have any “house” accounts in their market?… you know, the big guys you don’t pay independent representatives commissions for?

If independent sales representatives wanted to be “managed” they wouldn’t be “independent.” As a manufacturer, a “factory” your role is to provide products that solve unresolved market problems. Your job is to understand the market potential for your product and build obtainable goals from the market up. Unfortunately the majority of factories establish goals by extrapolation. (In other markets we have sold z units, and you have y number of those accounts, so your goal should be z times y…right? Wrong!

I am looking forward to hearing from those companies contemplating the hiring of independent sales representatives.

 

Please answer a few questions for me;

 

How did you establish the goals for their territory? Was the independent firm involved in the building of the territory goals?

Do you have written buyer personas?

Have you mapped the buying process?

Do you know the sales process for selling your products?

Have you identified sales tools for the steps each persona takes in the buying process?

 

If you answered “no” to any (all) of the above then your problem is not finding the right independent sales firm, it is what you lack, and it is how you have set your sales representatives up to fail. Independent sales representative have instant access to goal achieving accounts if equipped and set up to win. What independent sales representative are not…they are not magicians, nor are they your product management, development or marketing.

In my next post I will share how to find and hire independent representatives that add tremendous value quickly. I will discuss how hiring the right independent firm is the most cost effective investment you will make. I will discuss how even the biggest bean counting CFO will be thrilled with the ROI produced by independent sales representative firms.