Thursday, February 26, 2009

Training Recommendations From President Obama

The full text of President Obama's address can be found here at CNN.
The other night I was watching President Obama’s address, the “non-state of the union” State Of The Union and found myself once again enraptured by the same masterful rhetoric that caught my attention during this past election cycle.

There was something in President Obama’s presentation that caught my ear… well, there were actually a lot of things that caught my ear. But my mind kept coming back to this one point much like your tongue is drawn to the raw edge of a jagged tooth.

It just wouldn’t go away.

In the latter half of the speech, President Obama said:

“…It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma…”

For the full text of President Obama's address, click on the picture above.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve read a number of books that encourage individuals to invest in their own education. At the very end of his book, The Accidental Salesperson, Chris Lyttle states that taking responsibility for your own education is the best investment you will ever make. And in a book entitled Self Made in America, the author, John McCormack, goes on extensively about the education system in America. He takes the position that in order to compete effectively on a global scale, we need to invest in our people and ourselves.

John McCormack wrote his book back in 1992, so this is not a new concept. At some level, every small businessperson realized that in order for their company to be a player in the growing global economy, they would need smart, quick, agile people who could turn on a mental dime. And in order to keep them smart, quick and agile, they would need to make a professional development investment in those people as well as themselves. However, I think this is the first time in my lifetime that I’ve heard the President of the United States strongly encourage people to invest in their own education and training.

Here is an interesting phenomenon.

I have seen a lot of discussion about the “War For Talent”. Yet, over the past year, I have also seen a lot of email comes across the wire from people who were trainers and educators looking for work. They said that their entire department had either been reduced in size or entirely slashed and they were looking for employment alternatives.

What!!?? I’m in a war for acquiring talent and my budget for holding onto that talent and keeping sharp and o them is zero dollars?

Cutting the entire training group during hard economic times may have made sense for companies in the “agricultural age” and maybe some sense in the “industrial age”, but to cut training in the “information age”? Where your people are considered “knowledge workers” and our commerce depends on how effective we can sell and move information? That makes about as much sense as an Olympic wrestler going to his coach and saying, “Coach! I need to loose 5 pounds to make my weight classification. Here, cut off my foot! I’ll worry about getting it back after the match.”

I’ve been through my share of layoffs, downsizes, right-sizes, outsourcing programs and corporate realignments. In all cases, I’ve never seen a company that “cuts off its foot to make weight” become a dominant player. The good people typically find other gigs.

And the rest?

Well, they simply hang on while the company slowly sails off into the sunset of obscurity.

Is it possible to come back after such extreme measures? I guess. Anything is possible. It’s just that I’ve never seen it happen.

The lesson here, however, is for the individual.

As a former manager told me on several occasions, there is life after [put your company name here]. Companies come and go, and there will always be corporate layoffs. You, however, can’t afford to cut your training and development budget. If you want to be a player in this new global economy, then you need to heed President Obama’s words and take ownership of your own training and development program as well as your personal branding and promotion program. This includes increasing your personal knowledge, like learning the new communication technologies, as well as developing new skills sets, including communication, presentation, leadership and most importantly, sales skills.

My personal preference is for communication and sales training. Some may think that I’m being biased here, but I’m not.

Imagine applying for a sales position and hearing “I think you are a great closer, but I can get my website to close the sale 24 hours a day 7 days a week. What I need is someone who understands the consultative sale and can partner with our important clients.”

Or imagine yourself thinking that you’ve got all of the qualifications to excel at the job you are applying for only to be beaten by the guy who was not as good as you but able to better articulate and sell their skills and abilities.

As we move forward in a questionable economy, we need to be somewhat selfish and think about our own future. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What kinds of knowledge and skills are going to make me more marketable in the future?

  2. What kinds of skills will I need to adequately present my abilities to possible clients or employers?

  3. What types of companies will be looking for the types of skills that I have or I am developing and how many of them will be out there when I am ready to move forward?

  4. How should I present my skills and abilities to my prospective buyer (the company you are interviewing with or the client you are wooing) so that I look better than my competitors (the other guy interviewing for the same job or the overseas outsourcing company selling their service)?”

  5. How and where can I develop these skills?

A company is only as good as the people that it employs. And with every company talking about the “War for Talent” realize that they are talking about YOU. You, the individual, are the “Talent” that they are fighting over. But in order to get as many players fighting over you and your skill set, you will need to make a substantial investment in developing your own talents, skills and abilities.

If you want companies to clamor over you, either to hire you as an employee or to take you on as a consultant, invest in developing your skills and abilities.

Don't wait for the Corporate Suits to provide your training. Create your own education and training program and start moving forward today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Take Command of Your Sales In A Down Economy Through Effective Pipeline Management

Here is another reprint from the Manta Q and A section. This one addresses effective management of your sales pipeline and how to use their online tool to give you insight into where you should spend your time. Give it a read...

Screen Name: Manta User

Question: How do I manage my sales pipeline effectively?

Manta User,

Effective management of your sales pipeline will depend on your ability to assess your prospect’s mindset and your ability to move them through the various stages of the sales process. If you have you a sales process in place and you have achievable outcomes at the end of each stage, then you can pinpoint exactly where your prospects are in your pipeline. This will give you a better idea of your overall production for the week, month, quarter and year.

There are a couple of tools out there that can integrate with your CRM and give you an overview of your sales efforts. Manta has a facility that allows you to move potential prospects directly from your online research efforts into the first stage of your sales pipe. It also allows you to schedule activities around these prospects and creates a standard ICS file that can integrate into your Google or calendar. You can find it in the myManta section.

To effectively manage your sales pipeline, you need to realize a few things. First, you can only handle so much at any given time (your “pipe” has a finite capacity). Second, you need to keep moving opportunities through the “pipe” and out the “close” end, (closing the deal). And lastly, you need to keep putting prospects in at the front end (prospecting and lead generation).

Naturally, the better you are at managing your resources (time, money, personal brand, etc…) the more you can handle, increasing the capacity of your “pipe”. But unless you get better at managing your resources and making your “pipe” bigger, stuffing more prospect in at the front end will only result in frustration, not in won opportunities.

In the Manta Pipeline page, the “%close” tab is the sales stage where your particular prospect currently resides. Naturally, when you get them to 100%, the deal has been closed and you have the purchase order in your hand. If you have the majority of your prospects down at the 10% stage, however, it’s going to take some time and effort before you can extract something from the other end of the pipeline.

If you look upon the sales pipeline as a flow characterization, it can give you new insight into your activity management. For example, if you look at your myManta pipeline and see that 75% of your prospects today are at the 50% stage of the pipeline, then you have a better idea of where you need to focus your energy in order to get things moving. It also means that only 25% of your prospects are distributed along the rest of your “pipe”. If you see no prospects at the 10% stage, then you can expect a bubble of zero prospects (AKA a dry spell) to begin moving through your pipe. That’s when it is time to spend time performing lead generation activities.

The sales pipeline is a visual to help you manage your resources and activities against your prospects and clients. To effectively manage your sales pipeline, you will need to 1. Tie your sales activity to a process with discernable stages. 2. Manage your own resources to maximize your capabilities; 3. Monitor the “pipe” constantly and use it as a meter to gauge where to expend your resources and activities. Use the Manta Pipeline utility to manage your prospects as you conduct your research and it will help organize your sales activity for maximum productivity.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Single Most Important Rule of Sales Negotiation

Last night, while I was waiting for Battlestar Galactica, I was watching the Rachel Maddow. She was running down the intricacies of this Stimulus Plan and how it had been whittled down from a heavy but some-say-very-much-needed $900B down to a paltry $700B. She also pointed out that the Democrats were the original architects of the bill and in an effort to entice the Republicans, they stuck in a number of juicy tax cuts.

Over the past week, we saw Republicans in the House and the Senate ignore the tax cuts already in place and go straight to the spending side. They argued about big government spending. “Too much pork” they screamed. They pitched fits, waved documents around, had big flip charts, walked out of the room, and voted against the bill en masse to make their point.

A vastly modified and smaller bill is currently being debated in the Senate. As I understand the process, if the current version manages to squeak by, it will have to go back to the House and be bantered about again before some kind of deal gets brokered and this thing moves forward.

Now it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat, a Republican, a Liberal, a Conservative or even a Browncoat. Recognize that there is a wonderful sales lesson you can walk away with.

Tales From The Storage Front

When I was working as a system engineer for an enterprise storage company, my sales rep and I were working on a particularly large deal. After I configured the system, created the proposal and developed the price, she started suggesting…


Against my recommendation, she went ahead with her standard 10% discount.

When we walked into our client’s office with our proposal, he immediately sharpened his pencil and went to work.

He said that he wanted to take certain things out. He wanted other items cheaper. He said that he could shop around and get the same equipment at a lower cost. He threatened not to buy. He stalled and said he needed to run it by his boss.

After all of his antics, he had this thing cut down to cost.

Needless to say, the sales manager did not sign off on it.

When you walk into your client’s office and you have that new proposal in your hand, count on your client sharpening their pencil and asking for reductions, discounts and preferred rates. And count on them beating you up with your competition. That is why when you are creating your proposal, look for every opportunity to provide unique value. Value that no one else can provide. That way, when they do hit you up with the “I’m gonna check out the competition” tactic, you can counter with, “Go right ahead. They can’t provide you with what we just discussed”.

And never walk in the door with concessions right out of the gate.

Just like my erstwhile sales partner, the Democrats need to come to grips with this very important sales lesson:

Don’t let your first proposed solution lead off with discounts or concessions.