How Do You Define Your Sales Offering? Four Recommendations

Situation:  A company is having difficulty finding the right sales candidates for the opportunity that they offer.  They have had good conversations with prospects, but once they present their offering the candidates reply that they’re not interested. How do they define their offer to attract good candidates? How do they adjust the conversation to produce better results? How do you define your sales offering?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is the same conversation that you have with your biggest client prospects.
    • Good people have options. If you have not convinced yourself that you have a great opportunity, you will never convince them that your offer is better than other options.
    • You are selling YOU.
  • Change early process.
    • Be sure that you are as passionate about your opportunity as you are about positioning your services with clients.
    • Divorce the conversation about the opportunity from the general screening interview.
  • Here’s the process:
    • Your recruiter does not sell.
    • Just ask the recruiter to identify potential; not to initiate the sale.
    • Do this sale yourself.
  • Aspects of the story – much of this is the same story that you present to your clients:
    • Your performance within your industry.
    • Strength of your people and brand name.
    • The quality of your clients.
    • The unique opportunity that the prospect has joining you at this stage of your business growth.

How Do You Respond to Unreasonable Demands? Three Thoughts

Situation: A CEO has observed an increase in the frequency of demands for last minute meetings from an important foreign client – sometimes with 12-18 hours’ notice. Requests for these meetings are often the evening before the requested meeting and with no regard to preexisting calendars. The client always says that they have sound reasons for the request. What are the likely consequences of push-back? How do you respond to unreasonable client demands?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • While allowance must be made for specific circumstances, there is a tendency within some cultures to press for special consideration. Part of this may be a negotiating tactic. One CEO has found that when he pushes back, the side requesting special consideration often yields to his needs and backs off the special request.
  • Treat these as you would similar requests from a domestic investor or client. Point out the late call and that you are already booked for the time requested. Ask whether there is any flexibility to the requester schedule and offer available time alternatives. Listen closely to the response and proceed accordingly.
  • Depending on the importance of the client and individual calling, some CEOs prefer to comply with requests like this, at least the first few times that such requests are made. However, when the requests become a regular occurrence, as described above, they rely on the recommendations outlined above.

 

What is the CEO’s Role in Sales? Three Answers

Situation:  A company has customers scattered around world. When the company was small, the CEO was very involved at all levels of sales and customer relations. Now that the company is larger, the CEO is more strategic but misses client contact, particularly for gathering market intelligence and understanding. The CEO does go on regular sales calls with reps but is getting push-back from the Sales VP. What is the CEO’s role in sales?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make an effort to understand the push-back coming from the Sales VP. Probe – where is the resistance coming from? What is the basis of the resistance? Is it personal or functional? Keep probing until the roots of resistance are clear, and then deal with these.
  • As CEO, insist on continuing customer contact. This is essential to your role and your understanding of your market.
    • Sit down and discuss this with the Executive Team. Go over your travel schedule and your objective in meeting with customers. Where appropriate meeting opportunities exist, let them know that you want to be included. Follow-up and repeat the message if they do not schedule you for calls.
    • How does the sales rep position this with a client? Let the customer know that the CEO will be visiting the area and would like to meet you. Here are the broad objectives and the benefit to you. Knowing that the CEO is interested in meeting with the client can be a powerful way to deepen the relationship with the client.
  • Having the CEO accompany the local representative on the first meeting with a customer sends the wrong message. Let the representative establish the relationship first. Then bring in the CEO to deepen and strengthen the relationship when the opportunity is right.

How Do You Establish Accountability for Results? Four Ideas

Situation: A CEO has difficulty gaining realistic projections from sales – projections for which they will be accountable. For example, the VP of Sales promises X but delivers Y – a result substantially below X. What methods have you have used to get realistic assessments and commitments from sales executives? How do you establish accountability for results?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Shift the issue from their accountability to your own accountability to the company.
    • In order to ship to the projected sales targets, we will need to scale up production to X level, hire Y personnel, and invest in Z inventory. If we miss the target by 20% here’s the impact on our financial performance for the next period. Are we comfortable, as a company, with this exposure, or should we adjust our plan to reduce the exposure.
    • This makes it easier for the sales executive, for the good of the company, to reduce the projection if they are not confident that they will make it.
  • Do you need to examine your commission structure as well as bonuses for sales executives? Consider scaling commissions to make sure that the sales team hits their targets. Make them hungry by offering lower commissions for lower targets, but increasing total commissions for meeting and exceeding targets.
    • Have the sales team project their sales. If the projected level meets company objectives and they meet them they make X%. However, if they fall short they make successively smaller fractions of X% depending upon how much they fall short.
  • Currently, the ratio between new and repeat sales is 20% / 80%.
    • To focus the sales team on new sales, reduce commissions on repeat sales, and increase commissions on new or increased sales and/or accounts.
  • Good sales people are competitive and often respond to pride. Give them in incentive – hit the sales target and get trip to Las Vegas with your spouse or guest.

How Do You Make The Best Use of Your Board? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A private company has a Board of Directors that functions more as an Advisory Board than a traditional Board. For example, they do not have the power to fire or replace the CEO. The CEO wants feedback on how to interact with the Board, and how to work with them between meetings. How do you make the best use of your Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decide what you want from the Board, and clearly communicate this to the Members.
  • Treat the Board as a single entity – not as individuals. Avoid politicking individual members between meetings. Use the Board to drive decisions.
  • At your next Board meeting have a discussion with the Board:
    • Let the members know that you are concerned about whether you are using them effectively as a resource.
    • Lay out strategic elements to be dealt with over next period, and ask for their advice.
    • For example, if you are moving into a new market you need advice on how to succeed. Are they the right group to provide this advice? If not, what other expertise should be added to the Board?
    • Consider having this conversation in a special session of the Board.
  • Bring in expertise – if your industry has shifted, adjust the make-up of the Board to reflect the new realities. If you need to raise capital, look for expertise in this area.
  • Eliminate less productive members from the Board.
  • If you are looking at a new market, build an Advisory Board that is knowledgeable about this space, but who are not necessarily customers. Consider retired executives from companies in this market.
  • Additional needs that you might want to address either through your Board or an Advisory Board:
    • Financial expertise in new markets.
    • Where should you partner to make a complete offering or to supplement your offering?
  • Another CEO has a similar Board situation. In this case, the CEO makes it clear that Board members are expected to:
    • Make connections.
    • Assist in bringing in business.
    • Members are expected either to produce or they are off the Board.
    • Meetings are driven to a specific agenda with expectations of deliverables.

How Do You Raise Cash Short Term? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO has identified a new business opportunity that looks promising but will require raising additional cash short term. What are good sources of short term cash, and what will simplify access to these resources? How do you raise cash short term?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • You must be the biggest critic of this opportunity. If it doesn’t fly to your critical eye, it will be hard to sell to others. As a reality check, ask yourself whether the opportunity is something on which you’d bet your house.
  • Build the new capability around a web distribution system that compliments your other capabilities. This broadens the appeal of the offer.
  • Generate an investment proforma and revenue stream. Most investors or debt financers will want to see this. You can position it as an immature business plan backed by your best estimate of the numbers.
  • You’ll need a business plan unless you’re lucky enough to find someone who believes that you can turn any opportunity into gold.
  • Presell subscriptions to target clients to prove the value of the offer – both to you and for investors.
  • Assure that any payments due from you go into an escrow account, to be released on a quarterly or other phased basis pending performance from the other parties within this deal.
  • This is not a venture capital story. Angel investors will seek a lower return for lower risk than VCs. Set some milestones for the Angels that will help them to see that you are monitoring their risk.

How Do Small Companies Outsource Infrastructure? Eight Ideas

Situation: Start-ups and early-stage enterprises are typically both resource and talent constrained. The CEO of a start-up asks how others successfully outsourced infrastructure cost effectively and when they were early-stage so that they could focus on critical success factors and improve their opportunity to succeed. How do small companies outsource infrastructure?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the early stages of company development, outsource everything possible and focus our efforts only on the key functions.
  • In order to focus on the most important things first, decide what must be accomplished and when. Set priorities, establish key milestones and create a timeline to measure achievement. Celebrate your successes!
  • Identify the most important strategic foci within your business model and outsource everything else.
    • For example, use outside data centers instead of developing these yourself.
    • With the increase in Cloud-based options, early stage companies can do without the IT infrastructure that they used to need. Just be careful to safeguard your intellectual property!
  • Attend relevant meetings and functions to learn about existing and available capabilities. Look for local networking opportunities relevant to your market.
  • Incubator sites have developed in a number of high tech centers. These are designed to cover infrastructure needs at a reasonable cost so that founders can focus on product and service development.
  • Hire a virtual assistant – you can find these locally using a Google search.
  • Take advantage of lower cost labor and enlist younger, less experienced labor to manage databases and clean records.
  • Set up a wiki for information. This exchange is free and you can tailor it to your needs. It is permission-based; you can find it at pbwiki.com.

How Do You Set Up Co-Development Partnerships? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company has clients who are interested in projects for which the company’s partners already have partial designs. There is an opportunity to leverage these partial designs into development of full solutions for their clients. How should the company approach this in a way that satisfies their customers and is fair to their partners? How do you set up co-development partnerships?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Given this opportunity it is no longer important who performed what part of the development. As long as your partners have quoted you what they believe to be a fair price for their development pieces, you are free to accept their price, complete development to your clients’ specifications, and sell the full solution to the client at market prices.
  • What you bring to the table is the opportunity to rapidly monetize the technology. This is something that your partners can’t do, so by filling this role you are acting in the interest of all parties.
  • What you charge for your work and the full solution depends on the potential value to the client. Time is money, and delivery now is worth a premium price to a client who needs your solution and wants to release their product as soon as possible.
  • This strategy is particularly applicable to early stage companies who need to release their initial products and start generating revenue.
  • Take a note from Bill Gates – sell the product for a good price and then buy or acquire the supply.

How Do You Pitch a Blue Ocean Service? Six Recommendations

Situation: A company is planning to pitch a Blue Ocean service to a major prospect. The service has a proven track record with industry leaders and is not being offered by other vendors. How do you pitch a Blue Ocean service?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by listening to the client’s current situation. Here are some opening questions:
    • How did you get here? Just the 2-3 minute version. As a follow-up question, ask what their past performance has been.
    • What is your most important competitive strategic advantage? Follow-up: what is your future competitive advantage – the same or different?
    • If everything goes right, where do you see things in 2-3 years?
    • What obstacles, roadblocks and constraints will keep you from getting there?
  • Include graphics in your presentation on both the prospect’s current situation and how your proposal differentially impacts their ability to reach their future objectives.
  • In your presentation, highlight your ability to offer a very competitive overall cost proposal based on your ability to outsource work to lower cost subsidiaries or partners.
  • Emphasize your track record providing the proposed service to industry leaders.
  • Be sure that your overall proposal looks sound and responsive to the prospect’s need as you understand it. It will be important to understand whether the individual with whom you are meeting next has the same perspective. Try to determine this before your next meeting.
  • Adding an additional vendor within your proposed framework doesn’t upset the apple cart. It probably benefits everyone as long as it benefits the prospect.

Note: The term Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The authors argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.

How Do You Set Up an Office in China? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company has an opportunity to build an office in China. Their principal objective is to reduce their cost of providing services. A partner company has offered them space in its existing office in China. What is your experience working with Chinese culture? How do you set up an office in China?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Hire someone in your US office with an engineering background who is fluent both in Mandarin and in the subtleties of Chinese language and culture. Fluency in Chinese language and culture is particularly critical when you are dealing with difficult process issues.
    • Investigate local organizations such as the Silicon Valley Chinese Engineers Association. Through these organizations you may find candidates for this role who are also excellent engineers and additions to your team.
  • Employee loyalty issues in China will be more challenging than in the US. Chinese employees want to build their resumes as quickly as possible and perceive that job-hopping will facilitate this, just as was the case during the dot.com boom in Silicon Valley.
  • Offer a significant carrot to Chinese employees – after X years of work for us in China, you get Y months of work, at our expense, in our US office. This is a much sought-after experience for Chinese employees.
    • Be prepared to deal with departure soon after return to China, or employees declining to return to China at the end of their US stint.
  • Build a stronger process documentation system than you need in the US to assure both that work is done to your standards, and so that you can easily replace talent lost to turnover.
  • Have a recruiting program based in China to fill your personnel needs.
  • You will experience a culture clash when it comes to the value placed on equity and in understanding the meaning of a contract. For China in its current state of development, neither term is well-established by US standards.
  • Time tracking is not clean cut in China and vacation time needs differ. An example is the month of February for Chinese New Year.