This is a topic that is covered in my sales workshops and often leads to quite a heated debate. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject of how our brains make decisions. So far, I have not come across a really accurate description of the process at all, especially when it relates to purchases. You’d think an understanding of this process would be essential to ourselves as individuals, let alone of high value to sales folks! What I have learned is that in a ‘considered purchase’ (where there is an element of risk involved - i.e. one that is not an impulse purchase) the process requires both sides of the brain to be satisfied, if at all possible. The perceived risk may be associated with doing something, or not doing something or even assessing the risk between different suppliers…
Both sides of the brain are needed to make a considered purchase – an informed decision. The left hand side of the brain is associated with the facts, logic and process. This side of the brain will look at specifications, price, fit for purpose and so on. The right hand side of the brain is associated with emotions, feelings and creativity. So this side of the brain will look at how they feel about the solution, salesperson and impact on people (including oneself).
So here is an interesting question: “What side of the brain starts the process off to purchase something?” Is it the logical left hand side of the brain or the emotional right hand side? Turns out it’s the right hand side that gets us started because we are ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘dissatisfied’ with something. See – those emotions are what get the sales process started. In fact you could consider the role of marketing is to make people unhappy and dissatisfied with some aspect of their work / personal life! If people are happy with what they have and how they feel, there is a significantly reduced requirement to purchase things to make life better.
So if the right hand side gets the sale started – where does the decision get made? Well, also in the right hand side for the most part. But in between the thought process move to the logical left hand to ensure that the factual requirements are understood and met by the proposed solution or product. Eventually the thought process moves back (in fact it may be that it moves from one side to the other a number of times) to the right hand side that will ultimately place the order.
Why is this important for sales folks? Well, you need to be able to assess what part of the brain is being used at any particular time by a prospect so that you can match your behaviour and conversation accordingly. There is no point discussing your superior specifications if the prospect is thinking about how the wrong purchase may affect their promotion. Likewise there is no point focusing on the status to be gained in purchasing a new to market product if the prospect is asking questions about compatibility with existing equipment. Of course both sides of the brain need to be satisfied before a decision can be made. Otherwise they will just say ‘leave it with me…’ or ‘let me think about it…’ Or, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced an emotional decision is taken. This can also lead to the decision being justified by logic (good reasons) whilst the motivator was emotional (real reasons).
This is why it can be so dangerous to have a ‘standard’ presentation about a product. The salesperson needs the flexibility to ascertain which side of the brain the prospect is working in and match their sales presentation accordingly.
But never under estimate the power of emotions – in both starting and closing a sale!
I thought I’d share with you one of the exercises covered in my sales workshops. It attempts to uncover how well someone knows their business (or sales territory) with respect to some key numbers. I argue that unless you track and know these numbers, decisions you make regarding how you spend your time (assess your priorities) are suspect.
For the moment I want you to consider the work you put in to create new business. That is business from people who have never ordered from you in the past. Forget repeat business from loyal customers for the moment.
So get a blank sheet of paper and answer the following questions. You should be able to do this off the top of your head, or worst case refer to your CRM system or sales tracking spreadsheet. (If you don’t have either of these alarm bells should already be ringing)
- What is the average value of a customer order?
- When it comes to the customer making a decision about your quote / proposal, what percentage say “yes” to your offer?
- How many quotes / proposals do you put out in a year?
- What percentage of your meetings / customer interactions result in you producing a quote / proposal?
- How many meetings / customer interactions do you have in a typical week?
Based on your answers to the above you should be able to calculate your annual new business turnover (drop me a line if you need help with this). Another interesting calculation is how many first meetings do you need in a year to get this level of turnover (ditto).
You can also repeat the exercise for existing customers (and include the frequency they buy from you) to get your turnover for repeat business. Add the new business turnover to the repeat business turnover and that will give you the total annual turnover for your business. Simple? No! Rarely do people actually get close to their sales target / quota / business turnover. Only those who ‘know their numbers’ get close to a figure that is credible.
Why is this important? Well, I argue that unless you know these numbers it’s hard to make an informed decision about where things might be going wrong when business takes a bit of a downturn. Or if that new initiative (e.g new promotional activity, new sales presentation, new pricing structure etc.) is having the desired effect on the key numbers.
Yet, there are companies and sales people out there who do not know their numbers, but still feel comfortable making predictions, or giving out new targets like “Your target is up 8% this year” or “We need to change our split of new / repeat business to more like 50/50″ or “We will deliver double digit growth…”
And those questions (and many others) relate to the big strategic stuff for large companies. But let’s make it more focused on the individual for the moment. Knowing your own personal numbers – do you ever look at them and think which ones you could do something about improving? Or, more interestingly which are the important numbers to focus on?
For those of you who struggled to write down the answers to the questions at the top of the blog – what are you waiting for?
Start tracking and knowing your numbers now.
You wouldn’t want an army fighting for you if their approach was to throw bullets? Nor, I guess if their guns fired blanks. But this is exactly how many companies let their sales & marketing departments work. Let me explain…
The marketing department are responsible for ammunition and defining the targets. For ammunition read sales collateral: the web site, brochure, direct mail item, case studies etc. For targets read market or sector: that is the customer profile or segment definition.
Surely, the better defined the target and the ammunition the more effective you would think the organisation should be? Wrong!
The sales department (and by this I pretty much anyone who has client contact) are responsible for using the ammunition generated by marketing at the appropriate targets. They need to understand at what point in the sales process a particular item is used and how. Does the full brochure go out after an initial email enquiry or is it better to use the “thank you” email with some additional qualification questions? During the first client meeting is it better to focus on the case studies leaflets or show the company presentation?
I’ve witnessed a poorly trained sales team stuff every piece of quality marketing collateral (product brochures, company profile, case studies, samples, technical literature, CD presentation and price list) into a single (bulging) envelope and send it off in response to a general enquiry. And this in a market where the sales cycle is 12-18 months long! I’ve also seen a pretty knowledgeable and competent sales organisation having to rely on a black and white A4 photocopy of a 2 page brochure to break into a £10K product into new market.
Clearly both sales and marketing need to have an understanding of each others role and how they best integrate to increase each other’s effectiveness. Sales need to be trained in the why, how and when of the sales collateral and marketing need to understand the sales process and customer journey to provide relevant material for sales to use at each key stage. If the marketing department are doing a great job, but not handing over their ammunition to sales in an informed way – sales may end up just “throwing the bullets” at the target. Sales need to be trained in how to properly use the ammunition.
Likewise if the sales department are great weapons experts, can aim at the target whilst doing a dozen other things, but marketing have provided poor collateral – sales end up “firing blanks” at the target. Marketing need to understand how to create effective ammunition.
Worst case of all is when both sales and marketing are doing a bad job. The end result is that blanks are thrown at the customer. Not very effective eh?
So, please ensure that sales and marketing are integrated within your organisation in order to get the biggest bang for your bullet.