Thursday, February 27, 2014

Selling: The Curbside Debrief

Selling: The Curbside Debrief

Well I have taken a little time on this one because of all the selling practices and management routines that I believe in and practice, the one that I am probably most known for is “The Curbside Debrief.” As is many things in life, I have been doing this for so long that I can’t exactly remember when I first learned this simple and powerful “practice.” I know for sure that I learned the idea more than twenty years ago, as a young marketer at Coke. I had the chance at that time to work closely with a number of outstanding veteran executives who were frankly “expert” in their work with customers and sales organizations. It is when I first worked with my current boss, Jeff Dunn, and we both also had the opportunity and privilege to work closely with Dick Flaig and Charlie Frenette. While I can’t be exactly sure, I think I learned the idea of the “curbside debrief” and the following approach from Jeff’s dad, Walter Dunn. Walter meant a great deal to me, and he was an amazing gentleman (I chose that word carefully and I do not use it often) and quite an icon across the Coke system globally, having worked in that organization for 40+ years! He passed away in 2009 and I know that I am only one of many who miss him deeply.

The idea behind the “Curbside Debrief” is a very simple one. Regardless of how big or small, how many people, how hot or cold, or how well the sales call went, you take the time to IMMEDIATELY review EVERY call, preferably literally at the curb of your customers office, always working on ways to constantly improve. I have literally done them in parking lots, airports, theme parks, restaurants, many times in a vehicle, and even once on a ski-lift. I remember once with Walter Dunn we had just finished an extremely successful sales call with a large team who had been working for weeks up to the [pitch that we just knocked out of the park. I wanted to let the team head out and enjoy some much deserved rest and Walter insisted that we pause and do our “Curbside Debrief” there in one of the big meeting rooms at Coke. I said to Walter that since the pitch had gone so well, why couldn’t we skip just this one time, (silly silly me!) He quietly said (and I remember the words just like it was yesterday) “well Bill, even the best moments can be made better.” Humbled quickly, we worked our way through the debrief and indeed, there were a few things that we could have made better and a number of action steps that we might have forgotten.

The approach / routine of the debrief is always the same, there are 6 key steps/questions that you use EVERY time, and you use your hand as a mnemonic device to not miss any step. A participant typically moderated the “debrief”, and the individual / individuals who lead the call provide the answers. It’s definitely a communal process, everyone can and should participate, but the ones “owning the call” ultimately “own the debrief.”

Question #1: “Was the call successful and how would you know?” (Use the thumb) Think back to your call plan, did you accomplish your sales objectives for this call? How would you know if you did? Does everyone see it the same way or are their different points of view. Remember, there are always lots of opinions, let everyone get heard!

Question #2: “What worked?” (Use the fore finger) Take a moment and celebrate the things that worked in the call, maybe a certain person played a key role, maybe a certain part of the deck really connected. It could literally be anything, but on all calls but especially unsuccessful ones, always start with “what worked.”

Question #3: “What didn’t work?”(Use the middle finger / strangely symbolic, ha!) Now don’t let this become a feeding frenzy, but go over the elements that went awry. I have seen some very successful sales calls that had some horrid moments, and the opposite is equally true. If there are a lot of items to critique, really try to start with the big ones.

Question #4: “What will we ALWAYS do again?”(Use the ring finger) The key word here is ALWAYS! This is to work to build into your process things that will become required elements every time, not just a few of the things that worked well recently. Remember that you will ALWAYS have at least one item on this list ….. You will ALWAYS do a “Curbside Debrief!”

Question #5: “What will you NEVER do again? (Use your pinkie) This is the flip side of #4, what things happened in that call that we want to NEVER see happen again, what can we take out of our repertoire for good?

Question #6: “Action Steps?” (Use your palm) It is vital to have someone take notes throughout, but vital at this step. Everyone go over their notes from the meeting, and be sure to not have missed anything. Often times the individuals presenting are not in a position to take the best notes, or capture all the action steps.

Well there you have it, the “Curbside Debrief”, a simple six step approach that with practice, will improve your approach with customers over time. As I said above, I probably learned it in the early 1990’s, but this simple approach certainly goes back decades. Use it and make it your own, and as many things go it will improve with discipline and practice, and remember ….. Immediately after EVERY call, preferably with your foot resting on the curb!!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Selling: "Sell the Suit, Don't Sell the Buttons"

As an extension to the lessons in the previous essay, “Selling: The art of Questions”, I want to take a minute and expound on a very simple idea. It seems that as we prepare ourselves for a “selling moment”, our research and pre-work sometimes produces unintended results and outcomes. As I covered in the last essay, we need to take time and prepare thoughtful and “planful” questions to use in “selling moments” in order to get the customer talking about his/her issues, opportunities or concerns. Even in moments where we have done this vital preparation, we still need to be prepared to review and cover our “selling proposition” in detail. Now, not just detail or all the details, but “detail enough” to secure the customers commitment to the sale. Sorting out this delicate balancing act, figuring out how to “Sell the suit, but not the buttons,” is the core of this essay.

In my experience, it is so tempting to be given a venue to share your thoughts and expertise, that all of us are tempted to “go overboard” with un-needed levels of details. At times, it is a matter of “showing off” on how much one knows, whether with our without intent. At times I have seen it a result of the level of preparation or pre-work gone haywire. I was in a recent customer meeting that was going well from the first minute. The “buyer” was excited about our category, our brand and our products and seemed ready to “buy” almost anything we were selling. After a few questions to help us understand the landscape and the buyer’s headset, my sales lead dove into the “deck” and started presenting our proposition. As I said above, the buyer loved it and started saying “yes” immediately. Now this was on page 5 of a 25 page presentation and rather than slowing down and taking a breath, (see a previous essay titled “PBR: pause/Breathe/Reconnect”) the sales person kept driving forward, clearly unaware of the buyers status of already being “sold.” After a page or two more I intervened, literally placing my hand on the sales persons arm to get them to stop speaking for a moment, and asked the buyer a few questions on potential next steps, and any additional information requirements. They had no follow-up questions, needed no additional information, and instead wanted to talk about timing and executional elements. Quickly we turned to page 24 & 25, shared the dates, and timing of our plan which the buyer loved and 5 minutes later we were done. We sold the “suit”, but almost had the “buttons “get in the way!

I see this situation all too often, and sometimes at very high levels in meetings between senior executives. Work hard to use questions to help understand the “selling landscape.” Stay very aware to buyer’s needs, and responses to your selling propositions. Remember to practice “PBR” and slow down enough to actually see where you might stand in the situation and work to understand what the buyer needs/wants to know in order to say “yes” to your proposition. And finally, try hard to remember to “sell the suit, don’t sell the buttons” as you work to have success in your “selling moments!”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Selling: the art of the "question"

It seems like such a simple idea. Understand your customer, his/her needs and issues enough to tailor your product/service solution to meet those needs and “close the sale” to the benefit of your customer and your company/organization. From the earliest moments of recoded history, there are depictions of interactions in “the marketplaces” of early Rome, Athens, and Alexandria all depicting the age old process of buying and selling. The simple elements of this process, regardless of the wild changes of technology over the centuries, remain in place today, relatively untouched over the millennium. What interests me today is a phenomenon that I see growing that I want to suggest should be a thing of our past.

I will start this diatribe with a thought that in my experience, the best “sellers” are actually the best “questioners.” Now it doesn’t hurt if the individuals in question can handle themselves in front of a crowd and can turn a run-of-the-mill PowerPoint deck into a compelling “Tedtalk like” experience. With that said though, individuals who are great at crafting and asking questions of potential “buyers,” using EVERY customer interaction as a chance to build their understanding of the issues and needs of their buyers, have by far been the most successful in my experience. Getting a buyer to open up and start talking about THEIR ideas, THEIR concerns, THEIR worries; measuring a sales call by how much time that you LISTENED rather than SPOKE, now that’s the true heart of successful selling!

As I mentioned above, over the past few years I have witnessed a growing trend of the one-way pitch. Too many instances where there was so much information, so much detail, so many supporting research reports, and so many slides that just “getting through the deck” would take more time that was scheduled. In a recent senior executive meeting with a major retailer, literally scheduled as a dialog and an input session, I witnessed an individual who was presenting at the moment ask an audience member, a senior executive from the retailer, OUR CUSTOMER, to hold their question and they would try to get to it later because they had “so much info” to go through. Unbelievable and unacceptable! I jumped in and asked the speaker to hold on and I turned to the retail executive and asked her to share her questions/comments. She had real concerns about the topics being discussed, and only by letting her talk could we possibly understand the real and significant underlying concerns. Regardless to say the presenter did not finish all of his slides, having to adjust his content for the time still available; instead all of us in the meeting room actually had a moment of real “input” that sparked a discussion or “dialog” on possible solutions. It was clear to me that we were much farther ahead by listening, and slowing down, rather than charging through the slides regardless of comment/concern!

In an essay written a number of years ago (“You are the PowerPoint”) I commented about this tendency of letting the presentation guide your approach. I want to re-emphasize the need to absolutely get a grip in this area. NEVER and I mean NEVER plan for more than 1 slide for each 2 minutes of a meeting. A 30 minute meeting (which is very common) can NEVER have more than 15 slides, NEVER! In the same spirit take as much time planning your QUESTIONS as you do planning and building your presentation. To do a strong, crisp 30 minute meeting (remember only 15 slides), give yourself time to craft at least 15 thoughtful and tight questions, allowing you to advance the sale of the day AND build your understanding for future interactions and sales. Recent technological advances have certainly allowed us to create impressive presentations. We must be disciplined to use that technology to allow us to be great “questioners”, not just one way “fire hosers.”