Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Pitfalls of regional sales

Yesterday I started talking about the pitfalls which sales based organisations coming into foreign regions often fall into, and in doing so uncovered that it is not just US companies coming into the UK and Europe, but UK ones moving into Europe as well. The good news is, it's salvageable.

Not everyone loves a 'have a nice day', 'thank you sir', 'right away ma'am' attitude to sales. My skin crawls when I listen to some sales people on calls. Sorry, I know that's the way it works over in the US, but over here, people are not only numb to it, but resistant. We need to think that people are interested in us, and in their own product. Insincerity seems to be a way of not being rude in the US (when was the last time "Have a nice day" actually MEANT anything?).

In Europe it comes across as vacuous and disengaged. Try that with a German and they will politely leave the call as quickly as possible. A Spaniard will probably not be quite so polite. I know there's at least one Frenchman reading this, so I won't go into what he'd do, needless to say I've experienced it and it wasn't pretty for the guy on the other end of the phone.

I'm probably making myself unpopular here, so moving on...

Will cold calling cover enough ground, are there are lists of contacts available, etc?

Quite simply, there is no replacement for having a man on the ground in a country. If you can't be in every region, make friends with your resellers, give them discounts, be good to them, don't whine at them, don't tell them they aren't achieving enough, just be nice. Which brings me to my next point.

People need a good whipping to get performance.

OK, most people don't do this, it's pretty 80s after all, but it is something many US CEOs and sales directors have been guilty of, so worth mentioning. If you incentivise responsible people, you will get results. If you kick responsible people, they will put up barriers. If you incentivise irresponsible people they will either take advantage of you or do nothing. If they take advantage of you, your incentives are set up wrong, or they are guilty of fraud (I've seen this too, on a massive scale - more later...). If they do nothing, they get nothing. Be nice, get results.

Once it's all set up, it still needs running.

The difference here is micromanagement and proper handing over of responsibilities. You can say 'I don't micromanage' all you like, but if you don't even know what your people are doing, you aren't managing at all. On the other side, if you have your fingers in every decision in every country, you are not only a pain to your employees, you are a bottleneck to your business. Be clever, empower people, give them boundaries, not just "you're responsible for this, you do it, or else" - that's poor management, and you will lose their buy in.

"You're the Product Manager, you do X, Y, Z, if someone comes to you with anything outside this, pass them over to me or the Sales Manager" for example. "If you get a complaint, if it costs less than $1000 to put right, you have absolute permission to do whatever it takes. If it's getting more expensive than that, get me involved." should take care of 90% of issues. It empowers.

These are just the views of someone who has dabbled in these areas, with a little help and advice along the way. I don't pretend to know everything, but I do listen to what I'm told. And that's all I'm reproducing here. My father quotes Sir Isaac Newton in his book Sales Strategies - "If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." Which loosely translated means "I didn't do any work, I just read a load of stuff and put it in a sensible order." Clever chap.

*** many thanks to Sam Van Ryder of AlertLogic for his guiding hand and proof reading of this piece, who also deserves a mention purely for having one of the coolest sounding names ever (although heaven forbid he ever marries Minnie Driver, or anyone called Laurie) ***

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