Time Management; Time Robbers, Saying No, and Delegation

We recently delivered a Time Management Skills Training session with ITESOFT, and in response one of the attendees, Rory Coleman-Smith, posted this takeaway on the company blog. We have re-posted it here with their permission, and we thank ITESOFT for their time on the course and wish them well in the future.

Managing a project can be a nightmare, but first taking a step back and looking at how you manage your own time can be a breakthrough.

This week ITESOFT sat down with Anthony Maddalena from PowerCall Global Training to discuss effective time management strategies.

I took a few key points away from the session, including acknowledging your “Time Robbers”, setting boundaries and learning to say no, and delegation skills.

Time Robbers

A Time Robber is a task which takes up valuable time which should be spent elsewhere.

Some of these are self-inflicted, others are from external factors.

Self-inflicted Time Robbers include checking emails, unnecessary meetings (called by you), procrastination, and over-committing.

External Time Robbers include poor communication, excessive workload, and unclear job definitions.

Time Robbers can be easily quenched by simply planning, saying no, and delegating.

Setting boundaries and learning to say no

Saying no can be the hardest part of our day.

We often feel guilty about saying no and subsequently put ourselves in a stressful situation.

One way to justify turning down a new task is to remember previous times you took on extra work, only for that work to become a burden.

You also need to remember that you are important.

Your time does matter.

The work you do is integral to your department, and to the wider business.

For you to be able to work as effectively as possible, you must learn to say no when asked to do something which will not benefit your core responsibilities.

The more you say no, and give a reasonable justification in saying so, your managers may look at alternative solutions, such as hiring more employees or purchasing an IT solution.

Delegation Skills

It can be hard to let go of a job you have been doing for a long time.

More often than not, if we let others take on some of our responsibilities we can free up our time for more important tasks which could lead us towards our career goals.

So, what stops us from delegating?

Delegating may feel like losing control of a task, in fact it is you realising that your time is better spent elsewhere.

It may feel as though a job is completed faster and more effectively by you, when a short investment of time spent showing someone else how to do it can save you much more time.

If you show them the right way and provide ample support, it will be done just as well as when you do it.

Effective time management through training in effective time management

Out of the 11 topics covered in the course by PowerCall Global Training, these three stuck out to me, along with some great tools to help manage time.

This short investment of a couple of hours on a Monday morning will undoubtedly prevent me, and my colleagues, from wasting time.

 

Post by Rory Coleman-Smith

Rory has been working with ITESOFT since early 2017. He has placed himself as a thought leader, educating finance departments on the latest advancements in technology in Financial Process Automation.

Five quick and easy tips for delivering a great presentation

You’re stood at the front of a room presenting to an audience of esteemed colleagues and clients: your palms are sweaty, your voice feels like it’s about to crack, and you’ve forgot what you’re supposed to say.

If this situation sounds at all similar, then worry not – you aren’t alone. Only a minority of people have a natural flair for presenting to a crowd, and so – for the rest of us – it can be a nerve-wrecking, stress-inducing experience that leaves us over-analysing every detail once it’s finished.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. By taking the right steps we can learn how to present in a stronger, more confident manner that leaves our audience both impressed and engaged. Our new presentation skills training course has been designed with this in mind, but rather than go into too much detail about the course here, we wanted to provide you with a few quick and simple takeaways that you can use to improve your presentations immediately.

Start with a story

The next pointer is about engaging your audience, and one easy way to engage an audience from the outset is to tell a story.

Stories, when told right, are extremely powerful tools that can make us buy into a shared system of beliefs and experiences. In fact, the history of human progress is rooted in cooperation through story-telling (Yuval Noah Harari has an excellent TED presentation on this, and for further reading check out his book Sapiens).

The point is, a good story can break down the barrier between you and your audience; it can make them feel the way you want them to feel; it can ease any tensions and relax the room; and so on.

Engage the audience

For the majority of audiences, sitting through a whole presentation can be difficult. Our minds wander, we get bored of listening to the same person speaking the whole time, and we lose concentration. Fast forward a day or two and we’ve likely forgotten the entire contents of the talk.

However, when an audience is engaged throughout a presentation, the outcome is significantly different. We’re much more likely to retain a higher percentage of the information provided, and we’ll remember the speaker and their presentation as a positive experience.

A story (see above) is a great way of engaging an audience at the beginning of a presentation, but you can continue to engage throughout with polls/surveys, interactive questionnaires and games (there are plenty of online tools for this), short videos, debates, and so on.

Make it look good and read well

It’s human nature to lean towards things we find aesthetically pleasing; Instagram’s entire business model is built around this fact.

No one wants to read a whole paragraph of text from your presentation slides. And, in fact, having blocks of text will mean the audience are too busy focusing on reading what you’ve written to absorb what you’re saying. Short, direct points, which you can then expand on, work best.

Similarly, use a complementary colour scheme and keep the design clutter-free and simple. With younger audiences, memes can work well to add a touch of humour, and when it comes to presenting data in a graph or chart, make it extremely easy for the audience to very quickly understand what they’re looking at – getting data visualisation right is key.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

In classrooms up and down the country, year in and year out, teachers repeat the famous Benjamin Franklin quote as they encourage students to revise for their exams: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

The old adage should stay with you in whatever you do and wherever you are. The nervous reaction from presenting to an audience can be calmed and conquered (to an extent) by the confidence that comes from knowing your material inside and out. Learn your lines, do multiple run throughs, practice in front of a friend or partner, anticipate potential questions, and even practice having to go “off-script”. Prepare for every eventuality, and the reality will not phase you.

And remember, despite all the preparation in the world, you can’t be perfect: you may well slip up, you probably will get a little hot and sweaty, all the eyes in the room will be staring at you, and sometimes you will forget what you’re going to say (hence preparing to go off-script). This is all entirely normal, the best thing you can do is accept it, remain calm when it happens (regular meditation can help with this), and learn to embrace it.

Be enthusiastic

Some of the best advice I ever had was to be the most enthusiastic person in any given situation. Attitude and delivery can make all the difference in a presentation; no one wants to listen to a monotone voice drone on endlessly with zero passion about the subject.

Enthusiasm is a form of passion that breeds positivity and evokes motivation in others. The best leaders are those that are enthusiastic in the right way, i.e. not blind fools, but inspired and knowledgeable individuals with the character to evoke similar responses in those around them. And if you think about a presentation, the presenter is simply a leader of the audience.

Summing up

Don’t be fooled by those around you with the natural charisma and charm to lead a presentation; only a few people have these skills innately, most of the people you see giving lectures in front of a hall of hundreds, inspiring work colleagues in a meeting, or leading clients towards their solution, learn how to present effectively through training and doing (building up their experience). Over time, presenting becomes second nature to these people, and they may even thrive off it.

You can learn how to give great presentation too. The tips in this post are a start and will give you a good basis from which to work. However, if you’re interested in learning more about presenting and training with an experienced team then please get in contact.

Photo by Hermes Rivera

The characteristics of a sales “hunter”

Traditionally, it was a common approach for sales teams to be split between two key functions: sourcing new business and retaining existing business.

The functions were often split between different members of a sales team. Those tasked with sourcing new business became known as hunters, whilst those tasked with retaining existing relationships became known as farmers. The distinction is relatively clear, hunters are always on the lookout for a new opportunity, whereas farmers worked on cultivating what was already there.

Whilst both roles are vital for any business, the demands and skills required were always unique and thus required very specific character traits in each role – which is why splitting the functions between team members worked so well.

In recent years, however, we have noticed a growing trend of the two functions being absorbed into a single role. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this approach, and from a business perspective it’s a great way of saving an additional salary.

Nonetheless, the skills and mindsets of the two groups are very different. To be a truly successful hunter you need to think and act in a particular way, and vice versa for a farmer. The risk with combining the roles is that you end up with a fairly average salesperson. To borrow a famous saying: you have a jack of all trades, master of none.

A true hunter is a bloodhound that sales directors send out to win brand new market share. As a cold calling training skills provider, we tend to work with hunters the majority of the time. Simply, farmers have traditionally been far less concerned with winning brand new customers through activities such cold calling, and instead are much more concerned with cultivating existing relationships. They tend to be long-term focused for obvious reasons, whereas hunters tend to short-term focused.

And whilst we’re more than happy to provide training to roles with combined hunter and farmer functions (there’s plenty to teach both sides), sales people tend to naturally gravitate to one function more than the other. Aspects of one side will appeal to their characteristics, attitudes and traits. In practice, this usually means that having seperate people to fulfill each function works best.

So what should you look out for in a hunter? What makes a hunter great at their role?

They love the chase

The thrill of the chase isn’t for everyone. You can put a lot of time and effort into your attempt to win a new client, and ultimately it could all be for nothing. But that’s what hunters love, the risk and the reward of landing a new client or securing a deal.

It’s a lot of hard work, to first identify a new prospect and then take them all the way through to a sale, but it’s that process which hunters thrive on. And ultimately, to a hunter, the pay-off at the end makes all the hard work worth it.

They’re thick-skinned

In a sales role, the majority of the time you’re going to be told ‘no’. This is a constant truth, regardless of how good a salesperson is, so being able to both handle objections and deal with rejection is vital for a hunter.

Similarly, a good salesperson will always ruffle a few feathers along the way. This is where being thick-skinned comes into it. Being able to take any criticism or negative feedback on the chin, learn from it and move on, is another core part of the hunter’s character.

They’re extremely competitive

Sales can be a dog-eat-dog world. Companies have a big part to play in this, facilitating an environment where the highest performers are rewarded better. And that appeals to the natural sense of competition within a hunter. Being better than the rest is a huge motivator for a hunter, and seeing someone else at the top of a sales leaderboard spurs them on. Those without a natural competitive edge tend not to make very good hunters, although they may possess other skills which would make them a great farmer instead.

Final thoughts

The characteristics of a good hunter are naturally ingrained. Whilst certain skills and techniques can be taught, a good hunter will show elements of each of the traits outlined above. As with any role, they are then improved further through training. For anyone looking to hire a hunter, we recommend looking for these traits first and foremost.

 

Photo by Hans Veth

Cold Calling: Let’s get back to basics

Like any activity in sales, cold calling has changed over the years.

The rapid rise of technology, and particularly social media, in the past 10 years has afforded us a great opportunity to hone and target our messages appropriately. We have more information and data to hand than ever before, which gives us an even better chance of success – but only if we use it correctly.

Regardless of how much information we have or the fancy new tools we use, the principles of successful cold calling remain the same. Don’t get us wrong, we love the plethora of new technology that aids our working lives, but we’re often asked by clients at our cold calling training sessions to help them and their teams understand and break down the basic structure of a cold call.

At its core, there is an underlying process to every cold call that, if executed correctly, will maximise your chance of a positive outcome. However, we know from our experience that hundreds of sales teams all over the world are squandering millions in lost opportunities and failing to properly engage with prospects as a result of not correctly following each stage of this vital process.

This structural approach to cold calling is far from complex, it just takes practice. With that in mind, let’s take a look at perhaps the most important step of the process in this post: getting the opening right.

It’s a simple truth; with any cold call, the first 20 seconds are by far the most important and set the tone for the rest of the conversation. We cannot stress this enough. Think of it this way, in rocket science, a spaceship must reach ‘escape velocity’ in order to break free of Earth’s gravity. In essence, a rocket must be travelling above a certain speed in order to make it into space. If it doesn’t reach that speed then gravity takes over and the rocket falls back to Earth.

The first 20 seconds of a cold call are similar. If you don’t provide enough value in those opening exchanges, then the decision-makers natural inclination to shut down the conversation will take over, and you’ll never make it to the next stage.

There’s plenty to getting the opening right, but the key is mainly in the preparation; by researching and knowing what is going to pique a decision-makers interest straight away, you’re going in armed with the information you need to spur the conversation past the initial stages.

And this is where our new technology can really help us. As we said earlier, we have access to so much information now, that in minutes we can understand so much about a prospect’s company, their competitors, their role and responsibilities, and the issues or opportunities for their industry in general. There are other things you can consider for the first 20 seconds too – we’ve recommended trying to use humour in the past (only if you’re comfortable with it!) and thinking closely about your body language and voice intonation on a call (yes, evidence suggests body language can be interpreted through a telephone!).

Final thoughts

To succeed, try to avoid over-complicating the cold calling process. The first and most important step is also the simplest: get the opening right. Taking the time to perfect the opening 20 seconds will make the biggest difference on your success rates, as each step afterwards should fall into place more easily from there.

 

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

How to delegate effectively

Whilst there are hundreds of traits and qualities that go into being a good manager, one vital ability is knowing how and when to delegate tasks.

At its core, delegation is simply the sharing of a workload between a team based on the experiences and skills of the individual team members. In practice, it makes complete sense and any true leader will recognise the importance of being able to delegate effectively in order to improve both efficiency and productivity. However, we meet so many managers and team leaders that, despite recognising the importance of delegation, still struggle with it on a daily basis.

As training course providers for management staff, we decided it would be useful to put a post together discussing some of the most effective delegation techniques you can employ today and to touch on a number of the attitudes we come across that can hold back effective delegation. If you’d like to learn more about delegation and work with our experienced coaching team, please get in touch.

Beating the “I can do it better” attitude

This is probably the most common objection to delegating work, and is especially prevalent amongst new managers.

The “I can do it better” attitude will only hold back a team from progressing and developing. And ultimately, a new manager won’t last long if they can’t fully utilise the team around them.

It can be difficult to do, but the solution is really simple: trust in the abilities of the team and allow them the freedom to complete work independently. For junior members of the team, sit down with them to schedule in the work you want completing, make it clear what you’re looking to achieve from the work, and – if necessary – schedule in a catch up for once they’re done to go through the work and provide constructive feedback on what they’ve done well and where it can be improved.

For senior members of the team, let them crack on in the knowledge that they know what they’re doing. Check in casually to make sure they’re okay and to see if they need any support, but avoid trying to micro-manage them.

Learn the skillsets of your team

It’s very easy to get delegation wrong. All it takes is for a manager to assign tasks based on current workloads, i.e. giving new tasks to team members that have the least on their plate.

Whilst this ensures that everyone is busy, it may mean team members aren’t as productive or even as challenged as they could be. Tasks should be assigned based on the skills, strengths and weaknesses of each team member – so it’s important as a manager that you come to recognise and identify an individual’s range of skills.

This doesn’t necessarily mean always assigning the tasks to the person with the most experience and skills. It’s about recognising the potential for growth in junior team members too, so that you can set them work that will help them achieve that potential.

Knowing when and what to delegate

Once you understand the skillsets of your team, and you have the confidence and trust in your team to delegate tasks, you then need to know when and what you should delegate. We quite often meet managers that know the importance of using their team and have no issues with doing so, but simply don’t know when they should be delegating work.

When facing this dilemma, there are two questions to ask yourself that can help clarify the situation:

  • “Could someone else do this work to a good standard?”
  • “If I didn’t have to do this work, would I be free to work on something more important and valuable?”

If the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, then you know the skillset to do the task exists within your team and you can be having a bigger impact elsewhere. This is the perfect point at which to delegate a task.

Even if you can only answer ‘yes’ to the first question, you should still consider delegating the work. This can free your time up to complete any admin or smaller pieces of work that you’ve been putting off, or give you the time to see how other team members are getting on.

Final thoughts

We hope the above tips help you to delegate more effectively in the future. Delegation is an important part of being a manager, and the best leaders in any field know the value of using their team and how to do it.

How to provide effective and constructive feedback as a manager

A key part of workplace leadership and management is providing feedback to the employees within your team. For any company, progress is dependant on the performance and development of the staff. And, in order to enable high performance and consistent positive development, feedback is vital.

It should come as no surprise that there is both a right and wrong way of providing feedback to your employees. The consequences of delivering feedback poorly can have a devastating impact on your business or team; high staff turnover, low motivation, and negative atmospheres. In contrast, delivering feedback well can have the opposite effect: employee loyalty, motivated and determined staff, and a happy, productive atmosphere.

Below, we have outlined several tactics for ensuring that your feedback sessions are both constructive and effective for you and your employees.

Check your intention

Before you provide feedback to an employee, check your reasoning and motivation for doing so.

We can’t stress this point enough. Managers often confuse feedback sessions as an opportunity to scold employees for their performance and/or behaviours. This is wrong; the only purpose of providing feedback is to improve performance.

Simply unloading a list of bugbears and things that an employee is doing poorly will only lead to that individual turning off and looking for a new place to work. It’ll likely also foster a negative attitude towards work in general, effecting their productivity and relationships within the workplace. Remember that negativity spreads like a virus through a workforce, and one individual can soon turn into a department, then a whole division, and even the entire company.

Ask questions

A feedback session, whether it’s an annual appraisal, mentoring session, or general review, can often fall into the trap of one person dominating the conversation. That person is usually the one providing the feedback.

As managers, it’s important to remember that your employees will have thoughts and opinions that they’d like to address and discuss too. Try to avoid doing all the talking; ask questions to actively bring them into the conversation so that you can learn and understand what they’re thinking.

Asking questions will provide a much more engaging experience for the employee, and they’ll likely take much more away from the session.

Be specific

It’s very easy to tell someone that they’ve done a good (or poor) job. We’ve had this throughout our lives, and we’re very used to it. For example, think about how the grading system works in education: you complete a piece of work, and then you find out whether that work was an A, B, C, or D, and so on.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the most effective form of feedback. In the workplace, simply telling someone that they’ve done something well or done something poorly isn’t enough for them to learn and apply that feedback to their future work.

Great feedback is high on detail and it’s completely actionable. There’s not much an employee can take away from hearing, “Your recent project was great”, but in contrast, if an employee is told, “Your recent project was great, I especially liked the way you brought in your colleagues from separate departments and kept us informed on progress”, then they know that their management team likes cross-department integration and regular updates.

Create a plan together

The last result you want from a feedback session is for your employee to leave and not understand how it is that they can improve.

Asking questions and being specific with your feedback can help you avoid this, but another important aspect is to ensure that you work together to set out what the employee should do next. It doesn’t particularly matter how formal this is, it can be anything from a written plan to just a verbally agreed goal for the next quarter. The point is that the employee has something that they can focus on and work towards.

Whilst this is a great tactic for negative feedback sessions, it doesn’t necessarily have to be used solely for setting targets for poor-performing individuals. It can also be used to motivate and inspire the top performers too, for example:

“I’m extremely impressed by your work so far and I think you’re clearly on a positive trajectory that will take you as high as you want to go. Even so, to remain on that trajectory, I think there are some areas that we can help you to improve”.

Final thoughts

Delivering employee feedback is a key part of any management role. Given the associated benefits of delivering feedback effectively, and the negatives of doing so poorly, managers should take the time to learn more about this vital aspect of the manager-employee relationship. We hope the advice above helps, but if you’re looking for more information on providing genuinely useful feedback to your staff then this is an area that we cover as part of our management skills training course. The course goes into much further detail about the various tactics and strategies you can employ for appraisals and performance reviews, along with covering a wide range of other topics aimed at improving your management skillset.

The impact of GDPR on cold selling practices

As most business owners will already know, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will become active legislation in the European Union as of May 25th 2018.

If you’re a business owner in the EU that hasn’t heard of GDPR, or begun adapting for it, then we strongly recommend you read one of the many brilliant guides on the subject (just type ‘GDPR’ into Google – there are literally thousands). There could be serious consequences if your company is found to be in breach of the framework from May onwards.

It’s worth noting that GDPR, or some form of it, will certainly carry over into a post-Brexit Britain. It’s here to stay, and as such we should consider what that means for us marketers and sales professionals, especially those with active cold calling and emailing campaigns.

Cold calling is still acceptable, with a caveat

There are no regulations in the GDPR that will prohibit cold calling outside of the current restrictions of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which businesses and individuals can register on if they do not wish to receive cold marketing and sales calls. 

This is because the services and products offered by cold calling, when done properly and genuinely, are considered to be a legitimate and fair interest to individuals.

However, GDPR demands that customers have the option to opt out from future communication. On a website, this would be done with an unticked checkbox (meaning that a customer has to intentionally tick the box to opt in). On a phone call, this is done by asking the recipient if they would be open to receiving a call again.

For good cold callers, you are not likely to encounter an issue here thanks to having quickly built up a rapport during your engaging conversation. However, those that do not provide as good an experience for the recipient will struggle to gain the opt in – and this is where we could see prospects slip through the gaps. This makes it more important than ever to ensure all front-line cold calling staff are well trained.

Furthermore, GDPR requires companies to keep a log of consent, as they must be able to prove they have opt ins for all of the customer data they use for marketing and sales purposes. There are a number of ways to do this, including recording calls or keeping secure records of the details of each call.

Email marketers need to be careful

Cold calling, done right and with the relevant data recorded and protected, will see little effect from GDPR. Cold emailing, on the other hand, will feel much more of an impact.

As mentioned above, websites will not be able to automatically collect and store email addresses for marketing purposes without explicit consent from the individual. This means soft and passive opt-ins will be against EU law, bringing the end to those sneaky pre-ticked email subscription boxes when you’re buying something online. Similarly, purchased email lists are out.

All in all, it’s now going to an offence to send marketing communications to any email addresses collected in a way that does not satisfy GDPR, even if those email addresses were collected before the date GDPR comes into play (25th May 2018).

The impact for cold emailing is clear. Not only will companies need to obtain opt-ins and record this proof of consent in a secure database, they’ll also likely need to reach back out to their existing database of contacts and re-obtain consent. Companies will also need to provide a clear option to opt-out and respect the wishes of those that remove themselves.

This is likely to have a significant effect on email databases by reducing the total volume of contactable prospects for cold emailers. If you rely on email to source new leads or as a key sales channel, then the impact of GDPR must be given considerable thought and attention.

However, this doesn’t spell the end for cold emailing by any stretch. Consider that those who you obtain an opt-in from moving forwards have done so because they made an intentional decision. In other words, they want to hear more from you. Future email databases will be filled with contacts who are engaged and interested in your product, service, or brand.

This gives you a much better chance of converting prospects into leads or sales. Of course, this won’t just be a formality – with a smaller pool of contacts, you need to make each conversation count; clear and confident communication skills will be a must-have.

Furthermore, B2B companies should consider the need to re-obtain consent from existing email databases as an opportunity to reach out and touch base with businesses they may not have had much interaction with recently. A nice personalised email is much more likely to succeed in getting an opt-in than a generic template. Be warned though, offering incentives to get opt-in is not allowed.

Final thoughts

The GDPR will certainly change long-standing marketing and sales practices, but this is done with the interests of consumers in mind – to protect them from unwanted and often spam-filled communications. This is a strong, progressive move from the EU, as it will force the whole of the marketing and sales industry to review the way it obtains consent from users and improve the ways in which businesses interact and nurture their contacts.

It will make the conversations that do happen more important than ever – meaning that sales professionals will need the necessary skills to make the most of every touch point with a contact. This includes the ability to impress immediately, build rapport and trust, nurture leads, communicate effectively, and negotiate obstacles. If you’re looking to brush up on any of these skills, we offer a range of courses across the UK and internationally that are perfectly suited for sales and marketing professionals.

2018 is coming: Three sales trends for the new year

A new year is on the horizon.

As we bid adieu to 2017 and say bienvenue to 2018, now represents the perfect time to look forward and discuss the most likely sales trends for the forthcoming year. The world continues to change at an astounding pace each year thanks to the rate of technological and scientific development, and, as all sales professionals know, the sales industry is changing rapidly as a result.

It should come as no surprise that in order to remain on top, sales professionals will need to accept that the forces driving these seismic shifts in both society and business cannot be stopped. Instead, we must embrace what’s coming by predicting the impact of change and then adapting accordingly.

With that in mind, here are our three predicted sales trends of 2018.

The focus will shift to upskilling staff in communication

Okay, so this is more of a hope than an actual data-backed prediction. After all, an increase in CPD budgets and staff development is great for those who actually provide CPD and staff development! Even so, hear us out.

Your product or service, whatever it is, is simply a solution to a person’s problem. The issue that a lot of consumers and potential leads have with outbound sales techniques is that it feels like they’re being sold to. And, combined with the daily bombardment they receive in advertising and sales, this can leave a sour taste in the mouth.

As such, to be successful we need to move away from selling and instead move towards solving. How do we do this? By improving the way we communicate with our audience.

For example, the most powerful phrases a salesperson can use going forwards into 2018 are “how come” and “why”. These phrases are great at opening up a conversation and uncovering the hidden challenges and problems lying that motivate a consumer to seek a new solution. This applies just as much for SaaS start-ups as it does for traditional retail staff.

Front-line sales staff will be given more training

Leading on from our first prediction, we also believe that the sales staff on the front line – those tasked with prospecting – will be provided with additional training. It’s time to recognise that the first contact is an incredibly important touchpoint with a prospect (more on touchpoints below), and that businesses could be leaking potential sales by not ensuring that their front-line sales staff are as engaging and impressive as they possibly can be.

It’s not enough to provide front-liners with a script and some basic training, they need to be empowered to hold a conversation and deliver genuine value to a lead. And that can only come from the right level of training.

We’re pleased to see HubSpot deliver the same point – but it isn’t surprising, we have been working with inside sales teams around the world for many years to assist them in the development of their skillset.

Customer experience will become a core focus at board level

Data from Google Trends shows a gradual increase in interest in customer experience (CX) since 2011, but over the past two years interest has really skyrocketed. This comes as a result of the rise of digital technologies, which have permanently distorted the traditional business paradigms, giving way to a new, customer-centric philosophy instead.

Any director responsible for improving sales should be recognising that there are very few customer touchpoints which do not have an impact on sales in the digital age. Therefore, we expect to see much more of a focus on CX from the most senior levels of the company hierarchy over the next 12 months, rather than it being something the marketing team keep shouting about!

Final thoughts

As always, the next year promises to be both an exciting and challenging one given all the upcoming changes. There is more we could have mentioned – for example, we didn’t highlight either sales automation or the effect of GDPR on traditional sales practices, but we plan to give each the attention and level of discussion they deserve in future articles.

We are certain that sales teams will find ways to adapt and thrive to the new trends and challenges that 2018 will bring, and we are excited to help support this process by providing industry leading sales, communication, and negotiation training courses. If you’re looking to improve, or even refresh, your skillset, then contact us today to discuss your requirements.

Cultural factors in negotiation

In the Mad Men episode, ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Sword’, Bert Cooper asks, ‘Have we received a gift yet?’. The day before, the executives at the fictional advertising agency pitched their services to the Japanese car company, Honda. Bert, with prior knowledge of Japanese culture, knew that if they stood a chance of winning the business, they would have received a gift. As it turns out, the men had actually offended Honda, and were expected to retract their offer.

Although entirely fictional, this storyline was a great example of why knowledge of cultural differences are essential in business. This is particularly so in the negotiation process. After all, negotiations are difficult at the best of times, never mind when the parties involved come from different cultural backgrounds.

Cross-cultural negotiations can falter for a whole variety of reasons; an obvious example is language. English may well be the foremost lingua franca of the 21st Century, but not everyone can speak and understand the language to the same ability. As such, native English speakers should be careful using colloquialisms and idioms around non-native speakers.

Differences in the understanding of body language can play a part too. In East Asian cultures, it can be rude to make eye contact for too long. Similarly, where Italians tend to gesticulate with their entire body as they speak, Britons are quite rigid. These may only be slight nuances in behaviour, but they can make a large impact in understanding and ease-of-negotiation.

There are other reasons too, such as cultural differences in emotions, punctuality, and body language. All in all, the key for anyone involved in cross-cultural negotiations is to learn and understand these differences well-ahead of any meetings with the other party, and this applies for both sides.

To this end, there are common themes of negotiation strategy which will serve any business well despite where they are in the world and with whomever they are negotiating, including:

  • Research the opposing side – learn everything you can about the other team, including their motivations and goals
  • Use clear language – avoid ambiguity and chances for misinterpretation
  • Learn about the cultures of the opposing side – this doesn’t just mean the culture of the nation they come from, but also their business culture
  • Identify what’s important to them, and yield if you can – allowing the other side to “win” on the points that are important to them, but less important to you, is a great negotiation tactic, especially when confronted with cultures that place an emphasis on “winning” negotiations.
  • Find a way to compromise – like yielding, compromise is a fundamental negotiation strategy. In cultures that place an emphasis on a “win-win” solution in negotiations, compromise is the best way to keep the other party happy and achieve the desired outcome.

Regardless of whether you are negotiating across cultures or not, the above strategies for negotiation will serve you well. However, if you’re looking to learn more about negotiation strategy in general, then please check out our negotiation skills training course. Furthermore, in November we will be delivering two-day versions of this course in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Manama, and Riyadh, with help from our partners Verve Management. If you are based in these areas and wish to attend, then please take a look at their site for further information:

Verve Management

How to get past gatekeepers and reach a decision maker

Who are gatekeepers?

As a telemarketer or salesperson, when you call a new business prospect, the first person that answers your call is often a receptionist, personal assistant, or secretary. In the telemarketing industry, we refer to these people as gatekeepers.

Simply, they are front of house. It is often their role to answer and manage all inbound calls and ensure that they are rerouted to the relevant person within the business. Similarly, it is their job to ensure a company’s management staff are not inundated with sales calls.

Therefore, if you wish to pitch your product or service to a business, the greatest challenge is actually making it past the first hurdle – the gatekeeper – in order to reach a decision maker, the person with the seniority and authority to listen to your pitch and decide whether your product or service would benefit the business.

Reaching the decision maker is the first major milestone in the sales process, and it is vitally important to understand the best ways to achieve this. After all, a gatekeeper is unlikely to put you through to their manager without first asking about the purpose of your call, and as soon as they know that you’re here to pitch a product or service the alarm bells in their head will start ringing.

Unfortunately, this is just part and parcel of the telemarketers role – businesses are swamped by sales calls, it’s understandable that they would want to filter out as many as possible, so how can you convince a gatekeeper that they should pass you through to the decision maker on the other side?

We’ll discuss each of these in more detail, but in summary, here’s how to get past gatekeepers:

  • Be kind and polite
  • Don’t leave a message
  • Avoid pitching
  • Turn them into your ally

Be kind and polite

Remember, the gatekeeper is not the enemy. They are simply a person doing what they’re being paid to do, so treat them like you would anyone else.

People tend to react in the same state as with which they are confronted. If you behave negatively towards a gatekeeper in any way (rude, pushy, impolite, etc), then they are likely to react in an equally negative manner and you will be no closer to reaching the decision maker.
Knowing even a little about what makes humans tick can be the difference between a successful telemarketer and one that struggles to ever get through to a decision maker. For example, anyone who has read Dale Carnegie’s famous book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ will know that people love the sound of their own names. Make use of this when you speak to the gatekeeper, it will help to quickly build rapport and get them “on-side” (more on this below).

Don’t leave a message

How often have you tried to get through to a decision maker and been met with the response: “He’s not available right now, would you like to leave a message?”.

As tempting and easy as it is to leave a message and move on to the next prospect, the chances are that your message will either not be passed on (either intentionally or unintentionally, remember gatekeepers will be busy with other work and are likely to forget), or will be passed on but not with any great detail (“Mr Jones from ABC Ltd called”). Either way, there is no way the decision maker will return your call.

Instead of leaving a message, ask when they’re likely to be available, thank the gatekeeper for their help and time, and inform them that you’ll call back later or follow up with an email.

Avoid pitching

This is a simple one. Do not waste your time pitching to a gatekeeper. By all means, tell them the purpose of your call, where you’re calling from and why you would like to speak with John Smith in marketing, but be aware that reeling off your entire pitch is actually more likely to damage your chances of making it through to the gatekeeper.

A gatekeeper doesn’t have the authority to decide whether your product or service is worth the company’s time. The most likely response you’ll get from pitching to a gatekeeper is, “That doesn’t sound like something we would be interested in, but thanks for your time.” End of call, done, finito.

Worse still, they might put you on hold whilst they relay the basic outline of your pitch to their manager. The chances of a business wanting to work with you after hearing your pitch delivered by someone else are extremely low.

All in all, when a gatekeeper asks what your call is in regards to, or asks for more information, do not fall into the trap of giving them your best spiel. Give them the highlights, enough to suggest that this call is important and that they should put you through.

Turn them into your ally

Sometimes, it is our initial perception of gatekeepers that is the problem. We assume that they are going to block our path before we’ve even had a chance to speak to them. The truth is that we can often turn gatekeepers into our allies, and thus make them genuinely want to help us.

Engage with the person you’re speaking to by asking them about their day and showing genuine interest, listen to the little nags they have, ask them questions about their role (and the decision maker too – this can help qualify a lead). By striking up a relationship you can get the gatekeeper “on-side”, and they’ll be more willing to help you out.

Final thoughts

Getting past the gatekeeper is often the most difficult part of any sales call, but it’s fundamental if you wish to be successful. We hope the tips above will help, but if you or your staff are often struggling to get through to a decision maker, we offer flexible, bespoke telemarketing training courses to help develop and improve skillsets – as part of this course we teach two advanced strategies for getting past gatekeepers. Please get in touch for more information.