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Michael : Good morning Erik. Firstly thank you very much for taking part in this call. Would you tell our listeners something about who you are and what you do?
Erik : Good morning Michael, and thank you very much for inviting me to take part in this call. My name is Erik MacEachern, I run my all small business called MacEchern Associates. I spent twenty-two years working for a telecommunications company here in the UK called BT. I left there in 2003 and set up on my own and now running a business that is actually becoming a part of other peoples business’s
I’m an assistant engineer at heart, with a general management and sales marketing approach to management. What I do and what my business does is basically trying to understand complexity out there in the real world and help organisations to find ways to resolve that complexity, solve real world problems by identifying and implementing solutions, usually technology based, but not always sometimes just common sense, implementing solutions to those problems.
Michael : What does sales or business development mean to you?
Erik : Sales to me is simply a process of building relationships with people who are perhaps within ones target market and who one might hope to become one’s customers building relationships with those people, with those organisations, then going through a process of understanding their world, understanding their problems, understanding their needs and desires and then it gets to a stage where one can enter into a contractual arrangement with those organisations to meet those needs on an ongoing basis.
I like to look at sales as building long term relationships that deliver benefits to both sides of the relationship.
Michael : And do you see sales and business development as being the same or as being different?
Erik : Personally I see sales as being a subset of business development because one might look at ways to achieve market attraction in a certain area simply through selling. But one might actually have to step back and go through a process of working out well what is the value proposition that one is trying to sell? and what is the best way to sell front line sales or are you better to look at partnering with other organisations and that to me comes under the area of business development that can sit above what some people might perceive, or define as sales.
Michael : Taking your current business, what products or services do you supply? Who are your current target customers? And how do you sell to them, or what channel do you use? So firstly, what products or services do you supply at the moment?
Erik : We could take one of our clients first of all who is involved in the online training, e-learning. The product or service that my first client sells is an online training service, an online training offering, and we sell at this point in time to a defined market geographically defined, to be in the UK in the first instance, as our first step.
In terms of business sector, the sector that we’re selling into is the professional institutes, professional associations, professional membership sites, that have subscription paying for members.
What we’re actually selling to the institutes is a value proposition that helps them to raise the level of professional competence in their memberships. To do that in a way that actually generates cash for the institutes, so we’re not going to want to sell them something for which we want them to part with money.
Michael : And how do you actually sell to them? What channel do you use to actually get hold of these people?
Erik : In this particular market we deal direct. For most of them, within our sales team we have people, myself included who just do their blueprint research on each organisation, and we either cold call them, or alternatively, where possible, we will seek an introduction or referral, from people within our network.
Michael : Would you describe your customers as having a typical decision making process in deciding whether they want to buy your service?
Erik : Yes, what we’re finding with this particular market sector, if you like, is that to a greater or a lesser extent, because we are dealing with a set of organisations that are generally in the ‘not for profit’ area that they, to a certain extent have common governments arrangements in place, therefore they have a common decision making process, that they have to follow.
The extent that each of those follows that decision-making processes can vary in terms of the size of the organisation, the amount of delegated authority, or the number of different people there are in the decision-making chains. There are remarkable similarities across each of these hundred-plus organisations.
Michael : And what are some of the elements of those process’s?
Erik : Some varieties will include a need to show a viable financial and practical business case for making the decision. Generally there will be a need to have the position ratified or authorised in some way by the organisations board of directors or alternatively, in case of membership organisations, council members. And generally there will be a need for them to look at alternative suppliers.
Michael : And do you yourself use a particular sales methodology or sales model or do you just take it as it comes?
Erik : a combination of both. I use elements from two or three sales methodologies that I’ve become aware of and involved in using in the past, but we also find that we have, as we learn more about the particular market place, that we have to let the market place guide us as to how the fine-tune our methodology.
I would say that no matter which sales process or methodology one uses, there will always be a disjoint between what the organisation seeks to impose in terms of a sales methodology and a sales qualification process, and what’s actually going on out there in the market place and one of the secrets of making a sales methodology actually work for you is to always make sure that you’re listening to the market place, listening to you customers, and asking questions that seek to probe into what the customer thinks they want, to uncover the real truths about what they need.
Michael : What do you think makes a good sales person these days? What are some of the characteristics?
Erik : One of the biggest differences that I have found is that there are two types of sales people. There’s the salesperson who will spend a lot of time talking to a customer and there’s a salesperson who will spend a lot of time listening to a customer, this can include talking, but active listening. We’re given two ears and one mouth for a very good reason. I think that the salesman that listens will arrive at a better solution for the customer and for the company, in a shorter space of time than the salesperson who only talks and doesn’t listen.
Michael : Do you think that selling is changing as we go into 2007 and 2010?
Erik : *Looking back , and looking at where we are now and where we seem to be heading, yes I do see some differences, I see the increasing commoditisation in many different products and services where previously they have had some greater perceived value attached to them. So margins are squeezed, what’s happening as a result is there’s an ever-increasing need for companies that are selling to differentiate who they sell.
And there’s this vicious spiral as differentiation increases the customers become more aware and informed as well, so there’s an ever-greater need for differentiation. I think what now is happening, it’s that firstly we’re moving away from our product and decision process, towards a recommendation and relationship-based decision process.
And it’s more important now more than ever for those of the selling side to build effective and enduring relationships with their clients, not just doing the quick hit-and-run commodity*sale.
Michael : Looking back at your own career, how would you say that you have become good at this?
Erik : I’ve had a lot of mentoring from people around me. I’ve also made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of failures. Deals lost the deals that won were all well and good but the deals that were lost were some of the best learning experiences.
Michael : Looking at sales today, what do you think are some of the bigger issues that hold people back? What are the challenges that salespeople face?
Erik : Firstly self belief. Secondly not listening to the customer. Thirdly, as part of not listening to the customer, not taking advantage of a lot of the intelligence and insight that is accessible by observing the customer before one even goes and speaks to them, and by using ones network. It’s amazing the insights one can gain from a target client or organisation just by clicking a few findings from their network.
Michael : What do you think it is that customers buy from you?
Erik : An understanding of their need. An ability to be very clear on what I can do to help meet that need and also being clear on what I can’t do to meet that need. What I mean by that is setting robust expectations with ones client, so ones client know what to expect what not to expect and ensuring that what they do expect is delivered and exceeded.
Michael : Now, before I ask you to give your contact details is there anything else in what’s happening in selling today that you’d like to mention?
Erik : I think one particular issue that comes home to me every day, is to never forget that the customer has their own agenda, the customer in the organisation has their own agenda, the customer and the individual people have their own agendas and back to listening’ actively listening, make sure that you understand what the customers need is, make sure that you understand what the individual people in the organisations needs are, also try to understand what it is that your customer, or prospective customer is trying to achieve for their customers if you can see the world through your customers eyes, and help them to serve their customer better, than you’re going to turn that customer into a customer for life.
Michael : Ok, excellent. And what are your contact details?
Erik : My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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