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Be Brave and Do Information Interviews

Information interviews are one of the true secrets of successfully entering a new market.

And fortunately for you, your contemporaries are just too darn afraid to ask for them.

Someone who's experienced in the field you want to get into will know things. They'll have an idea of what the pain points are.

Not every time—occasionally you'll run into a member of that target market who simply doesn't know how to articulate the common problems of the niche...

...but you'll still have a friendly conversation, and I'll bet they introduce you to one or two other people who do know.

What you're looking for are the key words and phrases that declare, "Yes! I am a member here! I know what you're struggling with."

For me, they stand out immediately. As soon as I've heard them, I recognize them.

And after 20+ years in the professional working world, even I have to go back to the drawing board and do some information interviews every few years or so.

I'm not exempt.

information interviews two women chatting discussion

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Information Interviews Help You Learn FAST

All that learning I did to this point means little in the context of the new target market.

I am not my customer.

What I believe is important is not what they believe is important.

You'll see people try to jumpstart this step by using an online survey.

I don't believe that's anywhere near as valuable as a one-on-one conversation. In person if you can, by video or a phone call if you can't. I've used Zoom, Whatsapp and the old fashioned phone.

If you can, record the conversation. Make sure you get the interviewee's permission first.

Now the key thing here is having the guts to ask.

It really does not take much.

Just ask if they'll meet with you for 20 minutes. You want to hear from them about their experience in the field.

I've had people offer to do this without me asking them.

Why?

Because some people enjoy sharing. Others like to show off what they know. Sometimes it's a combination.

Sure, you'll get an individual who's "too busy." I still get that today. But it's one person in a hundred I ask (no kidding.) It's a little shocking for a moment, but then I laugh and look at the 25 other people who've already agreed to meet with me.

You don't need 25.

Four or five would be a great start.

But imagine if you did meet 25 members of that target market. Imagine if you met with them over a week or two. How much would you pick up about that market?

And really, really fast.

So be brave. Have the guts to ask. You only need to be brave for a minute.

The payoff is amazing.

>> Jason Kanigan is a business strategist. To book a consultation with Jason, click here. <<

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Choosing Your Sponsor Wisely for Sales Success

Choosing your sponsor wisely is even more important than I thought.

After 20+ years in the field I didn't expect to be surprised by anything in sales and project management. Peter Taylor's The Lazy Project Manager (not an affiliate link) has changed that.

The opening chapters of Peter's book have impressed upon me the significance of choosing your sponsor with care.

The question is not: "Can I make the sale?" It's: "How can I rig the game for success once we've made the sale?"

If you're a Hit And Run-type salesperson, I've probably lost you. But you'll find out quickly enough... throwing the ball down the field to the implementation team, without having set up the conditions for success, is a game plan for failure. The project team in charge of installing the solution may well improvise their way to a win but you sure have made it hard for them.

For those who care that what you sold is what gets delivered... Peter Taylor has described this key strategic element of the sale and execution in a way I haven't seen done before.

choosing your sponsor sales project management design
(Image by rawpixel from Pixabay)

The Impact Of Choosing Your Sponsor With Care

Whether we're in an academic setting and finding the right sponsor for our smallsat development project...

...or seeking the "buyer behind the buyer" who is the real executive customer up the food chain...

...having the right sponsor in place means the difference between having the support we need to achieve change -- or the unpleasant discovery that the project is doomed to fail (check out those percentages) because it lacks both intent and resources.

I spent most of 2016 working with a change management expert who only dealt with tech firms of 1000+ staff.

I saw how important getting the right sponsor in place was then, but my eyes and brain were focused more on operational issues of managing change. Looking back, he did a good job of what Peter Taylor recommends... and the results of his projects testified to his deliberate efforts up front.

Go get Peter's book. It'll chance the way you view sales as well as project management, and your success rates will rise if you implement his recommendations.

>> Jason Kanigan is a business strategist. Book a time to talk with Jason about your situation by clicking here. <<

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Three Quick Checks When Hiring Salespeople

Hiring Salespeople: this is the last Sales Tactics post of 2018. That means we're about to head into the FIFTH YEAR of this blog—how many people do you know who have stuck with a thing as long as that?

I asked for topics and "how to screen for good salespeople" came up. This is a good one because it illuminates several key issues ongoing in many businesses—and business owners!

Let's be clear: there are an infinite number of things you could screen for to help you make your decision when hiring salespeople. Over the last two decades plus, though, from my own experience being the sales candidate with my own agenda of getting the job, the hiring authority sometimes pressured to make a decision NOW, and the sales coach charged with cleaning up the mess...here are the most impactful ones.

Check #1 When Hiring Salespeople

First, will they fit into your culture?

This is, in my opinion at least, more important than anything else.

Even if they can be an effective salesperson and do the second thing I recommend you screen for, their time at your organization will be a mismatched misery should they not fit into the culture.

You'll note all three points I raise here about hiring salespeople fit together. Consequences roll from one into the others.

At the last startup I co-founded, we were crystal clear about our culture. We wrote it down. This manifesto was posted on our website, and we sent it to sales candidates who were initially eager to work with us.

This had the desired effect. The "hardcore closer" types? Pulled a fast fade when they realized their style wouldn't match ours. Nobody's time got wasted. We were left with what we wanted: the consultative, fully honest types we wanted representing our clientele.

You must have clarity before starting the hiring process. What kind of organization do you want? Attitude, standards and expectations start at the top and flow down...what you allow is what they will allow. When I find a company with a nasty receptionist, I know that attitude is permitted and even encouraged from "on high"...and it's a sign for me to go elsewhere.

hiring salespeople sales tactics

Hiring Salespeople: Check #2

Second, are they a high performer—and will they sell here?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: talk is cheap. Statistically speaking, the hiring person would have better odds in picking a successful candidate by pulling a name out of a hat compared to the job they do in the interview.

Culture Fit is very important here, because when a person feels they fit in and enjoy going to work they tend to perform better. That should be obvious but it isn't, out there in the hiring world.

Resumes are all well and good, but they are a marketing piece which has the purpose of getting the candidate the interview. That's it: not the job itself. You need to remember that as much as the candidate does.

Past experience similar to your role may seem good, but it's not an Insta-Win.

So ask questions to draw out stories. They've got numbers on their resume? Great...what's the story behind them? How did they make that big sale? Does what they tell you sound like a process that would fit in with your expectations (be ready for some wild surprises here)?

I've talked with too many executives who told me some version, sometimes in these very words, of, "I'm a great study of human nature. I can tell when someone's got the qualities or not." Wrong. Not true. Sorry about the ding to your ego, but you don't. And neither do I. Certainly not from a resume and interview in which the interviewee controls the narrative. I'd say three-quarters of the time or more as an interviewee I controlled the discussion by the way I answered the questions. Especially when the interviewer(s) had the hiring authority and didn't have oversight of an HR administrator. Got the offers, too.

Here's a question you can ask that will draw out any dissatisfaction and potential culture misfit:

"Tell me about a situation in which things didn't turn out quite the way you'd have liked...and what you'd have done differently if you could do it all over again."

This question is worded to do several things. It subtly insists on an answer: few candidates are going to be alert enough to realize they have the choice of NOT giving an example. It lets them vent, which humans like to do. And it shows you an answer to the "What is your greatest weakness" question without having to say that dumb combination of words out loud.

Easy to follow up to their answer with more questions to determine fit.

Watch for salespeople from bad experiences and environments, too. Their poor performance may have been the result of bad leadership and surroundings.

Check #3 When Hiring Salespeople

Third, are you too enthusiastic?

I am a good interviewee. I am comfortable with multiple interviewers and have been since my mid-20s. Therefore I stand out well and as in other selling situations have been able to make the sale and get hired into jobs I really should not have gotten into. I made the sale because I could.

Why did I do this?

Because I was unemployed and needed a job, silly.

Short Term Thinking.

And this is an affliction that will catch you by surprise, too, if you're not careful. A candidate will come in with a stellar resume. Their numbers and stories will be good, from a production perspective. You get the idea they will take the opportunity and run with it. But...

...will they really fit in here?

...will they really sell here?

...are you simply too excited and about to make a bad, in-the-moment, emotionally-based hiring decision?

Are you being a victim of Short Term Thinking to get out of the interview process and have the decision made?

Very common.

Give it a day to cool off.

Don't hire because you are excited about this person. "White Knight Syndrome" in particular, in which an external party is going to ride in and save your day, is a terrible reason to hire and a terrible pressure to put on that salesperson.

>> Jason Kanigan is a sales force developer and business owner. To discuss your hiring process and how to improve it, book a time to talk with Jason. <<