Three Tips to Improve Your Sales Coaching Skills


By Julie Thomas

One of the challenges managers wrestle with is how to drive higher performance consistently throughout their sales organization. How do you successfully coach your team to stay on top of its game when, the reality is, coaching takes a great deal of time?

More importantly, why spend the time to coach? The answer to that is simple: because it works. Working with thousands of sales managers and sales leaders over the past 20 years, I’ve seen the measurable difference good coaching makes. According to Brainshark, companies that support coaching development improve sales objectives by as much as 19 percent.

If you had to drive sales results all by yourself, you’d run out of steam, quickly. You can’t play every position in the field for every game. Instead, you’ve been given the players – and sales coaching is the best mechanism to get your team up and running and scale the organization.

The topic of coaching is wide and deep. So, for now, here are three quick and easy tips to immediately improve your coaching approach.

  1. Focus on teaching. Managing is about delivering results. Coaching is about developing people. When you’re a sales manager, you’ve got to do both. To become a better coach, focus on teaching and giving instruction so your team members can further their skill set.

    If you expect it, you’ve got to inspect it. All the data and dashboards in the world won’t replace what you see and hear firsthand. You can’t coach a team if you don’t know what your people are doing in the game. So, observe them in the field and on the sales floor.

    If you inspect it, you’ve got to be able to role model all the skills you’re asking your reps to employ – day in and day out.

  2. Give ongoing feedback. In managing, we typically recognize only the results. In coaching, we recognize what happens to get to the results.

    Recognize the small wins that will lead to the big wins. Take note of the effort and a rep’s ability to be uncomfortable, as well as the results.

    The feedback needs to be instant, truthful, and specific. Discuss the impact of the behavior rather than just the results. Give two times as many positive comments for every negative constructive comment.

    Think of this feedback as a continual, two-way conversation rather than just quarterly or during annual review.

  3. Go for excellence. Great coaches want the team to be the best it can. They know how to tap into what motivates each team member and get them to do their personal best. This philosophy of rigor and positive attitude is what fuels their coaching.

    Be clear in your communications. It’s not about dominating the conversation; it’s about asking your reps good questions and listening to their responses. How did it go? What worked? What is your action plan?

    A great coach is also introspective. What are you doing to improve your coaching? Think about the uniqueness of your people. How’s your coaching relationship with each of them? What’s your coaching process? Take action and challenge yourself to be better.

To become a better coach, it doesn’t matter where you start. It only matters that you start.

thomas_julie_150x210Julie Thomas, president and CEO of ValueSelling Associates, is a business consultant, coach, facilitator, speaker, and author of ValueSelling: Driving Up Sales One Conversation at a Time. She has led ValueSelling Associates to become an award-winning, competency- and process-based training provider that measurably improves sales performance in B2B sales organizations around the world. Visit


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Sales Management Advice for Turning Your B Players into A Players


By Jim Szafranski

On most sales teams there are top performers and those who see only moderate success, but three standout strategies can help turn everyone into an A player.

Implementing these sales management practices can seem intimidating – especially when you’re trying to deliver results – but you can accomplish a little at a time, in pockets of your team, to produce the step-by-step improvements we all seek when we are trying to deliver sustainable results.

  1. Master Remote Collaboration

Collaboration in the context of a sales team simply means focusing on being your prospect’s ally and partner rather than treating them as a short-term goal for your benefit. Anyone can be told directly what they need and how to get it, but, by working together and using dialogue to come to these conclusions, a salesperson is able to build trust and rapport that is central to identifying a winning solution. This is becoming especially important as prospects do more research – often developing opinions about you, your company, and your product even before the first meeting takes place.

Since the majority of today’s software selling happens over the phone, taking extra care to ensure collaboration feels personal is important. At my previous company, Fiberlink, I encouraged my team to carry one simple objective into every meeting: learn about your customer. If you go into a call hoping to learn about your prospect rather than pitch them, it won’t matter that you can’t see each other – the organic conversations that come out of that can build a profitable foundation.

  1. Find the Plus 1

By the second time your sales reps interact with a prospect, they should have a customized plan for how they’re going to help. After analyzing the top performers at Fiberlink, I noticed they consistently identified three product features that influenced a prospect to move forward with our solution. While two of these primary issues were relatively universal and easy for a sales rep to execute, it was the third one – the thing that completed the solution and often was something the prospect couldn’t simply articulate upfront – that resulted in a sale.

This wildcard feature that closed the deal? It differs from prospect to prospect. Identifying it through education, discovery, and communicating its necessity became our focus, and we called it our “2 + 1” sales process. To aid our sales reps and simplify scaling, we packaged this education and discovery process in a single graphic of a solution map, which then acted as a conversational tool to help the entire team excel.  


By creating a process around this 2 + 1 strategy and sharing it with the rest of the department, Fiberlink was able to go from single-digit to double-digit lead-to-close rates across all sales executives before we were ultimately acquired by IBM. That remote sales success and process, I believe, was core information IBM wanted to learn from Fiberlink.

  1. Activate Customer-led Conversations

Neither truly collaborating with prospects nor finding the Plus 1 would be possible if sales reps were forced to stick to a script. More and more companies today are discovering what our sales management team  learned at Fiberlink – that pitches are at their best and most effective when there’s room for exploration and discovery based on the prospect’s needs and pace, not the rep’s.

When you ditch the script and let the prospect lead the conversation, it turns finding the solution into a puzzle. Solving it together is not only the fun part, but an approach that makes getting to the sale an authentic and smooth experience.

Encourage your sales team to let the prospect take the reins. If they’re nervous about leaving their memorized lines behind, take the time to coach them in one-on-one sessions. Use a solution map or live product demo as your conversation script. There’s no shortcut around ditching the script; learning how to listen and talk with, not at, prospects is and will continue to remain crucial for sales success.

A conversational approach to content is highly beneficial at all points in the sales process. Trust is built, dialogue is genuine, and participants are able to arrive at a solution quickly and naturally. The ability to get to the crux of a customer’s interests each and every time you communicate with them creates a consistently relevant and engaging experience. And those are the types of experiences that lead to both purchases and consistently happy customers.

At my current company, Prezi, our sales management team calls this approach “conversational presenting.” We’re learning that it can benefit any department, but the sales- and marketing-specific rewards are extraordinary. Our new platform, Prezi Business, was built around this approach, and aims to make delivering the right information and the right amount of information in a conversational manner as easy as it should be.

jimszafranskiJim is in charge of overall customer and business operations at Prezi. Since earning his engineering and management degrees from MIT and Stanford, he’s built his career around helping users and communities adopt new Internet and mobile technologies. He’s passionate about making new technology fun by creating innovative user experiences and business models. Prior to Prezi, he was SVP of product management, customer acquisition, and success at Fiberlink (acquired by IBM) where he helped build the company’s industry-leading mobile enterprise cloud platform. When he’s not pursuing Prezi’s mission to help millions of people communicate better, you’re likely to find him in his backyard with his children and his home-improvement list.

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A Survival Guide for the Chief Revenue Officer: Your First 90 Days on the Job


By Russell Sachs

With one in five Americans planning to change jobs this year, you soon may be one of millions who find yourself at a new company. For those in a high-pressure field like sales, making a move can be particularly stressful, especially as you try and acclimate to the new company.

I recently found myself in this situation when I joined BetterCloud – a rapidly-growing tech company focused on user lifecycle management, data discovery, and IT and security automation for SaaS applications – as the company’s new chief revenue officer (CRO). Upon my arrival, I had to quickly learn the ropes, gain trust from senior leadership, determine priorities, and earn a few small, but notable, wins along the way.

Reflecting on my experience during the first 90 days, I identified three key lessons from stepping into a position leading sales at a startup that I thought would be helpful to share – regardless of what managerial or executive role you may be filling.

Listen before Speaking

As a new member of any organization, it is important to recognize that the people at the company have been doing things long before your arrival and have acquired a lot of valuable “tribal knowledge” and wisdom, so seek out conversations with as many colleagues as possible to help you learn the ropes. Even though you may have preconceived notions of how to run things, listening is paramount at the beginning of any new job, no matter the level, or role, you occupy in an organization. Part of the listening process includes asking the right questions and going beyond the basics of what you’ll need to get through each day.

While there is no right or wrong way to conduct discussions, I like to frame my questions by focusing on what people are doing well and what people believe can and should be done better. For example, I like to ask leaders and veterans of the company

  1. If they had a magic wand, what would they change today?
  2. By contrast, what would they fight like mad to preserve?

Try to figure out the most common and pressing frustrations and successes, and then ascertain how best to prioritize them based upon need, impact, and complexity.

Applying it to my personal experience at BetterCloud, by listening to my colleagues and asking probing, thought-provoking questions, I learned that culture, clearly-defined work paths, and building the BetterCloud brand and community were key priorities of the company as a whole. Knowing this helped me effectively manage my teams and map out a fitting sales strategy.

Although you are a member of the team, it can be effective to take a consultant’s approach early on so you can gain trust among your peers. In soliciting advice, it’s OK to remind others that you were brought in for a certain expertise, but be careful not to prescribe a solution until you thoroughly understand the symptoms. After a comprehensive listening tour it’s important to take action, set expectations, and identify some early goals and targets for you and your team.

Look for Short-Term Wins to Demonstrate Your Value Internally

Working in any organization is a marathon, not a sprint. It is highly unlikely someone would be expected to join a company and make a massive impact in their first week on the job. However, it would be wise to look for a few small wins to quickly gain the confidence and support of your team and fellow members of the leadership team in the organization.

In the case of a sales leader, it’s important to understand and evaluate the infrastructure supporting your sales team – sales processes, methodologies, tools, personnel, etc. – to initially ascertain what is in place and what can be improved upon. For example, within my organization, I identified an opportunity to improve upon the way the sales team was forecasting opportunities. The company was using the same forecasting process it had implemented when it was much smaller and selling a simpler product. As the company matured, though, it needed to adjust to a more sophisticated set of buyers and a longer, more complex sales cycle.

Applying this to my experience, we learned the sales team was employing a process that wasn’t mapped to the buyer’s journey. From an early stage, this change required reevaluating how we define an opportunity and whether it makes sense to commit time and resources toward developing them. We implemented a new sales process that more closely aligned with our buyer’s journey, built content to help educate the prospective customers along the way, and implemented a sales methodology that more closely aligned to expectations around forecasting. Using the MEDDPICC sales methodology (an acronym that stands for Money, Economic buyer, Decision process, Decision criteria, Partners, Identify pain, Champion, and Competition) we moved from a reactive to a proactive sales approach, which aligned toward managing bigger, more complex deals. Members of the sales team are now able to better understand the dynamics of each deal and more accurately forecast when, and if, an opportunity will close.

Another area on which we focused was the company’s methodology around expanding its customer pipeline and driving new prospects to the sales team. After spending time with marketing and our SDR team, we learned the sales and marketing approach to drive new prospects had been the exact same since the company’s creation four years earlier. By partnering with the marketing team, we examined the buyer journey and spent time aligning our collateral and lead generation toward supporting that journey. In just a couple of months we have seen a dramatic improvement in both the size of our pipeline and our forecasting accuracy.

Other key considerations for quick internal wins include evaluating how and when to use POCs for clients, employee and team review processes, compensation models, call scripts, data access, and key performance indicators. While all of these aspects may already exist at your organization, they may not be optimized for the current team or the company’s current stage. With a fresh set of eyes and no inherent bias about the company, newly-appointed leaders can step back and calibrate whether the materials, processes, and people are properly aligned with the trajectory of corporate growth. Making small tweaks can yield big results and much more visibility and impact on viable deals, which is vital to a growing sales team.

Do Not Fear Giving Honest Feedback

So, there you are – hired by a company that has evolved from an idea in the founder’s mind into a fast growing, venture-backed, thriving organization with a tremendous customer roster and fantastic product. It’s easy to get intimidated and believe that everything done to date is working great. You need to remind yourself that you were hired for a reason! So, after your listening tour and as you get your hands dirty and start to identify opportunities for improvement, you must speak up! For example, does the company’s message resonate? Can you quickly discern what your organization does and how its message is being received by the market? Analyzing your existing messaging and content may yield small results (such as building a new deck) or more comprehensive adjustments (such as overhauling the main marketing message and collateral to reflect what the company represents). Giving prospects a greater understanding of what the company stands for will help them make better decisions, shorten the sales process, and save both client and vendor many headaches.

In my specific instance, I sat down with each of the executive team members and gave them specific feedback to help improve communication between, and among, departments. We worked collaboratively to fix certain things, and left others unchanged. Did they agree with everything I highlighted? Absolutely not! But they loved that I was bringing a new perspective and was willing to roll up my sleeves to improve things. Along the way, the process brought us closer and helped me earn trust and respect.

Establishing yourself quickly in a new organization is a daunting task, but you can be successful by first ensuring you build consensus from the leadership team – listening and taking the time to explain your observations and justify your recommendations. Once you have buy-in, speak up and focus on driving urgency, accountability, and ownership among your teams. When and where you see things that need to be changed, move quickly and take measurements afterward.

Finally, remember that you can’t accomplish everything overnight. But, if you go into your new job with an open mind, a winning attitude, and the tenacity to succeed, great things can and will happen.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-11-03-42-amRussell Sachs is Chief Revenue Officer at BetterCloud. He a veteran sales leader with more than 15 years of experience building winning sales teams and driving dramatic revenue growth for SaaS and enterprise software companies. Prior to joining BetterCloud, Sachs served as executive vice president of Sales at Work Market where he grew top line revenue tenfold in just three years. Sachs also previously held the position of sales director for Large Enterprise Services at Dell, Inc. Find him on Twitter at @RussellSachs

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What Did Sales Organizations Do BSE (Before Sales Enablement)?


By Jim Ninivaggi

Prior to joining Brainshark, I had the good fortune to launch and run the sales enablement practice at research/advisory firm SiriusDecisions. Unlike other functions (such as marketing and finance) that have been around for decades, the sales enablement function is relatively new and still evolving. One of the most common questions I received as an analyst was, “What exactly is sales enablement?”

About six months ago, I was rummaging around an antiques store in Lee, Massachusetts (nerd alert – I collect vintage lunch boxes from the 1970s – anyone remember The Partridge Family?), when I came across a Coca-Cola sales training guide from 1940. I had to have it.

The guide actually had been designed to help sales managers enable their reps. The thick, three-ring binder contains 18 sections, with each section focusing on a particular topic (planned call, safe driving, etc.). There are also step-by-step instructions on how the manager should run the training workshop for each topic. The manager was expected to conduct one workshop per week over an 18-week period. Each class had its own “multimedia” content – managers were instructed to show specific reel-to-reel films and/or play specific vinyl albums as part of the workshop.

For a sales enablement analyst, this was an amazing find! And it dawned on me as I perused its pages – this was how companies did “sales enablement” 76 years ago. The era: BSE (Before Sales Enablement).

Of course, they didn’t call it “sales enablement” back then, but the desired outcome was the same: that a Coca-Cola salesperson would show up at a grocery or general store with the skills, knowledge, and assets to make the most of that interaction and have the kind of sales conversations Coca-Cola wanted them to have.

That mission – ensuring reps are equipped to maximize every client interaction – has not changed, but a lot of other things have. These changes have necessitated the creation of the sales enablement function. For example:

  • The pace of change in both sales and business, and the level of complexity, keep accelerating. In 1940, Coca-Cola salespeople had to be experts in only one product. Today, they need to know dozens – with new products being launched every month.

    Across the B2B marketplace, salespeople are selling in a world where new competitors can quickly grab market share, product portfolios are constantly innovating, and buyers are much more informed and savvy.

  • In 1940, the sales conversation was likely face-to-face. Today’s sales enablement leaders must ensure their reps are capable of having the right type of conversations across a number of communication vehicles, including social, phone, Web conference, and email (I’m always shocked by how few companies do any sales enablement focused on email selling).
  • The amount of data, information, and analytics available to reps today is staggering.  Reps need help leveraging analytics to better target buyers who may be in – or just ready to enter – a decision process.

    In preparing for their calls, reps have vast amounts of information (via the Web, social, and third-party data aggregators). Sales enablement must help reps by working with marketing and sales operations to deliver data and analytics that reps can easily digest and leverage. Enablement must also work with reps to conduct research – and, more importantly, use that insight to create and articulate value.

  • Back in the ’40s, all the content and assets (product brochures, signage, etc.) a Coca-Cola seller needed could fit in the trunk of their car. Today, they’d need a VERY big trunk!

    Today’s salesperson is inundated with content from various groups in marketing and sales – often with thousands of pieces of content to choose from. It’s simply overwhelming reps who like content that is tried and true. Sales enablement must work with marketing to help tag and organize content so reps can easily get to the best content and tools.

Looking back, where the folks at Coca-Cola were ahead of most companies today is in their efforts around sales-manager enablement. Unlike what we see today, where managers are often overlooked when it comes to enablement efforts, Coca-Cola used them as “agents of enablement.” They realized, by empowering their managers to play the critical roles of trainer and coach, they would benefit from not only economies of scale (it’s easier to enable 50 managers than 250 reps) but also from the “stickiness” of the enablement – as managers were able to be better coaches and hold their reps accountable to execute at the level expected.

While I’m obviously not advocating we go back to the days of BSE (with three-ring binders, vinyl albums, and reel-to-reel films), there are certainly lessons we can take from the past to move the sales enablement function to the future.

JimNinivaggiJim Ninivaggi has more than 30 years of B2B sales productivity expertise. He is senior vice president of strategic partnerships at Brainshark, a leading sales enablement company, helping shape and execute Brainshark’s partner strategy. Jim previously headed the sales enablement research practice at SiriusDecisions, where he provided clients with data, insight, and thought leadership to maximize sales effectiveness and accelerate revenues. He has also held various positions in sales, ranging from individual contributor to sales management and sales leadership. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNinivaggi.

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How to Get Peak Sales Performance Without Micro-Managing

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 11.15.13 AM

By Jonathan Whistman

I think it’s a universal truth: Nobody likes a micro-manager. Not even the one doing the “managing” likes to be called a micro-manager. You’ll typically hear the term used derisively to describe a manager who gets so involved in the little details that it gets in the way of people actually doing their jobs.  

In sales management you might find the sales manager obsessing over the CRM data; constantly monitoring the number of calls, meetings, and emails; or incessantly phoning the salesperson to get an update on what’s happening in the field (even when it’s in the CRM.) Sales managers knows that, ultimately, they are responsible for the sales results – and this pressure causes them to want to constantly check the pulse of what is going on with the team. Sometimes this creates the possibility of micro-managing.

How can you get peak sales performance without micro-managing? Here are a few power tips.

1. Automate as Much as Possible

Jarrod McCarrol, the CEO of Weber Slicers Inc., has found that creating a calling schedule inside his team’s sales CRM that tracks who and when the team member should be calling on their customers and prospects allows the team to stay in a good cadence of calling – and he doesn’t need to be the one to follow up and ask about this important activity. He calls it the “easy button.”

Each day, the team’s dashboard keeps the team focused. The CRM also is set to automatically remind the team members when they don’t enter the data needed in the CRM or when they are falling behind. Since these reminders are automated and come from the system, the team doesn’t attach the label of “micro-managing” to the manager. The result, however, is the same: the team gets the job done correctly.

Think through all the items that can simply be automated – that you might normally handle personally – without losing quality and you’ll see great results. For instance, you might use a service like to deliver short follow-ups on training to make sure the team is using new information they’ve learned. Or you might use the CRM data to visually post a dashboard somewhere to remind the team to focus on key sales indicators.  

2. Run Sales Meetings Consistently

Another form of automation is simply structuring how you start sales meetings – starting them in a way that creates some group peer pressure and keeps the focus on the right selling behaviors. Eric Levy, vice president of sales at Weather Metrics, found that having a structured check-in to start the meeting was effective. When his team huddled up for a sales meeting, each salesperson would check in without prompting by using a script such as: “My sales quota is X dollars and, this week, I sold X – bringing my total to X. That’s ahead/behind. I have X meetings scheduled this week and my focus is _____. I would like help with _______. I’d like to give kudos to so-and-so for X.”

Imagine if you had just joined this team and heard each salesperson do this scripted check-in. As it came around to you, what would you be thinking? For sure, you’d know right away that, on this team, knowing your sales number is important. Also, if you were struggling or had a tough week, you’d likely work even harder the following week to get your number up closer to the rest of your teammates. This is a powerful method of keeping the group’s focus. It has the added benefit of becoming a habit and nobody will feel the manager is micro-managing when it happens.

3. Stick to the Routine

Finally, use routine activities as much as possible. For instance, if you have role-play sessions as a matter of habit rather than just when you think someone is struggling, then the team will simply accept it as the way things are done. Nobody gets labeled a micro-manager.

The key to peak sales performance without micro-managing is simply to be creative in the way you organize, interact with, and coach your team. Build as much routine and automation into the system as possible and be consistent. I call that “Sacred Rhythms.” Sacred Rhythms just become accepted as “the way things are around here” and have a powerful impact on individual and team sales performance. Use that fact to your advantage when leading your team.

JonathanWhistmanJonathan Whistman is author of The Sales Boss: The Real Secret to Hiring Training and Managing a Sales Team. He is a senior partner at Elevate Human Potential, a sales consulting agency.

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You Cannot Separate Selling from Negotiation


By Steven Reilly

Why is it that one salesperson will sell at list price while another will sell the same product at a heavy discount? When I ask the discounting salespeople about the discrepancy, they are always quick to point to different market dynamics, tougher customers, or some other external reason for being so quick to cut price. But, when I work with them in the field, it is quite easy to see how they put themselves in this position.

The first step in understanding how they do this to themselves is to realize there are only two ways to close the gap between the low price a customer wants to pay and the higher price at which a salesperson wants to sell. Either the salesperson convinces the customer that the value the product or service brings is worth the difference (that’s called “selling”) or they trade offers until the customer buys (that’s called “negotiation.”) Salespeople need to be good at both.

Salespeople who heavily discount almost always begin negotiating before the selling process is complete – before a firm foundation of value is built within the customer organization. This puts the salesperson at a clear disadvantage as a negotiator.

Salespeople who sell on price are more likely to respond to a customer’s request for a cheaper price with the phrase, “Well, would you buy my product if I discounted it by…?” The salespeople who sell on value, on the other hand, use the phrase, “Our price is fair and reasonable, and let me tell you why…” before discounting their price. Communicating the value their products or services bring is the first step in holding your ground against price erosion.

Here is a very simple example of the difference between the two approaches.

Suppose you have a car you’d like to sell. Prior to listing it for sale, you determine the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) value for the car is $15,000. Having taken very good care of this particular automobile, you decide to list it for $17,000 – $2,000 more than the KBB value.

Next, let’s suppose you receive a call from an interested party who says, “I’m interested in your car, but the Kelley Blue Book is only $15,000 and there are other cars like yours on the Web for a lower price.”

A salesperson who sells on price will typically respond with, “Well, would you be willing to pay $16,500 for it?” Which, of course, is a less-than-optimal response. By conceding too early, he or she gave away a substantial amount of profit for no reason. It’s called “caving.”

The better response would be, “This car is worth $17,000 and let me tell you why.”

The stronger your value proposition, the better your argument, the better you are at holding your ground. How well you defend your price is the most important factor in holding your ground in any negotiation. Your best salespeople are often your best negotiators – and vice versa.

SteveReillySteve Reilly is a principal at SPJConsulting and author of the just-released Negotiating With Tough Customers, Career Press, 2016. Watch his video or visit his website at

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Five Sales Compensation Problems that Need Urgent Attention

Mark Donnolo SLB post

By Mark Donnolo

After a day in the field with Tony from Philly, I knew something was terribly wrong. Tony had enjoyed introducing me to his clients, the guys in the warehouse, and the truck drivers in the parking lot. Tony was friendly and had fun spending time talking to everyone. He was relaxed about his job and had been successful for 20 years.

But, back at the home office, I got an earful. The head of sales leaned over his desk and complained relentlessly about the sales organization. “They’re a pack of lap dogs. They’re not out hunting down new business. They’re just taking orders. They’re overpaid service people. Why don’t they have the drive to get out and find some new volume?”

I had just witnessed it first hand – lots of talking, but not necessarily to the right people. The conversation Tony had with the buyer was just as the SVP had suspected – a check-in to see if he wanted to order more. When the buyer said he was ok for now, Tony went to visit his friends in the warehouse.

Tony wasn’t the problem; he was just doing what he was paid to do. After reading his sales compensation plan, I saw that Tony was paid on customer visits, which included all time spent on the customer’s property – even the time spent filling out the call report while we sat in the parking lot. The problem was the compensation plan, and it was a big enough problem to require immediate repair.

Salespeople do what they are paid to do – for better or for worse. It makes sense, then, that challenges with sales compensation can wreak havoc on a business. Below are five problems that require immediate attention.

  1. Beginning with mechanics. The sales compensation design process has to start with the sales strategy. What does the business want to accomplish? Is the strategy to sell more products to its current customers or to enter a new market? Too many design teams begin with their calculators and discussions about pay mix and multipliers – which is the middle of the process. A sales compensation program that is not in line with the overall strategy for the business will, at best, have the sales reps running in circles and, at worst, make revenue goals impossible to achieve.

  2. Paying a lap dog to do a Doberman’s job. Tony from Philly was a lap dog. He was capable of taking care of current customers, but he wasn’t ever going to get new business – from that customer or any other. If the SVP wants new customers, he needs a different type of salesperson, a more aggressive new business developer. And, of course, he needs to pay that role differently than he pays Tony. Dobermans need more pay at risk (50 percent base salary and 50 percent incentive is common) to feel hungry enough to go out and win new business. Lap dogs typically have a shallower pay mix (80 percent base salary and 20 percent incentive, or even 90/10) to keep the rep close to the customer.

  3. Punishing top performers. I once had a VP of sales tell me, “We take last year’s quotas and add 10 percent. That’s sales 101, right?” Wrong. Adding 10 percent to the revenue a rep brought in last year – without any examination of the market – is essentially a penalty. If Sarah had a great year and brought in $1,000,000, she may or may not have the same potential in her market to bring in $1,100,000 this year. A better method to setting quotas is to take a top-down and bottom-up approach. Try to meet the number handed down by sales leadership with real opportunities in the market. By combining a bottom-up view with the top-down expectations, you can consider granular information from the field and reconcile it with a bird’s-eye view of how that opportunity looks across markets and overall trends for market growth.

  4. Paying for everything. Another problem I see is the 100-page sales compensation plan. These are the plans that want to manage by proxy – the proxy being the sales comp plan. As businesses and solutions have become more complex, the temptation to put too much in the plan has increased as well. While the early pioneers of sales compensation may have paid only on revenue or units sold, modern plans may pay not only on revenue, units, or profit, but also on the type of revenue, the type of customer, the product and service mix, growth from protecting base revenue, growing current customers, winning new customers, and whether the sale was booked or billed. The possible combinations can make a rep’s head spin and lose direction. It doesn’t work.

    To create a clear message, an effective sales compensation plan will typically have three or fewer measures, and no measure will carry less than 15 percent weight of target incentive. By focusing the measures, the organization can increase the focus of the person in that sales role. Managers – by managing – will do the rest.

  5. Over-over allocating quota. “Over-allocation” refers to padding the quota. It’s the tactic of taking the sales goal for the business overall and, as it is allocated down through the layers of management, each manager adds a little extra. For example, a company with a $1 billion corporate goal with a sum of all frontline quotas of $1.05 billion has over-allocated its goal by 5 percent. Most organizations over-allocate quotas by about 3 percent to 5 percent from top goal to front line. And that’s all good – that little extra allocation acts like an insurance policy. If the manager has a sales position that remains unfilled for a period of time, or if a rep falls short on his quota, the over-allocation also makes up for some of that performance shortfall.

    However, when the quota is over-allocated too much at too many levels, it can lead to distortion on the front line. It can quickly get to a point where the C level and the front line have two different realities. The sun may shine at the C level (because they’re on track for the company goal) while the front line sees only cloudy skies. Keep your quota allocation trim so executives and reps all participate in the company’s success.

MarkDonnoloMark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation.

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How to Use Numbers to Increase Your Numbers: The Role of Data in Driving Sales

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By John Turner

If I can give you one word of advice that could revolutionize your number of sales wins, it would be the word “data.”

TriNet is a data-driven culture – and the activities of my sales team are driven by metrics. In fact, all of our strategies and tactics are backed by data. If you sat in a weekly meeting of any of our sales teams, in any vertical industry in which we operate, you will likely hear the word “data” come up several times. We are constantly asking, “What does the data show?” “What data do we have to justify this action?” “According to the data, how did we do?”

When my CEO asks me, “How is sales going?” I don’t respond with “good” or even “great.” These words don’t tell him anything. Instead, I give him our sales numbers, our leading indicators, how we’re doing on proposals, the financial successes of our reps, our client retention rate, the number of prospects we have in the pipeline, our penetration of the vertical industries we serve, and development of the general business landscape.  

The reason I’m sharing all this with you is not to show off how great my team and I are at math. I simply want to give you the tools to use data to increase your numbers – because a data-focused sales organization works. I know this because the data tells me so. Here’s what I mean.

Data Sharpens Your Aim

So many sales professionals I encounter use personal observation of their business landscape as their basis for creating a sales strategy. While intuition and field observation are important, they are far too subjective to be the sole deciding factor of something as important as the success of your business. I guide my sales leaders to first look at the data and then observe the data in action out in the field. It is truly an eye-opening approach the first time you do it.

If you are not using data to drive your actions, you are firing from the hip. For me, it’s like buying a house without first assessing the home’s value, hiring an inspector, or even doing a walk-through. It’s an unnecessary risk that could result in disaster. Your great personality, natural sales talent, and knowledge of the industry may get you some wins – but data will tell you where to focus all those great qualities, how to do so with the smallest investment of time and money, and how well your efforts paid off.

Data Reinforces Your Sales Culture

In a previous post, I wrote about another proven strategy in sales leadership: creating a winning sales culture. Data feeds directly into the strength of this winning culture – and vice versa. It firmly roots measurement and accountability into your organization’s daily practice. When data is part of your organization, there is less second-guessing of decisions, more confidence in management, and more trust that everyone is working from the same playbook.

A sales rep armed with data is a sales rep who is confident and assured when approaching a potential customer. This is a rep who can answer a prospect’s questions with facts and hard numbers not speculation. The result of integrating data into your organization is the culture of transparency, inclusion, and teamwork I discussed in my previous post on culture.  

How to Implement Data into Your Sales Organization

Creating a culture that utilizes data is incredibly easy. Just start by measuring everything and teaching your team to do the same.

Okay, so getting your data-driven culture off the ground is a significant time investment. But it’s an investment that I promise will pay off in sales wins, sales rep retention, and organizational success. And, if implemented well, data will become second nature to your business.

I use and highly recommend two things in order to start ingraining data into your sales culture. I talk about these in more detail below:

  • A strong customer relationship management (CRM) database
  • A victory plan

Why You Should Invest in a CRM Database

A database is just that – the basis for all your data. If you don’t have a CRM database, get one. It will streamline gathering, reporting, and analyzing your data. Please don’t rely on spreadsheets, self-reporting, or some other willy-nilly tactic. A database can remove guesswork, margin of error, and wasted time. It also helps you maintain quality customer service and retention.

At TriNet, my team uses Salesforce and I highly recommend it. Personally, I find it to be the best tool on the market for serious data users.

Create (and Rely on) a Victory Plan

My victory plan is an annual plan that measures everything you can measure in a sales organization, including trends, history, successes, failures, and all the output from our database.

The details of this victory plan are not static. I review and update it daily. Thanks to our database, it includes information and feedback from the most entry-level sales rep, through our frontline managers, and all the way up the sales pipeline to me.  

My victory plan quickly answers the question, “How is sales going?” It prevents us from being reliant on that popular bane to sales success: lagging indicators. Lagging indicators are a way of looking at the performance of your sales efforts after the fact. This is akin to driving your car by using only the rearview mirror as a guide. If you aren’t looking at the road ahead, you will not only miss your upcoming turns but you will have a lot of trouble avoiding potential accidents.

Your victory plan replaces lagging indicators with leading indicators, which are tools that let you look into future possibilities so you can plan your strategy for success. A good victory plan full of leading indicators – will include business results, customer information, prospect information, retention information, sales rep information, patterns, and trends – all things readily available in your CRM database.

A victory plan based on solid data and leading indicators lets you make adjustments to your sales plan before you deliver on the results. It changes you from a reactive organization to a proactive one. Of course, being proactive is much more efficient – and has a higher rate of success – than being reactive.

The other good thing about my victory plan is that it is readily available when it comes time for me to report to my CEO, investors, and our board of directors.

I would love to hear your thoughts on using data in sales. How do you implement metrics into your own victory plan?

John Turner is senior vice president of sales for TriNet, where he has grown the sales force to seven times its size since 2012.

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Four Simple Ways to Retain Your Customer Base


By Greg Knowles

You’re a leader in your field. Everything you do is top-notch, and you offer the highest level of service. Your customers are happy. Everything seems to be going well and you expect your business to enjoy continued growth and success. But will it?

Today’s world is more competitive than ever before. Customers can easily search out and connect with new vendors any place, any time. Are you mindful enough of your customer relationships?

After all, according to a 2013 study conducted by The White House Office of Consumer Affairs as reported by, it is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.

You simply can’t afford to lose good paying clients. They’re too difficult – and costly – to replace.

Here are four things you can do right now to nurture and improve your customer relationships so you don’t lose valuable clients.

1. Utilize communication

Consistent customer communication might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many businesses fail to do it. Once a business relationship is up and running, it’s easy to take it for granted. Business owners or sales reps naturally assume that all is well if they don’t get complaints. Realistically, that’s probably not the case.

According to a 2005 survey of 362 firms by Bain & Company, as reported by Help Scout:

Eighty percent of the firms believed they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers, but only eight percent of customers believed these same firms were actually delivering.

So how do you know you’re actually delivering great customer service if you don’t ask your customers?

Talk regularly to your clients. Instead of sending them an email or text, pick up the phone. Use it as opportunity to check in and ask questions about quality and experience with your staff.

2. Welcome customer feedback – good and bad

You can’t touch base with customers every single day, so what happens on the day they have a bad experience and you haven’t communicated?

Make it easy for them to report the issue. Have a complaint area on your website that explains exactly what to do if they run into a problem, as well as a real person or department to contact.

Have procedures in place to make sure complaints get resolved quickly – and always get back to the customer to share the resolution.

After all, According to Ms. Ruby Newell-Legner, as reported by Help Scout:

It can require 12 positive customer experiences to make up for just one unresolved negative experience.

3. Use social media to communicate, listen, and learn

According to a 2011 study by Bain & Company, when companies engage customers over social media, those customers end up spending 20 percent to 40 percent more money with the company.

Social media not only allows you to talk to your customers, it allows your customers to talk to you.

Maintain an active social media platform to remind customers you’re accessible. Give them a chance to post positive and negative comments through social – and respond quickly.

Publicly responding to social complaints is a good practice because it demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction.

4. Request ratings and reviews

Requesting a rating or review is always proactive step. Today, customers have plenty of outlets to rate and review your business – and, if they’re angry or displeased with your service, they likely will.

According to David Pogue in a 2011 article in Scientific American, “All of a sudden, the masses are conversing with one another. If your service or product isn’t any good, they’ll out you.”

According to a 2011 survey conducted by American Express:

Americans tell an average of nine people about good experiences. They tell 16 (nearly two times more) people about poor experiences.

Own part of that conversation and give your customers an opportunity to provide ratings and reviews on your own website. They’ll be less likely to blast you on a more public, external platform.

In conclusion

You’ve worked hard to build your business; you can’t afford to jeopardize your success by ignoring customer service issues. Take steps today to ensure your customers are satisfied. You can’t afford to lose them.

GregKnowlesToday’s post is by Greg Knowles, president and CEO of Autonomy Technology Inc., a top 200 electrical wholesale distributor in the U.S. He has 25 years of experience in industrial distribution, specializing in sales, business development, and leadership.

Posted in: Sales Management | Comments Off on Four Simple Ways to Retain Your Customer Base

How Well Does Your Sales Team Know the Marketplace?

By Jose Palomino

Most sales teams have a reasonably good grasp of their competition. They’re able to rattle off the key differences between solutions and explain why their product is the best.

But top-performing sales teams take their knowledge further: They understand their industry’s ecosystem and recognize how outside forces can impact both their products and their customers.

Hallmarks of a Top-Performing Sales Team

Current trends play an essential role in shaping how consumers view products, and often dictate whether tomorrow’s customers will buy more or less of what your company has to offer. Thus, a keen sense of the marketplace gives your sales team a powerful advantage.

This “marketplace awareness mindset” is one of the seven hallmarks of top-performing sales teams. The others are negotiating, prospecting, product knowledge, sales acumen, account management, and business acumen. Taken together, they’re the drivers of your sales team’s success.  

Marketplace awareness is especially important because macro trends are often effective predictors. For example, think about Kodak in the late 1990s. Its salespeople were so focused on their main competitor, Fuji, they missed the rapid changes in technology that made digital cameras possible. As a result, the one-time giant was largely unprepared when its film business began to slide.

How to Evaluate Your Sales Team’s Awareness of Market Trends

You can evaluate your team’s understanding of macro trends and their impact simply by asking the right few questions and listening carefully to the answers. To facilitate the conversation, try these ideas:

  • Hold a postmortem to discuss recent sales losses and listen to the way your team describes each situation. If your salespeople can talk about the reasons for a loss in precise terms – and with an eye to what might be common among these situations – they likely have good marketplace awareness.
  • Similarly, a sales professional who understands that a loss resulted from either a competitor’s actions or a change in the customer’s situation is paying attention to events in the market.
  • Look for signs that the team is closely following industry events and global trends. Have they taken the time to prepare strategies for dealing with your competition in light of them?
  • Try asking these pointed questions: Can you name each of our competitors? How well can you articulate your company’s strengths and weaknesses versus each competing firm? Can you describe the market’s historical biases toward our products?

Tips to Help Your Sales Team Develop Awareness of Market Trends

If your team fails to demonstrate marketplace awareness, there are several ways to help them develop it.

  • Routinely challenge them to be sure they have a holistic view of both competitors and trends.
  • Make sure your people are asking customers meaningful questions. For example, which competitors are your customers considering, and why?
  • Help develop sharp answers to competitive threats. While sales teams at larger corporations often get reports from their marketing teams, those at smaller organizations will need to conduct their own competitive research.

Pursuing market and competitive research is something all salespeople should be able to do. To keep themselves informed, have your team  

  • Take advantage of information available on competitors’ websites.
  • Explain to customers and prospects that they’d like to better understand their organization and the marketplace. Have them probe to learn more about your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • Create a Google news alert for each of your competitors, prospects, and customers – as well as for the top keywords about your industry. This is an easy, low-cost way to keep up with marketplace developments. 
  • Look for market research on your industry. Analysts such as Gartner and Forrester examine new products and technologies before they enter the marketplace, and can provide intelligence about what’s coming down the pipeline.
  • Regularly read both the general business and trade media. 

Simply put, it’s not enough to know who your direct competitors are. Sales professionals can effectively position your products and services only if they constantly monitor the marketplace for changes, disruptions, and competitive moves.

JosePalominoToday’s post is by Jose Palomino, CEO of Spyglass Selling.

Posted in: Sales Leadership | Comments Off on How Well Does Your Sales Team Know the Marketplace?