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

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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

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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 Mindmarker.com 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

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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 spjconsulting.com.

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Five Sales Compensation Problems that Need Urgent Attention

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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

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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 salesforce.com, 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.

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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.

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Five Tips for High-Quality Meetings with Executive-Level Decision Makers

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By Sharon Gillenwater

Dell has one. So do Citrix, CA Technologies, Cisco, Juniper Networks, AT&T, and Extreme Networks, among many others. It’s called an “executive briefing center” (EBC), and it can be one of the best tools in your arsenal for engaging executive decision makers.

For many technology companies, the EBC has evolved into a sophisticated physical space that facilitates both discussion and demonstration. For example, Marnie Merriam – DocuSign’s senior manager for the EBC – describes DocuSign’s EBC as “a space that’s designed to showcase the best of a company. It provides access to executives, helps build customer relationships, and showcases our products –what we can do and how we can help companies move business forward.”

But just as important as the physical space is the quality of the discussion with your customer. This is particularly important from the perspective of busy executive-level customers. They don’t have time to visit your EBC for a product pitch, so you’d better make sure it is a relevant and worthwhile use of their time. 

For example, Citrix describes how it takes a “collaborative approach” to EBC meetings, allowing for “productive conversations that address your company’s unique objectives. Our methods promote goal alignment, technical expertise, and accelerated business success.”

The need for extensive preparation for these meetings cannot be overstated. Lack of insight into the customer and what is relevant to them could not only damage your relationship with the customer, it could permanently tarnish your reputation with your own leadership. Case in point: A Fortune 100 firm senior executive, in support of a regional sales team, flew cross-country to attend a regional EBC – and emphatically swore never to return to support this team as he witnessed an embarrassingly unprepared, unfocused team stumble its way through the meeting. 

Don’t let this happen to you! Read on for five tips that will help you avoid a bad meeting – and be more successful with engaging customers at EBCs.

  1. Outline and rehearse all aspects of your meeting.
    Define your goals for the meeting and the information you want to convey. Articulate each participant’s role and review what they’ll be saying – and to whom, if more than one representative from the customer is at the briefing. Focusing on only the top player can backfire. According to Ned Daubney of Last Mile Research, one sales director lamented that, at a briefing with a CIO, every speaker was focused solely on (and speaking directly only to) the CIO, when it was each of the CIO’s direct reports making all the decisions. The fawning in front of the CIO, he said, was offensively obvious. Preparation would have revealed the importance of the CIO’s direct reports while giving the team the confidence to be flexible if the conversation revealed new insights.
  1. Do thorough research on the customer and the individuals with whom you’ll be meeting.
    You must know the company’s strategy and priorities, who their competition is, what their industry is doing, what their pain points are, with whom they’ve worked in the past (including your company’s own history with them, if there is one), and any hiccups they’ve previously encountered. For the individuals, the more you know, the better you can connect person to person. Insight on the key players uncovers ice breakers that can facilitate personal connections as well as help you better understand their project, department, and organizational goals. As CIGNA Corporation CIO Mark Boxer said, “The companies that do the best with our team are the ones that understand our business, know the competitive landscape, can articulate our strategy, and then orient around those solutions that best help us advance our technology strategy and, more importantly, our business strategy.”
  1. Ask questions but make sure they reveal that you have done homework.
    Don’t ask about things your comprehensive research should have told you. Daubney recalls a state government CIO who was frustrated with IT vendors’ lack of preparation. She now insists that vendors understand her strategy and initiatives before they even walk in her door. “This is public information,” she says. “Find it.” As Mark Hunter of The Sales Hunter has written, this also demonstrates to the customer that asking questions is a key part of your culture, something that cultivates the sharing and learning of ideas – which could set you apart from the competition. 
  1. Demonstrate what you do and provide ROI information.
    Prepare a clear, concise presentation of your offering and the benefits specific to the customer, as well as proof points around what you’ve done for other similar customers. Also, be sure to address how your offering is different from the competition and how it supports the company’s strategy.
  1. Be ready to offer next steps.
    Be attuned to how the conversation and presentation are going and have options prepared for how to move the conversation to the next level.

SharonGillenwaterSharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor in chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market from Fortune 500 companies to independent nonprofits to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

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Do You Have a Negative Mindset about Inside Sales?

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By Anneke Seley and Britton Manasco

It’s been almost eight years since the publication of Sales 2.0 and the first Sales 2.0 Conference. Back then, we – along with Selling Power and the first sales productivity software developers – were among the first to describe how technology, data, and science were changing everything for buyers and sellers.

Exciting changes continue to affect us sales leaders at an accelerating rate. It is time for those of us who led or have since joined the Sales 2.0 movement to share what is happening now in our world with our organizations and our customers.  

The Rising Value of Inside Sales Teams

Reimagined inside sales is one of the strategies driving the off-the-charts results of the fastest-growing startups (what we call “insurgents”) as well as established companies (aka “incumbents”) in the process of transforming themselves to stay nimble and relevant into the next decade. We call this the “Inside Upside.”

Yet, at an exclusive meeting among executive leaders in the inside sales profession, I heard one frustrated executive articulate a common frustration regarding his efforts to grow an inside sales team at his company. “I am surrounded by a bunch of people trying to figure out how to make inside sales acceptable or meaningful within their companies,” he said. “This inferiority complex around the whole thing is bizarre. [Inside sales] is the engine of growth; it’s not something to downplay or soft-pedal.”

The implication is that the inside sales profession has a self-confidence problem. And it’s an issue that’s rooted in the past, yet alive and observable in the present culture of many companies – particularly larger, more established ones.

Dealing with the Stigma of Inside Sales

There’s been a stigma – at least in the eyes of some sales leaders – associated with the “telemarketers in the cubicles.” Unfortunately, the leaders in the inside sales organization have, too often, bought into this mindset. Some compliantly act as the betas in a box as the alpha dogs roam freely and hungrily in the field.   

But something is changing – and has been for quite a few years. Indeed, the gravity of value creation in the selling profession is progressively and relentlessly shifting. Established enterprises in a growing number of industries are recognizing the true power of the inside sales organization – power that exceeds its reputation as a source of support for the field or even as a low-cost distribution channel.

Inside sales is increasingly seen as a driver of profitable growth – a force uniquely suited to new market exploration and, sometimes, deep account penetration.

Moreover, the inside sales organization is being recognized as a proving ground for future talent. It’s a means of accelerating skill development and performance attainment. For some, it’s a great place to start a career. For others, it’s also a great place to work as one advances deep into a career. This pattern may prove to be even more consequential going into the future.

In fact, venture-backed startups now recognize inside sales as the core model for selling. Venture capitalists support it and even demand it. “This model is a competitive differentiator that will give companies a two-year lead in terms of their growth rate versus the old sales model,” says Lars Leckie, a managing partner with Hummer Winblad. “Innovation isn’t just for products; companies need innovation in sales too.”

Why Your Buyers Want Inside Sellers

Guess who else is starting to demand it? That’s right – buyers.

They are embracing new options and offers that can be made profitably only through inside sales (or virtual selling) arrangements. The ongoing movement from high capital expenditures (capex) to offerings procured as operating expenses (opex) is further fueling this dramatic shift.

Buyers are simply becoming more comfortable with buying through virtual channels. Perhaps this pattern can be traced back to Amazon.com and pioneers in e-commerce. But it’s clear that buyers are increasingly content making large purchases without face-to-face meetings.

Consequently, the case for active inside sales investment has never been stronger.

Join Anneke Seley, Britton Manasco, and other B2B sales experts and practitioners on July 18-19 at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Seley and Manasco will present “Next Era Selling: Five Strategies to Make Your Business Unstoppable.”

This blog post includes an excerpt from the upcoming executive briefing book, Next Era Selling: 5 Strategies to Make Your Business Unstoppable (Next Era Media, 2016) by Anneke Seley and Britton Manasco. Next Era Selling is the first in a series of short books aimed at senior executives, sales and marketing strategists, investors, and board members. It is based on research and interviews as well as the authors’ experiences consulting for some of the most creative and successful sales, marketing, and customer services leaders working today.

AnnekeSeleyAnneke Seley (@annekeseley) is coauthor of Sales 2.0: Increase Results Using Innovative Business Practices and Technology. She was also Oracle’s twelfth employee and designed the technology giant’s global multibillion-dollar inside sales organization. Currently she is CEO of next-generation sales consultancy Reality Works Group LLC.

 

 

BrittonManascoBritton Manasco (@brittonmanasco) is CEO and founder of Visible Impact, a strategic marketing and sales enablement firm focused on making sales conversations matter. Prior to launching Visible Impact, Britton held thought leadership roles with Corporate Visions (specialists in strategic messaging), Prime Resource Group (specialists in the complex sale), and Peppers and Rogers Group (specialists in customer strategy).

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Five Scientifically-Proven Ways to Improve Your Sales Presentation

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By Peter Arvai

When you are a sales professional, presentations are a part of your daily routine – and the fate of your business often rests on them. Whether delivering an internal presentation to your team or pitching the business to a potential new client, sales teams need to be able to communicate their message in a way that engages the audience, sticks in their minds, and persuades them to take action. This can be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the job, but – if done right – it can also be one of the most rewarding.

In our daily work at Prezi, my team and I are laser focused on building tools that help people give more effective presentations – and, through that work, we’ve done a lot of research on what makes information engaging, memorable, and persuasive. We’ve gone digging through studies conducted by psychologists and neuroscientists to try to understand how audiences’ brains work. As it turns out, people are hardwired to respond to certain kinds of content, and there are a few simple things presenters can do to take advantage of this. Here’s what science has to say about improving your presentations.

1. Text-based bullet points are not compatible with the way our brains consume information.

We’ve all seen the typical slide: a headline followed by a long list of bullet points full of text. Research has shown that this format, however, is highly ineffective, especially when compared to a more visual approach. Media consultant Mario R. Garcia found that in print, the eye goes to large pictures, even before the title or headline. In another, researchers found that visuals and/or animation increased persuasion over text alone. Another study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group found that people read content in an “F-shaped pattern” – that is, they pay the most attention to the content at the top of the page and spend less time with each subsequent line as they move down the page.

If we apply this research to the typical format of a traditional bullet-pointed slide it is easy to see that much of the content will go unread or fail to make an impact. What’s worse, while your audience is struggling to read your slides, they won’t be listening to what you have to say, because people can’t actually do two things at once. According to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, one of the world’s experts on divided attention, there is no such thing as “multitasking.” When we are doing multiple tasks at the same time, we are actually switching, cognitively, between each of those tasks very rapidly, which makes us worse at everything we’re trying to do. As a result, your audience will likely disengage and miss key pieces of your message.

So ditch those bullet points. Instead, put one piece of information on each slide or frame of your presentation, and stick with visuals instead of text wherever possible.

2. Metaphors engage more of our brain.

Numerous studies have found that, when presented with metaphors and descriptive words or phrases – things like “perfume” and “she had a velvety voice” – the sensory cortex in our brains is triggered. This is responsible for perceiving things like smell and touch. That is, how the brain handles reading and hearing about sensory experiences is identical to the way it handles actually experiencing them.

On the other hand, when presented with non-descriptive information – for example, “The marketing team reached all of its revenue goals in Q1,” – the only parts of our brain that are activated are the ones responsible for understanding language. Instead of experiencing the content with which we are being presented, we are simply processing it.

Using metaphors within stories is such a powerful engagement tool because it engages more of the brain. Vivid imagery brings your content to life in the minds of your audience. Next time you want to hold the attention of a room, tell a story.

3. Showing spatial relationships taps into deep memory.

Do you think you could memorize the order of two shuffled decks of cards in under five minutes? That is exactly what Joshua Foer had to do when he won the United States Memory Championship in 2006. He was able to use a time-tested technique that has been around since 80 B.C. to memorize a vast quantity of information in a very short period of time – a technique you can use to make your presentations even more memorable.

This technique is called the “method of loci,” more commonly known as the “memory palace,” and it relies on our innate ability to remember spatial relationships – the location of objects in relation to one another. We have evolved this powerful spatial memory over millions of years, and it enables us – as it enabled our hunter-gatherer ancestors – to navigate the world and find our way.

Numerous studies have shown that the method of loci improves memory. For example, in one study, normal people who could memorize only a handful of random numbers (seven is average) were able to remember up to 90 digits after using the technique.

What does the method of loci teach us about creating more memorable presentations? If you can lead your audience on a visual journey that reveals the relationships between your ideas, they will be much more likely to remember your message – because they are much better at remembering that visual journey than they are at remembering lists of bullet points.

4. Conversations build connections, which are key to convincing your audience.

If you want to make your presentation more memorable, make it interactive. Research has shown that people are more likely to remember which brands are associated with certain products when first presented with the information in an interactive format versus a static format.

Beyond being more memorable, however, interactive, conversational presentations are also more effective at convincing an audience to take action. A lot of research has been done around persuasion in the context of sales presentations. RAIN Group analyzed the behavior of sales professionals who won more than 700 B2B opportunities, in contrast with the behavior of those sellers who came in second place. This research revealed that one of the keys to delivering a winning sales pitch – that is, a persuasive pitch – is connecting with your audience.

In looking at the top 10 behaviors that separated persuasive salespeople from those who didn’t win the deal, RAIN Group researchers found that prospects listed collaboration, listening, understanding needs, and connecting personally as some of the most important. In fact, collaborating with the prospect is listed as the number two most important behavior when it comes to winning a sales pitch, just after educating the prospect with new ideas.

Crafting your pitch like a conversation – and allowing your audience to take the driver’s seat in deciding what to discuss – is a key tool in selling effectively. More broadly, in any presentation where you are trying to convince your audience to take action, consider taking a more collaborative approach if you want to be successful.

5. Telling a story instead of sharing raw data will make your presentation twice as persuasive.

Stories are one of the most fundamental ways we teach children about the world and how to behave. And it turns out that stories are just as powerful when it comes to delivering a message to adults. Research has shown again and again that storytelling is one of the best ways to persuade people to take action.

Take, for example, a study conducted by a marketing professor at Wharton Business School, which tested two different brochures designed to drive donations to the Save the Children Fund. The first brochure told the story of Rokia, a seven-year-old girl from Mali whose “life would be changed” by a donation to the NGO. The second brochure listed facts and figures related to the plight of starving children across Africa – like the fact that “more than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance.”

The team from Wharton found that the brochure that contained the story of Rokia drove significantly more donations than the statistics-filled one. This may seem counterintuitive – in today’s data-driven world, making a decision based on “gut feeling” rather than facts and numbers is often frowned upon. But this Wharton study reveals that, in many cases, emotions drive decisions far more than analytical thinking. Next time you want to convince your audience to take action, consider telling a story that brings your message to life rather than presenting data alone.

PeterArvaiPeter is the CEO of Prezi, the interactive presentation software, which he cofounded in 2008 with Adam Somlai-Fischer and Péter Halácsy, an architect and an innovator, as a means to create a more memorable and engaging way for people to share stories. Before co-founding Prezi, Peter founded omvard.se, a company that aggregates data on treatment outcomes for hospital patients, as well as developing the world’s first mobile newsreader so people could follow TED Talks from their mobile devices. You can follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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