Three Steps to Foster Sustainable, Predictable Revenue Growth

By Kevin Higgins

When the sales team is on track to reach quota, many sales leaders feel they can relax. This is an all-too-common trap. In fact, being on track to reach your total sales target isn’t a license to rest on your laurels.

Why? Because, despite clear stability, you probably still have some salespeople who are failing to perform well. And that means you’re likely not creating an environment that fosters sustainable, predictable revenue growth.

If you want to create a reliable growth engine, you need a capable and results-producing team across the majority. Here are three steps you can take to make that happen.

Step 1: Calculate your sales participation rate.

In sales, one of the goals of ongoing management is participation rate (PR) – the percentage of sales team members who are at or above plan.

For a sales team, participation rate is easy to calculate. On a team of 10 people with four people at or above their target for the year, the participation rate is 40 percent. 

Participation rate is a statistic rarely scrutinized – and here’s why:

Sales managers are measured for making their quota. If the quota is $100 million, the sales manager’s goal is to get each salesperson to deliver an average of $10 million. However, the different approaches to get to $100 million are not equal. If only a few make it, the likelihood of sustaining performance is reduced.

Whether some sales reps produce $15 million and others $5 million, the sales manager only needs the total to add up to $100 million. This incentivizes the sales manager to keep average performers because salespeople who delivers only 50 percent of their quota are better for the sales manager than the 0 percent they would contribute if the sales manager let them go.

Yes, you can achieve a great year on the success of a few sales reps, but it’s not truly sustainable. If sales managers don’t understand this dynamic, they will be compelled to keep average performers and forgo the opportunity to create increased results.

Our research reveals that a participation rate of 60 percent or less will give sales managers a 10 percent chance of making their revenue plan. Sales managers must aim for a 70 percent participation rate to have a good chance of making plan, although it is not guaranteed.

Given this, why do sales managers tolerate poor performance? What stops them from having tough conversations?

Our belief is that they don’t understand the impact of participation rate.

Step 2: Assess and categorize your salespeople.  

A sales rep’s performance can be evaluated on two criteria – behavior and results. If your sales team is not performing to plan, assess whether a sales rep is or could be delivering results using the following framework.

There are four performer categories a sales manager works with:

1. High Performers = Deliver results + behave correctly
2. Coachable Performers = Behave correctly, but results are not 100 percent yet
3. Tough Performers = Deliver results + behave poorly
4. Poor Performers = Poor results + poor behaviors

In an ideal world, a sales manager would have 100 percent High Performers. Great concept, but not likely to happen. What is the next best thing? 100 percent High Performers and Coachable Performers. This is attainable but it’s not the norm. 

Most leaders will have some Tough Performers and some Poor Performers. Imagine having 10 direct reports with two in these groups. Not bad… manageable. Now imagine four out of 10. Life is tougher – and tough moments happen on a daily basis. At six out of 10, it is probably tough to get out of bed in the morning. 

Step 3: Don’t delay the performance conversation.

Try to improve behavior and results with monthly one-on-ones (more frequently for Tough and Poor Performers), observational coaching with feedback, and regular connects to lean in and support.

If these sales management disciplines fail to work, that’s when it’s time for the performance conversation, which has five key steps:

1. Set a clear standard and set milestones of performance for sales rep
2. Inform the sales rep where they are not meeting the standard and set milestones
3. Give the sales rep the opportunity to meet the standard and set milestones
4. Offer assistance to help them meet the standard and set milestones
5. Outline the consequences of not meeting the standard and set milestones

Sales managers know how to do this – the issue is gaining the courage. Sales managers need to have the conversation as soon as needed – putting it off spares no one.

Sales reps who want to be with you will step it up and improve. Those who are not capable/not interested will show very quickly (in weeks, not months) after the performance conversation. If things still don’t improve, the sales manager can move to the final warning, consult with HR, and decide to part ways, if required.

If you need to strengthen your coaching skills or sales management disciplines, refer to our practical sales management sales training solutions. Coaching to the challenges will develop your people and enhance contribution and performance across your team.

Kevin Higgins is CEO of DoubleDigit Sales and author of Engage Me, a best-selling book on Sales Management.

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How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Sales Reps

By Tim Rockwell

Difficult conversations are part of any sales leader’s job. In fact, your ability to successfully execute them can either make or break your effectiveness as a leader.

As a sales manager, you need to have confidence that you are actually doing your team a great service by having tough conversations with them. Can it be awkward and maybe uncomfortable at times? Yes. On the other hand, you’re also showing them that you care enough to invest the effort to help them grow and learn.

Accountability is a gift to your salespeople. We are often blind to our own shortcomings, but most of us have the desire to grow. Whenever you tactfully and thoughtfully communicate opportunities for your salespeople to improve and grow, you can actually change their lives.

Of course, one clear risk when giving constructive criticism is that your efforts could fall on deaf ears. To help your team truly receive and grow from your constructive criticism, you need to build trust. Employees need to know that you are for them, you fight for them, and you genuinely believe the best in them.

Personally, I sit down every one of my employees on day one and tell them that I am on their team and that I will be fiercely loyal to them. Words are cheap but, over time, I do my best to prove it to them. When the time comes to have a difficult conversation, it is always received much better because they know I have their best interest at heart.

Knowing the importance of having difficult conversations and keeping the challenges in mind, here are a few tangible steps to consider.


Before you initiate a hard conversation with someone, you should write down exactly what you want to communicate. Opener, meat, and conclusion. Write it all down. In the heat of an awkward or difficult situation, our mental capacity is often monopolized by our emotions instead of the substance of the issue. When you have notes, you won’t forget anything or regret something you communicated poorly.

Additionally, it can be therapeutic for you to write down how you feel about a certain topic. You may even omit or add something after seeing it on paper that you would have otherwise forgotten. Besides helping you remember what you want to say in the moment, the practice of writing things down will force you to give meaningful thought to an issue instead of just saying what comes to mind in the moment.

Of course, a difficult conversation will evolve outside of your planned words – but you can plan for that as well. Anticipate three different reactions from the person with whom you are having the conversation. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and begin to imagine how he or she might react. It will allow you to prepare for any rebuttal and it will also give you a perspective outside of your own.


Before you begin a tough conversation, ask the other person for permission to speak to an issue. Then, if given the green light, ask for permission to be direct. Although you may not “need” permission to speak to a subordinate, it is a strategy that makes them feel involved in the process and can help bring their walls down. Also, if you receive their blessing to be direct, it allows you to not have to dance around the issue and get right to the point.

Stephen Covey famously says: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I’m convinced that the most successful and effective leaders in this world are the best questions askers. That theory carries over into having hard conversations. Don’t assume anything – especially the worst in a person. At all costs, try to avoid speaking to character deficiencies as that will initiate the fiercest of defense mechanisms. It’s amazing what you can learn and how much better you are received when you approach a hard conversation by asking questions first.   

Follow Up

There is a good chance that, at the end of a hard conversation, one or both parties will feel frustrated or hurt. That is okay. If the relationship is meaningful, whether professional or personal, it was worth it. End the conversation with a pleasantry like, “I really respect you and I appreciate the opportunity to work this out,” then schedule a time to follow up.

A follow-up conversation will allow the two parties to take some time to gather their thoughts and bring back anything they forgot to say or wish they would have said differently. This ultimate step may seem like overkill, but it is the final healing agent to prevent a feeling from festering into a grudge. The healthiest business relationships keep “short accounts” and move forward after successfully executing a hard conversation.

Tim Rockwell is national sales manager at Imperial Blades. A version of this post was published originally on LinkedIn.

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Three Ways B2B Sales Leaders Can Enable Channel Partner Success

By Jason Angelos

In the search for growth, companies have undertaken significant steps to rapidly extend their indirect sales networks and engage new types of channel partners. But many firms have failed to underpin them with the capabilities and policies necessary to enable insight, influence, and collaboration across these extended networks.

Just 21 percent of B2B leaders today say they have total control over their sales networks and overall customer experience, and another 84 percent have no visibility into sales partner opportunity pipelines, according to a new study on B2B customer experience from Accenture Strategy.

The report highlighted that 90 percent of B2B leaders around the world believe customer experience is central to the growth agenda of their companies, but very few are getting it right. Those with little control or oversight of their partners’ sales, marketing, and customer engagement channels are at a significant disadvantage.

Without the right CX capabilities, B2B companies can’t build relationships with loyal customers who spend more, they miss out on growth opportunities that reside outside the traditional sales cycle, and they incur huge opportunity costs by failing to capture renewals.

If B2B firms are to tap the potential of their extended channel networks, they should trade in the traditional “light-touch” partner management strategies of the past in favor of “ecosystem orchestration” – an approach that enables the flow of information, resources, processes, and services across a partner network to deliver compelling customer experiences and drive selling opportunities.

There are already signs that B2B companies are ready to pick up the baton. According to the study:

  • Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of B2B leaders acknowledge they want to get better at leveraging ecosystems to deliver superior CX.
  • They are embracing data-driven approaches and endeavor to understand their partners’ performance and priorities as well as their own.
  • Companies with effective partner lead generation and coaching are 63 percent more likely to beat their indirect channel revenue goals.

In short, what’s needed today is a sales ecosystem that works as an extension of the core business and enables trusted relationships with select partners. These key partners don’t just pass along a product or service to customers; they share resources and insights to deliver better CX and create value. As B2B leaders ponder front-office investments, better customer data management and insightful analytics have the potential to be the currency that drives ecosystem growth in the future.

To enable sales success, B2B leaders must:

  1. Regain visibility and control – Take control of B2B CX by replacing traditional partner management with an ecosystem approach that treats all partners as an extension of internal operations. Ecosystem orchestrators view partners as more than service providers: They are enablers of new business models and customer strategies. The focus should not be on ensuring territory coverage or sales volume, but on co-creating value by delivering exceptional customer experiences.
  1. Build true partnerships – Businesses can deliver truly compelling experiences only if they are armed with deep insight of their customers’ preferences and habits. To enable connected insights and build trust across the ecosystem, companies should establish feedback mechanisms and data sharing processes that clarify key roles and responsibilities for improving CX and sales. Partners need to be engaged and encouraged to share customer insights through value-adding activities such as customer events and sales lead generation, building true partnerships that deliver clear value.
  2. Leverage data to foster connected growth – B2B companies are behind their B2C counterparts in using technology to understand customers and devise CX strategies. By rolling out better customer data management technologies and embedding advanced analytics into CX processes, B2B companies can quickly bridge this gap.

B2B leaders recognize the imperative to reinvest in customer experience, but they are struggling with a loss of control. As they grow their indirect channels, this issue will only get worse.

With their future growth prospects at stake, B2B executives must determine how to improve CX while ceding more of the experience to their partners. The answer lies in adopting an ecosystem mindset and focusing on building a connected and trusting environment with value-adding partners who can co-create new experiences that delight customers and help deliver connected growth.

Jason Angelos is a senior managing director at Accenture Strategy, where he helps global organizations plan, architect, and deploy innovative and highly agile sales solutions that drive more profitable growth. With nearly two decades of experience, he specializes in sales spend optimization, price and profit optimization, execution and operations excellence, sales talent enablement, and digital selling and dynamic channels.

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Five Mistakes That Can Sink Your Sales Kickoff

By Jim Ninivaggi

Register now to hear Jim Ninivaggi speak at the Sales 3.0 Conference December 4 in Philadelphia, where he will present “Perpetual Sales Readiness: The New World of ‘Always On’ Learning for Sales.”

Many companies are in planning mode for their sales kickoff meetings – hoping to set the strategy, motivation, and momentum for a successful FY18. I’ve been at kickoffs where the excitement and electricity in the room were palpable. They had that spine-tingling moment we all know: where the hair on the back of your neck stands up because you’re so energized and inspired. Pity the competition, we thought – they have no idea what they’re in for!

On the flip side, I’ve also attended kickoffs where ostensibly well-laid plans went awry, giving way to lackluster, boring, and unsuccessful events. In cases like these, a domino effect often kicks in. After all, a kickoff isn’t just a single event in isolation – it sets the tone for the rest of the year. If reps leave confused or uninspired, that can impact morale, retention, and results.

Here are five common mistakes that can derail kickoffs – and ways you can avoid these errors.

#1 – Giving Bad News First

Imagine your sales team is seated in an auditorium. You’ve had a good year. Then the head of sales proclaims: “To capitalize on this momentum, we’re going to ask even more of you – splitting your territories in half and doubling your quotas.” (not an atypical scenario!)

How are reps going to feel? Chances are, this news will dominate their minds during the event, crowding out opportunities to absorb other information.

You’re better served getting out any “bad” news before the kickoff – such as at town-hall meetings, where reps and managers can process the details. Then, you can use the kickoff to inspire reps to achieve the new goals you’re setting – showing them how they can make the money they’re looking to make.

#2 – Using Kickoffs for Training

All too often, companies use kickoffs to introduce and train reps on new sales methodologies and skills. That makes sense at a superficial level – after all, the whole company is together, right?  

But you’re competing with a lot of noise in the form of new territory assignments, new compensation plans, late-night social events, etc. – which often doesn’t leave attendees in the best shape for learning. I can’t tell you how many training sessions I’ve delivered where I’ve looked at the audience and wondered, “Am I speaking out loud?”

Instead, conduct upfront knowledge and skills transfer prior to your kickoff, so reps come ready to apply what they’ve learned. Then, the kickoff can focus on practice, application, and certification.

For example, I once worked with a software company that took a great approach. They had traditionally sold to CIOs and were launching a product geared toward CMOs. Prior to the kickoff, we got reps in the mindset to pivot – providing manager-led training, e-learning and video coaching on how to sell to this role. Then, at the event, reps could put their newly acquired skills to the test, engaging in role-play with former CMOs we’d brought in. These interactions drove high interest and engagement, and helped advance the company’s sales transformation.

#3 – Delivering Inconsistent Presentations

How’s this for mixed messages? The CEO takes the stage at your kickoff, discussing how your organization needs to move from selling products to selling solutions that solve business problems. Two presentations later, it’s the head of marketing’s turn – who immediately touts a new product and enumerates all the whiz-bang features, with no regard for how they address challenges.

This lack of alignment can give way to a disjointed, incongruous event – with the field force confused and inclined to dismiss any need for change. After all, if their bosses are still presenting “the old way,” why should reps do anything different?

To avoid mixed messages, designate a presentation “editor-in-chief” prior to kickoff. This person should be responsible for reviewing everything for consistency: the presentations’ style, template, strategic messaging, etc. The person should also ensure quality in the presenters and in any product demonstrations – since unveiling a new product that doesn’t work on stage is a surefire way to squash reps’ confidence to sell it.

#4 – Choosing the “Wrong” Motivational Speaker

I don’t have anything against celebrities and sports figures. However, I’ve often noticed an inverse relationship between a speaker’s level of star power and the amount of effort they’ll put into researching your company. And, if your company isn’t important enough for your speaker to understand it, how can that person say anything of value to your reps?

To avoid losing credibility, find a speaker who will take time to understand your business and theme, and bring in relevant stories. Not everyone relates to athletes – so seek someone with a broad appeal, who can connect to the audience as a whole. Often, this may be a speaker you’ve never heard of before, but who has a compelling story to tell.

One of the most powerful speakers I remember keynoted a kickoff dedicated to personal accountability. With a spotlight on him, he paced back and forth on the dimly lit stage. We all wondered what he was doing – until he explained that the steps represented his living space during his six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. His story about taking control of his life in the face of harrowing conditions set a powerful foundation for the theme.  

#5 – Neglecting Team-building Activities

Bringing the company together does little good if everyone retreats to their cliques. It’s important to incorporate mechanisms that encourage cross-pollination, so people from different geographies get to know each other through collaborative projects, contests, and social activities.

An internal social platform (not an external forum or hashtag) can complement face-to-face interactions and help attendees provide feedback in real time. Team-building activities – especially ones with a positive social impact – can also engage and invigorate the company, and are often particularly attractive to millennials. At our 2017 Brainshark kickoff, for example, we put attendees into teams and, with the proper instruction, had them build bikes together. The bikes were then donated to a children’s charity.

Good Luck!

As you prepare for your kickoff, it’s important to avoid these mistakes and think about ways to extend your kickoff’s theme throughout the year. Best wishes for a successful event and prosperous FY18!

Jim Ninivaggi is chief readiness officer at Brainshark, Inc., a leading sales enablement solutions company. In his role, he helps prepare the Brainshark sales force with the knowledge and skills to optimize every buyer interaction. Jim has more than 30 years of experience driving B2B sales productivity and, prior to Brainshark, led the sales enablement research practice at SiriusDecisions – providing 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. Register to hear him speak at the Sales 3.0 Conference December 4 in Philadelphia, where he will present “Perpetual Sales Readiness: The New World of ‘Always On’ Learning for Sales.”

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Is Your Sales Rep Onboarding Program Broken?

By Lauren “LB” Bailey

If you haven’t spent much time thinking about the rep new hire training program you provide, it’s time to start. Here’s the part where I scare you a bit. Hang with me here.

  1. The number one reason reps are leaving companies is a lack of development (Aberdeen)
  2. The average time for reps to get up to speed (quota) is three + months for SDR reps and 6+ months for quota-carrying reps –with higher average deals equaling longer ramp (Bridge Group, CSO Insights)

On top of these statistics, I would wager at least five people in your latest group of hires are still actively looking (no, of course I don’t know this for a fact, but I do know lots of job-hopping millennials in inside sales … don’t you?).

Folks, here’s the point: There’s a hole in the boat! Recruiting is bailing out the boat and filling it with more people, but your training is helping them jump ship faster than recruiting can keep up.

Fact: If we trained our people better during their onboarding, they would be successful more quickly and stay longer.

That means faster to quota. That means reduced attrition. Less swapping of books, fewer interviews…what would you do with the time your floor could save on just fewer interviews? What would your sales managers’ commission checks be if half their team weren’t new? Oh yes, lean into the dream, my friends. Good training really can be this powerful. Especially new hire training.

I’ve looked at this problem from every angle (including the head of sales, the head of training for SAP, and now as a sales training consultant), and this is the cold hard truth: 95 percent of new hire training programs I see are not great. Actually, they kind of suck. Yes, brutal honesty is the theme here.

So I keep racking my brain. We have this roadmap: train them and they will stay! But I don’t see programs getting better and I don’t see enough people talking about it. Why? Here’s my hypothesis:

We don’t know it’s broken. We don’t know what’s possible. We don’t know how to fix it.

Question: Would you count your head of training as part of your inner circle? Ten bucks if you can tell me his extension without looking. Training leaders just don’t often act like strategic partners.

Quick story: A few years ago I was facilitating a break-out session with about 15 heads of big companies talking about training as a challenge (it keeps getting voted top three by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals). The global head of one of the world’s largest software companies said to me: “LB, I don’t know what good training looks like.”

They went on to solve the training challenge by creating pipeline and manager process solutions. It was like they didn’t even know there were training solutions on the menu.

I’m here to help you guys. First, let’s do a quick diagnosis and see if you have a problem. If you say yes to at least half of these, Houston…we have a (you get it):

Is My Rep Onboarding Program Broken?

  1. The majority of your attrition occurs in the first five months. They like the company, don’t mind the job, but they’re not ramping fast enough to make money and they’re frustrated. Time to pull the ripcord.
  2. It takes your BDR reps more than three months – or your account managers more than six months – to ramp to target. There will ALWAYS be a ramp, but a great new hire training program can cut this in half (and significantly impact your attrition too).
  3. Average call length is about 90 seconds. These are voicemails. Every last one of them. If your reps can’t get people on the phone, keep them on the phone and get calls back, they weren’t taught phone sales.
  4. Your program is less than four days or more than four weeks long. The first is an orientation; the latter is a firehose. Get them on the phones after two weeks and bring them back for the rest of it!
  5. My reps don’t have a clear plan of attack for their lead list, book, or day. Ask them how they decide who to call. If they say they start at the A’s, then you’re missing a cohesive sales strategy – or your training department isn’t training it.
  6. You aren’t training business, customer, or industry acumen. Forrester taught us that over 60 percent of buyers found their sales rep added no value to the buying process. College isn’t teaching them how and we have to.
  7. You’re using the same training as the field. I get it: you had to use something and your org is new. But it won’t work and frankly frustrates reps to try this old-school model in their new-school world.
  8. HR is teaching your reps how to sell. 85 percent of the best in class use a professional sales trainer or curriculum. When’s the last time HR sold your product?

How’d you do? Some of these might take a custom report, but trust me: You’ll be glad you had it created. Your training department needs to be your partner like marketing is your partner – no, scratch that, recruiting is your partner…wait, I can do better…like payroll is your partner.

In a recent model we completed for Microsoft, we found they could add back over 50 million in revenue by cutting new hire sales ramp time down to best-in-class – and nearly double what they could save by cutting attrition to the same.

Did you really process that? Cutting ramp time in half can earn you nearly double of what cutting attrition in half could earn you. It will be like having another third of your headcount to help you hit the number – but without having to recruit, hire, or even pay for them!

So, please, pull the reports. Send in a trusted advisor to check it out. Meet your training leader. This could be the ticket to crushing your Q4 goals (or the massive spike they’re planning for your 2018).

Lauren “LB” Bailey is a 20-year sales veteran and a five-time recipient of the “Most Influential” designation for Inside Sales. President of award-winning training and consulting company, LB and her team are known for getting massive sales revenue results with training and consulting solutions.

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What Need Do You Fulfill for Your Customers?

By Jim Cathcart

As needs emerge, so do opportunities. Will Rogers once said, “There is no shortage of work. There are fences to mend, crops to tend, and more. You may not get paid for doing it. But you won’t get paid for not doing it either.”

He was commenting on the situation in The Great Depression, during which so many people were out of work. But even when most jobs are filled and most work is getting done, there are still abundant opportunities. As life goes on so do challenges, problems, and dilemmas – and the need for practical solutions.

How to encourage businesses

To encourage people to solve problems, make the problems obvious, allow people to experiment and to take reasonable risks, and celebrate those who step up to create solutions! Praise entrepreneurs publicly. Make a positive example of them. Others will follow.

Last year I was the closing keynote speaker at the Austin Small Business Festival. This city-wide event attracted hundreds of people to multiple venues and received the support of the mayor and the governor of Texas! All over town there were seminars, demonstrations, tours, performances, and speeches that were simulcast to a huge audience. The entire town became aware of the presence and sensitive to the needs of entrepreneurs. They also encouraged others to experiment with their own products and services.

Austin is perfect for this because it boldly encourages another type of entrepreneur: musicians. Austin has declared itself the “Live Music Capital of the World”! Being a professional musician myself I really value the atmosphere of experimentation and involvement they have created. Similar festivals are happening worldwide. (My friend and colleague, Matthew Pollard, is the organizer of the Austin events.)

News flash: Big businesses start out as…yes, small businesses. Some guy or gal with a good idea starts seeking support and goes to work solving a problem. One great benefit of big businesses is that they raise the standards of performance. The McDonald brothers had a nice hamburger stand with Multi-Mix milk shake machines but – when Ray Kroc worked out the systems to multiply the stores and retain the quality, friendliness, and cleanliness – an empire was created and hundreds of millions of us had easy access to foods we wanted. J. Paul Getty started in the oil fields. Bill Gates was experimenting with technology during the off hours at his school. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were working on a shoestring budget in Job’s garage. Uber was just some people looking to make some extra money driving their own cars. Netflix was simply an effort to do a better job of what Blockbuster used to do – rent movies.

What does this mean to you and me? “Find a need and fill it.” That success advice has been around for generations and nobody has provided a better answer. As long as people exist there will be opportunities to help them.

You may have a skill or interest for which others are willing to pay. In fact, you probably do! The more you do work that you enjoy, the better you will do it – and the more our entire society will advance. Society is nothing more than a lot of individuals connected in ways that help them find the solutions they need.

Where does sales fit into all of this?

Selling is leading people to take action to fill their needs. It is an act of friendship: helping people get what they want or need and earning a profit by doing it.

Entrepreneurs must become effective salespeople even if they don’t choose to. Nothing substantial happens until people start to cooperate with others to make things better. Sales professionals are the folks who activate that impulse.

Great guitar makers don’t affect anyone until somebody buys one of their guitars and uses it to produce beautiful music. Selling is helping and it is essential to our society’s well-being. Think of this: Without life insurance many people would be wiped out by the death of their breadwinner. But, without insurance salespeople, most folks would not proactively seek insurance. Salespeople stimulate the need, clarify the solution, paint pictures of the benefits, and guide others to commit to a purchase. We need salespeople.

What can you do to help somebody today?

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE, is one of the world’s most award-winning professional speakers and the author of 18 books. He’s the sales consultant and motivator who popularized the concept and practice of “Relationship Selling.” Jim is a regular contributor to Selling Power and a certified Mindset Trainer. Contact Jim at

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How to Design a Really Great Sales Comp Plan

By Mark Donnolo

If you’ve ever been involved in designing a sales compensation plan, you’ve probably heard these questions:

  1. How much is the sales compensation plan going to cost us this year?
  2. Is this a good investment of our money?
  3. What should we expect back?

There are several hot-button issues that drive ROI:

  • The amount we’re going to pay in the market.
  • The pay mix: the amount we’re going to pay in fixed versus variable costs. Some CFOs debate how much money they actually want to commit rather than tie to performance. Another common debate between CFOs and sales is why we can’t put more pay at risk and have less fixed pay.
  • The upside and threshold. How much are we going to pay our top people and how little are we going to pay our bottom people? Do we employ the Reverse Robin Hood Theory, which takes from the underperformers to pay the overperformers?
  • The mechanics. Accelerators are a driver of costs and ROI.
  • How we set our objectives and goals, relative to target pay, and how we allocate those goals to the organization. What we expect back is a big driver of ROI.

When determining the ROI of your own sales compensation plan, we recommend considering several drivers around ROI.

  1. Determine your strategy and the business objectives you are trying to achieve. Understanding, for example, that we want to grow a certain product group or develop a certain market may change the way we look at ROI. We may be willing to invest a bit more to develop this market than we would on average or in our traditional markets. Isolate and evaluate ROI uniquely for that market.

  2. Define how the sales compensation plan can help drive that strategy, and where its limits are. The sales compensation plan doesn’t control everything. If we were going to sell a strategic product, we know the sales compensation plan can motivate people to sell it – but there are other factors such as availability of that product, targeting the right markets, the right sales messages, having the skill in the sales organization to do that, and having the right sales processes. A lot of other factors will play into whether we can actually accomplish that objective, in addition to the sales compensation plan. When we attribute success to the sales compensation plan because it helped us achieve certain objectives, often we have to understand that sales comp was just one piece of it.

  3. Determine who you will pay. We might look at ROI a little bit differently this way as well. We might consider certain sales groups that were able to help us achieve that growth objective, versus the whole population. We can then look at the ROI on them.

  4. Decide how much to spend. We recently worked with a media company that traditionally sold TV advertising, and they wanted to increase their cross selling of online advertising. That’s a sales strategy; that’s an objective. What could the plan do? They wanted the plan to help them get a 10 percent average attach rate to their core product. Their television advertising will have a 10 percent attach rate of online advertising. They stated what they wanted to happen; next, they examined who would do it and who would bring in the return on their investment.

They looked at the TV sales organization. They would be selling that online inventory cross-platform. So now they knew who they were going after. What were they going to pay? They expected an incremental spend of about 15 percent of the first year’s contracted program revenue. So this company basically took that idea and converted it into a statement.

It sounds ironic but, when considering sales compensation ROI, move any focus away from the number. Take the focus – and the argument – away from the number and break down the components driving that number; then, the conversation is simply a lot more productive.

Mark Donnolo is the managing partner at SalesGlobe and the author of The Innovative Sale and What Every CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation.

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This One Thing Will Be More Scarce than New B2B Sales Jobs

By Eric Esfahanian

I was reading an article earlier today where a major bank CEO stated that a large percentage of bank employees will be replaced by robots “eventually.”

This got me thinking about the impact on bankers and the evolution of sales and client outreach in 2017. As CRO of Gryphon, clients often ask me about the role robotics and automation might play in the sales function and in sales jobs. So, when the CEO of a large bank makes a statement like that, I pay close attention to it.

Rise of the Machines

At the risk of stating the obvious, automation will play a large part in the future resource requirements of large firms – and, for many of them, it does today.

Sales isn’t immune to this phenomenon, either. People tend to think because sales requires face-to-face meetings and relationship building, it is less at risk for automation than, say, accounting. Though this may be partially true, companies are spending great amounts of time and money working to push more and more of the traditional sales cycle online so human interactions can take place deeper into the sales funnel.

Customers, too, are helping this along by doing more independent research before engaging with a provider. It’s foolish to think this won’t have a significant impact on staffing requirements. And, when it does, sales jobs will be harder to find and even harder to secure when they are found.  

The Solution for Sellers? Get Better Every Day

If ever there was a catalyst to motivate those who truly want to hone their selling skills, the specter of automation and robotics should be about the best.

Sales is a profession many people think they would be good at, but few actually are (similar to lawyers). Our profession is often defined by the worst representatives (the proverbial used car salesman comes to mind). Because of this, sales reps have the responsibility to “make themselves indispensable” through continually taking new risks; educating themselves in the basics of philosophy, sociology, and persuasion; and elevating their profession beyond the lowest sales clichés – with which we are all familiar.

The very best way to protect yourself and your career from being taken over by C-3PO or some self-service e-commerce URL is to invest in your own continuous improvement. Because, quite frankly, if your job performance is so one-dimensional and static that it can be taken over by a robot, it probably should be. Sales is one profession that, when done the right way, could never be replaced with a machine.

In fact, you should view automation as an advantage because it should not be something to fear, but something that can help you be your best. Embrace automation of low-value efforts that waste your time. This will concentrate your mind on truly strategic and important tasks.

Automation is terrific when what you are automating are mindless, repetitive tasks such as CRM updates, bulk email prospecting, and quote creation. Spend your time on meaningful efforts such as outreach to your VIPs, creating and delivering a winning presentation, or negotiating.

Make Your Talent More Scarce than the Sales Job

The answer to the supposed job scarcity coming in sales is fulfilling the “talent scarcity” that has long been a struggle for employers. In fact, it may be the reason firms are turning to robots in the first place. Instead of worrying about being defined and replaced by others, define yourself as one of the very best of your kind.

In the near future, the only thing more scarce than new sales jobs will be truly qualified people to fill them. So, if you make a habit of striving to get better each and every day, you will find yourself with many more sales job offers than you can handle – robots be damned.

For more than 20 years, Eric Esfahanian has been helping clients increase sales and marketing effectiveness with innovative business intelligence technology and processes. As chief revenue officer of Gryphon Networks, Eric is charged with driving the growth of Gryphon’s Fortune 500 client base with cloud-based sales performance management solutions that increase revenue and client retention while reducing training/onboarding times for large, distributed sales organizations. Previously, Eric held sales leadership roles with MicroStrategy, Hewlett-Packard, and EMC Corp. He received his MBA in entrepreneurship from Babson College and his Bachelor’s degree from Boston College.

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How to Be Smart When Shopping for a Sales Intelligence Solution

By Sharon Gillenwater

When it comes to sales intelligence and business “data” providers, buyer beware.

What passes as company/executive “data,” “intelligence,” and “insight” is often so out of date and inaccurate that customers have to go out to the open Web to verify absolutely everything.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

You’re paying for something that is wrong so often that you don’t trust it and feel the need to constantly re-verify it.

As a sales intelligence provider who wants to do right by our customers, that just breaks my heart.

I’m not making these claims lightly or trying to trash other vendors. But I know all of the above to be true because I have sampled many of these services. In fact, their flaws – mostly significant omissions and inaccuracies – were the reason I created my own executive profile database while doing consulting for tech companies.

Unfortunately, the sorry state of “sales intelligence” has led to the sad fact that customers have developed a very high level of tolerance for inaccurate data and have become quite cynical when it comes to sales intelligence providers.

Why is this such a problem? There are three main reasons.

  1. It is very hard to do. Companies are constantly changing – and the people who work in them are constantly moving around. Consequently, over time, the information in a sales intelligence database becomes less and less accurate. Most vendors don’t invest in adequate verification and update processes.

  2. Most providers are scraping their data. Smart use of technology can help data providers scale their products as well as automate the updating of their data. The problem? Bad/old data gets out there and all the providers scrape it up – creating more and more instances of it and making mistakes difficult to correct. Without any humans to verify it, inaccurate information gets perpetuated for years.

  3. There is more emphasis on scale than accuracy. “How many records do you have?” is often the first question we are asked about our executive profile database. While it is a valid question, no one seems to think about the fact that the number of records you have doesn’t matter when those records are wrong. Venture capitalists who back sales intelligence companies make things worse by emphasizing scale – and speed to scale – over everything else. When I was looking to raise money for Boardroom Insiders nearly 10 years ago, a VC actually snapped, “Stop talking about the quality of your data. No one cares!”

Well, I care. And YOU, the CUSTOMER, should absolutely care.

So, with this sorry state of affairs, how can customers smartly size up sales intelligence providers?

  1. Ask them how they collect information. If they are relying exclusively on technology with no human-centered editorial process, be very afraid. While some technology is necessary as part of the process, using experienced human editors and analysts to create executive profiles adds a significant layer of relevance to profiles.

  2. Ask to see samples of companies and people you know. This is the easiest way to size up a service for accuracy as well as determine if it can add value beyond what you already know.

  3. Compare “apples to apples” from different providers. Choose a company or a few executives and ask the companies you are considering to provide samples for that company/those people.

  4. Ask to pilot before signing long term. If a company is confident in its service, it will do this because it knows you are going to get so much value that you will want to buy an annual subscription. If a company has trepidation about a short-term pilot, that indicates they may have something to hide – and it’s probably their data quality.

Finally, beware anyone claiming to have a “silver bullet.” There isn’t one. Recently, one of our customers got very excited about a sales intelligence vendor that has raised tens of millions in venture capital. She recommended that we consider using it as a source for our executive profiles.

I had been following the company for several years and there seemed to be no “there” there; but, since our customer asked, I decided to give it another look. Following my own instructions above, I searched for a few executives I knew – and every single profile that came up was either woefully incomplete or completely inaccurate. This was even the case for some very high-ranking executives, such as my friend (let’s call her “Doris”) who is an SVP at Wells Fargo. Not only did the company not have Doris at Wells Fargo (where she has been since 2012), it didn’t have any of her previous jobs – going all the way back to 1990! Other searches yielded similar results.

While I won’t call out this vendor by name, this particular example is egregious. The thought that my customer might be duped into paying for such inaccurate information – that was so easy to get accurately (and for free) on LinkedIn and elsewhere – really made me angry. When companies in our industry do this it hurts the industry by making us ALL look suspect.

If you buy sales intelligence, please beware and do your due diligence. You don’t want to waste your money. And you do want to have access to deep, relevant executive insights that will help you and your team proceed with potential and current customers with confidence.

Sharon 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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Three Ways to Stop Your Most Valuable Salespeople from Leaving

By Dan Harris

Salespeople aren’t going door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners anymore. But that same type of motivation and personality – and tech savviness – are all now needed to keep today’s top sellers moving forward.

That need for highly-skilled team members keeps the sales field more competitive than ever. Yet the sales gap is increasing and we’re experiencing the highest talent shortage since 2007, according to ManpowerGroup’s 2016/2017 Talent Shortage Survey of more than 42,000 employers.

However, for the second year in a row, sales leaders continue to excel in their efforts to keep employee engagement at an impressive high, according to Quantum Workplace’s December 2016 report The Sales Talent Shortage: How Organizations Can Attract and Retain Top Sales Talent.  

Even though an incredible 80.5 percent of sales employees are engaged, according to our report, turnover rates remain painstakingly high. In fact, a January SalesFuel study (What Your Salespeople Are Afraid to Tell You) of 725 salespeople found that 69 percent of millennial sales reps have already voluntarily left an organization.

If employee engagement is so high among salespeople, then how do you stop your talent from jumping ship?

Of all the important engagement factors, three stand out as the biggest motivators for sales employees. Here’s how you can stop your top sales talent from leaving and taking their skills with them:

1. Know your most valuable resource.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in quotas, customer requests and complaints, and the everyday business rush. But keeping employee engagement high and retaining a strong sales team means you won’t lose sight of what’s valuable – your employees.

Keeping the sales team productive and expressing your belief in their value begins with effective training and mentoring. This doesn’t mean putting all your efforts into the first few weeks of onboarding.

Offer your sales team continuous training and mentoring that aligns with their goals and expectations. Take time to focus on strengths, but also understand each person’s weaknesses and struggles. Use this information to format personalized coaching and training sessions.

2. Enhance their strengths.

You’ve worked extremely hard to acquire and train a sales team that doesn’t want to just come to work, do their jobs, and go home. Instead, they’re dedicated to being the best salespeople they can possibly be.

This ability to take their strengths and put them to use in the sales field is the number one driver of engagement, according to our previously-mentioned report. When salespeople are incapable of this – often due to a lack of leadership or technical tools – their motivation to continue doing their best for the company wanes.

Create an environment that aligns your processes and tools with the company and individual success. To do this, it’s crucial that you remain transparent about planning and bringing sales members in on the process.

Encourage your team to suggest new technology and processes as they run into roadblocks throughout their day. Ask them to explain what the issue is, if they have suggestions for improvements, and then be sure to keep them updated as you solve inefficiencies.

3. Grow trust in leadership.

Quality leadership is an obvious asset for any company.

However, in a highly competitive and unpredictable sales world, your team needs leaders they can count on. What promotes strong employee engagement is the trust that salespeople have in their leaders to help guide them into a successful future. As your team sees leaders guide the entire company to success, they’ll feel empowered and comfortable trusting leaders to do the same for their future.  

Trust between leaders and their sales team is built the same way salespeople build trust with customers: through strong relationships.

Communication is the foundation to building genuine relationships. So meet with each team member on a monthly basis. Recognize how their achievements are helping the company reach success. Then give updates on what the company is doing to improve processes, plans for the future, and its current status.

Above all, engagement of your sales employees relies on a continuous focus on improvement and guidance. When your team is left to deal with roadblocks on their own after an initial rush of success, they’ll lose confidence, motivation, and eventually interest in staying onboard with your company.

Take the time to really get to know your team as individuals and offer them the guidance they need to reach sales success.

Dan Harris is workplace insights analyst at Quantum Workplace, a company dedicated to providing every organization with quality engagement tools that guide their next step in making work better every day.

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