Three Ways to Ensure You’re Hiring the Right Sales Talent

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By Byron Matthews

Talent is one aspect of your sales and service organization that cannot be developed. I know that goes against everything we’ve ever been told, so let me explain.

Yes, of course, sales training and development are vital to any sales organization. In fact, organizations that have a robust sales enablement function – which includes a strong commitment to training and development – are 10.2 percent more likely to reach their revenue targets than all other organizations, according to research by CSO Insights. Just think about the year-over-year impact that can have on a business.

But talent is different. It is a part of any person that cannot be explained or accounted for by training or experience. Talent is made of recurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior, and it’s something you have to act on to activate.

Here’s an example: Courage. This admirable quality can be considered a talent – either you have it or you don’t. And, if you have courage, it doesn’t do any good to you or anyone else unless you use it. If you don’t use it, you may as well not even have it.

We all have a series of traits that can be considered talents, and each person’s talents are unique. These traits – or talents – lead to performance.

The winning formula for any sales organization is simple:

TALENT + developable SKILLS x the CULTURE you work in = PERFORMANCE

So, if you’re already committed to developing the skills of your sales team and creating an environment in which people can thrive, you just have to find the right talent and you will be on your way to performance.

Here are three tips to ensure you are hiring the right talent the first time:

  1. Learn everything you can about your high performers and uncover the reasons they are successful. You need to have a deep understanding of what top talent looks like in your organization and what drives the very best performers to produce results.
  2. Once you discover what top talent looks like, hire people with similar traits and characteristics. Plot a blueprint of your existing successful performers, then simply replicate the blueprint to fill your sales organization with high performers.
  3. Once you’ve identified and hired more top talent, invest in your people. Encourage them to develop their skills and hone the talents that make them special. Make it a mandatory part of your onboarding and development processes.

Remember, you can teach skills and you can create a winning culture, but you can’t develop talent, because it comes naturally. The trick is to discover what it looks like and find more of it. When sales leaders can do that, results will follow.

To learn more about what drives high performance and read about the four insights all sales leaders must know to be successful, download the latest white paper from Miller Heiman Group.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-11-42-amByron Matthews leads Miller Heiman Group’s commitment to championing customer-management excellence throughout the customer lifecycle and across the enterprise. His dedication to placing the customer at the core of everything gives Miller Heiman Group its expanded, holistic approach for developing, managing, and sustaining long-term customer relationships. Before joining the organization, he served as senior vice president of sales at Aflac, where he led more than 30,000 sales professionals across multiple channels. He also spent more than five years at Mercer as global sales performance business practice leader, where he grew revenue more than 40 percent.

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How Customer Feedback Fits into Your B2B Sales Strategy

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By Mark Donnolo

Last year, I found myself on the phone, listening as an irate woman spelled out the reasons she would never consider using a particular technology company again. “It’s pretty damn expensive for a product that doesn’t work,” she yelled.

Though technically I was on the receiving end of her anger, she wasn’t actually mad at me. I was talking to customers – and former customers – of our client, a large telecommunications provider, and trying to understand why their customers were leaving in droves. This helpful lady had agreed to participate in these “voice of the customer” interviews. At the end of hundreds of such interviews, the technology company agreed it needed to make some substantial changes to its customer service, service bundles, and overall value proposition. They needed to revamp their sales strategy.

Customer Feedback Plays a Vital Role

Customer feedback – or voice of the customer – is a critical piece of a sales organization’s strategy. Together with other essential information, including the macro market environment and competitor performance, the voice of the customer shapes the following:

  • Products and services to promote or retract
  • Customer segmentation and targeting
  • Value proposition
  • Approach to market
  • Sales channels
  • Sales roles and structure
  • Sales process
  • Sales deployment
  • Incentive compensation and quotas
  • Recruiting and retention
  • Training and development
  • Tools and technology

Sales leaders must understand the needs and expectations of their customers and the sales organization’s performance relative to those expectations. That insight allows leaders to see any gaps and determine where they can improve, as in the case of the helpful, irate woman informing them their value proposition was out of whack.

How Customer Feedback Informs Sales Leadership

Once sales leadership understands what’s going well and what’s broken with its products or services, they can create an informed sales strategy, which is essentially just an action plan to achieve its goals. The sales strategy will drive decisions concerning product and service focus, concentration on certain markets, value propositions, and the resulting approach to market.

First and foremost to the strategy, it’s critical to define the core and strategic products and services the business provides. In many companies, these are developed based on the needs of certain customer segments. Too often, however, products or services are internally driven and may not align naturally with customer needs, requiring a significant change in the offer or value proposition. Customer feedback helps keep products and service decisions in line with customer preferences.

The organization determines how it will organize and prioritize customers and prospects through its segmentation and targeting. The most effective segmentation and targeting considers characteristics such as customer industry, sales potential, profitability, common needs, and overall fit with the sales organization’s business. It’s important that segmentation and targeting flow into a plan that’s actionable by the sales organization. Simply defining the segment at a high level is not going to answer the sales rep’s question, “Who do I go see on Monday morning?”

Your Value Proposition

The value proposition goes beyond what the sales organization communicates to customers and articulates the organization’s understanding of the customer’s business and issues, what the organization can accomplish for the customer, and how the organization differentiates itself from the competition. The highest level value proposition is usually communicated at a company level. To be effective for sales, however, the organization must convert its value proposition to sales messages that can be communicated at the segment level, customer level, and deal level to adapt to changing situations and customer needs. And, it has to be honest. As the lady in my customer interview pointed out, a product that’s expensive and doesn’t work won’t live up to promises of high quality.

When developing the approach to market, sales leaders should incorporate insight about product, service, target segments, value propositions, and potential sales resources – especially when the information comes directly from the customer – into a plan that can be executed by the sales organization.

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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A Selling Shortcut: A Tip from 7 Secrets of Persuasion

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By James C. Crimmins

What if you could give people a reason to buy that is far more compelling than information or statistics? What if you could convey a wide range of positive attributes associated with your real estate property, car model, or investment opportunity, while actually saying very little? What if you could show buyers a shortcut that leads in the direction of your sale?

You can.

People are not good at objectively comparing options. It’s no wonder we all struggle with making major purchases. Even experts disagree on which property has the most potential, which automobile is the best value, or which investment opportunity offers the best return. No matter the category, prospective buyers often feel they are at a disadvantage. They are usually not equipped to carefully examine the choices and pick the best. Even in those rare cases when prospective buyers can accurately judge the options, they usually don’t have the time. Buyers are looking for a shortcut.

The best shortcut – the one thing prospective buyers find most compelling – is what other people are doing. Who else is interested? Who else is buying? People’s perception of who’s interested in what you have to offer can be your most valuable asset. No one is a skilled judge of every item they buy, but we all believe we are good judges of people. Your user image – or the perception of who’s purchasing your product – should be carefully crafted.

User image helps you make a sale in several ways.

First, though we are reluctant to admit it, we all feel the urge to imitate. When other people yawn, we yawn. When other people laugh, we want to laugh ourselves. When we see a long line outside a restaurant, we try to make a reservation there to discover what those people find so appealing. If many have bought a product and there are only a few left, we quickly grab one lest we lose the opportunity to imitate. Perceived popularity – especially perceived growing popularity – is hard to resist.

Second, we use the opinions of others to inform our own preferences. What we believe others think of a product informs our appraisal much more than the product’s objective qualities. We are social animals – and social judgment often trumps our own personal evaluation. Scientists have seen, around the world, that, if we are buyers of a product a lot of people buy, we generally buy it more often. If we are buyers of a product few people buy, we generally buy it less often. When we think a product has drawn the interest of a lot of people, we have a much higher opinion of that product.  

Third, if we have a positive stereotype of a product’s users, we want to participate in that stereotype by using the product ourselves. When we use the product, we feel like we are joining that attractive club of product users and, as a result, we believe others will see us as we would like to be seen.   

Even when we use a product in private, our perception of who else is using it makes the experience more pleasant – and this “positive user image” enables us to see ourselves as the type of person we would like to be. This works on something as mundane as oatmeal. If I think people who serve oatmeal to their kids are good parents, I will see myself as a good parent when I do likewise – even if no one else knows what’s on the menu.  

Finally, people draw narrow inferences from factual information, but they draw general inferences from user image. If we learn your hotel has soft beds, we draw no inference about the attentiveness of your hotel’s service, the quality of your hotel’s food, or the fun of your hotel’s bar. However, if we learn your hotel is the choice of sophisticated travelers, we assume your hotel has responsive service, great food, a cool bar, and also soft beds. If we learn your investment is the choice of smart, aggressive investors; or your auto is the choice of people who are on top of the latest trends; or your real estate property has drawn the interest of savvy buyers, we infer many more positive attributes about your offering than if we learned some additional product fact.

When you communicate something positive about the people who use your product, you say much more about your product than if you had described it directly. User image is, therefore, not only a shortcut for buyers, but also a shortcut for sellers.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-1-29-19-pmJames C. Crimmins is the author of 7 Secrets of Persuasion: Leading-Edge Neuromarketing Techniques to Influence Anyone. He has been a professional persuader for 27 years, mainly as chief strategic officer for DDB Chicago and a worldwide brand planning director with clients such as Budweiser, McDonald’s, State Farm, and Betty Crocker. He has earned a PhD in sociology and a Master’s degree in statistics from the University of Chicago and has taught integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University’s Medill School.

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How to Get Your Team to Sell Higher

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By Julie Thomas

Some questions I hear constantly from clients are: “How do our sales reps gain access to the executives they need to call on?” and “How do they prepare for success when they get there?”

The reality is that executives want to talk to other business people. If your reps want to sell higher, they  must understand and speak the language of business – the language of finance. Help them learn to think like an executive and develop business acumen by encouraging them to go through these three steps:

Step 1: Investigate a buyer’s company, industry, finances, and people. Do a Google search and you’ll see how easy it is to get stuck in “analysis paralysis.” Give your team the tools to rapidly sift through mounds of information to uncover salient, relative nuggets that can be used in a communications strategy. What’s currently going on in the buyer’s business? Where’s the industry headed? What do the business financials tell you? Who are the key people on the purchase decision?

Remind your reps that, when researching, they need to avoid going down rabbit holes. Instead, they should search the most reliable publications; get information about the prospect’s company, industry, financials, and people; and notice the most recent changes in the executive’s business.

Step 2: Predict the most likely business issues and problems. Based on the information they discover, sales reps need to be able to quickly spot business issues and problems and assess the general health of a business. Is the business growing? Shrinking? Facing new opportunities? Within that context, the sales rep needs to connect your solution to what’s going on in the executive’s business.

To sell higher, your sales reps need to know enough about relevant business issues to be conversant, intelligent, and credible when talking with an executive. Encourage your team members to make educated guesses about important business issues and confirm them with the executive throughout the sales meeting.

Step 3: Prepare to gain access and plan for the upcoming business conversation. According to SiriusDecisions, 65 percent of sales leaders say their top challenge is that reps spend too much time not calling. Take a good hard look at what the individuals on your sales team are doing in lieu of making sales calls. Are they procrastinating because they lack confidence in gaining access to executives? Are they failing to prepare properly for the sales call? If they get in to see the right people, are they wasting precious meeting time focusing on the technical aspects of your products and services?

The highest performing reps are those who have more meetings, which results in more opportunities. But first, a sales rep must gain access. Give your team methods to get past gatekeepers with messages that are so compelling executives want to meet. Listen to their introductions and gauge whether they can immediately establish credibility.

Landing an important sales meeting with an executive who holds the power and authority to make the purchase is not about luck. It’s about knowing how to turn information into insight. It’s about developing stories and communications campaigns to gain access. And it’s about engaging executives through business conversations. All it takes is business acumen and effectively investigating, predicting, and preparing for the sales meeting.

To address this critical need, ValueSelling Associates created a blended learning program, Executive Speak™, which gives a basic primer on business and financial acumen, guidance on where and how to hone in on relevant facts about your buyers, and proven tactics to gain access to decision makers.

Streamlining the research process is so important that, as part of Executive Speak™, we developed the 360° Profile Builder™ – a tool that leads sales reps through answering 16 targeted questions about their buyer. The answers are then mapped to a ValuePrompter®, a tool that guides sales reps through a conversational questioning process. Our Executive Speak™ program develops business acumen, giving your sales reps the confidence and competence to sell higher, create more opportunities, and generate more revenue.

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

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The Future of Your Sales and Marketing Organization

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By Gerhard Gschwandtner

What does the future hold for B2B sellers and marketers? In this Q&A, Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of Selling Power magazine, and Tiffani Bova, global, customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, discuss how technology is affecting sales and marketing organizations.

Gerhard Gschwandtner (GG): What is the biggest challenge for sales teams today?

Tiffani Bova (Bova): A sales team’s success today depends on the investment a company is willing to make in individual customer relationships. Companies need to provide salespeople with valuable data points that enable more intelligent outreach and facilitate connections with prospects at the right time and with the right content.

That means sales representatives need immediate access to rich data and artificial intelligence (AI). The most frustrating aspect of the selling process is technological limitations – and that’s preventable. Sales and marketing leaders need to be laser focused on ensuring that speed and access to data never present a roadblock.

Fortunately, as machine learning and natural language processing become more integral to CRM, sales representatives are offered more opportunities to leverage these tools for selling power. The growth of your team is based on its selling know-how and the technology it uses to assist them in identifying buying habits and surfacing customer preferences. Teams need to  access, consume, analyze, and update customer information from any place at any time; this can mean the difference between closing a deal and losing it.

GG: What does the future of sales look like from Salesforce’s perspective and how will sales strategies evolve?

Bova: At Dreamforce, we announced Salesforce Einstein, a layer of AI across the Salesforce platform that delivers intelligence to our sales, service, marketing platforms, and more.

With Einstein, companies of all sizes can drive more intelligent conversations with customers thanks to features such as Predictive Lead Scoring (helping sales reps stay focused on their most promising leads) and Opportunity Insights (providing reps with alerts when a deal is trending). The future of sales is evolving into a personalized experience for the customer. And it’s lending itself to faster processes for sales teams as each bit of data gleaned from a customer interaction helps Einstein become smarter.

GG: How will the implementation of AI change the selling landscape and how will it enhance the role of salespeople?

Bova: It would be impressive if every sales representative had a clairvoyant gift that permitted him or her to identify customer and prospects’ interests with perfect accuracy. While we’re not quite there yet, AI is showing remarkable promise. Sales teams can now look at a prospect and predict deal closure probability given geography, seniority level, and other key factors. Using analytics and intelligence has created a better selling process that translates all the way down the line to a seamless customer experience and, ultimately, higher customer retention.

As AI becomes more widely adopted, sales teams will become even smarter and better informed – spending more time targeting prospects with the highest selling potential.

GG: As we move from Sales 2.0 to Sales 3.0 and new technologies become more prevalent, how do you encourage buy-in from the entire team?

Bova: Despite the promise of AI, as with many new technologies, sales leadership may be faced with initial reluctance from their teams. This reluctance will quickly give way to acceptance as salespeople understand how AI helps them do their jobs better and provides more time to focus on establishing improved relationships with prospects.

Sales leaders are under constant pressure to reach monthly sales numbers and keep the company aligned on the end goal – increasing revenue. The process starts at the top. Sales leaders should set an example for the company by embracing new technologies to promote the shift to Sales 3.0. Training is an obvious, yet critical, aspect of gaining internal traction, and wide adoption starts with sales reps developing an understanding of the problem before they move to solve it. Additionally, designating a sales rep on your team as the point person for a new tool will ensure challenging questions and obstacles are quickly and efficiently resolved on the ground level. Plan for the future of your sales operations by strategically  planning for an implementation strategy and understanding the short-term and long-term outlook of technology in your company.

screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-9-06-11-amTiffani Bova is the global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, where she is focused on enhancing the overall customer experience. Prior to Salesforce, she spent 10 years at Gartner as a vice president, distinguished analyst and research fellow, covering sales transformation and indirect channel innovation.

 

 

gerhardgschwandtnerGerhard Gschwandtner is the Founder and CEO of Selling Power and the publisher of Selling Power magazine. He is the regular host of the Sales 2.0 Conference. Follow him on Twitter @gerhard20.

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How to Think about Your Failures

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By Stan Beecham

Most elite athletes – from golfers to gymnasts, placekickers, and baseball pitchers – tend to be very focused, disciplined, and perfectionistic. Their belief is that the desire to be “perfect” will end up making them better.

Unfortunately, this is not always true. More often than not, the desire to be perfect actually hinders performance. When we try to be perfect, we assume success equals not making any mistakes, when, in fact, success is your response to the mistake.

Why Adversity Is a Good Thing

People who tend to be perfectionists do not respond well to adversity or defeat. Their belief is: “If I’m doing it correctly, there will be no struggle or failure.” However, loss, pain, defeat, struggle, and embarrassment are the great motivators to change – and change always leads to improvement.

Not understanding that failure is part of the journey of success will lead to more failure – not perfection. Perhaps the best and easiest way to define success is this: Fall down 100 times; get up 101.

We must accept that, every now and then, we will have a bad day. When I talk with elite athletes, I ask them the following question: “If you were the best athlete in the world in your event, how frequently would you have a bad day?” Surprisingly, many great athletes believe they should get to a point where they no longer have any bad days (or failures). But, in reality, the best and most self-aware of those athletes report that, during the course of a 30-day month, they have somewhere between three and six bad days. They understand that having a bad day is simply part of the process. The ability to accept these fluctuations in performance allows athletes to remain fully engaged in their training and keep their goals high.

Likewise, the inability to make sense of your failures will ultimately cause you to become discouraged and less motivated, and your performance will decline as a result. How you function during a good day does not define your character. It’s how you function during a bad day that is the true test.

How Do You Respond to Failure?

It is always beneficial for me to see an athlete I am working with have a bad day because it is the truest measure of that person’s competitive ability. Do they exacerbate the bad day by becoming even more critical of themselves or someone else? Do they feel sorry for themselves and pout? Do they make excuses and quit? For you to reach your potential, you must know how you respond to poor performance. This is critical information without which you simply cannot move forward.

If perfect is not the goal, what is? It’s simple: Do your best. That’s it. Each day, make it your intention to do the very best you can with what you have that day. Keep a daily journal and give yourself a W or an L for each day. If you did the best you could that day, you get a W. If you did not do your best, you get an L. The goal is to have six or fewer L’s in a month. And you never want to have two consecutive L’s. It’s okay to have a bad day, but you must make yourself recover quickly and get back on track.

Remember: The goal is not to be perfect. It’s to do your best and recover quickly from failure.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-3-19-11-pmDr. Stan Beecham is a sport psychologist, director, and founding member of the Leadership Resource Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of Elite Minds: How Winners Think Differently to Create a Competitive Edge and Maximize Success. Since 1998, Beecham has been helping organizations maximize performance and realize the full potential of their human resources. Senior executives utilize Dr. Beecham’s expertise to guide them through the process of selecting and developing high-performance teams. In addition to his coaching and consulting engagements at the Leadership Resource Center, he is a professional speaker and writer committed to advancing the science of leadership development. Visit his Website at http://www.drstanbeecham.com.

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Three Tips to Improve Your Sales Coaching Skills

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By Julie Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Sales Management Advice for Turning Your B Players into A Players

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By Jim Szafranski

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

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

  1. Master Remote Collaboration

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

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

  1. Find the Plus 1

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

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

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

  1. Activate Customer-led Conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Russell Sachs

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

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

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

Listen before Speaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for Short-Term Wins to Demonstrate Your Value Internally

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Fear Giving Honest Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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