Become a Better Speaker with These Eight Powerful Tips

sales presentation tips

By Gene Hammett

Imagine yourself on stage. You are speaking directly to a room of 100 of your ideal clients. You are confident and prepared to give a message that connects directly to the heart of the audience and appeals to their logic side, too.

Does that scare you?

Does it excite you?

One of my clients, Jason Swenk (founder of, just came back from Inbound, a 13,000-person event hosted by HubSpot. Jason was invited to speak to a standing-room-only breakout room. He was given a mic and offered the chance to connect to those ideal prospects with his message. Jason was prepared and confident he nailed the talk. Well, the outcome was fantastic. He had dozens of executives asking him follow-up questions for 90 minutes after the talk. No cold calls. No gatekeepers. Just people eager to get to know him and do business with him.

By now, you have probably concluded that his speaking skills are powerful. And your skills have the same potential.

Improving your speaking is one of the hardest things to do – there is so much information in books and on the Internet. Much of it is contradictory and some is just plain crazy. Here is an example. Whoever said, “If nervous, picture the audience naked,” warps my mind. This is the last thing you want to do when on stage and looking to emotionally connect with the audience.

If the only thing holding you back is the skills to be a better speaker, you are in luck. A few weeks back, I got a chance to interview Michael Port (six-time New York Times best-selling author) about improving speaking skills. Michael has been performing for audiences large and small to become one of the best in the business of speaking. He has spoken for Fortune 500 and a variety of other events to hone his own performance.

We uncovered some common myths and fine-tuned a plethora of ways to improve your speaking. Michael brings a new perspective on speaking that allows you to see how a professional sees the performance of speaking.

Here, I give you eight powerful tips to improve your speaking – from the master, Michael Port:

  1. The Opening – Cut the filler words and phrases, like, “Hey I just flew in from…”. To get the audience engaged, get right to it instead of putting in unnecessary words.
  1. The Closing – Make it powerful, yet don’t fill it with fireworks. Ensure the audience has taken the big idea of the speech and never do anything after the applause.
  1. Emotional Connection – Really, the most important thing is connecting at an emotional level with the audience. You might think your “how to” speech doesn’t need emotional elements, yet – if you want your audience to connect to you after the speech – you want to connect with their emotions.
  1. Emotional Contrast – Any speech that is just one note is boring; great speeches have contrast in content, structure, and emotions. Move from sad to funny to engage the audience – this keeps them on the edge of their seats in a good way.
  1. Eye Contact – Don’t stare too long to make someone uncomfortable; scan the room and look at people to draw them into the moment (remember: don’t picture the audience naked, either).
  1. Movement – Use the whole stage to connect with the audience using your movements. Don’t wander or look down as these cause the audience to disengage and question your influence.
  1. Slides – It is never a question of using slides or NOT using slides; the issue is how you use them to support your message. Seth Godin is a master at using slides and can use 150 slides in a single presentation. Use slides to write your speech first and create slides to support your message (most people want to write slides then write the speech; this places the slides in the performer’s seat instead of you).
  1. Audience Interaction – This must be in proportion to the amount of trust you have developed with the audience. Opening with a question that is too invasive will cause you to lose the audience; by the end of the presentation, you will have built more trust and you can ask more of the audience.

Bonus Power Tip:

Practice – Michael believes you must practice your speech. OK, this is not news to you. However, are you practicing with the awareness of the above tips? In Steal the Show, Michael gives insights to better practice techniques that will make you more prepared for your performance on stage.

If you want to dive deeper into improving your speaking, I recommend you check out Steal The Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life.  It is packed with valuable insights to push you beyond your current level of performance.

Now that your awareness to speaking has broadened and deepened, you must push beyond the inner barriers that stop you from improving.

In the comments below, let me know what you will be adding to your speech.

Here is the full interview with Michael Port, if you want to check it out.

Gene Hammett is CEO of Leaders in the Trenches. Subscribe to his podcast in iTunes or Stitcher.

selling power magazine
[Top Image via FlickrValerie Suydam]

Eleven Ways to Run a Great Team Sales Meeting

By Josiane Feigon 

Salespeople know that every second spent away from sales-related activities impacts their ability to meet their revenue targets. You can’t just stumble into your next team meeting unprepared. At the same time, you should not think that meetings ought to give everyone a “Kumbaya” feeling, when everyone gets together to share success stories and daily challenges.

Good salespeople are good because they are productive and focused on quota attainment. When their daily activity is interrupted by needless, dull, and long meetings, they shut down. (As I explain in this video below, recently one manager told me he tries to keep his sales meetings “under two hours.” Two hours is way too long!)

Here’s the deal: call a team meeting only when you have something really important to say. Otherwise, just email your team and call it a day. Used wisely, team meetings can be a source of enormous influence for managers. Talent 2.0 is all about group dynamics, career advancement, acknowledgment, and breaking news updates. Use your meetings to send a unified message, make a statement, set the tone, and deliver your message loud and clear. Here are a few tips:

1) Start strong, stay strong.

YOU are in control of your sales meeting – and all eyes are on you. Your role is to facilitate healthy dialogue, inform your team, present new ideas, and encourage buy-in from team members. It all starts with you. Be prepared; don’t wing it.

2) Own your meeting space.

Remember, you own that conference room for the duration of your meeting. Don’t let anyone kick you out, and don’t get pushed out if the room is double booked. Just say, “Mine,” and use the room for whatever time you have in it.

3) Watch your body language.

Body language, or nonverbal communication, can speak much louder than words. It can make you look uncomfortable, stressed, distant, stiff, or stale. No matter what you say and what you want your meeting attendees to do, your body language may be screaming, “I’m outta here!”

4) Let your tone set the mood.

The last thing you want to be is boring. If your tone is too serious, you can throw your team members into the panic zone and prevent them from hearing what you’re saying. If your tone is too light, they might not take you seriously.

5) Make it all about the meeting agenda.

The more organized your agenda, the better your chances of creating a healthy discussion and getting your people to talk. Distribute an agenda in advance so that your team comes prepared, and ask team members to vote on a few ideas to help prioritize the flow. The more you can educate and reinforce concepts in your discussions, the more you demonstrate the desired behavior, the more it will all sink in.

6) Create cohesive team dynamics.

The life force of a team is so much stronger than each individual. The more you value your team members’ worth, the more they will outperform your expectations. Lift them up and hold high standards when it comes to creating a cohesive team dynamic.

7) Ask compelling questions.

“Any questions?” Forget asking that. Questioning and qualifying sits at the heart of your team’s sales effort, so you must model master questioning skills. The more compelling the questions you ask, the more you will encourage richer discussion and exchange of ideas. Ask open-ended questions but stay away from broad questions that require reflective contemplation.

8) Listen from the observation deck.

“Let me stop you right there – I know where you’re going on this one.” This manager just turned off the brains and ears of every rep in the room. If you want to build trust and commitment, you need to listen to what they say.

9) Set late penalties that sting.

“If you can’t make the meeting on time, the door will be closed and you can’t come in.”

Don’t you wish you could say that? You probably do, but it’s actually not the best strategy. Instead, try preventing tardiness by setting the ground rule: Be on time. It’s definitely not OK to roll in five or 10 minutes after the meeting starts with an excuse about not being able to end a call. Make sure everyone knows the ground rules beforehand so they have no excuses.

10) Invite compelling speakers.

Guest speakers should empower your team members, not bore them or make them angry, so choose carefully. If they don’t like the speaker, or if the speaker is boring or off track, it will reflect poorly on you. A great speaker shares power with you and helps you glow. Make sure that your invited speakers understand your group’s charter and knows your group’s world. Ask them to keep their remarks short and focused on benefits. You can help ensure this by giving speakers a seven-minute time limit to help them organize their presentation.

11) Close with energy!

“Alrighty, it’s time to end our meeting.” Look down at your laptop, put your papers in order… Wrong move. No matter how good your meeting is, if you don’t close with positive energy, you will inevitably lose some of the enthusiasm you worked hard to generate. Participants should leave the room with more focus, enthusiasm, and understanding than when they came in.

What do you think of these tips? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Can Average Sales Performers Ever Be Rock Stars?

By Duncan Lennox

ID-100214811_bplanetWhenever I have conversations with senior executives or CEOs about driving sales performance, there’s a tendency to focus on the “rock stars,” that relatively small group of high performers. Frequently, they are described as “natural salespeople,” good at building empathy and establishing relationships and having a nose for qualifying prospects and getting deals done. Almost without exception, these gifted salespeople cannot tell you how they do it – they just do.

In many disciplines, significantly above-average performers are not simply a little better than average ones but much better. This leads to the false belief that, if we can just hire more of those folks, our numbers will skyrocket.

But there are two problems with this belief: the big problem is the assumption that you could articulate what makes an “A” player and know how to identify those characteristics in candidates you screen or interview. The really big problem is hiring rock stars at scale. Most of them (who don’t work for you already) are making lots of money somewhere else and probably not eager to apply for your open positions.

With barely 2 percent of most sales teams reaching the upper echelons of quota achievement, throwing more rock stars into the mix has the potential to extend quota attainment by roughly 15 percent at best – certainly not enough to deliver on markedly higher revenue targets. So the question remains: wouldn’t we get much more bang for our buck by using sales-enablement programs to help the people we already have be more effective – in other words, coaching and cultivating those average performers to be more like the sales stars?

If your organization is like most, the general approach to boosting sales performance might include such words as “training” or “learning.” Yet these are processes, not results, and more often than we care to admit, they fail to move the needle. The real goal must be to change behavior.

The path to doing this successfully begins with the acknowledgement that sales reps are people, and people, of course, are complex. People possess ingrained behavior, and changing that behavior – equipping sales reps to win – doesn’t happen via PowerPoint presentation in your local hotel’s meeting room.

To reduce the likelihood of employing “sales airheads” (aptly described in an earlier Selling Power blog) and replicate the productivity of top performers, sales executives must first understand the biological mechanisms of how memories and patterns are formed in the brain and then design a sales-effectiveness program that actively supports that process. While this may sound very academic, a team of researchers at Harvard has clinically proven that this approach boosts performance and builds the level of competency required to connect with customers and close deals. The key is two-fold:

  1. understanding, with data-driven insight, where individuals are today (what they know and don’t know and their strengths and weaknesses) and
  2. having a method that embraces three key elements to scale: simplicity, convenience, and motivation.

Oracle’s experience bears this out. Changing average sales reps into rock-star reps is simply a matter of changing their behavior. Oracle’s Business Brain Program introduces thousands of reps to successively more advanced thinking topics, so they don’t simply regurgitate product information but sell in context.

A company called BrainStudio put this program together for Oracle using Qstream, a mobile, game-driven sales enablement platform from my company. The platform pushes out personalized question streams made up of simple yet thoughtful scenario-based challenges, which take up only a few minutes a day using any mobile device. The program combines social-recognition elements, such as leaderboards, to leverage reps’ inherent competitive nature while keeping them highly engaged in what otherwise might be viewed as just another training requirement.

Through repetition over small periods of time, reps retain key messages and selling skills. What’s more, results are delivered to sales executives – not to flog the reps but to identify highly targeted coaching opportunities to ensure that every rep on the team is well prepared to sell with insight into the customer’s world.

Increasing sales revenue is a common goal, but some organizations end up looking in the wrong places. Instead of gimmicks, recruiters, and obsessive automation, it’s time we look within and honor our own people as the best path to achieving success.  How many rock stars could you develop this year?

Kevin Warren
Duncan Lennox is CEO and Cofounder of Qstream. Email him at

Your Brand Is Not Your Business Card: Empower a Winning Sales Culture

By Kevin Warren, president of strategic growth initiatives at Xerox. Meet him on March 10 at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia, where he will share more insight about sales-leadership success and personal brands.

Jay-Z is one of my favorite performers, and he knows a thing or two about success. One line I borrow from him regularly is “I’m not a businessman…I’m a business, man!”

What does he mean? He’s saying that when you hand your business card to a sales prospect, unless it reads “CEO of Me Inc.,” it’s not your brand. You are your brand. Prospects and clients don’t buy the name of the business on the card, they buy you.

It’s a simple concept and a powerful opportunity, especially in an increasingly complex and digital world. We know our clients and prospects are bombarded with many options. Competition is fierce. But at the end of the day, people make decisions and surrender long-term loyalty based on interaction with other people. According to McKinsey’s 2012 B2B Branding Survey, personal interaction with sales reps remains the most influential factor for B2B customers across touch points, industries, and regions.

When you’re empowered to be CEO of Me Inc., there’s a tremendous impact on the overall business. Interaction with customers becomes more meaningful, the corporate brand becomes more human, and that focus on customers starts impacting the bottom line. By making a customer or prospect a believer in your personal brand, you’re giving your product and services portfolio exponentially more value.

You likely have an elevator speech for the products and services you’re selling, so why not create one for you? If you’ve taken time to evaluate what you stand for and where you should be focused, your prospects are much more likely to feel confident that you can help them do the same. People buy from those they know, trust, and like. By genuinely sharing who you are and what you know, you quickly become someone from whom they’ll buy, someone who helps connect them to what they need to successfully reach their own goals.

Even something as simple as highlighting general business advice or flagging relevant industry articles (via LinkedIn, other social media, or in person) creates an opportunity to share more of your portfolio and ultimately sell more, because you’ve appealed to what really matters to the client’s business. This kind of proactive value-adding is unique to you and your ever-evolving brand. Leveraging your personal and business experiences and industry expertise to show customers what they might not be thinking about or to ask questions they might not have considered is key to earning loyalty, advocacy, and even referrals.

Success as CEO of Me Inc. doesn’t just happen; it is the outcome of a formula that works, one that is evolving as digital and social change the game. But the foundation holds fast. We may not close deals anymore by knocking on doors or dialing for dollars, but at the end of the day – at the end of the business exchange – there is a person, and that person is going to choose your brand only if he or she chooses you.

Join me at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia on March 10, where I’ll be speaking about sales-leadership success, your personal brand, and sales-transformation strategies.

Kevin Warren
Kevin M. Warren is president of strategic growth initiatives for Xerox Corporation and is responsible nationwide for revenue, profit, and operations for all Xerox business in large enterprises. He’s led an aggressive transformation initiative in which he melded two operations into one high-performing organization.

Jump-Starting a Stalled Sales-Recruitment Program

By Sabrina Balmick

Every sales-recruiting effort needs revving up now and again. For companies facing recruiting challenges, this means rethinking not only who they hire but how they hire. After all, you can attract the best candidates, but if your hiring process isn’t efficient, you’ll lose more candidates than you ultimately hire.

While building an entirely new sales-recruiting process from start to finish is no easy task (and requires continuous adjustment), there are a few processes you can address in order to make the most of your candidate pool.

  1. Job Specifications: You can’t build a great sales team without understanding the strengths and skills that work best for your organization. A recruitment effort stalls partly because managers and their recruiting partners rely on stale job descriptions and rigid hiring requirements.Forget the bullet points and focus instead on your current team. What are its strengths and weaknesses, and where can you capitalize on opportunities? Venture into the field to observe your sales team’s day-to-day activities. This not only allows you to gauge your team’s skill sets in real time, but it also provides insight into any potential retention pitfalls, including why employees are staying with or leaving the company. With this information, you can better plan your hiring strategy to ensure that 1.) you aren’t churning and burning hires, and 2.) you’re providing them with the tools and training they need to sell and drive revenue.
  2. Sourcing and Recruitment Marketing: The best way to find salespeople isn’t by posting on job boards. Good salespeople are always looking for the next career opportunity, but they may not be actively applying for jobs. Still, they usually have their ear to the ground and are often open to chatting about a new job. To reach these folks, rally your professional and personal networks to spread the word about new opportunities, rather than simply post and hope someone applies. If you’re working with a recruitment partner, make the most of that connection to reach those candidates you otherwise wouldn’t have uncovered.
  3. Employer Branding: Employer branding reflects how others see your organization throughout the hiring process and employee lifecycle and ultimately affects your ability to attract candidates. With a strong brand proposal, you’ll be in a better position to hire and retain strong candidates.To build the strongest brand, start by asking tough questions about the hiring process. What’s your company’s reputation as an employer? Are employees providing a consistent stream of referrals? Are you an employer of choice or a last resort? How do candidates and competitors perceive your company? If your company’s reputation is less than stellar, is it fixable?Another key part of your employer brand is the hiring-manager interview, which is one of the best occasions to showcase your company’s strengths and unique selling points. Remember that interviews are not only an audition for the candidate but for the company also, so remember to sell the opportunity. Why would this candidate want to work for you? What does your company bring to the table that a competitor can’t? How can you help take your new hire to the next level?
  4. Resume Reviews: Keep an open mind while reviewing resumes. When revenue is on the line and you need a magic-bullet salesperson, it’s easy to become hampered by a checklist of attributes your next superstar must have. While there are some skills that may not be negotiable, you may miss out on hiring some otherwise great candidates simply because they didn’t meet all of your requirements.Consider what skills are necessary to do the job, and decide whether you’re willing to train on them. The answer might allow you to open up your candidate pool and hire faster – and the faster you hire, the sooner your new salesperson can begin selling.In addition, if you’re on the fence about a candidate, conduct a quick phone screening to see if he or she fits the bill and might be worth interviewing in person. The candidate may possess experience or skills that aren’t listed on the resume but may be valuable to your organization.

The hiring process shouldn’t be a static function that never changes. Like the sales process, recruitment must adapt to external and internal pressures in order to work efficiently. By making incremental adjustments, your sales-recruitment process could run more smoothly, and you’ll be able to recruit better talent.

Sabrina Balmick
Sabrina Balmick serves as marketing manager for ACA Talent, a recruitment-process outsourcing firm specializing in sales recruitment. She works closely with the company’s sales and operations teams to develop content and implement marketing programs that effectively reach and recruit qualified sales talent. Email her at

Three Feedback Pitfalls to Avoid While Sales Coaching

When providing salespeople with feedback during sales coaching, it’s easy to fall into feedback pitfalls. If you are like most sales managers, you’re probably giving feedback to your team members the same way it was given to you. Yet recent research suggests that your feedback can have more influence over your team’s improvement.

Review these three feedback pitfalls to see if you’ve fallen into any of them. If you do, make note to avoid them going forward. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the impact of this effort on your team’s engagement, sales, and overall performance, and you’ll all enjoy the feedback process more than you did before.

Feedback Pitfall 1: Comparing each salesperson’s results to the team’s

It’s a natural part of the learning process to want to see measurable improvement, and if you are like most sales managers, you have a variety of measurable data at your fingertips: your salespeople’s week-to-week sales, their lead-to-client ratio, or their quote-to-sale ratio. Whatever you choose, beware of how you use them during your sales coaching. As much as you may be tempted to use the numbers to provide your salespeople with a sense of how they stack up against the rest of the team, resist it. People perform best when stats are used to compare their past individual performance to their current individual performance.

With this in mind, during your one-on-one coaching sessions with your team members, use the numbers you have to help your salespeople monitor the changes in their individual performance. Then base your feedback on the context of their individual improvements or slump. This will help them perform better.

Feedback Pitfall 2: Providing positive feedback

Who doesn’t love to receive accolades? Yet positive feedback isn’t what we want to hear all the time. Positive feedback is helpful in sales coaching…and it can be a pitfall in sales coaching. When salespeople try new sales approaches, they usually appreciate and desire positive feedback. But once team members develop a level of skill or mastery in a particular area, believe it or not, they want to hear the negative. They want to know what didn’t work, and they want to figure out how to do it better next time.

Knowing when to provide positive feedback or constructive criticism is essential when it comes to coaching your salespeople to improve their sales behaviors and ultimately their results. Make note of where your team members are in their learning, and match your feedback accordingly.

Feedback Pitfall 3: Telling your salespeople how to improve

It’s not unusual for sales managers to tell their salespeople what to do to sell more. Sometimes this will yield a change in a salesperson’s behavior, but unfortunately, telling salespeople what to do doesn’t always result in change.

One thing that consistently inspires salespeople to improve their sales behavior is when they become instigators of what to do differently. To help facilitate your salespeople’s development of this kind of initiative, ask them questions (instead of tell them what to do) as part of your feedback. This way, they become their own catalyst for change, and you become their advocate rather than the source of all answers.

By asking your team questions instead of only supplying the answers, you increase the likelihood that your team members will act on their own ideas. You’ll also remove the potential for any power struggle that might erupt if you try to get your team to do things your way. After all, what worked for you in a sales situation might not necessarily work for them because of personality differences, prospect idiosyncrasies, industry variables, technology changes, etc.

If you can’t hold back and you do tell a salesperson what to do, you can save the situation and increase the salesperson’s engagement by asking such questions as, “How might that work under those circumstances?” or “Would that have worked in that specific sales conversation?” This way, your team members can filter your idea through their sales experience and determine whether the idea would be effective or not.

As you know, one the reasons behind providing feedback is to help your salespeople develop better sales judgment so that next time they are in a similar sales situation, they will choose the more effective response. By asking your team members questions during feedback, you help improve their judgment and increase their engagement in the execution of their ideas.

Peri Shawn
Peri Shawn is the award-winning author of Sell More with Sales Coaching.

How to Land a Meeting with Your Prospect

Many sales professionals believe that sales are made based on the strength of relationships with prospects and customers. In other words, it’s all about who you know.

In the current selling environment, however, some might argue that success in sales is actually more about what you know. According to research conducted by Forum, for example, two of the top three reasons prospects decide to buy from a sales rep include these factors.

  1. The rep knows my company.
  2. The rep knows my industry.

Notice that the word “relationship” does not enter into the picture. What does this imply? As Forum General Manager (Americas) Alyson Brandt points out in the video interview below with Selling Power founder Gerhard Gschwandtner, this research indicates that prospects are looking more for value and insight from salespeople rather than a simple connection.

“There are some misnomers about what customers expect,” Brandt says. “It’s a mythbuster to believe that you have to know somebody in order to be effective in a sales role and get a meeting.”

At Forum, we’re working with experienced salespeople to help them become more effective in prospect meetings by leveraging Point of View Selling. Point of View Selling creates new selling opportunities with existing and new customers– whether you have an existing relationship with them or not.

Although Point of View Selling is suitable for all organizations, not all companies are ready for it.Consider the five big questions below to see if your organization is ready to take its sales to the next level.

  1. Business Fit: Do you offer a mix of products, services and/or complex solutions that can significantly impact your customers’ business value drivers? Point of View Selling hinges on the ability to make that impact clear to the customer.
  2. Compelling Points of View: Do your salespeople have the ability to deliver unique values that can be potential differentiators in commoditized markets? For example, when a biotech company introduced a revolutionary technology that drastically reduced the time it took to identify an infectious disease, their sales initially underwhelmed. They quickly realized that, rather than focus on the technology itself, they should focus their selling efforts on the unique value the technology created: time. By doing this, they were able to call on senior people and appeal to their need to manage risk and deliver value to their constituents and themselves. For example, they called on heads of state and other dignitaries (e.g., the head of the Summer Games) and asked them whether they could afford to have a pathogen running rampant in an urban area while testing took days.
  3. Foundational Skills: Do your salespeople have the business acumen, industry knowledge and consultative selling skills needed to succeed?
  4. Advanced Selling Skills: Can your salespeople then combine that business acumen and industry knowledge to develop high-value and unique points of view, provoke and engage senior-level decision makers, and guide customers in framing complex decisions?
  5. Sales Support and Infrastructure: Do you have the resources — time, budget and staff — to help craft points of view and support jumping to the next level?

Every sales organization that is implementing or considering implementing a Point-of-View-Selling strategy falls somewhere along the maturity curve suggested by these five questions. Organizations that take realistic views of where they are today and invest in building capabilities across all five of these areas are the most likely to gain competitive selling advantage when adopting higher-level selling approaches.

When was the last time you landed a meeting with a high-level prospect? How were you able to convey insight that grabbed the prospect’s attention? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Jeffrey Baker
Jeffrey Baker is vice president, salesforce effectiveness at The Forum Corp., a Boston-based premiere learning organization.

How Sales Leaders Can Avoid the Quarter-End Crunch

Quarter end crunch in sales
Image courtesy of

The end-of-quarter crunch.

For most sales teams, I’d venture to say it’s 10% adrenaline-fueled excitement, and 90% utter torture.

A quarter-end wish list for any head of sales would likely include these items:

  • a healthy deal cushion to serve as a fail-safe;
  • complete visibility into sales team activities on prospective accounts; and
  • predictability.

The end-of-quarter timeline will vary depending on your goods or services, but the anxiety level maps to the same pattern:

Code Yellow: Pricing
You and your prospect should have agreed on pricing terms X number of weeks before the end of the quarter. You know what X is for your organization (for us in the software world, we’d be looking at approximately four weeks from quarter close).

Code Orange: Contract Review
You have a contract ready for the counterparty’s review by this number of weeks from the quarter end (for my team, it’s three weeks). If terms are still being haggled, it is unlikely you’ll close the deal in time.

Code Red (an appropriate color): Redlines
You should have a redlined copy of the contract from your prospect by this point (for us, two weeks from quarter-close).

Point of No Return
You’re in the office at 6:00 a.m. every day that last week, trying for last-minute heroics, but the reality is you were counting on a deal that didn’t adhere to your timeline.

In an ideal sales world, we could structure predictable outcomes from vendor-selection stage to the moment the customer signs on the dotted line. The limited amount of time we have to close deals at quarter-end forces us to take a good, hard stare at how we can improve efficiency closer to the beginning of the negotiation process.

One simple way to avoid the quarter-end crunch is to inject deal predictability and efficiency into the sales cycle. How? Start with the foundation of your deal: the contract. Here are some techniques that you can start implementing right away:

1) Get a term sheet from your prospect as early as possible. Knowing up front what your prospect intends to include in the contract will ensure that you have a clearer picture of the deal timeline. The sooner you can see the terms and conditions that are crucial to your prospect, the faster you can respond (and the better prepared you’ll be for negotiations). At this point, you’ll already have improved your deal predictability by understanding if the feasibility of your prospect’s essential terms implies weeks, months – or even more than a year for deal closure.

2) Create a “contract playbook.” Perhaps one of the most important things you can do in the early phases of a deal is create a contract playbook – the series of items to which you’re willing to agree so the deal doesn’t get bogged down in legal quicksand. One of the common reasons a negotiation gets delayed is unreasonable terms and conditions on both sides of the fence. Creating your contract playbook ensures that you have a plan about which cards you want to show.

3) Prepare the way for quick signoff.  If you’ve cleared the more difficult hurdle of coming to terms, you don’t want to miss closing the deal because you can’t get the contract to the right people at the right time. Make sure you fully understand the sign-off process for your deal before crunch-time hits. If you have many different types of contracts and a complex approval cycle, consider deploying contract-management software that can automate many of the steps, reduce errors, and speed the approval cycle.

End-of-quarter stress is a fact of life for sales teams. Rather than hope for last-minute heroics to get your deal done, invest in some smart steps ahead of time so make the process more predictable. You’ll be ahead of the game and ready to speed to close when the customer says, “Yes.”

Doug Bell
Doug Bell is Chief Commercial Officer at Selectica.

VPs of Sales: Challenge Your Managers to Think Differently About Sales Productivity

status-quo.jpgNo one ever said that you had to be an Einstein to run sales, but his thoughts do apply: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” Yet many sales leaders seem to accept living with the insanity of sales ineffectiveness, or sales enablement programs that lack focus.

These sales leaders don’t know how to challenge their HQ team to change the status quo. If you run sales, take this as an opportunity to challenge your team to think differently. Here are five questions to ask.

1) “Tell me your plans for onboarding and sales training/enablement?”

What’s the first thing that your marketing and product managers will mention? If they respond with something about new product capabilities, it’s backwards. We guarantee the results will be out of alignment, and will not be well received by the field sales team.

Bottom line: if you don’t have a single sales-led definition of the strategy and the outcome, go and get one.

2) “Whose journey are we on?”

Progressive sales teams don’t just think about sales process; they start by thinking about their buyer’s journey. At a minimum, it’s a progressive engagement model. Properly adapted, it’s a sales culture change that matches 2012 reality and means better selling results, less waste, and a far better way to organize your training and content.

Bottom line: if you don’t have a well defined buyer’s journey, and then properly map your sales process to it, then get your top field sales practitioners in the room with your sales ops and marketing leadership and develop one.

3) “Do John and Jane know when to ‘go/no go’?”

Do your average sales reps understand what they need to discover and discern, and how this relates to the key “go/no go” decisions they need to make at each stage in the buyer’s journey? Sometimes the best decision might even be to disengage and nurture for the future. Top performing reps intuitively get this and mediocre ones don’t. Therefore, mediocre reps struggle, believing every deal is worth winning. Again, it’s simple. Knowing what you need to know and what you don’t at each stage for “go/no-go” can dramatically improve your sales effectiveness.

Bottom line: get your best reps into a room and ask them to map their “go/no go” decisions against your buyer’s journey. Then bake this into your sales process and ask your sales managers to instill this discipline into their forecast calls.

4) “What sales capabilities are we missing?”

Play “find the missing sales capabilities” with your best people. When critical sales capabilities are not well developed, they prevent your team from engaging, closing bigger deals, or compressing the sales cycle. A hint: less is more.

Bottom line: identify the top three sales capabilities that are the common denominators within your best performers. Then ask your sales managers – does our sales enablement address these? It doesn’t? Perhaps it’s time to send you to pasture.

5) “How well do we coach?”

You probably have multiple levels of sales management. Ask yourself: “What impact do these coaches have on our overall selling effectiveness, and where are my coaches?” Hard experience as professional coaches has taught us that any program where we can’t find committed manager-coaches is flawed.

Bottom line: get your top coaches into a room and ask them how they’re improving performance and how can you help. Document the responses, coach the lesser coaches, and bake it into the performance review process. John Wooden would approve.

Steve Crepeau
Steve Crepeau and Jeremy Barnish are panelists on the “Challenge Your Company to Think Differently about Sales Enablement” breakout session at the Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference this October in San Francisco. For a copy of his book, Effective Enterprise Sales Enablement, email him at