How to Unlock the Value of Inside Sales

By Ben Taylor

People often say that any successful product design must be at least two of the following: fast, cheap, and reliable. An MIT scientist later upended this idea, suggesting that space exploration would be more successful if it were “fast, cheap, and out of control.” He argued that, instead of sending one large robot into space, sending 100 tiny, “out of control” robots would be better.

Why? Sending more robots offers a greater chance of success. If one failed, there would be another that didn’t. NASA could afford to lose a few.

This strategy presents an unsettling similarity to how some approach inside sales.   

Advances in sales and marketing automation allow sellers to reach more customers in less time. However, inside selling cannot succeed on volume alone. Unlike those tiny robots, sellers can’t afford to lose a few customers. Each one counts. Therefore, inside sellers need a framework to yield value from every interaction. That framework is Consultative Telephone Selling.

The Rise of Inside Sales

Traditionally, many businesses relied on face-to-face meetings to win the sale. However, “Cost pressures resulting from the economic downturn have forced many B2B vendors to reevaluate that stance, with surprising results,” writes McKinsey. By emboldening their inside sales team, one global brand “reduced travel costs for sales specialists by 50 percent globally, saving millions of dollars a year.”

Meanwhile, today’s customers are also getting accustomed to inside selling for two reasons. First, they are more comfortable making a buying decision without meeting the seller because they want immediate solutions. Second, the average number of decision makers is rising as the logistics of managing different schedules has become prohibitive. For customers, working with sellers over the phone and video is becoming a necessity.

However, in the race to reach more customers, sellers cannot afford to sacrifice quality. The customer must still be part of the inside sales equation. However, according to Gallup, less than half of customers believe that sellers adequately address their problems. A consultative approach is helping more sellers overcome this challenge.

Unlocking the Value of Inside Sales

The core of Consultative Telephone Selling is the ability to understand customer needs. It’s also the skill most lacking in sales today. Effective questioning starts by providing the rationale for the inquiry. This preface encourages customers to share information.

Remember, questioning shouldn’t be an interrogation. Sellers need to earn the right by balancing their questions with insights. By offering relevant ideas, the seller establishes credibility. As the seller moves through these questions, they must acknowledge what the customer said as they lead to the next question because it’s too easy for the customer to disengage over the phone.

Ultimately, customers will be receptive because the information is relatable. However, keeping information relevant means avoiding the tendency to show the volume of one’s findings. Sellers must share only the most relevant information. Otherwise, they risk losing the customer. Volume doesn’t necessarily equal value.

As this exchange builds, rapport develops – allowing the seller to float ideas. Doing so starts with a carefully crafted value statement linking the seller’s capabilities to the customer’s challenges. The value statement must address:

  1. What’s important to the customer
  2. How the seller can help
  3. What outcomes can be expected

A strong value statement fits the inside selling model because it’s brief. Brevity matters because inside sellers leverage technology to reach more customers in less time. With a concise articulation of value, a seller can form a connection faster over several calls.

After sharing insights and a value statement, consultative sellers need to get feedback. Customer feedback offers clues to closing. Take time to check with the customer that the solutions discussed meet their challenges. This information is needed “in the moment” when the seller can react. Getting the customer’s reactions is critical in keeping ideas malleable. Additionally, asking for the customer’s perspective demonstrates a commitment to a collaborative, consultative process.

Excellence in Consultative Telephone Selling is the driver of inside sales. Sellers equipping themselves with these skills are learning how they can approach each call with dialogue that’s relevant, persuasive, and “in control.”

Ben Taylor is content marketing manager at Richardson. He has an MBA in finance from LaSalle University and more than a decade of business and writing experience. He has covered content for brands such as Nasdaq, Barclaycard, and Business Insider.

How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Sales Reps

By Tim Rockwell

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Follow Up

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

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

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

Three Ways B2B Sales Leaders Can Enable Channel Partner Success

By Jason Angelos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To enable sales success, B2B leaders must:

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

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

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

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

Five Mistakes That Can Sink Your Sales Kickoff

By Jim Ninivaggi

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

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

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

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

#1 – Giving Bad News First

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

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

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

#2 – Using Kickoffs for Training

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

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

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

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

#3 – Delivering Inconsistent Presentations

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

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

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

#4 – Choosing the “Wrong” Motivational Speaker

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

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

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

#5 – Neglecting Team-building Activities

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

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

Good Luck!

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

Jim Ninivaggi is chief readiness officer at Brainshark, Inc., a leading sales enablement solutions company. In his role, he helps prepare the Brainshark sales force with the knowledge and skills to optimize every buyer interaction. Jim has more than 30 years of experience driving B2B sales productivity and, prior to Brainshark, led the sales enablement research practice at SiriusDecisions – providing clients with data, insight, and thought leadership to maximize sales effectiveness and accelerate revenues. He has also held various positions in sales, ranging from individual contributor to sales management and sales leadership. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNinivaggi. Register to hear him speak at the Sales 3.0 Conference December 4 in Philadelphia, where he will present “Perpetual Sales Readiness: The New World of ‘Always On’ Learning for Sales.”

Is Your Sales Rep Onboarding Program Broken?

By Lauren “LB” Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is My Rep Onboarding Program Broken?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Ways to Stop Your Most Valuable Salespeople from Leaving

By Dan Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Know your most valuable resource.

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

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

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

2. Enhance their strengths.

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

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

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

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

3. Grow trust in leadership.

Quality leadership is an obvious asset for any company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Align and Motivate Your Channel Partners

By Ted Dimbero

Sales managers who oversee their own teams have a wide array of tools and techniques to boost revenues and performance – and the amount of information and advice on how to do this today is truly staggering. But there’s another layer of complexity for channel sales, where leaders rely on resellers and salespeople who are partners rather than direct reports.

However, it’s possible to get channel partners aligned and motivated – and the key to unlock this potential is sharing accurate, actionable data.

Knowing exactly how, when, where, why, and to whom products are sold via indirect sales channels can be incredibly powerful for both sales leaders and channel partners. This data can drive more intelligent marketing campaigns, faster and more accurate incentive payments, and better customer targeting, among many other benefits.

Today, channel partners around the globe hold roughly $1.5 trillion worth of unsold products at any given time. The opportunity to convert this unsold inventory into new revenue has been overlooked in the past, but enterprises are quickly realizing that boosting channel sales performance can be the fastest path to greater sales and margins.

Two major developments have begun to transform the way companies manage channel sales:

  1. Cloud computing has led an exponential growth in the number of new channel resellers.

  2. New digital processes are making it possible for sales leaders to gain visibility into the channel beyond the manually-filed quarterly reports from partners that usually provide the bare minimum of total sales sums and inventory sold.

The explosion of new partners – and the ability to access data that was nearly impossible to obtain before (if it was even recorded) – could bring about a channel sales renaissance. Here are just some of the important ways enterprises have turned channel intelligence into greater revenue (or cost savings).

#1: Leveraged special programs to target specific customer segments.

For channel sales, it’s important to identify the segments to which partners are selling – and effectively leverage that information. With accurate and timely data on the individual buyers resellers are reaching, sales leaders can better identify and raise awareness about strategic customer market segments. This actionable sales data also helps generate new leads and uncovers new up-selling and cross-selling opportunities for existing customers, which empowers resellers to bring in more revenue and increase their own earnings.

#2: Identified deals early in the indirect sales funnel via real-time channel data.

Companies can also use timely data to accelerate the sales cycle by identifying important leads and routing them to the channel partner with the highest probability to close the deal in the quickest timeframe. A strong channel data feed empowers companies to proactively cultivate new and existing partner relationships – highlighting new, up-and-coming reseller partners and providing early warning signs about less-effective partners and what needs to change. For example, sales leaders can set automatic parameters to enroll successful resellers into a preferred partner program, or track significant week-to-week declines in sales volume to ensure corrective partner management actions before it’s too late.

#3: Used automated payouts to motivate channel partners, increase their productivity, and reduce their workloads.

Incentives and rebates often have the most immediate effect on motivating channel partners, and the efficiency of companies’ sales credit and commissioning processes can make or break partner programs. With a feed of accurate point-of-sale (POS) and inventory data from the channel, companies can automate incentive and rebate payments instead of relying on time-consuming and error-prone manual processes that require a lot of heavy lifting from partners. Not only does this accelerate payments by facilitating claimless processing, but it also reduces the administrative costs of the incentive programs and saves money by eliminating erroneous or fraudulent claims.

The common approach to channel sales has been stuck in the dark ages for too long, but new technology and processes that shed light on indirect sales activities offer enormous potential for companies looking to grow quickly. By establishing systems to ingest and share accurate, timely, and actionable channel data, sales leaders have an immediate opportunity to increase revenues, build better partner relationships, and more closely align sales objectives. These are just a few of a growing list of benefits that channel data management can unlock for enterprises ready to embrace the next evolution of indirect sales.

Ted Dimbero is chief customer officer at Zyme.

How to Create a Sales Account Plan that Works for You

By Mark Donnolo

Strategic sales account planning has created more than its fair share of heartburn in sales organizations.

But it doesn’t have to. Account planning gets a lot of attention because it works, but it shouldn’t be overly complex or laborious. Salespeople don’t need to be tied to desks for extended periods of time – and most top salespeople will tell you planning makes them better.

The first step in sales account planning is to use the right structure. I’ve seen plans within the same sales organization that are so wildly different sales leaders had to spend hours trying to decode and orient themselves to each one. Not an efficient use of time. Your sales account plan should follow the same basic structure throughout the company and not be designed only so that sales leaders can quickly find key information. Key information – customized for your business – should consistently be included in your sales account plan.

The following six basic components should be in every sales account plan.

Component #1: Profile and Position

This gives an overview of the account and the strengths and weaknesses of the relationships. It answers the question, “Where are we now?” Consider including the following sections:  

  • History. This is your history with the account from a financial, buyer, and product or service perspective.
  • Addressable market. Look at the customer as a market in itself. The addressable market is the total annual spend it makes for services your company can provide. For some businesses, this information might be known at a high level, such as total IT or software spend if you’re selling technology services. For other businesses, this information may be harder to come by.
  • Current pipeline. The pipeline reveals information about your current pursuits and progress within the account. This is useful to understand where you have momentum and where you can build. If your organization uses a CRM system (accurately), good pipeline information should be easy to obtain.
  • Financial summary. A financial summary shows the historic performance in the account from different perspectives, including prior years’ revenue, bookings, profit, and performance to plan or budget.
  • Competitive landscape. This includes competitors by offer and their value propositions, strengths, and vulnerabilities.
  • SWOT. Finally, include a classic analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with this customer. Remember, the SWOT analysis is from your company’s perspective regarding the customer.

Component #2: Needs Mapping and Alignments

This describes your understanding of the customer needs and the organizational alignments of your team to the account. This section answers the question, “Who are the buyers and how do we align?” Consider including the following sections:  

  • Summary of customer needs as an organization
  • Your account team
  • Account map of buyers and your team

Component #3: Goals and Strategy

This section describes your overall objectives for the account and how you will get to your goal. It answers the questions, “What are our objectives, and what’s our overall direction to achieve them?” It includes the goal build that takes the overall growth objective for the account and builds up the components of how the team’s going to reach that objective.

Component #4: Action Plan

The Action Plan takes each component of the goal build and develops a tactical plan to achieve the goal. It answers the question, “What is our plan to achieve each opportunity?” For each opportunity identified in the goal build, the action plan includes the challenge the customer is trying to address, a summary of your strategy, key steps, timing, and accountabilities.

Component #5: Team Support

Team Support describes how your organization needs to come together across functions to support the account plan. It answers the question, “What internal commitments do we need?” It includes key external dependencies for the strategy. These may be factors such as market conditions, client conditions, and political/environmental conditions that are out of your control.

It also includes the internal dependencies for the strategy across functions (e.g., delivery, innovation, marketing, finance, legal, HR). By identifying dependencies and required support, you’ve established the conditions you need (e.g., a stable economic environment, passage of certain regulations) and your expectations of the investments from the company that will be required to accomplish the goals in the plan. For example, you may require new team members in sales and support roles to have the capacity to work with all the decision makers and influences in the customer.

Component #6: Performance Dashboard

The Performance Dashboard sets milestones and tracks your progress to those milestones; it also helps identify any adjustments that need to be made. It answers the questions, “How have we performed? How should we adjust?” Consider including the following sections:  

  • Dashboard with dimensions for each tactical action plan component (e.g., action, timing, accountability)
  • Commitments, updated regularly for each tactical action plan component
  • Financial, offer, and buyer goals and year-to-date progress toward those goals.
  • Actual performance to goal by division, product, etc.

Note: The Performance Dashboard section may be hosted online for full access and visibility by the team and executives.

We’ve seen this structure work especially well when account teams complete the first three sections before coming together to discuss goals and strategy. With all the past and present information at hand, it becomes easier to plan for the future.

Mark 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.

The Disastrous Under-development of Sales Managers

By Kevin F. Davis

I have two simple questions for you:

  1. In your professional career, how many days of sales training do you think you received?
  2. How many days of sales management training have you received? (I don’t mean courses on general management and leadership – I mean training specifically on how to manage a sales team.)

I asked this question a few weeks ago during a public webinar I was delivering to a diverse group of sales managers and sales executives from across the globe. I’ve summarized the results in the graphic below. The red bars – which are much larger toward the lower end of the scale – represent sales management training. The blue bars – much larger toward the higher end of the scale – represent sales training.

When I crunched the math, it turns out these sales managers received about 25 days of sales training on average and just seven days of sales management training.

The obvious conclusion is that most companies think that teaching someone how to get good at selling requires three times as much training as it takes to teach them how to do sales management! And, since 30 percent of participants received NO sales management training at all, it must be their companies think sales management excellence comes via osmosis or something magical.

These informal results from my webinar are supported by more rigorous research. According to the Sales Management Association’s March 2016 Research Report, “Sales Manager Training,” 41 percent of companies participating in the survey had allocated zero budget for sales manager training. And, of the 59 percent who did have a budget, half of those companies were delivering only generic management training – nothing specific to leading a sales team.

The conclusion is startling: For what many consider to be the most crucial, stressful, and challenging job in corporate America – frontline sales manager – seven out of 10 people in that position are not receiving the training they need to excel at their job.

Three Critical Reasons to Develop Sales Management Skills

The lack of investment in sales management development is disastrous for many reasons. Here are some of the most compelling:

1) Developing sales managers has very high ROI. In its 2017 “Sales Manager Enablement” report, CSO Insights showed that companies investing in developing their sales managers’ skills and establishing a strong culture of sales coaching can see a 16 percent increase in quota attainment.

2) Perhaps not surprisingly, investment in sales enablement alone is not paying off. The same CSO Insights report included data to show that investment in sales enablement more than doubled between 2013 and 2014 – but quota attainment dropped over that same period.

3) Untrained sales managers focus on the wrong things. The Sales Management Association studied what topics sales managers tend to discuss most often in coaching conversations. The top three items were all about near-term revenue opportunities. But the coaching topic that had the single biggest impact on revenue growth was identifying skill development needs – and it fell near the bottom of the list in terms of how often it was discussed.

The evidence couldn’t be clearer: Companies are not investing in sales manager development, despite the fact it could have a huge impact on revenue growth and quota attainment. If you’re in a position to influence how your company spends its training dollars, it’s time to make some changes.

Kevin F. Davis is the president of TopLine Leadership Inc., which specializes in sales management development and sales training. His clients achieve higher levels of performance from frontline sales managers when using Kevin’s methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. Kevin’s most recent book is The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top. 

Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinFDavis, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

How to Create More Accurate Sales Forecasts

By Rowan Tonkin

All business leaders live in the future to some extent. They make forward-looking decisions based on market share projections, educated guesses about competitor strategies, and analysis of customer trends. Sales forecasts are a huge factor in decisions about pricing ranges, account focus, and much more, so it’s critical to work with accurate information. But too many business leaders are still operating in the dark.

It’s not that business leaders don’t understand the importance of forecast accuracy. Market research demonstrates that effective sales forecasting methodologies can improve performance. One study found that best practices in sales forecasting can improve accuracy 20 percent, which leads to measurable increases in deal size as well as shorter sales cycles.

But many companies are still using manual, error-prone, data-deficient tools and processes that lead to inaccurate sales forecasts. Here are the problems associated with that approach:

  1. Spreadsheets generate data but not credibility: Business users understand spreadsheets, but, unfortunately, their use results in inaccurate data that colleagues rightly suspect of being manipulated or riddled with errors. Spreadsheets aren’t set up consistently, so functions and territories may drive errors; and, once submitted, spreadsheets are often reworked because users don’t trust the information.
  2. Disconnection inhibits collaboration: An accurate forecast requires cooperation between groups, such as product, sales, and finance teams. When each group uses its own spreadsheet and methods to capture data, the forecast reflects the lack of cohesion. And the process of developing separate spreadsheets underscores the lack of collaboration among team members.
  3. Dependence on subjective judgment instead of predictive analytics: Business leaders who use simple arithmetic pipeline weightings may be missing factors that drive forecast accuracy, such as headcount, pricing decisions, and route-to-market emphasis points. Without sufficient data, business leaders rely on subjective judgment calls rather than data-driven insights.

To avoid these pitfalls, business leaders need stronger organizational coordination. An automated system that captures reliable data and uses analytics-based methods can significantly improve sales forecast accuracy, plus enable companies to produce forecasts quickly and efficiently. A system that allows leaders to visualize data and collaborate across business units can return incredibly valuable insights.

When looking for a way to upgrade sales forecasting abilities, business leaders should find a way to leverage predictive analytics to reduce overreliance on subjective judgment calls. They should ensure that data contributors use a common set of data definitions and agree on baselines so decision making is aligned and processes are efficient.

A forecasting solution that enables real-time data analysis is valuable because it allows leaders to course correct quickly when required and generate new forecasts as business conditions change. It’s also a good idea to choose a solution that provides visibility across levels, including representatives and regions. This provides insight that leaders can use to improve performance and align efforts more broadly.

Companies that use a cloud-based planning solution can continuously improve sales forecasting processes, increasing accuracy and making more informed business decisions. The greater understanding of true business drivers that results from a collaborative approach gives business leaders a more accurate glimpse into the future – and an edge over their competitors.

Rowan Tonkin is head of sales and marketing solutions at Anaplan.