The Only Power Source that Really Matters in Your Company

By Jim Cathcart

In a speech years ago to the executive team of Wal-Mart at their Bentonville, AR, headquarters – after meeting Sam Walton himself in the hallway – I explored the concept of where power comes from in an organization.

The traditional view has always been that power “comes from the top” and flows downward through the organization. We use organization charts with boxes to indicate the players, with lines to show reporting roles between them.

The boss or owner is always at the top and the hourly workers are at the bottom in a wide row. It’s a pyramid. The problem with this structure is that it isn’t true to life. That is not how good organizations get results.

In truth the only power that really matters is the power of customers. As a company, we are working to find what the customer will value – and design and deliver it in a way they’ll be eager to pay for. We want the customer’s allegiance and enthusiastic loyalty. They give that both through money (revenue) and through support (testimonials, referrals, and feedback).

When I received my orientation to Wal-Mart prior to my speech, I discovered that they operate quite differently from most organizations. No wonder they are one of the world’s most successful! They refer to their coworkers as “associates” instead of employees, superiors, subordinates, or bosses. The store managers don’t have traditional offices because they are expected to spend most of their time walking around and actively engaging with others. They see their stores as outlets designed for the convenience of their customers and they negotiate the lowest possible prices from their suppliers. They were the originators of “greeters” at the front door and many other friend-building innovations in retailing.

Pyramid-shaped org charts don’t describe Wal-Mart. And, in actuality, neither does that structure describe any customer-facing organization. The owner or CEO, in truth, is at the bottom of a pyramid – with all of the weight of the organization on his or her shoulders. The people who touch the customers most are at the top, like the ice cream in a cone. But there’s another element that doesn’t show in this symbol: the resource network – the suppliers and industry colleagues.

A much better symbol, as I told the execs that day, is a tree. Trees have two systems: one seen and one hidden from view. The seen system is made up of the trunk, branches, and leaves reaching toward the sky (opportunity). The unseen system is made up of the root system and taproot reaching down for the resources and nutrients in the soil.

The branches represent the growth system of your organization: sales, marketing, customer service, product development, etc. The roots represent your strength system: suppliers, distributors, research, finance, engineering, quality control, etc.

If the strength system is weak, you might outgrow your ability to deliver or sustain growth; and, if the growth system is weak, you could die from lack of sales. Seeing ourselves in this way within the company gives us a much better sense of our responsibility to each other and to our marketplace. The purpose of selling is to make life better for people at a profit so it also makes life better for us.

Years later I encountered then-president of Wal-Mart, David Glass, at a banking conference where we were both speaking. He told me, “We are still using many of your ideas from that day.” Cool.

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE is the original author of Relationship Selling and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. Jim is a regular contributor to Selling Power and a certified Peak Performance Mindset Trainer. Contact Jim at Cathcart.com.

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How to Become a Great Sales Coach

By Kevin F. Davis

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes the difference between sales managers who fail their teams, those who do a competent job, and those who excel.

One of the factors that has the biggest impact on a manager’s success is how effective he or she is as a coach. Research has shown that effective coaching is part quantity and part quality. Doing more coaching means controlling your time and priorities – a topic I won’t go into for the purposes of this article. Better coaching is a matter of focusing on actions you can take that will do the most to help your reps improve in the long run, not just win one deal. Here are three tips to get you started down that path.

Tip #1: Don’t try to coach based on a scorecard. I’m an avid golfer and, like everyone, keep track of each game on a scorecard. Suppose you were a golf pro and I handed you the scorecard from my most recent round and asked you how I could get better. You couldn’t really help me because the scorecard tells you only the aftermath of what I did when I was golfing  – it doesn’t tell you where I made good and bad swings or what decisions I made. Any feedback you gave me would be based only on the results I got, and it couldn’t be specific enough to be helpful. All you could say is something like “try harder” or “don’t make a bogey on hole 5.”

If you really wanted to help me improve, you’d have to observe my game and come up with strategies to help me learn what I was doing wrong and what I could do better.

Reviewing your reps’ sales results once a month or every quarter works the same way. You can’t help your reps improve if all you do is examine their results  – their “scorecard” – after the fact. You have to start looking closely at what they’re doing upstream. Talk to your reps during the early stages of working a sales opportunity, and observe their call preparation and interactions with customers. When you ask questions that challenge them on what they know and don’t know about their customers’ needs, you provide more specific and helpful coaching that they’ll be very motivated to implement.

Tip #2: Focus more on identifying deficiencies of skill and will. Back in 2014 and 2015, the Sales Management Association did some research on how often sales managers discussed 13 specific topics when coaching their salespeople. The kicker is that they also studied the connection between how often each topic was discussed and revenue growth in the organization.

By a big margin, the topic that had the biggest positive influence on revenue growth was “identifying skill deficiencies.” Now, can you guess how often that topic was discussed in coaching conversations? It ranked 12th out of the 13 topics. That means talking with reps about their skill deficiencies happened far less often than discussions about things like “advancing a sales opportunity” and “crafting proposals” – and even the 11th-ranked item, “instruction on administrative processes.”

In my mind, if you are not having regular conversations with your reps around their skill deficiencies, then you’re not really coaching. At least you’re not providing the kind of coaching that will have the biggest impact on your team’s results and your company’s revenue. To help your reps be more successful, you have to make the time to identify each rep’s skill and will shortfalls. And you have to coach them on how to improve in those specific areas.

Tip #3: Take your sales coaching to your reps. There’s a well-known principle in the field of psychology called “the self-serving bias.” It’s the tendency for a person to take credit for their successes but blame external factors for failures. You see it when, for example, sales reps who have a great month attribute their success to their strong work ethic and top-notch skills. But, when that same rep has a bad month, they blame external factors such as lousy leads from marketing. Sound familiar? I fell into that trap at one point of my sales career, and think most salespeople do the same.

Here’s the thing: people with a self-serving bias think they’re doing better than they really are. They are blind to their own mistakes. So they will NOT come to you to ask for coaching. And that means they’re losing deals they should win – and they may not know why.

The best way to combat self-serving bias is to be a strategic sales coach! Take coaching to your salespeople. Don’t sit back and wait for them to ask you for coaching.

A sales manager may well be the most talented sales professional on the team, but what matters now is whether they can transfer that greatness into the hearts and minds of your team members. Great sales coaches focus their attention on the input side of the sales performance equation – the behaviors and activities – not just the results. Great sales coaches make “identifying skill deficiencies” in a sales rep a key objective during every coaching conversation. And great sales coaches are proactive – they don’t sit back and wait to be asked for coaching. They take coaching to their people. Follow these guidelines and you’ll be on your way to building a championship team.

Kevin F. Davis is the founder and president of TopLine Leadership, which has provided sales and sales management training to leading corporations around the globe. One client put more than 3,000 sales managers through Kevin’s two-day workshop. He’s the author of three books, including The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness (March 2017).

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Five Traits of Sales Leaders Who Always Beat Their Number

By Tom Stanfill

My transition to sales manager was fairly typical. I was promoted from a role where I had excelled (selling) to a role where I was completely incompetent. In those early years of managing a team, I was more of an interactive kiosk than a leader. “If you have questions, I have answers. Be safe out there.”

Because I was struggling to lead my team, I started seeking advice from the top performers. Since then I have observed and worked with hundreds if not thousands of sales managers. And, because the frontline sales manager plays such a vital role in driving revenue, determining culture, and rep engagement, my thirst to understand the secret sauce of the best of the best has never been quenched.

So here’s what I’ve learned from the sales leaders who consistently kill their number.

They Remove the Mystery

Earlier in my career, I worked with an exceptionally gifted sales leader. He built a fledgling sales force of 20 into a multibillion-dollar sales organization. In the early years, I asked him why his team consistently outsold everyone else. He explained a simple philosophy: failure isn’t an option. Success is predictable if you do what’s required. He told every recruit success is just a choice. “I will tell you what is required to succeed, and – if you are willing to follow the plan – you will succeed. There is one requirement: willingness. The key that opens the door to a coaching session is desire. So, if you’re in, I’m in. If you need additional training at 6:30 a.m., I’ll be there.”  

He removed the mystery and distilled success down to a formula. If reps weren’t willing to participate, that would be their choice. He would help them find another job that was right for them. But, if they were willing to do what was required to succeed, he would gladly walk that path with them.

They Wear a Different Hat

For most, “sales manager” is an accurate label, but it doesn’t describe the high performers. The best sales managers spend far more time developing their people by coaching than focusing on the metrics by managing.

The best sales managers understand that selling requires skills – and developing those skills doesn’t happen when talking about the numbers. An athlete doesn’t get better by focusing on the scoreboard. Yes, knowing how you are performing in relation to your goal is important, but knowing the problem doesn’t improve execution, just desire.

Alternatively, mediocre leaders typically believe that coaching isn’t worth the effort – or they are just too short sighted. Much like planting a peach seed and, after two weeks, saying, “Where’s the tree? I knew it – peaches come from stores.” Top-tier leaders know that coaching will yield quality results with time.  

They Simplify

Selling boils down to a handful of abilities, much like golf. In golf, driving the ball, hitting long irons, chipping, and putting are four elements required to succeed. You don’t have to know anything about the game to tell if the ball lands in the fairway, hits the green, or falls in the cup. The core elements of selling (e.g., discovery) should be measured the same way. High-performing sales leaders don’t argue about stance, swing, and the hundreds of behaviors that result in success; they first focus on where the ball lands. This approach ensures the student and teacher are aligned on what must happen to achieve the best result. Once the team member understands how poor “putting” is effecting overall results, they embrace the need to examine how they are “putting” and work on the specific skills required to improve.   

They Are Strategic

Who owns the number? Who owns the plan to hit the number? Successful leaders invest in reps who have a goal and a plan to meet it. They know that all effort is wasted until the rep is striving for something. Because, when people have a desire to achieve, they will have a desire to change.

Leaders simply don’t have the time to invest in reps who aren’t willing to change. They learned a long time ago that you can’t force someone to learn a new skill. “If you don’t want to improve your game, I’m not going to the driving range and wasting time while you pretend to practice. When you really want to get better, call me.” This approach ensures the responsibility to improve lands squarely on the rep’s shoulders.

They See People

There is a South African Zulu greeting that starts with Sikhona, “I am here to be seen.” The other person responds by saying, Sawubona – “I see you.”

We all want to be seen. We all want to be uniquely valued. We may not articulate that, but it’s true.

The best leaders see each team member – not as a number but as an individual. They believe the relationship isn’t dependent on performance. Poor performance may affect the team member’s role or job, but not the relationship.  

The best leaders know how their reps take their coffee, how they learn, and what they are passionate about – not as some technique to leverage performance, but because they genuinely care. They are Other-Centered® leaders.  

Somewhere in life, they learned a simple truth: if you are for them, they will follow you.   

Tom Stanfill is co-founder and CEO of ASLAN Training & Development. Tom has more than 20 years of experience consulting and developing training programs for the sales organizations for some of the largest and most respected companies in the world.

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The Truth about (Inside) Sales Call Coaching

By Lauren Bailey

Lately I’m hearing a lot about the magical abilities of call coaching for inside sales reps. It can spike revenue! Cure attrition and training retention! And, naturally, the whole leaping buildings thing.

Here’s the truth of the matter. GOOD call coaching can leap a good half building. BAD coaching – and seriously, most of it is bad – can dig holes in the pavement of your morale.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • Companies without a formal program (most of us) leave call coaching up to the managers and have quota attainment just north of 50 percent – basically average. (CSO Insights, 2016).
  • A formal, well-integrated coaching program can lead to a 10-60 percent increase in quota attainment (CSO Insights, 2016). Quite a swing in the results there.
  • Other sources reported a 7 percent uplift in sales numbers from top-end coaching (Sales Executive Council, 2016).

OK, we go conservative and aim for a 10 percent uplift with coaching. Still tempting, right? And it’s in sales managers’ job descriptions anyway. Let’s put some focus on call coaching and take our 10 points!

(I’m beginning to get the hype.)

Here’s the “but” you’re waiting for:

  1. The 7 percent uplift from SEC comes at the price of three hours per rep per month. That’s 36 hours per month for a 12-person team – or basically 25 percent of the manager’s time. I’ve never seen a team pull this off for longer than two months. Ever.
  2. SEC also reported that coaching was the #1 WORST sales management skill – trailing just behind innovation in performance management and executive decision making (and aren’t those VP skills?)
  3. Sales managers report nearly double the coaching time their reps report. (Bridge Group, 2016). So, when they think they’re out coaching, their reps don’t. Ouch. Yeah, that’s a skill gap.

There are two major flaws in the coaching-as-a-silver-bullet thing:

  1. Sales managers just don’t have the time.
  2. Some sales managers are just not good at it.

I understand why some sales managers are really terrible at it. These are the folks who think, “It’s just SO much faster to tell salespeople what I want! PLEASE shut up and let me get this off my chest and we can get on with our day! Love you lots, but don’t have time for your story here!”

I’m telling you, you have sales managers who think that way! There’s a simple reason for this. More than half of our managers have come up from within, right? Meaning, not long ago, they were competitive, deal-hungry, fast paced, W-obsessed reps. So impatience with other people’s inability is a surprise to you? Thought not.  We’ve all tried that “promote my top rep strategy” – and watched most of them burn.

Back to pitfall 1: Managers don’t have the time.

Frontline sales managers are probably in the busiest position in sales. They juggle 12-15 reps; thousands of buying, escalating, might-leave-us accounts; more performance issues than any other sales channel; lots manual report generation; and a carnival of hiring responsibilities.

So they TRY – the kind of all-in, “We will not be defeated!” try. We are a people who overcome. Who win! We put it on our calendars, tell our teams about our commitment, and then sales happen.

Meetings are skipped.

Sinkhole.

Why?

Because sales reps are needy creatures. The best are some of the highest-maintenance little rock stars I’ve ever met. They have a constant hunger to be pet. To be appreciated. To be admired. Believe me, they notice when we skip a meeting.

And the research supports it too! Our Gen Y population is twice as motivated by time with management as they are by autonomy. Boomers were 3x in the reverse. (The Bridge Group, 2016). The tide has turned, folks. Our workforce demands this dedication to give face time and our jobs haven’t shifted to allow it.

So, naturally, we see the stats shift to exit data. The American Association of Inside Sales Managers and Aberdeen both report “a lack of development” as a top challenge and a top reason for attrition since 2014. They’re starving for training and coaching and attention. We’ve made the sales management job too busy to give it to them.

Frankly, this isn’t necessarily horrible news! Because, unless we’ve trained managers how to be good coaches, most of the call coaching happening out there truly stinks. Like painful bad.

Is no call coaching better than bad call coaching?

Yes.

It’s sad, but true. When we promote top reps, they don’t come with an “off” button for competitive drive. They spend most of the call coaching meeting trying not to physically grab the headset away from the rep and take over the call! (You’ve probably seen a few do just that, right?) Most think that sending an instant message with what to say to a prospect during a sales call IS call coaching. Ouch.

The vast majority of others spend most of the coaching meeting sounding a lot like, “Be like me.” They will regale reps with stories of how they rocked the headset, and many will actually write full scripts for your salespeople.

How’s that morale looking now?

(Inside) sales is a confidence sport. We need swagger people. We need a team chanting our name when we step up to the cold call. We don’t need a manager who clearly doesn’t believe in us.

And now let’s talk about all those studies on employee engagement. The need to connect with others, feel appreciated, and like our boss. Bad coaching interactions press every one of these buttons in a negative way.

And, even with training, we have to remember we’re trying to influence a very difficult and often unnatural skill set. One book on coaching will not transform a hunting predator into a nurturing den mother.

The bottom line on call coaching? It has potential. But only if we do it right. As leaders, let’s focus on two ways to make this work:

  1. Find three things to lift from your manager’s plates – I’ll vote for some dashboard reporting instead of manual number gathering and a dedicated recruiter who reports to sales (if you don’t mind the input).
  2. Second, get your managers some call coaching training – and maybe even their own coach.

Lauren Bailey is a 20-year veteran of inside sales and president of award-winning training and consulting company Factor 8. Voted “Top 25 Most Influential” people in inside sales, she and her firm are 100 percent dedicated to working with professional B2B inside sales teams.

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Are You Ready for These Shocking Changes in the Sales Profession?

By Adrian Davis

Are you facing increasing sales targets and increasing challenges in achieving these targets? Well, it’s going to get even harder because of some fundamental shifts in our economy.

I’m currently working in the robotics industry. Exposure to this has sensitized me to the growing prevalence of automation. Many professionals feel that automation is not something we have to worry about. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Automation: Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!

Sales is polarizing into two approaches. The first path is transactional. Salespeople who engage in transactional selling are order takers. Order takers deal with problems that are well defined. Furthermore, the solutions purchased are well understood.

The only questions in buyers’ minds are: how much and how soon? The sales rep who is cheapest and fastest wins the business. More and more, that sales rep is showing up as not a person, but a slick e-commerce Website. E-commerce sites work 24/7. They respond to buyers with unprecedented speed. They guarantee the lowest price. The traditional sales rep is becoming obsolete.

Is Consultative Selling the Answer? (No.)

This is driving sales leaders to get their teams to focus on “consultative selling.” In a previous blog post, I explained that the consultative sales approach is obsolete. Sales reps who show up asking too many questions end up annoying buyers instead of pleasing them. Buyers complain about reps who take their time before they provide anything of value.

Sales leaders realize they have to up the ante. They have to teach their salespeople how to create value for the buyer up front. The buyer must immediately recognize the benefit of developing a relationship with them.

Debating with the Younger Generation

But wait! Isn’t challenging buyers safe from the encroaching threat of sweeping and inevitable automation? That’s what I thought…but an article I tripped over jolted me awake.

Years ago, my son Ryan – who is very articulate – said he wanted to pursue a career as a software developer. Being a seasoned and passionate sales guy, I tried to discourage him. I explained that companies are automating back-office jobs. Companies will outsource those that aren’t automated to China and India. I asked him to leverage his incredible communication skills. I asked him to focus on being in front of the customer because that’s where he could create real value.

This conversation took place about five years ago – which, as we all know, was a long, long time ago! So much has changed since then. Ryan recently shared a YouTube video with me called “Humans Need Not Apply.” This video captures the implications of the work my son is now doing. I watched the video. I thought, “Yes, but companies will not automate professional work. Professional work requires human judgment!”

I woke up when I read an article in the Harvard Business Review. It was “Technology Will Replace Many Doctors, Lawyers and Other Professionals.” The gist of this article is artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives are now unstoppable. AI machines are outperforming human beings in many cognitive tasks. Professionals use approaches that seem immune to automation. Unfortunately, AI enables new approaches. Moreover, AI learns from itself and teaches itself how to be even more efficient.

In the next 5-10 years, professionals all over the world will get the shock of their lives. Automation and AI will replace routine and mechanical tasks. It will also replace “sacred” and insulated professional roles. This relentless drive toward automation will challenge us. It will, most likely, unravel our entire capitalism-based economy. In the future, the majority of human beings will be unemployable. Automation and AI will do meaningful work instead of humans. Humans may only find meaningful work in activities of social unrest. Economies may no longer find it possible to be based on the upward mobility of the middle class. Unemployable people may demand socialistic or communistic approaches to the distribution of wealth.

In the meantime, today’s sales leaders must execute the following imperatives:

  1. Stop messing around with your CRM. Embrace it. Master it. Enhance it and use it to understand your most important customers.
  2. Acknowledge that “Thing-to-Thing” selling will completely replace order-taking salespeople as the Internet of Things matures and sellers’ devices transact and negotiate with buyers’ devices.
  3. Invest in mastering Human-to-Human Selling. Invest in your best salespeople. Develop them to become even greater strategic, critical, and creative thinkers. Encourage them to up the ante. Find new, unprecedented ways of creating value. Be committed to work with your customers who must also cope with the seismic shifts in our economy.

Adrian Davis is president of Whetstone, Inc, where he has worked with organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, KPMG, Motorola, PwC, Phonak, Aviva, and Dupont. His highly talented team has developed a reputation for leading organizations to innovative and practical solutions that enhance customer value and dramatically increase sales. Adrian is the author of Human to Human Selling: How to Sell Real and Lasting Value in an Increasingly Digital and Fast-Paced World, a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), a certified professional in Business Process Management (P.BPM) and a certified Competitive Intelligence Professional (CIP).

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How to Empower Your Sales Managers to Coach and Train for Great Results

By Mike Kunkle

I’ve written recently about why we should focus more on sales manager enablement in 2017 and shared a story about what often gets in the way. It’s important to clear those obstacles since sales managers play critical roles in driving sales productivity.

As a next step, in this post, I’ll share how you can work with frontline sales managers to significantly improve sales results by helping them apply a little logic along with simple field training and coaching methods.

The Back Story: What Impact Will Coaching Training Have?

I once approached a potential client cold and created an opportunity to train sales managers on how to be better coaches. I was able to get everyone on board and aligned except, oddly, the senior sales leader, who was skeptical that it would be worth the time investment for his managers. This leader had come up through the ranks, hadn’t been coached a lot himself, and wasn’t convinced of the impact the coaching training would have. And, while the CEO was a believer, he wouldn’t overrule the sales leader and do a full implementation without the leader’s support.

So, as a test run, I sold a pilot with one of five divisions. I interviewed all the sales managers and selected the one I thought would truly try to use the training and give it a fair shot.

What We Did: Facilitating Real Change with Sales Reps

For the pilot, I trained the manager – on using reports and discovery with each rep to create a performance gap hypothesis and on applying observation to validate the hypothesis and diagnose issues.

Then, I taught the manager Ferdinand Fournies’ acclaimed 16 reasons why employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do – so he could overcome employee inertia and select and approach an appropriate solution (involving training, coaching, counseling, or changing something). The analytics, hypothesis, diagnosis, and reasons are the logic behind this powerful approach.  

In addition, so he could engage with reps in ways that would lead to real change, I taught the manager a simple and effective field training model (Tell/Show/Do/Review), which incorporates role play and reinforcement, and a coaching model (Diagnose/Plan/Do/Review).

Practice what you preach, right? When teaching and coaching the manager, I used the same methods I expected him to use. Then, to help him transfer and apply the skills, I guided him on using those methods with his reps. I also helped him implement a management operating rhythm in his division – with regular team and individual pipeline coaching meetings as well as targeted ride-alongs with coaching.

Results You Will Want

In four months (at the end of the next quarter), the manager’s division performance had improved by 36 percent over the previous quarter – and he led the country. His team also had improved profitability by 11 percent; plus, had a greatly improved win rate, with fewer and higher-quality opportunities to focus on since he had culled garbage from the pipeline.

When the sales leader and CEO saw these results, they did a company-wide implementation and went on to surpass their annual quota by 16 percent – achieving their best company performance in four years.

Models & Takeaways

Confession: None of what I or my pilot sales manager did was incredibly difficult. However, it did require some practice, commitment, and the flexibility to work differently for a while. The results were worth it and the implementation of new processes and efforts – led by the frontline sales managers – transformed the sales organization from the inside out.

As sales leaders, you, too, can get dramatic results by enabling managers to

  • Use sales analytics wisely: Train managers how to use reporting to identify where sales reps may need help and to form a hypothesis about what behavior gaps exist and are causing performance lapses. We assume managers make these connections, but we rarely train them to do so or enable them to validate their observations. With a better foundation, managers can focus their coaching on real issues that improve productivity rather than conducting haphazard sessions or allowing reps (or themselves!) to settle into a “comfort zone.”
  • Dig deeper with dialogue and observation: Interestingly, many managers – formerly top sales reps – previously did deep discovery with prospects to understand their pain points and needs. But now, as managers, they don’t default to using the same discovery skills when coaching their reps (moving into “tell” mode instead). So train managers to conduct discovery sessions with reps and observe live calls to validate or modify a performance hypothesis and decide how to best address it. This is a quick hit that can dramatically improve coaching quality in your company.
  • Field train for skills, when appropriate: When individual field training is required for skills (e.g., reps don’t know what to do, why to do it, or how to do it), train managers so they can train reps effectively.
  • Coach reps to mastery: Teach managers to help reps apply their training through the use of an effective coaching model. I recommend the models discussed here to guide reps over time to achieve mastery.
  • Get into a cadence: Get your frontline sales managers into an organization-wide, agreed-upon management operating rhythm with performance management methods, such as pipeline meetings, forecast calls, team meetings, one-on-one meetings, and coaching ride-alongs.

Once again, when applied and executed consistently through frontline sales managers, a little logic backed by simple field training and coaching methods can radically improve your company’s sales results.

Mike Kunkle is a renowned sales transformation strategist, practitioner, speaker, and writer. He’s spent 22 years as a corporate leader or consultant, helping companies drive dramatic revenue growth through best-in-class learning strategies and his proven-effective sales transformation methodology. Today, Mike is freelancing as a writer, speaker, webinar leader, and sales transformation consultant, while exploring the market for his next career adventure. You can connect with Mike on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @Mike_Kunkle.

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Four Sales Pipeline Management Principles to Improve Close Rates

By Brad Zomick

According to a study recently conducted by Altify, only 46 percent of respondents feel their pipeline is accurate. This means it isn’t optimized in a way that drives the results their business needs – particularly the close rate. In other words: a sales pipeline may exist, but it’s not necessarily the right one for their organization or their customers (or both).

So, how do you cut through the noise and return to core sales pipeline principles? How do you improve close rate and optimize your sales funnel? Here are five principles that will help you overcome these challenges.

1. Purge your pipeline of prospects not likely to close.

Effective pipeline management starts with removing prospects who aren’t moving along the journey, then focusing on those who are most likely to close. Next, use different categories for prospects clogging up the pipeline. Measure how long your typical sales cycle is and move those who sit outside of it.

Here are two questions you can use to decide whether to move a prospect from your pipeline:

  1. Ask yourself: “Would this prospect be surprised if they were in my pipeline?”
    If the answer is yes, move them to a category higher up the sales funnel.

  2. Ask your prospect: “Do you see yourself making a decision to buy this month?”
    If the answer is no, move them to a follow-up category.

Sales management software can help you keep track of when to follow up with these prospects. You could also use deal-rotting features to automatically see who has been sitting in your pipeline for longer than your typical sales cycle.

The most important aspect of effective pipeline management is communication with your prospects. You should always understand where they are in the buying process. Ask the right questions to understand how likely they are to close and when.

2. Get specific about how you want to achieve higher close rates.

If you truly want to improve close rate, you must set targets properly. “Close rate” can sometimes be too broad of a goal for its own good, so break things down into micro-parts. What, specifically, do you want to achieve this quarter that will drive higher close rates? Do you want to increase the total number of sales you have – or the average price of each sale? Do you want to increase the total sum of all sales together?

To answer these questions, start by mapping out the individual stages of your pipeline. These stages might include targets (not yet contacted), meeting scheduled (set a date in the diary), and proposal sent (including monetary figures).

From here, you must calculate the “magic numbers.” As our own Urmas Purde puts it:

Once you have these numbers against each stage of the pipeline, you can focus on the variables that keep deals on track. In other words, there are events attributed to each stage of the pipeline that ensure the prospect gets nearer to closing. These include:

  • Identifying target contacts within a target account
  • Booking a demo/consultation
  • Sending written proposals
  • Securing approval for budget
  • Forwarding contact to subscription/payment page

These are the activities on which you should focus when progressing leads through your pipeline. Assign each stage with the appropriate action that progresses them to the next one.

3. Measure sales activities.

There are certain variables in the sales pipeline that are beyond your control. What you can control are the activities that move prospects closer to becoming customers.

Sales activities are what you’re doing to acquire new customers. You should define and measure sales activities to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

According to an HBR.org study, not everyone understands this. They found that, of all the things that could be used to measure performance, only 17 percent of people were paying attention to sales activities – that is to say, the one thing they can control.

Furthermore, 24 percent of people were measuring business results while 59 percent were measuring sales objectives.

Results metrics are important, but they’re the result of sales activities executed last quarter. If, however, salespeople are measured on activities (such as phone calls) then they will likely acquire more customers. The activity directly affects the business result.

This form of tracking might begin with something as simple as a spreadsheet that outlines weekly objectives for each salesperson. You can then follow up with them on a Friday afternoon to gauge how they performed:

Once the boardroom understands this cause-and-effect relationship, the contribution to revenue can be outstanding.

4. Continue prospecting even when your pipeline looks good.

Never stop prospecting just because you feel like your sales pipeline is “in a good place.”

A surprisingly large number of salespeople tend to think of the sales pipeline as something that eventually achieves a “passive” status. So long as you can optimize your steps, capitalize on your insight, and make the best possible decisions, you’ll eventually get to the point where things can run on auto-pilot, right?

Wrong.

Never look at the sales pipeline as something you can “win.” The moment you think you’ve “done enough” to optimize your sales pipeline and the management principles that drive it is the moment you’ve lost the game – a game you never truly understood the rules for in the first place.

Coincidentally, it’s also the moment your close rate will start to suffer again, too.

This means continually moving and testing new sales approaches. Here are some examples:

  • What would adding “upselling” as a pipeline stage do to the bottom line?
  • Will utilizing marketing content for sales enablement speed up the buying cycle?
  • How will introducing prospects to clients affect social proof and trust?

Run these as experiments as if you were a scientist: stating a hypothesis and run-time length of the test (e.g., 30 days).

Always ensure you’re planning your sales activities well in advance. Make sure these all align with the stages of the pipeline you’ve already defined.

As time goes on and a business continues to grow, the sales pipeline can naturally grow unwieldy and unfocused. At a certain point, it’s a bit like hopping into a car and trying to drive from New York to California without a map. You may know you’re supposed to be headed west, but how could you ever expect to make it in one piece if you don’t have the focus to know exactly where you’re going and exactly how you’re going to get there?

These are just a few of the major pipeline management principles that can help get your business where it’s going. They can help streamline your focus, re-invigorate your team, and help you unlock major benefits across the board. Especially in terms of your close rate.

Brad Zomick is a content marketing strategist, formerly of Pipedrive and SkilledUp.

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Five Crazy Ways to Motivate and Inspire Your Sales Team

By Sundance Brennan

In a crazy world of quotas, deadlines, pipelines, and paperwork it’s easy for a sales leader to get distracted by the urgent fires that constantly come up. It’s easy to look busily at a computer screen for 8-12 hours a day. Those emails never, ever, ever stop.

I have had those days that go by in a flash and I have no idea what my teams actually did. What was their focus? What interactions did they have? What help did they need? Maybe you have had six hours of meetings, interviews, and issues to tackle and know what I mean. Who was watching your team then?

A quick and easy way to keep the team motivated and focused while you are away is to set them on auto-pilot with a crazy incentive.

These five crazy incentives can be used in pinch and can be rolled out with very little preparation. I’ve been accused of being “gimmicky” over the years and leaning on these techniques too much, but the only people who ever said that were other managers or salespeople from other teams. My team was too busy giving high fives, learning to work together, and heading out to dinner after hitting goals. These fun activities will build a fence around your team and encourage the team dynamics that lead to long-term success.

  1. Desk Swap – Many sales agents work in a sea of cubicles. Offer to allow top performers to swap seats or designate an open office for the top performer. Better yet, stack rank the team and let the top guys choose first. Your bottom performers will end up sitting near the bathroom. This is easy to start, fun to execute, and it’s really obvious where your weak links are.

  2. Cigar Czar – Offer a top performer your cigar of the month. Go to www.cigarmonthclub.com and buy yourself an annual subscription. If you are near a cigar bar, you can offer to take a few winners to the actual cigar bar with a boss. I don’t smoke cigars myself – and my teams often include non-smokers – but the prestige of winning is worth it.

  3. Maid to Order – Offer a local maid service for a month as a prize. This frees up personal time and eases some stress! The single people on your team love this. The married people on your team love this more. The married people with kids love this the most! Give them a break; give their spouse a break. This is something your average salespeople don’t buy themselves.

  4. Boss Humiliation – If a certain goal is reached, the boss has to shave his/her head, get some tattoo, or wear a crazy outfit. I’ve had to shave my head twice. I’ve had to ride to work on a Vespa dressed up like Elvis. I’ve almost had to get a giant tattoo of Texas on my back. I make the goal a stretch but within the realm of possibility. I smiled all the way to work as I rode that Vespa – because my sales team had hit its goal and everyone had gotten paid.

  5. Sing Me a Song – Match up two teams and the losing team has to serenade the winner with a song sure to inspire laughter. Either the entire team has to sing, or perhaps just the leaders of the team. I tend to pick songs that are over-the-top repetitive like “Gangnam Style” or “What Does the Fox Say?”

I’d encourage you to try various forms of these incentives to see what works best for your team. Group buy-in is the scenario where your salespeople care not just for their own goals and success, but also about the team goals, reputation, pride, and overall success.

Take responsibility for motivating, cheerleading, painting the target, and getting your team to where they want to be. The hard work is all worth it if you throw in a little fun now and then. Your people need you to plan out and coordinate a workplace that will keep them engaged and moving toward their goals.

Sundance Brennan is the author of The Art of SalesFu, a sales professional and coach with more than 20 years of experience in consumer direct sales. You can read his blog posts, which usually consist of sales rants and book reviews, at www.thesalesnerds.com. Tweet him @salesfumaster or join the conversation at www.facebook.com/groups/SalesFu/.

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Selling in 2017: Three Trends to Watch

By Russell Sachs

The sales industry is in the midst of a transformation due to the surge in sales enablement technology aimed at making sales reps more successful. In fact, venture capitalists have invested approximately $10 billion into the B2B sales enablement space since 2013, and this year we witnessed Salesforce and Microsoft raise the stakes with artificial intelligence (AI) technology for sales reps, debuting Einstein and Dynamics 365, respectively.

Sales technology is already changing the way we sell – from delivering social selling capabilities to automated follow-up reminders and predictive analytics – but it’s still in its relative infancy. That said, sales organizations are already exploring the best approaches to incorporate these tools into their larger selling process to impact their results.

The relationship between sales technologies and the sales organizations that use them will continue to evolve in the coming year as companies look to strike the right balance between tech and process. Here are three trends I believe will continue to emerge in 2017.

Social Selling Will Force Sales to Evolve Its Outbounding Efforts

The proliferation of social selling in 2016 caused many to reconsider traditional methods of sales – namely phone- and email-based selling. Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn proves that social selling is here to stay, as the company looks to enhance its Dynamics CRM solution with LinkedIn Sales Navigator (LinkedIn’s social prospecting tool) “to transform the sales cycle with actionable insights.”

While social selling does have a seat at the table, sales reps need to be cautious of how they utilize it. The reliance on social selling as a primary mode of selling – rather than as a useful tool in their overall tool chest – is overwhelming, leading to information overload and causing many buyers to “tune out” the white noise of multiple emails, LinkedIn messages, direct tweets, and other social solicitations. As a result, sales development reps will need to be more consultative and thoughtful in their approach when prospecting. The key when using social selling tools is to be relevant, respectful, direct and transparent.  Buyers are becoming desensitized to the overused social methods and tactics – and those who fail to adjust their methodologies will suffer from decreased hit rates.

Customization Is the Key to Revenue Growth

In 2017, sales organizations will continue to place greater importance on defined and specialized roles. In particular, targeted and coordinated efforts between marketing, the SDR, and account executive (commonly referred to as account-based selling) will continue to develop and grow in importance as organizations move away from a “one size fits all” sales methodology.

To achieve success here, sales organizations will need to employ a customized approach that demonstrates the value being delivered to each individual client, rather than rattling off a standard value prop with the bells and whistles of a product in hopes that it catches the eyes of prospective buyers in an active sales cycle. As the buyer continues to mature and grow weary of the noise and perceived overlap between products, sales professionals will be forced to focus on solving a customer’s unique problem or addressing a specific need of the client. The qualify, demo, and ask-for-order method only goes so far, and revenue will likely be stunted by those who stick to this approach.

In addition, as part of this trend, customer success and account management will continue to emerge and grow in prominence as companies look to improve retention rates and overall customer experience. Those who place a heavy investment and emphasis on customer success by aligning their efforts to their customers and strategic initiatives and focusing on delivering value will be handsomely rewarded by more loyalty, higher retention rates, and more revenue out of their existing customer base.

Sales Technology Will Continue Its Maturation Process

If 2016 was the year of sales tech innovation, then 2017 will be the year of sales tech refinement – especially around AI. As more customer data becomes available, we will continue to see the evolution and maturation of technologies that provide critical insights into buyer behavior. For example, products that uncover or clarify buyer propensity will make dramatic improvements in the coming year. We will also see an improvement in technologies that allow organizations to use data to enhance and improve forecasting and uncover which deals are most likely to close, which allows sales leaders to drive greater accuracy into the state of their pipelines and make specific recommendations on what needs to be done to close the gap and hit their revenue targets.

While it is exciting to see how predictive capabilities will drive efficiency into a sales rep’s day – such as allowing them to spend more time prospecting the right leads with the highest propensity to close – enthusiasm should be tempered as this simply will not replace the need for human interaction and interpretation of data. While it won’t teach sales reps how to sell, my hope and expectation is that it will keep them from squandering their most important asset: time.

We’re at an exciting time in the sales industry, and the right convergence of state-of-the-art sales technology and a customer-centric approach means unlimited potential for sales leaders and their teams. I, for one, am looking forward to the opportunities the New Year will bring. How do you see sales changing in 2017?

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

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Six Steps to Winning the Race for Value

By Adrian Davis

Everywhere sales leaders are grappling with unprecedented, constant change when it comes to industries, customers, and competitors. As a result, sales leaders have to rethink their go-to-market strategies.

Often, they reach out to consultants to help them rethink their sales objectives, strategies, and processes. Getting external help when facing transformative change is not only a good idea it’s often the foundation for fresh and innovative approaches.

One thing that can’t be overlooked, however, is that new strategies and new processes have no value unless they are actually implemented. Execution is the only thing that matters.

A Lesson from NASCAR

When it comes to winning, we can learn a lot from NASCAR. Not unlike NASCAR, we are in a race. Ours is a race for value, which requires us to make pit stops from time to time.

One of these “pit stops” is the annual sales conference – often when sales leaders introduce change to the sales team. This is not, however, where change happens. Change happens when talented salespeople are in front of qualified prospects and they implement the new strategies and processes.

When reflecting on a recent win, one best-in-class NASCAR pit crewmember said this:

“Victories aren’t always determined behind the wheel. With the cars these days, you can’t really pass that well. Most races now are won in the pit.”

The relevance of this quote to sales teams undergoing change is significant. NASCAR has reduced the time in the pit to 8.5 seconds. That’s 8.5 seconds to change tires, refuel, and do any other necessary maintenance. Because of parity on the track, it is the team that can get its car in and out of the pit the fastest that now wins the race.

In the same way, every sales force must change or die. The adoption and use of CRM is no longer a “nice to have.” The ability to engage all stakeholders in meaningful and strategic relationships has become compulsory. And the ability to understand and contribute to the client’s total economic equation has become the only way to create real value.

These are just a few examples of the many changes through which sales leaders must guide their teams. With these seismic shifts in the marketplace, sales leaders are forced to pull their teams off the road and educate them on their new strategies and processes. The sooner the sales teams can fully grasp and implement the proposed changes, the more quickly they can get back into the race for value. With the unrelenting changes and intense competition these days, this is where the race is won.

Coping with the Shock of Change

Unfortunately, implementing change in a sales team is far more difficult than it sounds. The type of unprecedented change sales organizations are undergoing leaves many salespeople in a state of shock and bewilderment. They find comfort in doing things the way they’ve always done them. Rather than see the new vision and associated opportunities, all they see is something being taken away from them and they react accordingly. Often, they drag down the morale of the whole team and ensure your change efforts are stalled (at best) or abandoned altogether (at worst).

Six Steps to Success

Understanding the states people go through when facing dramatic change can help you coach your people to success and get them out of the pit and back on the track. The following stages are loosely based on the Kübler-Ross model of coping with loss.

Stage of Sales Team What Management Should Focus On
1. Denial – They do not accept that the proposed change is real. They believe it’s just the flavor of the month and all they have to do is wait it out and it’ll go away. Use this time to strengthen relationships with team members on a one-on-one basis and avoid confrontation. Break the change down into small bite-size steps and get the team to focus on fully implementing the first step.
2. Anger – They begin to realize the change is here to stay and the old way of doing things will no longer be acceptable. They begin to act out in anger in an effort to regain control. Do not take these attacks personally; instead, legitimize the anger and acknowledge that it is appropriate to feel anger when you do not feel in control of the changes you are undergoing.
3. Bargaining – They try to negotiate elements of your change effort in order to minimize the impact of the change on them personally. Be careful not to negotiate on the major elements of your change effort. If you do, you are redefining the change effort – generating a whole new wave of negative responses to any future change efforts.
4. Depression – They acknowledge that they have “lost” the battle to defend the old ways and they experience a deep sense of loss and intense frustration. Continue to provide support and let the team know about resources that are available to help them. Encourage them to take responsibility for their career and to reframe the change in order to regain a sense of control. As an example, rather than say, “No one told me and there’s nothing I can do,” encourage them to say, “I didn’t ask for the information I need,” and, “Let me begin to explore my options.” This reframing will give them greater psychological strength and help them preserve and build their self worth.
5. Testing – They are willing to experiment with the new methods. Acknowledge the team’s progress and help it build confidence. Openly praise the progress individuals are making.
6. Acceptance – They begin to realize that the change is positive. Reward and acknowledge the progress; also, identify what has been learned that can be used in the next change effort.

Hiring external consultants to provide thought leadership with respect to sales transformation is critical. Bringing in a powerful keynote speaker to galvanize the sales team at your next sales conference will help win over hearts and minds and kick off your change effort in a position for optimal success (please reach out to me if I can help you here).

However, the most critical step in change is using a strategy for adoption to prepare management to coach and validate your people through the change. This is where the real transformation takes place. In the end, it’s not systems or processes that change, it’s people. The sooner they change, the faster you can get out of the pit stop and back into the race for value. In a world of constant change, the speed in and out of the pit stop is where the race for value is won!

Adrian Davis is president of Whetstone, Inc, where he has worked with organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, KPMG, Motorola, PwC, Phonak, Aviva, and Dupont. His highly talented team has developed a reputation for leading organizations to innovative and practical solutions that enhance customer value and dramatically increase sales. Adrian is the author of Human to Human Selling: How to Sell Real and Lasting Value in an Increasingly Digital and Fast-Paced World, a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), a certified professional in Business Process Management (P.BPM) and a certified Competitive Intelligence Professional (CIP).

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