Seven Things All Good Sales Leaders Must Do

By Jim Cathcart

People love to follow leaders who know where they are going and who care about their followers. Even those who consider themselves to be leaders are usually willing to follow others who seem focused and collaborative. What they don’t like is to be led by someone who is neither clear on their destination nor open to input from others.

If you’re a sales leader seeking increased sales, the strange truth is that it won’t be achieved by seeking more sales. At least not in the usual way. When people sell more it is rarely because they are urged to sell more – or threatened if they don’t.

Selling requires positive energy: optimism, hope, eagerness, and open-mindedness. People buy to make things better – either to remove a problem or attain a desired result. If the salesperson doesn’t represent some form of increased happiness then people don’t buy.

So what’s a sales leader to do? Here are seven things you must provide if you want more sales.

  1. Target
  2. Tools
  3. Training
  4. Time
  5. Truth
  6. Touch
  7. Trust

All people like new and exciting destinations. Some say that people resist change. That’s not true. People resist unpleasant change – but try announcing that we’re all going to Disneyland and suddenly everyone’s on board. It is your job as the leader to get people enthused about what you want from and for them. Paint pictures, tell stories, give examples…show them the outcome. Once a desirable Target is clear, action will follow. Remember: motivation is “motive” plus “action.” The Target is the motive – make it appealing.

If your target is the top of a sheer cliff, you’d better be looking for a ladder. Because, until people see it’s possible, they won’t take action. That is why Tools are necessary in your planning. The Tools might be information, updates, reports, or insider information, or they might be sales tools that make it easier for them to tell your story. The right Tools will make your salespeople more effective.

Imagine having the world’s best software for selling but you don’t know how to use it yet? Tools aren’t enough; there must be Training in how to use the tools with confidence.

That brings us to Time: if there’s not enough Time allowed for the Training to sink in and become a new skill, then the Tools won’t be able to serve you yet.

People thrive in an atmosphere of Truth. When they know what is true and what is not, decision making is easier. It’s the leader’s job to create an atmosphere where the Truth is always welcomed – even when it’s bad news. As Bill Gates said in his book Business at the Speed of Thought, “Bad news must travel fast.” The sooner we know what is so, the sooner we can take the appropriate action. The longer it is delayed, the fewer good options remain.

Touch means the human touch. If all that people get is bad news, they will start avoiding news updates. We need to provide the caring “touch” that shows we believe in their potential and we respect them as human beings. Without the personal assurance that your leader cares about you there is little motivation to exert initiative. As Zig Ziglar said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Which brings us to Trust. It’s foolish to trust untrained people to do highly skilled work, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t to be trusted at all. Trust follows ability and intent. Train your people in the skills that matter. Increase the Trust you give them at each new skill level; then train their thinking to assure that they are seeking to help people with every sale. When you build a team of helpers who are seeking to serve others at a profit, you are building a powerful sales force.

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 Mindset Trainer. Contact Jim at Cathcart.com.

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How to Raise the Performance of Your Sales Managers

By Kevin F. Davis

First, a disclaimer: I was a sales manager myself for many years, and think it is one of the most critical jobs in any company. It is also one of the most demanding. And having consulted with sales managers, VPs, and directors for the past two decades, I know the job pressures have only gotten worse.

So I can imagine the gasps from sales managers when I say that companies can get even more out of them. The idea is unimaginable to people who routinely get hundreds of emails, texts, and calls every day – to people who are already working long hours, who barely have a minute to themselves on many days.

And still I say it: Companies can get better results from their sales managers.

How? By imposing the same kind of discipline around managing and leading that they do around selling. This is the philosophy behind my new book, The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness.

Think of it this way: I don’t know of a single successful sales organization where sales reps are allowed to sell any way they want. Every good company has some kind of common, consistent sales process to grow sales.

But very few companies have embraced the concept that a consistent sales management methodology is equally important for business success. By that I mean having proven, documented approaches that sales managers are expected to follow for everything from managing priorities, coaching, and handling rep performance problems, to hiring, forecasting, and driving a customer focus. This includes strategic allocation of coaching time and doing monthly or quarterly reviews that contribute to ongoing rep development as well as better results. All of this accompanied by job aids and tools that help them ensure they are using best practices.

The benefits of embracing this approach are manyfold. Here are just three examples.

1) Better accountability: You can’t let employees do whatever they want – then try to hold them accountable after the fact.

When a company wants to hold employees accountable for something, it clearly defines what they are going to be accountable for; effectively communicates those expectations; provides the methods, training support, and tools employees need to stand a reasonable chance of meeting the expectations; and reviews performance against the standards.

Why not use this same mentality for sales managers as for everyone else?

2) Creating a self-correcting framework: A key principle in modern manufacturing is to alert workers to a mistake immediately so the error doesn’t get passed on to the next step in the process. Most sales management teams don’t have anything like that. The only indicators managers have that maybe they did something poorly or wrong is seeing bad sales figures months after the fact.

The same tactic you use to create better accountability also helps managers become self-correcting. If, for example, they understand the “hows” and the “how oftens” around coaching – and the link to better outcomes – they’ll be better able to recognize when they’ve gone off track. Then they can figure out what they need to start doing, stop doing, or do differently to get back on track.

Without a self-correcting framework, sales managers are reliant on their boss recognizing the problem and then being redirected. And, along the way, time, sales personnel, and deals all get lost.

3) Faster ramp-up of new sales managers: What happens to newly promoted sales managers who aren’t taught about the management part of their job and don’t have a sales management process to follow? They keep selling!

In the absence of process, they follow their instincts, which typically lead them to be the “super-salesperson” running around helping close the biggest deals. (While this is not exactly wasted time, the sales team would do better overall if the manager let the best salespeople work with minimal guidance and spent more time helping the up-and-coming reps turn into competition for the team’s star players).

Organizations that have a standard sales management methodology in place can avoid that situation. By having standard methods, they very quickly create sales managers who understand that their biggest contribution to the organization now lies in leading and developing their team – and who know how to perform those methods effectively.

I don’t mean to imply that sales management can or should achieve the same level of rigor that manufacturing processes do. But having standards that are communicated to first-line sales managers is key – no matter whether they are newly-minted managers or old hands.

Experienced sales reps know when and how to deviate from the standard sales process they were taught. But all reps have the same starting point; they know they must master the essential selling skills and processes that increase the odds of getting a good result.

The same should be true for sales managers.  

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top, which describes methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. For more information visit TopLine Leadership, Inc.

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Sales Coaching: A Proven Model for Delivering Feedback to Your Team

By Kevin Higgins

Providing feedback to your team is a critical sales coaching discipline that must be delivered the right way to create an engaged and motivated team. In a recent survey of North American sales leaders, we at DoubleDigit Sales asked, “Do sales managers have a model they use to provide feedback to their people?”

The response was surprising: 56 percent said yes; 44 percent said no. This was an aha moment for us. Almost half of sales managers do not have a reliable coaching approach. We also know from our sales-management training sessions that feedback offered without a clear model ends up as a one-way conversation delivered from the manager to the performer. This leads to critical information not being understood and actioned by the performer.

These ineffective one-way feedback conversations come in one of two types:

  1. The “sandwich”: The manager presents the performer with what he or she did well, “sandwiches” the negative feedback in the middle, and wraps it up with more positive feedback. It’s a habit based on years and years of giving feedback – and it’s a habit we have to break. Sales coaching requires a two-way conversation to be effective.
  2. The “drive-by” approach: The manager doesn’t attempt to engage the salesperson; he or she simply states negative feedback and moves on. You never want to provide drive-by feedback. Remember: If you simply tell the salesperson, the conversation is one way; but, if you ask the salesperson, this facilitates a two-way conversation.

If you constantly praise your team members without suggesting improvements, you will have an extremely confident, unskilled team. If you constantly suggest how they can improve without celebrating their success, you will have a skilled team that is lacking confidence.

Balance in feedback is critical. Our Effective Feedback model makes self-discovery by the performer the first and most critical part of this process. The model is two way, and has four easy-to-follow steps:

  1. Ask performers what they did well.
  2. You add what you feel they did well.
  3. Ask performers what they will do differently next time.
  4. You add what you suggest they do differently next time.

We need confident team members, so steps 1 and 2 build confidence. Steps 3 and 4 build skill. Together, all four steps create a confident, skilled, and engaged team member with clear action items for improvement.

Do we spend an equal amount of time in each of these steps? Definitely not! People have different capacities for feedback and different abilities to assimilate information.

Those who lack confidence need more in steps 1 and 2. Those who are very confident – but lack skill – need more time in steps 3 and 4 (but be careful that it comes after reinforcing confidence in steps 1 and 2).

Although two-way feedback is common sense, it isn’t common practice. Making Effective Feedback common practice will engage your team and support their development. Once this four-step process is in place and well embedded in your culture, you’ll find team members are so well versed in receiving and giving feedback that they can actually provide themselves with clear, actionable, realistic, and balanced feedback on a daily basis.

How does this work in the real world? DoubleDigit Sales has consistent double-digit growth, and one of the most significant factors is feedback. When we hire new team members (all members, not just sales), we provide them with a two-page summary of what it will be like to work at DoubleDigit Sales. Here is what we say about feedback: 

“Growth and development is key in our industry, not only for clients, but for employees as well – you will receive constant feedback here, some you will like and some that is harder to hear – either way there is an expectation that you take it and act on it. 

“We will be open and candid with you. If you are performing well you will know it and if you are not performing well you will receive feedback and coaching.”

Our belief is that our successful growth has a lot to do with feedback being frequent and helpful for our team. Everyone on the team knows that feedback is a four-step process, and they appreciate how it contributes to their growth and development.

If you would like to improve your sales coaching skills and take your team’s performance to the next level, ask about our practical sales management training solution.

Kevin Higgins is the CEO of DoubleDigit Sales, one of North America’s top sales effectiveness firms that focuses on creating practical sales training solutions that unlock individual performance and produce sustainable business results. Kevin is also the author of Engage Me, a book focused on the strategies necessary for sales managers to succeed.

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The Best Way to Help Your Salespeople Learn

By Byron Matthews

One of the most frequent complaints we hear from sales leaders is their teams don’t spend enough time actually selling. This is true – data backs it up. According to the 2016 Sales Performance Optimization Study from CSO Insights (the research division of Miller Heiman Group), sales professionals spent 64 percent of their time at work doing other tasks rather than selling.

I’m sure that’s a fact most C-Suite executives don’t want to hear. The last thing sales leaders should be doing is distracting their teams from selling. Isn’t that their most important job?

Forward-thinking leaders at leading organizations recognize a need to initiate training regimens that keep sellers selling the majority of the time and add value to what they are working on in real time. When training regimens are done correctly, an hour of learning doesn’t necessarily equate to one fewer hour of selling. Effective training enhances everything the sellers are doing in the moment.

One of the best ways to do this is to make sure your training is being led by sales and service professionals, not training professionals. You want your training to be a dialogue, not a monologue, and the best way to ensure this type of learning and communication is to have sales professionals lead your training initiatives.

Here’s what I mean: When professional sellers head up your learning initiatives, they can infuse the learning with real-world deals that are currently in play. After all, they have carried a bag, they’ve held a quota, and they’ve talked with clients – just like your sales team. A recent study from Forbes reveals 70 percent of learning on the job occurs informally, meaning people are naturally learning from their leaders and their peers. Since sales professionals are already learning from sales professionals, doesn’t it make sense for the same people to head up the formal training aspect of your learning initiative?

The best way to engage sales professionals and their peers is to make training a conversation about what they are experiencing in the field. Right now.

The benefit to this type of training is obvious. While it may take sellers out of the field for a brief time, they still continue selling like it’s a regular business day. The payback is obvious as well – sellers work on their existing deals during training and they get immediate feedback and coaching from actual sellers. If the training is done right, each deal is also consistent with the company’s framework and processes, and each seller will also follow the methodology already in place.

So you now think of training as deal-pursuit workshops that allow sales professionals to bring their most challenging and important opportunities forward so they can work on them throughout the training initiative.

Keep in mind the intent of any training program is not focused solely on concepts. Rather, it should encourage salespeople to employ the skills and methodologies learned during the workshops to create winning pursuit strategies and win more business. When salespeople are finished with their training, they should have a well-developed and actionable plan to go win more deals.

In this way, the result doesn’t end with training. In fact, training is only the beginning.

To learn more about how training can impact your organization, download the white paper “Six Ways to Shift Your Sales and Service Training Approach to Ensure Your Learning Investment Pays Off.”

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

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Mindset Shifters: How to Get What You Really Want in Life

By Jim Cathcart

Think of your mind as a transmission with multiple gears. Each gear is designed for a specific range of performance. First gear is for starting out; fifth gear is for highway cruising at higher speeds. This can be a fascinating thought exercise when you apply it toward a goal.

What is something you want? Write it down right now. Anything: a state of health, an amount of money, an item you’d like to own, an experience you’d like to have, an honor or award you’d like to receive. Just write it down right now or say it aloud.

Wants are the activators of the mind. Emerson said, “Desire is possibility seeking expression.” In other words, things that are possible for you appear in your mind as wishes, desires, or wants. So, the mere fact that you want something is an indication that it is probably possible for you. Not without help or resources or growth, but possible nonetheless.

Once a want is identified, the mind starts presenting you with the obstacles or challenges you’ll encounter. This is done to assist you, not to stop you. But most people treat these as worries and they shut down the achievement process. Remember, your mind is your friend. It’s on your side, trying to help keep you safe while getting what you want. When you start to see obstacles…welcome them! Those are your “to-dos” on the path to success.

To shift your mind into the appropriate “gear” for the task ahead I have listed several concepts you can use to see things from a different perspective (aka mindset). Try these out on the thing you want. You did write something down, yes? Do it now please.

As an example, I’m going to assume you want to become a multimillionaire and you’re not one yet. So the challenge is:

“How do I become a multimillionaire within the next 10 years?”

Once you have your “want” isolated, apply these to it:

  • Combine
  • Separate
  • Reverse
  • Multiply
  • Reduce
  • Magnify
  • Minify
  • Color, Texture, Shape
  • Substitute

Here’s how this might go. How can I COMBINE something with what I’m already doing in order to achieve more? Can I add someone else to the team? Form a Mastermind with a group of fellow achievers? Form an alliance with another company? Gain a license or affiliate agreement to add something to my offers? Can I group other goals with this one and achieve all them at once?

SEPARATE. What if I make my financial goal a separate activity from my career? Could I invest in real estate on the side or start a multi-level marketing side business? Could I take just one of my job skills or talents and use that to make my millions? Should I stop associating with people who discourage me from succeeding?

REVERSE. I’m seeking money but how can I make money seek me? Can I start with the assumption that I’m already a multimillionaire and work backwards? Can I offer a great service or product that would attract more money to me?

MULTIPLY. What if I did five or 10 times more than I’m doing now? Who else could add to or double my impact? What about getting more people on the team? Going after multiple markets at once? Having many parallel operations?

REDUCE. How about just “picking a lane” and doing only one thing? Which parts of my efforts are not paying off much – and could I discontinue them? Can I focus just one intense part of each day on this task? Could I reduce my goal into sub-goals that are more easily achieved?

MAGNIFY. Can I do things on a bigger scale? Go for the gusto of a massive enterprise or global endeavor? Instead of focusing on my job, how about focusing on my industry or profession itself? Not my community but my state or nation?

MINIFY. What if we do a micro strategy and make this a bunch of little successes, then weave them into a bigger success? How can I offer a Volkswagen “Bug” when others are building Pontiac “land yachts” that get 10 miles per gallon? How about focusing on personal computers (like Apple) while IBM is going after corporate installations (mainframes)?  

COLOR, TEXTURE, SHAPE. Is there a different look, feel, size, or function that could be better? Ford initially only offered one color, black, on its Model T and sold millions. USA Today started printing their newspaper in full color and quickly became successful.

SUBSTITUTE. What could be done instead? What if we replaced the traditional wooden back of the guitar with carbon fiber? What if we used private owners/drivers instead of buying fleets of taxis (Uber)? What if we improved the train connections instead of trying to redirect automobile traffic? What if we offered TV news all day long instead of comedies and dramas too (CNN, Fox News)? What if we had characters from our cartoons as the hosts and guides in our theme parks instead of other personnel? (Disney)

Each of these examples involved achievements in the millions of dollars but the successes weren’t rooted in brilliant scientific breakthroughs. Instead, they were achieved through a different mindset – a new approach to the challenge. You can do this every day. Do as R. Buckminster Fuller, the da Vinci of the 20th Century, did: he posed the questions, “How can I look for God’s fingerprint in what I’m examining?” “How can we make the world work better for all the people with only the existing resources and do so through spontaneous cooperation?” That produced breakthroughs of global proportions. Einstein used this technique when seeking the Theory of Relativity, E=MC2. He said he envisioned himself riding on a beam of light at “light speed” and asked, “What would I see?”

Wow. Well, you needn’t change the universe – but it’s OK if you do. Just apply these new gears to shift your mind into more powerful ways of achieving your goals.

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 Mindset Trainer. Contact Jim at Cathcart.com.

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Four Reasons You Need Account Planning for Sales Success

By Mark Donnolo

Mike Barnes, executive vice president with Andrews Distributing – one of the largest beer distributors in the United States – knows the value of account planning.

In April 2013, the company began following a structured account planning process. They collected large amounts of data about their customers’ buying habits and, based on what they learned, changed their sales coverage model. “The minute that we did that, we had the first year of consecutive months of share growth,” says Barnes. “We’re now in our third year and, as we have improved in account planning, we’ve seen our market share grow. We’re in our 34th consecutive month of share growth – and that’s virtually unheard of in our industry.”

Account planning provides a structure to determine what’s important and what’s not when pursuing customers. Below are four reasons account planning can make a difference in your sales organization now.

Four Reasons You Need Account Planning

#1: Competition is out there. You have to know more about your customer, better understand their needs, have a differentiated value proposition, and have an actionable plan to beat the competition. Account plans provide data that pinpoint the market share, level of competition, and the strengths and weaknesses not only of your position but of your competitors – all of which contribute to the predictability of whether or not you can hit your goals.

#2: Account plans coordinate teams. Most individual sales reps are great at the tactical level. But accounts typically require larger coordination – either between accounts or within the same account – depending on its size. Account plans also reveal how well you work together as an organization within the account. How does the sales team work with the technical organization?

#3: Your account is one piece of a larger puzzle. Every company has financial goals, and financial leaders have to demonstrate they have a plan to achieve those goals. But the sales organization – and typically only the sales organization – knows what’s going on at eye level. Account plans help communicate that bottom-up view. The sales organization has an opportunity to discuss what their customers are doing, for better or worse, and offer valuable information about how sales will achieve its goals.

#4: Account plans create accountability. The sales team needs a way to measure its success beyond whether each individual achieves her quota or not. The team needs metrics, goals, and milestones to work toward. Account plans create a record of what an individual is supposed to do – both the actions and the goals – that can be used in performance metrics.

Account Planning Challenges

So how do companies end up starting and stopping account planning so often? We’ve seen the following major challenges to achieving a well-oiled account planning process:

The organization isn’t committed. When a process takes hold at a grassroots level and spreads throughout the organization, it creates a powerful result. Unfortunately, for most companies that see a grassroots account planning movement, it doesn’t gain commitment from everyone and, at some point, leaves a pattern of ad hoc practices that benefit a few teams but has little overall effect on results. Whether the account planning process starts at the top or the bottom, the organization has to have strong commitment from leadership. That commitment has to follow through to sales leadership, sales management, and to each salesperson who has a role in the account planning process.

There isn’t strong ownership of the account strategy. When I work with sales organizations on sales process and sales roles, one of the questions I ask is, “Who owns the account strategy and the account plan?” I expect to hear a decisive and consistent answer across the organization and the accounts it covers. Unclear ownership indicates a lack of accountability and a gap in leadership that can result in sales opportunities falling through the cracks. Designate ownership of the overall account planning process and the plans for each account.

Account planning becomes all about the document. Account planning isn’t about the document. It’s about the client needs, the innovative ideas to meet those needs, a committed plan to address those needs, and the discipline of ownership and execution from the team. Elevate the position of account planning beyond the document. The document merely contains all the hard work, and it will continue to evolve as the work and results progress.

Salespeople would rather sell than plan. Let’s face it: most salespeople love the pursuit. They don’t love planning. The irony is that the most successful sales teams I’ve worked with understand the criticality of account planning and they embrace it. If a salesperson isn’t a planner and thinks incrementally and transactionally, she is likely to get incremental and transactional results. If she thinks big and is intentional about operating according to a big plan, she will make different, longer-term decisions and get bigger results.

Contrary to instinct, the work of account planning will get you further along – and multiples more successful – than trying to pull it off yourself. Investing the time to do a good account plan increases the value exponentially.

Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe, which helps companies connect sales strategies to the bottom line. He is the author of What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation, The Innovative Sale, and Essential Account Planning: 5 Keys for Helping Your Sales Team Drive Revenue.

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What You Need to Create a World-Class Customer Experience

By Amit Gautam

When I meet with our clients or prospects, the problem definition is nearly always very broad. As an example, Brillio recently met with the business leader of a consumer durables company. He told us, in essence, “I want to improve the stickiness of my customers. I want to create a world-class customer experience when they are in our stores. I want to know everything about them and I want to increase sales.”

That’s a tall order, obviously. How would you go about trying to find a solution?

If you are a generalist, you would probably bring in the specialists and hope they could stitch a solution together. In this case, you might want a user experience expert, a digital experience expert, a Big Data analytics expert, and a host of development-specific experts. You’d have tons of specialized expertise sitting around the table: impressive, but (probably) a tremendous waste of time. They simply would not know how to start the process. Specialists tend to look at the world through a narrow but focused lens, while problems like those our clients face tend to be expansive.

In today’s world, where customer experience, speed, and specificity of the solution create the greatest impact, a generalist approach of customer-centricity – by being the messenger or coordinator – won’t cut it. As the face of your firm, your customer-facing team has to create a world-class customer experience by bridging the gap between client problems and what your firm can offer as a solution.

What you need is a versatilist. It’s an awkward word (spell-check hates it!), first used in a Gartner press release way back in 2005. Gartner’s point was a somewhat narrow one: that, in information technology, technical prowess was becoming insufficient for success. Gartner wrote that trends in IT “will lead to the emergence of a new breed of IT professional, the ‘versatilist,’ who will have technical aptitude, local knowledge, knowledge of industry processes, and leadership ability.”

A versatilist would start by asking questions to define the current customer journey and the experience around it. A versatilist would understand enough about the potential solutions and technologies to build an informed view of the company’s current engagement model and experience creation as well as an understanding of the data currently used and its sources. This helps the versatilist create a perspective on today’s reality from the proverbial “big picture” view – then start to create a vision of where to go.

When you have a vision, you can start to create pieces of the solution. For my client in this situation, we started by creating an omnichannel customer experience that would be delivered by an integrated application available on mobile devices, any Web browser, and in-store systems. A customer can launch a shopping/buying experience anywhere, on any device, and continue it anywhere, on any device – including in-store. We also developed customer personas that included social media data, and applied data science to create patterns that drive buying decisions and increase sales. Our solution included everything Brillio has to offer: data analytics, mobility, e-commerce, and cloud.

But the important message here is that the solution was driven not by specialists in data analytics, mobility, e-commerce, and cloud; it was driven by the versatilist approach to understanding the client’s issues. A versatilist must combine enough understanding about the available solutions and enough understanding of the client’s situation and context to be able to create a high-level solution. It should address the client’s problem statement, of course, but it will probably go further.

For the digital services firm, no two solutions look alike, so you need to constantly imagine, solve, and evolve – and only a versatilist can do that. This is how versatilists build trusted partnerships and world-class customer experiences – which is exactly what customers are looking for. They want someone to hear them, create a solution, and then own the outcome and get the solution delivered.

The bottom line: The best customer experience professionals aren’t the folks bringing specialists to the table. The best customer experience professionals are versatilists.

Therefore, be a versatilist!

Amit Gautam is head of Customer Experience for North America at Brillio and a business and thought leader around the impact of disruptive technologies on business outcomes. Amit is part of the leadership team at Brillio, the company that focuses and organizes its service offerings in three major areas. His core strength is to establish vision and drive multi-year growth by developing foresight into industry and customer businesses, run profitable operations, and build a successful and winning team.

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How to Really Measure Your Sales Team’s Call Activity

By Eric Esfahanian

The Pareto Principle – or the 80/20 Rule – is the concept that 80 percent of your effects are obtained by 20 percent of your causes. Your sales force probably proves out the concept as well: about 80 percent of your company’s revenue is produced by 20 percent of your sales team.

Although the 80/20 Rule has come to be expected, you can turn the Pareto Principle on its head within your own organization and distribute performance more evenly and consistently. To do this we have to get back to basics.

Call Activity: Stats Don’t Lie

By enlisting the help of technology and analytics, sales leaders are now able to challenge that conventional sales wisdom and increase the average effectiveness of every rep to drive performance and revenue target rather than simply rely on the 20 percent year after year. But, in order to do this, you must be able to measure your team’s call activity…all of it! At first, it may seem simple, but ask yourself: “Are you able to accurately measure your team’s daily call activity?”

If you’re like 90 percent of sales teams today, the answer will be “not even close.” But technology has evolved and it’s now possible to easily capture sales rep telephone activity from any phone or carrier. Really!

Once you can take a transparent look inside your team’s activity, it might be a shock to discover what is actually happening compared to what you thought was happening or what you have been told was happening or what CRM reported was happening.

If you want to grow your top line systematically, relying on manually generated reports or overly hopeful input from your reps’ CRM entries to measure call activity is no longer adequate (and maybe never was). With automated, real-time, and 100 percent accurate data, you will have a baseline of minimum performance and the knowledge to set realistic expectations for your team and manage to that expectation.

For nearly two decades, Gryphon has captured phone-based sales activity from some of the largest sales organizations worldwide, and found several key performance indicators that are truly predictive of success. These include the total number of calls a rep makes, conversation conversion (contact-to-close), the call frequency (persistence) of the reps, and how many times they are reaching out to their leads before they are “exhausted.”

If you focus on (first) understanding and (then) improving these metrics, you will be amazed at how quickly it impacts your sales team’s effectiveness and your revenue – and how sustainable it will be if you keep it up over time

Turning the Pareto Principle on Its Head

Once you have an accurate standard against which to measure your team’s performance – and set benchmarks to follow – what’s next? Identify the behaviors of your top and bottom performers and get an understanding for how they are succeeding or how they are struggling. Use their behaviors as teaching opportunities for your team.

Train your bottom performers with the techniques your top performers utilize to win over prospects. Not only are you able to coach to proven standards, but you will decrease on-boarding times for new employees.

Listen to Lead

Speech analytics can help you with this as well by providing a completely transparent view into conversations. Once the exclusive domain of call centers or spy rings, advances in secure cloud recording and analytics are now within reach for any rep calling from any device. With this powerful capability, you can ensure your reps are adhering to their scripts without veering too far off message and pick up on notable keywords, confidence indicators, and even the emotions of your rep and their customers during conversations.

With this kind of data and insight into what works and what doesn’t, there is no reason to fail. You are taking control of your team, managing their performance, and are able to forecast with confidence.

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

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Deliver Sales Training Where Your Salespeople Are

By Byron Matthews

One constant in the life of a sales professional is change. Circumstances throughout the sales cycle change often, forcing salespeople to make quick decisions about the use of their time, their talent, and their resources. They make these decisions hoping they lead to closed deals. But what works one week may not be very effective six months down the road.

As a result, it makes perfect sense that sales leaders constantly shift their strategy as well, given today’s tenuous business landscape. Pressure to win and close more deals and drive higher revenue is as great as it’s ever been, so sales professionals must be able to win deals regardless of their situation. This is where sales training comes into the picture.

In fact, sales organizations should alter their training and sales enablement approach to effectively arm their teams with the expertise they need to meet the ever-changing challenges they face. Learning should never be static. In fact, it must evolve and be continually reinforced or it quickly becomes just another box to check during the year.

Learning that is vibrant, personal to salespeople, and current keeps the sales engine humming in the most efficient way possible.

What does vibrant learning look like? Just like it does at home. People expect to learn at work exactly how they learn at home. In other words, they have consumer-grade expectations that, quite frankly are not being met.

Here’s what I mean:

  • People, on average, pick up their smartphones 85 times a day.
  • Eighty percent of Internet users have a smartphone, which means most people deal with multiple gadgets throughout the day.
  • Eighty percent of technology users check their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up.

When salespeople are away from work, they can access whatever content they like in an instant. This is the new way of learning – via YouTube, Google, and Siri. And, here’s the important part: Their expectations are being met.

At work? Not so much.

But doesn’t it make sense to give your salespeople the same kind of learning experience when they’re at work?

Sales professionals need sales training to be delivered where they are and applicable to real-world situations. When it’s not, you disrupt your organization’s revenue flow.

Let me put it another way: This slows down the sales engine and, in some cases, it slows to a standstill. And you must do everything you can to keep that sales engine humming.

Every seller needs to learn new selling skills and keep sharp those they already possess, but they’re constantly on the go. That’s why training initiatives that are agile, flexible, and include several modalities that open up options allow each seller to learn at his or her own pace.

Organizations need a mix of sales training modalities to meet the specific needs of their sales team. These modalities should include classroom-led, digital, and integrated learning and a reinforcement emphasis – or any combination of the four – and be delivered any place, any time.

Learning initiatives delivered where sellers happen to be should be a way of life for sales and service leaders because the world is changing – and keeping up with learning is more difficult than it has ever been.

This doesn’t mean wholesale changes must be made year after year. Rather, these changes, or shifts, must take into account the skill level and preferred learning method of every seller. It must be simple, easy to use, and deliver exactly what your sellers need – where, when, and how they need it.

“Perfect fit” learning includes experiences that fit the needs of the individual, the team, the company, and the organizational culture. If your learning doesn’t meet the needs of your sellers, maybe it’s time to rethink the way you do it.

To learn more about how perfect-fit learning solutions can impact your sales, check out The Sales and Service Training Shift Webinar.

Byron Matthews leads Miller Heiman Group’s commitment to championing customer-management excellence throughout the customer life cycle and across the enterprise. His dedication to placing the customer at the core of everything gives Miller Heiman Group its expanded, holistic approach for developing, managing and sustaining long-term customer relationships. Before joining the organization, he served as Senior Vice President of Sales at Aflac, where he led more than 30,000 sales professionals across multiple channels. He also spent more than five years at Mercer as Global Sales Performance Business Practice Leader, where he grew revenue more than 40%.

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Five Mistakes You’re Making with Your Sales Proposals

By Adrian Davis

If you’re like most sales leaders, you have a nagging feeling there is something wrong with the sales proposals your team sends to prospects and customers. You just don’t know where to start when it comes to reworking them.

Here are five things they should stop doing immediately:

  1. Not understanding the target audience. In most cases, the individual receiving the proposal is not the person actually making the decision. Ensure your salespeople have a clear understanding of the approval process and who the final decision maker is. From now on, never allow a proposal to begin with these words: “We are really pleased to have the opportunity to submit this sales proposal.” When people read this line, they immediately disengage from the proposal.

    You need to come out swinging and ensure every line counts. The most powerful word at the start of a proposal is the word, “You.” Ensure your salespeople articulate very clearly the strategic goals of the decision maker and how the current situation is jeopardizing the achievement of these goals. This opening will emotionally engage the decision maker. The needs and objectives of other stakeholders should be articulated within the context of the strategic goal and challenges of the key decision maker.

  2. Not understanding what a proposal is. Most salespeople believe a proposal is a 100-page document. Lacking a clear understanding of what a proposal is creates confusion for the buyer.

    Simply put, a proposal is a request for a proposed course of action. “Will you marry me?” is a proposal. So is, “Will you buy my product/services?” The 100-page documents your salespeople are generating should be thought of as technical appendices. Lower level people will comb through these documents to ensure they understand the specific details. Executives will not read these documents. They will, however, read the Executive Summary or the Transmittal Letter. If those documents are well crafted, your chances of winning will significantly improve.

    Most salespeople fail to realize that the more senior the executives are, the more they want to be told what to do. They tire of people bringing problems to them without any solutions. Your proposals must clearly articulate the problem the organization is facing and then provide a clear course of action.

  3. Not providing a transition vision. When people are confused, they do nothing. Many opportunities stall because the buyer is unclear how the change will take place. Buyers want change – the movement from a current state through a transition state to a future state. The transition state is messy and risky, which is why, without a clear vision of that transition, buyers are reluctant to take the risk. Therefore, a section of your proposal should clearly articulate how the change will be made – reassuring the buyer that you have an approach that will work and that they will feel comfortable with.

  4. Not focusing on outcomes. So many proposals focus on the price and the process. This is not what buyers want. What they really want is outcomes. The prices and the process are necessary evils. Ensure your proposals paint a picture of their new reality. Fire up their imagination about the transformation they are about to undergo. The unconscious mind loves contrast. This section should provide a strong contrast to the needs and challenges identified in section 1.

  5. Not providing a clear next step. You need to keep the ball moving forward. Right now, inertia is working against you. You need inertia to work for you. For that to happen, you need to request the smallest action that will demonstrate real commitment to moving toward your solution. In some cases, this may be scheduling a project kick-off meeting; in other cases, you may need a signature for an agreement.

If you can get your people to stop making these common mistakes, you will improve the number of wins when your opportunities get to the sales proposal stage.

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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