Questions Your Sales Leaders Should Ask Halfway Through the Year

Yesterday marked the end of June, which means if your company runs on a calendar year you've hit your mid-year point.  Two quarters down, two quarters to go.  It also means that, based on the results produced thus far, some of your sales people are strutting around with a huge ego and others are slinking about with their shoulders slumped forward and their eyes on the ground.  And the reality is, both may be wrong!  Here are some questions your sales leaders should ask to make sure each sales person on their team has the right focus and attitude midway through the year.

For Sales People on Plan or Ahead of Plan

  1. Are they bringing in the right kind of revenue?  With the right customers?  Consistent with your corporate strategy?
  2. Are their wins producing solid margins?  No discounting? 
  3. Were there any deals that should have closed Q414 that slipped into Q115?  Were there any unusual (i.e. once-in-a-lifetime, difficult to repeat, not likely to happen again soon) deals that are boosting their year-to-date numbers?
  4. Are they maintaining their activity levels?  Booking net new appointments every week?  Maintaining an active sales pipeline?  Moving opportunities from stage to state in a timely fashion?  Consistently asking for referrals?
  5. Do they remain open to coaching and feedback?  Are they still hungry to learn and get better?  Remember, small incremental improvements can make a huge impact with your top producing sales people.
  6. Will they keep their foot on the gas through the end of the year or are they likely to coast?  What will motivate them to keep driving at their current pace?

For Sales People Behind Plan

  1. How strong are their weekly activity levels?  How many net new appointments are they going on every week?  What problems are they finding to get invited into a new appointment?  What can they do to increase activity at the top of their sales funnel for the second half of the year?  What do they plan to do differently?
  2. Are they creating enough urgency for prospects to take action toward the next step in the sales process?  Are they slowing down during the discovery process to really understand the issues and situation (or are they rushing to get to the proposal/close too quickly)?
  3. What is in their pipeline that is closable?  What will it take to get the win and put some points on the board?  Is there anything they need from the company to support their efforts?
  4. Do they remain open to coaching and feedback?  Are they still confident?  How can they focus on their tonality and improving their questioning skills until they get back on track?
  5. Is there too much on their plate?  What non-sales activities can be removed or postponed so they can focus during prime selling hours?  Can you narrow their focus (temporarily reduce their territory, emphasize only one or two product lines, etc.)?
  6. Can they turn it around and save their year or have they already given up?  What will motivate them to pick up their efforts and finish strong?

 

Predictive_Validity

 

Whether you have sales people who are ahead of plan, behind plan or somewhere in the middle, remember that part of building an over-achieving sales team is having sales leaders ask the right questions so they know why their sales people are ahead (or behind).  Sometimes it’s possible to do everything right and lose the deal.  Other times you can do nearly everything wrong and win the business.  It is your sales leaders’ responsibility to make sure everyone on their team knows the difference and takes away right lessons from every opportunity (win or lose).

Consistent coaching (ideally weekly), weekly planning by every sales team member focusing on outcomes, defining 3-4 clear quarterly goals and staying focused on them, and continuing to learn and grow are a few of the keys to building an over-achieving sales team.  One more factor for building an over-achieving sales team?  Effective recruiting!  We’re halfway through 2015 and we are in a candidate-centric market, which means it can take 90-120 days to find a great sales person.  If your sales leaders have team members who may not make it to the end of the year, NOW is the time to begin recruiting.  Remember, a decision to recruit is not a decision to hire – why wait?  Want an unfair advantage?  Learn more here.

Are Your Sales Managers Acting Like Tony Soprano?

Paulie:  “Here you go Tony.  I know my envelope has been a little light these

past few weeks, so this one’s nice and thick.  I’ll keep doing better.”

Tony:  “Nice work, you’ve always been one of my best earners.”

Are your sales managers too focused on the numbers?  Do they feel pressure to deliver sales growth week after week, month after month, every quarter?  What impact is that having over the mid-to-long term?  How does this focus on the numbers impact coaching and development?  Do your sales managers give their team members room to fail/grow/learn?  Or is it all about how thick their envelope is?  

Of course you want your team focused on delivering sales results – but that’s only part of the picture.  That’s an outcome with all kinds of decisions and actions leading up to it.  Along the way your sales people need to: 

  • Decide if the customer is the right fit for your firm
  • Ask questions to discover the problems and challenges they have
  • Monetize the impact of those problems and challenges (both time and money)
  • Find out how long they have had these problems and challenges
  • Find out what else they’ve tried to address these problems and challenges
  • Get the prospective customer to agree that they have these problems and challenges and that they are significant enough to continue the conversation
  • Discover who else at the prospect’s company cares about these problems and challenges
  • Find out how they make decisions and bring on new vendors
  • Ask questions to understand the decision timeline
  • Ask questions to understand the competitive context (not just other potential proviaccountability2ders, but also other priorities in their organization, or worse, the decision to do nothing)
  • Find out if they have the money to invest in a potential solution
  • Find out if they are willing to make the case to get money if it’s not in the budget
  • Get the prospect to agree to make a timely decision upon receiving a proposal
  • Draft the proposal, considering all of the information previously discovered
  • Present the proposal
  • Ask for the business
  • Finalize the terms and conditions
  • On-board the client for a successful engagement or project
  • And then start all over on the next problem, issue or challenge

And of course current market conditions, competitive context, resource constraints within your company, strategic priorities, and any number of other important factors can impact each of these decisions and actions along the way.

If your sales managers are only focused on the bottom of the funnel (show me your envelope!) they’ll miss all the opportunities to coach and offer suggestions along the way.  It’s very difficult to drive change and impact long-term growth if you don’t know the activities leading to those results.  Everyone in your sales organization understands that ultimately they will be measured by the sales results they deliver.  That’s a given, so don’t obsess about it.  Instead, have your managers focus on the activities, decisions, actions, and behaviors that drive long-term success over time.  Your reward?  Consistent, sustainable, predictable growth.  Good selling.

Driving Growth through Goals-Based Coaching

How much do your managers know about the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of every member on their team?  How much do you know about the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the folks you lead?  Too soft?  Who cares?  You should – and here’s why. 

The job market has shifted dramatically in the past 6 months.  We are now in a candidate-centric job market, which means if you’re not engaging your team members and helping them connect the dots between what they do at work and why they’re working in the first place, you may soon find yourself scrambling to replace key team members.  sales_coaching

It doesn’t need to be complicated.  Make the decision to get started and then focus on making incremental progress.  Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

  1. Weekly Coaching Rhythm – our practice has traditionally focused on the coaching rhythm between sales managers and sales people (although that’s changing with the addition of our new partner and rock star Topgrading expert Jenny Rodriguez-Vargas), but establishing a weekly coaching rhythm is a best practice for nearly every department.  Most managers will fight this, saying they “talk with the team when needed” and that “they always have an open door.”  Don’t give them a pass.  They should continue the ad hoc, got-a-minute coaching they’re already doing - and they should also add a brief, 30-45 minute structured coaching conversation with every team member.  Ideally this would be every week, although circumstances may require a bi-weekly rhythm.  It can be face-to-face, on the phone, or Skype.
  2. Weekly Priorities – nearly everyone in your company is keeping some type of weekly “To Do” list.  And more often than not these lists focus on activities rather than results.  And many of the items listed get dragged from week to week with little actually being accomplished.  Change this to instead focus on the 6-8 “Big Accomplishments” a team member will prioritize.  Think outcomes and results, NOT activities.  For example, an outcome would be “have 3 CEO conversations by Friday” and an activity would be “make CEO calls.”
  3. Quarterly Progress Goals – most teams we work with have some high level goals defined.  For sales teams that might include revenue growth targets, account retention targets, net new account targets, additional sales targets to existing customers, etc.  More often than not these targets are established during an annual budget planning session, quickly forgotten, then measured at the end of the year.  What would happen if your managers broke these targets down to quarterly progress goals (i.e. where should we be by the end of March, June, etc.)?  What corrective actions could they take if team members were falling short?
  4. Personal Goals – when managers take time to learn the personal goals of their team members, it becomes much easier to engage and retain them.  When your team members see your company as the means through which they can reach their personal goals (rather than just a job) the conversations between your managers and their team members change dramatically.  People work for their reasons, not ours.  It sounds obvious but it’s easy to forget.  Nobody is going to push harder so you can increase EBITA by 2% year-over-year, but they’ll work their ass off when managers understand what they’re working for (more time with an aging parent, the ability to coach their son or daughter’s team, taking the vacation of their dream, saving for their child’s education, etc.).

While this may seem like a long list to begin with, as you start to utilize these each week it will become second nature.  We’ve recently built a custom platform, Intelligent Coaching System, which makes this easy.  This dashboard allows your sales people to track everything in an accessible format – and allows your sales people to keep their notes in one place (accessible by you).  For more information, send us an e-mail at info@intelligentconversations.com.

Is This Sales Blind Spot Impacting Your High Performers?

Busy, highly-productive sales people move at a different pace.  They generate more activity.  They have more opportunities in their sales pipeline.  They drive operations a little crazy.  And as you read these sentences there is probably someone on your team who immediately comes to mind (hopefully several people who come to mind!).

Busy, highly-productive sales people get stuff done.  But could they do even more with one minor adjustment?  During a recent coaching conversation with Marianna, a highly-productive sales person at one of our clients, we had a bit of an “a-ha” moment.  A few weeks ago we were reviewing her pipeline and she was quickly going through the opportunities she had disqualified that week, along with her reason for moving them out of her pipeline.  As I listened to her reasons, dispensed machine-gun style with ruthless efficiency, I realized that she was quickly putting each opportunity into a category.  And this quick categorization was creating a sales blind spot for her.

This is an over-simplified example of the categories Marianna was using:

  • Does the prospect fit into one of these categories where we’ve had past success?  (Yes/No)

    • They have clear, compelling reasons to change

    • We are talking with someone who has the authority to make a change

    • We have discussed money, both in terms of the impact on their current operation if they do not make a change as well as the investment required to go with our solution

    • There is a clear timeline

    • There is urgency to do something about the situation

    • And so on…

  • Does the prospect fit into one of these categories where we’ve had trouble?  (Yes/No)

    • They are talking with our competitors

    • They have never made a change of this magnitude

    • The budget is undefined

    • Our pricing is perceived as too high

    • There are multiple parties involved in the decision process (and maybe we are not talking with the right players)

    • And so on…

What’s wrong with this approach?  In most cases, nothing.  These items provide a pretty decent start on a checklist to guide sales people through the discovery and qualification process.  For most sales people this type of checklist will be a great guide to identifying opportunities to pursue or discard.  However, the trouble begins for busy, highly-productive sales people when they just go straight down the list without slowing down to ask a few extra questions.  It’s their strength – their ruthless efficiency – that creates this potential sales blind spot.  For example, in Marianna’s mind the fact that a prospective buyer is also talking with competitors is an immediate disqualifier.  Not because she lacks confidence or feels she cannot earn the business in a competitive bid, but because she’s busy and it’s easier to move on to an opportunity she can close without the extra steps to navigate.Slow Down Snail

We coached her to slow down (just a little) to ask a few follow-up questions whenever a prospect showed one of her “disqualifiers.”  We discussed that it would only take a few extra minutes per call and she agreed.  The results?  It’s too early to tell but the early indicators look great – for both Marianna and our client.  In most cases her “quick categorization” is accurate 90% of the time.  But by slowing down just a bit and asking a few follow-up questions, she’s already identifying prospective clients she previously would have disqualified and keeping them in her pipeline.  For a high-producer like Marianna, increasing your pipeline by 10% will have a major impact on revenue growth.

Who on your team may have this same sales blind spot?  Remember, this issue will only apply to your elite, high-performing sales people.  What will happen to your revenue this year if your sales leaders can help this group increased their pipeline by 10%? 

What UNC Coach Dean Smith Taught Us About Sales Metrics

Legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith died on Saturday.  Sales managers across the country who have been through our sales leadership program know that I often use Dean Smith’s scoring system as an example of what sales leaders should focus on when measuring performance.

During his 36 seasons the UNC basketball coach (from 1961 to 1997) Dean Smith amassed a record of 879 wins and 254 losses.  His Tar Heel teams made it to 11 Final Four appearances and won National Championships in 1982 and 1993.  He had great players come through his program and he coached them to work together as a TEAM. 

Courtesy of NY Times

One of the ways he did this was by creating a team scoring system that awarded points for making the right play, the best-possible-play in the situation, instead of the end result.  It also subtracted points for making the wrong play for the situation (regardless of the end result).  So if James Worthy took a beautiful 10-foot jumper and made the shot instead of passing the ball to an open Michael Jordan who had a better shot, in Coach Smith’s scoring system Worthy would get a negative score (even though he made the basket).  And if instead he passed the ball and somehow Jordan missed the shot, Worthy would get a positive score for making the right play (even though no points were scored). 

Focusing on the right activities, within a clear system, with a common goal and where everyone understands their role and expected contributions, drives results.  For Dean Smith that meant accumulating 879 wins, 11 Final Fours and two national championships.

We see sales managers focusing on results instead of the right activities all the time.  It’s part of what frustrates managers who have a team of Lone Wolves (in the Challenger Sales model) because while sales people with this profile put up impressive numbers, they all do their own thing and want to be left alone.  They don’t work well with others.  They don’t like to fit within a system.  Dean Smith didn’t tolerate lone wolves.  If you played for UNC during his tenure you followed his system or you were gone.

If you want to build a predictable, repeatable, scalable sales engine to drive growth at your company, have your sales leaders turn their focus to the activities that drive results.  Instead of having your sales leaders focus on results (closed deals) with their team, challenge them to focus on activities earlier in the sales process that should drive those closings (and I’m sure there are enough people in your company tracking closed deals!).  And while the activities that lead to closed deals will vary from company to company, typical activities to monitor might include:

  • Net new meetings per week/month with qualified prospects (frequency will vary based on the length of your sales cycle)

  • Compelling reasons identified during discovery conversations

  • Quantification of those compelling reasons (both time and money impacts)

  • Learning how and why the prospect will buy

  • Understanding the buying landscape (know all the players and the influence do they have)

  • Identifying the budget and timeline for a decision

  • Disqualifying low-probability opportunities

  • Maintaining proper balance in their opportunity pipeline (by stage, by deal size, by offering, etc.)

  • And so on….

When your sales leaders move the focus to activities earlier in the pipeline and give positive feedback for making “the right play” in that situation regardless of whether or not they “got the sale,” results and consistency will improve.  Sales forecasting accuracy will improve.  Revenue will grow.  Your leadership team will have more confidence in the sales forecast.  Ask your sales managers to focus on making the right play and your sales team will start to score more baskets (closed sales).

My sympathies go out to all of Dean Smith’s family and friends, as well as to all of my North Carolina friends who are mourning this loss.  Go Tar Heels!

Keeping Your Sales Team Focused through Goals-Based Coaching

As a follow up to our recent post “Is Your Sales Forecast Giving You a False Sense of Security” I think it’s pretty safe to assume that your company has at least a few of the signs we listed that may indicate your CRM installation is failing (or is “sub-optimal” as CRM integrators like to say).  Please don’t feel bad, many companies we work with struggle when it comes to getting their sales people and sales leaders to using the CRM properly and fully leveraging its power.  This isn’t a new issue; however in this post we’d like to suggest a new approach that can help you do something about it. 

Basically you have two options:

1.  You can continue the beatings until morale improves (“Ok team, get your CRM updates in by Friday or else!).  I’m joking, but this is actually quite common.

2..Or you can try something different.  An option we’re helping our clients focus on as they drive remarkable sales growth is to simplify things by using a goals-based coaching methodology. 

We’ve built an entire system around this and if you want the details you can send us anemail.  For purposes of this post let’s keep it simple.  Have everyone on your sales team identify a small number of goals to focus on for the upcoming quarter.  These should be meaningful, achievable, easy-to-measure goals that align with their territory plan and their annual sales goals.  How many goals?  A good target in our opinion is three (3) business goals and one (1) personal goal.

Intelligent Sales Coaching

For example, quarterly goals may include:

  • Sales People –  acquiring a new account in an under-served vertical market or in an under-served geographical market, selling new/additional products or services to existing clients, achieving certain revenue goals (new revenue, profit margin, etc.), or holding a top-of-funnel event to attract new prospects to the sales funnel (e.g. lunch and learns, breakfast events, networking mixers, etc.)

  • Sales Manager – making a key hire, increasing profit margin across the team, improving forecast accuracy, shortening the sales cycle, improving proposal win ratios, creating more consistent LinkedIn profiles across their team, etc.

  • Personal Goals – these goals can be anything from fitness-related goals (losing weight, working out more consistently, eating better), to family-related goals (home by 6, family vacation, coaching your child’s team, etc.), to personal development goals (reading three books, taking a class, learning a language, and so on). 

When sales people create a handful of meaningful goals (both business and personal) and begin to see the company as the means through which to achieve their goals, it is easier to motivate them and hold them accountable.  And when a sales manager supports their team by understanding both the business and personal goals of every team member and discussing these goals during a formal weekly coaching session, it becomes easier to stay focused on the right activities and behaviors that drive success.  And this focus and clarity will absolutely help you cut through the data fog we see too many failed CRM installations create.  You might be surprised how powerful an impact this coaching methodology can have on your organization and sales growth.  If you’d like some help getting started, please contact us.


Wisconsin CEOs: Lessons Your Sales Team Should Learn from the Packer’s Stunning Defeat

I’m still shocked.  The collapse I witnessed during the NFC Championship Game on Sunday is going to bother me for a long time.  But maybe we can create a silver lining by drawing comparisons between a few key events in the Packer’s loss to common mistakes and challenges we see the business-to-business sales teams we work with every day.  Actually, it probably won’t help me overcome my negative feelings today - but here it goes.

Green Bay Packers Loss

1.  Complacency – with about 8 minutes to go in the 4th quarter you could just feel the game starting to slip away.  It just seemed the Packer players moved with less urgency.  It was as if they believed they had already won the game and they were just not as aggressive as they had been the entire game.  How many times do you see your sales team going through the motions, taking things for granted, taking their foot off the gas a little?  How can your sales leaders help everyone on the sales team stay focused and maintain a sense of urgency?  Is complacency in your sales organization slowing growth?

2.  Execution – there are three key plays that really stand out where the Seahawks out-executed the Packers, and these few plays turned the game completely around.  With the Packers up by 5 points and time running out, everyone knew the Seahawks were going to do an onside kick. The “hands team” lined up.  Some players are supposed to block, others are supposed to catch the ball.  Packer tight end Brandon Bostick’s job was to block, but he lost focus and decided to go for the catch (instead of blocking and letting Jordy Nelson get the ball).  He mishandled the ball and the Seahawks recovered.  Then with 1:33 left in the 4th quarter and the Packers defense trying to hold them to a field goal, Marshawn Lynch sliced through the defense for what looked like an easy touchdown.  He made the right cut and the Packer defenders missed the tackles.  And with 1:25 left in the 4th quarter the Seahawks decide to go for the 2-point conversion.  The Packers put immediate pressure on a scrambling Russell Wilson, who heaved the ball into coverage and it floated into tight end Luke Wilsons hands as Packer defenders looked on in disbelief.  When it counts, does your sales team execute like the Seahawks or do they lose focus like the Packers?

3.  Discipline – in the first quarter after an interception by Packer safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, defensive tackle Mike Daniels ran over to taunt Seattle lineman J.R. Sweezy (right in front of an official).  This drew a flag and instead of first and goal on the 4-yard line the Packers had first and 10 on the 14-yard line.  They settled for a field goal instead of a touchdown.  Are your sales people shooting themselves in the foot like this?  Do they ever ruin a great sales meeting with an offensive joke or off-color remark?  Do they lose focus and fail to follow up in a timely fashion?  Do they consistently stay “in-the-moment” and not let their emotions get the best of them?

4.  Letting Up to Soon – with 5:13 left in the game, Packer safety Morgan Burnett made an interception and immediately went to the turf.  He had plenty of room to run, but instead of advancing the ball he just slid to the ground.  It seems that he assumed that interception would seal the victory and the best move was just to hand the ball over the Aaron Rodgers and the Packer offense.  But there were still more than 5 minutes in the game.  Could he have advanced it far enough to put the Packers in field goal range?  We’ll never know.  This is the equivalent of a sales person getting a great compelling reason from a prospective customer and then stop asking questions.  We advise sales people to build a case by identifying 6-8 compelling reasons, not one or two.  Are your sales people taking a dive too early in the call, or do they press forward with additional questions, exploring every potential issue or challenge a prospect may be experiencing?

5.  Return on Luck – I had the opportunity to listen to Jim Collins a few years ago and one of the concepts he talked about is how “great” companies seem to realize a higher return on luck.  There are so many factors that are out of our control in business, but if we can take advantage of favorable circumstances when we have them we’ll do better.  And the key to this is always being ready to execute.  When Seattle won the coin toss in overtime, they executed and Aaron Rodgers never got his hands on the ball.  Is your sales team ready for this type of crisp execution?  Are they able to capitalize on opportunities to maximize your return on luck?  Are your sales leaders able to recognize these opportunities or are they so focused on the pipeline metrics and key performance indicators that they lack the broader perspective needed to both see and seize these chances?

There are probably other sales lessons to learn from this game, but these are the ideas that immediately come to mind as I reflect on this stunning loss.  Take a moment to think about how these may apply to your organization, because unlike the Packers, you don’t have the next seven months to figure it out and get ready for next season.  You need to get going right now.

Article Source: Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/series-of-blunders-miscues-sent-packers-home-for-season-b99428503z1-288995461.html). '

Image Source: (Getty Images)


Is Your Sales Forecast Giving You A False Sense of Security?

How many people in your sales department would enthusiastically endorse your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system?  When I talk with CEOs and Vice Presidents of Sales I rarely hear “enthusiasm” in their voice or see it in their face when discussing their CRM system.  Instead, I see a resigned look of frustration.  Or worse, a false sense of security (“You should see the charts and reports I can produce!”).  It gets worse when you talk with sales managers and sales people, the people who actually need to enter the data and keep all the information up to date.

Sales CRM Best Practices

CRMs are part of the landscape and are key to driving accurate sales forecasts.  And when properly implemented, rolled out, modified based on field input, and managed on a continual basis, CRMs can be powerfully useful.  We have clients who have come close to this type of installation.  Two of our clients that utilize Salesforce.com immediately come to mind.  We also have a client with a Membrain installation and another client with a GetBase.com installation that come close.  We use GetBase.com for our sales team, in part because we love the simplicity of the design and its similarity to our preferred project management tool, Asana.

However, these are the exceptions!  We more commonly see examples of failed CRM installations.  Let’s be specific.  To us signs of a failed CRM installation include:

  • Inconsistent and incomplete data

  • Unclear process (no definition of milestones in the sales process)

  • Old, out-of-date data

  • Overly optimistic data

  • Opportunities consistently languish in the pipeline (no movement or very slow movement)

  • Opportunities that should be eliminated are kept in the pipeline/forecast

  • Limited clarity around next steps and customer commitments

  • A false sense of security among the leadership team (followed by “surprise” shortfalls)

And while there are many other signs to list, this should give you a general sense of what to watch for at your company when reviewing sales reports from your CRM.

During your next leadership meeting make the decision that 2015 will be the year that you can actually trust your sales forecast.  Review the checklist above as a starting point, then go further to discuss specific issues and challenges you see in your company’s use of sales forecasts and your CRM.  You should also have your sales managers facilitate a discussion at their next sales meeting to identify the most common reasons for sales that were projected to close falling apart and not occurring.  The output from that discussion will provide a great framework for on-going coaching topics as you move forward.  

What Can CEOs and Sales Leaders Learn from Barry Alvarez?

Many of you may not be following the recent developments on the University of Wisconsin football program as closely as I have been, so let me set this up with a brief overview before I dive into what I think are five key lessons CEOs and Sales Leaders can learn from Barry Alvarez.  In full disclosure, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1990 and am a huge badger fan!  When I attended UW Madison we had to endure Don Morton’s ill-conceived and poorly executed “veer offense” which was not only terribly boring to watch, but also easy to defend.  The results were horrible (Morton’s record at Wisconsin was 6-27) and when Barry Alvarez came to Wisconsin in 1990 we were all thrilled.  If you’re interested in his career stats you can go here.  I’ll just sum it up by saying he had a lot of success and really put UW Madison’s football program on a national stage.

In 2006 Alvarez named Brett Bielema head coach and Alvarez became the athletic director.  It seemed perfect, a smooth transition to a new head coach, continued success in major bowl games, continued recruiting success (one great running back after another)…… and then suddenly Bielema decided to bolt for an arguably less prestigious position at the University of Arkansas.  Alvarez returned to the sideline to coach the Badgers in a loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl while the second search for a head coach in three years was underway.  They recruited Gary Anderson from Utah State and it seemed as though Alvarez had done it again.  The program rolled on with continued success (right up until the shellacking we took against Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship Game) when suddenly Anderson announced he was leaving Wisconsin to take a head coaching position at Oregon State (again, arguably a less prestigious program).  So now the search continues and badger fans are hoping the third time in 5 years will be the charm.  We’ll see.  

Sales Coaching

So what does any of this have to do with CEOs and sales leaders interested in driving sales growth?  Here are five lessons for you to consider, three negative lessons (learning from what appear to be Alvarez’s mistakes) and two positive lessons (learning from what Alvarez appears to be doing well).  As you read these lessons, consider how they may apply to your situation, particularly when it comes to recruiting and hiring decisions as well as consistent management communication.

 

 

 

  1. Set Clear Expectations During the Interview Process – there were two primary reasons Anderson gave for leaving Wisconsin.  First is family, he said he really wanted to move back to the West Coast because of his family.  I can respect that, but wonder how thoroughly that was explored during the interview process.  The second reason Anderson gave was his frustration with not being able to get some of the Junior College athletes he wanted into the school (I’m glad UW Madison is at least applying some standards concerning academics – my sense is there’s probably still room for improvement but they seem to be better than many programs).  Lesson Learned: Use the interview process to explore all the reasons why your star candidate shouldn’t take the job.  Are they sure they can live two time zones away from their family?  Are they sure they can build a strong team AND maintain strong academic standards? Try to disqualify your strongest candidates with these types of questions and if you can’t, you’ve got a great candidate.  

  2. Let Go and Let them Lead – my friend and colleague Gretchen Gordon made this point (while she was calling to give me a hard time after the embarrassing loss to Ohio State).  She wondered if one of the reasons Wisconsin has high turnover is because Alvarez meddles in the football program too much (instead of focusing on leading the entire athletic department).  I have no idea if that’s the case, I’m not there and they’re not a coaching client of ours.  What I can tell you is I’ve seen this situation in companies we’ve worked with over the years.  CEOs who had tremendous success in sales and sales leadership throughout their career tend to hire weaker sales leaders or undermine strong sales leaders by meddling in their business.  Lesson Learned: Hire strong people, then let go and let them lead.


  3. It Shouldn’t Be a Surprise – if you have a healthy environment and healthy relationships with everyone on your leadership team – which means you have regular, consistent, open, frequent, authentic, and transparent communication with each of your team members – you really shouldn’t be caught off guard by someone deciding to suddenly leave.  Lesson Learned: Create an environment of trust and open communication throughout your company (and especially at the leadership team level).  Need help?  Start with Pat Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team and then read Keith Ferrazzi’s Who’s Got Your Back.


  4. Maintain a Strong “Virtual Bench” – Alvarez maintains a short list of potential coaches at all times.  He stays in touch with them and keeps track of their successes.  He thinks about who would be a good fit for the Wisconsin Football Program and has a list of strong candidates ready to go.  So when Anderson resigned his position, Alvarez was able to fire up the search process almost immediately.  How quickly would it take you to react if one of your key leaders or top producing sales people suddenly departed?  Lesson Learned: Build (and maintain) a virtual bench. Send notes and cards, have lunches or dinners with them, build a real relationship so if the opportunity presents itself you can quickly make an offer and fill a key gap on your team without missing a beat.


  5. Know Your Brand – as much as it pains me to say it, the University of Wisconsin Football program is not a premier top tier college football program.  It’s a very good college football program, but it’s not at the same level as an LSU, Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, or Florida State.  Alvarez understand this and has a realistic view of Wisconsin’s “brand” as a football program.  While I hope the next coach they hire to lead the Wisconsin football team is a perfect fit and will be there for years to come, the last two coaches have made it clear that being head coach for the Wisconsin football team is not a destination job.  Lesson Learned: Be realistic about how the market (and potential job candidates) really see your company.


How solid is your talent recruiting?  Should this be an area of focus for your company in 2015?  If so, ask us about how our Topgrading program or our STAR Complete sales hiring program could help impact your business and make recruiting a strength for your growing firm. Email us at info@intelligentconversations.com.

 


Looking Back to Look Forward – Six Exercises to Help Develop Your 2015 Sales Plan

This is usually the time of year when I write a “Year End Sales Strategies” blog post outlining some of the things your sales team should be focused on to make sure you finish the year strong and bring all of the truly closable opportunities across the finish line.  Well, this year I don’t need to because Dave Kurlan’s post from Monday sums it up quite nicely.  I agree with Dave's main points:

  • If your sales team has not been following a solid sales process all year, a “big push” at the end of the year probably won’t have much impact and could very well alienate a high number of potential prospects.

  • Minimize the time and attention your sales team dedicates to dropping off gift baskets, bottles of wine, chocolates, nuts, and all the other gifts sales people like to dole out this time of year.  Yes, customer appreciation is important and while these gifts can have an impact, your sales people will spend all of their time glad handing with customers if you let them.  Have them do it, but with ruthless efficiency.

  • Focus on the truly closable opportunities in your pipeline.  That means opportunities where a strong case to make a change has been built, your sales people can articulate the impact using your product or service will have on the prospective customer (in terms of time, money, process improvement, strategic advantage, etc.) and can monetize that impact in clear terms, your sales people understand the budget, decision making process, decision criteria, timeline, competitive context, can meet all of the prospective customer’s requirements, and the prospective customer understands and has agreed to accept what your firm can’t do, and finally there’s a meeting scheduled for a final presentation, proposal review, etc.  If your sales people cannot answer with an emphatic yes to all of these criteria, it’s not a closable opportunity and will likely not happen in December.

  • Focus on booking appointments in January to get off to a strong start.  Not just “how-you-doing” appointments or professional visits.  Make sure your sales people are asking questions on their initial calls that identify a clear reason to meet.  Think quality of appointments not quantity of appointments.  Consider the 17 business days in December an opportunity to get a jump on 2015 rather than a frantic sprint to close a bunch of questionable opportunities that are not yet closable and you’ll be in a better position next quarter.

So, that’s a good game plan for your sales team to focus on as 2014 comes to a close.  What else?  In our consulting practice we encourage our clients to use this time of year as an opportunity for reflection and thoughtful planning. 
Here are six (6) exercises you can have your sales managers facilitate in your next sales meeting or in their one-on-one coaching sessions to help take a look back before looking forward.  All of the information should be available with minimal effort if you have a reasonably clean CRM system.  If not, reviewing your billing reports should help as well.

  • Top 5 Customers – Have each sales person identify their top five customers for the current year in their territory.  Also have them identify the top five customers from the prior year.  What changed?  Who fell off the list and why?  Who was added to the list and how did we win them? Are there any top five customers from the prior year that should be contacted?  Can they book an appointment to see them in January?

  • Top 5 Projects – Same thing as above, but instead of looking at total spend look at your biggest projects across all customers.  In many cases there will be overlap between the first two lists, but probably not 100%.  What were the situations for each of the top five projects?  How do they compare to the top five projects from the prior year?  Are there any learnings to apply to future prospecting efforts?  Can you target specific situations that could be similar?

  • Customer Sourcing – Have each sales person review their top X accounts (depending on your business, it could be their top 20, their top 50, or maybe their top 10).  Where did they come from?  How did they come into your world?  Make sure your sales managers ask tough questions and really press for details.  Typical sources will be client referrals, in-bound leads, trade show leads, prospecting, etc.  What can you learn from this exercise?  Are there any key referral sources or trade shows or other sources that should get more of your attention?  What patterns can you discern across territories or product lines?  Have your sales managers gather this data, discuss it with the sales team, and present it to the leadership team.

  • Top Referral Sources – By sales person or territory, who are the top referral sources?  What is the strategy for 2015 to keep them engaged and build a deeper relationship?

  • Top Compelling Reasons – When looking at top customers or projects, have your sales managers facilitate a discussion with their sales team around why the customers chose to work with your company.  What problems did they have that compelled them to go with you?  What impact has your solution had on their business?  Again, look for trends and patterns from this past year to see if your sales team should shift their focus slightly during sales calls next year.

  • Lessons Learned – What experiments did your sales team run this year?  Which of them worked better than expected?  Which were colossal failures?  What should you build on next year?  What should you try next year?

2015 Sales PlanThe goal of these exercises is to help make sure your sales leaders and their sale people are asking the right questions, learning something from the answers, and making the adjustments needed to drive incremental improvements year after year.  As the year comes to a close and your sales team focuses on closing the closable opportunities and booking themselves solid in January, investing a little time for reflection and strategic thinking about what to do differently next year will pay big dividends. 

Need help?  Contact us and we can help you walk through our territory planning worksheet.  This worksheet serves as a guide to facilitate the type of discussion I outline above.  What will happen to your revenue next year if your sales organization can find one or two nuggets to build on as they start the new year?  What could happen to your revenue if you ignore these exercises and just keep repeating the same year, year after year?