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?

Coaching Rhythm and Texting While Driving

My last post talked about the challenges of teaching my middle daughter, who recently got her learners permit, to drive safely.  We compared teaching safe driving to the importance of consistent sales coaching and the types of conversations that should happen with regularity and consistency between your sales leaders and sales team.  For this post I want to continue in the theme of safe driving and sales coaching.  My oldest daughter has been driving for a few years now and we recently had a conversation about texting while driving.  The data is overwhelming.  Here’s an infographic I found on this topic:

Texting and Driving

When you think about how little time it takes to travel the length of a football field while looking at your phone – and all the bad things that can happen while you’re distracted – it’s hardly surprising that so many accidents happen as a result of texting and driving.

So what is the connection to sales coaching?  In our sales consulting practice we recommend sales leaders establish a regular rhythm of coaching conversations with everyone on their team.  Ideally these should happen weekly and biweekly at an absolute minimum.  I can already hear sales managers groaning as they read that last sentence and thinking “when am I supposed to fit that into my already full schedule?”  Well, think of scheduling regular, structured, formal weekly coaching sessions with everyone on the sales team as the same as looking forward and paying close attention while driving down the highway.

Would you like your team to avoid big, spectacular sales crashes?  Ask your sales leaders to look forward on a regular basis.  Challenge them to ask questions on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns and trends in the market on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns, trends, bad habits, and self-limiting beliefs from your sales team on a regular basis.  Challenge them to engage in role play on a regular basis (most sales managers will resist this at first because most are really bad at it).  In short, make sure your sales leaders coach your sales people on a regular basis so they can stay ahead of all the subtle nuances and changes in your sales pipeline, allowing them to make minor smooth corrections rather than sudden shifts and dramatic changes.

As CEO what can you do?  How often are you coaching your sales leaders?  When you talk with them, are you simply going through a tactical review of the pipeline?  Are you asking the right questions?  Are you leveraging the market feedback your sales team can provide in real time?  Do you see patterns in where your sales leaders are focused?  Are they focused on the right things?  The right activities?  The right people on their team?  What would happen to your sales culture if you lead by example and coached your sales leaders as you expect them to coach your sales people?

Not sure where to start?  We can help.  We start by helping you understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of your sales leaders.  How do they measure up in terms of their coaching skill set?  How about the skills required to create a culture of accountability?  Motivating the team?  Attracting and retaining A-player sales talent (A-players won’t work for B-managers)?  Growing the team?  How about your sales people?  Are they capable of growth?  How much?  Where do they need help?  What self-limiting beliefs get in their way?  Are they coachable?  If you invested in their professional development would it be worth it?  How long would it take you to realize a return on your training investment? 

We can help you understand these and many other important questions with our Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis.  We’ll be glad to send you a sample and discuss whether or not this would be a good next step for growing your revenue.  Or you could just keep your eyes down and hope you don’t crash.  It’s up to you.

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What Do Driving Instruction and Sales Coaching Have in Common?

My middle daughter just got her learners permit, so I’ve been spending a lot of terrifying time in the passenger seat of our car coaching her on the do’s and don’ts of safe driving.  You know - little things like understanding which pedal is the brake and which is the accelerator!  I’m exaggerating (a little) but it’s truly scary how many little adjustments and corrections need our constant attention as we drive down the road.  If you’ve been driving for more than a few years you probably don’t even think about it, you just do it.


The same can be said about your sales managers.  A typical sales manager that has been in the business for more than a few years, has realized a level of success selling your product or service and may not realize all the little adjustments, subtle nuances, and minor course corrections they make on a typical sales call to keep a sales conversation on track.  Do your sales managers remember what was like when they first started?  Is it possible they are making assumptions or taking things for granted?  Working with my daughter as she gains confidence in her driving ability has reminded me of the importance of slowing down, reviewing the basics, explaining what may seem obvious to me (e.g. “Dad, how do you know where you are relative to the center line?  I feel like I’m about to cross it but you say I’m nearly hitting the parked cars on the right!”), and giving positive feedback when she does something well.

So what can you do (or ask your sales leaders to do)?  In our sales consulting practice we put a great deal of emphasis on sales leaders establishing a regular, consistent coaching rhythm with everyone on their team.  Ideally this is a scheduled weekly meeting (face-to-face or a phone call) for at least 30 minutes.  Every other week is ok, but weekly is better.  This is in addition to what we call “ad hoc coaching” that naturally takes place throughout the week (ride along sales calls, pop-in “got a minute” meetings, conversations in the hallway, etc.).  What we recommend is a structured weekly call to cover:

  • Weekly outcomes – is the sales person focused on the right outcomes, have they set their weekly goals appropriately, are their weekly goals aligned with their quarterly goals, etc.

  • Best Call/Worst Call – pick one, but ask about either the best call of the past week (what went well, what did you learn, what can you repeat on future calls?) - or the worst call of the past week (what went wrong, what would you do differently, what did you learn so you don’t repeat the same mistakes?).

  • Biggest Lesson Learned – if your sales people are not learning every week they’re not having the right level of conversation.  Busy, productive sales people should have enough conversations that they’re learning something every week – something about the competition, the market, their prospective clients, your product/service, what they need to do differently, a skill gap they need to address, an objection they need to work on, etc.  If they’re not, chances are they’re having weak/safe conversations instead of the type of conversations that move sales forward.

  • Focus on a specific opportunity – drill down, look at an important upcoming call or appointment, talk about a strategic account situation, review a new product or offering, or explore any topic that warrants a deeper discussion (15-20 minutes).  Ask open-ended questions to spark conversation.  Ask follow up questions to drill down and keep exploring the topic.  If appropriate, engage in situational role play to demonstrate the right behavior or show how to navigate a sales situation.

Regular, consistent sales coaching can help reinforce the right behaviors, correct the wrong behaviors (before they become habits), and help keep everyone on the sales team on a path toward continual improvement.  And while I hope your sales people have more skill and confidence in sales than my daughter has in driving (at least for now), we ALL can and should get better.  As soon as we think we know it all and stop learning is when we grow complacent and stop earning.  When can you have a conversation with your sales leaders to discuss their coaching habits and review some of the ideas outlined in this post?

Is Your Sales Organization Ready For Topgrading?

If your leadership team understands that the Company’s most valuable asset is its people then the answer is yes.

In a time where hiring and re-hiring top notch talent has become necessary in order to run a successful business and set yourselves apart from your competitors, it is critical that your organization implements a recruitment method that attracts, screens, and secures the best talent, both internal and external.

Hiring and retaining A Players is the most important responsibility assigned to leaders in your organization. When referring to leaders, we don’t refer exclusively to executives, managers, and supervisors, but rather all members of the organization with the drive and desire to excel. We refer to high performers longing to work with other high performers.

Amongst some of the most common challenges being faced today by organizations using traditional recruitment methods are vague job descriptions, screening from resumes, competency & behavioral based interviews, and ineffective reference checks.  By implementing the Topgrading methodology in your organization you will be able to resolve these issues and more.  You will be able to improve your organization’s hiring success, reduce the cost of turnover, increase profits and market value.

What is Topgrading?

Topgrading is a talent acquisition method that allows your organization to achieve teams consisting of 90% or more A Players, those in the top 10% of talent available for the pay. There are 12 steps to follow in the Topgrading Timeline; each step plays a significant role in the hiring success of your organization, from executive hiring to front line personnel.

Following are a few reasons your organization should consider the implementation of Topgrading: 

Calculating the Cost of Mis-hires

When calculating the cost of a mis-hire, take a sales representative for example, consider the following factors: hiring costs, compensation, maintenance, severance, opportunity costs and disruptions costs and you will be surprised by the outcome. 

Blog Jenny%27s Chart

Vague Job Descriptions vs. Job Scorecards

Most companies use a job description to help them identify the responsibilities assigned to the employee; job descriptions tend to be broad and general.  In the long run, they lead to disappointment, due to the ambiguous delivery of expectations.  Topgrading uses the Job Scorecard to identify clear accountabilities and metrics assigned to a specific job.  It also identifies the key competencies necessary to achieve the results your organization is looking for.  Expectations are clearly defined prior to the person being hired or promoted so you can communicate those expectations from day one. Your performance document is created before a person is hired and you can clearly determine whether a new hire is an A Player or not.

Screening from Resumes vs. The Career History Form

Resumes tend to carry a lot of weight, an opportunity for job candidates to exaggerate their roles and accomplishments. By using the Topgrading Career History Form you will ask candidates to identify their strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, challenges, relationships with supervisors, and reasons for leaving the job; the good and the ugly.

Behavioral Based Interviews vs. The Topgrading Tandem Interview

Candidates come prepared to behavior-based competency interviews.  They expect questions revolving around integrity, communication, teamwork and initiative (going the “extra mile”) along with the organizational values you list on your website.  In today’s world there are books candidates can actually purchase that help them prepare for these types of interviews.  The Tandem Topgrading Interview is a chronological, in-depth, and structured interview focusing on education, work history, plans, goals, and self-appraisal.

Reference Checks

Are you guilty of hiring without checking references? You’re not alone. Reference checks are often not executed or done poorly.  Some of the challenges with reference checks are: allowing candidates to provide only positive references, “the cheerleading squad”, hiring managers trying, often in vain, to chase down references, and getting references to talk, typically sending you directly to their HR department.  By using what Topgrading refers to as “TORC”, threat of reference check, candidates are asked to arrange personal reference calls with references such as their bosses from the past 10 years, peers, direct reports, and customers. You decide and identify which references the candidate will be arranging.   

Topgrading Fixes Hiring Problems

Tograding at every level in your organization will have a positive impact on both your customers’ and employees’ health index. High performers will support your brand promise and in return you retain and grow your existing clientele by developing relationships built on trust, where clients feel comfortable referring new clients.  By supporting your talent promise of hiring high performers to work with high performers your employee engagement will increase as well as your employees’ commitment level, resulting in low turnover.  Bottom line, hire more high performers who fit your culture, avoid mis-hires that cost you a lot of time and money, get to know employees very well before they even become employees, grow faster, gain market share, increase profits, create fulfilling jobs.  Become a talent magnet!