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?

How to Get Sustained Sales Growth Over Time

Happy CustomerAsk anyone in your sales departments if they’d rather have 10 appointments they booked themselves through cold calling and prospecting activities, or 10 appointments they booked through introductions from happy customers.  What do you think they would say? 

Introductions will beat cold call appointments every time.  I’m not a sales consultant who believes cold calling is dead and that with the right (fill in the blank…social media strategy, inbound marketing strategy, content marketing plan, Sales 2.0 approach, channel sales strategy…) you can confidently tell your sales team they’ll never need to make another cold call as long as they live.  Sooner or later you still need your sales team to pick up the phone to start the conversations that lead to new business. 

While introductions can be a much easier way to get appointments than cold calling or other prospecting tactics, introductions are hard to scale and predict.  It takes time to earn the trust that makes introductions so much more powerful than contacting someone cold.  When a third party we both trust introduces us, some of that mutual trust is transferred and we start our conversation in a better place than a conversation that starts cold. 

So while building a surplus of trust takes time, companies that commit to a long-term strategy that supports this goal will drive a greater portion of their initial appointments through introductions and will see their revenue growth accelerate, will be able to attract and sustain more A-player sales people, and should enjoy higher profit margins over time when compared to similar companies in their market space. 

In our previous post, we introduced you to the concept of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Fred Reichheld’s book “The Ultimate Question.” As a long-term strategy for sustained sales growth, implementing a systematic way to consistently measure and monitor your company’s NPS is a great place to start. 

Companies with a high NPS:

  • Receive more warm referrals and strong introductions to new prospective accounts and buyers
  • Execute better and have stronger alignment throughout the organization because everyone is conscious of the impact they have on customer satisfaction
  • Attract and retain stronger team members – particularly in the sales department – because team members who “don’t give a shitake mushroom” won’t last long
  • Can avoid margin-crushing pricing wars and competitive bid situations
  • Enjoy a sustainable and powerful advantage over their competition

What would your company look like a year from now if you made the decision to implement a NPS strategy this quarter?  Who from your leadership team can “own” this initiative and gain buy-in from all key departments?  How will you communicate this effort to everyone throughout your organization?  How will you measure success beyond the actual NPS score you track (improved revenue, ratio of appointments through introductions versus cold calls, improved profit margin, etc.)?  Why not get started right away?

A-Player Only Strategy: When Improving Sales Impacts Other Areas Of Your Business

Top Grading Tug BoatWhat happens when you hire and develop A-player sales people and sales leaders?  Your company grows – usually by a lot and often very quickly!  As a sales consulting firm you’d think we would be thrilled when we are able to help a client achieve this result.  But if a company isn’t ready for this type of growth and the team members in other departments are B-players and C-players, this can be a formula for disaster.  What we’ve learned is strong revenue growth can backfire pretty quickly if the rest of your organization can’t keep up!  Here are some of the issues we’ve seen in this scenario:

  • Lead times increase significantly, making it 10x harder to win new business and straining relationships with current clients (lost share of wallet, lower Net Promoter Scores, and even lost customers who turn to one of your competitors to get what they need).
  • More mistakes begin to happen as B-players and C-players in other parts of the company struggle to keep up with the pace being set by an A-player only sales team.
  • A-player sales people start to get frustrated, particularly if their variable pay incentives are impacted by longer lead times and mistakes from other departments.
  • A-players in the other departments get frustrated because their B-and C-player colleagues are making them look bad and they really want to help drive growth and support the A-player sales team.
  • Managers get frustrated because they can see the train wreck that’s about to happen but may not have the coaching skills, tools or authority to make a difference.  And often they have not established a coaching culture and a coaching rhythm with their B- and C-players.
  • As everyone on your team gets more frustrated, key people start to leave.  And guess what, it’s never the C-players who leave (they will hang on as long as they can until you kick them out).
  • The rapid growth you were so pleased with becomes the minor uptick before a precipitous decline as the wheels fall off of operations and A-players leave your company.

Twice in the past three (3) years we’ve had CEOs call and ask if we could suspend our sales development program because we were driving too much success!  In other words, they were struggling to deliver on all the new opportunities their sales people were finding (some of whom we had developed and coached, others we had hired and then developed and coached).  In both situations the CEOs did exactly what they needed to do, they:

  • Identified the problem and developed a plan to fix it (hire stronger people, hire stronger managers, optimize key processes to reduce and eliminate bottlenecks, invest in training, improve communications, track progress).
  • Communicated their plan to everyone in the company, openly and directly (A-players will stick around if they see that leadership “gets it” and is willing to take aggressive corrective action).
  • Executed their plan with relentless focus.  In some cases this meant “facing the brutal facts” as Jim Collins would say – that might translate to investing in new systems or software, letting go of B- and C-players (both frontline and managers), or getting personally involved (one CEO rolled up his sleeves, walked out to the shop floor and said “show me the bottle necks, let’s figure this out).  That type of personal commitment and leadership by example is powerfully attractive to A-players who would probably do the same thing if they were CEO.
  • Came back to Intelligent Conversations once they had the operational issues ironed out and resumed the sales development program we had started so they could continue to drive good growth confident that they could deliver on it.

A-player sales people need A-players in every area within your company.  When you commit to an A-player only strategy you’ll find that you’ll be able to accomplish more, with fewer people, at a lower total wage cost.  By the way, we follow Brad Smart’s definition of A-player (the top 10% at whatever salary range you have for a position), so it’s not just a matter of hiring a bunch of 6-figure managers.  You can have an A-player office worker making only $30k/year if that person is in the top 10% for that salary range.

As you walk around your company, how many A-players, B-players, and C-players are in each department?  Could your company handle annual growth rates north of 30-40% year over year?  Where would the bottlenecks form?  How would they show up and when would you learn about them?  How strong are your managers and department heads?  If you don’t know or are not sure, or simply don’t like what you see as you take this talent inventory, please give us a call and let’s talk about how Jenny Rodriguez-Vargas, our certified Top Grading coach, can help.

Improve Results By Investing A Day To Plan

This week the Intelligent Conversations team is taking a full day out of the office to evaluate our one page strategic plan and develop a 90-plan for Q2.  We’re working with our local certified Gazelles International coach Jerry Fons for the Mastering the Rockefeller Habits public workshop he is hosting on Wednesday.  It is also a great opportunity for us to invite our clients to attend and re-evaluate their plan too.  Why take a full day and pay a business coach to do what we could easily do on our own?

  • Planning HuddleThere’s something about getting out of your environment and spending time with other successful business owners.  The energy in the room is incredible and contagious.  If you ask questions and share stories, you can learn more in a day like this than you could spending a week reading business books. 
  • Certified Gazelles coaches make their money by asking tough questions and holding you accountable.  They help you see things from different perspective and focus on the areas that will have the greatest impact on your business.  You can try do this yourself, but we’ve found it’s a lot more effective with a certified coach.
  • By removing your team from your daily office or conference room, you allow your teammates to feel comfortable in all contributing equally.  Placing all team members, regardless of level, at an equal table will produce a wider range of ideas and input on your company and quarterly plans.  When team members feel included, you’re more likely to hit those goals that you set as a company.

When is the last time you took a step back from the daily demands of working “IN” your business and invested some time to work “ON” your business instead?  It’s easy to stay busy and just react to whatever is coming at you, but we feel it works a lot better when you invest time to make sure you’re on the right path, that everyone on your team is aligned, that everyone reviews and re-commits to your core values and goals, and that everyone understands and is focused on the near term activities they need to do to drive your longer term objectives.

We practice what we preach.  This past week we met with two (2) separate clients that were taking the time to pause and evaluate their company and process so far for 2014.  While taking the time to review their existing sales forecasts and production this far we found that both had gotten off-course from the beginning of the year plans.  A few sales people were on target, a few sales people were no longer with the company and a good number of sales people were behind plan four months into the year – and struggling with how to get back on track.  We helped them refocus by working through our Pipeline Planning worksheet to identify the activities and “mid-course corrections” each sales person needs to make to get back on plan.  It was an eye-opening exercise but everyone left feeling charged and ready to take action once they understood where to focus their time and energy.

Coaching Drives Greater "Sales-Awareness" and Stronger Results

"What would happen to your revenue and profit margin if your sales organization became a coaching-centric group that got better and better every month?"


If you are a regular reader of our blog or if we have had the pleasure of working with your sales team, you know that we believe sales managers should invest significant time (ideal target is 50%) coaching their sales people. 

Sales Awareness, coaching, sales management, sales force development, sales call planning, post call debrief, sales reflection, sales coaching, sales leader, growth, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Baseline Selling, Milwaukee sales coach, Objective Management Group, CEO Sales Blog, Sales Leadership, Wisconsin, consultant

And this sales coaching should take place on a regular basis, both in a structured formal coaching session (regularly scheduled, ideally every week) and in more informal ways during joint calls, during morning huddles, during pre-call planning sessions, and during post-call debriefs. 

 

"What is the main goal of these frequent coaching sessions and how will you know if your sales manager is making progress?" 

 

Of course the best way to answer that question is in the context of each individual on the sales team.  

Not everyone needs the same coaching and the type of coaching your sales managers provide will depend on several factors, including: 

  • The experience level of the sales person and where they are in the progression through their sales career (by the way, years in sales doesn’t always mean progress – a 20-year veteran could need more coaching than a relatively new sales person if they’ve had the same year of experience 20 times versus having 20 years of steady, continuous development and improvement).
  • The sales person’s familiarity with your products, service, markets, customers, competitors, and other company and market factors.
  • The sales person’s strengths and “hidden weaknesses” that may get in the way when they are on a call or in front of a prospective customer.
  • A sales person’s openness to coaching and acceptance of their manager’s feedback.
  • A sales person’s commitment to doing whatever it takes to get better, even if that means pushing past their comfort zone and failing at a new approach or tactic until they get it right. 


With all of these factors considered, your sales manager’s focus for every coaching interaction with their sales people should focus on answering two simple questions: 

  • What did you just do on that call (or in that meeting) that went really well and that you should repeat on future calls?
  • What did you just do on that call (or in that meeting) that didn’t go as you expected and that you should avoid on future calls?

 

That’s it.  If after every single sales interaction your sales people had a conversation with their manager where they could discuss these two questions, what would happen over time?  Would the quality of the conversations your sales people have improve?  Would they get better at asking questions, creating urgency, identifying compelling reasons for prospects to move forward, disqualifying non-prospects or prospects that don’t fit your business model?  Would the quality of your proposals improve?  Would you win more proposals?  At higher profit margins?  With better customers? 


That’s the power of consistent, structured coaching.  But of course even when a sales manager spends half of their time (50% or about 20 hours per week) conducting both formal and informal coaching conversations with their sales people, most organizations will have a difficult time having this type of conversation after each and every sales interaction your sales team has.  So then what? 


Ideally over time each sales person on your team should increase their "Sales-Awareness" and should be able to have this conversation on their own.  A few moments of reflection after every call or every meeting can make a huge difference over time if they really focus on these two questions.  In some environments, such as a call center or where inside sales people sit near one another in a bull pen set up, peer-to-peer coaching can also be very powerful.  And when this happens over time and with consistency, the quality of the formal coaching sessions will get better and better because the sales people will come to the meeting prepared with specific ideas of where they need help and what they need to work on to get better. 

 

Consistent coaching should lead to greater sales-awareness and increased self-reflection across your sales organization. Is that happening with your team? Are your managers having the right coaching conversations? Are they asking the right questions? Do they invest enough time with each team member? Do they do it consistently and effectively? If not why not? Lack of skills? Are your sales leaders too busy? Are your sales leaders too lazy?  Are they disengaged?

 

"What would happen to your Mike Carroll sales awarenessrevenue
and profit margin if your s
ales organization
became a coaching-centric group that got better
and better every month?"



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Started! Have a cup of coffee with Mike:

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Building a Profitable Sales Process - Qualify the Opportunity

Qualification, Sales Process, Close more business, hope is not a strategy, wishful thinking, sales people, sales manager, pipeline, building a profitable sales process, quote and hope, sales effectiveness, sales coaching, Mike Carroll, Intelligent Conversations, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sales consultant, Objective Management GroupHere's a radical idea - let's have your sales team qualify opportunities before you prepare a quote!  Too many sales organizations seem to use a "quote and hope" strategy that rarely drives consistent revenue growth.

Continuing our series on Building a Profitable Sales Process, this post will cover step 8 - qualifying the opportunity.

 

 
  

 

If you asked your sales people and sales managers what's the most important area to explore in the qualification process you'll probably hear "budget".  And that's good, profitable business begins by working with customers who can afford your product or service.  But there is much more to the qualification process than just finding out if they can afford to pay you.

Here are eight (8) questions to have your sales managers ask when coaching your sales people to review opportunities at the "qualification" stage of your sales process:

  1. Have we uncovered all of the issues and do we fully understand the impact our product or service will have on the prospect's situation?
     
  2. Does the prospect agree with all the issues we have identified and do they have urgency to make a change?
     
  3. Have we discussed the investment required to implement our solution or purchase our product and does the prospect understand the value this investment will create?
     
  4. Do we understand the prospect's timeline for when they need our product or solution and do we have the capacity to take on this work within the timeline the prospect requires?
     
  5. Do we understand the prospect's decision process, know all of the stakeholders involved, and have a strategy to leverage our advocates and covert (or at least neautralize) our detractors?
     
  6. Have we asked enough questions about the competitive context in which the prospect is making this decision?  Do we know the advantages our solution provides and how these advantages fit into and align with their buying criteria?
     
  7. Do we have all of the technical information we need to produce an accurate quote?  Has the prospect provided contact information for any technical people on their side (engineers, quality control, etc.) we may need to contact with clarifying questions as we prepare our quote?
     
  8. Have we clearly defined what happens when the prospect receives our quote?  Has the prospect agreed to make a decision?  Have we set up a meeting to review the quote and go over any questions?
And of course there may be more questions your sales manager should add that are specific to your business.  What would happen if your sales managers regularly asked these types of questions of your sales people?
Would the quality of your quotes and estimates go up?  Would the total number of quotes sent out go down?  Would your sales people win more deals?  
  
Free analysis report - download it here
Too many companies use a "quote and hope" strategy where their sales people use the quoting process as a means to have the discovery conversation they should have had earlier in the sales process.
  
Too many sales people waste valuable company resources preparing unqualified quotes. And too many sales people (and sales managers) mistake "being busy" with "being productive."   
What would happen to your sales results if your team consistently took a more disciplined approach to the qualification stage of your sales process? 
 

Free analysis report
Does your sales team have the skills and strengths to effectively qualify the opportunities in your sales funnel? What challenges and weaknesses get in their way?  Who on your team is capable of selling at a higher margin?  Who can you save and who should you consider replacing or putting into a different role within your organization?

If you're not sure how to answer these questions, ask us for a free overview of our newest tool - the Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis™ - and we will follow up with you to find out if it makes sense to talk about helping your sales organization become more effective.

Building a Profitable Sales Process - Know Your Target

Sales Targets, building effective sales lists, finding prospects to target, Jigsaw, LinkedIn, Reachable, Data.com, Zap Data, Info USA, prospecting, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Sales Expert, Milwaukee consultant, Objective Management Group, cold calls, effective prospecting ideasThe first step in building a profitable sales process is to decide where to focus the prospecting efforts of your sales team. Too many sales people (and their sales managers) take an undisciplined approach to defining their ideal targets.
 
As a result reactively pursue whichever opportunities land in their sights (whether or not they are the right opportunities) rather than proactively focusing on the right opportunities (situations that drive profitable revenue).
 
How many of your sales people focus on the wrong opportunities simply because that's what they can easily pursue?

When your sales leaders bring focus and discipline to the proactive prospecting efforts of everyone on your sales team, you'll see a dramatic improvement in their prospecting efficiency and the profitability of the opportunities that enter your sales funnel.

So what can you do about it?  Last week we wrote about the 10 Steps to Building a Profitable Sales Process.
 
The first step is to know your target and here's where you can get our Free Sales Focus Worksheet, a tool your sales leaders can use to facilitate an exercise that will help clarify and focus your sales team's thinking about which opportunities to prioritize and pursue.

When we talk about knowing your target, we really mean "know your target" in three specific ways:
  

  1. Profitable Customers
    Know exactly who your most profitable customers are, what makes them profitable, and precisely how you started the relationship. Not all customers are created equally.
     
    You probably have some customers who don't quite fit your model but they still buy from you and generate revenue.  That's fine since you already have them, but if you can choose where to focus your team why not target the "ideal customers?"  Who are the customers that are an ideal fit for your model and support where you want to go as a company? These are the customers to focus on for this exercise.
      
  2. Prospective Customers
    Know the prospective customers in your market that are similar to your most profitable customers and build a list of every person inside those companies that could have (and truly care about) the problems your product or service can address.
     
    Sometimes it takes three to five conversations to figure out who really cares about the problems you address. Start with the titles and areas of responsibility most like the titles and areas of responsibilities of your most proftitable customers and make sure your sales team is ready to shift their focus as they learn more about the target company.
      
  3. Know Your Customers
    Know your target customers in the true sense of the word - what is important to them, what worries them, what pressures do they face, what does "success" look like to them, what situations create an opportunity to engage them, what do they read, what LinkedIn groups do they join, and so on.
     
    Really know who they are, what is important to them, and how you might be able to help them if they have the problems your product or service can address.  Dave Kurlan writes about the concept of "positioning statements" in his book Baseline Selling.
      
Sometimes sales people will just call to their comfort level.  If they are "comfortable" calling purchasing agents but the purchasing agents your sales people are calling don't care enough about the problems you solve, what good does it do to spend valueable time calling them?

Find out who does care and start calling them.
Maybe it's the engineering manager but your sales people don't like calling that title because they are difficult to reach and a bit prickly when they finally connect.  Make sure your sales people push the boundaries of their comfort zone by calling the person who cares about the problem (and not just the person they are comfortable calling).  
How do you know?  Have them make (and then have your sales manager inspect) a top X list of target accounts. The number of accounts to target will vary based on a number of factors (length of your sales cycle, complexity of the sale, experience of the sales person, etc.). Generally it will range from somewhere between 10 and 50 specific targets. That is a specific person at a specific company you believe can become a profitable customer.
 
Our next article in this series will take a tactical look at building these lists.
  
  
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Free Sales Seminar - The Ultimate Sales Call

describe the imageThere are only a few seats remaining for our upcoming free seminar, "The Ultimate Sales Call, Five Lessons that Drive Results" on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at the Milwaukee Athletic Club.  After the seminar there will be a free Networking Event on the rooftop where you kick off your summer in style with your peers.  

What are the Five Lessons that we'll talk about during the sales seminar?  Here's a quick preview of the Five Lessons learned that we will explore:
  1. It’s Not About You – when talking with a client or prospective client, the more you can make it about them – their problems and challenges, their operational issues, their missed opportunities, their cash flow struggles, their people issues, their production challenges – the better your conversation will be. 
  2. Narrow Your Focus – to build up your pipeline get very clear about who your target accounts should be.  What type of companies do you like working with?  What challenges do you love to help solve?  What style or personality type do you enjoy working with?  Think carefully about who your ideal clients would be and then build your list.  We will review some simple tools that can help you build highly focused, targeted lists.
  3. Mind the Gap – when talking with a prospective client, your goal should be to ask lots of questions to help the prospect understand the gap between where they are now (without your help) and where they could be if they were to work with someone like you.  The more time you can spend drawing this comparison and increasing the prospective client’s awareness of this gap, the better your results will be.  To find out how this worked for Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs – please see this post from my CEO Sales Guide.
  4. Questions are the Answer – one of the bad sales habits we see right away in our role play exercises is the tendency for sales people to make statements that could easily be turned into a question.  When you make a statement to a prospect, they can disagree and argue with you.  If you turn your statement into a question and have them say it, it’s true to them and it is much more difficult for them to argue or disagree.
  5. Purpose and Next Step – begin every sales meeting with a clear purpose (e.g. “here’s what we’d like to do today…”) and end every meeting with a clear next step that the prospect agrees to do (e.g. “We’ll talk next Tuesday to schedule a meeting with your management team….”).  How often do you sit down with the "perfect prospect," have a "great conversation," only to find yourself in chase mode as you try to move forward and suddenly they disappear?  Starting every conversation with a clear purpose and ending every conversation with a clear next step removes this ambiguity and keeps your sales process on track.

Harvard Study Explains Why Sales People Talk Too Much

Sales Blog, CEO sales blog, Intelligent Conversations, sales questions, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Objective Management Group Partner, OMG Partner, Sales Team Effectiveness, Sales Results, Revenue GrowthAn article in today's Wall Street Journal caught my eye, "Science Reveals Why We Brag So Much."  It talks about a Harvard University study that finds:

"Talking about ourselves...triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money..." It goes on to say "In several tests, (the neuroscientists) offered volunteers money if they chose to answer questions about other people...rather than themselves...Despite the financial incentive...(volunteers) willingly gave up between 17% and 25% of their potential earnings."

Ask a sales manager who has been on a joint sales call recently and they'll tell you the test subjects got off easy.  When sales people talk about themselves instead of engaging the prospective customer in tough, timely questions they almost certainly give up more than 17% to 25% of their potential earnings!

This is one of the most common issues we run into when we work with a sales team.  Instead of asking good, tough, timely questions....questions that help the prospect think about their situation in a new way....questions that challenge the way a prospect is doing things currently....questions that reframe the issue and create urgency....questions that highlight the consequences of NOT acting to fix a problem....questions that help your sales person earn respect and credibility....questions that uncover compelling reasons for the prospect to move forward and more importantly to move forward with your company.  Instead of doing all of that, what do most sales people do?  What do your sales people do?

If they're like many of the sales people we meet when we first get started, they probably do exactly what the test volunteers in the Harvard Study did.  They talk about themselves.  They talk about their product.  They talk about the features and benefits of their service.  In short, they puke all over themselves and stick to what they know rather than engaging the prospect in a real conversation by asking great questions.

What would happen to your revenue growth if your sales people learned a different lesson from this Harvard Study?  What if they learned how to ask good, tough, timely questions that got your prospects talking about their problems and challenges?  About their strategies and plans?  About their company and their job?

This study cuts both ways. When your sales team learns to get out of their own way and ask questions that get your prospective customers talking, you'll have more awards to hand out and bigger bonus checks to sign at the end of the year.  How many of your sales people are capable of making that transition?  Do you have a sales team or just a group of professional braggarts?  How does your sales team measure up?