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?

Sales Leap Every Year!

Sales Leap, CEO Sales Blog, Sales Team, Sales Secret, Last Call, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Leap Year, Sales Force Development Expert, Milwaukee, ConsultantWhat would your revenue look like if your sales team had one extra day to sell every year?  This year we get a bonus "leap day" and every person on your team will make a series of decisions about how they invest their time.  Those decisions will have an impact on the results they produce - not just on leap day, but every day!  Let me share a sales secret that can create an "extra day" of selling every single year, not just every four years during leap year.

First, let's spend a moment talking about sales measurables.  What do you measure?  How do you measure success for your sales team? If you're like most CEOs we work with, you probably have a very solid understanding of your proposal conversion rate.  You know that if you send out X number of proposals every month you will win $Y in new business.  A few CEOs understand how many productive sales meetings need to take place to generate X number of proposals.  And it is a very rare CEO (or business owner, or VP of Sales) who understands the daily activities required by every sales person, in every territory, to drive the right number of meetings (and frankly the right type of meetings), to drive the highly qualified proposals that lead to reaching or exceeding your monthly, quarterly, and annual revenue goals.  If you have this down, great!  If you don't, contact me and I'll quickly help you figure it out.

Whether or not you understand the daily activities required by each sales person on your team to drive the revenue results you want, here's a sales secret you can implement right away to add an extra day of selling every year.  Have everyone on your sales team form the habit of making one extra call before they go home every day.  That's it.  One small change - a simple decision they can make every day - that will drive massive results over time.

  • One extra call every day.
  • Five working days per week.
  • 50 weeks per year (assumes two weeks of vacation).
  • 250 extra calls per year.

How many days do your sales people make 250 phone calls?  For most sales people (unless they work in a call center or highly transactional environment), 250 phone calls would be an outstanding day.  Even if they only made an extra 200 phone calls per year, that would still be a great day of sales activity.  Once you understand your sales measurables, you can easily calculate the impact an extra 200 calls from every person in your sales organization could have on your revenue.  Hold your sales team accountable to this one simple decision - every day - and your sales will take a leap every year, year after year. 

What would happen to your revenue growth this year if your sales team formed this habit?  What can you do to make sure that happens, starting today?

Increase Sales By Focusing Your Prospecting Efforts

describe the imageWhen a sales person is struggling one of the first questions we ask is "how many people are on your target prospect list?"  Usually we find a list with everything and the kitchen sink.  Too many names.  Too many target accounts.  Too many titles.  Too many target industries.  Too spread out geographically.  In short, a target prospect list that shows a total lack of focus.

Usually when we point this out to a struggling sales person we hear something like "Yes, but anyone of these prospects could potentially buy from me."  And that's probably true and some probably will, which will only reinforce the belief that casting a wide prospecting net is an effective sales strategy.  In our experience it's not.

On the other extreme, when we look at the target prospecting list of a highly successful, top producing sales person we usually see a much more focused and narrowly targeted list.  They have usually found their niche and are concentrating their sales efforts on being the dominant provider in that niche.  It could be a specific industry, it could be a specific title or functional role within a prospect's organization, it could be a narrow geographical area, or it could be a combination of multiple characteristics.

To get started, take a look at your top client successes (or the client successes of the top sales people on your team) and ask:
  • What does my dream client look like? 
  • What characteristics should they have? 
  • What do I like about working with them?
  • Who else has those same traits? 
  • Is it role-specific? 
  • Is it industry-specific? 
  • Is it situational? 
Then ask yourself the following tough questions:
  • Who do I need to become as a sales person to effectively serve these dream clients?
  • What do I need to STOP doing so I can focus my sales efforts exclusively on those ideal clients?
  • What do I need to do to get out of my comfort zone to target decision makers at my ideal cleint?
  • How can I leverage this renewed focus to improve my networking and referral strategies?
Instead of casting a wide net and just hoping for the best, take ownership of your sales success by narrowing your sales focus.  One way to do that is to use our Free Sales Focus Worksheet.  Thanks and good selling!

How LinkedIn Is Changing My Business

Six weeks ago I was as big of a “social media” skeptic as you could find. Even though I had used them, it was hard for me to imagine LinkedIn or Twitter as serious business-to -business marketing tools. I thought of these platforms as interesting diversions, but not serious business development tools. The target market for my sales force development consulting business is comprised of Presidents, CEOs, and Business Owners of companies with $5-$50 million in annual sales that have a direct sales force and are located in Southeastern Wisconsin. There are about 400 such people that fit this description and I highly doubted I could reach them through these channels.

What I’ve learned over the past six weeks is that I was wrong, but not in the way I expected. Let me back up. I started my B2B sales blog over two years ago and while I’ve had a lot of fun writing it, and I believe it has helped establish my expertise in the B2B sales arena, it never generated any business opportunities. However, six weeks ago I made the commitment to step up my writing and set the goal of writing one new post a week. Additionally, I decided to engage the community on LinkedIn by also posting this information to various groups and asking questions related to each. The results have been remarkable. I’ve received many messages and e-mails asking me for more information, offering more ideas and wondering if my company offers individual training programs for sales people and sales managers. Currently, we don’t. Our approach is customized based on what we uncover when we evaluate sales organizations.

I’ve never really thought about taking what we do for our corporate engagements (high-end custom programs) and provide something similar for individuals. That is, until now. The question I ask myself is: How can I deliver a program that is tailored to the individual needs of a sales person or sales manager – based on his or her unique strengths and weaknesses – at a price point that would allow an individual to buy it on his or her own, without asking his or her company for permission? I have some ideas, but I would love your input. Right now I’m thinking of two separate courses. Each would be a series of web courses, one for sales people and another for sales managers, where the curriculum could be tailored to address the specific weaknesses of each participant (based on an assessment we would provide).

I believe each course should include some basic “blocking and tackling” content that everyone can benefit from reviewing and then the rest would be personalized based on the areas an individual needs to focus on to improve. I would then host a series of webcasts reviewing the sales or sales management content, addressing individual questions, role playing, discussing how to apply the general lessons to specific sales situations, and so on. Is this a program that you would be interested in? How much would you be willing to invest in this type of a program? What else would you like to see in it? Please let me know your thoughts because you are changing my business!

Successful Prospecting

I missed my anniversary! On June 2, 2007 I wrote my first post for my B2B Sales Blog. And over the past two years I've written several posts addressing the need to prospect as well as specific prospecting strategies. This continues to be an important topic to explore because so many sales people struggle with it. Here are a few early posts on the topic, as well as one from earlier this year:

Know Your Numbers - understanding your critical conversion ratios is key to driving activity and knowing how much time you need to focus on prospecting activities.

Multiple Conversations - highlighting the importance of balancing your pipeline.

Schedule Time With Yourself - how to treat your "cold call time" like an appointment with an important client.

Voicemail Strategies - if you make lots of cold calls you'll want to read this.

Last Call - a great habit that will really increase your sales production.

Five Conversation Starters - not sure what to say?

Building Sales Momentum - when's the best time to make cold calls?

Power Hours - focus your time on productive selling.

Ten Ways to Fill Up Your Sales Pipeline (Without Cold Calling) -- pretty self explanatory.

We all know prospecting is the lifeblood of sales productivity. Here are some questions we'll post on various forums to get input from other sales people.

1.How much time do you dedicate to prospecting activities every day?

2.Have you defined a process to generate referrals and do you follow it consistently?

3.What is your most effective prospecting strategy?

We'll post some of the better responses we receive later this week.

Qualifying Prospects

This week I've asked several discussion forums a few basic questions about how they qualify prospects. The responses have been terrific and I've included many of the stronger answers below ( I've also summarized the main points).

In our sales force development consulting practice, we see lots of sales people get stuck at the qualification stage of their sales process. They can book lots of first meetings and can identify several compelling reasons to move forward during those initial meetings, but instead of asking the key qualifying questions, they immediately go to the proposal stage and get shot down at the close.

To fully qualify a prospect, we recommend slowing down to make sure you understand the following issues at a minimum:

•Budget and terms
•Timeline and delivery method
•How they're going to make a decision (who decides, based on what criteria, etc.)
•And most importantly, agreement to make a decision

This last bullet is really important. We coach our clients to never prepare a formal proposal unless the prospect has made a commitment to give them a yes or no answer once they receive the proposal.

Other areas to qualify include:

•Dissatisfaction with their current provider and their willingness to leave them
•Willingness to pay for value rather than just taking the lowest price
•Where you stand versus the competition, including the status quo or the other priorities competing for their attention
•Your ability to satisfy their wish list and acceptance of anything you cannot provide
•Their criteria for doing business with you and your company
•Whether or not they are a good fit for your business - if they're really difficult to work with during the sales process, why would you expect them to change after the sale?
That's my point of view on qualifying prospects. Here are a few of the great answers generated from our discussion forums this week.

What do you do when a prospect says they don't have a budget for what you're proposing?


If you do an effective job of finding compelling reasons for them to change what they are currently doing, budget should not be a concern. Understanding the consequences (missed revenue opportunities, direct expenses, inefficient use of resources, etc.) and having the client estimate the financial impact is critical. If you can find consequences that are at least double the investment required to implement your product or service, serious prospects will find the money.

•If you get this objection you haven't solved the most basic problem you must solve to make a sale -- making your stack of benefits far larger than their stack of money. (Flynn Penoyer)

•Before you spent your time working on a proposal, you should have asked "Assuming that we can do x, y and z, is there any reason we wouldn't be able to move forward when we next meet?" If the answer is, "Well, it needs to meet our budget", then you need to establish roughly what that budget is. There's absolutely no point is spending your time writing a proposal for the deluxe super-duper model if they only have the money for the bare-bones model. Or maybe no money for anything you have to offer. (Daniel Jatovsky)

Many times a prospect will use the budget excuse when there is another impediment to moving forward. Could be they don't have the time to chat/be sold or they might simply not understand or recognize the value your offering brings. That's where some additional probing is required. (Kevin McMahon)

•You need to check at the beginning of the process whether there is the possibility of diverting budget if the case is proved and the budget is not allocated for such an activity. If not, look for other opprtunities. (George Petri) •How much pain do they have? If there is not enough pain, budget will always be an obstacle. (Michael Looby) How do you handle stalling prospects? "We want to buy, but not until September...."

Again it goes back to finding compelling reasons to change and creating urgency around those reasons. If a prospect wants to wait until September I like to ask "What's going to change between now and September? And based on the issues we've just discussed, can you afford to wait that long?"

•This involves activie listening skills where the salesperson needs to get to the source of the real objection...often called "peeling the onion." Perhaps the salesperson did not do an adequate job off communicating the value and ROI of purchasing now. (Scott S. Seroka)

•I may also offer a little bonus to get the prospect to make a commitment sooner. I also try to question further to see if it is truly a "stall" or they are just not going to have the funding in place until that particulal month. (David Thompson)

•Ask the prospect what might be the cost of NOT using your service now and delaying until September. If there is none, you're toast. Move on. (Robert Grede)

•During the initial interviews the salesperson should be picking up on the buying motivations, budget, those who are involved with the buying decision, the timeline and how the selection process is going to take place. (Brent Henschel)

•I have found the best response is some sort of incentive. For example, I will ask them if I can get my company to agree to give you free access, service, etc. until September 1st, is there anything else preventing you from signing agreements today. (Spencer Bewer)

What questions do you ask to understand how a prospect will make a decision to buy from you?

I like to ask a lot of questions about how they're going to make a decision. Who will be involved, what are their criteria, how long will it take, etc. My favorite question to start this conversation is "The last time you made a $20,000 investment in your business (or whatever the right number is), how did you decide to move forward?"

•Open ended questions. Tell me about your business. What do you do? What are your plans when you retire or what do you want to do with your business if you should pass away? This way I can find out information while the customer is sharing what they are proud of. (Debra Umlauft)

• I had plenty of very good competition who offered competitive options. I asked as many questions as possible to insure I knew exactly what the client needed. (Rick Hood)

At what point in your sales process do you give a prospect references?

I don't like to give references because I don't like to waste my clients' valuable time. I prefer testimonials, but if pressed I will provide a serious prospect references. But only once they have reviewed the proposal and agreed to say yes after they speak with my happy clients. If there are any outstanding issues or objections, I'll address those first and then go for the agreement to say yes once they've talked to my clients. Usually by this point they already know they're going to sign, but it makes them feel better to say "I checked their references."

•I usually try and do a 2 appoinment setting. The first is the get to know each other and fact finding. It is at this appointment that I provide references for them to check out between our next appointment. For references I use my LinkedIn site and encourage them to come here, read, and learn about me and my agency. (Paul Olmstead)