Leveraging Sales Enablement Practices that Drive Performance

How much focus do your sales managers put on conversation speed and tonality when they coach their salespeople? At Intelligent Conversations, we use a powerful analytical tool called Refract that looks at conversation speed and tonality, among dozens of other factors which play into your team's sales performance. If you'd like to learn more about sales enablement best practices, please join me on Tuesday, June 25th at 1pm CST for a free live "Sales Enablement Mistakes - And how to Avoid Them!" webinar, sponsored by Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. All registrants will be invited to submit a brief recording of one of their top sales performers in action, and receive a FREE call analysis.

Even without a tool, a good place to start is to have your sales managers listen to live calls or recordings of calls. It's common for salespeople to ask and answer their own questions before the prospect has an opportunity to engage. You can coach them to slow down and to be comfortable with a pause.  Even though your salespeople have had this conversation 500 times before, they should remember it's the first time for the prospect..

Blog Photo1The next time you meet with a sales leader, ask them to pay attention to this when they coach their team.  Whether they're making cold calls, following up on an inbound lead, or even in a face-to-face meeting, a good mindset to teach salespeople is go “low and slow.” As salespeople get nervous or grow uncomfortable, they tend to speak faster and at a higher pitch. When they slow down and talk with a lower pitch, they sound more authoritative and confident.

The pace of their speech should depend on your market and where they are calling.  For example, if you're in New York City, and calling on prospects in the Northeast, a faster pace is appropriate.  If your New York sales rep calls a prospect in Birmingham, Alabama they should slow down.  In other words, let the market dictate the pace of your conversation. The ideal pace - across any region - should be somewhere between 100 and 150 words per minute. Speaking slower than that may indicate a lack of confidence and any faster than that may come across as nervous or difficult to understand. 

Where they are in the sales cycle can also affect speed and tone. As your salespeople hit crucial moments in the conversation, coach them to allow a little space before asking, "Would you like our help?" or "Would you like to move forward?" A simple pause before a question like that can make the prospect more comfortable and facilitate a smoother communication. Be comfortable with the pause, and don’t say anything until they've had an opportunity to consider and respond.

Even early on in a cold call situation, give your prospect time to absorb the fact that they're receiving a phone call. Too many salespeople introduce their name and company, and immediately launch into their pitch. It's better to just say their first and last name, then let the prospect respond. 

We hope you'll join us on Tuesday, June 25th at 1pm CST to do a deeper dive into all things 'Sales Enablement'! Register for free, HERE!

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Building a Culture of Sales Accountability

shutterstock_401612041.jpgWhen we talk with CEOs about sales accountability at their companies, we usually hear stories about sales quotas, activities monitored, and how the sales team is either performing or falling short.  We rarely hear about how their sales managers actually use the data they track during coaching conversations with individual team members.  And we almost never hear about how those conversations change when a salesperson struggles week after week, month after month, and quarter after quarter.  Or in some cases, year after year.

Here are some questions for you to think about as you consider whether or not you have a culture of sales accountability at your company:

  • How do conversations change when your sales managers are working with a low performer?
  • Do your sales managers increase or decrease the coaching frequency with a low performer?
  • Do they drill down beyond the numbers to the root cause? Are they capable of coaching to that cause?  For example, does the conversation shift from “you’re not getting enough appointments….” to “let’s look at who you’re targeting and practice how to engage them more effectively.”
  • How are you, as CEO, monitoring the time your sales managers spend with high performers versus low performers? Do high performers get more attention than sales people who struggle?
  • How are you, as CEO, monitoring the quality of their coaching conversations and reviewing what they are discussing?

Here’s the hard truth.  It's easy to coach when salespeople are performing. It becomes much harder when salespeople are struggling.

  • Why? Because sales managers are prone to give second chances (and 3rd, 4th, and 5th chances) for a struggling salesperson to improve.
  • Why? There are several reasons but the biggest issue – and the issue that gets the least attention in my opinion – is because most sales managers aren't very good at hiring new salespeople.  In fact, they really suck at it. 

Frankly, it’s easier to keep giving struggling salespeople another chance than to go through the hassle of finding, interviewing, and onboarding a new salesperson.  So instead of working through the tough coaching conversations required to improve performance, it’s easier to just tolerate mediocre results and offer encouragement. Sales managers rationalize this with phrases like, "Well, they'll get better as soon as they get past this trade show" or "If they can just close this large deal, their pipeline's right back on track." It's more of a hope than an actual reality.

What can you do if your salespeople aren’t performing? We recommend implementing a system for coaching and accountability.  But that is only part of the picture.  We also recommend implementing an effective sales hiring system that allows sales managers to build a virtual bench of high performing salespeople.

Do your sales managers have a system that allows them to maintain a constant search for high performing salespeople while investing minimal time and effort in the process?  What would they do differently if they had a constant flow of high performing sales candidates coming to them that they can screen efficiently?  How would this change the dynamic of their coaching conversations with lower performing sales people? Would it give them the freedom to comfortably move on from a struggling salesperson who's not accepting coaching and is not committed to improving their performance?  What would your revenue look like next year if you had these types of systems in place?

Getting Ready for the Final Sales Push of 2016

In early August I wrote an article titled the Dog Days of Summer where I focused on how difficult it is to reach people during the summer months. We discussed how important it is to increase your activity so that you can be ready for when everyone begins to focus on year-end activities.

Well, we’ve reached that time of year. Summer is over and it is time to begin the final push as we head into the fourth quarter and the year-end sales push. I’ve highlighted three things that I would like you and your sales teams to focus on as you get ready to have a strong finish to 2016 and set yourself up for success in 2017.

1. Focus on closing the deals that are closeable in your pipeline right now. If you have a longer sales cycle and it’s not in your pipeline by now, the chances of adding a new opportunity and closing it in 2016 are very small. There may be a bluebird sale that comes in at the last minute, but typically with the longer sales cycle our clients tend to have, you need to have stuff in your pipeline already or it’s not going to close by the end of the year.

From a leadership perspective, make sure that your sales managers and your salespeople are focused on doing everything they can to close the business that’s available in their pipeline right now. What does this mean? It means making sure they’re not taking anything for granted. Making sure that they really understand the decision process of the people they are dealing with. Are they meeting with the right people? Have they talked to everyone in the decision process? Do they know how the company they're talking to made the decision last time they bought a service like yours? Is there anyone that they need to get to that they haven't gotten to that may be key to their decision process?  

Make sure they are asking questions about the competitive context as well. Do they know the timeline the customer is looking for? When will they need this problem solved? Then back up from there to nail down the decision time frame. Most importantly, make sure that your salespeople have an agreement with the prospect that the prospect will make a decision in the agreed upon time frame. To close things before the end of 2016 you really need to be focused. Shorten the calendar, try and get things closed by mid-November. What that means is, you've got another 8 weeks to get things closed. If you start to slip past Thanksgiving the level of difficulty increases significantly.

2. If your clients or prospects are on calendar year, they're just now getting busy with 2017 budget planning. Focusing on what they can close right now, how can your sales team use this time between now and the end of the year to set themselves up for success in 2017? Often that means making sure that investing in your product or service is part of your target prospects’ budget planning process. Make sure they are having the right kind of conversations with the people who can control and influence budgeting. It's not too early to start those conversations. Typically, first budget drafts are due sometime in late September and then there's a budget review process. They are often not finalized until after Thanksgiving, but get your salespeople in those conversations now if they’re not already.

3. Lastly, chances are you have some clients or past clients who budgeted money in 2016 for products or services like the ones you sell, but may have not spent that money. Ask your sales leaders to organize a focused calling effort to have salespeople contact clients and prospects around re-orders, re-stocking, ordering spare parts and making other investments so prospects don’t lose their budget. Many companies have a “use it or lose it” policy, so make sure that your salespeople are having conversations with the right people. A focused effort in this area can really make the difference. Not only will your salespeople pick up additional revenue, they will also reconnect with your client base and build momentum going into 2017.

 Make sure your salespeople are focusing on these types of activities as the year ends. Are currently asking these types of questions to engage their client? Are your sales managers coaching your salespeople through these types of conversations? If they are, you’ll have no problem making sales and will finish the year strong in 2016 and set yourself up for success in 2017.


10 Activities Sales Managers Should Focus On

When I talk with CEOs, I often hear them complaining about how their sales managers are always busy, but not productive. When I dig a little deeper, I usually find this is an issue around how sales managers define their priorities and where they focus their time. Often times, sales managers miscalculate which activities need the most attention, and waste their valuable time doing nonproductive things.

In this article I will concentrate on a list of 10 activities that sales managers should focus on. In your company you may have more than 10, but let’s use this as a starting point:  

  1. Coaching Salespeople: This should account for about 50% of sales managers time. They should focus on 3 types of coaching conversations – administrative, strategic and situational. In a 40-hour work week, about 20 hours of their time should be spent directly coaching their salespeople in a structured, organized fashion. This almost never happens in companies before we start working with them and helping managers learn how to coach.
  2. Motivating Salespeople: Motivating sales people should be around 10% of their time. Your sales managers need to learn what motivates each individual salesperson. It seems obvious, but few managers understand that not everyone is motivated the same way. For example, do your sales mangers know who on their team is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Do they understand that an intrinsically motivated person is going to get more motivation from a quiet, “atta-boy” in the hallway after the sales meeting? On the other hand, an extrinsically motivated person is going to thrive on public praise and wants attention during the sales meeting.
  3. Measuring Performance/ Accountability: This should be about 15% of their time. Holding people accountable is really about setting clear, key performance indicators. What are your sales managers measuring, and how are they holding their team to these standards? Best practices for this are to have a handful of leading indicators - number of appointments, quality of appointments, activity, how many calls are they making per week. Also, be sure to have lagging indicators - Are we closing business when we say we will? Are we holding our margin? Are we tracking to our revenue plan? And most importantly, how do the conversations between managers and salespeople change when they are falling behind?   
  4. Recruiting: Recruiting should be about 5% of their time. We believe sales managers should be recruiting all the time, but that doesn’t mean it needs to take up a lot of their time. Part of creating a culture of accountability is being ready to let go of low performers, and the only way you can do that effectively is if you're constantly recruiting and building your virtual bench. We believe a busy, productive sales manager should spend about 5% of their time maintaining your virtual bench and doing some sort of recruiting activity. Obviously, that might spike up in certain periods if you're opening more positions.
  5. Crisis Management: About 5% of their time should be budgeted for this. This really refers to handling client crises and other situations that may come up. The key here is to make sure it doesn’t consume all of a sales manager’s time. If that’s the case, there may be a bigger problem in your sales process.
  6. Internal Company Issues: About 5% of sales manager’s time should be used for internal company issues. When dealing company issues such as new policies or sitting on a marketing committee, really guard your sales manager's time. Ask yourself before you invite them, do we really need their input or can we move the ball forward without it and then review it with them later?
  7. Planning/Managing Compensation: This should really be 1% of their time. It shouldn't be a big issue. It's something you're typically looking at annually. Again, that goes back to understanding how your team's motivated, are they more intrinsic or extrinsic? Most sales people are going to get more motivation from a higher-based salary and the opportunity for unlimited upside potential. Make sure your comp plan aligns with that.
  8. Organization/Reorganization: Organizing and reorganizing, again is more of a periodic activity, and should maybe be 1% of their time. Again, make sure you guard your sales manager’s time. We’ve seen situations where managers are consumed by a constant shuffling of territories, people, and strategies.
  9. Business/Product Strategy: Limit business and product strategy to maybe 3% of their time. One of the advantages that sales people bring to product managers is their real time feedback from the market. As this is helpful information, sales managers often get sucked in too deep with this that it consumes their time.
  10. Direct Selling: We think 5% of manager’s time should be allocated to directly selling to the market. We believe every sales manager should have a book of business. That's the only way they're going to stay sharp. That's the only way they're going to stay current. They still need to have some clients and directly sell.

You may have other activities that you want your sales managers to focus on, but this list provides a good starting point. When is the last time you focused on where your sales managers are investing their time? How confident are you that they are spending their time in the right areas? Are they getting a good return on their time and if not, what needs to change?

Also, if you don’t have sales managers, and you’re the sales manager by default, which of these activities are you not getting to? My guess would be; you're probably not spending as much time coaching your sales people as you need to. If that's the case, we need to talk, so contact me and we can tell you more about our accountability coaching program.


Is Your Hiring Process Stuck in 2014?

shutterstock_104559317.jpgTwo years ago there were more candidates available than positions available. It was fun!  Hiring managers and HR recruiters were able to do all sorts of things to people applying for jobs.  You could make candidates go through multiple steps, take online assessments, and go through round after round of interviews. And the best part was, candidates HAD to put up with it.  They had no choice.  If they wanted a job they had to go through whatever you threw at them.

Guess what?  The market has shifted and is no longer employer-centric. Today there are more positions
available than candidates to fill them.  So if you still have an overly complicated hiring process you’re probably noticing a high attrition rate. Candidates simply are not willing to go through multiple steps to get to an interview or get the job. 

The challenge is, how can you streamline your hiring process without compromising its integrity?  If you use best practices such as Topgrading or our Sales Talent Acquisition Routine (STAR hiring system) you know how valuable it is to implement a rigorous selection process. Is your hiring process as efficient as it can be? 

We recommend taking a critical look at every step of your hiring process and looking for opportunities to streamline it. Review every single thing that you ask a candidate to do, from the candidate's point of view, and ask yourselves, "What value do I get from this step? Can I remove it without detracting from the rigor of our hiring process?" It's a balancing act. You don't want to take away from having a rigorous selection process, but you also want to restructure it to make it more candidate friendly.

In our practice, we help our clients hire sales people all the time. For years, we would have candidates fill out an application, and then ask them some basic questions. After they took the application, we'd have them take an online sales assessment. After that, if they were recommended, we would schedule a series of interviews. We found this process was no longer getting us the candidates we needed, so something needed to change. We decide to eliminate the initial application because with their resume and assessment we would get all the information we needed.  We didn’t compromise our rigor, we just made it more streamlined and candidate-centric.  What steps can you review, modify or simply eliminate from your selection process to do the same?

Once you’ve streamlined your selection process the next step is to make sure you have your hiring team fully engaged.  When you have a quality candidate who's interested and engaged in the process, have everyone on the hiring team on high alert and ready to go.  Nothing on their calendar is more important than engaging the candidate in an interview.  Do your best to accommodate the candidate, not the other way around. After speaking with candidates, come to a consensus quickly, and decide what you want to do. Quality candidates are not going to wait around. I've seen too many companies lose great candidates because they can't get their hiring team to engage in a timely fashion. 

Eliminating steps in your selection process and keeping everyone on your hiring team focused and engaged will help you win the war on talent. The companies who are able to maintain a rigorous, candidate-centric process, are going to attract better talent and hire better people. The faster you can get someone onboard, the faster they can get through the learning curve and begin producing results for your company.

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%? 

How Much To Budget For Sales Training

Sales Training BudgetIf you’re on a calendar year, your VP of Sales is probably preparing their budget for next year.  How much will they put in for sales training?  How much should they?  What kind of training should you invest in?  Is there anything you can do to make sure you maximize the impact of your training investment?

1.  How much should we budget for sales training?

    A good rule of thumb for a high-performing sales organization is to invest somewhere between 3-6% of your sales payroll on additional sales training and development.  So for a 10-person sales team where each sales person is making $100k, that would be $3,000-$6,000 per person, or $30-$60k for the department.  If your sales team is already operating at a high level, you may be able to scale that back.  If you have neglected investing in sales training and development, you may need to increase this budget until your sales team consistently performs at a high level.

    2.  What kind of training should we invest in?

      When you stop and actually look at how companies spend their training dollars (as we do in our sales force development consulting practice) a few trends emerge immediately. 

      • It seems most companies still use a “Feature/Benefit” sales model because what is often categorized as sales training is really just product training (if we drill in all those features, something will stick).  Very little if any money is invested on developing sales people and giving them the skills to ask better questions and have intelligent conversations.  Even less attention is given to sales managers who need to develop the tools and skills they need to become better coaches.  
      • There is often a bias toward “quick fix” seminars and one-day training sessions.  High-impact one-day training doesn’t work! It's like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose, most of it runs off and dries up in a short time – and you get water up your nose!

      The most effective training programs are delivered in a “blended learning” environment that combines live workshops that emphasize role play along with individual study that allows each sales person to focus on their particular weaknesses.  No matter how the training is delivered, reinforcement and follow up coaching by the sales manager is critical.  This type of reinforcement training provides opportunity for clarity and real world application. And that is when true change happens.

      3.  Is there anything we can do to make sure we maximize the impact of our training investment?

        The best investment you can make is to evaluate your sales team.  A good evaluation should provide insights into the “unanswerable questions” you’ve had about your sales organization:

        • Who on the team is trainable?
        • Do we have the right people in the right roles?
        • How much training will they need and is it worth it?
        • What impact will training have on improving my sales pipeline? How about our closing percentages?  What about increasing margins?
        • What type of return-on-training-investment should I expect for my current sales team?
        • Are my sales managers doing everything they can to grow the business?
        • What should my sales managers start doing?  What should they stop doing?
        • Who on my sales team can we save and will it be worth it?

        Investing in a sales training program without being able to answer these questions would be like publishing your financials without getting an outside audit.  Ask these questions when your Sales VP turns in their first draft budget you’ll have a very productive conversation.

        Qualities Of An Over-Achieving Sales Team

        With so many business issues and challenges beyond your control, Presidents, CEOs, and business owners who focus on what they can control will put their companies in a better position for growth.  Since building your sales team is one such issue, why settle for anything less than an over-achieving sales team?

        In our work helping clients to do exactly that, we have identified some qualities that are important for the individuals who make up over-achieving sales teams. Here are three that stand out.

        Passion For Sales

        The first thing to focus on when building a team of over-achieving sales people is to find people with a true passion for sales.  In our consulting practice, one of the first steps in any engagement is to conduct an analysis so we can understand the strengths and hidden weaknesses of everyone on the sales team (along with an assessment of your sales systems and processes and a host of other issues). One of the key strengths we look for - and often find lacking - is the sales team's desire to be in sales.

        pushy word cloudFor many sales professionals, sales is a career of default.  There is no passion - it's just a job.  Why?  Our beliefs drive our worldview and if I ask you to write down the first five things that come to mind when you think of a "sales person" your list will probably include words such as:

        • Slick
        • Insincere
        • Pushy
        • Aggressive
        • Untrustworthy


        However, highly successful sales people tend to have a very different view of their profession.  Most really don't think of themselves as "sales people."  Rather they see themselves as "helpful problem solvers." 

        When you build an over-achieving sales team filled with helpful problem solvers who are truly passionate about the products and services you offer and the meaningful impact they can have on the customers you serve it is much easier to grow your business.

        Outlook and Attitude

        Take a moment to write down the last time you made a major purchase from someone you didn't like. It's difficult because we tend to buy from people we like and who make us feel good.  We buy on an emotional level and then rationalize our buying decisions. In other words, sales is about transferring emotion. 

        So the sales people on your team who can effectively transfer emotion and get a potential buyer as enthusiastic about your product or service as they are will sell more.

        But it is difficult to fake a positive outlook or a great attitude.  It has to be genuine.  If your sales people don't like their job don't truly believe in your product or that your solution is really the best option for the buyer, it won't work.  The people who buy your product or service will see right through fake enthusiasm and insincere excitement.  Bad attitudes and negative outlooks on your sales team will cost your company serious money.

        If you want to build an over-achieving sales team, start by establishing a "No Excuses" culture.  Also make sure your sales hiring process can screen out the people with a negative outlook or a bad attitude, and capture those with a great outlook and a positive attitude.


        How committed is your sales team? Are they willing to go the extra mile?  Will they do whatever it takes to help you grow your business? 

        If you really want to build an over-achieving sales team, the single most important trait to look for in the people you put on your sales team is their commitment to doing "whatever it takes" to be successful.  Obviously when we say "whavever it takes" we do not mean your sales people should break the law, lie to customers and prospects, or engage in other unethical behaviors.  What we mean by commitment is having a sales team that will:

        • Push beyond their comfort zone
        • Improve themselves through training, professional development, and personal development
        • Make the extra call, send the extra letter, do the extra follow up, read the extra article, ask the extra question....
        • Consistently follow your sales process
        • Hold firm on price and preserve margin
        • Provide help and advice to their teammates so the entire sales team benefits from their experience and perspective
        • Do the "grunt work" that produces results (cold calls, prospecting, working tradeshows, networking, etc.)
        • Be responsive to sales coaching and management input, following through even if it makes them uncomfortable


        When you build a team of sales people who are truly commited - to their success, to your success, to growing both personally and professionally, to growing your business, to doing "whatever it takes" to be successful, you will be on your way to building an over-achieving sales team. 

        In our experience CEOs typically get the sales team they deserve.  If you choose to let someone else on your management team take responsibility for building your sales team don't be surprised if the results are less than you expect.  Commitment starts at the top - how committed are you to building an over-achieving sales team?

        Using Sales Role Play To Spot Trends

        Role PlayOne of the areas we focus on during our sales development programs is skills improvement through the extensive use of role play.  We actively demonstrate the open questioning style, use of tonality, neuro linguistic programming (NLP) and many other techniques. Then we practice all the various scenarios sales people run into in the field. 

        Not only do we want the sales people to improve during an active role playing session, we also want sales leaders to observe what we do and how we do it so that they can get better at leading role play sessions when we’re not there.  If you’re looking for ways to implement this type of interactive role play in your sales meetings, start with our 5 Rules For Effective Sales Role Play.

        An interesting thing happened during a role play session the other day at a client.  During the workshop sales people took turns playing both sides of the sales conversation – the role of the sales person and the role of the prospect.  As we worked through various scenarios, we noticed a few objections kept coming up. No matter who played the part of the prospect, we kept hearing about pricing concerns (not uncommon) and it was framed in the context of price for value.  After a few sales people struggled to overcome this objection we stopped and asked “Is this something you’ve recently started to run into on calls?” and everyone said “Yes, absolutely this is what we’ve been hearing lately.  A month ago we never heard questions asked this way.” 

        As we discussed it further we learned that a key competitor had repositioned how they go to market and had done a very effective job of positioning their product as being a “better value.”  The action item out of that role play session was for each sales person to gather more information (from both customers and prospective customers) to gain competitive intelligence on how their competitor was framing the value conversation.  A week later they compared notes and developed a very effective response to regain the high-ground in these conversations (without trashing the competitor). 

        I am convinced that without this role playing session it would have taken MUCH longer to identify this new threat and develop a response.

        Your sales managers and sales people probably hate doing role play.  They’ll make excuses, they’ll resist, they’ll tell you it’s a waste of time, they’ll say it’s beneath them, they’ll say they’re too experienced for this kind of stuff, they’ll complain, and they’ll try to get away with going through the motions. 

        Don’t buy into their excuses. 

        Simply ask them “how will you get better at your craft if you’re not willing to practice?”  Have your sales leaders build team role play into their sales meeting structure and the more the sales team does it, the easier it will get.

        Effective and consistent sales role play produces several benefits, here are a few:

        1. Trend spotting – listen for common objections or tough questions from the sales person playing the part of the prospect.  They usually are drawing on their experience from recent sales calls and this gives you great insight into what is happening in the field.

        2. Greater comfort – a lot of sales people need to get out of their comfort zone during sales calls.  Creating a safe opportunity for them to practices tough timely questions during role play will increase the odds of them using similar questions on real sales calls.

        3. Progress recognition – by practicing sales calls consistent sales managers should see steady improvements and progress by each team member.  Recognizing this progress and providing feedback builds momentum and motivation across the team.

        4. Better sales results – if the right things are happening during sales role play, the right things should happen on actual sales calls and you should start to see better results (higher win rates, better margins, better customers, etc.).

        If your sales managers are not doing regular, consistent role play as part of their one-on-one coaching and their sales team meetings, your company is missing a great opportunity for growth.  What can you do to change that today?  Already doing role play consistently?  What are the benefits you’re seeing?  Please leave them in your comments below.

        Right Revenue vs. Wrong Revenue - Do Your Sales People Know The Difference?

        Good RevenueNot all revenue is created equal.  Believe it or not, there is such a thing as “bad revenue” and it can impact your business in all kinds of bad ways:

        • Lower profit margins
        • High opportunity costs (i.e. missed opportunities for better work)
        • Creating a drag on operational efficiency
        • Lower team morale
        • Lower Net Promoter Scores (NPS)
        • Slower growth
        • Lack of focus throughout your business

        We’ve seen many situations where sales people (and sales managers) are so focused on booking new business -- any new business -- that they never stop to consider whether or not the revenue they are pursing is “good revenue” for the business. 

        In many cases, this challenge is compounded by poorly designed compensation plans.

        In order to improve your sales team's ability to drive good growth, they need a better understanding of what that means for your business. They need to know who to target for optimal profitability, the types of challenges your prospective customers face that you can solve exceptionally well, and when they should walk away from a potential opportunity because it won’t hit your target profit levels.

        Part of this comes down to understanding exactly who your sales team should target (and whom to avoid).  If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend reading Bob Bloom's book Inside Advantage.  It will help you understand your “who” so your sales team can start building a base of ideal clients.  And when you have a strong base of ideal clients – people you can serve exceptionally well and who are willing to buy your product or service at optimal profit – you should see your NPS improve as well. 

        And of course when your NPS improves and your strong base of ideal clients begins telling their friends and colleagues about how great you are, the number of referrals and introductions your sales team receives should go up dramatically.  This creates a virtuous cycle of stronger and stronger revenue growth, rather than the vicious cycle we see when sales teams target whatever revenue they can get.

        Action Questions for Leaders to Drive Good Revenue

        1. Does everyone in your sales organization – especially sales leaders – understand who your most profitable clients are (top 20%), what makes them profitable, and  what problems they have that your firm solves exceptionally well so they can identify similar situations and sell with great stories and examples?

        2. Does your compensation plan consider gross profit margin?  If not, do you have strong controls in place to make sure your sales people are focused on opportunities that will hit your margin objectives?

        3. Is everyone on your sales team capable of serving/selling your ideal target accounts?  If not, where do they need to improve?  Is it a skill gap issue?  Is it a Sales DNA issue?  Will they improve with coaching and development?  Do you need to reconsider your approach to recruiting and developing sales people?

        4. Are there operational bottlenecks created by sales people booking “bad revenue” just to make a sale?  How do your managers in operations communicate that to your sales organization?  How aligned are your operational managers and your sales managers?  How often do they meet to share feedback and brainstorm ideas to get better?

        5. As a leader are you part of the problem?  Are you ignoring the impact bad revenue is having on your business?  What would happen if you focused your time and energy on making sure every new piece of business aligns with your ideal client targets?  When can you get started?