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?

6 Questions Your Sales Managers Hope You Won't Ask...


...About Their Sales Forecasts and Pipeline Reports

Sales Pipeline, CEO Sales Guide, Sales Management Accountability, Sales Forecast, Accuracy, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sales Force Development Expert, Sales Consultant, Objective Management Group, Baseline Selling

Many CEOs we work with either don't pay close attention to the sales pipeline reports they get from their sales managers (because it's rarely accurate) or ignore pipeline reports and sales forecasts completely (because they've lost faith in the accuracy of the reports, the sales manager who put them together, or both).

 

We work with middle market and large corporate clients in a wide variety of industries - selling different products and services, to different target markets, with different sales cycles, at different price points, with varying levels of complexity and competition, and several other important differences. And yet, nearly every CEO we work with has similar issues and challenges when it comes to the accuracy and rigor applied to the data tracked in the sales forecasts and pipeline reports they get from their sales managers.


With just a little bit of attention, these same CEOs could have a significant impact on increasing revenue, improving profit margins, accelerating sales cycles, improving accountability, and increasing forecasting accuracy.

How? By putting some focus on these common sales pipeline challenges companies face. 

 

With that in mind, here are six (6) questions your sales managers hope you won't ask about their pipeline:

  1. How long has each opportunity we are tracking been in our sales pipeline?
  2. What would the total value of our pipeline be if we eliminated each opportunity that is older than X months?
  3. Under ideal circumstances, how much time should it take for an opportunity to move through each stage of our sales cycle?
  4. Have we defined the committments we need from the prospective customer at each stage of the sales process so we can confidently move an opportunity to the next step?
  5. When an opportunity gets stuck at a particular point in the sales process, what coaching feedback are you providing the sales person who is responsible for that opportunity?
  6. How many opportunities should each salesperson on the team either move forward in the sales process or eliminate from the sales pipeline every week.

In our experience working with middle market and larger corporate clients, too many CEOs ignore the pipeline reports they receive from their sales managers. Not enough CEOs ask these types of challenging questions to hold sales managers accountable. Worse yet, some CEOs we know ignore pipeline reports and sales forecasts all together and instead rely on backward looking reports such as orders shipped. It's easy to understand the frustration that leads to this approach - a shipping report is a lot more accurate than a sales forecast - but what does it accomplish?

Your sales pipeline report should be the single most accurate predictor of future revenue in your company - and it almost never is!

What can you do about it? Three things:
1) map your sales process;
2) implement an easy tool to track each opportunity every step of the way; and,
3) hold your sales managers accountable.


You may think you're already doing these three things. Chances are you are not. And it's easy to find out - just ask your sales managers the six (6) questions we shared above.
If you're not satisified with the answers you need to make the decision to do something about it.
If you'd like some help, we would be happy to have a cup of coffee to find out if our systematic approach to mapping your sales process could have an impact on your sales results.

sales effectiveness and improvement analyses, sales success

What would happen to your planning process and decision frameworks if you actually believed the sales forecasts and pipeline reports your sales managers shared with you?
 
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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 - Asking for the Business


Building a Profitable Sales ProcessContinuing our series on Building a Profitable Sales Process, this post will address step 9 - asking for the business.

If you survey your sales team or ask a potential sales candidate during a job interview to describe their closing methodology you will hear all sorts of interesting ideas.

They'll describe the "closing tricks" they've learned....they'll outline the "killer questions" they read about in a sales book somewhere....they'll name specific tactics they've learned from some sales trainer - techniques with clever names like "The Columbo Close" or "The Ben Franklin" or "The Puppy Dog Close" or "The Thermometer Close" that always work in role play but never quite work right in sales conversations in the real world.

 
The question you may be asking right now is "If it's really that easy, why are my sales people struggling to close business?"

In our experience, usually when a sales person struggles at the close it's because of one of three reasons:

Let me tell you a little secret about closing more business. If your sales people are having the right type of conversation through the sales process, asking for the business should be the logical next step in the discussion.  And it should seem natural to both your sales person and the prospective buyer. All the tricks, tactics and techniques in the world cannot substitute for an intelligent conversation where both parties ask questions, explore all the issues, and reach the same conclusion to move forward. Asking for the business shouldn't be a big deal, it's should be the obvious next step in a good sales conversation.

Here are three common mistakes we see sales people make when trying to ask for the business and bring the sales conversation to a successful close:  

1. They ask too early
Some sales people rush to the close and ask for the business before they've earned the right.

  • if they have not asked enough questions to really understand the issues and the full impact of those issues...
  • if they have not built rapport and earned the trust and respect of the prospective buyer....
  • if they have been "mechanical" in their sales conversation (just going through a list of questions instead of having a genuine, authentic conversation)....
  • if they are going through the motions or trying to manipulate the conversation....
  • if your sales people are doing any of these things the close will blow up 9 out of 10 times (the tenth exception being a relative or friend).

 
2. They ask too late
When it's time to close you have to close. If you have sales people who wait too long and miss the opportunity to ask for the business it's too late. By the time they realize they should ask for the busienss, the buyer has moved on (to another problem or to another provider). And often the prospect is irritated and will avoid your sales person at all cost (no matter how long they chase them).

 
3. They get in their own way
Sales effectivnessEven when everything lines up and it makes perfect sense to ask for the business, some of your sales people will struggle because they get in their own way.  Maybe they have difficulty talking about money and asking about budget.
 
Maybe they fear being rejected and would rather just have a conversation without every brining up the next step. Whatever the reason knowing what gets in their way (on an individual, salesperson-by-salesperson basis) is critical to fixing this issue. If your sales managers don't know what issues may get in the way, how can they coach and develop their team?
 
  
Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis
How long is your sales cycle? Could it be shorter? What would your business look like if it were? Are your sales managers capable of coaching your team to set strong agreements at the beginning and end of each sales meeting they go to? 

Need answers? Ask for a sample of our newest analysis report - 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.

Creating a Culture of Accountability for Your Sales Team

Accountability for Your Sales TeamAre your sales managers doing everything they can to create a culture of accountability for your sales organization? If you ask them they’ll say,

“Absolutely, we hold them accountable every sales meeting.”

And your follow up questions should be “Accountable to what?!” In our experience many sales leaders struggle with true accountability because they focus on the wrong things.

Here are six (6) specific areas where your sales leaders should focus their time, energy and attention to create a culture of accountability for your sales team.



  1. Raise expectations – too many sales managers we encounter have a high tolerance for mediocrity.
    Stop accepting mediocrity and raise expectations.  It starts with your sales manager, so that’s where you should focus.

    - Are they too quick to defend their team?
    - Do you hear sales managers making excuses
    on behalf of their sales people?
    - Have they set the bar too low for the sales team?

    Do they throw other departments under the bus, blaming marketing or operations or engineering or everyone else? Raise your expectations for your sales manager.  If you know you have a sales leader who has already established a high tolerance for accepting mediocrity perhaps it’s time to
    start looking for a new sales manager.
     
     
  2. Be their manager, not their friend – is your sales manager to friendly with their team?
    Too many sales managers we coach want to be “one of the gang” and are a little too close to the sales people they manage. Obviously building team spirit and rapport is important, however for some sales managers it is more important to be liked by their sales people than to get the results you expect from them.
     
    It may happen gradually over time. It may be difficult to detect.
    When you see your sales manager turn a blind eye toward a weak performer it’s time to raise expectations and remind them that at the end of the day they will be judged on the numbers, not how well liked they are by their team. 
     
     
  3. Take responsibility – the worst message to send to the sales team is to have sales managers who raise expectations and hold everyone accountable but fails to take responsibility for themselves.
    Do your sales managers take full responsibility for the results they produce? When they lose a deal or miss a revenue target, do they look at themselves and ask questions such as “What can we do differently next time? What can I do better?” Or do they avoid responsibility and look for someone to blame? Are they too quick to throw a team member under the bus when ultimately it was their responsibility?
     
     
  4. Manage behaviors – what does your sales manager measure, results or activities? Too many sales managers are focused solely on the results rather than focusing on the behaviors that drive those results. Sales leaders who can keep their team focused on doing the right behaviors day-to-day, week-to-week will nearly always get the results.
     
    Sales leaders who don’t manage behaviors just hope they get there and cannot explain how they did it or predict whether or not they can do it again. 
     
     
  5. Ask questions – are your sales managers applying the same strong questioning skills they developed when they carried a bag for a living, or are they more likely to make statements and proclamations?
    Something seems to happen when you add “manager” to a sales person’s title; suddenly they seem to forget that it’s always better to help the customer discover the answer and get to the right conclusion by asking good questions. The only difference now is the “customer” is the sales person they serve and support.
     
    When your sales leader can get a sales person to discover the right answer on their own, the sales person will remember it forever. When your sales leader simply tells them what to do, the sales person will likely ignore them (or worse).
     
     
  6. Manage the Pipeline – are your sales managers closely monitoring every stage of the pipeline?

    - How often do they review it?
    - Is it balanced?
    - When do they jump in to focus on a sales person who is struggling or out of balance?
    - Do they use the pipeline reports to focus their coaching conversations?
     
    If sales managers are ultimately judged by the numbers they produce each month, quarter and year it is imperative that they hold the team accountable by closely managing the pipeline.
 
Conclusion
As you read this, if you have a sinking feeling that maybe your sales organization lacks a strong culture of accountability please contact me. You can also sign up for our next webinar, scheduled for April 16th. This will focus on specific areas to measure and will help support this conversation with your sales manager as well.
  
  
FREE Sales Accountability Plan!
The difference between top producing sales people and everyone else is their ability to hold themselves accountable on a consistent basis. Our simple, four-step Sales Accountability Plan will help you do just that.
 
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You Will Definitely Miss Your Sales Target This Year!

Blindfolded Salespeople, CEO Sales Guide, revenue growth, sales excellence, planning, sales forecast, pipeline, growing business, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, MilwaukeeDid you hit your sales forecast right on the nose last year?
Are your powers of predictive forecasting so strong that you nailed it right down to the penny? Of course not! 

I was talking   with my client Dave Baney – a very smart consultant in Chicago – and he gave me a new perspective on a belief I’ve long held. You’ve seen me discuss the importance of focusing on activities rather than results. What Dave pointed out was that in his consulting practice he only spends 10% of his time defining the annual budget and then 90% of his time defining the activities needed to drive the results.
 
 
What activities should your sales managers focus on? 
Don’t let your sales managers spend too much time this month working on getting the sales forecast "perfect" because I guarantee they won’t hit it (exactly). Instead, focus on identifying the activities required to not just hit it, but absolutely crush it! What activities should your sales managers focus on? Have them work backwards from the sales goal - whether by sales person, sales territory, product line, vertical market, or any other way you want to track a sales goal - and then have them focus on....

  • Typical revenue per sale and the number of sales required to hit that revenue target...
  • Propsoal win rate and the number of proposals needed to win more than the number of sales required above...
  • Number of conversations and meetings required with qualified prospective customers to generate the number of proposals needed above...
  • Number of phone calls, referrals, in-bound marketing leads, and other activities required to get into the number of conversations needed above....
These numbers will vary by sales person, by sales territory, by time of year, by market segment, by product line, and so on. It is very easy for sales people and managers to get lost in the muck and not know where to focus, so make sure they keep it simple by focusing on just two (2) or at most three (3) driving numbers that produce the outcomes you want.  
 
 
The breakdown
To absolutely crush the sales forecast, make sure everyone on the sales team overshoots the required activities at each step. For example:
  • Let's say John Quotacrusher needs to sell $100k per month to hit his sales goal for the year.  
  • The average sale is $25k, so he needs at least four (4) wins of about that average size per month to reach goal. (Aim for 5)
  • If he closes about 50% of the proposals he submits, that means he needs to generate eight (8) proposals per month. (Generate 10)
  • Let's say about half the meetings and conversations he has with qualified prospects turn into a proposal opportunity, that means he needs about 16 good meetings every month. (Schedule 20)
  • And then let's say he needs to speak with about five (5) potential prospects for every qualified meeting he sets up, which means he needs to call or be introduced to about 80 prospects per month, to generate 16 good meetings every month. (Aim for 100 conversations)
  • That breaks down to or about 20 conversations per week with potential prospects, or about four (4) per day.  Maybe John will get referrals, introductions, and in-bound marketing leads to hit that number, but to do it consistently he will need to prospect as well.  How many calls will that take?  It depends, but let's say it takes five (10) dial attempts to get into a conversation with a decision maker at a potential client, which means John needs to make about 40 outbound dial attempts per day to maintain the right activitiy level to hit goal, assuming he's not getting other leads, referrals, and introductions. (Aim for 50 attempts per day)
How closely your sales manager will monitor John will depend on whether or not John is ahead of or behind plan,how strong his pipeline is, how the product he is selling is doing in the market, and many other factors.  For a sales person who consistently exceeds their goal, your sales leader might be fine just spot checking the number of proposals being generated and the overall proposal win rate.  
 
 
Conclusion of the breakdown
For a struggling sales person who is falling further and further behind each month, your sales leader may want to inspect activities earlier in the process. That might mean looking at the number of meetings scheduled and if that number looks looks shaky (or the quality of those meetings is suspect), then your sales leader should investigate how many conversations the struggling sales person is having. And if that looks weak, they need to look at the list they're calling and maybe sit in on some prospecting calls and closely manage that activity.
 
When you go through this exercise with your sales leader and work your way back from a sales goal, what do your numbers look like? And how does the activity your sales leader is monitoring align with the numbers at each step of the sales process? Do they know the numbers at each stage? Don't worry about hitting your sales forecast, focus on the day-to-day, week-to-week activities your sales team needs to hit and you'll absolutely crush it.
 
  
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Does Your Sales Team Have Consultative Selling Skills?


Change SalesOur last article discussed how sales has changed over the past few years, why selling is so much harder, and why taking a consultative sales approach is crucial to consistently winning more business.

"Does your sales team have the consultative selling skills needed to drive revenue growth and win more business and more profitable business?"

 
 
Here are five questions to consider as you help your sales leaders drive the transition from transactional sales tactics to consultative sales success. And even if your sales managers have already successfully lead this transition, continue focusing on these questions to reinforce the progress your sales team has made.
 
 

  • Do your sales people ask good questions?
    Too often sales people stay in their comfort zone and avoid asking questions that lead them to an area they may not know. And sales people desperately want to avoid unfamiliar ground so they stay safe by asking easy, surface-level questions.
     
    If you have taken steps to map out your sales process and understand the most common business issues and challenges your prospective customers face (from their perspective, not your perspective), you are on the right track.
     
    Tip:
    Use your next sales meeting to brainstorm the top three most common business problems your product and service addresses, then develop question funnels that can help your prospects discover and quantify these areas for themselves.
     
     
  • Do your sales people ask enough questions?
    I'm always amazed by how quickly sales people want to move on to another topic. When practicing a sales call or observing a sales rep in action, I can never understand why they are in such a rush! Just when they find something to dig into, they move right past it to the next issue.

    - Tell your team to really slow down, take their time, and dig deep.
    - Ask follow up questions.
    - Ask questions about the problem.
    - Ask questions around the problem.
      1. How long has it been an issue?
      2. When did you first notice this?
      3. What impact has that had on
          (your operations, your budget, your team, your market position, new product development, recruitment, etc.)?
      4. What have you done about it so far?
      5. How did that work?
      6. How much did that cost?
      7. What do you think you'll do next?
      8. What happens if this isn't fixed?
      9. What does that mean for you?

    And on, and on, and on. You can always ask more questions, and the more questions you ask that help the prospect consider their business challenges from a different perspective, the more valuable your conversations will be and they will want you to stick around.
     
     
  • Are your sales people creating urgency for the prospect to take action?
    Asking good questions and asking lots of questions will only take your sales people so far - are the questions they are asking creating urgency for the prospect to act? Are they helping the prospect discover their problems, think about them differently, quantify the impact, and want to do something about it (whether or not that means doing something with you).
    When your sales team starts asking questions that create urgency, the opportunities in your sales pipeline will begin to move more quickly and the deals they close should be at higher margins.
     
     
  • Are your sales people effective listeners?
    It is nearly impossible to keep a consultative sales conversation on track without being a really good listener. Your sales people need to decide to listen, block everything else out, focus in on the most important issues the prospect shares, and ask follow up questions with ease. When your team can let go of the need to control the conversation and just listen, respond, and ask a follow up question, you'll know they're track to becoming consultative sales professionals.
     
     
  • Do your sales people quickly develop relationships?
    How well do they know their prospective customers? Can they quickly build trust and is it genuine? Without a foundation of trust a great relationship, it is nearly impossible to dig into all of the issues they need to explore and ask all the tough questions they need to ask.
     
    The sales person who builds rapport quickly, asks great questions that makes the prospect think about their business differently, and adds value by summarizing the challenges and offering new ideas or approaches will quickly develop relationships and will be able to ask enough questions.

 
Consultative selling
In this economic environment it's crucial to master the art of consultative selling. Challenge your sales managers to focus on these five questions with their sales teams and hold them accountable to follow through and reinforce these concepts. The sooner you establish that you will no longer tolerate mediocre margins and transactional selling, the faster you will see your revenue picture improve. 
 
 
Free Download
The difference between top producing sales people and everyone else is their ability to focus their time, energy, and sales efforts on their best prospect and client opportunities on a consistent basis. Our simple Sales Focus Worksheet will help you do just that. 
 
Click here and download the free sales focus worksheet 
 
 
 

Focus on Sales Activity

describe the imageI enjoyed reading another great post by Anthony Iannarino last week, The Case for Activity Goals and Metrics.  If you're not subscribing to his RSS feed you're really missing some great sales and sales management insight.  In this article he makes the case for maintaining momentum by always staying focused on sales activity.  His advice is similar to what we often tell our sales force development clients -- if you decide to take a day off from prospecting and business development today, you're also deciding to take a day off from closing new business in x weeks where x = your typical sales cycle.

I agree with everything Anthony Iannarino says in this article and would add the following thoughts:
  1. Narrow your focus - pick just two (2), maybe three (3) key metrics to track and focus on.
  2. Stick with it - once you identify 2-3 key metrics to track, stick with them for at least 90 days so you can see trends.
  3. Proactively plan each week and each day - the 2-3 key metrics should be central to planning your daily and weekly goals.  If you don't put your sales activity focus on your calendar it won't happen as you'll fill your time with other activities.
  4. Change your focus when needed - it's ok to change what you track from time to time. For example:
  • If you're a new sales person or in a new territory you're probably focused on things like "conversations with decision makers" and "first appointments."  As you begin to fill your calendar, knowing the number of "conversations with decision makers" may not be as important (but having tracked it for at least 90 days you'll have a sense of how many dials it takes to have a conversation and how many conversations you need to have to book an appointment), so maybe you track "first appointments" and "qualified proposals."
  • If you're in an established territory and have a solid book of business, you may track things like "year-over-year revenue growth" or "number of referrals" or "cross sales opportunities."
For sales managers keeping a narrow focus on the 2 (maybe 3) metrics that matter will make your life a lot easier.  It keeps the messaging for the team very clear and allows you to focus on different metrics for each sales person (depending on where they are in their account, territory or career development). 

What are your two (2) to three (3) key sales metrics right now?  Are they the right ones?  Will they help you reach your goals this quarter?  This year?  Do you need to refocus and recommit to them?  Why not start right now, today?

The 10 Keys to an Effective Sales Hiring Process

Our friend and mentor Dave Kurlan - a top-rated speaker, best-selling author, sales thought leader and highly regarded sales development expert - posted this article on his blog yesterday.  Many of you may remember Dave from a presentation he did in Milwaukee in late March at the Milwaukee Athletic Club.  Nearly every CEO, President, Business Owner, and VP of Sales we talk with has expressed some level of frustration with their sales hiring process.  Read Dave's article below and be sure to consider how you might benefit from signing up for the Free Trial he's offering for the first time ever.

Here's Dave's Article:

Key to Sales Hiring Success, Intelligent Conversations, Sales, Sales Hiring, Dave Kurlan Blog, STAR hiring system, Milwaukee, Sales Expert, Recruiting, Top Sales Talent, A-Players, VP of Sales, Sales Manager, Sales Management, CEO, CEO Blog, CEO Sales Blog, President, Business Owner, Growth, TeamThere are many keys to making the the sales hiring process work effectively yet most companies fail to get these keys right.  Some of them are obvious, while some are more subtle.  And most of all, the integrity, or in this case, the outcome of the process is only as strong as the weakest link.  Ignore or fail to complete any one step the way it is designed and the entire outcome will be in jeopardy, as in, another salesperson that fails to launch, doesn't meet expectations, or succeeds at being utterly mediocre.

Here are some keys and comments:

  1. You must identify what experiences the new salespeople must have in order to succeed at your company, in this position, calling into your market.
  2. You have to nail the posting - get it wrong and the wrong people will apply for the position.  When the wrong people apply, you have a pool that's green and unsuitable for diving in.
  3. You must use a customized, sales specific, predictive assessment to identify the candidates who will succeed in your positions and roles.  If the assessment isn't predictive and you can't rely on it, you'll end up wasting your time with the wrong candidates.
  4. You must be able to determine, in less than 5 minutes by phone, which of the recommended candidates have the desired experience, sound great, and should be interviewed.
  5. You must be able to firmly but nicely cross-examine your candidates in a face-to-face interview to determine whether they are the person described on their resume or an imposter, meaning the resume was a work of fiction.
  6. You must have realistic expectations on your timeline.  30-60 days to fill an ordinary territory sales position, 90 days or more to fill a niche sales position, and even longer for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
  7. You must be patient enough to do it all over again if you don't find the candidate(s) that make you happy.  Once you have reached the interview stage, candidates will come in 12 flavors: 
  • Strong sales skills, perfect background and you like them;
  • Strong sales skills, a background that is close and you like them;
  • Strong sales skills, wrong background and you like them;
  • Strong sales skills, perfect background and you don't like them;
  • Strong sales skills, a background that is close and you don't like them;
  • Strong sales skills, wrong background and you don't like them;
If you compromised on the assessment profile and didn't insist on it recommending only the strongest salespeople, you'll have 6 more flavors like those above, only showing Weak Sales Skills.
You need to select from Strong, perfect or close, and you like them.  Period.  You let the assessment tell you whether they are strong.  You let the interview, not the resume, determine whether they have the right background.  And only then do you decide whether you like them.
If you don't get what you want, you must answer this question:  12 months from now, will you be happy that you took three more months to find the right salesperson, or pissed off that you compromised, wasted a year, and have to begin the process all over again?
8.  After identifying a candidate(s) you wish to hire, you must be able to effectively sell the opportunity to them.
9.  Finally, you must be able to effectively on board the new salesperson(s) so that they go roaring out of the gate
10. You must be willing to coach at least twice per day, while holding the new salesperson accountable to all of the agreed upon startup metrics.

Hiring salespeople is not for the faint of heart, should not be performed without the right tools, and cannot be conducted without the right process.  Most importantly, gut instinct is not a part of this process!

Building An Over-Achieving Sales Team - Relentless Prospecting

build an over-achieving sales team, consistent, relentless, prospecting, sales, sales consulting, sales force development, Mike Carroll, sales expert, Intelligent Conversations, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, WI, Kurlan event, MMAC, CEOAs a general rule I tell our sales force development clients that a new sales person should spend at least four (4) hours per day engaged in prospecting activities.  And an established sales person who has already built up their book of business should spend at least two and a half (2.5) hours per day engaged in prospecting activities.  In nearly every company we work with the level of prospecting activities is nowhere near that benchmark.  What level of prospecting and business development effort takes place at your company right now?

If you want to build an over-achieving sales team you need to stock it with sales people who are constantly developing new opportunities and looking for new business.  And you need sales leadership (sales managers and/or a VP of sales) who establishes a prospecting culture, creates higher levels of accountability, and knows how to coach and motivate everyone on the sales team to keep them focused and on track.

What does a sales organization with a strong prospecting culture look like?  Here are some of the traits to look for if you want this type of culture at your company:

  • Sales people with strong hunting skills are actively recruited and those skills are verified during the interview and selection process
  • Sales people will consistently prospect on their own without being closely monitored and managed
  • When prospecting, sales people get to decision makers
  • Sales people receive plenty of introduction and have established a referral system
  • Sales people actively cultivate relationships with referral sources, including current customers, centers of influence, suppliers, and other sales professionals in their market space
  • Sales management holds frequent and regular meetings to monitor and measure prospecting activity levels (at least weekly, sometimes daily with a short 10-minute huddle)
  • Critical ratios have been mapped and are actively monitored throughout the sales process (i.e. each sales person understands how many calls they need to make to get an appointment, how many appointments they need to hold to generate a proposal or quote, and how many proposals or quotes they need to generate to earn a new client)
  • Sales people have a focused list of opportunities they work until completed (no Easter Egg hunting)
  • Executive management regularly reviews the number of new clients coming on board and supports the sales department with strong operations and customer support

Very few sales organziations achieve this level of systematic and consistent prospecting.  Instead what we see is occational spurts of prospecting activites followed by long periods of complecency and hope.  If you want to build an over-achieving sales team build a team of hunters and establish the prospecting culture that is right for your company, your business environment and your goals.  If you don't have this culture right now and would like some insights into why that may be the case, come see Dave Kurlan at the Milwaukee Athletic Club on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 from 7:30-10:00 am.