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.


Four Ideas to Shorten Your Sales Cycles and Keep Things on Track

Sales Cycle, Keeping Sales Conversations on Track, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee Sales Expert, ToutApp, Postwire, sales toolsOne of the more common frustrations I hear when talking with Presidents, CEOs and Business Owners is that their sales cycle seems to be taking longer and longer.  They'll describe how their sales people get great meetings, ask good questions, find opportunities that seem to fit what they can do, qualify the budget, prepare a proposal,

and then....everything grinds to a halt.

The sales train comes right off the tracks.  Calls are not returned.  E-mails are ignored.  Prospective clients seem to disappear into thin air.  

What happened?  And more importantly to the executives and owners I talk to about longer sales cycles, what can you do about it?

Here are four ideas you can implement today that will dramatically shorten your sales cycle, sustain sales momentum, increase revenue, keep your sales team focused, improve feedback from prospects so your team understands how prospects are engaging when prospects disappear, and keey sales conversations on track.




1) Begin every meeting with a strong agreement
This is something every sales person on your team can do. Have your sales people set expectations at the beginning of the meeting to clearly define the purpose of the meeting and what they want to accomplish by the end of the conversation. This simple step keeps everyone on the same page, sets a goal and expected outcome, and idenfities any potential misalignments. All in the very first 5 minutes of the meeting.

A strong agreement at the beginning of a meeting sets a clear agenda for the call and will seperate your sales people from everyone else calling on that prospect.


2) End every meeting with a strong agreement
This is also something every sales person on your team can do.  No matter how the meeting ends there should be a clear next step. Let's say the meeting is dreadful and there is no potential for future business. An appropriate step might be taking that prospect off your list.

Let's say the meeting was good, but the timing is not right. A great next step is to ask the prospect "could I call you in 3 months" or whatever the appropriate timeframe might be.

And when it's a great meeting wher the timing is right and the conversation should move forward? A great next step will summarize the key points agreed upon, define the next steps each person needs to complete, set a timeframe as well as the next meeting or phone call. Actually scheduling it right on the spot will greatly increase the momentum and keep things on track.


3) Use Postwire to share and distribute information
At every stage of the sales process a common next step is to send additional information (design specifications, product information or brochures, case studies, testimonial videos, and more). Rather than just e-mailing it and hoping they read it, we have been using Postwire to create pages for prospects where they can go to one place to view all of the relevant information to the sales conversation.

The presentation is much better, you can include videos and other media, and you can track whether they open the information, when they open, whether they forward it to someone else in their company and much more. This creates a better client experience and will help your company and your sales people appear far more professional than just sending an e-mail with a bunch of attachments.


4) Use Toutapp to manage your e-mails and track engagement

Bring greater consistency to the sales communication process using this great little application. Instead of each sales person on your team reinventing the wheel every time they need to send a follow up e-mail, break down the wall between sales and marketing and have them work together to create common templates that apply to each stage of the sales process.

Not only will this save time for your sales people, it also helps them be more timely in their follow up. For example, you can set an alert so when the prospect opens the e-mail your sales person can call them right then and ask "did you get that e-mail I sent to you?"

Time kills deals and if your competition has this kind of insight and your sales people are just following up whenever they get to it, who do you think is going to win the business?


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 free overview of our newest tool - the Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis - and we will follow up with you to find out if it makes sense to talk about helping your sales organization become more effective.

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Are Your Boring Sales Meetings Driving Growth and Change?

Boring sales meeting, six ideas to improve sales meetings, sales meeting topics, sales manager ideas, sales productivity, weekly meeting rhythm, Intelligent Conversations, CEO sales blog, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, management consultant, growth consultantHow effective are your sales managers at running a good sales meeting? How engaged are your top performing sales people? How much is this costing you in terms of lost productivity, lower morale, and higher turnover on your sales team?

Here’s a quick test you can do by sitting in their next sales meeting. Put aside the fact that your being there may change everyone’s behavior.

Just ask one of your sales managers if it would be alright to sit in for a few meetings just as an observer.

Here’s what I want you to observe:  count the ratio between statements your sales manager makes and questions your sales manager asks.

You  might be surprised by the results!

Too often the sales meetings we observe tend to focus on unimportant administrative tasks and boring progress status reviews. Too often we hear statements, proclamations, and updates instead of questions, discussions and collaboration. That's why most your top producing sales people dread going to sales meetings and will find just about any excuse to be somewhere else.

What would happen if all of the administrative updates happened offline before the weekly sales meeting? What would happen if every week your sales managers spent no more than 15-20 minutes on updates and then focused the balance of the hour on a particular sales challenge or market opportunity? Would your sales people make incremental progress if every week they spent 40-45 minutes collaborating with their teammates in engaging discussions facilitated by your sales managers?  

Here are six (6) potential topics to consider:

  1. Prospecting Focus - ask your sales managers to go beyond a quick review of the top 20 prospects each sales person is targeting. Instead they should facilitate a conversation about why they picked those prospects, how they're approaching them, what they say when they get them on the phone, which questions and examples create the most urgency to schedule a meeting, what activity levels are driving success across the team, and so on. Everyone on the team should walk out with clear next steps and expectations to meet and report on at the next sales meeting.
  2. Overcoming Objections - have your sales managers facilitate a brainstorming session to identify the most common objections (price is always number one) the sales team encounters. Rarely will the list go beyond 12-15 total objections.  Work through the top two to three (2-3) objections as a group and then assign the rest and have each sales person outline strategies to overcome/address/handle/neutralize the objection assigned to them and present it at the next sales meeting.
  3. Voice of the Customer Exercise - have your sales manager work with each team member to select a current client and conduct a brief interview to understand

    a) what the customer likes best about working with your company (descriptive and results focused),
    b) what they would change if they could change one thing about your company (opportunities for improvement), and
    c) where they would focus their time and efforts or who they would call if they were the sales person (prospecting and referral opportunity).

    Each sales person should share their findings with the team and your sales manager should facilitate a discussion around what this feedback means and how to use it on upcoming sales calls.
  4. Question Funnel Exercise - what are the six to eight (6-8) most common problems or challenges your customers and prospective customers face? Ask your sales manager to facilitate a discussion and brainstorming session to document ALL of the questions a sales person could ask to uncover these common problems and challenges.  What questions and discussions will expose these issues?  What are the different question sets that will help a prospective customer "discover" the impact these challenges are having on their business.
  5. Market Trends - what changes are happening in the markets you serve that could impact your prospective client's ability or urgency to buy your product or service? Is the competitive landscape changing? Is there a new technology or business model that could disrupt your business? Are there regulatory pressures? Are there capital challenges or financing requirements that could delay a project start up? What are your sales people hearing in the market that everyone should know about? Can your sales manager facilitate a discussion that helps everyone on the team drive that discussion on sales calls rather than react to it cold?
  6. Win/Loss Analysis - have your sales manager select a recent deal (either a win or a loss) and go deep into what happened. What went really well that should be repeated whenever possible? What didn't go so well that should be avoided in future opportunities? How repeatable and avoidable are these factors? What are the specific activities, behaviors, and deal components that a sales person can control and drive in future deals? Are your sales managers strong enough to go beyond the celebratory "high five" for wins or the surface-level "post mortem" for losses? What lessons should every sales person on the team learn from each big win or loss?

If your sales meetings have become a boring exchange of updates and progress reports, why not have your sales managers jump start them with any of these topics, or whatever issue is most pressing at your company? If they run out of ideas, simply have them ask everyone on their sales team to write down their top three _______ (sales challenges, sales successes, obstacles, growth opportunities, process improvement ideas, referral strategies, closing questions, and on and on) and then faciliate a discussion about that.


Need help getting started?
Contact me and ask about how we can help increase the focus for a series of sales meetings.


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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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Sales Focus - The $2,000 Cup of Coffee

CEO Sales Guide, Intelligent Conversations, $2000 cup of coffee, Mike Carroll, Sales Force Development, Rules for a Proactive Day, Time Management, Free Webinar, Sales Leadership, Milwaukee, WisconsinMy friend and client Bob Scherer took an exercise I had given to his sales team one step further and it's absolutely brilliant.  After reviewing one of our sales modules on "The Rules for a Proactive Day" I sent Bob a worksheet to help each sales person on his team understand the true value of their time.  It's pretty straight forward.  Just take your income last year divided by 2,080 and you will get your earning rate per hour.

So if one of your sales people made $100,000 in income last year their earning rate per hour was $48.07.  $100,000/2,080 = $48.07.  Of course this assumes your sales people only work a 40 hour week and in our experience most successful sales people usually work more than that, but that's a topic for another day.

The idea behind this exercise is to generate a productive conversation during a sales meeting to help your sales people understand that:

  • Not all sales appointments are created equally;
  • Time is scarce;
  • Time is money, and;
  • Time is a resource that cannot be replaced.

Look at a sales person's calendar and ask, "Was the cup of coffee meeting with Sue Smith really worth $50?",  and then follow up with a question like, "If you had to pay me $50 to go to that meeting, would you still go?"  Typically the discussion that follows has distinct and positive results.  First, it brings this issue into focus with a living example.  In addition, it helps your sales team understand the importance of proactive planning and how to best manage their calendars.  And it leads to making smarter decisions about which prospects a sales person should invest their time with. 

We've been doing this exercise with our clients with great results for years and years, but Bob wasn't satisfied. He took it one step further.  Instead of calculating the value of a sales person's time based on their earnings from the prior year, he looked at it from the perspective of what do they need to quote per hour to hit their sales plan.  This extra step created even more focus and clarity. 

We've since done this exercise with other clients and the results have been eye-opening.  For example, some of the people on the sales teams we work with need to quote on average $2,000 per hour to reach their sales goal.  That's quite a bit more than $50 per hour.  Keep in mind, that's an average target per hour - the reality is they may go a whole day without a quote and then have a $10,000 opportunity.  The other thing to keep in mind is as we work with sales teams on planning a proactive day, we plan five (5) hours per day so these averages are based on that number.  This time management approach builds in time for interruptions, got-a-minute meetings, returning voice and e-mails, sales meetings, and so on.

How does this impact your sales managers and how they monitor the proactive planning their sales people do?  Let's say you have a sales rep who wants to go to Cleveland to see a prospect.  It's a good meeting with strong potential.  And it's a full day out of the office.  If the answer to the question "Is this a $10k opportunity?" is anything but a resounding "Yes!" then your sales manager needs to raise expectations.  Who else can the sales rep meet with while they're there?  Could they have their initial discovery conversation on the phone instead of face-to-face to make sure there is a good fit? 

What kind of decisions would your sales team make if they understood the true value of their time and how much they needed to quote per hour to hit their plan?  Is the "cup of coffee" meeting really worth $2,000 (or whatever the opportunity cost per hour is for your sales people)?  We can send you a free spreadsheet and meeting discussion guide so you can do this exercise at your next sales meeting. 

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?

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.

Keep It Simple

I'm currently reading Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, a best-selling business book looking at change and how people make decisions. I'm enjoying this book because it provides a new framework to consider and an easy way to look at the issues related to change. And it reinforces one of the key concepts we teach our clients as we work with them to implement change across their sales organization - keep it simple.

The Heath brothers explain how too many choices can cause analysis paralysis. They also say that what looks like resistance is often just a lack of clarity. In our experience working with sales organizations, a relentless "keep it simple" philosophy dramatically improves focus and drives awesome results. Here are a few specific (and simple) examples:

•As a sales person, give your prospect a clear and concise proposal. Recommend your best solution and let them say yes or no. What happens when you bombard your prospects with choices and options? They freeze and disappear.

•As a sales manager, give your sales people clear direction. Identify the daily behaviors that will drive results and focus relentlessly on those activities. Hold them accountable to keep them focused. What happens when you constantly change direction, measure different things, or ask them to pursue opportunities unrelated to your strategy? They freeze and get frustrated.

• As a President, CEO or Business Owner you are ultimately responsible for revenue growth. Align and focus your entire organization around a few key concepts and priorities (think 3-5 per quarter at most) and then get out of their way. What happens when you have too many "Number One Priorities" for your team to pursue? They wander off track doing what they think is most important and your company stalls.

• As an employee anywhere in the company, drive productivity by simplifying your day. Focus your daily activities by following this simple three-step process for a massively productive day:

1) Identify the 5-6 top priorities for your day. Ask yourself what needs to happen to make it a truly excellent day that will make you feel great when you leave to go home.

2) Once you have your list, identify how long you need to spend on each accomplishment on the list. Write down the time required in terms of minutes (e.g. 30 minutes, 50 minutes, 90 minutes, etc.). If the total time adds up to more than six (6) hours, cut your list so you can allow some time for unexpected interruptions.

3) Schedule when you will do each task, building in time between accomplishments for interruptions, responding to e-mail, returning phone calls, checking with colleagues, etc.

These are all concepts we work with our clients on and the results can be remarkable. The Heath brothers take this concept much further in their excellent new book and I'm grateful I'll be able to use it as a way to reinforce the work we do with our clients. Keep it simple for your prospects, your sales team, your company and your day. What can you start doing today to "keep it simple?" What can you stop doing today to "keep it simple?" What will happen to your revenue velocity as you implement a "keep it simple" philosophy that improves your focus and clarity? Why not start right now?