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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Planning For 2014: 5 Things CEOs Must Focus On To Improve Sales

Sales Team

It’s the time of year when we take stock of where we are, and make plans for where we want to go. What went well in your business in 2013? What didn’t go so well (or “needs improvement” as some people like to say)?

As you create a sales plan for 2014, and map out where you would like your business to go, consider some specific things you can do to improve sales productivity. Here are five (5) objectives we suggest you consider.  Whether you select one of these or come up with a sales improvement plan of your own, pick at least one area to focus on in 2014 and stick with it for the next four quarters.

1.  Face the brutal truth

In Good to Great and the many subsequent books resulting from his research on what makes companies great, Jim Collins notes that the first step to being a great company is to face the brutal truth. 

In our opinion, the single most impactful investment a CEO or business owner can make in their sales organization is to conduct a comprehensive Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis from Objective Management Group.If you are serious 

Sales Effectiveness Analysisabout making significant progress this year in terms of growing revenue, improving margins, building a predictable sales process, shortening your sales cycle, closing more business, and developing your people, investing in a detailed analysis of your people, systems, and strategies should be your first step (link to sample SEIA report landing page).

2. Focus on your sales pipeline

Your sales pipeline is the single most accurate forecast of incoming revenue in your company.  Your management team should review it regularly and make adjustments accordingly.  Your operations manager must use your sales pipeline as a guide to adjusting capacity requirements.  Your Chief Financial Officer should use your sales pipeline as a guide for making strategic investments and managing cash flow more effectively. 

In fact, everyone on your management team should look at your sales pipeline and gain confidence.  Most companies don’t use their sales pipeline this way because it is usually a joke your sales manager tries to defend and justify at management meetings.  What would happen if you had a reliable sales pipeline your leaders could count on?

3. Commit to coaching

Your sales managers should spend about 50% of their time directly coaching your sales people.  It is the only way your sales people will make consistent improvements so that every week, every month, and every quarter you will be able to look at the behaviors and activities across your sales organization and say “Yes, we’re clearly getting better.  We’re having better conversations.  We’re getting into better opportunities.  We are winning business more consistently because our proposals are better qualified.  We are selling better work at higher margins.  We are improving customer satisfaction.  We have better communications from our sales team to the rest of the organization.”  To be able to say these things you need to commit to a consistent and rigorous coaching routine.

4. Hire stronger sales talent

Upgrading your sales talent can be a growth strategy.  How many people on your sales team would you enthusiastically rehire?  Who are the mediocre performers on your team that you tolerate because you don’t want to make a change?  What is your plan for these B and C-players?  Can you develop them?  Coach them?  Put them in a position better suited for their skills?  What would happen if you committed to an A-Player-only hiring strategy?  Perhaps this is the year to make that happen.

5. Narrow your market focus

Sometimes we just take the work our sales people can sell instead of being focused and disciplined around selling to accounts that best fit our model. 

Who are your best accounts?  The idea of “best” could mean most profitable, easiest to work with, most strategic potential, deepest relationship, or many other factors.  What would happen to your business if your entire account base was comprised of customers who really fit what you do?  Who are the customers that take up disproportionate resources?  Can you adjust your pricing to encourage them to leave (freeing up valuable resources for customers who are a better fit)?  Looking at your sales pipeline, are your sales people targeting the right types of accounts and are they having conversations at the right level?  Or are they just taking whatever they can get?  What would your company look like 12 months from now if you narrowed your market focus and aligned your sales organization around the accounts that best fit your operation?

Make it a priority to clearly define what your ideal account looks like, and include it in your entire sales process.

Where does your sales team “need improvement” this year? Let us know which one you picked and we’ll check in with you in 90 days to make sure you are sticking with it!

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:

have a cup of coffee with Mike about sales improvement






5 Difficult Questions You Need to Ask About Your Sales Team

Examine Your Sales Team, Objective Management Group sales reports, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee consultants, Sales Force Evaluation, Expert Advice, Sales Questions, Sales GrowthIf you had the opportunity to really study your sales organization - to take a very diagnostic look at the people, systems and strategies that impact sales;
- What questions would you ask?
- What are the most frustrating, difficult, drive-you-absolutely-nuts questions about your sales team or business development group that you would want to know?
- What would you do with the answers?
- How would you leverage that information to turn things around and start growing massive revenue?

If you would like to learn more about how you can take an x-ray of your sales team so you know exactly where to focus your time, energy and team investments, let's schedule a call of a date for a cup of coffee.
Click here to contact Mike Carroll for a phone conversation
Click here to contact Mike Carroll for a cup of coffee.
5 important questions for you
Many of the CEOs, Presidents, and Business Owners we talk with have a very general sense and a surface-level understanding of what might be holding their sales team back. And they will readily express their frustration. But when asked to be a more precise, to pinpoint exactly where their concerns are with their sales team, most just shrug their shoulders and say

"I don't know exactly, that's why I called you!"

Without having a conversation and asking you a lot of questions about your current circumstances, it is impossible for me to guess which questions would be the most important for you to understand.  That said, I'll make a guess by sharing these five (5) questions we commonly see when talking with frustrated CEOs, Presidents, and Business Owners.
1. Do we have the right people on our sales team?
Teams tend to evolve over time. People are hired because they seem like a good fit and they were available at the time you were hiring. Or they worked at a competitor and they appear to know your industry. Or they were on the sales team of a company you acquired and it didn't make sense to let them go. Or they are a good friend's son or daughter who recently graduated from college, needed a job, and interviewed well.
There are are all sorts of reasons why we add people to the team - and usually what we see is a hodge podge of random hiring decisions made at different points in time for different reasons with different considerations and goals for making each hire. Rarely is there a consistent, systematic, disciplined hiring strategy with focus and clarity around the type of person you need, the experience they MUST have, the skills they need to succeed, and much more. Do you have such a system in place or have you assembled a hodge podge team?
2. Are our people doing the right things?
We know there are specific activities every sales person and sales manager should do every day, every week, and every month. And we know that team members did these activities with a consistent focus and discipline, massive results would follow. And you probably already know what these activities are for your company. And yet, your sales team still does not do them. Or at least they don't do them consistently. How much time are they spending in sales conversations every week? Are they talking to the right people or did they settle for the person they could reach? Are they asking the right questions or are they asking the safe questions where feel most comfortable?
3. Are our sales managers doing everything they can to drive business growth?
Sales managers have tremendous power and influence. Effective sales managers hold people accountable, ask great questions, coach consistently and effectively, grow the team and hire sales people who are stronger than they are. Yet they still feel comfortable coaching stronger sales people, raising expectations and helping them succeed. Great sales managers can be worth their weight in gold. And yet, great sales managers are extraordinarily rare and difficult to find.

How are your sales managers doing?

Are they effective coaches or do they just muddle through? Do they recruit the right people to build the team or are they selecting people who are weaker than they are so they don't feel threatened? Are they raising expectations and then giving the support their team needs to crush their goals or are they just going with the flow?
4. Are we tracking the right stuff?
Too often CEOs, Presidents and Business Owners focus like a laser beam on one statistic and one statistic only - sales growth. If sales are growing, the team is fine. If sales are stalled or declining, look out! Looking at sales results and monitoring revenue growth is obviously important, particularly when communicating with outside parties (your bank, your investors, potential business partners, etc.).

For an internal focus we recommend tracking activities rather than results. Pick a handful of activities that, when done with consistent focus and discipline, will drive the results you want. Measure them. Track them frequently. Use them to hold people accountable. Do not let up. If having every sales person make a minimum of 10 prospecting calls every day will drive the results you need, track it. If having every sales person generate two quality referrals every week will drive the results you need, track it. Whatever your key activites might be, find them, track them and hold your people accountable to hitting them consistently.
5. How much revenue have we lost by not addressing these issues with our sales team?
Ignoring a problem isn't going to make it go away. Getting the right people, focused on the right things, with the right sales coaching and leadership, and tracking the right activities can make a massive difference on your sales growth. Even nailing down three out of the five can have a big impact. What are you doing this quarter to address the issues in your sales organization? Where will you focus first? What will have the greatest impact and biggest return for your effort? What will it cost you this quarter in terms of lost sales if you wait? And if you are on plan or ahead of plan, what would focusing on these issues do in terms of generating even more revenue?
These are just a handful of the questions we help our clients understand. If you would like to learn more about how you can take an x-ray of your sales team so you know exactly where to focus your time, energy and team investments, let's schedule a brief phone conversation or meet for a cup of coffee to figure it out.

Mike Carroll

Click here to contact Mike Carroll for a cup of coffee.


What is the Most Important Step in the Sales Hiring Process?

Sales Hiring, 90 day plan, ramp up, new hire onboarding, on-boarding, sales management hiring mistakes, Top Grading, STAR hiring system, Dave Kurlan, Objective Management Group, OMG, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee, Intelligent Conversations, Sales Hiring SuccessThe most important step in the sales hiring process is not writing the perfect ad so you attract the best possible pool of candidates....and it's not going through a rigorous qualification and screening process that saves you valuable time....and it's not improving the selection process by asking targeted interview questions that go right to the heart of a candidate's potential short-comings....and it's not doing all of these things in a predictable, repeatable, scalable, systematic manner that allows you to develop a deep virtual bench of sales talent.

No, while all of these things are absolutely crucial to
successfully hiring A-players for your sales and business development teams, these are NOT the most important step in the sales hiring process.


What is the most important step in the sales hiring process?
In my opinion, based on the hundreds of sales hiring decisions we have helped facilitate with our clients, the final and most important step in a killer sales hiring process is executing a well-planned 90-day ramp up for every new sales person. And yet we see so many (otherwise smart) sales managers either skip this step entirely or just go through the motions and do it "half-fast" (so to speak).

Why do some sales managers miss this critical step?  Here are a couple of theories:

Rigourous Process Breeds Complacency - We help our clients implement a powerful sales hiring system - the "Sales Talent Acquisition Routine" (or STAR Hiring System) designed and developed by Dave Kurlan, Founder and CEO of Objective Management Group.  It is rigourous and highly predictive.  So when a strong candidate for a sales position successfully navigates through this system, many sales managers make the mistake of assuming they can skip this final step because they've just hired such a strong sales person.  Wrong!  The 90-day on-boarding phase is absolutely crucial to successfully running the STAR Hiring System.  

Lack of Time, Focus, and Discipline - Time is scarce for busy, productive sales managers. Whether it is an unrelenting travel schedule, the pressing urgency of helping sales team members win important deals, or the crushing demands of internal meetings with senior management and other departments, many sales managers struggle with staying focused and prioritizing what needs to get done. So while intellectually they may understand the importance of planning and executing a strong 90-day ramp up plan for new sales hires, if they do not put it on their calendars and budget the time to invest it simply does not happen.

Dangerous Delegation and Responsibiltiy Shift - Because many sales managers are so busy the logical step is to delegate the ramp up and on-boarding of a new sales person to someone on their team.  While getting other people from the company engaged in the on-boarding process is a great idea, it is still the sales manager's responsibility to make sure the new sales person is getting the help and support they need to get off to a strong start.  
I have seen sales managers ask a (not-so-busy) sales person on their team to "take the lead" on getting the new sales hire up to speed.  What kind of lessons will that (not-so-busy) sales person pass along to the new hire?  This kind of "Tribal Training" can be dangerous and demotivating to the new hire because it can drive home the wrong lessons and send a bad message.  

I know of a company where the first thing the "veteran" sales person taught to the eager new sales hire was how to make more money by fudging expense reports. I'm NOT kidding - there was a genuine fear that if the new sales person ever turned in an honest expense report it would stand out and raise alarms.  Now there's a great message to pass along to a new employee!

Pure Laziness - I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I think there are some sales managers who are just plain lazy and choose to skip this important step in the sales hiring process because to do it right requires a lot of hard work, consistent follow up, detailed coaching and feedback conversations, a signficant investment of time and effort, and strong focus and discipline to make it happen. Not every sales manager is willing to put in the effort required to do a great job with new hire on-boarding (even when their job might depend on it).

As CEO, President or Business Owner what can you do to make sure your sales managers are focusing on this final and (in my opinion) most important step in the sales hiring process? What is the single most important element of a successful 90-day on-boarding program? All of our clients who use a candidate screening tool from Objective Management Group will tell you they view this report as "the Bible" for bringing on new sales people. The information and insights available are remarkable and help sales leaders focus on the most important issues to address with a new sales hire. Simply put, using this tool the right way will shorten the timeframe from hire date to revenue production.  It's like magic.

Learn more in this free webinar
Want to learn more? You don't have to listen to me talk about it - you can hear all about it from the very person who designed it. On Tuesday, March 12th at 9:00 am central time Dave Kurlan will be our guest in our webinar series.  

It's free and you can sign up here.  
Why not register today?


CTA sales hiring process webinar


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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Free Sales Seminar - The Ultimate Sales Call

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

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

Top 5 Mistakes Your VP of Sales Makes at Trade Shows

sales, trade show, selling, exhibit, conference, sales process, sales strategies, selling at tradeshows, selling at trade shows, exhibit booths, marketing, marketing dollars, marketing budget, CEO, CEO Sales Guide, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, PresidentIf you are the person who signs the checks (the President, CEO or business owner) for all of the expenses that go along with exhibiting at trade shows, one of the things that can drive you absolutely nuts is trying to figure out how to get the maximum return on your marketing investment while also ensuring enough new business closes to justify the expense.

As many of our clients get ready for "trade show season" and prepare to send their sales teams off to exotic convention centers across the country, here are the top five (5) trade show mistakes we see VPs of Sales make that can absolutely destroy your return on investment.

  1. Planning as an after thought.  Running a sales organization can be a tough, demanding job.  There are so many moving parts to manage and often meeting with the VP of Marketing to provide input and feedback into trade show planning gets put on the back burner.  Huge mistake.  Your marketing team always needs a longer lead time than your vice president of sales believes.  If your sales team is busy talking about problems solved by product X and your marketing team produces materials and give aways for product Y, you've got a big problem.  Make sure your VP of Sales and your VP of Marketing schedule some time to plan well ahead of the show(s) you plan to attend.
  2. Customers or Prospects?  The great thing about exhibiting at the right trade shows for your industry is that everyone is there, including your current customers and prospective customers.  To maximize your sales teams time make sure there is a clear strategy about how to handle both groups and where sales people should spend their time.  Our advice is typically to talk with customers before the show to find out if they will attend and perhaps schedule some time with them before or after the show or during off hours.  It could be a dinner or a cup of coffee or just a quick hello.  Let them know that you value and appreciate their business and then set the expectation that your goal is to focus on new business.
  3. Focus on Getting Leads.  Many sales people (and sales leaders) attend these events expecting to get a lot of leads and connections - and they are often disappointed when they fall short.  In our experience the sales people who leave the show with the most leads and connections are the ones who focus their time, energy and efforts and making connections for others first. What would happen if before the show everyone on your sales team invested some time thinking about who they could connect, who they could introduce, and what they could do to help your clients and prospective clients?  Get your team focused on giving first, and they will receive plenty of leads and opportunities.
  4. Missed Opportunities.  If all you are going to do is set up your booth and stand there for 8 hours, don't even go. Get involved with the show.  Offer to moderate a panel.  Use the event to learn more about your competition and your market in general. Leverage the opportunity to have hundreds of short conversations as a training opportunity for your newer sales people. Provide on the spot coaching and feedback as you observe them interact with tradeshow attendees.
  5. Poor Execution.  The details matter. From pre-show planning (meeting with marketing to get the message right, identifying clients who will attend, calling prospects who will attend to book a cup of coffee during the show, etc.) to post-show follow up, successful sales organizations nail the details and execute with ruthless efficiency. Compare that to what you typically see as you  walk a trade show floor (bored sales people nursing a hang over) and ask yourself which side of that coin you want your sales team to be on?

Investing in the right trade show can provide oppotunities to connect with current clients, fill your sales pipeline with propsective clients, increase your company's visability, and learn more about your competition and your market in general.  Make sure your VP of Sales avoids these mistakes and you'll be on your way to a strong return on your tradeshow investment.  If you need some help we have our free Trade Show Checklist

Focus on Sales Process, Not Outcomes

outcomes, sales leadI recently finished reading Moneyball by Michael Lewis (I still look forward to watching the movie).  Great book with lots of examples and stories that apply to sales, sales management and leadership in general.  At one point in the book the author is sitting in a video room with Paul DePodesta (one of Billy Beane's lieutenants) watching a live feed of a game.  Rather than watching the commercial broadcast they just watched the video feed from the center field camera because that provided the best view of the strike zone.  DePodesta wasn't interested in watching the whole game as an ordinary fan would; rather, he was watching the fragments of the game that provided the information he was interested in.

"It's looking at process rather than outcomes," Paul says.  "Too many people make their decisions based on outcomes rather than process."

By narrowing their focus to specific process components Beane and DePodesta were able to see things other baseball insiders missed.  They were able to see the remarkable value of a disciplined approach at the plate that lead to consistently taking pitches rather than embracing the "swing for the fences" mindset that is more commonly accepted in baseball.

In our sales force development consulting practice we often see CEOs, Presidents, and Business Owners who put more value and emphasis on sales outcomes than sales processes.  It's similar to coaching a basketball game by only watching the scoreboard.  When this happens your sales team can get the wrong message and focus on the wrong behaviors. 

We've seen "award-winning sales people" fail and sputter six months later, unable to reproduce the big deal that got them the award in the first place.  We've seen sales people absolutely crushing their sales quota one month lose the big account driving those results the next month.

Focus on the sales process by picking 2-3 key metrics to track to create better discipline and more consistent results across your sales organization.  Remember:

- Sometimes sales people do everything right, and still don't get the deal.  Celebrate their discipline and fidelity to the sales process. 

- Sometimes sales people do a lot of things wrong, and still win the deal inspite of what they did.  Be grateful for the revenue then point out where they could have done better by following the process.

If your sales team knows what to focus on and can focus on the right activities day in and day out, the results will follow.  Are your sales managers focused on process or outcomes?   What would happen to revenue growth if your sales managers understood not just what happened (outcomes) but also how and why it happened (process)?  Which is more predictable?  Which is more forward looking?

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!