Nobody talks about the world being flat or round, so why does this topic merit discussion, there so many other more important unsolved mysteries in sales. Take a look at what I mean:
Being different seems to be really important to some people in sales. From their buyers, to product, to the way the sell, people want to cling to being different. It is like “Difference” is some sort of badge of honour, a reason to pay a premium, or worse, a rationale for results.
You often hear people talk about how the complexity of their sale makes it different. But all sales are complex in their own way, just because one may have more moving parts than another, does not make it more complex or different. Sure the moving parts in selling desalination plants may differ from those found in selling business process outsourcing, but the core components and core execution, not that different. Wanting it to be different does not change the fact that it has to be executed along a defined path (or process, you know, that’s a bit more complex), and one step at a time.
The “sophistication of the solution”, does not equate to “different” or “complex”. Just ask someone selling a fairly simple and standard product, in a highly competitive, price sensitive environment; these sales people have a much more complex selling challenge, especially if they can maintain price integrity. But in the end there is less difference than many sales professionals would want to pretend.
I remember meeting with a VP of Sales with a “Solutions Provider “, and indeed they had a product that was “cool”, and in demand, addressing a common requirement in their target market. From the time we met at a conference he was into the “I am interested in what you do Tibor, but you gotta understand we’re different.” I don’t know, he like everyone at their booth, had two arms, two legs, a big mouth, didn’t seem that different, maybe I’ll figure it out when we meet at their office.
Later at the office, he was right back at it, preaching the (invisible) difference. As one who likes to break the sale down to logical sequential steps, I thought I would explore.
TS: So let me get this straight, your people do not have to prospect, you went to the conference because you had marketing budget to blow. You normally have prospects lined up out the door, but you knew I was coming this morning, so cleared a path for me?
VP: No, no, our folks have to prospect, they need to make calls every day, I have them working the show leads now, those shows are expensive, I am always reviewing their activity, and we should be converting more of these leads, especially with our product.
TS: OK, but once you get in front of the prospect, it is smooth sailing, they get it, and want to switch or buy right away, no?
VP: I wish, we have to needs assessments, work through a bunch of data, and for sure three demos, sometimes more.
TS: But at that point, they just ask for the proposal, and away we go.
VP: Rarely, we have to help them maneuver internally, that’s why we end up doing multi demos, and data crunching, all the players involved.
TS: All laid out in your process, right?
VP: Not really, what we laid out should follow a different path.
TS: But once you present the proposal, it’s done, no back and forth, no negotiations, no price haggling.
VP: Are you kidding, even after all that, we still have to deal with that, all the ROI we show them, and we still go through that.
TS: So tell me again how you are different?
Talk to any ‘executoide’, and KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) are bound to be part of the conversation. Nice and practical concept, good resume fodder, often misused or abused by many, especially from a sales point of view. I often get the sense that many see KPI standing for Key Political Initiatives or Key (to my) Personal Incentive.
As a concept, KPI’s are great, helping sales organizations in defining and measuring progress against stated objectives or goals. Determined in advance, measurable and quantifiable, they are instrumental in helping to assess progress, and plan course correction if needed. Examples in sales may be lead to opportunity conversions, or proposals to close. Based on these measures you can make adjustments and respond to conditions on the ground to ensure those goals are attained. You often hear sales managers and director speak of how they are doing against their KPI’s. Looking at it that way can be a part of potential problems.
In the wrong hands, with wrong intents, the best concepts can come back to bite you; in sales it is usually the disconnect between what’s being measured and the desired results. There are many KPI’s being met without delivering the intended result or economic benefit, leading to a culture of measurement rather than success. When reps feel measured instead of being led to success, they turn to rationalizing their performance with the very same KPI’s. I hear reps say “well I delivered against the KPI, I got eight meetings every week this quarter.” Or “what do you want me to do, get sales or complete the KPI’s you gave me?”
It doesn’t help when sales leaders are incented on meeting KPI’s rather than result. While I am a big proponent of paying for success based on leading indicators, it should be on how those leading indicators are leading to consistent and improving results. Without that, when you pay for a checkmark, you get checkmarks, you pay for results you get results.
I was recently contacted by a sales director about training the team. As we discussed the program and roll-out, he insisted on doing things the first week of every quarter, when I asked why, he told me team quarterly development was one of his KPI’s, and the team meets the first week of each quarter. We assessed the team, had input from a number of people in the company, and customers, and designed training that required two days of delivery at the start, followed by Renbor’s Follow-Through Action Plan regimen. He loved the program, but asked that I cut it down to a half day. “What do you want me to cut?” “No no, I love the program as is, we just need to do it in half a day, I have to include some product training in October as well (another KPI no doubt).
No matter how much I tried to impress on him that he was making a mistake, he insisted. Knowing the type, that when things hit the fan, I will be blamed for the failure, even as he collects his KPI based bonus, I confronted him. I revamped the program to make it a one day affair, but he was still reluctant; half glancing at his phone as he explained his situation, including meeting KPI’s. I finally offered to send him some workbooks, pre-filled certificates he can distribute, come in and read a few pages to the team, and he could hit his KPI, and not bother with the challenge of training, but still be able to put the tick in the box next to training. “That’s your goal right?”. I swear he thought about it for a minute before realizing he was being mocked.
We finally agreed to the abridged one day program, with a clear understanding that we would include the remaining material into the January training. Now I have four months to work with and on the executives to change things, either the director or his KPI’s.
Vote in the poll at the end of the post!
Given that it is a holiday Monday, at least where I am, I thought I’d explore a lighter side of sales, but one worth pondering for a number of reasons. It comes down to how we present ourselves and how the buyer sees us, and it’s impact on their thinking and outcome of our efforts. I want to share with you two viewpoints, not sure where I land but interested in your views.
I know a couple of sales people, both guys, both top rate, as evidenced by their numbers and the quality of conversation when you meet them. They share a number of views on sales and their success, and they each have habits or in some cases rituals or superstitions that they rely on for their outstanding success. One point of key difference is shoes; yes I said shoes, we’re you expecting closing techniques?
One will call Mo, not because it’s his name, but we gotta call him something. Mo never wears new or clean shoes to an important sales call, especially what is commonly called a “closing meeting”. His view is that he does not want to upstage the buyer, his way of not wanting to appear to be better than the buyer, or flaunt his success. While he puts on a clean suit, freshly ironed shirt and the appropriate smart ties, there is never polish on his shoes. “I look professional, but that I still need your business.”
Bob (not his real name either), goes to the other extreme, what he does to his shoes before key meetings is nothing short of a ritual; in fact when you consider his closing ratio, it approaches being a religious experience. Bob buys all his “Power Shoes” at the same shop. “If you’re going to close business right, you have to look just so.”. Emphasis on the so. “I am asking these people to trust, to put their success, the fate of the project in my hands. To do that I have to look like the embodiment of success, someone they respect, look up to, would want be if they were selling. Part of that means they should be able to see themselves in my shoes when they look down just before they sign. The shine on my shoes is the final reassurance they need.”
Bob shines his shoes every weekend no matter what is in his pipeline. But the day before the close meeting, he goes into a higher mode. He pre cleans his shoes, then applies a specific polish, lets it sit for an hour, the using a special cloth r something he buffs and shines that thing till it looks like a mirror. He credits his days as a cadet for his prowess.
They are both exceptional sales people, they are both into the shoe thing, I am not sure what it has to do with their success.
What do you think: [yop_poll id="2"]
Tell us about your sales rituals!
The best way to turn a positive in to a negative is to give it a nasty name. A great example in sales is the use of the word “Micromanagement”, a favourite among those looking to shirk some responsibility and/or accountability that comes with “Active Management”. VP’s, Directors, Managers, and Front-line reps all love to throw up the Word to avoid dealing with issues and/or challenges they face but don’t like, i.e. “Active Management”.
I do want to acknowledge that real micromanagement, the wet blanket type, in the classic sense is not good (most of the time), but what a lot of people in sales label as micromanagement, is nothing more than active management. This includes real expectations, measured or tied to benchmarks and metrics. And it is usually those who fall short on the measured areas who cry “Micromanagement”.
Regardless of the title, the role of the front line manager is to lead their teams in executing the process, by leveraging and balancing activities and the coaching of their team to consistently better execute the high value activities that drive the process. Straight forward enough but not necessarily simple.
Let’s use the example of a core metric important in driving sales, one of the simplest, proposal to closing ratio. You would expect that most sales people would know their own, and that their manager would too, otherwise how could they possibly coach them. There are a host of indicators that can be used to manage activity and coach for improvement, of course as a leader you want to focus on the leading indicators.
I was interviewing a team last week, including their manager (he’s been around a while, so his title was VP, but he was a line manager), and when I asked him about some key conversion rates, he responded that he did not want to “get involved to that level, I don’t want to micromanage”. This would seem OK if they were blowing their numbers away, but that’s not why I was there. I asked what expectations are set either in terms of activities, pipeline coverage, or territory contact/coverage/penetration. And in all instances, the reply was basically that the guys are professionals, “do things their way, and don’t like to be micromanaged.” Apparently, they don’t like to exceed quota either.
When I asked about how the team was coached, the typical, “we talk every day, they call me when they have issues with a deal, and we meet once a month as a team to talk about the market.” Any coaching plans for the reps? “We do a performance management meeting every six months.”
When I spoke to the reps, I got their version of the “I don’t want to be micromanaged” routine.
Now we all know if I went back and asked them what their favourite ball player’s batting average, or RBI numbers were; or +/- in hockey, they would know it. I am willing to bet that if a ball player didn’t follow the coach’s system, they would expect the coach to get involved, and why not, just look at the success Phil Jackson was able to drive with his process, was he micromanaging? Or if someone was not producing as many goals as in previous years, they would lead the “trade them” charge. If the team was underperforming they would be calling for the coach to be fired, but not when it comes to their performance, the very same expectation would be met with the “micromanagement” cry.
Active management is a must for any professional team to continue to outperform their competitors, sales is no less a profession. You want to succeed, embrace active management.
Hey, if you liked what you saw here, invite me to speak at your next meeting!
Almost everyone in sales will tell you that incentives drive behaviour, but beyond that there is often little agreement among the pundits as to what the right incentive plan is. Some see it as a black art, while others, usually sales people, see it as something to manipulate, hence the expression ‘gaming the plan’. But ask Christopher Cabrera, founder, president and CEO of Xactly Corporation, who has a different view, and believes that front line reps and CFOs do not need to be at odds when it comes to incentives. In fact, Cabrera literally wrote the book on incentives, “Game the Plan: Every Sales Rep’s Dream; Every CFO’s Nightmare”, which suggests that when it’s done right, reps can and should game and maximize the plan, and everyone wins.
I had the opportunity to discuss incentives and the book with Cabrera, and ask him some questions many of my clients ask when it comes to their challenges around incentives and driving behaviour that leads to everyone’s success, buyer, seller, and company.
One aspect of the incentive where the pendulum of opinion swings back and forth is between simplicity and complexity of a plan. While some try to engineer things down to the minute detail, others, look to perhaps over simplify by offering 100% commission based pay. As you would suspect, the reality is somewhere in between. Cabrera’s view is that 100% is not the most effective, but over engineering a plan has faults as well. He suggests that structure is much more important than the specifics. What “counts is the number of measures; there is a strong correlation between the number of measures and a successful plan.” Measures being the elements being paid on, Cabrera suggests that optimal number is three measures being incented. As you exceed that number, you lose focus and therefore the effectiveness of the plan.
Another factor was the number of people being paid on any given deal, an extreme example Cabrera gave was a company that had over a hundred people on any given deal. He suggest that the right number of people is five.
Cabrera is also a proponent of paying different rates on different products. While paying on net revenue is a start, companies should also incent higher margin products at a higher rate, thereby driving sales and higher profits. He also discussed that managing activity is the role of management not the incentive plan.
Another area of discussion was the use of SPIFFs (Sales Promotion Incentive Fund). Cabrera explained that while this was an effective practice, companies need to keep them fresh and not overuse them. “Keep them guessing by changing the annual cadence, if they know it is coming and when, it loses the desired effect.” He also recommends that they not be overused, three times a year, and at different times, for different element. Tying them to quarter end each time really misses the mark.
The thing that gives the book teeth and makes it a must read for sales leaders and sales people is not only Cabrera’s own extensive experience in the field of sales incentive and incentive management. But more importantly, the volume of data that is available to him as a result of the work Xactly does. The ability to leverage the empirical, anecdotal and other elements give Cabrera, the book, and by extension the reader, an unparalleled level of insight into incentives, and doing it right.
The Pipeline Guest Post – Dick Beedon
Although brand advocacy has always been important, it is critical today. The path to purchase has changed forever. Because there is so much data available, and because communication is so easy, today’s buyer almost always seeks advice from a trusted friend or consumer source before making a purchase. Brands are now starting to realize that what others say and write about them defines who they are.
Smart brands know they must build strategies and systems to generate, track and manage brand advocacy. They know they must encourage and enable the people that know and trust them – their customers, employees and 3rd party influencers – to advocate on behalf of the brand.
And it works. By encouraging and empowering these customers, employees and influencers, they will drive peer-to-peer referrals, forward content, share information about new products and promotions, and write testimonials. And they can do it at scale and more efficiently than traditional channels.
The Benefits of New Channels are Compelling (examples)
- They Build Brand Awareness – when a customer shares something about the brand with a friend, there is no better way of building the brand.
- They Generate Leads – those friends that respond and go to the brand for more information become the best leads a brand can get. There are few people on earth who will argue that leads generated from referrals are the best leads.
- They Drive New Customer Acquisition – Leads from referrals close faster, they buy more and they stay longer.
Other reasons customers, employees and influencers make good sales and marketing channels;
1. Identify Brand Advocates and Build a Rich “Social” Data Set
Brand Advocates are identified when they register for or engage with your programs. By using technology systems, brands know who “opts-in” and advocates, how often they do it, what their sharing preferences are and how big their network is. We learn who they know and how influential they are. Brands are able to now get a deeper 360 view of their customer’s network value.
2. You’ll Know when Potential Customers are “In-Market”
Social channels provide insights and information not previously available. At the most basic level, social channels extend a brand’s sales force (with zero overhead) and they solve one of the biggest challenges brand’s face: knowing when a potential buyer is in-market. Only your current customers know when the people they know are ready to buy.
3. The cost of acquisition is lower.
This channel is always on and continually active – making referrals, amplifying products and promotions, and posting positive information about your brand. Brand advocates do this for a brand because they trust the brand and they want do it. Therefore, the time and cost invested into this channel is significantly less than other channels.
4. New customers that are referred by someone in your Social Channel are Valuable.
Research has consistently shown that consumers who convert as a result of a referral from a friend, are more loyal to a brand, spend more and stay longer.
Who are your Potential Channels and how Well can they Perform?
Customers, partners and employees are the fastest growing sales and marketing channel today. By utilizing the latest in social marketing software and technology, business leaders can mobilize these social relationships to generate new customers, and they can track and manage social behavior that is critical to the success of their company.
Customers recommend your products because they have first-hand, positive experience with them.
Today’s truly successful companies understand the importance of leveraging their customers into sales and marketing channels that drive corporate productivity. Creating and cultivating a large group of advocates can: pay huge dividends in the growth of your brand, increase subscribers, and boost profits. The financial investment to create this channel is minimal when you compare it to the long-term payoff for the brand.
About Richard Beedon
Richard Beedon is a founder and CEO of Amplifinity. Beedon has led the acquisition of both Entyre Doc Prep (by Wolters Kluwer) and University Netcasting, who merged with Student Advantage (now collegesports.com) and was acquired by CBS. Dick’s thought leadership and early adaption of SaaS based technologies that allow brands to manage advocacy marketing has been instrumental in the success and growth of Amplifinity.
Those of you have kept or keep diaries, know that one of the reasons it has such great value is not just because you open up about intimate secrets, but that you share everything, not just the good, not just the bad, but all that and everything in between. You were able to go back and relive the experience, and more often than not glean lesson and things you would do differently if you had to do them all again. You didn’t just look at what you did well, or things that turned out to be good, living up to and beyond your expectations. You looked at the bad things that happened and tried to understand how you might avoid similar things in the future. The more honest you were the more rewarding the experience. If you skewed or slanted things one way, you may feel better for a while, but reality comes creeping back in, forcing us to deal with the bad, and the gray.
Sales people and sales organization need to keep a diary of their experiences, all of them, the good, the bad, and the in between. Most already do deal reviews in some format, but many do not, either choosing to them selectively, or just enough to satisfy a KPI or ScoreCard requirement. Few do the real deep dive required in order to get the most out of it, in the process allowing both a learning and revenue improvement get away. To be clear, and as you will see further on, “deep dive” does not have to be a laborious time consuming exercise with minimal payoffs, it can and should be an ongoing process that helps you with deals you are currently involved in, while also allowing you to capture and repurpose things on the fly. Done right, it should resemble the old EDS add about building an airplane while it is flying, the opportunity for sales people and organizations, is to build a continuously better sales, even as they are executing current sales, and prospecting for their next one.
Specifically this involves reviewing all deals you were involved in, those you won, those you lost, and those which go to “no decision”. Note, if you are involved in ten to a dozen deal a month, I recommend you review all of them; if on the other hand you are involved in dozens of deals, you may want to review a representative sample. If you have 7 wins, 15 losses, and 6 no decisions, review 25%, or seven, and you will get good, executable output. But as you’ll see, even if you don’t formally review each one, you will produce usable output.
Now some of you reading this may be aware that I am the coauthor of an award winning book about Trigger Events. In that book the recommendation was that you focus your reviews to only those deals you win. This will allow you to continuously repeat those things that are consistently help you win deals. Sound thinking, to a point. Let me explain, coauthoring a book is a lesson in compromise, you give you, you learn, you take, and in the end you produce a book that reflects the learning of both. But as you move on, the hope is that both authors evolve, not limited by the required compromises, and we each continue down our path, shaped by or experiences.
Since the release of that book, my thinking has evolved to where I see focusing strictly on one segment of your activities and only one of many outcomes, brings an unnecessary level of risk to one’s sales success, regardless of which one of the three possible outcomes you focus on. Given that on average, wins make up less than half of potential deals, if for no other reason than to broaden you perspectives, you should review outcomes other than just wins.
This is why the 360 Deal View was developed. It allows you to capture relevant information about the sale, the outcome and specific contributors to that. As with most tools, it is less about the tool itself, and much more about the approach and behaviours it promotes, which in turn lead to the desired results in more repeatable, predictable and consistent ways. It allows you to evolve you selling along with the way your market and buyers evolve.
While there is no denying that you want to know exactly what you are doing that is helping you win, you want to know what unfolded on the buyer’s side that prompted them to engage, and what outside and inside factors accelerate your sales cycle or cause it to slow and stall. What were the buyer’s objectives that allowed you to gain traction, and how you were able to connect with those? All important things you want to leverage. But it would be dangerous if not naïve to not go through a similar exercise with the other outcomes, losses and “no decisions”. Two simple advantageous to knowing why you lose, first, it may just take a small adjustment to change some of the inputs that will move a loss to the won column. Second, you may discover that a segment that made sense on initial exploration made sense to pursue, based on practice does not. Looking at “no decisions” will often allow you to understand when would be the best time to reengage, and take the cycle to fruition. It will also help you detect tire kickers a lot earlier.
These will be fallouts if you only review wins, but there is no denying that focusing on just one area, will lead to tunnel vision, causing you to miss changing trends that are more evident in the other categories, and more importantly, leave you very open to be blindsided. If you rely on one set of data, you will continue to find others who fit the mold, but it does not speak to the size of a market, things can continue to look good in a shrinking market, and by the time you react, many opportunities will have been missed, and competitors will have made unnecessary gains at your expense.
Most CRM’s and related apps will allow you to do a complete all three, and even allow you to get more granular if need be. You can download our tool here, but the key to success is not the tool, but the philosophy, and more specifically the discipline of doing it in up, down, or sideways markets. Just as with a diary, the best ones were usually written in simple notebooks, not fancy specially diaries, what made them great was the depth and completeness of what was captured, and the consistency of execution.
Sadly I am at an age where I find myself saying “I remember the first time that was cool”, I have seen thin ties come and go enough times enough time to know not to throw out any ties, because it is only a question of time before someone says, “wow, that’s a cool tie, is it new?” The only thing I can’t remember if it was 1987, 1993 or 2007 when I actually first bought it.
Well it seems that cold calling is coming back into fashion. Not only do you find people dropping euphemisms when referring to the activity, companies popping up all over the place to perform a service many are needing but forgot how to execute. Many closet callers are coming out and proudly proclaiming not only that they regularly part take in cold calling, but that it producing results that exceed the expectations many, and helping many exceed quota.
Amazing what an Arctic Vortex will do. Here we are less than two weeks into the New Year, and the signs are all over that cold calling is cool again. Just last week I had a notice for a webinar from one of the original Sales 2.0 gang, inviting me to a webinar on cold calling. BTW, if you want to attend a webinar from someone who never wavered from cold calling, click here.
Other pundits who not so long ago wrapped themselves in the Sales 2.0 cloak, before dawning top layer of social selling, are now shedding their load, and freely speaking about the virtues of cold calling.
What is truly refreshing in some of their proclamations, is not so much their embracement of this staple and age old tool of sales success, but more importantly their abandonment of the “Us vs. Them” dribble that often dominates the debate. The former stance that cold calling is dead, and it is all about the new thing, is now more reasoned and tempered, and sounds more like those of us who were out in the cold for a while. Namely that it is about a blend of approaches and means of engaging with potential buyers, not one means vs. another.
Maybe it has more to do with the fact that the economy is showing some life, revenue expectations by Wall Street and companies themselves, are causing people to realise that they will need to be more than found if they are going to make quota, they’re actually going to have to go out and find some potential buyers who are not currently in the market or expressed that they may care to be.
In a recent LinkedIn group discussion asking if cold calling is dead or not, the comments were absent of the usual posturing about how cold calling was bad or dead. The tone was more logical, again, putting cold calling alongside social selling and other techniques and tools that make up a successful tool kit.LinkedIn itself, seems to be leading the charge back. Despite a recent article “Cold Calling is Dead, Thanks To LinkedIn”, seems to have jumped on the band wagon. As with most leaders and pundits, the measure of their commitment lies in what they do, not always in what they say. Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, let me point to a recent advert for a sales position at LinkedIn, promoted on LinkedIn. When it comes to Responsibilities, just look at what is number one on the list:
About the only thing that could make cold calling more fashionable is to call it Zombie Calling!