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:
I was never big on Shakespeare, took me long enough to master English as my third language, good old Willie just confused things that much further, I must admit that I do have an appreciation for the phrase from Hamlet “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. Not only as a parent, but perhaps in a similar vein working with sales people, as exemplified by a recent exchange with a rep I am working with.
Earlier this month in a post title To Call Or Not, I cited some stats about the level of effort required to engage and sell new buyers. The rep in question was very defensive about some of the numbers, asking where they came from, when I shared that with him, he kept on protesting and questioning, just like the lady in Hamlet.
Having remembered that the company had recently done a trade show about a week before our conversation. I asked how many leads he picked up, he told me about a hundred or so. I went on “how many have you contacted or followed up with?” He told me about thirty or so. Or so? What is there a margin for error, or a margin for slackness? Either way, below the stat he was protesting, and likely the reason he was protesting, the light was just a little too bright.
At this point you have no choice but to don my Kevlar reinforced wetsuit, and ask “what about the rest?”
I bet if I asked you to look away from the screen you can guess the excuses, go ahead give it a go.
First just the lack of time, apparently there was a battery that had to be driven across town to a client. I took a bullet, in as much as he had to attend training. But my favourite was “Some of these are not real, some were just tire kickers, I can tell which are worth following up with, so I went to hose first, I will continue down the list.”
I right away called my wife “Honey, I met a real celebrity, I spent my morning with Kreskin” I can just see him holding those business cards up in the air, one by one, and divining which were buyers and which were not.
“Have you sent a follow up e-mail to the bunch?”
“I though Marketing was gonna do it”
Sales people are no different than others, if you don’t like the message, you shoot the messenger, and if the messenger is wearing Kevlar, try to undermine the numbers in question.
As discussed here before, sales people fall into one of two groups, what I’ve referred to as the X Factor of sales, execution, or excuses. Not only was our boy not ready to execute, he was great excuses, a complete lack of accountability. Now to be fair, there was little clarity from the organizations as to what was expected after the show, i.e. “follow up with all leads within 72 hours.” But in the end, for someone so ready to question the numbers, he was doing a lot to hide form them and little to disprove them.
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.
One reason I enjoy selling, and I mean selling not order taking, is it really is like a good mystery or thriller novel coming together. All the twists and turns, the intrigue in the form of competition, the unknown outcome, hidden decision makers and more. Not only do you get to participate, but when you participate well, you not only solve the situation, but make money for doing it, it makes selling great.
So I was a bit baffled last week when I met with a group of sales people who typified the 80% in the Pareto principle, they weren’t so much lazy or lethargic, more like completely uninspired and totally lacked the ability to have fun. They were with a top tier player in their field, and while they may not win every deal they were involved in they were in a position to win more than their share. Their product was more than competitive and they had managements backing to walk away from deals that were strictly price driven.
But it seems everything they had to do, which was no different than that expected from other B2B sales people, was a chore, and seemed to require a lot more effort from them than really necessary. It may be due to the fact that they had a good ride before the economy turned, but it was clear that they had forgotten some basics, specifically two critical musts in B2B sales, prospecting, and having fun.
To be clear they did prospect, but in such an uninspired way that it was painful to watch them, never mind listen to them. It was the typical “get me in front of the right guy, and I can close them”, well so could most trained monkeys. The money goes to those who can get in front of the right guy.
Thinking it may serve well to change their perspective, I suggested we approach prospecting as we would a mystery, not quite Agatha Christie, but then again. We had some clues, the company name, locations they can be found, even a couple of people on the inside willing to play. As usual we were lacking their direct numbers, e-mails; which is the first bit of fun, finding and navigating our way to finding those, to then contacting and engaging with our target.
The reality is that this may not always be easy, but rather than letting it frustrate you, get your Sherlock Holmes and discover. After all, when you solve this part of the mystery, we get the opportunity to get in front of that right guy. Further the work and effort invested in sleuthing at this stage of the sale will more than help us uncover important elements that help us close the sale later.
I know that none of this makes the work any easier, but at least approaching it like a grand mystery, a paperback classic, we can make it more fun, and more importantly doable, and more lucrative..
So pick your favourite sleuth, and let’s solve this sale.
I have the pleasure and opportunity to “sales” with a lot of people, some in sales themselves, some management, and some who don’t sell but have firm unfounded opinions they like to share or yell. One area they all seem to have opinions on is whether sales is a numbers game or not. The familiar and popular line is that it is not a numbers game, this is quickly followed by something along the lines that “it is about quality, not quantity”; while I get the sentiment, I am not sure that the two are that linked.
What’s interesting is that many in leadership positions, be they executives or pundits, who in an effort to be ultra-modern adopt the “sales is not a numbers game” posture, are at the same time big proponents of “Metrics” and some form of KPI’s, both of which are good when applied the right way. But the question remains, are metrics not numbers?
While there are many similar definitions of business metrics, I like this one:
A business metric is a raw measurement of a business process. It’s important to remember that metrics are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. Measuring a metric is not always enough – you need to use that metric to guide business decisions and to ensure your business is on the right track. (Klipfolio.com)
I like it because it does root things in numbers, how else can you measure. It ties to process, and having a sales process is a clear way to bring the numbers to life in the form of action and execution, and the use of metrics in guiding performance and decisions. By extension, this drives accountability, and bundled together these elements dictate and shape you sales culture. In the end, it allows for the use of numbers as a core component of strategy and execution, but not at the exclusion of other important elements that make for a winning and evolving sales culture.
The dark side of taking the sales is a numbers game stance to far can often be found in KPI’s and how they impact sales. Many organizations will have KPI’s for key activities their reps have to execute. For example eight meeting a week, with at least three being with new prospects. Without a qualitative layer to the KPI, it will serve little in helping the company achieve it intent. What you often get is exactly what you asked for, eight meetings, three with new people, and not one worth the time it took one to secure the meetings.
KPI’s should be rounded out in ways that ties the indicator to results, not the activity alone. This will allow for coaching opportunities that are directly tied to daily activities and results. If a rep has difficulty hitting wither side of that, it is a great opportunity to coach and focus on the qualitative aspect of the KPI. And here is where both camps can converge, quality of execution, tied to the numbers and results involved.
In the end, even the qualitative aspect of things will be measured in some empirical way, and most importantly, the result, be that sales, clients acquired or most importantly profits, are all measured in numbers or tied to metrics in a direct way.
The Pipeline Guest Post - Megan Totka
The fall season brings to mind lots of different imagery – changing leaves, beautiful colors, pumpkins, Halloween, and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas on the proverbial horizon. Fall and the subsequent holiday season are a huge time of year for sales. People are buying all kinds of things, from school supplies to gifts to housewares to new services, you name it, and people are likely to buy it.
So how do you tailor your sales tactics to the season of buying? Here’s a few ideas about ways to increase your online presence and subsequently your revenue during the fall season:
- Run social media campaigns that are seasonally-themed. For fall, you could run giveaways that are tailored to the season. You could even do something as simple as change your cover or profile photo on Facebook or Twitter to something that is fall-themed.
- Think ahead to the looming holiday season. Consider starting your holiday sales strategies early. Let your followers and customers know what you will be up to during the holiday season. Letting them know ahead of time can give them time to plan and incorporate holiday spending at your company into their budget.
- Take the opportunity to work on some philanthropic efforts for the year. The fall and the holiday season are prime time for giving back to your community. Consider sending employees to do volunteer work. You can also make a monetary contribution to a charity if your company is in the position to do so.
- Take the time to see what is trending this fall. Whether it is fashion or technology trends, you can research what exactly people are being predicted to purchase this season. This gives you the opportunity to cater to exactly what people are going to be looking for during the season. For example, if a fashion trend watch says that people are looking for things that are jewel-toned this year, consider using these types of colors in your marketing collateral or your products.
- Track what your customers like. When you run a seasonally-themed marketing campaign, try your best to keep track of where your sales leads are coming from. You’ll be able to work to hone your campaigns from year to year to make sure that you are maximizing your marketing abilities.
Take the opportunity to use seasonal sales and marketing tactics to your advantage. Doing a little bit of research as to what is trending in sales for each season will help you to make even more sales.
About Megan Totka
Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.
Most would agree that sales is not strictly a numbers game, but as with other issues such as closed ended questions, the pendulum at times seems to swing too far in one direction. While no one will argue that there needs to be a greater focus on quality than quantity, you also can’t get away from the fact that numbers play a great role in sales success. Just the plain simple fact that we are measured on our success with numbers, leads to the integral, if sometimes inconvenient fact that sales is a numbers driven sport.
I bring this up because of reaction to my piece the past Monday on how to deal with prospects who are reluctant to commit. At one point I mentioned that anything other than a firm yes is a NO, regardless of what it sounds like, and how much hope a statement may allude to. I went as far as to suggest that if you can’t get a next step you should walk away. Some questioned the soundness of that strategy, why would you walk away?
Well two things to consider, first, when I say walk away, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever revisit that prospect in the future, whether that be three months, six, or a year, you can come back. But the reality is that if you don’t walk away and engage with a real buyer, you will miss your quarter, and may not have your job by the time this prospect is ready to go. With all the tools available from e-mail, e-mail marketing, social media, you can be present in the prospect’s world, without having to spend valuable time while they are coming around. Walking away is not forever, it for your sales success.
The other which goes straight to numbers, has to do with the quality and quantity in you funnel. If you needed 5 prospects to close a deal, and you had eight real ones in your funnel, if one went soft, you wouldn’t lose much sleep, after you’ve got the five, plus a couple for insurance. On the other hand, if you needed five prospects to close a deal, you had three real prospects in your funnel and one went soft, you have a problem. Leading to the obvious conclusion that quantity does give you options when facing a quality issue.
Most companies struggling with their sales are struggling more from a quantity of opportunities perspective to a much greater degree than quality. The issue is that prospects they have are good, they just don’t have enough of them. In that scenario the logical approach would be to go out and get a few more good prospects, the numbers side of the equation. But most sales people believe they can breathe life into a dead deal with more ease than going out and prospecting more good opportunities. I never understood why they prefer being rejected by a prospected they have invested time, money and emotion in, than being rejected on a prospecting call.
Starting from a position of plenty, meaning more prospects as measured in numbers, gives you options, allows you to execute on the best opportunity. Having a small number of “good” prospects, will give you some quality but in insufficient amounts to assure success.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
1:00 – 2:00 pm EST / 10:00-11:00am PST
In a recent survey of 1,000 IT decision makers at Fortune ranked, small and medium-sized companies, DiscoverOrg found cold – sales calls and e-mails affect and “more importantly disrupt vendor selection.”
“Seventy-five per cent of IT executives have set an appointment or attended an event as a direct result of outbound email and call techniques.” Further, “nearly 600 said an outbound call or e-mail led to an IT vendor being evaluated.”
This webinar will focus on the critical elements of executing a Proactive Prospecting sales call. From voice mail to talk track to impact question to handling the most common objections. This is about how to do it, step by step, no academia here, nothing but a proven methodology for efficiently and effectively turn cold calls to conversations to prospects.
While it is true that nothing happens until there is a sale, it is also true that there is no sale without prospects. So if you need prospect to deliver sales against quota, this is the webinar for you.
• Time Allocation
• Developing client/prospect objectives
• Mastering the language of sales
• Understanding the role of Conversion Rates and how to improve them
• Develop approach for engaging with prospects and setting appointments
• Create company and individual opening approach – Talk Track
• Review managing techniques for common and recurring objections
• Master voice mails that get return calls
The Pipeline Guest Post - Susan Payton
This might come across as mind-blowing, but here’s the secret to better sales:
It’s not about getting tons of leads into your pipeline. It’s about how you treat them once they’re there.
When it comes to your sales pipeline, if you’re focusing on quantity—and not quality—you won’t realize the conversion rate you could if you instead worked on the following three goals:
- Qualify leads early
- Direct leads into the appropriate funnel
- Customize messages to each funnel throughout the journey down the pipeline
Know What a Lead Looks Like
No, “everyone” doesn’t qualify as a lead. Look at past customers you’d like to replicate. What characteristics did those customers possess? What were the actions they took to arrive in your pipeline? Those actions might include:
- Downloading a white paper on your site
- Signing up for your emails
- Signing up for a free account or trial
- Visiting a specific page multiple times
Technology allows you to be very specific in the actions you track online, so there’s no reason you should treat all leads equally.
Set up lead scoring criteria to help you identify hot leads early in the process. Assign a numeric value to the transactions that landed them in your pipeline, as well as a lead’s job title—for those B2B marketers—and demographics data if you can get it.
Target, Target, Target
You probably can identify certain types of leads or customers based on your past experience. You probably have seen leads who ask a lot of questions and are slow to buy—if they buy at all. You’ve also probably encountered those who want to make a decision now, and don’t require a lot of handholding. You can probably think of other types as well.
The point here is: you want to break down your initial lead bucket into as many funnels as possible so you can maximize the impact of your marketing messages to each segment. The quick decision-maker shouldn’t get the same automated emails as the questioning customer, because his lead time will be virtually nil.
Master the Marketing Message
Make sure your messaging fits the lead profile. That slow-to-buy lead will want plenty of information about your product, not a promotional offer. The quick customer may respond better to a $10 off coupon via email. Test until you’re getting the best conversion rate possible. One way to do this is with customer relationship management (CRM) software.
That software will allow you to align your offline marketing and sales efforts with the needs of each customer profile. If you’re using CRM for marketing and tracking valuable customer data, it’s easy enough to create categories for customer types, as well as develop a key your sales team can use to know how to best approach a given type of customer.
For example, if it’s customary for a salesperson to call every lead personally, he might not want to do so with a quick decision-maker. It might be unnecessary, and if all of the lead’s other behavior has been online, he might not welcome a phone call.
CRM software will only come in handy if you’re tracking the right information, which is pretty much all information about a customer. Every person who interacts with a lead should make notes about their conversation, as well as provide recommendations for future communications.
You should be able to look at a lead’s profile and get a sense of what he has responded to. If you’re automating email messages, you shouldn’t need to do much, provided the communication is effective. If it’s not, look at results across that particular segment and see if the lack of response is indicative of the bigger picture. If so, tweak the message and try again.
Continue to Tweak the Process
Sales isn’t an out-of-the-box solution for most brands. It’s a continual effort to discover what works to increase conversion and sales. But over time, if you’re paying attention to your leads’ responses, you’ll see better results, making the corrections smaller and smaller.
Your pipeline should net you a better conversion rate (and generate fewer dead leads along the way) if you’re truly paying attention to what makes your customers tick.
Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s also the founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners. She’s written three books: DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and contributes to several sites, including ChamberofCommerce.com, The Marketing Eggspert Blog, CorpNet, Small Business Trends, and BizLaunch. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.
By Tibor Shanto – firstname.lastname@example.org
We all know the old Peter Drucker saying “What gets measured gets managed”, you can add another, this time Shanto, “if it is not scheduled, it won’t be done”. Sellers can help themselves, their success and commissions by scheduling more key activities than they are now.
Take a look and tell me if you agree or disagreed, or schedule to do it later.
What’s in Your Pipeline?