Risk is a big factor is sales success and sales failure. Being that people most people are risk averse, the traditional approach in sales has been to try to minimize risk associated with one’s product, the risk of change, and risk of the unknown inherent in a new vendor or product. But as with many things the internet and social media have brought some balance and greater ability for buyers to better gauge and measure risk of vendors, product and switching.
But for those reps willing to do a bit of work, you can leverage risk in a slightly different way that will lead to action, rather than the usual inaction.
There are times when we have to stop and make sure that our actions or words have not caused the pendulum to swing too far. Too much of anything can take away from or completely defeat what we are trying to achieve. And so it is with execution, one of my favourite words, and the core success factor in sales. Many who execute imperfectly have greater success than those who wait for the perfect moment and ways of doing something.
Nike was right when they said just do it! But you should do it for a reason and you should do it with purpose and in a deliberate way.
Acting for the sake of acting is not the goal, making busy work for appearance sake is just that, not effective selling. It reminds of a T-shirt I saw in Florida, it read, “Quick, look busy, Jesus is coming.” Breaking a sweat trying to look busy just because your VP is in town is not what we’re talking about. Acting deliberately means knowing why you would do something, and as importantly, why you shouldn’t do something just because you can.
Here are a couple of examples. One company which sells a fairly straightforward product, all over the phone. 65% of the sales are closed on the second call, another 20% on the third call, a further 10% on the fourth call, and the remaining close on fifth call or beyond. Very diligently this team would make multiple calls to prospects; six, seven, sometimes eight calls, all encouraged by senior management, we’ve all heard the various clichés that drive this kind of behavior. Rather than being encouraged to move on after the fourth call, they were challenged not to give up.
Another company, selling a more upscale consulting service, was slightly ahead, they had actually validated that their sale are routinely about 60 days, and on average happen in four meetings. What they were not good at is a) understanding if four was the right number of meetings; b) the critical milestones that have to be achieved in each meeting to achieve those milestones. When I interviewed their “best” rep, he agreed that the 60 day four meeting sale was correct; when I asked “What are you looking to do in your first meeting?” He replied “close the deal”. “OK, so why go back four times, why not just close the deal the first time, do they have great coffee?” He pointed out the obvious, there had to be certain things in place before the deal could be won. No doubt, but what were these things, what was the sequence that these things had to take place in, were there some that were pre-requisites to others, were some gateways, others roadblocks, etc. These things were not mapped out.
I guess it is more accurate to say that their buyers tend to buy after 60 days of meeting after having vetted the rep four times, because based on the above it did not sound that there was much selling going on, more like waiting for orders.
This is not as uncommon as you think; people have a general idea, but not specific steps and measures. Beyond revenue, the biggest cost to this half blind approach, is time, the non-renewable resource. Oddly enough when I ask why they don’t map things in greater detail, I am told it takes time. The very thing they are wasting in not knowing why they do it that way.
People are creatures of habit, and while we do change over time, most often these are gradual and incremental evolutions, only occasionally radical and sudden change. There are several way this can help sellers perform better, not only in terms of quota, but helping clients achieve their objectives, leading to more business as a result.
The goal in this piece is not to compare one type of buyer to another, but to help you adjust your approach to better align with the buyer, their habits, and expectations to help you be more effective with the type of buyer at hand.
While there may be other reasons, here are three in no particular order, that if you incorporate into your sale, will help you achieve better results for all involved.
Propensity to change
Why they buy
How they buy/make decisions
Propensity – In the past we have spoken about the market breaking down to three general groups, buyers who are Actively looking, Passively looking, Not looking (status quo). No matter which group they are in, there will be different levels of willingness to change. Even in the Actively looking group there will be those who are looking because there are external factors forcing them in to the market, without those external factors they would be status quo. Others are always looking to be leading edge and are looking on their own volition. Clearly the latter have a greater propensity to change and act, while the former will require more reassurance, more motivation, and at times more work. Again more work is not a bad thing, it’s just good to know up front. Don’t forget, that some will never change and take pride on going down with the ship, which means it is OK to disqualify and move on.
Why – Once they do make the decision to act, you need to understand why they chose the product or supplier they chose having decided to act. This will give you a lot of insight not only about the individual but the organization. Was there decision tied to a specific set of objectives, and is that consistent across a number of decision, or was it a result of “Me Too” at play. If we extrapolate out from the technology adoption lifecycle, how we sell to buyers at the left end of the curve will tangibly differ from those on the right end. It doesn’t matter which methodology you use, knowing why the buyer has made the selections they have in the past will give you clear guidance as to how to align with their current purchase decision.
How – This should be the most straight forward, once they have decided to make a change, and are comfortable with the reasons as to why, how they go about things will help you maximize the current purchase. You will understand who is involved in decisions; here you want to look for names that may have popped up in the “WHY” discussion. How those same people relate, influence or ignore the individual you are working. It will also give you a clear picture as to how (sometimes if) the organization makes decisions. If in exploring the last three or four purchase decision they made involved specific steps, inputs, and people, you can bet that these will be present and required to get the decision you are looking for.
The key in all this is to do this sort of questioning early, when it can seem informal, not central or pertinent to anything specific at the time. The close you get to the decision point, the more layers there are and some buyers will not share as freely. Everyone’s posture changes, and the information that flows, and how it flows changes. It is never too early to gather the above, but there could be a point where it may be a bit too late.
Sales people are always looking for “the pain” or “pain point”, I get it, not sure it’s always the right thing, but it is what it is. One I am often given for the search for pain is the response they anticipate. Many tell me, supported by a string of pundits, is that people will do more to avoid pain, than the steps or actions they will take to achieve pleasure. Theory being, if one can touch a nerve, a painful nerve, the Buyer is more likely to act, and therefore potentially buy the “fix” for that pain from the seller. On the other hand, potential pleasure is not as likely to drive action, therefore lead to less engagements and sales. Given the choice, they believe that focusing on pain yields better results than focusing on pleasure.
This piece is not meant to debate that, but rather explore how it plays out with sales people when the theory is applied to their own reality, specifically their own success.
I work with a lot of sales people, and have seen how willing or unwilling they are to take on new skills and practice’s. I know that when I carried a quota, the biggest pain I was trying to avoid, was the pain of not making quota. I did so by focusing on the pleasures my successes and resulting commissions would allow me to experience (vacations, good food, and more). Always seemed a better alternative to not making quota and having to tell the kids they can’t eat this quarter. But let’s pander to the masses and go to the pain side for a minute.
Given that less than 60% of B2B reps make quota, you have to wonder why those suffering the reality of not making quota don’t do much if anything to avoid that pain. They are ready to prescribe that very thing to their prospects, but refuse to apply it to their own success. Just the incongruity of that must be a daily challenge, adding more pressure to the pain point of not making your number.
Forget the financial reality, there is the tribal reality of being more of a burden than contributor. The percentage of companies achieving their financial goals is greater than the number of reps doing the same, meaning, if you are part of the 40% or so already suffering the pain of not making goal, there is the added pain of being a burden on those who driving their numbers and making up for yours. How does one live with the pain?
So with all that pain, why is it that a seller would not take steps to improve the outcome, take steps to change what they are doing. What they are doing is clearly not working, but a large number continue to choose to do nothing different.
OK, so the pleasure of making more money, achieving Presidents Club and the perks it brings, the pleasure of being able to hold your head high as a contributor, are not enough to encourage change. But what about the pain of having to come up with new excuses, having to settle in so many ways, and just not being able to say you are a successful sales professional. Why does that not motivate these sales people to change? And then they wonder why their lame attempt at pain is not working on their prospects either.
I was recently invited to sit in on a presentation by a world famous (in Toronto anyways) sales speaker. After the big intro by the host, building anticipation just to the right boil, the keynote started off with a profound statement. I know it was profound, because the speaker told us he was going to share some profound observations with us, in fact he started by saying “here is what you need to understand”, I’m ready; “things have changed”; oh goodie, some new insights coming at me now; “and what we have to live with moving forward is that change is constant”.
I am always surprised by how people in and around sales react to change. Sales and change are synonymous, yet I continuously encounter people who seem bamboozled if not paralyzed by it, as though it was something new or unexpected. You can tell a lot about a seller by how they embrace or avoid change. For those who spend the majority of their time minding the base or taking order, change can seem risky and daunting, the last thing they want is for customers to change.
On the other hand, I find that outstanding sellers, those focused on growing their base, and expanding their presence in their existing accounts, embrace and evangelize change. The best sales people are harbingers of change, they not only continuously change the way they sell, but encourage change in their customers and prospects, because they understand that change is good for their customers, and as a result for themselves.
While he went on to tell the sales team that the velocity of change continues to increase, he offered little in the way of how to embrace and lead change. He reminded me of a helicopter, lots of noise, stirring up a lot of dust, but no sooner than it’s gone, things settle back to being the same as before.
The challenge is that many equate continuous change with continuous improvement. While it may be true that most improvement requires some degree of change, not all change leads directly to improvement. Change for the sake of change is not good either, some change their approach to sales as a means of hiding their inabilities, inability to improve, or their inability to commit to a plan, and then execute that plan.
Knowing that change is constant should actually be comforting to sales professionals. It provides an opportunity and a means to experiment and grow. I liken it to physical exercise, if you keep doing the same routines, you quickly plateau, and while you continue to work hard, the benefits continue to diminish. Introducing variety and new practices not only challenges your muscles, but your buyers as well, leading to improved results all around. As discussed here in the past, you can’t expect your buyers to change when you are not willing to.
Look for ways to add to your selling approach, building sales muscle, avoid the temptation to choose one approach over the other, instead look for ways you can blend and combine the best of many schools. Just when you think you have it down, start again by asking how you can view where you are as a starting point rather than a destination.
The profound thing is not that change is constant, we’ve know that for 2000 years if not more. If you are looking to be profound, be the change. Buyers are used to the same old same old, their world is changing as fast as yours, if you can lead that process rather than follow or be run over by it, you’ll bring value to both you and the customers.
A recurring and ongoing discussion is sales revolves around the role of numbers in sales. You have the soft, relationship, Quality crown chanting their sacred mantra: “Sales Is Not Numbers Game!” “Quality over Quantity” or is it “Quality über alles”. So it came as some surprise when I was talking to a Ms. Not Numbers Game, and she started talking about the role and importance of metrics is sales success. OK, what are metrics? Further, she started talking about an HBR piece called “The Twelve Sales Metrics that Matter Most”.
Read the piece but the 12 boil down to:
1. Percent of Organization Achieving Quota
2. Quota Attainment Average
3. Average Annual Quota for Field Salesperson
4. Average Annual Quota for Inside Salesperson
5. Average Annual On Target Earnings
6. Average New Deal Size
7. Sales Cycle Length
8. Vertical Sales Adoption
9. SMB Specialization
10. Field Sales Revenue Trends
11. Inside Sales Roles
12. Sales Preparedness
Looks like most revolve around numbers.
The other thing that most of the above have in common are the fact that they are mid-cycle or lagging indicators. This does not make them inferior or useless, it is just that they are no things that will help change the outcome of the current cycle, if changes are not made they may not change the matric after the next sale.
I guess I struck a nerve when I said that I think the most important metric are those based on activity. Before I can explain, Ms. Not Numbers Game, came undone. “That’s just so old school, do a hundred calls, talk to 10, and get one sales, it doesn’t work like that today Tibor”. That wasn’t my point, but if you look at most of the metrics on the list above, ONE of the KEY elements to improving them, is changing both the quality and quantity of activity.
While I am not a fan of 100-10-1 number, I do believe that one should know the numbers it takes to get to quota (which BTW is a number). If you have $100,000 monthly quota, and the average deal is $25,000, you’re going to need 4 sales a month. Now you could put a plan into effect that will allow you to increase the average deal size to $30K – $35K, and that would involve a change in activity and execution. How many proposals will you need to present to get those 4 deals? How many prospects will have to go through the discovery process to generate sufficient proposals? How many prospect will you need to engage in order to have enough go through to discovery? How many people will you need to prospect in order to engage with enough? All these are leading indicators, all based on activities, all open to improved quality to positively change the quantity required.
From an organization perspective, the HBR list is fine, but from a front line perspective, the metrics that count are all activity related, as all activity is related to working with buyers. Without that none of the other dials will move much, but focus on activity related metrics, and you can move the dial to reduce quantity and improve quality.
I love reading articles, books, and all things sales. Some I read to learn, others for pleasure – some people just write well; and then there are those that I read just to see how badly I disagree with the writer and their views. Among these my favourite by far, the ones I read for a laugh, a good deep belly laugh, are the articles that usually have headlines such as “The Secret to…”, where the author wants readers to believe that they have discovered or uncovered THE SECRET element that will forever demystify sales and selling; along the lines of Edison’s light bulb. As though before reading the piece we were stuck in the dark ages, having to make wick and gather wax to make candles, then rub sticks together making fire to light our candles. But now, thanks to this immensely generous pundit, finding prospects and closing sales will be as easy as switching on the light. I know that when they wrote the thing they did not intend for me to giggle, but making the reader laugh is usually their only redeeming value.
Pieces that read “Cracking The XYZ Code”. Every time I see a headline like that, I get out my life size cut out of Benedict Cumberbatch from The Imitation Game, and an
autographed photo of Dan Brown, eagerly anticipating a life changing experience. After all, I can picture the author, having made great sacrifices, suffered through the process of cracking the “whatever” code, now sharing it and liberating mere mortal sellers from their toil.
Over the years pundits have offered secrets, incantations, amulets and more, yet the output seems to be steady, with no significant improvement in the pace of revenue growth, margins growth, and the number of reps attaining or exceeding quota.
Now you can’t blame the pundits, they are in the business of selling books, and as long as there are buyers, there’ll be someone cranking it out. I remember one of the big disagreements my co-author and I had was over unnecessary, stupid, misleading and not factual statement on the cover: “There is a sliver bullet in Sales”, no there isn’t, and anyways, what hunting, werewolves or revenue?
Add to the above the magic of technology, and you have “stupid” automated. This not a comment on the quality or worth of the technologies, but the stories spewed by some who will lead you to believe the technology will change and improve your selling and sales results. It is a lot like fitness fads and ab machines peddled by former athletes or fitness wannabes. You still need to eat wisely, commit to a program and find the discipline and accountability to execute an ongoing and evolving plan.
The pattern is familiar, sellers jump on a trend, acquire the related consumable, but don’t change the way they execute in the field. After a few weeks of effort, and only minor uptick in results, the ab machine or sales tool or methodology ends up in the closet or under the desk, and it’s back to how we sold all along.
Change, long term sustainable and ongoing change, takes effort, and commitment. Often a greater level of effort than many have had to commit to in the past. The other element required that many don’t want or have access to, is support, just as with fitness programs, people who commit to a health plan and engage a professional trainer or fitness pro are more likely to not only succeed, but maintain the new discipline, than those who go it alone.
It is also important to remember that improving your selling is best achieved by building and adding to your skills and tools, not by narrowing, restricting or limiting your tools and techniques. The problem with SECRETS and CRACKED CODES, is they seem to need to displace or “kill” other methodologies that came before it. Witness the need by “Social Sellers” to start all discussion by saying “cold calling is dead”. The best sellers I know take from all methodologies and piece them together in a way that enhances and expands their skills, opportunities and sales.
So here is the last SECRET in Sales: There Are No More Secrets!
It’s all out there, all that is left is to execute. Some find it easier to blame the last fad, the latest technology, the new app, anything but the fact that we don’t do, or want to do certain things that have to be done in the course of a sale. This is no secret, but success in sales is less about methodology or tools, or attitude; success in sales is about execution – everything else is just talk.
Last Monday, in Ready Set Go – Part II I wrote about how to plan and execute the rest of the calendar year (for many their fiscal year). We looked at two scenarios, one for sellers who set themselves up for success. The second, and the focus for today’s post, is for those in the other group, the “Holy s#*t, there are only how many working days left in the year?” Don’t panic, that would just be a waste of your time, and time is something you don’t have in abundance; instead, get prospecting. Prospecting in two ways, first reworking all your current assets, the second is going beyond to prospects and buyers that you will need to identify, engage and move through the process. In essence what you should have been doing before the summer.
What I mean by reworking all your current assets are two specific activities. One look at all your “no decision” opportunities over the las 12 months. Opportunities that went into your pipeline, or sales process, progressed but died before coming out the other end as customers. These are not opportunities that bought from someone else, but that tested the market, then went back to the sideline having changed or done anything. In some instances this group could exceed 30% of things that go into the top of the pipe. They know you, you know them, things have changes, they may be more ready now, it certainly is worth a call. Even if they don’t re-engage now, they are likely starting the planning cycle for 2016; early bird is a good thing to be.
The other method is to crank up your referral efforts, both in your client base and, your indirect network, and your Referral 2.0 network. While I still believe in cold calling, referrals are nice too.
But you will also need to go beyond the comfort zone, and that’s where cold calling will come in. Specifically in two directions, first looking for opportunities that have a reasonable chance of closing this year. This does not have to be the proverbial lower hanging fruit, but could smaller deals for example. This may mean having more of these to sell, but that could not only mean shorter cycles, but also provide an initial entry point to accounts. The idea is to both salvage the year, and set yourself up for future growth.
Second, much like the successful group above, start hunting for things that will close next year, and close early. A challenge many sales people have is the start of year lull, often because they spend a disproportionate time “closing” late in the year. They return in the New Year only to find a neglected pipeline that takes time to build up and get back in shape. This can easily be avoided by starting early, starting now. Think of it as a variation to the above scenario, except in this instance we seed now, harvest in January. To avoid this, but you have to start now. I always find it interesting that prospects are able to hold
Look at it this way, at least if you miss quota this year, you will have given your employer a reason to keep you around for next year.
A Review of The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results by Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, Pat Spenner, Nick Toman
What often differentiates great sales people from the also-rans is their understanding that their success in delivering revenue and retiring quota, is the result of a dynamic alignment and balance between selling and buying. Any imbalance, leads to either no revenue, less or lesser quality revenue, longer time to revenue, or a toxic combination of all of these.
The great, focus more on the buy side, the Buyer and the purchasing process, leveraging that as a pull-through for sales. The pack is more likely to focus on selling and intentionally or unintentionally trying to impose their “sale” on the buyer. This difference may explain why nearly half of B2B reps do not make quota, and why many of their “sales” are in reality orders they were given, rather than being earned, or the proverbial nut blind squirrels tend to run in to.
A few years ago, in an effort to help differentiate and understand how sellers can better navigate through the buy/sell process, the folks at CEB, presented us with The Challenger Sale, which presented a number of insights, many of which are still being debated and digested. Among these was how sellers can drive and ensure that dynamic buy/sell balance leading to more success for all involved. But there is no denying that the perspective was very much that of the “sale”. Now the same team extends things, and presents a book looking more closely at the “Buyer” perspective in “The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results”.
While the book will resonate with sellers, front line to executive leaders, offering both perspectives and specific actions sellers can take to win more deals, it goes beyond and speaks directly to marketers, and buyers themselves.
The authors speak to the current state of the buying, starting with the acknowledgement that “buying” today is greatly dysfunctional, and the impact of that dysfunction on both buyers and sellers. Rather than starting from the common statement that “selling has changed”, the book explores more closely how buying has changed, and the opportunities and challenges that presents to sellers and suppliers.
With the growing trend of purchase decision being made by consensus, the book raises a couple of counter intuitive points. For instance how catering to the individuals in the consensus group will have diminishing if not negative returns for the seller. They highlight how understanding the dysfunction, and the key players in the drama, present an opportunity for sellers to facilitate consensus through by learning and focusing on the right people on the buy side.
The book goes beyond highlighting challenges, and lays out specific buyer personality types; which and how to harness, and which to avoid, including means of identifying, validating and helping them help build consensus and by extension the seller. In other words the book is full of specific and actionable steps not just broad concepts, providing sellers and marketers a playbook to build from.
While all sellers will tell you it is all about the buyer, “The Challenger Customer”, goes further, providing meaning and context by highlighting ho and why many sellers and marketers miss the mark. Most sellers and sales marketing teams focus time and effort on getting the buyer to see the supplier differently. But since change comes from within, the focus in the book is on how and why changing the buyers’ view of themselves and their process. You then go on to learn how to best leverage “Commercial Insights” as a means of changing the buyer’s view of themselves, why leading with that will lead to sales success.
Here again, the book not only highlights specifics, but reinforces the importance of Marketing and Sales working together in engaging buyers and succeeding in today’s buying environment.
Unlike many sales books that promote a methodology or viewpoint of a given aspect of sales, “The Challenger Customer” provides a clear framework supported by data, and more importantly, a means to implementing and integrating it into your sales organization. Unlike many sales books, there are no grandiose statements or claims, but instead you will find a reasoned discussion and means of putting the framework into practice. There is no claims of silver bullets, just the steps you need to take and work on to successfully implement, presenting concrete examples of companies that have done so. I have always said that success in sales is about execution, with everything else being just talk, well “The Challenger Customer”, delivers on the “What”, “Why” and “How” to execute and win in today’s buying climate. All that is left for you is to read and execute.
Tuesday we enter the “final half” of the sales year, the unofficial intermission that is summer comes to a figurative end, and harvest season is upon us. Now if you did a good job of ploughing, seeding and nurturing (even fertilizing), in the spring, you are truly in a position to harvest. On the other hand, if you did not tend to your pipeline before the summer, you’re left hoping for rapid growth season before winter descends on your income; too bad they don’t make Miracle-Gro® for pipelines.
Based on which of the above groups you are in, you will need to attack September – December in different ways. If you are in the first group, and invested the time and effort early in the year, and set yourself up for a bumper crop, you have two areas of focus, first to fully harvest and maximize your opportunities; second to set yourself up for success in 2016.
To fully maximize opportunities, start early, segment your pipeline in to two general groups, those that are truly just in need of harvesting, and those that still need some work to complete. In this latter group I would take a close look at those opportunities that based on past experience have the attributes of a deal likely to close this year, and those that, on sober consideration, are not likely to close this year, but will/may likely slip into next year. To be clear this is not to say that you toss or forget or sandbag, in fact the opposite, work them, because they will contribute to next year’s quota, but be practical and think about how you spend your time proportionally. Time is not recyclable, leads (and opportunities) are, invest your time in a way that yields maximum results, now and in the future; divide your time to skew towards those opportunities that are ripe and ready to happen now.
With the opportunities that will close, it is all about coverage, and focus. Start with a recommitment to having a plan and executing that plan. The challenge as always, is having a plan aligned to the buyer’s objective and demonstrating your ability to impact and drive those objectives. Part of that plan is understanding what needs to happen at each stage in order to continue to move the opportunity forward based on previous deals. Map it out so you can identify critical points along the buy/sell trip, and critical actions required to successfully complete those critical points. The map is your planning tool for your meetings and encounters with buyers, helping both you and them agree on next steps and move towards desired and identified outcomes. This will help you accelerate deals, and free up bandwidth to prospect and set yourself up for next year.
Now if you are in the other group, in a panic to make something of the year, tune in next Monday for Part II of Ready – Set – Go.