Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 8, 2015

3 Steps to Getting High Quality Referrals From Your Clients

Are you one of the majority of sellers that isn’t converting the majority of the referrals you get because the “referral” is nothing more than the name and phone number of someone who isn’t a real prospect?  Are you one of the sellers who have simply given up even asking for referrals because they have proven to be more of a waste of time than anything else?   Chances are you said yes because that’s the experience of most sellers–weak or worthless “referrals” that cost more time and waste more energy than they’re worth.  Oh, sure, we all have some clients that will give us referrals all day long.  Just ask and they’ll give you name after name.  Other clients, the majority, aren’t nearly as generous with their referrals.

The biggest problem in both cases is so often the referral we get isn’t much better than pointing at a name in the phonebook at random.

How can you guarantee that you get great referrals?  Simple.  Make sure the client gives you a great referral by creating the referral for them to give you, rather than relying on them coming up with a quality referral to give.

The reality is that clients really don’t know who we’re looking for and most of them just don’t have a real incentive to invest the time and energy to come up with a great referral.

But we know who is a great referral for us.  And certainly we’re willing to invest the time and energy to find a great referral (if we’re not, we have some real serious issues to deal with).

Since we’re the one with the need; and we’re the one with the desire; and we’re the one who knows who makes a good referral for us, why would we rely on anyone else other than our self to come up with the referral?

So how can we create a great referral for our client to give us?

Here are three steps to guaranteeing you get great referrals from your clients:

  1. Get Your Client On-board to Give Referrals.  Most sellers wait until after the sale has been completed before they bring up the idea of referrals.  Bad idea.

    Most clients need time to get comfortable with the idea of giving referrals, so bring up referrals early in the relationship.  Don’t ask for referrals; just let your client know that your business is built on referrals and then drop referral seeds as the sale progresses.  Since your prospects and clients aren’t stupid, if they hear you mention referrals often in a casual manner, they’ll get the impression referrals are important to you and they will be expecting you to ask for them at some point.

  2. Find Out Who Your Client Knows.  We’ve already established that in order to get great referrals you have to do the work for your client, so do it by discovering during the course of the relationship who they know that you know you want to be referred to.How do you find out? Through small-talk (who do they mention in conversation they know); paying attention to what’s in their environment (pictures, association directories, membership plaques, and such); their background (where did they work previously); their work (what vendors and suppliers do they interact with).  Your job is to be a detective and to uncover the relationships they have with people or companies that you know you want to be referred to.  The more you uncover the more quality referrals you uncover.
  3. Don’t Ask for Referrals, Ask for THE Introduction.  Now when it comes time to ask for referrals, you’re not going to be like every other seller and ask a weak question such as, “Donna, do you happen to know anyone else (or another company) that might be able to use my products or services (or that I can help—or any other such weak question)?”

    Instead you’re going to ask for a direct introduction to someone you know is a great prospect for you and that you have reason to believe your client knows:  “Donna, I’ve been trying to connect with David Jones for some time without success.  You mentioned that you’ve worked with David for several years, would you be comfortable introducing me to him?”  You know she knows David.  You have reason to believe David is a good prospect for you.  Don’t waste Donna’s time with that weak general referral question; ask to get connected to a person you know she knows that you know you want to connect with.

Referrals can be the foundation of your sales business if you just develop the skills necessary to be a referral-based salesperson.  If Donna knows three people or companies you know you want to be referred to and you can get introductions to them from her, how much time and energy have you saved getting those three introductions through referrals instead of cold calling or sending out direct mail or hoping to bump into them at a networking event?

Forget what you’ve been taught about asking for referrals.  Referral generation is a PROACTIVE process where you do the work, not your client.  Your client doesn’t have the motivation, you do.  They don’t have the understanding of who makes a good referral like you do.  Your client doesn’t have the time to invest in figuring out a good referral like you do.  It’s your business, not theirs.

January 7, 2015

5 Critical Steps to Regain Your Team’s Respect

Filed under: business,management,Sales Management,team development — Paul McCord @ 1:03 pm
Tags: ,

Everyday there are tens of thousands of sales leaders trying to manage a sales team that has lost respect for them—and many, possibly most, don’t even realize that they’ve lost control of their team.

Are you faced with any of these issues?

1. Team members are seldom on time and come and go as they please.  Are your sellers straggling into the office and scheduled meetings because of a lax office atmosphere—or because they simply have no respect for you and your ability to control them?

2. Your interactions with team members are usually monologues.  Are team members listening to you intently and respectfully and giving their opinion freely—or are they simply waiting for you to shut up so you’ll go away and they can go back to ignoring you?

3. Your team members try to talk over you.  Are they excited and want to get their ideas out—or do they think you have nothing worth listening to and don’t respect your opinion?

4. Your requests are ignored or assignments are completed in a half-hearted fashion.  Are they so busy with selling and taking care of their customers that they just didn’t have time to get to the assignment—or do they think the assignment was a joke not worth their time and effort, and besides, you’re not going to do anything about it anyway?

It’s easy for managers to ignore the above symptoms of disrespect.  In fact, it is far easier and a lot more comfortable to ignore them than to address them.

But if you’re in a position where you have a team that does not respect you, either you or they are short timers.  A manager—and the company they work for—cannot last long once they’ve lost the respect of their team.

But once the team’s respect has been lost, is it possible to regain it?

I’ve spoken to many management experts who have argued that once lost, respect is impossible to regain and the only solution is new management.

And for the most part I agree.  However, I have seen several situations where management redemption did occur.  In virtually every case, the manager took the following five steps:

  1. Personal acknowledgement.  The manager recognized the loss of respect and committed themselves to aggressively addressing and correcting the issue.
  2. Confessing to the team.  The manager confessed to each member of the team (either in a group meeting or during individual meetings with team members) that they had lost their commitment and had failed the team and have recommitted themselves to serving the team without reservation.
  3. Establishing new ground rulesand adhering to them.  The manager sets out a new set of rules that govern both the team’s and the manager’s actions along with the consequences for breaking those rules.  Discipline is not only needed, it must be demonstrated.  Consequently, it is necessary that the team know what is expected from them and from the manager and that both have objective rules and guidelines that all parties are aware of and can measure one another by.
  4. Encourage discussion–and dissent.  It is imperative that an open dialogue between the manager and the team members be created and it is the manager’s obligation to set the tone and get the ball rolling.  If the manager can’t break through the ice and begin a real conversation with the team, no amount of confession and fair rules will do any good.
  5. Treat team members with respect.  Very often the team begins losing respect for their manager not simply because they view the manager as weak, but because they feel that he or she isn’t treating them with respect.  A manager cannot expect respect from the team if they aren’t showing the team members respect.  Respect, more than any other aspect of relationships, is a two-way street.  Part of earning respect is showing respect and the manager must begin the process by making sure the team members know they are respected.

The above five step process isn’t an overnight fix.  In fact, regaining respect takes time—a lot of time, weeks and months worth of time.

Yes, once the team has lost respect for their manager the most expeditious solution is replacing the manger.  But that isn’t the only solution.  If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve lost your team’s respect—or if you have a manager that for whatever reason you cannot replace and they’ve lost their team’s respect, apply the steps above and you will, given time, repair the damage and once again have the team’s respect.

August 21, 2013

Guest Article: “Are You Facing Sales Fatigue?” by Ken Thoreson

Filed under: Sales Management — Paul McCord @ 12:37 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Are You Facing Sales Fatigue?
by Ken Thoreson

The past three years have been a challenge for most partner organizations. The economy has caused sales teams to face declining prospect budgets, more competitive bidding, fewer opportunities, lower incomes and general personal stress.   As someone that works with partner organizations on a daily basis we have seen all of these situations cause an increase in mental and physical fatigue. 

As partner executives, we have witnessed increased levels of stress because of managing cash flow, personnel decisions, increased costs, decreased margins and personal stress have caused the same problems to appear. As we face another year most individuals are unclear as to the future, will it either be a recovering economy or another challenging series of events?

What is the recipe for ensuring your organization exceeds its goals this year and create a culture of high performance?  From an executive’s Action Plan there are specific tactics to ensure your organization is focused, energized and mentally tough. It begins with a focus on communication and a series of actions to build belief within your sales team. Sales organizations are the critical ingredients in building a total organizations culture of expectation and success.

Executive Action Plans

Monthly Meetings: When a company launches, its first employees typically feel that they share a mission. Everyone knows everything that’s happening and what’s needed to succeed. But when the staff grows beyond about 15 people, that sense of mission-along with clearly defined expectations and common beliefs-can be difficult to maintain.  In challenging times improving communications and providing a sense of mission is an absolute requirement.

We believe that monthly employee meetings are crucial for keeping everyone engaged and informed. (Larger organizations and those with remote offices may want to opt for quarterly day-long events instead.) Such gatherings give you a chance to remind your staff about your business philosophies, plans and expectations. This is your opportunity to provide vision, positive expectations and your roadmap to “better times”.

You can also use them to recognize outstanding employees that contributed to the success of the sales organization, a client’s implementation or company operations. You may consider honoring a Most Valuable Player chosen by the sales team at each session. This will provide a sense of teamwork and sense of good business practices.

Remember to make the meetings fun as well.  Creating FUN in your organization and making people want to work hard are two objectives for leaders who understand employee motivation. Consider sponsoring a fun game, competitive contests for sales leads or even offering simple door prizes. One company meeting I attended featured a surprise visit from an Elvis impersonator, who sang several songs. It is amazing what happens when laughter occurs and the sense of “team” builds.

The real purpose: during your monthly company meetings share your vision for the next 18-24 months and your philosophy for success. This is your opportunity as a leader to build consensus and ensure you communicate your message to your team.  Stay on message, create a theme for the year, reinforce that theme with actions and provide that sense of direction to all employees.  In our sales leadership workshop we discuss the five styles of leadership, the second style is a “selling” style, at your company meetings and at other important events this style is critical. It means you will describe a problem, provide your solution and sell your employees as to why it is the course of action.

Sales Action Plans

In working with our clients, where sales are being lost or the sales team is faltering due to fatigue we often find that the underlying problem is actually an emotional one: lack of passion. Individual team members or the entire sales organization-or both-simply don’t have the combination of enthusiasm and belief that’s essential for success. Their either don’t believe in the products or the ability of the partner organization to successfully deliver quality services.

Salespeople have to be emotionally invested in their work with a burning desire to achieve. They must also believe that the company they represent is the best and the solutions or services they sell are of the highest quality. That belief must be genuine. It’s not just a marketing message, and it’s not something that they can fake. It must be real.

Many sales leaders forget this emotional side of leadership is critical and they don’t build into sales training programs belief-building activities. Or if they do, they only do so occasionally. Our experience shows that the most successful sales teams constantly undertake on-going belief-building initiatives. Examples include:

Storytelling: People from different cultures and generations pass along stories about their ancestries, traditions and lore. Companies need to take a similar approach to capturing and preserving their histories. To do so, write down customer success stories when they occur. Put together detailed descriptions of your company’s role in helping customers implement new technologies, launch or salvage important projects or earn recognition from Microsoft. Then share these stories at sales meetings and other employee events. You can also use the best stories to recruit top performers and help orient new employees. We recommend that you record these stories and play them during your monthly company meetings.

Customer Visits: Each quarter, have your entire sales team visit a client’s company that’s successfully implemented your solutions. Ask the customer’s executive to describe the impact your company has had on their business, their competitive position or to review the savings they’ve gained from your products and services. You might also invite customers to share their experiences at some of your monthly meetings.

Reference Letters: Ask your best customers for testimonials. While such letters are, of course, highly useful as tools for future sales presentations, they’re also valuable for building belief in-house. Frame the letters and display them in your lobby or sales presentation area. Have new employees read them as part of the orientation process.

In our business, it’s all too easy to get bogged down with lost sales, missed project dates and other problems. Regularly reinforcing the positives goes a long way toward keeping everyone’s belief and passion strong and moving in the right direction. These efforts will build a culture of success, a sense of mission and common teamwork and those ingredients are the recipe for a great entrée’.

 

Ken Thoreson “operationalizes” sales management systems and processes that pull revenue out of the doldrums into the fresh zone. Ken provides Keynotes, consulting services and products designed to improve business performance.  Visit his blog here       

October 15, 2012

Have You Noticed the Same Disastrous Change?

I grew up several decades ago during a time of social upheaval and change, a time when there was tremendous political and cultural tension, a time when there were riots and demonstrations and assassinations.  It was a time when one could have expected the long established social etiquette customs to break down just as the rest of society seemed to be breaking down.

But they didn’t.

I grew up in a major city with supposed big city values and the hustle and bustle of the big city.

But when I went to a store or went to buy a car or a home or anything else I found the vast majority of people who waited on me to be efficient, focused on their job, friendly, and wanting to help.  There was an expectation that service to the customer was paramount.  Every employer, as well as every customer, expected those working with customers to perform their duties in a manner that reflected well on the company and the employee.  If service was slow or rude or incompetent, it only took a single complaint to get results on the floor.

Of course there were some employees—and some companies too—that simply didn’t care.  They were slow, indifferent, uncaring.  But for the most part they were the minority

Today I live in a small city of about 130,000.  Decades ago small cities such as this were famed for their hometown feel and the level of service that went far above and beyond what we would have found in a large city.  When I moved to my current city back in the early 90’s there was a very high level of customer service and care in both the consumer and business sectors.

But something has radically changed in the way customers are treated, and it isn’t just where I live or just in Texas.  I notice it throughout the country when I travel, more so in some areas than others but it permeates the entire country. 

When standing in line at the grocery store, the person at the cash register is often more interested in talking to a friend or the checker in front or behind them than in taking care of the customer in front of them. 

The salesman at the car lot glances at his watch a bit too much because you’re taking up too much of his time. 

The person who called you to sell a copier sighs loudly when asked for an afterhour’s appointment because you’re busy and can’t meet them until after closing. 

The lady on the phone trying to sell you electric service says she is too busy to come by and pick up your old electric bills to give you a rate comparison and wants you to fax them to her to save her a trip.

I’m certainly not trying to condemn all sellers.  There are many great dedicated sellers out there.  But especially on the retail side—and increasingly on the business side—customer service isn’t dying, it’s dead.  Those who are simply there to get a paycheck now far outweigh those great sellers who are dedicated to their job.

What is the root of this change?  Is it a breakdown of society?  Of family?  Are employers to blame for not training and insisting on a high level of service?  Or are buyers to blame for not demanding respect and service?

More than likely it is a combination of all of the above.

Will we ever see a return to high customer service levels with attentive, well informed and committed employees as the norm rather than the exception?

I don’t know the answer—but I’m afraid it’s a resounding “NO.”

Now, am I simply an old codger who is missing all the great customer service out there?  What has been your experience lately?

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October 9, 2012

Are You Dumbing Down Your SMART Goals?

If you’ve been in the working world for any length of time at all you probably have been introduced to the concept of SMART goals.

For those who haven’t been introduced to them: SMART is simply an acronym for the five characteristics of goals that have been well thought out and are realistic.

Here are the SMART goal characteristics:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant

Timely

Many times when consulting with companies or individual sales leaders I find that in an effort to develop strategic goals they totally miss the mark either through unbridled optimism or a sense of desperation that causes them to overreach the possible.  In essence they dumb down their SMART goals by creating goals that cannot be achieved or that have very little relevance to their current needs.

My experience has consistently been that the error in developing SMART goals tends be in the areas of being Achievable and Relevant.  In most instances the developers of the errant goals have been successful in creating specific, measurable and timely goals.  Few seem to have a problem understanding what specific or measurable means and they certainly understand the need to put a specific timeline on the goal.

But creating achievable and/or relevant goals is where they most often get off track.

To create an achievable goal one has to have a firm grasp on the resources available and what can realistically be achieved with those resources.  I often find goals that have little or no basis in the reality of the company’s history, personnel, and resources.  Rather than creating a realistic goal, one has been created based on nothing but a hope that somehow the sales gods will shine upon them and the goal will somehow be met.  Every goal is created within a framework of history and with certain available resources.  Any goal that does not take those factors into consideration is flirting with disaster.

Others create unrealistic goals because they feel pressure to pull off a miracle.  Whether the pressure is coming from above or from an impending financial crisis, many goals are created for no other reason than to either pacify or deceive; and many times the intent is to deceive oneself into believing things aren’t as bad as they really are.

Another group will intentionally create unattainable goals with the belief that the team needs something to shoot for, something to really stretch them.  The concept is fine—we all need to be stretched; the problem lies in the result of creating unattainable goals.  Rather than stretching the team, creating unrealistic, unattainable goals sucks morale and kills enthusiasm.   Creating goals that stretch is not only good but is requisite.  You want to make your team have to really reach to meet the goal.  But you don’t want them to be put into an impossible situation where no matter how hard they try there is no possibility of success.

Equally destructive is creating goals that have no relevance to the team’s needs.  Whether the goals are created because the goal is a hot button of one of the goal creators or a failed understanding of what the needs of the team are and how the goal fails to address those needs, creating goals that aren’t focused on meeting the needs of the team drains resources, time, and energy from those goals that are relevant. 

The hardest part of creating quality goals is taking a hardnosed, realistic look at the goals under consideration and analyzing them in terms of the needs of the team, the available resources, and the history of the team and its individual members. 

Hoping that somehow your average team members are all going to become superstars or your personal hot button goal that has no impact on the real needs of the team isn’t going to drain resources is not only silly but is self-destructive.  You may be able to fool yourself and maybe even your team for a short time, but eventually reality will prevail.

Your strategic goals can either set your company and team on the right track or be a root cause of failure and wasted time, money, and energy.  Fortunately we have complete control over the goals we create; all we have to do is have the discipline to keep from dumbing them down.

September 18, 2012

Guest Article: “3 Detrimental Sales Coaching Mistakes,” by Sean McPheat

3 Detrimental Sales Coaching Mistakes
by Sean McPheat

Great sales coaching will not only inspire sales people and generate more sales revenue, but also increase market share, reduce employee turnover, increase customer loyalty and much more.  Successful sales coaching strategies can be the foundation on which your sales team thrives. Conversely, negative coaching, consisting of poorly planned and executed sales meetings and de-motivational management concepts, will cost your organisation in ways that you may not be able to recognise or quantify.

While there are tons of motivational tips and tricks on what to do for positive coaching results, here are a few things you need to try to avoid at all costs.

Sales Coaching Mistake #1 – Intimidation
Some managers actually believe in negative motivation, and some exude such thoughts accidently.  However, you want to be careful not to intimidate or use scare tactics to motivate people.

While it’s true that fear can get people to do things they might not otherwise do, unfortunately that includes the bad things as well as the good.  In addition, when you intimidate a team member in front of the group, the negative affects spread throughout the group.

Be aware that you can intimidate people without actual threats.  Challenges and goals that are beyond the sales person’s belief or imagination can intimidate and frighten the sales person, sending them into a counter-productive shell.

Sales Coaching Mistake #2 – Harsh Or Public Criticism
While you may never deliberately try to degrade a sales person, be aware that you can do this unintentionally.  When a sales person has a problem, or is not performing well, it is easy to use that person’s situation as an example.  Never point out someone’s shortcomings in a group sales meeting. Always discuss a sales person’s negative issues in private.  Also, keep in mind that a sales person’s failures…are actually YOUR fault, anyway.

Sales Coaching Mistake #3 – Ridged Control
Be careful not to overpower your sales team. The philosophy of many salescoachesis to “Rule with an iron fist…,” doing more demanding than managing.  To force people to follow you is not leading, it is subjugating.

You never want to demand the team do things that you cannot, have not, or would not do yourself.  However, if you have done those things, you also want to remain humble and not glorify your experience.  Lift the team up instead. In sales meetings, be careful not to issue orders or commands.  Instead, offer objectives and action plans to reach those objectives.

In short, as a sales coach: do not, intimidate, berate or subjugate!

 Managing Director of MTD Sales Training, Sean McPheat is regarded as a thought leader on modern day selling. Sean has been featured on CNN, ITV, BBC, SKY, Forbes, Arena Magazine and has over 250 other media credits to his name. Sean’s Sales Blog is visited by 5,000 people every week and his 6 Sales Training Audios are free to download

September 15, 2012

Numbers Don’t Lie? Oh Yes They Do

How many times have you heard that one that numbers don’t lie?  Probably like me you’ve heard it thousands and thousands of times. 

And we in business, especially sales, love numbers.  We track everything that could possibly be tracked with a number—the number of calls made, the number of times someone answers a call, the number of appointments set, the number of contracts signed, the number of pencils used, the number of no’s we get, the number of contacts made before we get a yes, the average commission earned, the ratio of calls to appointments, and the list goes on and on and on.

We live our life by numbers.  We rival baseball in how fanatical we are about numbers.

We swear by our numbers. 

We live and die by our numbers.

Our numbers tell us when we’re doing something wrong and when we’re doing something right.  They tell us whether to be happy or sad.  They tell us if we can bitch slap Joe in the next cubical this month or whether he is going to be slapping us.  They tell us how much swagger to put in our step, whether we need to pick up the pace or if we can take a weekend off, whether we should answer that call from our boss or ignore it.

We also do some really stupid things because of our numbers.

I’ve had sellers get all giddy because their close ratio is super high or because their average contract has skyrocketed.

I’ve had sellers totally transform their way of doing business because they’ve busted through to a new level.

I’ve had sales leaders beef up personnel because their teams have finally got it and the sales are flowing through the door.

Some of the situations above were perfectly justified.  In fact, in some of the cases the seller or sales leader had waited too long to make the proper adjustments.

But in way too many cases the sellers and sales leaders have overreacted and ended up doing great damage to themselves and their company.

In all of the above cases decisions were made based on hard, cold, concrete numbers.

So how come some make wise decisions based on numbers while others make disastrous ones?

In my experience there are three major reasons why the numbers don’t tell the real story:

  1. Emphasizing the Wrong Numbers.  Most companies and a great many sellers and sales leaders keep track of a large amount of data such various ratios, numbers, averages, and such.  At any given time some of this data is positive and some negative in terms of our performance. With so much data it can be easy to get lost in the forest of “stuff.”  It is even easier to drift toward the positive numbers and downplay or even ignore the negative data.  If perchance the positive numbers are the truly significant ones and you act on them, you stand an excellent chance of growing your business. On the other hand, if the negative numbers are the significant data and you brush them aside to concentrate on the positive numbers, you stand a very great chance of pursuing numbers that will damage your business.I had a client whose data indicated that their average sale for the past two quarters was over twice their pervious average.  But the data also indicated that the profits from those sales had declined substantially due to increased sales and delivery costs.  Which number got them excited?  Bigger contracts.  Which numbers did they assume were aberrations?  Increased costs and decreased profits.  What did they do?  They concentrated on going after larger contracts and consequently suffered a major hit to their bottom line.Using a very critical eye when analyzing what is happening in your business—whether the analysis is of a large business with tens or hundreds of millions at stake or your own sales business where your personal income is on the line—is critical.  We all like to see those positive results from our hard work and hate to confront the negative.  But the only way to grow our business is to look at the business as it really is which often means correcting or eliminating the negative is of more immediate importance than expanding the positive.
  2. Taking Too Short a Time Span as the “New Normal.”  Each of our businesses changes over time.  We all reach new plateaus or crater to new depths.  We all have winning streaks as well as slumps.  Our numbers ebb back and forth while over time remaining consistent or possibly increasing or declining. That constant near term change creates a long-term pattern. Although the near term ups and downs are important, it is the long term pattern that is most vital to telling us what is really going on in our business.  Unfortunately too often we get caught up in the short term change and convince ourselves that it marks a sea change in our business when in fact we’re simply on a short term roll or in a short term slump.  This isn’t to say to ignore short term trends, but rather that they must analyzed in the context of our long term history.If you’re a sports fan you’re more than a little familiar with short term rolls and slumps.  You live and die each season based on the streaks your team or a particular player is on.  Those streaks are one of the reasons they play a complete season and why players are paid based on a history of production and not based on short term bursts.   Hot and cold streaks come and go but over the long term their real win/loss or batting or passing record emerges and reveals their strengths and weaknesses.It is easy to get suckered into believing that what has happened over the past few weeks or months is the new reality.  It may be.  More than likely it isn’t.  Numbers have a way of being consistent and working themselves out over a long period of time.  Those short bursts and potholes get washed out over the long term.New plateau or momentary spike?  Only time will tell—but far too many businesses and sellers turn on a dime when they should be holding steady based on what’s happening today in relation to what their long term history has been.
  3. Ignoring Reality and Making the Numbers Conform to Their Pie in the Sky Hope:  In a sense, you can make numbers say anything you want them to say.  Good can be bad and bad good if you know how to spin them.  And many a manager and seller are good at spinning to make their numbers conform to their own fantasiesA few years ago I was speaking to a group of Realtors about building their businesses through referrals and how to become a referral based seller.  One lady raised her hand and proudly proclaimed that her business was already referral based because over the past year almost 90% of her business came from referrals from clients.  I and the rest of the group were duly impressed—until I asked her how many new clients she had acquired during that time.  Nine was her answer.  Hell, with nine new clients over the course a year she wasn’t a referral based seller, she wasn’t even in business.  But she had convinced herself that she was going great guns in the referral area.Too many find it all too easy to take a number they like and force it into a story that makes them feel good.  The sad part is they so often believe their own BS and must then suffer the consequences.

The truth is numbers don’t lie, we do.  We lie to ourselves; we cherry pick the number we like and ignore the one we don’t; we react to the immediate without regard to history. 

So I apologize to numbers that I so callously accused of lying.  They’re innocently just doing their job; we’re the guilty party taking them out of context and forcing them to represent something they don’t.

The moral of the story is simple—let numbers do their job.  Let them marinate for a period before trying to declare them to be shining a light on a completely new path; let them say what they’re trying to say instead of what you want to hear; and by all means, don’t force them at gun point to be an accomplice to a personal crime of self deception.

Now, go in peace and sin no more and your numbers will faithfully lead you in the right direction.

Connect with me on Twitter: @paul_mccord

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August 31, 2012

Guest Article: “Sales Force (Mis)Alignment,” by Tibor Shanto

Sales Force (Mis)Alignment
by Tibor Shanto

By now everyone is aware of the increasing talk of the need for alignment between marketing and sales, with some organizations realizing that it is healthier to look at the entire Client Life Cycle as one function rather than two. Some organization have acted on their commitment by creating the role of Chief Revenue Officer, having both functions coalesce behind a singular purpose, function and execution.

This indeed is a step forward as it aligns and consolidates the organization’s resource to better serve the most important element in selling, the customer. While it may seem basic and fundamental to mention the buyer, but they, the customer, are often absent from the discussion, and are instead represented by their common proxy, revenue. But revenue does not act on its own, it is a by product of a decision made by a buyer, which is why the key alignment many organizations should put greater focus on is aligning their sales people with the buyer, not just marketing. A key component of this alignment is ensuring you have the right assets and resources deployed at the specific and right buyer groups.

First let’s define the buyer groups in question, to keep it simple and familiar, lets divide them in to three common groups:

Status Quo – this group is content with their current situation, this is not to say that they are doing what is optimal, just that they are content with their current state. What some have called happy now, and not looking for alternatives, or enhancements to what they have in place. Many sales professionals you talk to call this group complacent, which is a nice way to express their frustration at their inability to engage with this group. Based on which surveys or studies you look at this group makes up about 65% – 75% of the B2B buyer population, let’s keep things simple for the rest of this piece and call it 70%

Passive – The key differentiator between this group and the Status Quo is that while they are not actively looking for alternatives to the way they are doing things, they have either acknowledged to themselves, or are beginning to see that they cannot be content with the current situation for long. This is why they are labelled Passive; to continue the definition from the above point, they are no longer 100% happy or content, but are not actively looking; they are open to suggestion, but on they are not ready to act yet. Again, based on various sources, this group represent roughly 15% of B2B buyers.

Active – The most straight forward group for most in sales, these people are actively looking for alternatives to their current situation, some have called this group as “in the market”. Not happy, and actively looking for alternatives. Every sales person’s dream, so long as they haven’t made up their mind on a provider, and are just using you as “column fodder”. This group makes up the remaining 15% of B2B buyers.

What you have is 70% of B2B buyers are cocooned in their current reality, not looking, not thinking of looking, and ready to torpedo any sales person looking to engage with them using conventional means, and if nothing else, most sales people are conventional. Then there is 30% that are in various states of readiness, while not all have the big neon light over the door saying “ready to talk”, they are all open to a meaningful discussion with knowledgeable sales people using conventional means of engaging and selling.

Now let’s look at sales people based on attributes and capabilities, they too can be placed in three general groups.

Demand Gatherers – as the name implies, these people do best with Active buyers, buyers who have declared their desire to engage and buy. While we can dissect this, the reality is that for the most part in a B2B environment these are order takers. They may be good at managing relationships, and safeguard existing revenue, but when it comes to new revenue, the buyer practically has to throw it at them. I am not being condescending here; time and time again in workshops these people will use the expression “when I can get the buyer to throw me a bone.”

Leverage Demand – these are the reps that can recognize those who are Passive buyers, they understand the signs of someone who is not looking, but not longer fully believes in the solution in place now. They are great at managing and growing accounts beyond what the buyer will throw at them. But, on their own will not or cannot engage with those buyers that make up the Status Quo group.

Demand Creators – This are the traditional hunter, the money players, the ones able to stir and agitate the right way and in the right measures to create demand and opportunities in buyers that Gatherers and those who Leverage Demand, will miss, overlook, and in the process concede the potential revenue to your competitors. Think of these people, as the sellers who know how to be the irritating grain of sand that becomes a pearl.

Here is the challenge, most sales forces are composed primarily of Gatherers and those who Leverage Demand, and few if any at times of Demand Creators. While I am sure the number is not exact, but when you talk to many sales VP’s, they will tell you without much shame, that their teams conform to the 80/20 rule, 80% those who Leverage and Gather; 20% Creators.    

Almost the exact opposite to the makeup of the buyer group. Can there be a more glaring, and costly example of misalignment, misspent and miss-focused assets and resources.

Most of your resources and efforts aimed at the smallest part of the market, and only 20% aimed at the largest buyer group. Add to that, much of the alignment between marketing and sales is focused on the Passive and Active groups. Makes you wonder how much opportunity is being abdicated to those competitors who have realised that you can with the right people, resources and message Create great success with that 70% of the market that 80% of your sales force will ignore or not be equipped to exploit.

It is always easier moving the small things around and harder to take action on the BIG and IMPORTANT things, especially when it involves changing personnel. Change that involves your people can come in one of two forms, you can either change the skills and habits of the people you have on board; or change those you have on board.

Let’s look at the latter, many of the same leaders who tell you that 80% of their team are either Gatherers or those who Leverage, will in the same breath tell you that 80% of their revenue is generated by the 20% Creators. What that tells me is that they could fire half their team, and realize great savings without tangible negative impact on revenue or client satisfaction. In fact, some will tell you that those two measures will improve when you get rid of the fat. An early indicator of this is the number of companies who have succeeded in migrating revenue from outside sales teams to inside sales team. They often experience a rise in coverage, revenues, and margins. In addition, these same organizations will be the first to realign their assets and resources and take more of your revenue. Mostly because there are more cost effective and efficient ways to ensure client satisfaction, and since the 80% are for the most part taking orders from demand generated by marketing, there is a savings to be had.

Changing the skills and habits is also difficult, both in terms of effort required, and costs; and in reality will likely involve in some change of people, especially among front line managers. Changing habits is an evolving process, and in these days of short-term expectations, it seems many sales organization are willing to live with the pain of underperformance vs. the pain of changing team members.

In some cases, it is less about reducing the size of the sales force, and more about the right talent not being available to match the market. Many have difficulty finding Creators, while there is an abundance of Gatherers and those who Leverage demand, usually at a lower investment than the Creators. Which is why in the end, it is more likely that you will have to both reduce the number of also-rans, and invest in developing Creators internally. This takes time and effort, but not more than dealing with the drag on the process the current reality creates.

One concern many leaders raise is what happens “if I train them and they leave?” Two answers, the first borrowed from a sales leader I met at a conference, whhe asked by his boss, he responded: “what happens if you don’t train them, and they stay?” The other is that A type Creators, know a good thing when they see it, that is what makes them successful, they want to be where they can win, which is exactly the environment you would be creating.

As stated at the start, it is about alignment. Aligning sales and marketing is a good thing, should be encouraged and continued. But without aligning the right sellers with the right type of buyer, much of the effort in aligning internal resources will be limited and diminished. In many ways it is trading in ongoing pain, for short term upheaval – but – long –term gain.

 

 

Tibor Shanto – Principal – Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., is a recognized speaker, author of award winning book Shift!: Harness The Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers, and sought after trainer; his work has appeared in numerous publications and leading websites. You can read our blog, The Pipeline with new material three times a week.

August 29, 2012

7 Signs There is a Cancer Growing in Your Sales Team

Is your sales team healthy?

Are they performing to the level you want them?

Is there a cancer growing within your team that you’re not aware of?

Do you have underlying issues within your team that is destroying productivity, creating turnover, and maybe even driving away existing clients?

Here are 7 signs that indicate you may have serious problems within your team:

1. Meetings start late because team members wander in when they want.  Is this a sign of a lack of discipline within the team or a sign that the team members don’t care?

2. Meetings are manager monologues because team members only speak when forced.  Are team members afraid to voice their opinions?  Are they disassociated and don’t care?  Do they feel that their views won’t be seriously considered?  If any of these are the root cause, you’ve got serious problems to deal with.

3. Your team experiences a significant decrease in sales in a stable or growing market.  A sudden and significant decline in sales in a stable or growing market demands immediate action—but not the shouting, the threats, and the demands for sales which are the actions most managers take.  Instead of ratcheting up the pressure, take a step back and dig for the root cause—which may very well be within management, not the team members.

4. Cliques and rivalries within the team become more intense.  Small cliques and rivalries occur naturally in every group.  Although we might wish these things didn’t happen, it’s natural for some people to be drawn together while others are drawn into close relationships with other people.  Some individuals prefer to go it alone.  It’s also common for some individuals or groups to develop good natured rivalries with each other.   But when serious issues arise within the team, the cliques become more isolated and the rivalries become more intense, the backstabbing and blaming tends to be more open, and a feeling of hostility pervades the office.

5. Conversations are short and business oriented only.  When your team members are “too busy” to speak with you other than when necessary but production isn’t increasing, you have issues to deal with.  Unless you are seeing real growth in production to accompany the too busy to talk claims, your team members are telling you they have such serious issues with you that they simply refuse to interact with you unless absolutely necessary.

6. Team members show little or no respect for company rules and regulations.  As with #1 above, you may simply have chosen not to instill discipline in your team (you’re just asking for big problems down the road but many managers believe they’re making the workplace “fun” and “creative” by running a lunatic asylum).  More likely, you have a team in rebellion and that no longer cares what management thinks.

7. You need an ice pick to chisel your way through the pack ice to get to your office.  Hard as it may be to believe, some managers don’t even recognize they have serious issues even when the ice in the office is so thick they can’t break through it no matter what.  If your office is coated in permafrost you have a dysfunctional sales team.

Problems don’t arise in the sales team from nowhere.  There is always a root cause—often more than a single cause.  From a dissatisfied, disruptive, corrosive salesperson to new restrictive office rules and regulations to changes in compensation to a dictatorial manager, there is always a catalyst.  But once the disease catches hold, time becomes its ally, making it increasingly more difficult to eradicate the longer it festers.

I’ve worked with sales leaders who have ignored the above signs.  Others have argued that these were nothing more than idiosyncrasies within their team.  In virtually every case they have eventually had to deal with a seriously dysfunctional sales team.

What about your team?  Are any of these signs beginning to appear?  If so, before you do anything, make a close examination searching for root causes.  But whatever you do, don’t ignore them as they become more destructive the longer and deeper they work their way into the heart of the sales team.

 

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August 22, 2012

Guest Article: “The Five Golden Rules of Boosting Sales Rep Productivity,” by Nancy Nardin

Five Golden Rules for Boosting Sales Rep Productivity
by Nancy Nardin

Sales software tools can transform the means and methods by which a sales rep’s productivity is not only measured, but calibrated. However, sales leaders should not be quick to take hold of the misguided notion that tools alone will provide all the right answers. A paradigm shift in thinking, and a modification in behavior, must also be considered.

The focal point of this article is not to examine or suggest possible changes that reps must make. My purpose is to zero-in on the changes that sales leaders must make to ensure that productivity gains from tools are not negated by pursuing issues that are off-target. If you want to ignite your sales rep productivity, and subsequently drive it right off the charts, consider these five golden rules.

1. Don’t misuse their valuable time, or yours

Every minute you spend “following up” with, or giving directives to your reps, equates to time they won’t have to talk to a prospect or to execute on their sales objectives (let alone close deals). Carefully analyze the reasons ‘why’ you check in with reps, and the critical ‘nature’ of its purpose. Perhaps you’re anxious to hear how a deal is progressing, or to get a general reading on what’s happening in the field. Those are indeed legitimate intentions. As an alternative to ‘checking in’ with reps, why not use a reporting tool such as Front Row Solutions that provides a rapid and effortless technique for reps to periodically update the system with their activity and progress throughout the day? The question you should be asking is this; “Can you get the vital information you require without doing so at the expense of a rep’s productivity or tasking focus?”

2. Only request what is truly important

Just like everyone else, when managers lock onto an idea or inspiration, they naturally want to act on it without delay. This often means picking up the phone, and asking a rep to provide the desired information. Though the request may be important in general terms, in reality the interruption means the rep must now redirect their time and focus. If it’s truly an important request, take a moment to think it through within a framework of efficiency. Determine whether the idea can be integrated into a current initiative, or whether someone else be delegated to perform or initiate the task. Is it really necessary for them to divide their current focus or objective that very minute (or ever), to briefly re-align themselves with your spur-of-the-moment idea or insight.

3. Evaluate what you want versus what your reps need

There is one question I hated to deal with when I was selling: “How’s it going?” Another version of the same pointless question is “What’s going on?” If you thought about it critically, where would you begin if you were a rep and were asked not only to endure but respond to those ambiguous questions? The truly important pieces of information are; is the rep’s forecast on track, are there any red flags, or will deals come in as predicted. What a rep needs is to focus time executing on the processes that will bring a deal to a close. Consider using a tool like Cloud9 Analytics that allows you direct and invaluable insight into the pipeline, as well as enhanced predictive performance analysis.

4. Conduct an audit for performance assessment

What are the primary obstacles to improving or streamlining productivity levels? The shoot-from-the-hip response is undoubtedly, that reps just need to kick it up a few notches. That’s because we generally evaluate performance and motivation from the standard thresholds of ‘attitude’, or ‘commitment’, or the degree of ‘hunger’ a rep happens to exhibit. My suggestion is to take it up a notch on their behalf. Have a neutral party spend a few days with several reps to observe and audit their day-to-day performance and activity. The idea is not to focus on incorrect behavior, but to investigate and ultimately reveal those particular tasks that can be streamlined. This includes evaluating the time required for a rep to create a complex proposal, or respond to an RFP. Do performance obstacles arise because the rep must search for the appropriate marketing content, must write or re-write content, or spend inordinate amounts of time formatting or enhancing the document in a captivating manner?

5. Eliminate the productivity-killers

Once the audit is complete and available for review, analyze the productivity-killers to formulate your plan of attack. First eliminate or improve on the processes that are the easiest and quickest to resolve. Then, attack those elements that needlessly rack-up the most time and keep your reps from interacting with prospects. If responding to proposals and RFPs devours too much valuable time, consider a tool such as Qvidian’s Proposal Automation, which streamlines the proposal-generating process to nearly half the time – on average – resulting in more professional, and highly effective proposals. If your reps are wasting valuable time researching for the right contact for prospecting purposes, you should definitely consider a tool like iSell by OneSource.

Take-aways

Consider these five golden rules of sales rep productivity, and free your reps from the time-killing obstacles that you may be guilty of imposing on them, without even realizing it. Eliminate roadblocks that stand in the way of optimum sales performance. You’ll not only lead your team to quota faster, but you’ll enjoy a much smoother ride in the process.

Nancy Nardin is a nationally recognized thought leader on sales and marketing productivity tools. Her firm, Smart Selling Tools – of which she is the founder and President – is dedicated to helping marketers and sellers apply process and technology to drive revenue.  Get more from Nancy at Smart Selling Tools Blog.

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