Archive for the ‘Leadership’


Salesforce Sales Leadership Forum: 3 Key Takeaways

Salesforce is the world’s largest cloud company, and many businesses around the world run their businesses on one, or a combination, of their solutions. So it would seem logical that Salesforce could provide a focal point for companies to exchange business ideas and best practices. I participated in an event recently that was designed by Salesforce to be just such a forum for Sales Leaders.

The stated objective of the event (part of a broader program) was to provide an opportunity for Salesforce customers to hear from trusted sales thought-leaders on the changing trends in sales, share best practices and innovations with their peers in the sales leadership community, and of course network.

I was delighted to be asked to participate, along with Linda Crawford – EVP Sales Cloud, Salesforce, and Brent Adamson from CEB. What I particularly liked about this event was that Salesforce delivered on the promise; i.e. this was a sales leadership forum, not a Salesforce sales event. Brent and I were given equal billing with Linda, and the majority of the energy was spent on sharing thoughts and ideas with customers. The feedback from the attendees was that the three companies seem to work really well together. We actually have been working very closely together for some time now and each brings different value – but it is to Salesforce’s credit that they enable this for their customers, in a collaborative environment.

(We actually did a similar event the previous day in Amsterdam with a different CEB representative who had different but equally valuable perspectives.)

Here are my three key takeaways from the day:

Salesforce is all in on mobile

iPhone-6-Pol-Map 400

With an estimated 5B smartphones in our hands by 2017, it is probably fair to say that every sales person that Salesforce cares about will need to be served on their mobile device. In fact, as we walk around with smartphones in our pockets everyday, we give little thought to the personal and business productivity apps that we use everyday without even thinking about it.

Linda Crawford highlighted the analysis from Gartner that suggests that 2016, 55% of salespeople will access sales applications exclusively through smartphones or tablets.  One of the things I have noticed at Salesforce over the years is that they don’t do 50% commitment. It’s all in or not in. There is no question about it. Clearly Salesforce is all in on mobile.

Eileen O’Mara, VP Sales EMEA at Salesforce gave a very impressive demo of how Salesforce runs its business from the phone that also included the Political Map component from our Dealmaker app.

(You can trial Dealmaker Political Map Express here.)

90% of World’s Data was created in the last 2 years

I’ve known this for a while – but it is still mind blowing. Linda illuminated this effectively as she recounted the journey from the mainframe (thousand of connections) to Client/Server (millions), on to the recent Internet (Billions) and the future of the Connected Customer (Trillions).

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The question of course is “What do you do with all of the data?’. Life is a game of truth, not a game of data, and there is risk in relying on correlations and pattern matching to predict outcomes of prescribe behaviors.

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‘Customer First’ really means ‘Customer First’

There used to be a time, a long, long time ago, when a sales person would trade information about their products and services for information from the customer on their business. “Tell me about your business and I can tell you about my products and how you can use them in your business.” That time is gone. Customers can learn everything they need to know online. So what do you have to trade? Linda talked about the need for greater insight into your customers’ business and that fact that according to Gallup, 66% of companies do not have an in-depth understanding of their customers. That’s a real issue.

The ever-energizing and entertaining Brent Adamson from CEB took this point to the max, infusing his perspective with pithy anecdotes and real data.

  • On average, 57% of the buying process is completed before a buyer contacts a supplier. (I wrote a mini-book about this: Battling the 57%)
  • The biggest driver (53%) of customer loyalty is the Sales Experience. Company/Brand, and Product/Service, count much less (each at 19%).

Brent went on to describe what a good Sales Experience looks like from the customer’s perspective: The sales person should bring a unique, valuable perspectives on the business, help the customer navigate alternatives?and avoid potential mistakes.

The customer matters. Insight matters. Your sales credibility is on the line.

I have written a blog post / story about that here. A Sales Story for Our Time.

 

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What Sales Managers Can Learn From The Music Business

music_industryThere’s a Jackson Browne song called These Days which he wrote at the tender age of sixteen. One of the lines in the song goes, “Don’t confront me with my failures; I have not forgotten them.” A sixteen-year-old wise beyond his years.

For those of you who are not old enough to remember Jackson Browne, he was a seminal influence in the ’60s and ’70s music movement that came out of Sunset Boulevard/Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles—where at the time you’d have found Frank Zappa, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, Jim Morrison, Eric Burdon, Neil Young, Orson Welles, The Rolling Stones…and in more recent times Slash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and so on.

“Don’t confront me with my failures; I have not forgotten them.” I heard this song on the radio today and it reminded me of a conversation I heard about recently between a sales manager and his salesperson. It went something like this:

Manager: “You lost the deal!”

Salesperson: “Yes, I know.”

Manager: “You’re behind quota!”

Salesperson: “Yes, I know.”

Manager: “I can’t believe you lost the deal!”

Salesperson: “Suspending belief doesn’t help.”

Now, not a lot of progress there. Unfortunately, this conversation, or something similar, happens too frequently and, notwithstanding the personalities involved and the obvious absence of any semblance of mutual respect, it’s for one main reason: The only data the sales manager has is historical. He lives every day trying to predict the future based solely on lagging indicators, so the only conversation he can have with the sales person is a conversation too late. The deal was won, or it was lost—in which case the sales manager can only confront the salesperson with his failures—and as we see from the conversation above, that’s not much good.

But what if the sales manager (and the salesperson himself) had access to leading indicators and not just lagging indicators? What if he could look inside the salesperson’s pipeline and understand the true pipeline velocity, not just the number, size, or the deals? What if he had intelligent insight into the health of each deal? Would it help if he could gain foresight from automated analysis of past trends, usual sales cycles, “typical” deal-blockers, and areas of risk? Of course it would.

Then you would see uncommon productivity. The end of weekly sales calls as we know them. No more “Can you tell me what you did this week on the ACME opportunity?” Rather, a conversation that’s productive: “I can see we’re running in to a possible problem with that deal—here’s how I think I might be able to help, based on what I’ve seen work in other deals.” That’s when a sales manager can become a sales leader.

While there is no technological prosthetic for a broken relationship between a sales manager and his team, there are smart sales playbooks available today and collaborative tools that help plan effectively for sales calls to deliver measurably better sales results. You might consider how to apply them in your business so you don’t lag behind.

Incidentally, Jackson Browne was managed by David Geffen, who founded Asylum Records. Geffen never signed a contract with any of his acts and, according to him, none of them ever left him. He said his role was to be a buffer between his artists and the maelstrom of the music industry and to help the musicians in every way he could so that the artist could perform. Sounds like a good model for a sales leader to me.

Battling the 57% – Part 3: Getting Ahead of the Curve

Much has been written about the research that suggests that a buyer is 57% through their buying process before they engage with a vendor. I have written about this how I think the ‘57%’ is sometimes misinterpreted. Sometimes buyers engage with you early, and sometimes the call you after they have done their own research. Strong patterns exist that correlate the level of awareness that a buyer has of a need to act as he rushes headlong to that 57% Point, directly with his propensity to buy something. That is really no surprise. The parallel pattern however is that his level of awareness is inversely proportional to your opportunity to create value. This is a vital opportunity to which every sales strategist should be paying attention and that’s because most effective selling happens before the buyer calls someone for a solution.

 

ACCOUNT PLANNING IS THE NEW MARKETING

Selling early means working in the areas traditionally assigned to marketing: raising awareness, generating interest, and being top of mind as the buyer develops a preference. Our way of expressing this mindset is “Account Planning is the new Marketing.”

Think about what good you can do for your customer early rather than waiting for them to call. This gives you an opportunity to apply account planning principles early and helps you deliver superior value.

Focus on creating, developing, pursuing, and winning business that delivers mutual value to you and your customer. If you can work on a project that’s good for the customer and good for you, it’s more likely to be non-competitive and less price sensitive. By delivering more value to your customer, you’ll improve your opportunity to succeed.

KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER

You need to have a deep understanding of your customer’s business problems and you need to know their people. Our surveys tell us that only 61% of salespeople think they’re good at uncovering their customer’s business problems, and only 54% of sales people believe that they know how to discover this key information. That’s a challenge that you must address and overcome to assure success. If you don’t understand the business problems and don’t know and understand the people, you’re unlikely to create value or make a sale.

SUMMARY

Every buying decision is subject to these four phases: (1) Awareness of need, (2) Interest in solving the problem, (3) Developing a preference for a solution, and (4) Deciding to make a purchase. You need to determine

if you acting before the buyer develops a preference or not? Whenever you can, act early to have a greater opportunity to create value. If you determine that you’re acting after the 57 percent point, you can still prevail if you qualify carefully and work from deep insight about the prospect’s business needs. Then, flank toward your strengths with unique business, target the people who can assist you – and win.

Please feel free to download our latest publication:

Battling the 57%: Deconstructing the Buyer Seller Dance.

5 Abilities That Help to Predict Success

winnerWe are all born with a certain set of skill or abilities. As we grow and develop we get the opportunity to maximize the contribution we make to the world and to each other, in work and in our personal lives.

I have been extremely fortunate to have encountered so many gifted, compassionate, driven and capable individuals over the years.

What is it that separates the great from the good? While I am sure there are many others, here are 5 attributes that I have observed as factors that seem to exist in most of those who manage to separate themselves from the pack.

1. Preparedness and Hard Work

Winners don’t just turn up. In any business discipline, sport or other field of endeavor, it is most likely that those who are suddenly successful have spent the preceding years working very hard at their specialism. It is what Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, quantifies at 10,000 hours.  There is a discipline, a routine, a dedication and a core interest and affinity with the subject, sport or profession that separates the mediocre from the great.

2. Concentration in the Moment

Just as a Formula 1 race car driver can win or lose a race in a moment of brilliant maneuvering or lapse of concentration, so it is with the practice of a professional discipline. Based on preparedness and hard work, the winners see the open door, the moment of opportunity, and almost instinctively know how to act.  I say almost instinctively because while the reaction seems like a natural reflex, it is instead a practiced moment governed by well developed muscle memory honed by hours of practice and focus on that one thing that the practitioner has chosen to excel at.

3. Intense Desire to Win in our Field

There is a competitive streak in all of us.  We all like to win. It is however in our chosen discipline that we care most. I know I will never be a world class tennis player, Formula 1 driver, or artist.  I just don’t have the interest, nor have I sent the time on the tennis court, on the track or in front of a canvas. However when it comes to my areas of expertise, there is a confidence borne from thousands of hours of effort that give me a sense of confidence that if I execute at the top of my game, I should win. And it hurts if I lose. I don’t believe winners can achieve the pinnacle of their potential without this competitive streak. It matters.

4. Experience and Acceptance of Occasional Failure

While this might seems to contradict my previous point, how someone deals with failure is an important predictor of future success.  Winners learn from their mistakes and use the experience to sharpen their skills. Accepting full responsibility for the failure with humility and understanding is a mark of a mature professional. This becomes more critical as the practitioner achieves great heights, for it is here that this learning can be the difference that leads to greater success and a plateau of achievement.

5. Ability to Adapt

Flexibility matters, and an open mind that is not hampered by rigid thinking, allows for continuous growth. We all have the ability to be in the top 1% of some endeavor.  By definition, that separates us from most (i.e. 99%) of our fellow travelers. If you believe in evolution to any extent then you must see that the ability to adapt is one of the greatest
arbiters of survival (first) and excellence (second).

Battling the 57%: From Sex to Romance – The Ultimate Flank

Don’t be put off by the title. This might not be what you expect.  And sometimes that’s the point.

There is a lot of nuance behind the 57% statistic – the CEB research that says buyers are 57% through their purchase cycle before they contact a supplier – and there are things you should do before, during, and after, the 57% point, if indeed this applies to your business.  (I promise I will get to the romance shortly.)

I think it is important to reflect on what the 57% really means and the limit of its impact. It is getting a little out of control. (I have organized a webinar on March 25 to dispute/clarify/de-bunk/resolve a few of the myths.)  What is obvious is that you want to be in a position where you can educate the customer before they get to the 57% point. But let’s say that your buyer has indeed progressed 57% through their buying process before they contact you.  What do you do?

If the buyer is 57% through the cycle, then they will most likely have a preference for someone. If it is you then you might have a short sales cycle. Perhaps their search has been truly unbiased and you are now part of a short-list. But if their preference is for a competitor, you will need to change the criteria they have used to get this far.  Redefining customers’ purchase criteria is one of the most powerful ways you can wrest leadership from a competitor.  In the TAS methodology we refer to this a Flanking Strategy – and that gets me to a story I read in the December 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review.

From Sex to Romance – The Ultimate Flank.

Pfizer launched Viagra (the erectile dysfunction drug) in April 1998, with a record 600,000 prescriptions in that month alone at a price of $10 per dose. Pfizer created an entirely new market on the basis of one key criterion of purchase: efficacy. The drug got the job done! By 2001 annual sales had reached $1.5 billion.

Not long after that Cialis entered the market. Whereas Viagra was effective for four to five hours, Cialis lasted up to 36 hours, making it potentially much more convenient for customers to use.

At the time, the key criteria that physicians considered when prescribing were efficacy and safety with a combined relative importance of 70%. Duration had a relative importance of 10%.

The marketing team behind Cialis decided to emphasize the benefits of duration—being able to choose a time for intimacy in a 36-hour window, and set the price higher than Viagra to underscore its superiority.  The new criterion of purchase – marketed as romance and intimacy rather than sex – caught on. A BusinessWeek article reporting on an early positioning study stated, “Viagra users who had been informed of the attributes of both drugs were given a stack of objects and asked to sort them into two groups, one for Viagra and the other for Cialis. Red lace teddies, stiletto-heeled shoes, and champagne glasses were assigned to Viagra, while fluffy bathrobes and down pillows belonged to Cialis. In 2012 Cialis passed Viagra’s $1.9 billion in annual sales, with duration supplanting efficacy as the key criterion of purchase.

Flanking – redefining customers’ purchase criteria – is one of the most powerful ways you can wrest leadership from a competitor; you will undoubtedly have a powerful competitor if you truly only enter the deal 57% of the way through the process. To flank successfully you need something to flank to (i.e. your competitive UBV that the customer cares about) and someone to flank with (i.e. a supporter with the buyer’s organization who will help you navigate the last 43%).

I will discuss this and ways to avoid the 57% trap altogether on the webinar. I would love if you can join the conversation.

 

 

Helping the Front-Line Sales Manager – It’s All about Rhythm

About once every six months I have the privilege of hosting some of our customers at our Customer Advisory Board meeting.  At these meetings we always learn a lot about how Dealmaker is being used to drive sales performance.  I am just back from San Francisco where we had gathered together a group of sales leaders to discuss our future plans and to get their input on how we can serve them better.

One of the topics we frequently discuss is the critical role of the front-line sales manager.  It is well understood that this important link in an organization’s sales ecosystem is a high-pressure role, but one that can be highly impactful when leveraged.  To help frame the discussion we had crafted a framework for the rhythm of a sales manager’s business.  The people in the room thought that this was helpful, so I thought I would share it with you.

(If you are interested in this topic we are hosting a Front-line Sales Manager webinar on Tuesday, February 25 with two of our customers; Salesforce.com and Shaw Industries. You can register here.)

One of the key observations is that effective sales managers can balance short-term current revenue activities (represented by your current forecast), with the future business pursuits (represented by your pipeline).  We endeavor to support both of these tasks with our Dealmaker Sales Performance Insight product, so we do have a vested interest in fully understanding the dynamics and efficacy of these competing motions.

temp-fcast-pipe

When most sales managers wake up every day they are concerned about the deals on the table right now.  Good sales managers triage the opportunities focusing where they can win and applying resources accordingly.  But at the same time they struggle with how to coach their teams, strategize future initiatives, ensure their teams are effectively enabled, worry about success at their existing accounts, hire and on-board new reps, performance-manage those existing reps who need help, liaise with marketing to help fill the funnel, and feed the corporate machine.

 

temp-cadence

 

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The chart here is a sample approach that you might consider.  The first column generally represents hygiene-factor activities but need to stay on the list.  Column 2 includes the most high-yield activities and as you move left to right you want to stay focused in the middle of the chart.  The last column is a necessary evil and can be almost completely off-loaded to technology. Spending time here adds no value to your business.

Our experience would suggest that if you can develop a rhythm in the business, balancing the important with the urgent, you will be more successful, particularly if you can off-load the management of the machine to someone else and leverage technology to automate as much of the reporting as is practical.

I am concerned about the current trends towards unguided use of analytics to ‘help’ the sales manager, and I have written about that before.  The experience of successful practitioners would suggest that sales domain expertise embedded in a structured business rhythm removes much of the friction.

 

 

7 Principles for Individual Sales Success

You should only read this if you believe that your level of success is largely up to you. Yes, it’s impacted and influenced by external events, but it’s not your sales manager, employer, customer, product, partner, bank manager or religious leader who ultimately determines your destiny. It’s you, and in difficult selling times, that’s the first principle that you have to accept.

There are few professions where the inner strength of the individual protagonist is as critical as that of an individual salesperson. During each sales call, you put your own credibility – and that of your company – on the line. Most likely, you are the primary arbiter of success or failure, and you always face the risk of failure or rejection. But when you win, the sense of achievement and personal gratification are amplified just because you are always putting yourself out there.

There are 7 principles that winners exhibit more frequently than others.  These are not best practices, processes, methodology, or selling skills – but rather personal choices that you control to define your personal purpose – the ‘why’ you do what you do.

1. Ambition: To achieve your ambition, you first need to be very clear as to what it is. There are two main questions you should ask yourself;

  1. “Do I know what I really want to achieve?” and
  2. “Is my goal ambitious enough?”

A ‘shoot for the moon’ goal is a wonderful motivator. By figuring out your personal outrageous goal – conceived in a moment of suspended reality – you see what might be possible. Then you can plan to achieve that ambition by breaking it down into attainable and realistic steps. Winning sales professionals do this in small ways every day as they strategize how to maximize revenue from an account, or win a specific deal. Then it is the art of the possible, planning the realization of the ambition.

2. Commitment and Resilience: How badly do you want it? Will you stay the course? Invariably you will see seemingly ‘lucky’ people for whom everything just works out. Evidence of their hard work is sometimes hard to see. Enduring hardship is frequently the bedfellow of success, so you’ve got to be committed to your goal and both resilient and relentless in its pursuit. When you continue to do the right thing, and stick with it, good things invariably happen.

3. Honesty and Integrity: These are two of the least understood, and most under-valued, personal and business assets. A reputation for being honest or having high integrity is priceless. It brings trust and openness, deeper relationships and more productive engagement. Trust is ‘truth delivered over time’. It is hard to win but easy to lose. The sustained value of these assets cannot be overstated.

4. Inquisitiveness and Learning: In sales, as in life, it is better to be interested than it is to be interesting. You need to be inquisitive and curious about what matters to others and less focused on what ‘interesting’ stuff you have to say. When you have earned the right – you can then be interesting.

If you are in the right job/company/industry, being interested in your customers’ business/industry/market comes easily to you. You have a natural passion for what you do, choosing to continuously self-improve. Without this passion to learn, you will find it hard to be naturally inquisitive. Then you’re possibly in the wrong job/company/ industry – and probably stuck in mediocrity.

5. Empathy and Perspective: Without Empathy you can’t possibly appreciate what’s important to your customer or your own support team. Remember the last time you complained about your marketing / product department, ‘I just don’t understand why we never seem to get … [Insert leads, new features, competitive analysis, better pricing]. Usually when you start a sentence with ‘I just don’t under stand why …’, it’s usually just that – you don’t understand. Arrogance is usually bred from ignorance, and that’s never pretty or productive. Consider the other Perspective.

6. Vision: Innovation and Leadership: Ambition without vision is dangerous and usually counter-productive. Vision elevates ambition to a higher place, one where your insight, founded on innovative thinking and thought leadership (informed through Inquisitiveness and Learning), propels you to the front. (There is another V for Velocity – click here to learn more)

7. Enterprise: You’ve got to work hard, really hard, no really, really hard. Come up with the right strategy to fulfill your ambition, and then through your own initiative and resourcefulness, determine how you best execute your plan. Unless you have the requisite Commitment and Resilience you won’t reach the uncommon heights you’ve visualized in your ambition.

When you put these principles together – Ambition, Commitment, Honesty, Inquisitiveness, Empathy, Vision, Innovation, and Enterprise – you can choose to A.C.H.I.E.V.E. your goals.

It really is up to you.

 

 

7 Principles for Successful Sales Leadership

One of the perks of my job is the interaction I am privileged to have with so many great sales leaders. During the beta phase for a new solution we just launched (to help sales managers understand the potential vulnerabilities in the sales performance of their teams), I had more intensive interaction than usual with a number of sales leaders.  Going beyond the challenges of the front-line sales manager, which is really the problem that Dealmaker Sales Performance Insight helps with, I was struck by some common principles that seem to be consistently applied by those sales leaders who are at the top of their game.  Here is my synthesis of those conversations.

1.    Lead with Purpose:  Your team cares less about what you are telling them to do, but more about why you are asking them to do it. With a shared understanding of where you are headed together, you can more easily collaborate and communicate.  If you can articulate a higher purpose than just hitting the targets – they know they have to do that without you telling them – they will understand the ‘why’ you are taking the direction you are taking, and that is always more powerful than the ‘what’.  When ‘why’ is understood, the team has a better chance of figuring out the ‘how’.

2.    Set High Standards – Hold Everyone Accountable:  Inspire your team to execute to the best of their ability – every time. Every single internal and external interaction matters.  It reflects on your values if you let poor practices develop without instant intervention. Slow response to a customer, casual email communication, bad manners to internal colleagues, poor quality proposals to customers, or arriving late or unprepared to a meeting, all let you (and the whole team) down.

3.    Write the Plays – and then Play them Right: Sales strategy is relatively easy. Constant execution and sales discipline is harder, and separate the great from the mediocre.  From business development through follow-up after the sale, the overall sales process (or go-to-market strategy) will contain milestones, trigger points, best practices, disciplines, and specific recommended tactics. Writes the plays, and then ensure that they are rigorously adopted, every day.

4.    Be the Role Model: As a sales leader you will undoubtedly have other things on your plate distracting from your core task. De-prioritize these time thieves.  Spend your time on exhibiting to your team how you are holding yourself accountable to the high standards that you have set.  Lead from the front. Execute your plays. Remember, you are in charge.

5.    Be Prepared to Rebuild: If you don’t have the team you need, you must be prepared to re-build. Always be recruiting and building a bench. Just like nurturing prospects for future business, the sales people that you want to hire are probably not immediately available the first time you connect with them. Start the conversation early.

6.    Prepare to Win: Winning doesn’t happen by accident. It usually happens when you are better prepared than your competitor.  Methodology helps, but systematic planning will equip you to deal with situations that arise without warning.  Deal reviews, account plans, sales process refinement, smart sales software, are tools you might use. Once the game starts they are usually on their own and it is then too late to help your team.  You need to prepare them in advance to win.

7.    Embrace Change Methodically:  The business world continues to evolve. Buyers change. New competitors emerge. Economic stability fluctuates.  Responding to change is never easy – particularly when things are already going well. When things are going badly you might feel the need to press the restart button. In either case you must accept two constants; (1) you need to make this quarter’s number working with what you have today and (2) what you have today will need to change just in time to serve your needs tomorrow.

10 Rules for Great Sales Coaching

Over the last number of years I have given a lot of thought to Sales Performance Management.  I think that most experienced practitioners and observers recognize that the front-line sales manager is the key to scaling sales performance. But it is a really hard job. And if sales managers are in fact the linch-pin of the sales organization, then when sales management fails, sales fails. Bouncing from task to task, managing up, out and wide, getting to the important tasks often suffers under the pressure of the urgent. One of the important tasks that get relegated to the ‘I-know-I-should-do-it-but-I-just-can’t-get-to-it’ bucket is sales coaching. I thought that I would share some thoughts here on how you might make what every coaching time that you have most effective.

But first, some facts:

  • According to SEC/CEB, Coaching can improve sales productivity by 88%
  • Per Gallup, when sales coaching is effectively deployed, customer loyalty increases by 56%.
  • This is not surprising given that in a recent report from CEB, 53% of customers see the ‘Purchase Experience’ as the primary driver of customer loyalty.
  • Sales Management Association conducted a study looking at issues that are “important to sales force success” and examined the resource that was applied to those initiatives.  Sales Coaching stands alone, as being recognized as being important but not getting the attention it deserves.
  • According to a separate Sales Management Association study, most sales managers are spending less than 5% of their time on sales coaching. Perhaps given all of the time they are spending on all of the other activity, perhaps this is not a surprise.  But it is still worrisome.

We looked at why Sales Managers don’t coach, and saw a combination of (1) the lack of time, and (2) uncertainty about what to look for as two of the major obstacles.  As you would probably expect from me – I believe that technology and smart automation has a huge role to play in resolving both of these issues to empower the sales manager to (a) understand the vulnerabilities in his/her team and (b) provide coaching to help the team members improve.  (Disclosure: This is precisely what we do with Dealmaker Sales Performance Insight.)

But it is worth stepping back to consider what good coaching looks like:

Here are my 10 Rules for Great Sales Coaching

(I want to thank all of the experienced practitioners who contributed/validated/improved my work in creating a list and then reducing it to a manageable number of just 10!)

 

1. Collaborative:  collaborative

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Coaching should be a joint process. It is not about the manager telling the sales person what to do.  It must be viewed as connected to a shared positive purpose, with agreed expectations and suggested preparation.  You may jointly want to progress a deal, learn from a loss, or review strategy – but the emphasis needs to be on jointly – it must be a two-way flow.

2. Regular Cadence:cadence

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Coaching should be embedded in how you manage your sales business. If centered around deal reviews, assessment of account plans, discussing a sales process, coaching should not be viewed as an event.  Regular, scheduled coaching sessions will develop a consciousness and familiarity with the process that will grease the wheels and make each coaching session less challenging and more productive.

3. Consistent Framework:  framework

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Consider, for example, a Deal Review.  You should create a consistent framework that the sales team is familiar with.  You might start with an overview of the deal, allow for clarification questions, identify risks and vulnerabilities and then brainstorm solutions and strategy.  Do it the same way every time and it will flow more easily.

4. Apply Buyer’s View:buyer

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In truth there is only one perspective that really matters, and that is what the customer thinks.  Remember that the impact on a customer of a bad buying decision is typically greater than the impact on a sales person of a lost deal.  So the sales manager, or others in the coaching session, should take the perspective of the buyer. Honestly answer the question: “If I was the customer, would I buy from us?”  It’s a great lens to use to focus your thinking on what the customer cares about.

5. Look for Evidence:  evidence

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Always look for evidence.  When presented with comments like “Joe Smith really likes us,” or “We have strong compelling event,” you should always respond with questions like “How do we know?”  Be clear about the evidence of customer action that helps support those assertions.

6. Elicit Critical Thinking:thinking

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The role of the coach is to elicit critical thinking from the sales person.  Start with “If we were to lose the deal, or fail in this account, what would be the top three reasons?”  Then, when these risks have been identified, allow the sales person to come up with their own answers.  This critical thinking is a muscle that can be developed with progress.

7. Praise Good Insight:  good-insight

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People respond to praise – particularly in front of their peers.  If you don’t acknowledge or recognize valuable contribution, you are less likely to get that same contribution again.  You audience will think either that you don’t get the value – or think that you are too important (in your own mind) to respect their opinions.

8. Be Objective & Curious:  curious

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As Albert Einstein said, “Never stop questioning.”  Remove any bias that you have about account, the opportunity or the sales person.  Remain objective and seek the truth that will serve you all.

9. Don’t Take Over:  no-control

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It is not your job to close the deal, be too prescriptive on strategy or directive on the next action.  Don’t feel that you are the only one who can call the customer, or do the research, or plan the account.  You are trying to develop new behaviors and that only happens with practice.  Don’t take over.

10. Document Actions:document

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If the coaching session was worth doing, then it is worth recording what happened, the insights you learned, and the actions that were agreed, and then follow up.

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What to do when “No Decision” is not in the customer’s best interest

I have written before about the only two reasons that you lose a sale;

  1. You should not have been there (chasing this particular opportunity), or
  2. You were outsold.

I know I have fallen at both of those hurdles.  Sometimes being outsold means you lost to the dreaded No Decision.  In fact according a report I read from CSO Insights this is happening 26% of the time. Ouch!

Now in most cases when the customer is making No Decision they are in fact making the right decision. They will have objectively evaluated the project, and decided that this particular project did not reach the required threshold of return, or was not as important as another more pressing initiatives.

But in some cases they are just afraid, and No Decision is taking the easy way out.  This No Decision will often be accompanied by phrases like; “I don’t think we have the right team in place to implement this project now”, “We need to learn to walk before we can run”, “I’m not sure the team is ready to embrace this amount of change.” In truth they are just afraid.

They might be afraid of making an investment for which they will be held accountable. They might be afraid of something that is new. They might be afraid of change. They might be afraid of upsetting the status quo lest it might threaten their own status.

In these cases they are not in fact making No Decision, they are making a decision not to fix a problem that is broken. They are taking cover in the status quo where they are less likely to be seen as the instigator of something that went wrong. Sometimes that is a consequence of organizational culture – and in other cases it is  individual responsibility being abbrogated, denied, or ignored. But, is it your job to tell them?

I’ve written before that ‘A bad buying decision usually has a greater impact on the customer than a lost sale has on the salesperson’.  I believe that to be true, and I further believe that it is the sales person’s responsibility to tell the customer if they think the customer is making a bad buying decision. It is part of delivering on the trust that you’ve tried to earn.

In all of this post I have assumed that there was a real problem that the customer wanted to fix, the issues were identified, you were speaking the people who had the power to make the decision, and you had developed a joint vision of the desired end-state.  Then the customer got cold feet.

But how do you tell the No Decision customer that they have made the wrong decision – without it appearing as mere sour grapes, or that all you care about is selling them your solution?

  • First, be honest to yourself and about yourself. Acknowledge that you have failed to provide enough evidence to the customer to make them comfortable to make a positive decision.
  • Second, restate the problem you think the customer was trying to solve and the impact of No Decision
  • Third, withdraw from the sale, pointing out that this maybe the impetus for the customer to act (and maybe buy from your competitor.)   This is in the best interests of the customer. Maybe you’ve nothing to lose anyway, but that’s not the point. The point is that you must maintain your integrity.Your initial contract with the customer prospect was to help them solve their business problem.  That’s where you started and that’s where you should finish.

You have two other alternatives to this approach. (1) You can do nothing except walk away and lick your wounds. That serves neither party well, or (2) You can seek other (perhaps more senior) people in the organization who will reverse the No Decision made by your contact – but that’s the subject of another post.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. This is not a simple question.

 



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