Archive for the ‘Forecasting’


Sales Metrics That Matter

The best sales professionals are constantly looking for help.  Winners are honest in their self-assessment of the skills and competencies – or at least as honest as they can be.

  1. Only 61% of sales reps think they are good at uncovering customer problems. Until they can do that they can’t know how to apply their solutions to help.
  2. Just over half (54%) know how to access Key Players in the buyer’s organizations. The Key Players are critical in the buying decision.
  3. 80% of sales reps think are good at qualification. But 51% of forecasted deals don’t close. Sellers who qualify effectively are 58% more likely to make quota.

Here’s an infographic based on some research we did.

Sales-Metrics-That-Matter-smallJ

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

 

………..

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 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.

When is your Win Rate not your Win Rate?

It seems pretty simple at first, but calculating your Win Rate is not as straightforward as it might appear. In most cases sellers will think about their Win Rate as the number of wins as a percentage of the number of opportunities that were pursued. But that doesn’t tell the full story.

Let’s say I am working the four deals listed here.

  • Deal A: $20,000
  • Deal B: $10,000
  • Deal C: $40,000
  • Deal D: $30,000

Scenario 1:

In this case the results of the four sales cycles are as follows:

  • Deal A: $20,000 – WIN
  • Deal B: $10,000 – WIN
  • Deal C: $40,000 – LOSS
  • Deal D: $30,000 – LOSS

I win Deal A and Deal B, and lose Deal C and Deal D.  Win two. Lose two.  That may be viewed as a 50% Unit Win Rate.

However, when we add the values of the deals, we get a different result.  The aggregate of A and B is $30,000, where C and D together to a value of $70,000.  On a value basis this translates to Value Win Rate of 30%.

If you look at your pipeline as a predictor of future revenue, using your win rate, as factor of value, then you should consider the difference between Unit Win Rate and Value Win Rate.

 

Scenario 2:

But while deals of a similar profile generally follow a similar sales cycle, it is rarely the case that a group of opportunities will all start and finish at the same time.  Time itself is the added dimension.

In this scenario, only three of the four deals close in the time period we are measuring.

  • Deal A: $20,000 – WIN
  • Deal B: $10,000 – WIN
  • Deal C: $40,000 – OPEN
  • Deal D: $30,000 – LOSS

Once again I win Deal A and Deal B, and lose Deal D, but the sale cycle for Deal C has not yet come to a conclusion – or, as is equally likely, I have actually lost Deal C, but have not recorded it as lost, or I just have not realized that I have lost it.

With two wins and one loss, you could argue that the Unit Win Rate is 66%. Following this logic, the Value Win Rate would be 50%, as the total of A and B is $30,000 and the value of D is $30,000.

But what about Deal C?  Can I ignore the fact that I have been expending resources on this deal that has yet not be completed?  I think not.

Whichever path you take to measure Win Rate, you need to do so with your eyes open, and focus not just on the headline Win Rate number, but what it means to understand the patterns in your business.

At The TAS Group, we have extensively researched how companies measure Win Rate and what this number means to them. Those who use Dealmaker appear to have a much deeper understanding or their win rate and how it plays into their overall sales velocity equation.  In addition we have learned that in addition to the variables that play into the two scenarios outlined above, it is very important to be able to measure win rate from different positions in the pipeline.  We tend to refer to this as Pipeline Conversion Rate; i.e. the conversion to win from stage X in the pipeline.  The value of this approach is a deeper understanding of the value required in each stage of the pipeline to ensure you have adequate coverage to enable you to attain future revenue goals.

As with other sales performance initiatives, the key thing about measuring Win Rate is that by first understanding the questions you want to ask, and applying the appropriate tools to help you uncover the metrics that matter, you can get a clear picture of the problems you have to solve.  That’s always a good place to start.

 

 

12 Elements of a Great Sales Playbook

The implementation of a sales playbook can be one of the most impactful initiatives for any sales organization. There are two reasons for this tremendous ROI. First, by following some simple guidelines, it can be a remarkably easy initiative to implement, and second, research shows that this results in 33% additional revenue.

We have done hundreds of Sales Playbook deployments with Dealmaker Smart Sales Playbook. Here are the 12 Elements of a great sales playbook that you should use to guide your implementation. 

1. Repeatable Winning Sales Processes

The key word here is ‘repeatable’. When everyone adopts the same sales process, there is a common language that is understood, not just by sales, but by the whole organization.  Recent research shows that while only 60% of sales teams have a sales process that is well defined, and well executed – those who do are 33% more likely to be High Performers*.

2. Customized to the Buying Cycle

Customers buy in lots of different ways; some purchases are guided by a single decision maker, while in other cases there can be a large buying committee. Some issue RFPs (health-warning!), others invite recognized suppliers to discuss their issues,  an increasing number learn in the Social Universe, and just a few remain with the incumbent supplier trading ‘the devil you know’ for potentailly more advanced or competitive solutions. Unless you visualize the journey the customer wants to take, you won’t be with them when they reach their destination.

3. Sales Tools in Context at Each Stage

At each stage of the buying process, salespeople need to employ just the right tools – at the right time to advance the sale to the next stage in the process.  A B2B sale is not a single event. In fact it is a collection of micro-sales events, each crafted to move closer to the eventual goal. Salespeople are busy and often don’t know which tool they need, where to find it or how to use it at the specific point in the micro-sale. Integrating sales tools into the playbook as part of the sales process is the solution.

4. Industry Sales Process Templates

It is widely accepted that tailoring your sales process to the specific needs of an industry will increase your chances for success. Third party industry sales templates are readily available from suppliers who have been tracking and analyzing millions of sales cycles.  That is the catalyst you need to get started.

5. Many Simple and Complex Processes

One playbook or sales process does not fit all.  Sometimes you are pursuing a brand new customer or a very large deal that demands a complex and sophisticated set of ‘plays’ to win the deal.  In other cases, the transaction might be quick,  one that suggests a diffferent rhythm. Your sales playbook should have the requisite intelligence to support that automatically and serve up the right playbook at the right time.

6. Process, Benchmarks and Insight

Benchmarking delivers many advantages for companies looking to improve the performance of their sales organization. Your playbook must capture those benefits, learn from them, and uncover inisghts that help you to drive your sales velocity.  When deploying a playbook, ensure that you have built in a capability that guides you to progress through these stages of evolution for your sales team.

7. Team Visibility for the Sales Manager

Being a front-line sales manager is one of the hardest jobs in sales.  It is also the critical link in sales.  Unless the sales manager has with all the tools he or she needs to easily manage the business, the whole performance of the sales organization suffer.  You need to provide them with the ‘Easy Button’.  Sales playbooks are often designed just with the sales person in mind.  Remember that the sales manager is the critical link.

8. Integrates with CRM System

This one should be a ‘no-brainer’. The playbook must integrate tightly with the CRM system so when the sales person works with an opportunity, the playbook will always be present, just where it needs to be.  That way the playbook (if it is smart enough) can react to the attibutes of the opportunity, like the size of the deal, or the products included in the opportunity record to present the right playbook for that opportunity. Complete integration with your CRM delivers the  optimum experience for the sales person, and provides sales managers with greater flexibility on how they view the data in the context of the rest of the business.  It is important.

9. Informs Sales Forecast Visibility

Salespeople spend about 2.5 hours each week on sales forecasting, and for most companies, the accuracy of sales forecasts leave a lot to be desired. To maximize the impact of your sales playbook on the accuracy of your sales forecast, there are two things to consider. (1) Does the sales playbook incorporate intelligence that objectively monitors the close date of the sale? (2) Does the sales playbook provide the sales manager with insight into deal vulnerabilities and risks in the forecast?

10. Motivational and Visual

There are only two reasons why an individual does not complete a task.  Either they do not have the competence, or they are not motivated enough  to do it.  Think about that – these are the only two reasons.  Your sales playbook should improve competence and increase motivation.  The competence piece is easily understood.

Motivation is a little more challenging. A study on What Motivates Sales People shows that, perhaps surprisingly for some, compensation is not the primary motivator. ‘Making Progress of Winning’ is ranked by sales people as the main reason they get up in the morning. To entice adoption of the sales playbook (rather than force compliance) your sales playbook needs to provide true value for the sales person – resolve that reward/effort equation, so that the salesperson gets more back from the playbook that they put into it.

11. Social and Collaborative

As B2B companies rely more heavily on social collaboration tools, some of the biggest gainers are going to be salespeople. Sales people who are the leaders in their organization are using social tools such as Chatter in Salesfore to improve collaboration in their own sales teams. Leading sales playbooks help by letting everyone ‘follow’ the plays, contributes to the conversation, and collaborate on the deal. The B2B world is constantly becoming more social and collaborative and you should ensure that your sales playbook accommodates this advancement.

12. Mobile and Cloud

Time is precious, and the sales person’s time is incredibly precious, both to them and to the sales organization looking to maximize the performance of their key quota-bearers.  Since so much of a sales person’s time is spent moving between A and B and back again, they should be equipped with the mobility to connect to their sales playbook allowing them to be responsive, productive, collaborative and consistent at any time, wherever they are. In other applications, mobile and cloud capabilities are being leveraged to facilitate access anywhere, anytime.  It must be the same with your sales playbook. Unless mobile and cloud are core elements of your sales playbook plan, the initiative could face severe challenges in a very short term.

 

Sales Playbooks & CRMs – The Perfect Tango

I was speaking recently at a conference on Sales 2.0 tools.  During the coffee break after my session I ended up in a conversation about sales enablement and sales playbooks. The conversation got derailed for a while as one particularly active participant wanted to debate the role of mobile and cloud technologies in the future of sales professionals. Seriously? I am not sure I understand how anyone would feel the need to ask that question. In my opinion mobile and cloud are as certain a part of our future as death and taxes – but maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, I am getting somewhat off the topic.  I say ‘somewhat’ only because the sales playbook discussion took a turn, and the debate centered on whether it was essential that a sales playbook was integrated with a company’s CRM.  (As you may know, we have spent a lot of time on this because of the work we do with Dealmaker Smart Sales Playbook.)

Wasn’t it ok to have a defined playbook in a PDF could be linked to from a sales opportunity record?

Well, no!

For me that is almost the same as asking if it would be ok to have all of the contacts for an opportunity in a spreadsheet ‘linked’ to the opportunity record in the CRM.   It just doesn’t make any sense.

There are many facets to Sales Playbooks in general and this topic in particular – but I have addressed here the two most important that you should consider as it pertains to making sure that your sales playbook and your CRM system work optimally together.

1. Integration of Sales Playbook with the CRM System

This one should be a ‘no-brainer’.  Let’s say you use Salesforce as your CRM.  If that is the case, you are already asking your sales team to enter their opportunity information into Salesforce. If that is where your opportunity information is held, then that is where your playbook should be.  It must integrate tightly with the CRM system so when the sales person works with an opportunity, the playbook will always be present, just where it needs to be.  That way the playbook (if it is smart enough) can react to the stages of the sale, the attributes of the opportunity, like the size of the deal, or the products included in the opportunity record to present the right playbook for that opportunity.

But not all integrations are created equal. If you are on Salesforce, then the playbook will benefit hugely if it is ‘native’ on the Salesforce Platform.  Unlike other solutions that are linked to Salesforce, or just lightly integrated, this means that your data resides in the Salesforce Cloud, with the same security as Saleforce, the same performance as Salesforce, and all of the data captured within the playbook is inherently accessible to Salesforce reports, dashboards, and other applications. You do not have to worry about the security of a third party Cloud, the data transfer issues that occur with non-native solutions, or the reliability of a third party hosting infrastructure.

Complete integration with your CRM delivers the  optimum experience for the sales person, and provides sales managers with greater flexibility on how they view the data in the context of the rest of the business.  It is important.

2. Informs Sales Forecast Visibility

Salespeople spend about 2.5 hours each week on sales forecasting, and for most companies, the accuracy of sales forecasts leave a lot to be desired. In fact, based on recent research; companies who do not define and effectively execute a sales process have inaccurate sales forecasts 71% of the time! When success or failure is usually measured in margins far less than 25% – these forecasts are truly worthless. The good news though is that there can be a very strong causal connection between sales process and forecast accuracy.  In that same research study, it emerged that companies who did define and execute their sales process well reduced the level of inaccuracy to 33%.  That is a 200% increase in sales forecast accuracy.

To maximize the impact of your sales playbook on the accuracy of your sales forecast, it must be integrated with the CRM and you should consider.

  • Does the sales playbook incorporate intelligence that objectively monitors  or manages the close date of the sale? that is in the CRM? If you have built in the sales best practices, and your sales playbook can learn about the rhythm of your business, then it should be smart enough to help predict the close date of the opportunity, and identify for the sales person the difference between their opinion of when the deal will close, and a projected close date based on past behavior of winning sales cycle.
  • Does the sales playbook provide the sales manager with insight into deal vulnerabilities and risks in the forecast? It should be able to answer these very important questions: What’s in the forecast?  Are any of the reps counting on unusually large deals to make the quarter? Are all deals being worked? What’s closed? What’s projected? Which deals are moving quickly, and where are the opportunities that are stalled?

Your sales playbook when integrated with the CRM should help you to give those 2.5 hours back to the sales person, improve the accuracy of the forecast for each opportunity, and provide the sales manager with insight into the factors that will help her understand what she needs to do to make or exceed the quota for the team.

(Disclosure: My company, The TAS Group, is in the business of helping companies increase sales velocity using Dealmaker Smart Sales Playbook integrated with Salesforce.com.)

 

 

20 Facts about Sales Performance

At The TAS Group, we just recently completed a global study of sales performance.  The full report will probably be available by late April.  If you want a copy email me ddaly (at) the tasgroup (dot) com.

The statistics are pretty revealing – so I thought I would share them with you now.

  1. 33% of sales people made quota in the last reporting period

  2. Only 52% of sales people say they can access the key players for a sale

  3. 39% of sales professionals say they are not able to effectively uncover customer problems, and

  4. 35% struggle with designing customer focused solutions

  5. 59% of sales close as originally forecasted

  6. Sales forecast accuracy jumps to 76% when sales methodology is applied well

  7. When the Sales function contributes to company strategy, quota attainment is 15% higher than when Sales is not involved

  8. Quota attainment is 25% higher when Sales and Marketing are aligned, and

  9. Win Rate is 15% higher when Sales and Marketing work well together

  10. 59% of sales reps are good at opportunity qualification

  11. 32% of sales professionals do not develop competitive strategies for their opportunities

  12. When competitive positioning is part of a company’s sales strategy, revenue increases by 30%

  13. 44% of reps are able to maximize the value of a sales opportunity

  14. Only 36% can maximize the value of their key accounts

  15. Salesforce.com has the highest % of CRM users with adoption > 50%

  16. TAS has the highest % of methodology users with adoption > 50% (We are very happy about this!)

  17. When methodology is integrated with CRM sales teams are 35% more likely to achieve average quota over 75% (As you know this has been my mantra for a long time!)

  18. The #1 reason why sales methodology is not used is that only some people use it.

  19. 60% of companies use a defined sales process

  20. Companies are 33% more likely to achieve average quota over 75% if they use a sales process.

We have analyzed all the data that we gathered – and it was a lot – and some of the insights are fascinating.  We are looking forward to getting this finished and published to share.

As I mentioned above – If you want a copy email me ddaly (at) the tasgroup (dot) com.

 

Video Blog: So you think you have a $500,000 sales forecast?

I spoke at InsideView’s Insider Summit meeting in March 2012. The topic was about sales metrics that you might measure to calculate your sales velocity – the revenue you can achieve every day – and some ideas about what you might do to improve your sales velocity, and also achieve accurate sales forecasts.

The video has been edited to remove the Q&A and to make some of the slides easier to see. Click play to view the video. It runs about 25 minutes.

 

This is my first video blog, and I’d welcome any comments on the format, or comments or questions on the content.

 

 

6 Factors that are transforming B2B Sales – Part 1

I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.  My session – entitled Six Factors that are Transforming B2B Sales – seemed to strike a chord.  Over the next few posts I want to recount the thoughts I shared and get your views.

I started my presentation with a perspective on the current landscape and the environment in which we all seek to survive and thrive.

– o – o – o – o – o –

Do you ever have one of those days when you get up and hope that just for one day nothing changes?  Sometimes it feels as if we are barely hanging on, buffeted by a torrent of innovation and evolution.  But maybe today will be the day when you won’t have to adjust or adapt, reorganize or rework …

But, I don’t think so.

Things are happening more quickly than ever.  In the next 30 minutes;

  • 700,000 apps will be downloaded from the AppStore,
  • Users will spend 146 days on Facebook – yes, in the next 30 minutes – think about that, and
  • 21,000 new Twitter accounts will be created

“But wait”, I hear you say, I’m concerned about B2B sales – should I care that Lady Gaga has 20 million followers on Twitter? (That’s about one person for every 20 people in the US, or one for every 400 in the world.)

I think we can learn from this – not just from the fact that Lady Gaga has 20 million Twitter followers – but the overall metamorphosis of human interaction that we are witnessing first hand. Because, if we observe carefully, we will see that consumers are often the first to travel the journey that businesses subsequently follow.

Consumer Behavior is a Predictor of Business Behavior

Consider the changes you’ve seen in business over the past 10 years – particularly when it comes to technology – and you will notice that consumer behavior is always a good indicator of what will happen in the business world.  Trends that you see in B2C interactions are usually followed by similar engagement in the B2B world.

As an example: Consumers were the first players in the App Economy, downloading applications from Apple’s  AppStore, only to be followed by businesses that are now both distributing and consuming applications in this self-service model.

In the software world, online application stores from new-economy players such as the AppExchange from salesforce.com, and Google’s Marketplace, now sit alongside offerings from the traditional software companies.  SAP provides the Ecohub that it describes as ‘the community-powered online solution marketplace that is your trusted source for discovering, evaluating, and buying solutions from SAP’.  Microsoft – who for a long time might have been accused of fighting the subscription economy – now has it’s own Marketplace where, as of March 2012, provided 70,000 apps, and looking to one of its main business application areas, Microsoft has made considerable investments in the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace where it serves up ERP and CRM solutions.

HP and Oracle also jumped on the appstore bandwagon, both unveiling platforms (in late 2011) designed to help others get their own app store initiatives underway.  HP’s Storefront Portal offers a framework capable of enabling two-sided business models: wholesale and retail.  Oracle announced its own Digital Store platform, designed to help service providers manage the complete content lifecycle, spanning content submission, test and approval and storefront management of their app stores.

In April 2012, Amazon.com’s Amazon Web Services business, facing looming competition for its business of renting online data storage and computing, announced a store where customers will be able to rent business software from a number of third-party providers, including I.B.M., Microsoft and SAP. The offering appears to be something of a blend of the software as a service, or SaaS, business of companies like Salesforce.com and NetSuite, and the mobile app stores popularized by Apple and Google. Like SaaS, customers are renting their software, and can easily discontinue use in favor of another vendor, something much more difficult using traditional packaged software. And like an app store, the AWS Marketplace has several vendors, plus a means of discovery and comparison among products.

Think about this: Not all consumers are B2B buyers, but all B2B buyers are consumers. As if by osmosis, people are conditioned to new ways of thinking by the interactions they have as consumers, and begin to expect similar capability or convenience in their business connections and interplays. And it happens without any one noticing; incremental changes in behavior and expectation, satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

The fact remains that all business people – including both sellers and buyers – are consumers, and the lessons they learn in ‘consumer-land’ shape their thinking and expectations in “business-land’.

Consumers, salespeople and B2B buyers are changing, and not just in a small way. It’s almost as if we are seeing a remodeling or metamorphosis of the rules of both intrinsic and extrinsic behaviors before our eyes.  If we take the time to step back for a minute we can observe continuous evolution.  It is evident in how people connect, communicate, and collaborate, their quest for visible progress and feedback, their limited attention span, changing personal motivations, unusually peripatetic career paths, a desire for increased autonomy and self-mastery, actions more redolent of entrepreneurialism than traditional workplace obedience, a preference for where and how they work, an expectation or demand for an array of tools to apply, an acceptance of disruption and interruption, and a predilection to disrupt and interrupt.

If you’re hoping that today will be the day it doesn’t change, then I expect you are out of luck, and the best you could hope for is that the rate at which change is happening will find cause for pause, and you might get a chance to catch your breath.

On the other hand, you could choose to embrace the change, and be part of it, seeking new ways to do the tasks that are perhaps mundane or not operating optimally, and then – and here is the exciting part – you might find that there are new opportunities emerging that you never thought possible.

The Problem With Commitment

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference for one of our partners. My presentation – “So, you have a $500k sales forecast?” – was essentially a story about the impact that good sales process design, planning, automation and measurement can have on revenue achievement.

The company in the case study I used achieved a dramatic revenue improvement (194%) by working the four levers that impact sales velocity. Also, because they planned, measured, and automated everything along the way, the system they used automatically produced an uncommonly accurate sales forecast.

I’ve written before about the value of sales process and the problems with sales forecasts, but I’ve never written about the issue raised by one of the members of the audience at my session.

Commit / Upside / Pipeline: The ‘Commit Theory’ of sales forecasting is as old as the hills and about as useful as an astray on a motorbike.  The theory goes that at the start of a quarter (or at some other arbitrary point within the quarter) the sales person ‘commits’ a certain deal to the sales forecast.  He is guaranteeing that the deal is going to close in the quarter.  In its worst manifestation, this commitment is an unbreakable contract between the sales person and his or her manager that this deal will close.  The theory is that the resultant pressure is enough to ensure that the sales person will get the deal.

Now, I’m all for holding people accountable, but there is so much wrong with the Commit Theory approach that, unfettered, it is dangerous. It can be the enemy of good sales practice, alienate good sales people and damage customer relationships.

Some words I could use as synonyms for ‘commitment’ are: promise, pledge, oath, contract, pact, deal, decision, and resolution.  Nowhere in here is there a reference to a plan, a process, or any measure of confidence in the ability of an individual to deliver on the commitment.

Making a commitment, without knowing how you can deliver on the commitment, is counterproductive. Expectations are misaligned and subsequent actions that are taken – based on the commitment – are built on a flawed foundation.

Here’s an analogy – and a true story.

I remember about a year ago driving in the southwest of Ireland.  I was due to pick up a colleague at Shannon airport at 11am. I had committed that I would be there when the flight landed.

It was 9:00am when I set out on my journey.  I had spent the weekend with friends in Waterville in Kerry beside one of the greatest golf courses in the world. Having not taken the route from Waterville to Shannon before, I decided I might need help from my GPS system.  Imagine my horror when I learned that the expected journey time was 2 hours and 45 minutes.  That had me arriving at the airport at 11:45am.  I had made a commitment to be there at 11:00am.  I was going to be a full 45 minutes late.  I’m not averse to occasionally driving a little over the speed limit. But in this case I would have to do some pretty unnatural things to make up that 45 minutes.  We are not talking multi-lane highway here. If I tried to deliver on my commitment I would likely end up stuck in a ditch or doing some real damage. The reality was – there was nothing I could really do about it.

WatervilleToShannon.png

The GPS system knew each step of the journey.  It knew that to get to Shannon, I had to go to Cahirciveen, then take the beautiful (and winding) coast road to Killorglin before I drove to the market town of Castleisland, on to Limerick before completing the final stage to Shannon.  You see, the GPS had the data.  It knew how long each stage of the trip would take.  It had a map, the sequence of twist and turns, and an approximate measure of the speed at which I should expect to progress through each stage.

All I had was a flight arriving at 11:00am and a commitment I had made.

Of course I should have planned better.  I could have consulted my GPS the day before.  Certainly, before I made the commitment, I should have had some basis for confidence that I could make it on time.

And so it is with sales forecasts.  Opportunities close when the customer is ready – emotionally, intellectually, and commercially – to sign the deal.  That only happens when you and your customer are aligned on the final destination, the journey to get there, and each of the checkpoints along the way.

A promise you can’t keep is worse than no promise.  A promise with a plan to deliver has value.

That is why I have a problem with commitment.



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