Archive for the ‘Partnerships’

Going the extra mile

I just wanted to share a short story that shows the lengths some people go to serve their customer.

Today I received the following email about Helen (her real name), one of our consultants, from Craig (his real name) who is one of our sales professionals.

The purpose of this email to let know of the extra effort and commitment, under extremely difficult circumstances, by Helen Harwood. [Helen is one of our consultants]

We all know of Helen’s professional efforts. Her efforts today may become legendary.

So what’s sooo special about Helen’s efforts this week? Here’s are the circumstances:

  • Saturday, her laptop died
  • Sunday, she needed to replace her laptop. And was able recaptured most of her data….Phew!
  • Sunday, a 40+ foot tree crashed on her house. Damaged her home. And broke the gas line to her home. Imagine the activities on her front lawn, including local news.
  • Monday, took a cold shower, packed and traveled to Minneapolis, while folks were working and/or preparing to work on her home!
  • Today, Tuesday, while receiving multiple vm’s and emails from contractors, insurance, etc., Helen focused on delivering a successful workshop for Honeywell. Thank you!
  • And this evening (still Tuesday), her Hotel lost power. It has been restored.

Helen – with much appreciation and awe…”thank you” for your professional efforts and focus, while things were literally falling (no pun intended) around you!

The main reason why customers maintain a long-term relationship with any supplier is the sustained quality of service they receive. Great suppliers differentiate themselves from merely good suppliers by the nature of their response in adverse circumstances. This is a fantastic example of going the extra mile.

Thank you to Helen for maintaining this high level of service, and to Craig for taking the time to recognize it.


The Vanity of an Enlarged Pipeline

Which is better – a sales pipeline that has $40m in opportunities, or one that has $60m in opportunities? Without knowing more about the quality of the deals in the pipeline and the velocity with which they are moving, it is, of course, impossible to answer the question.

It may be that the deals in the $40m pipeline are well qualified, moving quickly through the funnel, and well distributed through the different pipeline stages. On the other hand the opportunities that comprise the $60m number might be old, languishing in unqualified territory, but just not disqualified because of the desire to maintain a large pipeline number.

I recently received an email from one of our customers looking for some assistance in this matter.  The customer – I will call her Carol  – is an avid sales methodology user, and Carol’s team has seen significant revenue growth since she deployed opportunity management in Dealmaker about 15 months ago.

All good so far, right?

Well, the problem is that through the use of the methodology, Carol’s team has adopted a far more rigorous approach to opportunity qualification, and because Dealmaker identifies inactive deals, and measures things like pipeline velocity, she has a much greater understanding of what should or not remain in the funnel.

So, where’s the problem?

Well, because of her disciplined procedures, and her team’s diligent (and voluntary!) application of the methodology, she has weeded out all of the unqualified deals from her pipeline.  In fact her pipeline has shrunk by over 30%, and now she is getting grief from her manager about it.  That’s where she is looking for my advice.

To put this in context, and to be fair to her manager, we should say that she is getting credit for the 37% increase in revenue she has achieved.  It is acknowledged that when her team requests internal resources to support a deal, then the deal is qualified and is a good use of her company’s resources.  Everyone loves the fact that her sales forecast is more accurate that any other division in the company.

But because her pipeline per head has reduced, she is subjected to a monthly grilling by her boss and she is looking for help on how to educate her boss on the difference between pipeline ‘volume’ and ‘pipeline value’.

I remember a saying that I learned early in my business career.  It referred to the relative value of revenue and profit.

Revenue is vanity. Profit is sanity.

In the context of a sales pipeline, I think we could borrow that  phrase and say:

Pipeline Volume is vanity.  Pipeline Velocity is sanity.

I’ve given Carol my input as to how to communicate the value of pipeline velocity to her boss, but I’d love your opinion.

What advice would you give?

My response to “The Bullocks Behind Sales Training” by Dan Waldschmidt

Earlier today I read a blog post from the ever-thought-provoking Dan Waldschmidt. If you care about your sales team, or maybe if you’re planning a sales training initiative for 2011, you should first read the entire post, but it begins like this …

Sales training is broken.

It’s dead.  Washed-up.

And we might be all the better if we helped give it a final push into the coffin.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I care deeply about this topic, and perhaps unsurprisingly I commented on the blog post. My comment is rather long and perhaps at times a little passionate, but it’s an important topic and, as ever, I tend to speak my mind.  I thought I’d share it here.

* * * * *

My Response to “The Bullocks Behind Sales Training’ by Dan Waldschmidt

Dan, your premise is entirely true. You forgot to mention that companies spend $10Bn each year on sales training, and most of that investment is wasted. Now, it might seem strange that I’m agreeing with you given that I’m CEO of The TAS Group. But when I got into this business just a few years ago I was appalled by the level of negative ROI. Industry reports would suggest that after just 30 days sales training results in only 13% retention of what was taught. Yep, that’s 87c in every dollar wasted.

We are now achieving 93% retention after 12 months.

I got into this business to fix the fundamental problem of negative ROI; to fundamentally change the approach and to deliver long-term customer value. We thought a lot about why it was so broken, why the latest 7-step methodology, color-coded sheet, or sales-tips library, was no longer lasting than the Heimlich maneouvre, and a lot less effective.

We looked at why sales people – in contrast to their peers in other professions – did not apply consistent proven best practice. I’m an engineer, and I know that there are engineering principles that always need to be applied – otherwise the bridge will fall or the software application won’t work. When I practiced as an engineer (a long-time ago) I used the engineering methodology because I could see how it helped me and it was not difficult to use. That reward/effort equation is not solved by the traditional sales training approach.

The problem with traditional sales training is two-fold. It is as you say about a mindset change. To extend my engineering analogy – I should care if the bridge will fail because people will die, but I also need my theodolite and my CAD system to keep me within the guardrails of effective practice. These tools have embedded best practice and supporting knowledge and intelligence that I as an engineer could not survive without.

As we sought to address the problem you so eloquently articulate, we built tools that help sales people to collaborate with their customers to help ensure that the customer gets what they need – not just what they want. We understand that the impact on a customer of a bad buying decision is always greater than the impact on a sales person of a lost deal, and that if the sales person’s ‘solution’ is not a good fit for the customer’s needs then the sales person should graciously withdraw. It’s better for everyone in the long-run. Our software platform (Dealmaker) supports that ideal and as a consequence our customers are more successful. We look at our customers through the eyes of their customers and help them to make their customers successful. That’s why we have customer retention rates of 93%.

The conversation you surface here is an important one, and one I enthusiastically welcome. Innovation has been lacking in this industry for 25 years and the consequence has been a cartel of mediocrity that serves no party well.

Our customers are excited about the intelligence we’ve built into our sales effectiveness software platform. They relish the automated deal coaching, they drool over the ease-of-use and how we solve the reward/effort equation. They embrace the embodied discipline and the consequence increase in their sales forecast accuracy. Most of all they value the results.

Some of my heretofore competitors have partnered with us to leverage our innovation investment to better serve their customers, because they too want to deliver sustained value and recognize that the old way just doesn’t work. They now compete with me at the high-end of the value chain and I welcome that, and would welcome others. Together we can raise the standard for all.

CRM vendors are also complicit in this morass of methodology mediocrity. Look into any CRM system today are see how many sales deals are forecasted to close in the past. As I write this, it’s August 21 2010, and I will guarantee you that nearly every CRM system (where Dealmaker has not been integrated) will have deals with forecast close dates in July and June. Good methodology integration can solve that problem, and not doing so is lazy and irresponsible. That’s what sales people waste 2 hours each week on average doing sales forecasts that are as real as a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale.

Buyers of sales training too have a part to play in raising the bar. If they measure success by the number of hours people sit in a classroom then they will find plenty of providers will to service them. If they pay for mediocrity – that’s what they will get. If they consider instead the sustained transformative results they should demand, and then demand them from their providers, they will help solve the problem.

Thanks for calling out the bullocks.

Donal Daly
CEO, The TAS Group

What’s your value proposition to the sales organization?

This post is mainly for the non-quota carriers out there. Or maybe it’s for quota carriers looking for a little help from their friends!  We’re all in it together, right?

If you accept that nothing good happens until someone in your company sells something, then it might be worth your while thinking about how you help to make that happen.  This was how a CEO of one of our customers (I will call him Jim) explained to me how he gets everyone in his organization fully aligned and supportive of the sales organization.

Jim’s perspective was simple. He’d ask each of his employees to describe their value proposition to the sales team. Jim felt that unless each of his employees in marketing, product development, customer service, operations and finance, understood that at least part of their job was to support the sales team, then something was wrong; and the way that he would test it is that periodically he would ask each person to articulate his or her value proposition to the sales team as their customer.

I love the simplicity of Jim’s approach.  It’s an extension of the old saw ‘Everyone is in sales’ but applied in a practical way that gets everyone to understand why in fact that must be true.  So, I thought I’d try to extend Jim’s approach just a little bit. Before the sales person asks his colleague “Hey, what did you do for me lately?”, it might be worth calling out some of the areas where the sales team might need help.

[For the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume that the sales team is perfect :).  Okay, you can get up of the floor now.  It wasn’t that funny, really it wasn’t.  But if I try to explore the foibles and inadequacies of how sales interacts with their colleagues …. that’s for another day.]

Here instead I wanted to adopt the voice of the sales team, set out some hypothetical problems that many sales organization face, and ask my imaginary colleagues in Finance, Customer Service, Product Development and Marketing for their help. If any of the  issues mirror yours, then you might like to forward this blog post to your (non-sales) colleagues.  It might prompt some discussion,

  • Voice of Sales to Finance: Please know that if I ask for approval on a discount, or special payment terms, it’s not because I don’t want make the effort to sell the value of our solution, but because I’m finding it difficult to get the buyer to accept our standard terms.  You could help me perhaps by working with me to develop a statement of ROI for my buyer that you would be happy to walk through with the customer.  And, on the special payment terms item, I’m not clear about what is important to you – total revenue, recognized revenue, cash-flow, or profit.  If you could help me understand your priorities, then I will manage my negotiations with the customer with your priorities in mind. You spend a lot of your time negotiating with vendors? You probably understand my customer’s financial statements better than I do?  How can you help me close more deals, at a higher margin?

Insert your answer here: ____________________________________

  • Voice of Sales to Customer Service: I spend a lot of time finding and closing new customers.  I really care about each one of them.  I could ask you to not screw up the relationships that I’ve built – but that would be insulting, and I know you will not do that.  However, as you know selling more to an existing customer is sooo much easier (and profitable) than finding a new customer, so I need you to wow them.  If I’m setting inaccurate expectations – please tell me how you think I can do a better job.  I think what we do is awesome, and you guys are amazing, so sometimes I might get a little carried away.  So, what can you do to help me sell more to our existing customers, or ensure that each one of them wants to be a zealot reference for me?  How do we set the bar high, and then really exceed it?  How can you help me?

Insert your answer here: ____________________________________

  • Voice of Sales to Product Development: Look, I know you want me just to sell what we have today.  You don’t like me asking for new features, or making promises to customers that you can’t live up to.  I’m cool with that.  I do think our products are the best in the market, but sometimes there might be a feature or two that the competition has that creates FUD, and I need to really understand deep down why we’ve chosen not to deliver that feature.  I know this might be marketing’s job to help me understand that – but your perspective would add value.  But you’re really smart.  You know why you’ve built the product the way you did, and I know you take a customer perspective, but can you please tell me how you can help me sell more?  What’s your value proposition to the sales team?

Insert your answer here: ____________________________________

  • Voice of Sales to Marketing: Ok, we’re joined at the hip.  Some of my colleagues would say that the difference is ‘Sales is measured and marketing is not’ but that’s not my perspective.  I depend on you.  Here are my current challenges.  I don’t have enough opportunities.  I don’t mean leads, I mean opportunities.  I can’t get access to C-level executives. Is that me, or is it our messaging.  As you know, I’m doing ok YTD, but I’m worried about H2.  You done Trojan work putting all of the marketing materials on the marketing portal, but I’m not sure what to use or when to use it.  I’m not looking for a silver bullet (well, I am but …) but how can you help me solve these specific problems; more opportunities (not leads), C-level access, what marketing docs to use, and when to use them.  If these are my problems, what’s your value proposition to the sales team?

Insert your answer here: ____________________________________


I’ve been thinking about this issue for quite a while, (in fact, we will shortly announce a new edition of Dealmaker that improves overall organizational alignment around sales) and I’m a firm believer that once (1) you get the whole organization aligned around sales, (2) and sales values that fact, and (3) everyone realizes that effective sales starts from the customer’s perspective – then you can achieve uncommon organizational productivity and velocity.  At The TAS Group, we call this rightful impatience, and I think it’s at the core of whatever success we achieve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you share it with your colleagues, I’d be really curious to know if it makes a difference.

Overdelivering on your promise

When we launched the Dealmaker Partner Network at the end of 2009, we were fortunate enough to have lots of applicants looking to join.  The first question we always ask, is “What value will being part of the DPN bring to your customers?”  The thinking is that unless potential partners are very clear as to how participation in the DPN will help their customers, then it’s unlikely that there is a good fit.

One of the recent additions to the DPN, as a Certified Partner, is Engleby Associates, a specialist sales consultancy based in the north of England.  Engleby’s CEO, Richard Lane, embodies customer focus, and we’re delighted to have his company as part of the DPN.  I think this guest post from Richard clearly illustrates his perspective.

— o —

Build powerful relationships quickly by under promising then over delivering on the promise.

Lots of small and regular successes can quickly secure your position as a trusted and reliable resource in your customer’s mind – the road to becoming the holy grail, ‘a partner of choice’.  In my sales coaching work, I always stress the importance of effectively managing expectations. When building relationships with either prospects or new customers it is important to quickly build an aura of reliability and pro-activity.  Of course, when I say “under promise” I don’t mean set the bar so low that your customer is wondering if you are going to actually do anything anyway.  If you deliver early on an item that the customer thought was slow, easy or expected in the first place then this isn’t going to do you any favors.  You need to overwhelm whilst under promising.  This will then enable you to over deliver.

Overwhelm > Under Promise > Over Deliver

It may be time of response, value of the solution presented, understanding of their needs, support and service.  Anything and everything.

In a recent podcast, Craig Elias made a terrific comment which went along the following lines: “We treat our great customers in a special way.  Why then don’t we treat those that we want to be our great customers the same way?“  A brilliant reflection.

With the above in mind, here is a quick exercise you might like to do:

  • Think about how quickly you react to your best customer.  Think about the types of information you send to them.  Think about how pro-active you are with them.  How quick you are to troubleshoot and resolve any and all challenges that occur?
  • Now think about how you work with your prospects.  Think about the top 10 prospects you are hoping to convert into great customers during 2010.  How well do you know them?  How pro-active are you with the information you send them?  How quickly do you respond to their enquiries?  How hard do you push your internal support teams to deliver the same service that your best customers get?

If from the above you have identified a difference in the way you (or your business) acts, think through a strategy that will enable you to treat everyone as if they are your greatest customer.

The mind is a powerful thing.  If we act as if we are then we will become.

Effectively manage expectations to your advantage: Overwhelm, under promise, over deliver.

Richard Lane, CEO, Engleby Associates.

5 Principles of Partnership

Sometimes I worry about the connections my mind makes – but it’s curious how random synapses fly and link some thoughts together.  I was recently involved in reviewing The TAS Group’s CHAMP methodology.  CHAMP is about helping organizations develop effective Channels and Alliances programs.  While I was stuck in that, a friend of mine called to recount tales of his recent trip to Italy, and he wondered out loud about how the Leaning Tower of Pisa continued to lean, but not fall.

This legendary Tower has been leaning since the early days of its construction. It had only reached a height of 10 metres when the foundations started to slip, and it’s the very fact of its weak foundations that has contributed to its notoriety.

At the same time, I was focused on the principles of partnership, considering foundations in a different way – and my befuddled mind starting linking the two together.

While weak foundations are at the heart of the fame of the fabled tower, weak foundations in partnerships are catastrophic.

As you may know, I’ve been very involved recently in progressing the Dealmaker Partner Network, which, at its core, is about building solid partnerships with a number of different companies.  When we were setting up basic assumptions for Certified Partners under the DPN, we set out a few basic fundamentals. Here’s how that was presented:

  1. You will receive generous margins to drive significant revenue for your business.
  2. You will be trained and supported by our dedicated partner support.
  3. You will be provided with the world’s best sales effectiveness solutions to provide to your customers
  4. In return, you will commit to take the time to become proficient in our solutions to understand how they can best serve your customers, and you will make reasonable efforts to promote and sell our solutions in line with our mutually agreed expectations.

As I was reviewing CHAMP, I felt that these fundamentals were well encapsulated in the five principles of partnership outlined therein. The five basic tenets combine to set out a framework to build a solid foundation for effective business relationships.

These are:

  1. Trust,
  2. Shared knowledge,
  3. Innovation,
  4. Agreed Goals,
  5. Balance of return.

While some of these are easier to quantify than others, each has a fundamental impact on the strength of the partnership.

Of the five key principles, you’ll see that trust and shared knowledge are at the heart of supporting the other three criteria.  Here’s what trust means you need to do:

  • Provide unbiased, honest advice
  • Deliver on your commitments
  • Take the lead
  • Bring in business opportunities
  • (and) Make quick decisions

Similarly, shared knowledge is particularly important, whether it’s good news or bad news. Sharing knowledge with your partner means:

  • Providing not just information, but also insight
  • Focusing on business advantages
  • Two way sharing
  • (and) Building trust

It’s been over 800 years since the famous tower at Pisa started to lean, and it hasn’t collapsed yet.

Partnerships however will not experience any longevity without the five cornerstones I’ve outlined here, buttressed and reinforced by particular emphasis on the twin pillars of trust and shared knowledge.

What experiences have you had with partnerships? Do they generally work for you?  Are there principles I’ve missed?  I’d love to hear your view.

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