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December 2011

5 Sales Management Questions We Answered in 2011

Every ending signals a new beginning. To make sure we build effectively on our experiences and avoid repeating our missteps, I asked Selling Power editors to compile this list of five important sales-management questions we addressed this year. Here are some of our most popular articles on topics that resonated with readers, including developing talent in your reps, adding value for customers, staying positive, and fostering loyal relationships.

Are You Selling Problems or Solutions?
Think about the news stories you heard or read today. Did you find information that you could use to improve your life? Did you read something that gave you a positive feeling? 

When Should Sales Managers Step in to Close the Deal?
The hardest part of sales management may be knowing when to step in and when to take a back seat as your reps learn the ropes, particularly in front of the customer. As tough as it is, it's often critical for the development of individual reps – and your team as a whole – to let them pave their own way. 

Are Your Sales Contacts Quality or Quantity?
With LinkedIn and Facebook making a public display of the numbers of "connections" or "friends" we have, it's tempting to equate numbers with success. But long-term sales success isn't about the quantity of your connections; it's about quality.

How Can Comparison Questions Help the Sale?
Sure, asking questions can lead to a sale. Asking the right questions, however, can win loyal business for years to come.

Where Can You Add Value?
What pushes business forward and paves the way for bigger sales? More value. One classic way to find opportunities to create value is to take a product or service and add something to it.


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Can You Triple Your Sales Growth in This Economy?

Duane-sparksThis guest post was written by Duane Sparks, creator of Action Selling and chairman of The Sales Board. Duane also wrote a best-selling book entitled Action Selling.



A small-but-mighty company shows how to achieve quantum growth by installing the right selling system in the right way.

Barcode equipment reseller Supply Chain Services Inc. (SCS), of Stillwater, MN, did something remarkable in 2011: it grew revenues by 60 percent – with no loss of profit margin. Even the company's 
managers were surprised. A year ago, they thought they were being plenty ambitious when they set a growth goal of 20 percent.

BlogWhat happened? First, SCS acquired a new owner and CEO, Chip Emery. Second, Emery introduced a new sales system: Action Selling. Third, SCS made sure that every employee, not just the salespeople, received training in the Action Selling system.

That unusual third step – the idea of spreading training throughout the company – was crucial to achieving the eye-popping 60 percent growth rate. It allowed SCS to weave the new system into the organization so thoroughly that everyone – managers, technicians, and salespeople – could speak the same language and pull in the same direction. 

As SCS's chief operating officer, Dave Green, puts it, "Action Selling provided the system, the language, and the sales culture that we needed to execute our ambitious growth strategy. What are we doing better today? We use Action Selling to differentiate ourselves in a commodity marketplace. We have dramatically improved our ability to assess the customer's needs and fit our solutions to those needs. And we confidently ask for commitment.  We didn't do that before we were trained in Action Selling."

SCS's feat – 60 percent growth in a down economy – was enabled by integrating Action Selling into the company's day-to-day life.  Every week, SCS's four top executives conduct sales call planning sessions with their sales force. They use the language and process of Action Selling to drill down to specific, concrete situations that the salespeople face on the job. What gets practiced and managed gets done. "Our team functions differently today," says Emery. "I can't think of a single job that we didn't win since [using] Action Selling."

Is Everybody On Board?

The fact that Action Selling is an effective system, one that can demonstrably improve sales performance, makes it a great tool. But the results you get from any tool depend on how you use it.  "The difference between good and great lies in how thoroughly you absorb what the system gives you," Green says. "When salespeople start to believe in and live the Action Selling process, that's how you get the extra lift. Everything you need to accomplish this is built into the Action Selling training and coaching system."

But it's more than just salesperson buy-in. "Everyone in our company sees and understands the benefits of Action Selling," Green says. "Our technical staff has a better idea of what we can do to satisfy a customer's needs. Our salespeople sell with far more confidence. Management understands what's going on in the field. We're very close to the customer because of how well we communicate with our sales force on every deal."

Action Selling was the perfect choice for SCS, Green says. "We waded in, studied and practiced hard, saw immediate results, and then practiced harder. Now we're exceeding our ambitious sales goals.  I recommend Action Selling to anyone who is serious about growing their business."

View the corresponding video for this story:

Full disclosure: The Sales Board is a customer of Selling Power.(

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Killing Email in the Name of Sales Performance? It’s Possible.

Cabrera_newToday's blog post is by Christopher Cabrera, CEO of Xactly Corporation, the industry leader in sales compensation automation.


The French information-technology company Atos recently announced that it will give up email over the next 18 months. Instead, all 74,000 employees will use instant messaging and a Facebook-like interface for internal communication. Atos CEO Thierry Breton said 90 percent of the emails employees receive are not useful, and 18 percent is spam. Breton has not sent an email in three years. (Source: WSJ)

Here's how I think Atos stands to benefit from its email ban:

  • Easy sharing of content across the company
  • Elimination of spam and unwanted email from outside the organization
  • Instant collaboration, which will lead to more collaborative solutions
  • Higher-quality company communication because dedicated internal channels won't co-mingle with external platforms

Is Email Dead, As Some Pundits Have Predicted?

This remarkable departure from email reflects a radical shift in the corporate culture and illustrates how social technology transforms workplace communication. Point-to-point email communication seems to get displaced by social information streams that everybody in the company can join to collaborate, comment, challenge, and vote on. I am reminded of the free flow of information in an ancient Greek forum, where every citizen contributed to the ongoing dialogue aimed at improving the state.

Today, autocratic leadership is taking a backseat to community ownership. Our Chatter and Jive culture allows employees to contribute to the corporate information streams in real time. These live conversations instantly reflect and shape what's taking place in a company. They empower every employee to feel he or she has a meaningful stake in the company. Everyone contributes to the welfare of customers and the company.

Technology motivates people to truly participate in the progression of their culture and company. It's also important to note that the boundaries of the workplace have shifted. Work is no longer a place we go to. Work is what happens in the Cloud. We need only a browser to connect to people around the globe 24/7.

Inspiration and Compensation in a Time of Transformation

The new workplace offers employees a huge opportunity to contribute their ideas and talents, and as a result, companies need to rethink their compensation strategies. Visionary sales leaders transform their operations, not to serve and support those who are reluctant to change, but to empower a future generation of technology-enabled high performers who are motivated to leap tall buildings. As sales leaders, we need to constantly align our processes, including our modes of communication, to reflect these shifting priorities.

When you provide the right motivation, you can influence how employees act and salespeople sell. As our adage at Xactly goes, "incent right, sell more."

Are your salespeople, processes, and technology aligned to inspire your sales force? What are you doing to cultivate a future-oriented corporate culture that attracts and retains top talent and promotes excellent performance?


To learn how to improve sales performance by leveraging what Gen Y cares about, check out Xactly's “Tips for Incenting Gen Y.

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4 Sales Management Resolutions for 2012

Many sales managers today are finding themselves leading teams that are not as effective as the 2012 gg blog post
competition. Why is that? 

It all starts with the sales process. When the sales process is weighed down by outmoded methodologies, leadership, and people, your sales reps are more vulnerable to failure.

If you haven't already started, now is a perfect time to shake off the dust and get in gear for 2012. Here are my four New Year's resolutions for sales managers -- each one is based on changes I've seen in sales management in the past year. Use them to get your team on the path to sales success today. 

Resolution #1
I will create content that attracts customers.

Many sales teams are struggling because they work for companies that are failing to respond to the new ways that customers are buying. I routinely talk to sales leaders who do not see the need to optimize their B2B websites to capture and follow up on inbound leads. They don’t take advantage of marketing automation software. They have no online sales channel. They think social media is a waste of time and have little or no presence on Twitter. They’d rather have their reps out selling than blogging or connecting with new prospects on LinkedIn. Yet these are all steps that leading companies are taking to engage with an audience and turn prospects into loyal customers.

Keep this in mind: Good content stimulates curiosity, sparks online conversations, and encourages "likes" and online engagement. Seize the opportunity in 2012 to become the conversation leader and content leader in your field. In 2012, good content will pave the road to more closed sales.

Resolution #2 
I will create messaging that gets our customers to open their minds.

Right before a meeting, your reps should be able to pull up vital information about the prospect’s company and industry in order to set the stage for a relevant dialogue. Access to the right information is the first step. Translating this information into messages that engage and persuade customers is the second step -- that's an area where many salespeople come up short. 

Last month at the Sales Strategies in a Social & Mobile World Conference, I invited sales executives from sponsor companies to deliver a one-minute elevator pitch to the entire audience onstage. While we heard a number of creative and compelling messages, some of these pitches didn't have traction. 

In 2012 you want to make sure that your salespeople are able to deliver a message that opens their customers' minds. You also want to make sure they will follow up with a clear value proposition. If they don't, their clients won't open their wallets.  

Resolution #3
I will create top performing sales reps. 

A recent report on how successful companies are creating opportunities for new and better sales shows that leading organizations are opting for short and timely training programs that can be disseminated virtually and accessed at any time. If you create a winning sales culture – one that empowers reps to learn new skills through training, share collective knowledge, and tap internal resources that can help them sell more effectively – the top performers will come knocking.

Resolution #4
I will hold everyone responsible for the sale companywide. 

Another mental shift that many sales managers need to make is that sales is not an island. Because today’s customer has often completed up to 80% of the buying cycle before even coming into contact with a sales rep, it’s important that all departments be empowered to act as sales support. 

If finance and legal work in silos it will be impossible to create an effective sales negotiation strategy. If sales and marketing are not aligned, it will be hard to optimize your company's sales potential.

Today, sales management success is about being social and mobile. You can’t always control when and where customers find you, but you can control your social presence and your level of engagement. This is great news for sales managers who want to succeed in 2012. Sales success has always been an art, but it is now equally about science. As a sales manager, your job is not to get there before the competition or win the war on price. Your job is to equip your team to find and follow the right opportunities, engage with prospects early and with intelligence, and create an overall culture of success.  

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Image via Grant Cochrane/

Why B2B and B2C Sales are Different

Geoffreyj2_12150Geoffrey James is an award-winning journalist and author who writes a daily column on selling for He previously wrote Sales Machine, the world's most-visited sales-oriented blog, and has written hundreds of articles for such publications as Technology Marketing and Selling PowerHe can be reached at

 I'm not a sales guru, and I don't do sales training. I'm a reporter who writes about sales techniques and technology. You've probably seen my feature article in SellingPower magazine, my erstwhile Sales Machine blog on CBS, or my daily column on

I've interviewed dozens of sales experts and trainers and discussed sales technique and sales management with hundreds of sales managers and professionals. The most important thing I've learned is that business-to-business (B2B) selling is fundamentally different from business-to-consumer (B2C) selling, and attempts to bundle the two into a single set of winning behaviors are doomed to failure.

As I point out in my newly published book, How to Say It: Business to Business Selling: Power Words and Strategies from the World's Top Sales Experts, there are several reasons why it's silly to treat B2B like B2C:

  • The B2B buyer is vastly more sophisticated. Because the Internet makes comparative pricing information publicly available, it is not at all unusual for a buyer in a B2B transaction to know more about the product category and competition than the sales professionals who are trying to sell that type of product.
  • The stakes are much higher. B2B buyers and decision makers are being paid high salaries to understand what they’re buying and how it will be used. They can lose career points and get fired if they make a wrong decision, something that never happens when a consumer purchases a lousy consumer product.
  • B2B selling requires more knowledge. When you're selling to businesses, it's not enough to understand a product and be able to present it coherently. B2B selling generally involves diagnosing a customer's challenges and then coming up with a customized solution that may very well involve a long-term business partnership.
  • B2B selling demands better people skills. When consumers buy a product, typically there is only one decision maker involved (or possibly two, like a husband and wife). Corporate buying decisions can involve dozens of decision makers, influences, stakeholders, and naysayers. It takes extraordinary abilities to work with many different types of people, all of whom have different agendas.
  • B2B selling involves more patience. Even big-ticket consumer sales (such as homes and cars) can be completed in a day or week at most. By contrast, B2B deals can involve weeks and months of intermittent activity, meetings, phone calls, and back-and-forth documents as the deal moves through the customer bureaucracy.
  • B2B selling is more sensitive to economic disruption. One of the first things to take place in an economic crisis is that firms lock down purchasing, add more layers of decision making, and demand concessions from their vendors. This happens even for deals that have already been signed, and such tactics derail even the best-designed sales campaign.
  • B2B selling involves large sums of money. In consumer sales, million-dollar deals are unusual and limited primarily to luxury homes. In B2B selling, by contrast, deals that involve millions of dollars are so commonplace as to be unremarkable. Even billion-dollar deals are struck from time to time.

Why do so many people continue to treat B2B sales like B2C sales? I think it's a legacy from the days when B2B selling consisted mostly of providing information and taking orders. It was simpler back then, and so the simple techniques that worked in B2C environments still worked in B2B. 

Not any longer.

P.S.: My new book is dedicated to Gerhard Gschwandtner, who has taken the time, on several occasions, to coach me personally, advise my career, and encourage my writing. I can't thank him enough.

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The Actual Cost of Sales and Marketing Misalignment

Donal-dalyThis guest blog post is by Donal Daly, CEO of the TAS Group. He shares sales insights, hindsight and a little foresight on his sales and technology blog, Dealmaker365 (previously Sales20Network).

In many quarters, the (mis)alignment between the sales and marketing departments is a cause of some debate and the source of many opinions and much frustration. Apathy and anxiety are mixed in equal part, some saying that's how it always is, and others – searching for a higher return on that "50 percent of marketing that works" – are anxious to discover the real cost. Well, the results are in, and alignment really matters.

In fact, there can be a difference in quota attainment of up to 25 percent between those organizations where sales and marketing are singing in harmony versus those where these two interdependent functions are just singing their individual tunes, more counterpoint than on point.

The source of this data is the Dealmaker Index Global Benchmark Study,  a free global sales service where you can score your sales effectiveness relative to your peers and get advice on how to improve. One of the areas addressed in the Dealmaker Index study is the alignment between sales and marketing.

From the chart here, you can see that quota attainment is much greater at those companies where these two departments are working well together. If you've been agitating in your company to increase cooperation between these two functions (as I know many of you have), well, here is some independent data that you may choose to use.

Of course, alignment between sales and marketing is also a predictor of win rate, but far less so (about 15 percent delta) than overall quota achievement. In many ways, this is not too surprising, but it is a little disappointing. Here, the inference is that the salesperson can win the deal anyway, whether supported by marketing or not, but it also suggests that marketing's input frequently stops at the top of the funnel. Marketing should be equally engaged in moving deals through the funnel, thereby impacting win rate and overall pipeline velocity, as it is at filling the top of the funnel.

I'd love to hear whether you think the relationship between sales and marketing in your organization is truly synergistic or if there is room for improvement. If you've not done so already, you can also participate in the Dealmaker Index benchmark study and see how you score and rank against your peers and what advice you get to improve.

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