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August 2013

The Power of Storytelling

Pat Rogers croppedToday's blog post is by Pat Rogers, VP of Sales & Business Development at NimblePitch.




“So What's Your Story?”

Your salespeople get asked this question countless times, in meetings, at tradeshows and social gatherings, and yes, even in elevators. Do you know how they answer, how they represent your value to buyers?

Since sales began, a seller’s ability to present a relevant, compelling, and memorable story has pretty much dictated how successful he or she is versus his or her competitors. Even from the beginning, these expert storytellers had to know their product inside and out, but more importantly, they needed to know their customers’ world and how using their offering will make the buyer’s world better. Admittedly, this is Sales 101, a premise so fundamental that most of us in the sales trade cannot remember the first time we heard it; nevertheless, this knowledge has not stopped many so-called pros from leading with product, engaging with nonbuyer contacts, launching into mind-numbing slide presentations, and generally maintaining high activity levels only to be frustrated by disappointing results. 

If the Story Is about Your Product, Prepare to Be Commoditized

In today’s brave new world of complex offerings, increased competition, me-too products, and an ever more informed (and many times, confused) buyer, sellers must rely less on the strength of their product as a differentiator and focus on the process itself. That is to say, in a complex, technical sales environment, how your offering is presented and how effectively your sales process involves and connects with an engaged buyer will determine how well the buyer can envision using your product to be more successful.

At the recent Sales 2.0 conference in Boston, one overriding theme was sounded again and again: the buyers have spoken, and if you're not listening, you're in trouble. For us at NimblePitch, the program's agenda helped to underscore our belief that insight-based selling (IBS) demands a fresh perspective on the needs and expectations of buyers. IBS requires a new generation of tools that do more than report on activity; they should actually help salespeople execute their “sales moment” tasks: preparing for a call, engaging and relating to a qualified buyer, crafting follow up that puts the buyer into the story, and then informing and encouraging further exploration.  

Cutting the Cost of Sales

Next-generation sales force effectiveness (SFE) tools are closing the knowledge gap between new and experienced salespeople, enabling even the comparatively inexperienced rep to discuss intricate buyer issues at a business-case level, answer seemingly random questions, skip around, and point out details when called for.  This enabling technology that guides the conversation, rather than dominates it, can shorten the ramp-up time for new reps and minimize the need for multiple company resources to participate in informational, on-site sales calls.

Leverage Insight, not Opinion

Sales teams are also using SFE technology to gauge prospect interest and level of participation in the sales process. Follow-up emails and voicemails can often become a black hole in the sales process. Having insight into how and at what level your buyer is actually connected to and interacting with the follow-up material you provided offers sellers a critical piece of intelligence that can help steer the direction and scope of the next sales interaction. In addition, this level of insight will help salespeople and managers more precisely grade pipeline opportunities, resulting in a more accurate assessment of overall forecast value and timing.

I’d be interested in hearing about how innovative sales-execution tools will impact measurable SFE. Share your thoughts below or connect with me at

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7 Ways to Design a Better Compensation Plan

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


Do you have a devil of a time designing an incentive-compensation plan that motivates your employees and boosts your bottom line? Or maybe the plan is overly complex or isn’t clear enough to convey company priorities to the sales team.

It could be that you’re committing one of the seven deadly sins of incentive compensation.

Michael DeLeonardis, Xactly’s Vice President of Insights and Benchmarking, has examined eight years’ worth of sales-performance data to uncover the comp-plan demons that can damage profit and put your business at risk. Here’s the list he shared in a Selling Power Webinar earlier this month. 

  1. Poor alignment with business objectives. Misalignment usually creeps in with the details of a comp plan. Ramping up sales quotas is one example. It’s a fairly common practice to have lower quotas at the beginning of a sales period, when the emphasis for reps is on building pipeline. Over the course of the sales period, quotas increase. The problem crops up in companies that already struggle with “hockey stick” sales, when the majority of transactions come at the back end of the sales period. Ramping quotas in that scenario further encourages the sales organization to push deals later into the period when quotas are at their highest.

  2. Lack of traceability. To design an optimal incentive-compensation plan, businesses need to be able to pull in data from various systems (such as CRM). Without traceability, they hamper their own ability to directly tie sales reps’ behavior to their payments, measure company and individual success, and thoroughly audit payments.

  3. Not developing benchmarks. It’s critical for companies to effectively measure incentive compensation and sales performance, and benchmarking is a great way to get valuable insight. Organizations can decide which type of benchmarking is right for them: benchmarking against an aggregate group or industry standards or self-benchmarking against goals established at the beginning of the year. With the right data, companies can identify variations from region to region, product to product, and sales rep to sales rep.

  4. Excessive plan components. Xactly research confirms the rule of thumb that three is the ideal number of measures in a compensation plan. Six and seven components indicate an organization that, in effect, is using its plan as another sales manager to compensate for weak leadership.

  5. Excessive credit assignment. About 75 percent of companies credit five or fewer people for each deal. For businesses with complex sales cycles, that number can reasonably go as high as 30. Some outliers, however, credit 161(!) people for a single deal. They may not have the data to credit individuals accurately (remember number 2, lack of traceability), so they move to a team-based model and credit an entire region. In such situations, it’s impossible to tie sales behavior to results.

  6. Compensation plans that don’t motivate. Holds and releases are demotivating because, by the time sales reps get paid, months may have passed and they’ve lost the connection between behavior and reward. A better approach is to break the plan into components: pay a portion of the commission on booking, for example, and the rest upon invoicing or collection.

    Capping commissions is another demotivating practice, and it can prevent sales reps from achieving to their full potential. A recent AMA study tested the theory and found that salespeople performed 24 percent better when they were switched from a fixed bonus plan to an uncapped commission plan.

  7. Eroding profitability through accelerators. Accelerators absolutely motivate salespeople to sell more, but too many unexpected payouts can cut into profit. To help avoid that risk, try modeling three scenarios in your plan-design phase: what you expect sales performance to be, what would happen if a few high-performing reps carry the company and earn far more than expected, and what your financial exposure would be if a large percentage of reps outperform the plan. From there, you can plan for the financial downside or adjust your plan to avoid the exposure.

Listen to the Webinar recording here: The Seven Deadly Sins of Incentive Compensation.

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