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July 2014

Turn Content into Sales Currency

JimBurnsToday's post is by Jim Burns, president of Avitage Consulting LLC, a content operations management firm.  



Content is the currency by which your salespeople capture attention, generate interest, and provide innovative insight that earns solid relationships. 

Right now, most companies still do a lousy job supporting salespeople with content that's buyer relevant, useful, and ready to deliver for specific selling situations. Although some companies have conquered this persistent problem, even the most forward-thinking firms have yet to discover a critical, untapped area for sales content. 

When you think of "content," I bet you're thinking documents, presentations, and maybe videos. We refer to this as "structured content." But what about "unstructured content"? Unstructured content is content that is not constrained by document formats. For example, think of the raw language in PDFs, articles, blogs, or your recorded Webinars and videos.

According to Gartner Group, unstructured content “represents as much as 80 percent of an organization’s total information assets. While Big Data technologies and techniques are well suited to exploring unstructured information, this ‘Big Content’ remains grossly underutilized and its potential largely unexplored." 

Why Salespeople Need Unstructured Content

Salespeople and marketers need this source material to improve the quality and consistency of new content they create for customer-specific purposes. We recommend that companies prepare inventories of unstructured content that is customer relevant and sales ready for each customer problem you address, selling purposes, the buyer’s role, buying stage, and even industry context. 

Specific examples of inventories include the following:

  • Emails (for all key selling scenarios and versions)
  • Customer stories and proof points
  • Facts, trends, and research findings
  • Answers to customer questions and objections
  • Tweets and LinkedIn and Google+ short posts
  • Curated articles (company and third party) with summary explanations
  • Key messages – recommended language and phrases

Marketers and salespeople need content for different purposes. We paraphrase work by Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen and ask, “What is the ‘job’ your salespeople and their buyers ‘hire’ your content to do?” 

Here are some specific purposes, or jobs, your content might need to address:

  • Generating attention and interest (leads)
  • Supporting conversation
  • Educating, providing innovative insight (aka thought leadership)
  • Explaining, proving, answering questions
  • Equipping third parties for conversations (referrals or internal selling)
  • Coaching, training, reinforcing

To be truly effective, this content may need to be created, edited, or assembled just before delivery by people closest to each situation. This process is better, faster, and easier when it involves more editing of quality source elements than original creation.

Ask people in your organization who use Microsoft OneNote or Evernote what I'm talking about. They have "curated" useful insight, language, article links, research reports, and other raw text. They leverage curation to reduce the time and effort required to create new content. 

It's time to institutionalize this behavior. If you want salespeople to sell using insight, information, and compelling stories, you had better source them. Better still, set up a process and culture (we call this Content Source) to continuously acquire additions to these inventories as new resources are created or discovered.*

Do you curate unstructured content in your organization to support sales? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.

*Try Witty Parrot to deploy Content Source to groups, across the enterprise, and into the sales channel. (Note: We are a user but not employed by Witty Parrot.) 

Four Ways to Think outside the Sales-Compensation Box

ErikCharlesToday’s post is by Erik Charles, incentives strategist at Xactly Corporation. For more insight on compensation and sales leadership, listen to a recording of his recent Webinar, “How to Become a More Creative Sales Leader,” with Selling Power founder Gerhard Gschwandtner. 

When it comes to sales compensation, some sales managers play it safe because they don’t believe they can disrupt the status quo, but there’s innovative potential in all of us to make positive changes. Here are some ways sales managers can get creative about aligning, compensating, and motivating their teams. 

Tip #1: Differentiate by role. 

Many sales organizations don’t differentiate by role, but this is a mistake. People like to know where they fit in the team. Knowing how his or her specific role helps the company meet its goals can inspire each employee to perform better.

The varying positions in sales require people with very different skill sets and personalities. Having a “farmer” on your team who handles renewals and reaches out to existing clients lowers your churn rate and ensures that you keep existing customers while taking on new ones. Similarly, it works in your favor to have a “specialist” who speaks your customer’s language. This person likely has a strong background in customer support, understands every technicality of the product, and can provide support during demos.

Tip #2: Provide quota relief.

Two decades in the sales industry has taught me many things that often surprise sales leaders, one of those things being that quota relief, the act of lowering a rep’s quota due to extenuating circumstances, can be necessary and even result in higher performance. It’s all about market consideration. Let’s say there was a major natural disaster in a rep’s territory. It’s likely to legitimately affect his or her ability to close deals. Relief should be considered in this instance.

Tip #3: Promote cross-sellers.

If you want to promote a rep to a management position, don’t the common mistake of promoting your best hunter. Instead, look for ones who cross sell like champs. Why? Great cross-sellers are skilled at seeing things from different perspectives. That’s a trait that is more likely to help them succeed in a management role. 

Tip #4: Experiment with incentives.

Has it been a while since you used a SPIF? Maybe it’s time to put more than just cash on the table. Tap into your reps’ personal interests. We’ve seen World Series tickets work wonders as a sales incentive. My guess is that the status symbol of being at the game, your colleagues knowing you won, and the ability to publicize being at the game on social media outweighs a bonus check of equal value. 

To find out more ways you can innovate as a sales leader, listen to a recording of the recent Webinar “How to Become a More Creative Sales Leader.”

Turnover: The Silent Sales Killer

TroyHarrisonToday’s post is by speaker, consultant, and sales navigator Troy Harrison, author of Sell Like You Mean It! Email him at, or visit



I answered the phone this afternoon, and an earnest voice said, “Hello, Mr. Harrison? This is Chris, and I’m your new representative with Company X.  I’m calling to introduce myself and see if we could set up a time to chat so I could learn about your business, and we could see if Company X could do more for you.” 

Company X is a vendor with whom I have done business for six years. I’m loyal to this company because it provides a service that helps me. I spend quite a bit of money with this company, and I’m sure that when Chris looked at my account, he figured he had a pretty solid customer and a good sales call. That’s why I’m sure that my response was a huge surprise to him (and it might be to you, as well).

“I’m sorry, Chris, but that wouldn’t be a good use of my time or yours,” I told him. Chris seemed shocked, so I decided to explain fully. 

“You see, I get a call just like this every six months from your company. About every six months, more or less, I have a new rep who wants to spend time being a resource to me. I’ve had several of these conversations, and I just don’t have the time for another. I’m already buying what I need from your company, so there’s no up-sell potential for you. I wish you the best. I have your contact information, and if I need you, I’ll call.”

He said, “Well, I do appreciate your candor.”  

I told him, “I’m not trying to be rude. I’ll tell you what, call me on your one-year anniversary, and I’ll give you all the time you want.” 

Chris was disappointed, but I meant what I said. I doubt, based on past experience, that I’ll get that call on his one-year anniversary.

Turnover in sales is a sales and relationship killer. Sooner or later, customers get tired of hearing, “I’m your new salesperson.”  For those salespeople who jump jobs and are saying, “I’m now with a new company,” your customers get tired of that, as well. In both cases, credibility and relationships are the victims.

The reason I wouldn’t speak with Chris was exactly as I told him: it wouldn’t be a good use of my time. By the time he’s getting it figured out, he’ll probably be gone, and I’ll be getting a call from yet another new salesperson. I like to train salespeople – but only when I’m paid to do so.

Here are the raw facts: there is a learning curve for salespeople in any job. Stats show that salespeople reach basic competence in six months, become profitable for the hiring company between month 12 and month 18, and don’t reach full productivity until year three or year four.  When salespeople change jobs within that three-year window (or worse, the one-year window), that tells me that they don’t know what it’s like to reach full productivity.

Ultimately, excess turnover is a problem for our profession, but there are a few things that salespeople, sales managers, and company owners can do to curb it.

For Salespeople

Stand and fight. There are many stated reasons that salespeople short-time a job; however, the main reason is that things get a bit tough, and the salesperson bails. Sales isn’t always an easy career, but the best, most successful salespeople fight through the problems and emerge victorious. 

Stop chasing shiny objects. One of the biggest reasons for turnover is that salespeople chase.  What do they chase? Shiny objects. To put it another way, they chase the new opportunity that seems so much better than the current job – more money, better technology, different territory, etc. I recently interviewed a guy who said that he was a “chaser of the best technology in [his] space at any given time.” This was to explain six job changes in the last 10 years, none of which produced significantly better results or income. Don’t get me wrong: I know that there are times when the only way to advance your career is to make a change, but those changes should be infrequent and well thought out.

For Sales Managers

Hire smart. Too many hires are simply future turnover in the making. Sales managers, lacking a good basis or tools for hiring, simply make “gut hires” that don’t produce results. Lower turnover is the result of good hiring practices.

Coach before firing. Once you have hired someone, you owe it to yourself, as well as to your hire, to give him or her every reasonable opportunity to succeed. That means termination should be a last resort, not a first. The first resort is to troubleshoot and coach your salesperson. You should terminate only when you can look at yourself in the mirror and honestly say that you gave your salesperson a shot. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that both hiring and coaching are well covered in my Unconventional Guide to Sales Management audio course.

For Company Owners

Take a long-term approach. Building a quality sales force isn’t something that happens week by week or necessarily quarter by quarter. It happens over the long haul. In the case of the sales rep who contacted me, I’m sure that ownership or upper management has established a set of standards that basically wash out new sales reps after about six months, hence my frequent calls from new reps. 

Hire a quality sales manager. Quality sales managers coach and improve sales performance; they are drivers of the sales effort, not the passengers. If that’s not your sales manager, it’s time to invest in coaching or training for that person – or rethink who you’ve put in that managerial position.

Turnover has many costs, but it doesn’t have to be a sales killer. The right approach to building a sales force can greatly reduce turnover – which puts profit on your bottom line.

Ending the War between Sales and Marketing

BillWallaceToday's post is by Bill Wallace, vice president of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm. 



Can’t We All Just Get Along? 

More than 40 percent of business-to-business (B2B) sales professionals missed quota in 2013, according to research from CSO Insights. The culprit, if you ask sales, is often the quality and volume of leads from marketing. Marketing, on the other hand, blames the sales team for ignoring leads and not working hard or fast enough to close them.

It’s a problem as old as business itself: sales and marketing just can’t seem to get on the same page. Group counseling with human resources, team-building events, and joint meetings have failed to get the two groups to perform seamlessly.

Getting Sales and Marketing on the Same Page

Often, the question then becomes, how can marketing and sales align? This question, however, is flawed. You can’t align the groups to one another; you can align them only to a common go-to-market strategy and sales process. This is the best way to create synergy and value for both departments, as well as for your targeted customers. 

Essentially, a go-to-market strategy bridges the gap between the business plan and your chosen markets. It helps define the type of marketing and sales messaging you want to use and answers these strategic questions, among others:

  • What is the basis of our innovation? Are we going to focus on product, process, or client business impact?
  • How will clients perceive our value? Do we want to be the low-cost provider, be the total solution, or guarantee business results? 
  • What do we want our brand to stand for? Are we the dependable purchase, the company that fixes operational problems, or advisors on important business issues?
  • How do we want our sales professionals to perform? Should they be premiere transaction providers, trusted specialists, or political insiders? 

This is an intentional approach to crafting how you will execute in the marketplace. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t know the right approach for their business or fail to communicate their chosen approach to the different functional groups. As a result, sales and marketing perform their duties in separate silos. This lack of alignment is expensive and hurts company performance. The resulting organizational drag creates results that are less than optimal, wasted resources and budget, and low morale. If we can reverse this, companies see substantial improvement on important performance metrics: sales cycles are shorter, market-entry costs go down, and the cost of sales is lower.

Once a common go-to-market strategy has been determined, each group needs to understand what success looks like. At this point, marketing activities MUST be aligned with the steps in the sales process. The sales process is the methodology that sales uses to work from an initial prospect meeting through a closed/fulfilled revenue opportunity. Each step in the sales process helps to improve the probability of winning new business – if thoughtfully executed. Marketing should review these steps in order to create key activities that will drive or support each step in the sale. This begins with initial targeting of accounts or key client contacts and continues to fulfillment and measurement of a new opportunity.

To reiterate: first the groups must be aligned to a common go-to-market strategy and then to the steps in the sales process. The next step is to review current marketing activities to determine if they are truly in lockstep with the sales process. Marketing’s effort can shorten sales cycles if it’s designed to bring value to the potential client throughout the buying path.

Aligning sales and marketing to a common go-to-market strategy and ensuring that marketing activities are supportive of each step in the chosen sales process is almost guaranteed to positively increase revenue, win rate, and margin.

This isn’t an easy set of tasks, but it can be done. Decide to end the conflict. Working together is fun; working against each other is misery. The good news is that there is a proven way to end the war, but it requires leadership and a willingness to take the gloves off.

Hear more about Sales & Marketing Convergence from Bill Wallace and Revenue Storm at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Las Vegas on September 18, 2014.

How to Negotiate Successfully through the Sales Process

Marty FinkleToday’s post is by Marty Finkle, CPT, CEO of the Parsippany, New Jersey-based Scotwork North America ( Contact him at



It’s time to make a deal with the prospect, so you unleash your negotiation skills – but by then, it may be too late to make a meaningful difference. You need to incorporate strategic negotiation into the entire sales process, from start to finish, for each lead you qualify.

Be Curious and Ask the Right Questions

Begin by analyzing the key issues from the prospect’s standpoint. Be curious about the person’s intentions, goals, motivation, limits, and areas he or she can be flexible. Some questions to ask:

  • “What are your intended results?”

  • “What type of agreement would make you look good to colleagues at your company?”

  • “What are your priorities when making this purchase, e.g., price, service, or duration of contract?”

  • “On what terms can you be flexible?”

Listen carefully to the responses, and at various points during the negotiation, summarize the other side’s point of view out loud so there are no misunderstandings. These practices may also help you uncover a hidden agenda and recognize when your negotiating partner is ready to close. Plus, you’ll be able to shape your negotiation strategy throughout the rest of the sales process.

Practice 8 Steps to Successful Negotiation

1. Prepare

Clarify your objectives and develop wish and concession lists, while anticipating what will be important to the client.

2. Argue

Rehearse your opening statements, ask questions, listen carefully to the answers, and exchange additional information.

3. Signal

Be alert to the prospect’s signals (verbal and nonverbal), which may reveal needs that you didn’t pick up in prior sessions.

4. Propose

Trade with the prospect to secure specific and practical items of greater value to you (e.g., higher prices, longer-term contract, and later deadlines) while conceding items of lesser value.  

5. Package

Give those on the other side what they want – on your terms – and shape your proposal based on any uncovered needs.

6. Bargain

Set a price for the prospect’s demands, and put conditions before offers with this type of statement: “If you agree to sign a two-year contract, then we’ll provide delivery at a 25 percent discount for the first twelve months.”

7. Close

For a trial closing, you can ask, “Are you saying that if we agree to provide delivery at a 25 percent discount for the first twelve months, you’ll sign a two-year contract?” This type of question encourages the prospect to reveal any hidden issues and should enable you to close the negotiation.

8. Agree

Clarify potential ambiguities, and confirm that the terms of the agreement are acceptable and can be implemented by both parties.

Negotiate So Both Sides Come out Smiling

Don’t view success as “we win, you lose,” an approach that won’t lead to long-term relationships. Instead, seek to understand the prospect’s needs so you can offer a practical solution while at the same time getting what’s important to you, such as a longer-term contract, flexibility in service, and ultimately higher revenue.

Honest Sales

Pownall 2Today’s guest post is by Chris R. Pownall, author of eight books, including Funny How Things Work Out


Having spent nearly 40 years working in technical sales, I feel reasonably confident about passing on some of what truly worked for me. I believe good, sustainable business can be built only on the basis of truth and honesty.

I recall my interview in 1967, when I was applying for the role of a trainee technical representative with a very well-known engineering manufacturing company. The interview was conducted by the area manager, and following the usual questions about qualifications and experience, he asked me how I would react if one of my major customers experienced lost manufacturing product because I was unable to supply a critical component when required.

“What would you say to your customer?” he asked. Without hesitation, I told him I would tell the truth, and I would explain what actions were been taken to rectify the situation. The area manager gave a big smile and commented that it was company policy to always tell the truth, and that was a strong indicator to me that I was applying for employment with a reliable company that had the kind of values with which I could identify.

Well, I was successful with my application, and as this was my first job in sales, I had to prove myself throughout a probationary period, and then I was tasked with maintaining existing business and developing new business across a wide range of industry sectors. I very soon discovered that I wasn’t selling the cheapest products on the market but some of the most expensive; therefore, I had to develop a sales approach built on honesty, trust, and product reliability.

From the very beginning, I never made any false or misleading claims about any of the wide portfolio of engineering products. Instead, I did my research, looking into many case histories, and built a catalogue of successful product applications that I could use in support of my sales pitch.

When I was cold calling, I would generally ask the potential customer to give me an opportunity to resolve any difficult sealing requirements, and I would attempt to provide a viable solution. Time after time, this sales technique proved to be successful, and many a door was opened in this way.

As my career progressed and I was promoted into sales management, I carried with me the same values regarding honesty and trust, both with my customers, as well as with the sales team that reported to me. I provided a lot of training – both technical and sales training – and I expected all my salespeople to study and work very hard in the pursuit of increased sales. I suppose I was a hard boss, but I never asked them to do anything I wasn’t prepared to do myself, and I always tried hard to support them when things weren’t going according to plan.

I required them to maintain customer records and operate an individual activity plan, which set out their sales strategy to grow the business within their area of responsibility. This all started before the advent of computers, and it was a little labour intensive, maintaining and updating ongoing sales activities. Some resisted, but the better salespeople bought into it, and they were the ones who proved to successfully advance their careers. I used to say to colleagues that I would rather have a brilliant salesperson for two years than a mediocre one for 10 years. The trick was to keep the good ones, and my record shows that a fair proportion of those I recruited advanced within the organization.

As my career progressed further, I became an industry specialist, and this required a great deal more study into products and applications. I attended many training courses both offered within the company and without, including the Cranfield School of Management. While I learned a great deal about professional sales techniques, I always held on to my basic philosophy that simple is good, and integrity and honesty is always the best policy.

Later in my long career, I was asked to work overseas, and my travels took me to many corners of the world. I remember the first time I was required to go to the United States, and while I relished the challenge, I realized that, in breaking new ground in the United States, where there are many indigenous manufacturing competitors, I would need to take something to the party. The first thing I did was research the key US competitors and do some product matching, and at the same time I looked for some unique selling points within my products that I could use to good effect when pitching against the US competition. I started using “value in service” and “cost of ownership” to promote my products, and I was able to demonstrate projected cost savings based upon quality and value rather than price.

On my very first visit to the United States, I had an opportunity to present to the chief engineer of a steel plant. He listened intently to my pitch and then set about questioning some of the statements I had made, and in all cases, I was able to substantiate the claims using third-party references of similar applications.

Toward the end of my career, when I became an industrial marketing director with responsibility for the global metallurgical industries, I started using return-on-investment (ROI) plans to introduce more advanced products. If I could substantiate projections from the customer’s operating data, I was able to put a value to the service advantages of the products I was promoting (value in service).

I have attended numerous external sales courses, where I encountered many gimmicky sales techniques that I considered to be designed to outwit sales resistance from potential customers. They were not for me. Of course, you have to have a good employer behind you, and I was extremely fortunate to serve almost 40 years with a company that had a very strong brand identity, plus the necessary values and standards to move the business forward in line with shareholders’ expectations.  

I stick by my simplistic approach, promoting value and honesty.

Culture Woes at General Motors: 3 Takeaways for Sales Leaders


Today’s guest post is by Tristam Brown, CEO of LSA Global. Download one of his latest white papers, “Top 5 Warning Signs that Your Performance Environment and Culture May Be in Trouble.”


Back in 2009 when General Motors (GM) first filed for bankruptcy, things weren’t looking totally dismal. GM recaptured some lost market share, posted profits, and garnered positive attention from critics and consumers over new vehicle models.

Then came the tidal wave of recalls. As of early June, GM had issued 44 recalls in 2014 (here’s the ongoing tally of GM recalls). The real headline grabber was issued on February 7, 2014, when GM recalled a whopping 800,000 cars due to faulty ignition switches, which could shut off the engine while it was being driven and prevent the airbags from inflating. According to CNNMoney, GM has already recalled “more cars and trucks in the U.S. [in 2014] than it has sold here in the five years since it filed for bankruptcy."

What’s worse than the billions of dollars GM has lost in revenue and the damage to its brand is the fact that these recalls have so far been linked to at least 54 car crashes and 13 deaths. The company is currently facing a federal criminal probe to investigate these matters, and journalists are pulling back the curtain on a pass-the-buck-and-keep-your-head-down corporate culture. According to one report by Bloomberg Businessweek (“GM Recalls: How General Motors Silenced a Whistle-Blower”), the head of a nationwide GM inspection program, Courtland Kelley, was put on a career ice floe after repeated attempts to raise awareness about product flaws:

“Kelley had been the head of a nationwide GM inspection program and then the quality manager for the Cobalt’s predecessor, the Cavalier. He found flaws and reported them, over and over, and repeatedly found his colleagues’ and supervisors’ responses wanting. He thought they were more concerned with maintaining their bureaucracies and avoiding expensive recalls than with stopping the sale of dangerous cars. Eventually, Kelley threatened to take his concerns to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Frustrated with the limited scope of a recall of sport-utility vehicles in 2002, he sued GM under a Michigan whistle-blower law. GM denied wrongdoing, and the case was dismissed on procedural grounds. Kelley’s career went into hibernation; he was sent to work in another part of the company, and GM kept producing its cars.”

It seems this was hardly an isolated case. According to the Valukas Report, compiled by attorney Anton Valukas as part of an internal investigation and published in early June, GM has systematically been suppressing product-safety concerns from employees for at least a decade. In its by-the-numbers summary of the Valukas Report, the Wall Street Journal noted that it took GM 11 years after first learning about its defective engine switch to issue a recall.

What can sales leaders learn from GM’s woes?

1)   Culture matters. Culture is not “soft” stuff best left to human resources. It is a critical consideration for leaders and has an impact on everything from your ability to hire the right people to your level of success in pursuing a given business strategy. One recent Harvard Business School research report described how an effective culture can account for up to half of the differential in performance between organizations in the same business.

2)   Culture exists at all levels. Your company’s culture does not begin and end with you. What your employees do day in and day out is a reflection of your brand and how you do business. At GM, supervisors and executives were actively ignoring safety concerns pushed up from employees. As a leader, you want to think about what messages aren’t getting through to you.

3)   Culture is not whether you win or lose business. A winning organizational culture is not necessarily one that promotes revenue over all else (though it certainly could be). Your culture reflects your corporate values. Those values drive key business practices and behavior. Internally, GM employees became familiar with “the GM nod.” Safety issues might be reported and discussed during meetings, but the tacit understanding was that no one would ever act on these reports, and they would be quietly ignored. Thus GM created a corporate culture that prioritized pushing out faulty products over the safety of its consumers. Think about what kind of behavior your culture promotes and whether it is effectively aligned with your strategy. 

How would you describe your corporate culture? Would your salespeople agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Seize Today's Selling Opportunities: My Interview with @DMScott

At the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco in May I had the opportunity to interview David Meerman Scott, author of Real-Time Marketing & PR. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

  • Many salespeople are so busy selling that they don't have time to actually be helpful.

  • Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. As a story breaks (the story could be about anything, like a regulation change in your industry) people are scrambling to figure out what it means. If you are an expert, you can create a blog post, a video, a tweet to provide value instantly. This is like a wave that builds that you can surf to address a wide audience. As David said, maybe you'll get quoted in the press and maybe a customer will reach out to you.

  • The tools are the easy part -- we have all we need on our mobile phones to participate in the real time economy. But so many salespeople are in campaign mode, just pitching and planning ahead of time to do a particular campaign in future months. The problem with this is that you need to be able to react instantaneously to news that's happening right now.

  • When you're doing real time, you're focused on buyers and their needs rather than focusing on how you happen to sell. That is a major and important shift in perspective for many sellers and marketers.  

  • Today, sales teams need to be able to respond to opportunities from all directions. Conversations drive commerce today.

I really enjoyed my discussion with David, and I thank him for giving a terrific presentation at the Sales 2.0 Conference. We got a very enthusiastic response from the hundreds of B2B sales leaders in attendance. Check out the books he's written here on his website.