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August 2014

Four Warning Signs of an Unstable Sales Team

TristamBrown_200Today's guest post is by Tris Brown, CEO of LSA Global.

 

 


Usually, we can tell a lot about the stability of a sales organization by asking both leaders and direct reports one simple question: “Do you have a clear and compelling sales strategy in place?”

When we ask sales leaders this question, they almost always answer yes. When we ask their direct reports the same thing, they almost always answer no.

What’s the disconnect here?

It is vital that sales leaders tie the daily activities of salespeople directly to the larger goals of the organization. If your employees can’t easily make this connection, you are trying to steer a ship without a rudder. Over the years, we have learned to look for four big warning signs that a sales organization is drifting off course.

Warning sign #1: People in your organization believe that priorities shift a lot.

In many organizations, people either don’t know what to focus on, feel they’re constantly being pushed in multiple directions, or just feel overwhelmed by conflicting and ever-changing agendas. These perceptions translate into an overall sense of confusion, frustration, and disengagement. As a leader, shifting priorities might be a sign that you are making it too difficult for your people to say no and spend their time in the most productive way. It is also a sign that your strategy is not as clear as it needs to be. 

As a leader, make sure that you clearly communicate the top two or three priorities for each team, and make it easy for people to take lower priority items off their plates.

Warning sign #2: People have a laundry list of long-term goals they’re trying to meet.

Leaders at the very top are thinking about all kinds of problems day in and day out, but your managers and salespeople don’t always have the luxury of looking at the big picture and identifying the critical few priorities; that’s what they rely on you to do. When you ask people what they’re trying to accomplish in a given fiscal year, they should name no more than three big goals. 

As a leader, make sure that you help them identify the critical few moves that will make the biggest impact.

Warning sign #3: People are quick to point fingers and blame each other for problems.

The blame game is a common symptom of a directionless organization. If your team is highly focused on assigning blame for mistakes, screw-ups, and failure to meet goals, they’re treading water. You never want to get to the level at which people are more invested in the politics of running a business than actually engaging in business activities. You need to step in and get your team thinking about solutions and collaborations, rather than divisive political maneuvers.   

As a leader, hold people accountable for results and act decisively to quell overly political maneuvers.

Warning sign #4: People are unclear about how their success is measured.

Left to their own devices, people will often pursue either the most urgent items or whatever activities will lead to the highest personal gain, rather than pay attention to the strategic goals of the business as a whole. Salespeople should always be crystal clear about the criteria on which their performance is based.

As a leader, make sure that you measure and incentivize your team to pursue activities that align with your larger strategy. 

Staying vigilant about these four warning signs can save sales leaders a lot of headaches. Strategic clarity can create enormous performance leverage. For example, over a recent four-month period, we helped a high-growth client decrease internal conflicts by 38 percent by simply increasing goal clarity by 6 percent. 

Most sales leaders make assumptions that employees understand far more than they actually do. Make sure you find out what your team really thinks.

Read more in our white paper, "Top 5 Warning Signs that Your Performance Environment May Be in Trouble."


Four Cures for Common Sales-Enablement Headaches

AlexGorbanskyToday's guest post is by Alex Gorbansky, CEO of Docurated.

 

 

 

Talk to most sales reps about sales enablement, and at best you will get a healthy dose of skepticism. At worst they will tell you that it is the bane of their existence. It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, after spending the last few years speaking to hundreds of sales leaders, we have identified four simple steps to curing the ills of sales enablement. 

1. Adopt highly targeted tools.

Many sales-enablement solutions fall flat trying to sell customers on solving the entire sales life cycle’s problems – from prospecting to responding to RFPs to managing leads and contracts. Aggregating disparate workflows into a single tool leads to a Frankenstein-like creation. As a result, rollouts span months (and sometimes years), reps get mediocre capabilities, and administration costs can be two to three times the actual software costs.

Don’t fall into the mediocrity trap. Identify your key pain points and areas of friction, and see if you can solve them with simple, tactical tools. (Solutions our team likes to use include @yesware, @insightsquared, and @InsideSales.)

2. Stop trying to force reps to use materials they don’t find useful (or can’t find at all).

Reps will find creative ways to evade the system and create their own materials and decks (especially when informal materials are the easiest to find and access). Instead of trying to control and limit what your sales team does, empower your team members. For example, give reps the choice of using the “best,” “most popular,” or “custom” case-study slide to help advance a particular deal. “Custom” is important, as your reps have the most knowledge of what will appeal to their prospects. The best content will win, and eventually everyone will want to know how the top performers landed the deal. 

3. Respect your reps’ existing workflows.

It is incredible how some of the most expensive sales-enablement solutions also require the biggest changes in workflow. The expectation is that sales reps will abandon their existing processes and instantly switch to the new solution. When was the last time you saw that work? Look for solutions that seamlessly fit existing workflows or require minimal changes.

4. Before buying, investigate management and deployment costs.

Traditional sales-enablement tools are often just retooled content-management and document-management systems. This model requires upfront costs to get started, and then a dedicated project team is needed to continuously manage new materials, e.g., tag content appropriately, put it in the right folder, let the team know where it is, etc. This approach and these additional internal headcount investments can be a nightmare to scale. Look for simple deployments that don’t require headcount to scale and in which approved content is seamlessly uploaded and presented to your team.


How to Showcase Customer Success Stories in Your Sales Funnel

WillSpendlove

Today's post is by Will Spendlove, vice president of product marketing at InsideView.

 

 

Most sales professionals already use customer success stories, albeit informally, to speed up the sales cycle; however, these stories are not often properly leveraged by marketing. In most cases, this is because marketing thinks the sales team doesn’t have time to share such stories, or the company is waiting until clients have spent a few months using the solution or product to see what measurable results can be rolled into a case study.

Formalizing customer success stories is easier than you think, and one reason is that full-page case studies are being phased out in favor of stories that showcase the customer’s journey in stages, from onboarding to renewal and beyond. That means you don’t have to wait as long or put in as much time to include these stories as part of your formal messaging.

At InsideView, we’re mining opportunities to share and leverage customer success snippets at each stage of the sales funnel, every day. We are always on the lookout for happy customers who are already engaging with our sales, customer-success, and account-management teams. Here’s what we pull out at each stage of the customer lifecycle.

Top-of-the-funnel snippets showcase customer quotes or simple metrics to pique interest and drive leads. For example, a stakeholder at “Customer X” gave glowing feedback to his sales rep about his experience with your product at implementation. Use this feedback in top-of-the-funnel conversations, and post them on your Website’s home page.

Middle-of-the-funnel snippets highlight a customer’s company profile, challenges experienced before implementation, results and metrics after using your product or service, and quotes. For example, “Customer X” had a business review with its customer success manager, and together they identified a couple huge wins over the first few quarters using your product. Use these customer profiles in middle-of-the-funnel conversations, and post them on Web pages strategically. 

Bottom-of-the-funnel snippets are the most in-depth success stories. They dive into product use cases and tell a deeper customer backstory – think video testimonials and prose. For example, “Customer X” now has about a year (or more) of experience with your product. The customer success manager just renewed the account, and your account executive just closed a cross-sale deal. Use this story in bottom-of-the-funnel conversations, and house them in a public success-story directory on your site. 

The success-snippet approach allows sales and marketing to work together to tell a piece of the story at each stage of the sales cycle, and it enables the two teams to work together every step of the way toward quota. As the customer grows, the story becomes a little longer and a little richer. It also helps you build a pipeline of happy customers to talk about in the future so you can close more deals.


The True Purpose of Account Planning

SPlogo

 

Today's guest post is by Selling Power Editors.


 

Which of the goals stated below is the primary purpose of the account-planning process? 

  • To protect and grow revenue and customer loyalty in your account.
  • To coordinate internally among your sales team.
  • To communication progress to your internal senior management and request resources. 

According to insight shared by Ryan Kubacki and Gerhard Gschwandtner in a recent Webinar,Coaching Account Planning: The Five Questions You Need to Ask," all of the above matter. Sales teams conduct account planning because they want to impact customer satisfaction and revenue. But consider how important being on the same page is today, when companies might have hundreds of product specialists and far-flung global teams. When teams are uncoordinated, they lose opportunities to gain intelligence and insight, and senior management needs to understand what’s happening in large accounts, not only because that impacts forecasts but also because those managers need to be driving sales. 

A good account-planning process takes all these objectives into consideration. So what is the key purpose when it comes to protecting and growing accounts? Actually, there are two. The first is very traditional: to service the demands of the existing customer. In order to do that, sales must understand customer needs and mount sales campaigns to address that buying criteria.

The other purpose, which is increasingly important given the way buyers interact with companies today, is creating new demand. It is incumbent upon sales to think about solutions, ideas, and projects the client has not yet thought of or discovered. The function of sales today is to create that key insight. When you can do both, service demand and create new demand, you will have then set the stage to garner executive support. That represents a powerful account-planning dynamic.

Here are five questions you need to ask to achieve success in the account-planning realm: 

1) What is your revenue goal in the account? Seems like a simple question, but it’s often ill defined. If you don’t know, you won’t be able to define success, and the team will drift. 

2) Do you truly understand your customer’s priorities? Sales managers need to know who the key executives are and their biggest concerns, goals, and priorities. Do you know the top three to seven things your customer organization is counting on so it can grow?

3) What can you do to advance the customer’s priorities? This ultimately comes back to the question of what you plan to sell to that customer. Moreover, ask how your offering ties in to the executive priorities listed in the second question. 

4) With whom should you align in order to succeed? Typically, you’ll have existing relationships, but there are also relationships you’ll want to cultivate but don’t yet have. It’s important to organize yourself around the customer’s priorities and map out the executives, both at the enterprise and departmental levels, who might be responsible for those priorities. 

5) What are you counting on to succeed? In strategic accounts, your goals should be tied to strategy, and you should constantly be pursuing no more than seven goals at a time. These are not simple goals, e.g., giving a certain number of presentations. They are challenging goals and, if executed correctly, will advance your position. For example, a strategic goal would be to “get the pilot proof-of-concept established in the retail division so we can get the influence of Joe, who influences Kathy.”

Remember, key account planning is not a one-time event. The points above should all be practiced routinely as part of a process. Proper coaching combined with the right software will help sales teams follow these five steps to start consistently achieving winning results with account planning.

To learn more about how to successfully execute account planning, listen to the Webinar recording “Coaching Account Planning: The Five Questions You Need to Ask.”


The Plight of a Sales Manager

LaVonKoenerLaVon Koerner is chief revenue officer of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm. Join Revenue Storm at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Las Vegas on September 18, 2014.

 

 

No other role has undergone more change and is under more pressure to achieve greater results with fewer resources than that of a sales manager. Sales managers receive less support, training, and pragmatic tools for managing their ever-increasing number of direct reports and are expected to hit ever-increasing revenue targets in shorter amounts of time. 

The plight of a sales manager is intensified by the following:

  • Most sales managers have never been properly trained for the jobs to which they have been promoted.
  • Most sales managers have been revenue heroes but are unable to replicate their personal approach.
  • Most sales managers fall into the trap of closing business themselves because they do not have the time, methods, or science to develop such skills in their own people.
  • Most sales managers live a hectic life of reactively running from person to person and from pursuit to pursuit in hopes of finding a way to make their numbers.
  • Most sales managers have no coach, no coaching process, no developed coaching skills, no coaching governance, and work for a company that has no coaching culture.

Given these points, is it any wonder that sales managers are experiencing one of the highest turnover rates of any position in the corporate world? Here are two seemingly counterintuitive principles that aspiring managers should practice, although the principles may be both uncomfortable and unconventional. 

Be in the Game but Not on the Field

If you’ve watched or played sports, you may know that, when the manager of a sports team crosses into the field of play, you will immediately see a flag or hear a whistle signaling that a foul has been committed. In the business world, there are no flags or whistles to identify the violation of an important business-management principle. This judgment is left to the self-policing of a disciplined manager.

Generally, sales managers fall into one of two camps: the Post-Game Clips Manager, who focuses on the post-game analysis, or the Star Player Manager, who runs onto the field to ensure that the big plays are successful. While these two types of managers may seem very different, they both make the same mistake: trying to achieve short-term results rather than develop their people for repeatable gains. Both of these management styles are doomed to failure in the long term. Their misguided plans, no matter how well intended, will eventually come up short. 

In order to be in the game but not on the field, one has to be committed to the value of coaching. Coaching brings you into the game while not being on the actual field of play. If the manager does not have frequent and consistent coaching sessions built upon a well-designed and healthy coaching culture, then the chances of this principle being implemented are slim to none.

Following this principle allows the manager to advance the pursuit while still advancing the talent. Only coaching can produce both short-term and long-term sustainable results.

Be in Touch but out of Reach

Technology can be a wonderful thing. It enables managers to increase their span of control while reducing their time of control. Managers who feel constant panic from being behind and overwhelmed covet immediacy. 

As with all good things, however, too much can turn bad. Our marvelous new technological capabilities must be used with restraint. Immediacy and speed can become the adversary of intimacy, and quickness will be the enemy of quietness. Managers who deliberately make themselves unreachable by turning off their cell phones for set periods of time will be better positioned to develop their team and strategize for success. In our fast-paced, plugged-in world, there is no substitute for deliberate contemplation of people and issues.

Managers who spend quality time one-on-one with their people will reduce time to performance. How long does it take a manager to transform a new hire from a “cost center” to a “profit center,” which is when the new hire achieves increased self-sufficiency and role proficiency? This simply cannot be accomplished without uninterrupted, dedicated time focused on helping an individual overcome his or her personal challenges and skill deficits, so he or she can break through to the next level of performance. 

Leadership is not possible without vision, and vision is not possible without careful and thoughtful consideration. Stop the noise and think about the big picture. Take the luxury of dedicated time and apply it to a specific situation until breakthrough thinking is attained. Then, turn the technology back on and lead with the courage of your newfound convictions. 

Faithful adherence to these two simple but profound principles is key to raising your management proficiency.


Solving the Sales-Training Retention Headache

Larissa gschwandtnerToday’s post is by Larissa Gschwandtner, vice president of sales and marketing at Selling Power.

 

 

Sales managers have long been frustrated by the fact that sales reps don’t fully retain all the information they learn in training sessions. Furthermore, the information they remember tends to decrease as time goes by. 

This can be a big revenue drain. Not only are sales leaders paying for an expensive program that will be a dim memory six months from now for many reps, but they’re also contributing to lost productivity by putting reps in classrooms, away from customers.

Traditionally, there haven’t been a lot of technological tools to help sales managers maximize their investment in sales training. Instead, managers have successfully leveraged ongoing coaching to make sales training stick. This year, however, as we were putting together our annual list of the Top 20 Sales Training Companies, I noticed that there’s a growing emphasis on both technology and coaching to solve the widespread problem of poor retention.

Overall, the applications submitted to us by sales-training companies showed that, to provide a vastly improved return on investment, many of these companies now offer managers real-time reinforcement tools, such as playbooks, Cloud-based coaching solutions, games, white boards, quizzes, customer relationship management (CRM) integration, and mobile reinforcement apps. The combination of coaching and real-time tools turns sales training into an ongoing activity rather than a fixed event that ends after a few days or weeks. The result is that sales leaders see consistent and continuous performance improvement among salespeople. 

In addition to retention, these tools are also having an impact in other areas. For example, in the past, training did not always match the sales process. By using training playbooks that integrate with CRM, sales managers have a way to monitor whether reps are leveraging sales training and how they’re doing it, if so. This empowers managers to better evaluate training providers and monitor rep performance.

As in previous years, we used predetermined criteria to evaluate the applications for our Top 20 Sales Training Companies list. (Note: the list is compiled exclusively on the basis of applications and customer feedback surveys.) Here are the elements we currently consider:

  1. Depth and breadth of training offered

  2. Innovative and new offerings (specific training courses or methodology) or delivery methods

  3. Ability to customize offerings

  4. Strength of client satisfaction

The client-satisfaction component is an important one, as it tends to reflect the current needs of the clients sales-training companies serve; however, the path to progress always involves trying new things and not sticking with the status quo. Over the next two years, as sales leaders’ training expectations shift, I expect that the Top 20 Sales Training companies will have a bigger focus on the innovative use of technology and expansion of sales-enablement capabilities to support and improve sales performance.

To see the full list of the Selling Power Top 20 Sales Training Companies in 2014, please visit http://www.sellingpower.com/2014/sales-training-companies/top-twenty-listing/.

What changes have you seen in sales-training offerings in recent years? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 


The Sales Model of the Future: Interview with @Gitomer

I'm really enjoying my series of videos with top selling author Jeffrey Gitomer. He is a great thought leader who is always thinking about the future and energizing audiences with his enthusiasm and new ideas. In the video above, we discuss how mobile devices have changed the game of sales. As he points out, more than 70% of social is mobile. If you don't develop a mobile strategy now, you are dead in the water. Watch the video above to see his tips on how to develop a winning mobile strategy that will keep you selling successfully now and in the future.

If you want to learn more about how you can succeed in sales, I highly recommend you check out Jeffrey's virtual training center at http://www.gitomervt.com/

 


New Research Shows IT Decision Makers Rely on Inside Sellers

AnnekeSeleyToday's post is by Anneke Seley, coauthor of Sales 2.0 and founder and CEO of Reality Works Group, a digital/social and inside sales strategy and implementation consultancy. Contact her at aseley@realityworksgroup.com

 

Recently, IBM released findings from a survey of nearly 1,000 information technology (IT) decision makers in 12 countries. The research illustrates some interesting trends that support IBM’s decision to ramp up its inside sales team. Here are some highlights: 

1. Inside sales is an increasingly standard way for clients to engage their vendors. More than 60 percent of clients cited an inside seller as their first point of contact. 

2. Clients routinely rely on inside sales reps to purchase higher-value products and services. While transactional, preconfigured offerings and renewals are still considered the sweet spot for inside sellers, they’re also handling sales for mobility services, network integration, backup and recovery, storage and server services, and public cloud products. 

3. Clients use social and digital communication tools to engage inside sellers. Younger IT decision makers (under the age of 35) are two times more likely than those over the age of 50 to use social platforms as a way to engage sellers. Also, overall usage of digital and social tools is double the worldwide average in faster-growing emerging markets, such as Brazil, India, and China.

4. The Web is being used with significant frequency to purchase IT products and services — at every step in the buying journey. In 2013, 56 percent of IT decision makers purchased products and services via the Web, up from 34 percent in 2011.

IBM inside sales, led by general manager Paula Summa, has been conducting this research since 2011 to understand how to serve customers most effectively in the digital and social age. Summa says that these findings clearly indicate the need to adjust to the rapidly changing ways clients are buying, as well as to the melding of the inside sales and digital channels.

As an industry consultant, I’ve seen that companies large and small are making investments in inside sales to align to the way customers buy today. Some are shifting personnel from field selling positions to sellers who use the phone, email, social media, and online technology to communicate with buyers. Others are launching divisions or entire businesses with inside sales teams, especially as customers purchase more over the Web. So it’s no surprise to me that IBM has made a big bet on inside sales. (Currently IBM has 43 global inside sales locations, including major centers in Toronto, Atlanta, and Dallas in North America, and Bogota, Beijing, Tokyo, and Dublin, opening this August.)

As more selling is conducted online and purchased as a service, inside sales will play a critical role.  

What trends are you seeing in inside sales? What do you think of IBM’s research? Share your thoughts in the comments section.