Reasons Why, In Sales Management, Bigger Isn’t Always Better

6 Reasons Why, In Sales Management, Bigger Isn’t Always Better
You are up against a formidable goal and not hitting your sales quota.  As you do the math, you conclude that it is not worth trying to land smaller sales; they simply will not move the needle enough to insure you beat your quota.  So you lock your sites on large accounts.

I have seen lists of prospects that look more like a who’s who of high profile businesses than a sales pipeline.  Sales managers often sail right past the pipeline review, as they take a cursory look and decide that the sales pipeline is brimming with “A” list talent.  The result is often a heap of unrealized revenue and a dejected sales force with empty pockets.  Yes, sales people are getting appointments and making proposals, but they haven’t closed anything substantial in a long time, right?

So what should we do about it?

First of all, to exceed your sales goals, stop hunting just for the big game.  Strive instead to have a healthy mix of prospects with different potential revenue opportunities.  Sure, the smaller accounts will not move the needle overnight, but there are many reasons why they can be a better play for the sales force.   Here are a few of those reasons:

1. Smaller accounts will teach you how to perfect the way you execute the sales process and, more importantly, understand your prospect’s buying cycle.
2. Smaller accounts may have a shorter buying cycle due to the fact that there may be less layers of management.
3. Sell enough  smaller accounts and it will serve as an insulator against some of the peaks and valleys that are common in sales.
4. Smaller accounts build confidence, momentum and draw a blueprint for targeting other accounts in that vertical marketplace.
5. Consistently closing any type of account will provide you with job security; sales people converting new business do not get fired, period.
6. Small accounts can become large accounts.   

Now about big game.  I certainly recommend keeping some large accounts in your sights.  These accounts must be pursued using a skilled methodology.  There are indeed advanced sales techniques for unlocking closed doors, but these skills are honed through amassing sales victories.  Sales victories are a key to getting that “been there before” confidence that will guide your steps through the complex sale.
5 Steps To Achieving Your Sales Goals
The other day I asked a prospective client what she thought about her sales team’s execution in 2010, surprisingly, she said that she was in favor of it!

Despite all of the magic potions and salves that promise to shorten sales cycles there is still a lag in daily selling activity and the fruit that it hopes to produce.   For some, 2010 has been a great year, but for more, 2010 has not been a banner year in sales performance.  If you are one of the sales professionals that has experienced a disappointing year, one way to finish out the year strong, and set yourself, and your organization, up for success in 2011 is to start planning now.

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  To approach next year the same way you approached this year is just plain nuts (unless you had a banner year).  To borrow another quote (this one from W.L. Bateman), “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”  Ironically, if you did have a great year, the only thing you can count on for next year, is that your commission plan will be changed.  To the elite sales professional this is understood and strategically embraced.  

Here are several things you can do a little differently to make sure you finish strong in 2010 and exceed your sales expectations by knocking it out of the park in 2011.
Exceed Your Sales Expectations
Have you ever had a sales manager tell you that they were unhappy with how long prospects were lingering in your sales pipeline?  If so, please forward this to them.

Look at any CRM system and you’ll find plenty of common elements.  Among them include fields for sales stage (with a default win probability), expected close date and expected revenue.  With these elements, management typically forecasts by discounting the expected revenue based on the win probability (per the sales stage) and organizing opportunities according to expected close date.  Thus management has an idea of what they can expect in terms of revenue over the next several months.  This is all very basic Sales 101 stuff, but is often the source of unmet expectations between sales managers and their sales force.

A main source of the divide between a sales forecast and the subsequent sales performance is that win probability is typically tied to the sales stage of the opportunity (e.g., if an opportunity is Identified, it has a 10% chance of closing, if they’re Contacted its 20%, Qualified 50% and Proposed 67%).  It is my experience that, when looking at pipeline from a macro perspective, the single best indicator for how long a lead will be in your pipeline and the likelihood with which it will survive to become a happy customer is the source of the lead.  Therefore, I suggest that you define the lead source at a very high level.  In my CRM, I have just three different lead sources.  They are:

Seekers – these are prospects that seek you out
Sought – these are prospects that you seek out
Suggested – these are prospects that were referred to you

It is important to think of these categories when engaging with your prospects, forecasting your pipeline, and managing sales expectations.

The Seeker

On the surface, this prospect appears to be the best.  After all, they’re most like your mother in that they recognize just how special you are.  They have demonstrated admirable wisdom by successfully identifying you as someone who can potentially solve their particular problem.  Perhaps they looked you up through a web search, found you through social media or just somehow innately knew that you were ‘the (wo)man!’  More likely, they are using one of your competitors and have decided, for one reason or another, to contact you.  

Unless you represent the clear-cut industry leader, the notion of a prospect seeking you out should actually be cause for some concern.  It should raise a red flag for you when companies look to spontaneously replace their current vendor.  If they were a good customer, paid their bills on time and worked in partnership with their current vendor, why would they be looking elsewhere?  If they were indeed a good customer and the incumbent vendor were moderately competent, that vendor, its sales team and customer service staff would be bending over backwards to make sure their good customer was happy.

Case in point, I was once contacted by one of my competitors’ largest customers.  They called me in for a meeting and already had all of the information I would normally solicit waiting for me, accompanied with a list of one-sided, ridiculous demands.  Against my recommendation, our company met their demands for reduced pricing and extended billing cycles as well as some other one-sided concessions.  They quickly became my 4th largest customer from a revenue perspective.  Frankly, I looked like a hero for the quarter.  However, the stringent requirements of this customer caused me to have the lowest year over year growth of my sales career!  My prospecting time was diminished and time spent with profitable customers was cut.  I was not able to methodically sell and produce the “right” kind of business.

Eventually, the reasons why this company left its incumbent supplier became painfully obvious.  In an unprecedented move, I presented a business case for why our company should fire this customer and no longer do business with them.  We gave them 30 days to find a new vendor.  Despite the loss of this revenue, I was able to sell far past the deficit and ended up in the top 1% among all sales people globally for my company.  I still say that my best and most profitable “sale” that year was selling my company on the idea of cutting that customer loose.

The moral of the story: be very cautious when a prospect seeks you out.  Find out why they have sought you out.  Be very slow to give concessions.  Most importantly, establish a balanced, open communication system with them so that they view you as a respected partner and not a pawn.

The Velveteen Sales Rep
When I was an operations manager all I wanted was to become a sales professional. My eyes bloodshot from waking up at 3:30 am, I would peer out into the parking lot to watch the smiley sales people meandering in at 8:30, driving nice cars, wearing suits and sipping coffee.  Not to be negative, but some of the guys were real goobers, and I knew that I could bring a significant amount of value to the table in sales.  However, it took several years for me to break into sales.  I was told “no,” on more than one occasion, and was even told to give up the dream.   But I never gave up, and eventually my persistence paid off: I was given an entry-level sales position.

Over time, I was earning quarterly commission checks that were more than an entire year’s pay in operations.  Even with the success of consistent quota achievement and the subsequent earnings, I had great difficulty believing that I belonged in sales.  After all, I was not recruited, or drafted.  I did not have a degree in sales, nor did I possess a board certification.  It has always been curious to me that sales, despite being one of the highest paid professions, has no formal initiation process.  Therefore, anyone can get started in sales, but not everyone can be “real.”  This begs the question, how do you know when you are a real sales professional?

Recently, I read the classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, to my daughters.  For those of you unfamiliar with the book, the basic idea is that a toy rabbit wants to know what it means to become real.  He learns that that key is for someone to really love you – then you become real.  Well, how about the profession of selling, how do you know when you become a real sales professional?  I would like to suggest that when you really love your product, and show someone else how to love your product, you become real.  

When you first start in sales, you may look around at everyone in suits and think that they are real, but do not let their appearance fool you.  It does not mean that they are real.  By the same measure, you may look at some veteran sales people and think that they are real, but again, not necessarily.  Contrary to what I have read in many blogs these days, the profession of selling is not dead, far from it as a matter of fact.  However, the notion that someone can be a “real” sales professional without embracing the discipline of sales is dying quickly, and I say good riddance.
The Suggested

These are relatively rare in B2B sales.  When you can get them, they can be fantastic.  Though not always an easy sale, they represent the opportunity to work from a position of mutual, professional respect.  Unfortunately this is something that is that is not common enough in the beginning of the sales cycle.  The main challenge with The Suggested is that they are often not properly qualified.

I recommend that you do everything possible to introduce as many of these prospects into your sales pipeline.  Sources can include your own marketing department, current clients, social media and your oldest and dearest friends.  The B2B sales elite treats all prospects with the utmost in professionalism, however, it is even more important to go the extra mile with these prospects.  Remember, with these prospects, your actions are not only a reflection on you but on the person that referred you.  By going the extra mile, you are turning a favor your referral source did for you into a favor you have now done for them.  Initially, they did you a favor by referring you customer.  If you do your job well, you will have done the person who referred you the business a favor by making them look very smart for recommending such an outstanding company and sales professional.  Lastly, make sure you report back the results to your referral source and, if possible, reciprocate by providing them with leads as well (email me and I’d be glad to share some ideas on how best to do this).

Realizing that there are salient differences between the types of prospects is one of the first steps in understanding a sales pipeline.  In reviewing potential sales opportunities, as a sales manager, ‘how did they get here?’ should be one of your first questions.  This will help to manage actions and exceed expectations.

Prospecting for new business is the lifeblood of any sales organization.  Sales managers often find themselves in a precarious position with regard to sales prospecting.  Prospecting activity fills the sales pipeline with the right kind of prospects that will eventually become happy customers.  However, a sales manager cannot “do it all;” they need to leverage the power of their sales team to exceed sales expectations.  Many sales managers wash their hands of prospecting activities, as if they have earned some sort of reprieve by virtue of their title.  Just to be clear, I am not advocating that sales managers take on the role of full-time prospector for the sales team but rather I am advocating that elite sales managers have a prominent role in the sales prospecting process.  There are many reasons why this is important, not the least of which is to demonstrate a “whatever it takes” attitude.  If you find that your sales are lagging, that your pipeline is weak and that your sales team is uninspired, here are several ideas that will help you get things going in the right direction.  

Make sure your team believes in themselves

This topic may seem unrelated to prospecting, but I assure you it is absolutely essential.  Volumes have been written on ways to help turn around the career of an underperforming sales person, so I will spare you the rant.  Suffice it to say, there are basically two types of really good salespeople:

1. Those who have already achieved great results, and
2. Those who have the seed of greatness within them.

I remember being a new sales representative at my first company-wide sales meeting.  Having previously been in operations, imagine my shock and awe at seeing the way salespeople were treated as opposed to the way operators were treated.  Operations meetings were essentially death by PowerPoint, three hots and a cot and that’s it.  Sales meetings on the other hand are exciting, fun, and filled with recognition for top performers.  No one had told me about the President’s Club.  So you can imagine my surprise while attending my first meeting where top performers were called to the stage to receive awards recognizing that they had achieved results better than 99% of their sales colleagues.  Oh how the heart desire burned within me to be on stage receiving an award and to be recognized as an elite sales performer.  Above all, I knew that deep within me, I had what it takes to outshine the competition inside and outside of my company.  I then set my sails, and planned a trip to the top, after arriving I never looked back.

This is exactly the type of attitude a sales manager should be looking for from their sales team.  If the desire to be great is not strong within a team member, do your best to nurture it.  If they simply do not have it, then perhaps it is time to move on.  If this desire is strong, you have only to educate and inspire them.  These “A” players must realize that you believe in them and that they are the right person for the job.  They have been selected, strategically and purposefully to represent your company and play on your championship team.  By instilling confidence in your sales team will have taken a major step forward in prospecting for new business.

Make sure your sales team believes in your product

The sales person who does not believe in what they are selling is no more effective at selling it then an unsatisfied customer.  It is a well-documented fact, that sales people who are genuinely convinced are genuinely able to convince others.  With this in mind, we approach our prospecting activities.  Unfortunately, no product or service is without flaws.  Regardless of how hard you try, your product will not be perfect for everyone.  Sales managers must convey to their sales team that this is not peculiar to your product or service.  It happens to everyone.  Start by educating your team on exactly how your product works, and for whom it works best.  Help them to target the right kind of business to optimize the efficacy of your solution.  When the fit is not there, learn to just say no.  No amount of training, or technique can overcome a lack of passion and conviction.  On the other hand, determined conviction can help to overcome a lack of highly developed sales skills.  Once your sales star believes in herself and her product, she will not receive the just friends speech from prospects.

Make sure they have what they need

If you want to be a great leader, it is essential that you learn first to become a great servant.  As a sales manager, your most important group of customers is your sales team.  If you commit yourself to their success and wellbeing and put their needs selflessly ahead of your own, you will reap rewards far beyond but inclusive of personal financial gain.  One of the most tangible ways to prove that you care, and establish the type of credibility that will make your sales team run through walls for you, is to make sure they have what they need to be successful.  Therefore, as a sales manager the buck should stop with you with regard to the materials, equipment and sales tools necessary for your sales team to get the job done right.  You can start this by ensuring that your sales team has the sharpest, most professional looking sales presentation materials possible, to assist with every step of the sales process.  Have a clearly defined, well-structured sales approach for your team.  If necessary, help them to develop their work schedule with preset hours for new business prospecting.  Help your team to achieve a good work/life balance.  If you genuinely care about your people, they will know, and just as quickly, they will know if you don’t.  Now that your team believes in themselves, your product and you, they are now ready to run with the full burden of sales prospecting on their own, right?  Wrong!

Make sure you lead by example

One of the quickest ways for a sales manager to become irrelevant and therefore expendable is to lose touch with actual selling activities and skills.  Prospecting is one of those skill-based activities that affords an opportunity for a sales manager to stay in the game and consequently, to stay relevant.  Do you want to inspire your team to become prospecting machines?  Then show up with a handful of leads tomorrow morning and challenge them to close them all.  Then, challenge them to find better opportunities than you did.  For the most part, elite sales professionals are a highly competitive species; they will not want to be out prospected by their manager or teammates or anyone else for that matter.  Prospecting by example is one of the quickest and most effective ways to foster this kind of behavior.

In a process driven sales cycle, a major point of frustration can be when opportunities get stuck in the sales pipeline – somewhere between the proposal stage and the implemented stage.  As a sales manager, you know that you have made your case to the right person and that there was enough interest to move the process forward.  However, after you have matched needs with solutions, and painted a picture of what life will be like with that need met, there still seems to be no final buying decision.

Executed properly, a sales process will naturally lead a prospect or customer to a buying decision.  As sales professionals, we are aware of the stages of the sales cycle.  Salespeople are taught to prospect in order to fill the funnel, to qualify in order to assess possible fit, and to propose, close, then grow business.  One place in the sales cycle that goes neglected, and is often the exact spot where things get stalled, go stagnant, and fizzle out, is the place where your contact has to sell your service internally once they are convinced that it is the right decision for their company to make.

If you listen closely to your prospect, and identify their internal buying process, you will note that often times your contact, regardless of title and influence, will have to justify the purchase of your product or service to others within their organization.  There may be several others in the organization that will need to understand and give assent to your solutions.  This internal customer sell is often where we need help, because the sale has fallen and can’t get back up.

Think of how long it has taken you to learn your product and to communicate its value.  It can take many years to gain the old world selling skills necessary to persuade and move potential customers to take action.  With this in mind, we must come to terms with the fact that the individual stakeholder, who becomes convinced of our value, must be educated so that they can turn around internally and sell on our behalf.  Properly executed, a buying process will inevitably contain these elements of accountability, and this is a good thing all around, as long as we learn to present vicariously through our contact.   

So what proactive customer interactions can we employ as sales professionals to make sure our internal contact/stakeholder is properly equipped and prepared to present our product or service?

First we must become mindful of the questions that our contact will be asked.  The best run companies, the ones that pay their bills and become loyal advocates, are typically the most diligent in their purchasing procurement process.  Elite sales professionals learn to visualize their contact, pleading the case before judge and jury in order to comply with the purchasing approval process.  Here are some of the questions that are often asked:

1. What is this company and what do they do?
2. Why do we need them?
3. What will this cost us?
4. Where will the budget come from?
5. Are there other companies that can do this?
6. If so, can they do cheaper, and/or better?
7. If this company has good suggestions, why don’t we just implement their suggestions into our current process?
8. How much of a pain will it be to implement this new solution, and how much of a disruption will there be?
9. Will this cost of change negate any benefit we might get from implementing their solution?
10. What is the return on the investment and how long before we breakeven on the investment?

These are just a few of the potential questions and thoughts that will arise as your stakeholder attempts to implement your solution.  Obviously there will likely be many more specific questions that will also arise.

If you use these questions as a guide when you are making a proposal, always thinking about the next move, you can educate your contact to present your solution more effectively.  Just to be clear, educating your client is not synonymous with bludgeoning them with massive amounts of information.  Rather, it is doing your job of qualifying and proposing properly and then putting the proper reference materials into their hands so that they have the answers to the test.  Ideally, you would like to be there with them to help them through this line of questioning but that is simply not always possible.  So what’s the next best thing?

First and foremost, remember that nobody buys confused.  We highly recommend using an online sales presentation, built on the premise of your value proposition.  With an online sales presentation, you are able to tell your story in your own words to the right person, to be consumed when they are ready!  An online sales presentation also allows you to send a complete message directly to your stakeholder, so that they may review your value proposition, then send to their circle of influence.  In this way, you will be able to disseminate large amounts of information, simply, powerfully and in context.  Most importantly, you will be equipping your contact with everything they need to sell your product internally.  Things to possibly include: the original presentation, ROI calculators, rates, contracts, contact sheets, links to customer interface, personalized messaging via audio and video, as well as implementation plans and timelines.

One of our clients recently made an online presentation to communicate an implementation plan for a very large multi-national prospect.  They sent it to one person (their contact) and watched the tracking as it was forwarded throughout the organization 55 times!  In a complex sale, there is tremendous value in leveraging multimedia online sales presentations to empower prospective buyers.

1) Assess your current level of Sales Enablement

In order to compete, it is necessary to have the right people trained on the right equipment.  Does your organization have what they need to gain an edge on competition?  Is your product or service more difficult to use than your competitor’s products?  Can your sales team quickly and easily create professional-looking, customer-facing materials that are customized and effective?   If sales people are not enabled to have the right conversations with the right people at the right time, no one wins (except maybe your competition).  In addition to asking what your sales people need, analyze every deal that failed and succeeded, then meticulously fix whatever is broken and work to replicate what has worked.  This is part of the job of the elite sales manager.

2) Place Proactive Bids

Typically, the new year brings price increases, contract amendments and a new set of priorities.  Business that has been historically safe and sound with your competitor may be there for the taking if you are willing to advocate on their behalf.  Do whatever it takes to extend a handshake to those companies, especially if they are struggling.  Can you remember a time that you were struggling and someone helped you?  How do you feel about them?  Conversely, have you ever been kicked when you were down, how did that make you feel?  Put on your white hat and put out some pricing and deliverables that will help your prospects get on their feet and stay there.  Just be careful to take care of your current customer base because turnabout is fair play.

3) Work with your Competition (theoretically)

Here’s a tip, from this moment on, when someone tells you they are working with your competition, never walk away.  Instead, say this, ‘oh yes they are a great company [if in fact they are] and I have some ideas how we can compliment what they are doing for you.’  The buyer will listen.  The b2b sales elite use facilitative questions to open locked doors.  If they do not listen, please email me and tell me about it.  Just make sure you are ready to listen as well, once the door opens.  

4) Identify the Top Challenges they are facing

Even if the solution has nothing to do with your company, and there is no direct reward to you, offer to set them up with people who can really help.  What are you using LinkedIn for?  To pontificate about how great you and your product are?  Ok, slight mea culpa here.  Why do you have all of those connections?  Is it kind of like watching the fire extinguisher museum burn down?  Time to dust off your contacts and put them to work. Take the time to communicate with your connections, learn what they do and how they do it, and if you see someone that needs their help, MAKE THE INTRODUCTION.  Ask for nothing in return.

5) Set your own Goals

Look at your current accomplishments from a sales budget achievement standpoint. Try setting your own goals significantly higher than what you anticipate your organization’s goals will be.  Try setting personal sales objectives to include strategic networking with professionals who can help your clients with whatever they need. This way you will become a hub of good will and positive change for your circle of influence.  Then watch the circle grow!

If all of the traffic lights in the world were green at the same time, imagine the mess it would create.  Ultimately, there must be some sort of order, a balance of stop, go, fast and slow.  When trying to get somewhere, the last thing you want is a red light, but it is this very thing that brings order from chaos and ultimately brings you safely to your destination.

Top-notch salespeople are often a difficult bunch of people to manage; elite sales professionals can pose especially difficult challenges for their respective sales managers.  Top performers often are the ones that are moving the fastest, require little in the way of motivation and tend to neglect some of the necessary administrative details along the way.  One thing we have as sales managers, to help to manage the sales process, is a Customer Relationship Management system.  However, a CRM system is often perceived by sales people as a deterrent to speed and effectiveness rather than a tool to assist them in reaching their sales objectives and a means to help them create the level of income typical of top sales people.  For the best sales managers, in the best sales organizations, a strategic key to success is transforming the sales pipeline into a sales production line.  This may mean implementing some changes of mind, attitude and process, but in the end it will be well worth it.

Here are steps you can take right now that will morph the ho-hum activities of CRM maintenance into a fun, exciting and effective sales production process:

Establish Your Goals

Of course you will execute on company objectives, in selling the right mix of products and services.  But this step is more than that.  This step is a selling technique that the B2B sales elite use consistently.  Set your own goals – much more stretched than what your company expects of you.  Your team will be held to higher standards, much higher.  You will not just make your sales goals; you will smash them early and often.  You will test the limits of what your company’s compensation plan can pay.  You and your team, along with your families, will reap the rewards of a job extremely well done.  Your goal should be to rank consistently tops amongst your peers.  Now, you will have to leverage the power of your team to accomplish this, you may even have to do some selling yourself.  Whatever it takes…. to quote Bill Parcels, “Expect Nothing, Blame No One, Do Something.”  This step is very important, do not go to step 2 until this one is complete.

Establish Your Pipeline Design

You should absolutely use your company established parameters to determine the stages of the pipeline, but I want you to take it much further to supercharge your sales funnel.  Take these steps:

Know the average yield for each stage in your sales process.  Then, determine the revenue required in each stage to surpass your goals.

Spend some time examining your sales process. Look for ways to improve the yields from one stage to the next.  Focus more attention on improving the lowest yielding stages.  A minor improvement there can yield big results at the bottom of your sales funnel.  In the example below, when the first two stages are improved by 10% each, the ultimate yield is doubled.

Decide how much time a prospective piece of business should be allowed to remain in each stage of the pipeline.  For example, once a prospect has entered the Quote stage it means that you have proposed your solution.  Therefore, maybe you have determined that two weeks is sufficient for a company to decide to use your solution.  If they have not decided after two weeks, you find out why, place them into the appropriate stage, remove the barrier, propose your solution again and start the clock ticking.

In order to get the right perspective on the prospects in your pipeline, read Exceed Your Sales Expectations.  Do not be afraid to get collaborative input from your team or other sales managers.

Establish a meeting or communication format to implement this pipeline design, make sure it is understood by all as you start to gain a more granular understanding.

Establish the Ingredients

Do not permit junk, fillers or artificial preservatives in your pipeline.  If the data in the pipeline is not an accurate reflection of what is really going on in a territory, then remove or add the data as appropriate.  Get all of the garbage out; be ruthless on this step, because if the data in the pipeline is bad, it will be next to impossible to manage.  It is important that everyone confront the brutal facts.  If not, I assure you, that short of a stroke of luck, you will not achieve your goals.   

Establish Weekly One-on-One Meetings.

Make sure your team knows that this is not the Spanish Inquisition but rather the means whereby you will be helping them to take their career and income stream to the next level.  Whenever and wherever possible, speak to the members of your team daily to review opportunities, remove barriers and strategize.  This is the fun stuff!  You are not browbeating; you are inspiring and motivating your team.  They will love you for it.  You will find that the team members that have greatness inside of them will emerge, and the ones who are just going though the motions will begin to self-select out.

Establish an Understanding of Every Prospect

Here are some questions to help you get started:

Why would this company want to do business with us?
Why would we want to do business with them?
What level of contact(s) are we calling on?
Why has this company not bought already?
What can we do to remove the barriers that are preventing progression between pipeline stages?

Remove Any Barriers

Repeat after me:
“I am here to remove barriers and chew bubble gum, and right now I’m all out of bubble gum.”

Get creative and get aggressive.  Find out what is preventing the sale and remove the obstruction.  Do not take ‘no’ for an answer, especially since they have made it though the other stages.

Get Out and Meet with Prospects and Customers

That’s right, have the chair surgically removed from your posterior and meet with as many potential and current clients as possible.  Use these visits to establish rapport, coach sales reps and see firsthand what is actually happening in the sales process.  When possible, stick with the opportunity throughout an entire sales cycle.  This will ensure that you avoid getting made fun of as a sales manager.

9 Ways to Avoid Getting Made Fun of as a Sales Manager
Did you ever wonder how some executives get into the position that they are in?

Judging by their lack of interpersonal skills, arrogant attitude and weak sales game, they must have some damning pictures of the boss in Vegas. Does this sound familiar?

Actually, many of you reading this may have thought this very thought, what is even more alarming is that some of you reading this could be the very subject of this blog, but have no clue. We used to call my second sales manager Colonel Mustard – he thought it was due to his mustache but it was because he didn’t have a clue. The sales manager that is arrogant and basically worthless on a sales call, might be you and you don’t know it. For me, as a sales manager, the respect of my team is just as important as the good graces of those to whom I report.

Here are some ideas to help you not be the dorky sales manager everyone makes fun of.

Make Sure You Can Fog a Mirror.

When you are on a sales call, you bring strength and experience. You should bring energy and understanding.  You should bring the communication of a vision for the business relationship you are proposing. Most of all you should know what you can commit to and be a master negotiator. Bring value to a sales call or sales presentation in the form of energy and knowledge. Do not sit like a bump on a log. Conversely,

Do Not Dominate the Sales Call.

When on a sales call, do not miss the opportunity to develop your team. You must realize that when you are riding along with a rep on a sales call, that there are two basic starting points. One is your top performers are going to be prepared to show you how well they are doing and be looking to gain your respect and trust by knocking it out of the park. The second situation is when a rep is ill prepared, and runs the sales presentation haphazardly. Yes, you are there to bring value, but the greatest value is the development of your sales people. Recognizing the well prepared and coaching the ill prepared are more important than flashing your fancy sales techniques. Then,

Make Sure You Are Prepared.

Ask for the agenda ahead of time, take a look into your CRM to check the activity on the account, potential revenue, level of contact you are meeting. Look at the company website, and competition, think of similar companies you may have dealt with previously. Leverage technology like Inside View or Gist to learn more about your prospects. Think ahead of time about which elegant negotiables you are be prepared to offer to advance the deal. After a meeting,

Make Sure You Send a Follow-Up.

All sales managers should set the tone for pinpoint, heartfelt follow-up. Use whatever means necessary; I’m partial to a personalized online sales communication, but no matter what you use, make sure you are delivering on your promises. And for heaven’s sake, if you make a promise, live up to it. If you do not, I promise you…you thought of as a jerk. Try hard to

Never Disrespect or Belittle Your Reps,

no matter how they act, no matter how they stumble and whatever they say… do not disrespect or talk down to anyone – especially someone you manage and especially in front of a customer. We have all seen this type of behavior, and can remember who committed this terrible act and when and where. No one wants to do business with people like that. It’s also good to

Know What the Heck You’re Talking About.

Just because you are the manager please do not regard your title as an excuse to get soft on sales skills. As a leader, you should set the example of product mastery and artful negotiation. Since you’re reading this post, chances are you’re among the leaders who seek opportunities sharpen your skills. For the busy professionals, be sure to check out SalesAce where you can see excerpts from the best of many of the top sales blogs.

Never Hide or Point Fingers

when things do not go as planned. When things are going badly, do not shrink back and point fingers, instead stand up and take responsibility, then take corrective action to make sure there is not a repeat. In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes this trait as the ‘mirror and the window’. He explains that when true leaders have problems, they look in the mirror and take personal responsibility while the weaker ones look out the window and blame the problems on other people.

Learn to Delegate;

get everyone involved in sales management. Many managers think they exist to remove extraneous burdens from the sales team. However, this often becomes an excuse for not digging into more important, uncomfortable matters. Delegate what you can and spread these activities evenly through the team. This will help to develop your future leaders and free you to spot the “kick me” sign before someone hangs it on your back. Now, the best for last,

Give Your Team Credit When Credit is Due.

If you make sure your team shines, they will make sure you shine. When someone has a great idea and executes on it, give them all of the credit and recognize them for it. Never, never, pass someone else’s idea off as your own. The best of the best, are focused on simply getting things done.

Please share your Colonel Mustard stories with us.

In a process driven sales cycle, a major point of frustration can be when opportunities get stuck in the sales pipeline – somewhere between the proposal stage and the implemented stage.  As a sales manager, you know that you have made your case to the right person and that there was enough interest to move the process forward.  However, after you have matched needs with solutions, and painted a picture of what life will be like with that need met, there still seems to be no final buying decision.

Executed properly, a sales process will naturally lead a prospect or customer to a buying decision.  As sales professionals, we are aware of the stages of the sales cycle.  Salespeople are taught to prospect in order to fill the funnel, to qualify in order to assess possible fit, and to propose, close, then grow business.  One place in the sales cycle that goes neglected, and is often the exact spot where things get stalled, go stagnant, and fizzle out, is the place where your contact has to sell your service internally once they are convinced that it is the right decision for their company to make.

If you listen closely to your prospect, and identify their internal buying process, you will note that often times your contact, regardless of title and influence, will have to justify the purchase of your product or service to others within their organization.  There may be several others in the organization that will need to understand and give assent to your solutions.  This internal customer sell is often where we need help, because the sale has fallen and can’t get back up.

Think of how long it has taken you to learn your product and to communicate its value.  It can take many years to gain the old world selling skills necessary to persuade and move potential customers to take action.  With this in mind, we must come to terms with the fact that the individual stakeholder, who becomes convinced of our value, must be educated so that they can turn around internally and sell on our behalf.  Properly executed, a buying process will inevitably contain these elements of accountability, and this is a good thing all around, as long as we learn to present vicariously through our contact.   

So what proactive customer interactions can we employ as sales professionals to make sure our internal contact/stakeholder is properly equipped and prepared to present our product or service?

First we must become mindful of the questions that our contact will be asked.  The best run companies, the ones that pay their bills and become loyal advocates, are typically the most diligent in their purchasing procurement process.  Elite sales professionals learn to visualize their contact, pleading the case before judge and jury in order to comply with the purchasing approval process.  Here are some of the questions that are often asked:

1. What is this company and what do they do?
2. Why do we need them?
3. What will this cost us?
4. Where will the budget come from?
5. Are there other companies that can do this?
6. If so, can they do cheaper, and/or better?
7. If this company has good suggestions, why don’t we just implement their suggestions into our current process?
8. How much of a pain will it be to implement this new solution, and how much of a disruption will there be?
9. Will this cost of change negate any benefit we might get from implementing their solution?
10. What is the return on the investment and how long before we breakeven on the investment?

These are just a few of the potential questions and thoughts that will arise as your stakeholder attempts to implement your solution.  Obviously there will likely be many more specific questions that will also arise.

If you use these questions as a guide when you are making a proposal, always thinking about the next move, you can educate your contact to present your solution more effectively.  Just to be clear, educating your client is not synonymous with bludgeoning them with massive amounts of information.  Rather, it is doing your job of qualifying and proposing properly and then putting the proper reference materials into their hands so that they have the answers to the test.  Ideally, you would like to be there with them to help them through this line of questioning but that is simply not always possible.  So what’s the next best thing?

First and foremost, remember that nobody buys confused.  We highly recommend using an online sales presentation, built on the premise of your value proposition.  With an online sales presentation, you are able to tell your story in your own words to the right person, to be consumed when they are ready!  An online sales presentation also allows you to send a complete message directly to your stakeholder, so that they may review your value proposition, then send to their circle of influence.  In this way, you will be able to disseminate large amounts of information, simply, powerfully and in context.  Most importantly, you will be equipping your contact with everything they need to sell your product internally.  Things to possibly include: the original presentation, ROI calculators, rates, contracts, contact sheets, links to customer interface, personalized messaging via audio and video, as well as implementation plans and timelines.

One of our clients recently made an online presentation to communicate an implementation plan for a very large multi-national prospect.  They sent it to one person (their contact) and watched the tracking as it was forwarded throughout the organization 55 times!  In a complex sale, there is tremendous value in leveraging multimedia online sales presentations to empower prospective buyers.

Sales Stars: Defenders Of The Galaxy
Have you ever wondered how two companies can offer a similar service but one is good and the other is bad.  I believe that often the cause of the bad service offering is rooted in the culture of the leadership of that organization.  Typically there is a culture of arrogance that starts with the leadership but permeates throughout the organization.  These companies become complacent and aloofly feel that their offer is great (as is), and refuse to listen to feedback from prospects.  Please realize that I am not referring to customer feedback.  If they are already customers, most companies (even arrogant ones) will listen or even seek customer feedback.  The feedback I am referring to is from prospects; those who have recently bought and those who did not.  The insight into what about your offer is compelling, and what is not, lies within this group.  Possessing this buyer knowledge is invaluable to any organization looking to grow and evolve their offer into one that buyers cannot refuse.  Where can you obtain this precious information?

This information comes from Sales Stars.

In case you have trouble spotting them,

Look Here,

They are consistently in the top half of your sales performance indication list for revenue production. They have the ability to give great sales presentations, the ability to sell when others aren’t, and the ability to manage their time effectively. But one thing that often gets overlooked is that the very best salespeople in the world are also a kind of corporate Special Forces. They are Commandos in the war against mediocrity.  They are fierce competitors, always on guard against anything that would jeopardize the business that they have earned and most of all, the voice of the customer to their own organization.

Managing top performers is not always an easy task.  A balance needs to be struck between challenging them to be the best they can be and leaving them alone so they do not feel micromanaged.  Anyone who has managed, been managed by or is a top sales performer can attest to the many personality quirks that come along with elite performers.  However, a common thread among the best of the best is that they have little tolerance for anything that could tarnish their reputation.  To that end, when the company they represent drops the ball, they are the squeakiest wheel.  Any company would do well to listen attentively to their top performers and to adjust their operations accordingly.

The Upper Management Eclipse

It is common these days to see sales management executives concerned primarily with the appearance of their performance, instead of the efficacy of it.  Many times, these sales managers focus more on what will make them look good to their direct reports instead of focusing on how their company can do good for their most important investors – their customers.

Often times, organizations get stuck doing the same thing over and over again but in today’s economic climate that just doesn’t cut it.  Listen to your sales leaders – they have the direct knowledge of how your company is perceived by those who truly matter most.  If you want to know where to invest in your offering, if you want to know which initiatives to pursue, and if you want to know how you’re really doing as a company, just ask your top sales performers.  Better than any crystal ball is the insight of those who’s very living depends upon living up to their word.  When their word depends upon the performance of others, salespeople get understandably sensitive when other people don’t live up to their end of the bargain.  In every salesperson’s job description, right along with new business development goals, there should be a section that clearly appoints them and explicitly charges them with the task of holding their own organization accountable to deliver on its promises.

No one else has this depth of insight and clarity of vision into the things that make or break sales effectiveness.  No other department has this level of motivation to get and keep customers.  We all know that effective sales are the lifeblood of any organization.  Even if your salespeople are telling you things you don’t want to hear, and even if you have some serious doubts about their motivation for doing so, try to glean some thread of truth from the things that they are saying.  It just might be that you will find that the words and thoughts of your sales stars are truly prophetic and might help you avoid fiscal catastrophe.  My recommendation is, if you currently do not have a forum to share brutally honest feedback, put it at the top of your to do list; you will thank me later.

Obviously, this type of ‘voice of sales/voice of prospect’ forum must not be allowed to supplant selling activity, but if you hire the right people, this will not be an issue.

As the recipient of my fair share of “just friends” speeches, I can tell you for a fact that they stink.  Similar to the hope of finding love in a relationship, is the expectation that a hiring manager has for a new sales representative.  With hopeful expectation, a manager asks you to begin a relationship with their product by applying the same passion you showed for getting the job in the first place to your daily selling activities.

Last night I received a call from a good friend of mine, who has always been a top sales performer.  Recently, he switched companies to sell a new product at a much higher rate of pay and more generous commission structure.

I’m getting appointments, he said, but I haven’t had any luck closing anything so far.  I asked him “so tell me about this new product that you are selling.”  He went on to tell me about the product and all of the benefits that his new company claims to provide.  However, I did not hear the same passion in his voice that I used to hear when he was representing the previous company.  So after listening to a features, advantages, and benefits monologue, I took a minute to ponder the spirit in which it was given.

And then I asked him some questions (and I recommend you ask them to yourself, I certainly have):

Do you like your product?

Do you believe in your product?

Do you love your product?

I will spare you all the details of his answers, but the salient point that came from this conversation, is that he kind of likes the new product, but doesn’t really believe in it yet and he certainly does not love the product.

In today’s economic climate, people who make decisions to purchase products need to have more than just information.  Buyers need to feel good that they are making the right decision to benefit their organization.  I won’t even discuss the problem of not even liking your own product, because if you are in that position it is time to look for something else to sell.  But if you do like your product, it’s time to take it to the next level.  Time to become someone that believes in, even loves, the product.  Believing in, and loving, your product will cause you more sales success, because your belief and passion are highly transferrable.  People may not remember your entire sales presentation, but they will remember the passion, or lack thereof.

Here are some ideas on how to stop being “just friends” with your product:

Become a student of your product

Pretend that you are a customer, and learn everything about your product from a customer point of view.  Learn how to use the product.  Call up your support team to experience your company’s customer support, everything from signing up to paying an invoice.  Even try to reach yourself as a representative, see if you are delighted or frustrated.  Now, go embrace your company’s sales training. But approach it as someone who’s looking to become an expert, not just someone who is conversant.  Once you learn your product from the customer’s perspective, and from the provider’s perspective, you are now ready to take the next step.

Become a student of your competition

In a respectful and forthright manner, immerse yourself in the knowledge and culture of your competition.  Identify those who you are competing against and gain a close understanding of what difference you can provide.  Know how they differ from each other, and from your product.  Be prepared to speak in the language of your customers as it relates to your competition, know what words are synonymous with your company’s own vernacular.  Be prepared to speak always in a complimentary way to their capabilities.  Never, never, never bash your competition, instead use this approach: we agree that XYZ company is good at what they do, but let me show you what our company has to offer, and how we feel this can bring you a superior value.  Little else will turn a customer off faster than competition bashing.  Even if they begin to bash the competition, do not participate.  Instead, try to understand where their point of frustration is and offer your solution through consultative approach.

Become a student of your customer

In order to be a top performing sales executive, you must begin to think of the customer as YOUR customer.  Not a company to be sold, convinced or closed, but a customer that you personally take care of with an in-depth understanding of their goals, needs and challenges.  Become a student of their products, and their competition, just like you have become a student of yours.  This step will change your mentality, from thinking that they are an obligation, an entry into our CRM, or a name on a spreadsheet, they will now become a lifelong customer no matter which product you are representing.

Become the voice of your customer

Once you grasp your product, understand your competition and embrace your customer, it is time to gain the edge by developing a passion for the product you are selling as it relates to your customer.  Knowing that your product is the right fit for the customer, and the knowledge that you are going to be there for them no matter what, will instill a sense of confidence when you speak to a prospect.  You will know that, although they don’t yet know you or your product, given the opportunity sometime in the future, they will be very happy and grateful for the day that they met you.  Holding yourself and your company accountable to provide the very best service to your customer will cause a bond with your most important benefactors.

Now put this all together and approach your selling activities with new vigor, realizing that you’re not just going through the motions, but you are providing a superior value to help your customers remain competitive in the marketplace. What is more, they will get a lifelong friend out of the deal.  Transferring knowledge about a product is difficult, and if you are able to transfer it, inspiring a desired action can be even more daunting.  Infinitely more transferable is a feeling or belief. Once you believe in it, and actually feel good about what you’re selling, you’ll see dramatic increases in your close ratio.  You’ll actually be shocked when someone doesn’t buy your product, not surprised when they do.
Old World Skills, New World Sales Tools
Old World Skills, New World Sales Tools
A Lesson in Sales from a True Craftsman

My father-in-law is a true craftsman. When he goes to do a job — and the guy can do anything — he brings buckets, bags and boxes full of tools.

When he sees my 25-in-1 multi-tool, he just smiles and says, “It is better to use one tool that was born from need than a generic cover-all tool designed for many different applications.”

It takes more planning and patience to load up the tools ahead of time and more time to develop the skill to use them, but when you use the right tools correctly, there is less damage, more job completion and less frustration. The wrong tool may lead to quitting (which is in evidence all over my house where you can find dozens of started, but not finished, projects!)

Employ Specialized Sales Tools

Sales is much the same; every sales professional needs to carry out either the entire sales process or some piece of the sales process. The best scenario features a skilled sales professional with access to, and experience, with the proper selling tools. The more specialized the tool, the more effective it is at accomplishing the job for which it was designed.

The classic sales professional used a pay phone, a map and a day-timer; it required true skill to make this work. Modern sales productivity tools can empower us with more selling time that is focused on building genuine relationships with customers and prospects.

Early on as a sales manager, I was often running behind and frustrated when trying to follow printed directions to a customer location. What a revelation GPS has been to the road-warrior sales pro! Now, I arrive relaxed, focused, and on time, just by adding the right tool to my bucket.

Similarly, there was also the hassle of synchronizing schedules, contacts, and email. Behold! The BlackBerry arrived, and out of the darkness, I came — just by selecting and using the right tool.

What Sales Tools do you Use?

Selling tools are potent in the hands of the right people. Make no mistake; there is no substitute for a serious approach to the craft of selling. However, finding the right combination of skills and tools can be the recipe for making rain.

What sales tools can you recommend and for what specific sales purpose?

I was just thinking about you, as your name came up several times during sales meeting with a mutual acquaintance. This acquaintance was saying what a great guy and exceptional sales person you are, and stated that they really like your company and it’s products.  I was echoing that sentiment, by saying how much respect I have for you, and how personable you are. So naturally, I was shocked when I checked the visitor sign in book I saw neither your name nor any mention of your company (even though I thumbed back through several weeks of records).

I thought you might like to know that this mutual acquaintance, though quite complementary, was a little bit concerned that they had reached out to you for some help with some very important compliance forms, but had not heard back from you.  Luckily I was able to help them!  They had also mentioned that their business model had changed slightly, and that they needed some adjustments made to the way they were doing business with your organization. Fortunately, I was able to provide them with a web link that quickly solved the problem. Then, according to their records, you are scheduled to come visit them in about three weeks. I would also like to pass on to you, the fact that they said they had some questions about miscellaneous charges that keep showing up on their bills. These charges seem to keep mounting and are beginning to become quite a nuisance, but I’m sure you will address all of this in a few weeks.  Believe me, I know how busy you have been these last few weeks.  However, you have a geographically dispersed territory. No one can hold any of that against you, after all your great guy.

One last thing, this acquaintance was actually your largest customer. And I am the sales professional who represents your competition. Starting today, I have a new largest customer – thank you for being so busy. Next time I see you, the drinks are on me! You really are great.

Anyone from the least experienced telemarketer to the most experienced sales manager can tell you that this story is NOT fiction. All too often we take our eye off of the ball with our most precious commodity, (our customers) in favor of a myriad of other responsibilities. One way to stay in front of your customer, even when you can’t physically be there is to send an online sales presentation through e-mail, it allows you personalized contact one-on-one with key decision-makers so you can stay connected. If you are managing your customers properly, you will not miss out on new business development opportunities, and equally important you’ll keep your competition out.

For some sales training on exactly what types of online presentations to send please check back with this blog over the next few weeks. Also, if you have any selling tips or sales techniques for the most effective way to stay connected with your prospects and customers please let us know.

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