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How to Shop for a Sales Consultant

Monday, October 29, 2018

So, you’re considering bringing in someone to help ramp up your team’s sales productivity. Hiring an FTE doesn’t make financial sense just yet, so you are thinking a consultant might do the trick. There are lots of them out there, so how do you go about selecting the right one? Here are a few things to consider that might make the selection process clearer…

Tap Your Network: Ask your colleagues who they’d recommend. Interview someone they rave about. This will get you started and give you a benchmark by which to measure other candidates by.

Can I Trust This Person: Obvious, right? You are going to put this person in front of your staff and so low trust = a no go. During your selection process go to coffee or lunch with the candidate. You’ll see more of the “real” them vs. in the boardroom setting and can better dial into your trust radar.

Sales Chops: Decide what expertise you need in your situation and probe to learn your candidate’s acumen. Is it in sales method [how to conduct a productive sales interaction with a buyer]? If the way this person sells to you is off-putting, stop there. You won’t like what they teach your team. Is it sales process [mapping the steps to take an opportunity from the Lead stage to closure]? Ask to see the tool set they’d install in your business. Is it Lead Generation [filling the top of the sales funnel]? Again, ask to see their models. Good looks like Intellectual Property that is formal, organized, coherent and branded – maybe even a book. Bad looks like sales tips and tactics verbally delivered, stray MS Word docs and scribbles on your white board.

Years in Business: The longer in business as an active consultant, the better. This means you are dealing with a proven entity. Beware the friend of a friend who’s been a Sales Manager for forever, is between gigs and is “doing some consulting.” Unless they’ve got a solid pedigree [taken a company exactly like yours from start up to $100M] this person may be long on tips and tactics but light on road tested and proven teachable IP.

Company or Individual: One is not better than the other. There are awesome folks in either configuration. Generally, the size of your sales team will dictate which is best. You may need a big firm to manage a roll out to your 1000 sales reps.

Fee Range: You get what you pay for, to a point. If you are quoted fees that look weirdly high, continue looking at other providers to either confirm or deny if they are just high or if their offer is superior. Low fees mean you may be dealing with someone who is new to the role and perhaps not skilled enough to help you sufficiently. Or it may be that they are not comfortable to set fees that reflect the value they bring. If this is the case, you don’t want this person training your sales team anyway. Dig deeper into their sales chops to determine which.

Experience Base: Experience in your industry is an asset but not a necessity unless you are in a crazily narrow niche business. Actual proven success in multiple industries is a clear sign that this party’s methodology and IP produce results.

Skip the School of Hard Knocks

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

You likely learned a ton about how to run your business by attending the School of Hard Knocks. You are likely [and justifiably] proud of making it through not only intact but looking pretty good! When it comes to the sales function however, skip school this time. If sales aren’t your passion, your results aren’t great, or you already have 1000 other things to focus on, bring on someone to steer the sales function for you and you’ll be ecstatic with the results. Here’s why…

You are Human – not a machine. Running a business is tough enough without piling on another departmental leadership function on top of that.

Revenue is the Life Blood of Your Company – If you are bootstrapping, Cash is King. If you are funded, revenue lengthens your runway. If your sales results aren’t great, that should be addressed.

Sales is Way Harder Than It Looks – Look at those guys and gals over their blabbing on the phone closing deals. What could be easier? Trying to optimize and implement a sales process requires a lot of bandwidth.

The Sales Cliff Sucks – If the sales wheel isn’t continually turned, funnels dry up quickly, and revenue falls off fast.


Your Options:

Your first and most obvious option is to hire a Sales Manager, or the like. This works if you a) have the money and b) are at a growth point at which this makes sense.

If you are at 2-3 sales people and revenues are trending up, then hiring this person is an investment that will likely have a great ROI. Also, hiring this person lets you work more “on” your business rather than “in” it. If, however, revenue is light at the moment it may not make financial sense to spend the dough on an FTE. The time to payback may be longer than you are willing or comfortable to wait. In this case there is another option.

That other option is to hire a consultant – just as you would for any other business function. There are sales consultancies of all stripes. Some are awesome at pumping up your team with motivational speeches. Others are great at teaching your team how to conduct highly productive sales conversations with buyers. Some work with you to optimize the steps of your sales process to increase sales velocity and deal size. On the upside whatever your need it’s likely you can get it addressed by a credible expert for far less than the cost of an FTE.  On the downside if your team needs hourly/daily leading, then a consultant by design can’t fulfill this.

If Sales is a passion for you and you have the bandwidth to tend to the team and run your business as well, by all means, keep managing the sales team. Otherwise, take action now and hand the reins to an individual who can focus squarely on the task at hand and drive your revenue results.

Will Your Sales Approach Support Your Growth Goals?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

How much revenue will your sales team close 90 days from now? If you can’t answer this question with any level of confidence you are not alone. Many leaders I chat with struggle to predict their sales team’s revenue even 30 days out. If you aren’t all over tracking your leading sales indicators, it’s next to impossible to know if how your team is selling will sustain your business’s growth goals. By rigorously measuring the rate at which those “things that cause sales to happen” occur you will quickly get to reliable forecasting and an optimized sales process.

Off the hop let me identify the magic ingredient that makes any dashboarding work - rigour. Sounds almost redundant but I bring up rigor because its the number one challenge in implementing and leveraging dashboards. If your data is inaccurate or incomplete due to lack of rigour you will make poor decisions based on what your dashboards are telling you.

To clarify rigour, I mean accurate recording by your team of their sales activities every day, as they perform them. No “I’ll wait until Friday afternoon to enter in all my CRM stuff” approaches allowed. Who has the energy on a Friday afternoon to enter a whole week’s worth of sales activity micro-data? No one, that’s who!

Moving on, here are the core sales activities that will serve as your leading indicators.

Diagnosis Meetings: Interactions with Sales Leads, the purpose of which is to Diagnose their Pains and determine if they are a Viable Sales Opportunity.  Not enough of these each week means a dry sales funnel in no time.

Demo Meetings: Meetings with Viable Sales Opportunities to demonstrate your product or service. Not enough of these weekly leads to a longer closing cycle as buyers often need to see what your product can do before saying yes to paying for it.

Solution Meetings: Interactions with Viable Sales Opportunities, the purpose of which is to finalize the version of your solution they’d like and allow you to solidify price.

Number of Proposals Presented: This value of this one’s pretty obvious.

As far as the goal quantity for each of the above, that varies widely from industry to industry and product/service to product/service. Generally, lower price point sales that are decided upon by a single buying influence require many more of each interaction type per week than high priced multi-buying influence ones.

The thing about sales activity goals is this – have one, for each activity. Work with your team to a) decide which things that cause sales to happen at your company should be measured, b) set the bar, c) adjust it over time until you discover the optimal amount of each activity required for reps to hit sales target. This continual optimization process is the path to confidence that your current sales process will support reaching your business’s growth goals.

An Otherwise Good Walk Ruined

Saturday, September 01, 2018

There is an old saying that goes, “golf is an otherwise good walk ruined”, referring to the frustrations inherent in trying to get that darned little white ball into the hole.  Achieving revenue growth may not always happen as quickly as we’d like, but it should not feel as frustrating as golf often feels.

Are you frustrated with your rate of revenue growth? If yes, below are some common causes of Revenue Generation Frustration and how to mitigate them.

You:  Business Owner & Sales Manager

Do you have a solid sales pedigree? If not, running even a small department can be challenging. Time ticks by and sales results don’t come.

If you are not a sales management expert, find a resource and get this task off your plate and onto theirs. Doing so is all upside – you lighten your load and have more time to do the stuff you love, such as leading the company into the future rather than being stuck in the sales weeds.

You: Abdicator

More dangerous than managing a function you aren’t an expert in, is not manage it at all. You just let your sales folks loose with a cell phone, laptop and gas card and wait for the sales revenue to come rolling in. This generally always fails.  Invariably results are tepid and when you finally dig in you find you are down 6 months sales salary and your revenue future looks pretty grim.

The sales function requires daily monitoring to assess what course corrections are required for success in the ever-changing business landscape.  See the advice in the paragraph above for how to fix this.

Low ROI

Your sales department should be self-funding. Salespeople should be generating between 3x to 5x their salary [depending on your margins] to be paying for themselves.

Take a good hard look and determine if your sales team is covering their costs. Factor in all costs related acquiring deals. There can be many reasons why they may be falling short [the comp plan is wrong, quotas aren’t right, headcount is too high, Lead Generation is too light]. Once you learn the underlying causes the fixes will be readily apparent.

No Leading Indicators

If your main sales success measures are primarily lagging ones [revenue generated, new implementations] you’ll continually be running behind.  Switch to frequent measurement – think daily, weekly, monthly – of those things that cause sales to happen.

A few to look at are:

a)       Pipeline Creation Rate: How many viable sales leads have been generated
b)      Number of Sales Calls conducted
c)       Number of Demos conducted

Identify your leading indicators and be rigorous in tracking them.

Flying Blind – No Dashboards

The value in measuring lies in using the data toward continuous improvement. Share the dashboards at minimum with the salespeople individually and review them together for coaching purposes.

Work together to determine what the numbers are indicating and what activity adjustments could/should be made to improve results. Depending on your appetite for a competitive sales environment you may share all results with the entire team.

No Recipe for Success

The number one cause of feelings of Rev Gen Frustration is a lack of a defined sales process. If no sales roadmap exists, the team may find their way more often than not, but it will be a continual struggle. This leads to lots of bad stuff [sales goals aren’t hit; commission payouts are low, and staff quit].

Hunker down with your sales team in a boardroom and capture a) your customer’s buying process and then b) your process to help them buy from you. This is the ultimate Rev Gen Frustration reducer.

Social Selling Using LinkedIn Part II

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

In my last blog post I showed how investing 10 minutes in Social Selling per day can improve your prospecting effectiveness and eliminate cold calling. [If you haven't read it, click here]. In this posting I'll share two effective ways to build the targeted list of buyers you want to be introduced to so you can begin filling the top of your sales funnel.

The path to eliminating cold calling begins with increasing the number of first-degree LinkedIn connections you have in your network. The more first-degree connections you have, the more second-degree connections [and opportunities for connection requests] you will likely have to the buyers you want to speak to about using your products and services.

To make the jump from cold calling to Social Selling you need to tap your first-degree connections and ask them to introduce you to the buyers you'd like to meet. To start down this path you first need to make a list of the buyers you want to be introduced to so you can then ask to be introduced to them. There are a couple of ways to build this list.

The first is for you - or your Virtual Assistant - to do a Google search and create a list of potential companies that fit your Ideal Customer Profile. You can also choose to buy such a list. Buying is faster, but more expensive. There are pros and cons to each approach to list acquisition.

Next, go to LinkedIn and enter the name of each company on your list in the search window. Click on the company name, and LinkedIn will tell you how many first, second and third-degree connections you have within it. Look for the person within that company that, by title, is the right one for you to speak to about using your products and services.

Are they a first-degree connection of yours already? If yes, go ahead and request a telephone meeting with them to talk about using your products and services. You are off to the races!

If they are not a first-degree connection, open their profile. Which second-degree connections do you share with them? Of those second-degree connections, which is the best one to ask for an introduction to your prospective buyer? Generally the "best person" is the one with the optimum combination of a strong/close relationship with you and a strong/close relationship with your prospective buyer.

The second way to create your prospective buyer list is to find someone in your first-degree network that you consider to be well connected within your industry/territory, with whom you have a close relationship, and who would be happy to make introductions for you. LinkedIn gives you access to their first-degree network. Scan it and create a list of people that fit your Ideal Customer Profile who you would like to be introduced to.

The first and most critical step when using this method is to speak to this person directly and confirm that they would be OK to refer you on a regular basis [you don't ever want to stress your network by "over asking" for referrals]. You might pose the opportunity to them using the "give to get" method.

Say something to them like, "I'm in the process of looking for new business. You are very well connected in my space. Would you mind if I looked through your network for connection opportunities? I'll then let you know who I am hoping to be introduced to. In return, I would like you to do the same within my network. I want to help you as much as I possibly can." If they agree, go ahead and begin building your list.

With your list built, it's now time to proceed with asking for those valuable introductions. Details and scripting around how to do that will be the topic of my next blog post.

How to Eliminate Sales Peaks and Valleys

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

“OMG, my sales funnel is bone dry!!” 

Panic sets in.  You sell like crazy, get some sales traction and start nursing your new found opportunities to closure.  You focus on nothing else for weeks.  A few of them close.  Champagne corks pop and commissions are calculated.  Finally, you pause for breath and look at your CRM. 

“OMG, my sales funnel is bone dry... again!”

The sales rollercoaster is the number one selling Pain chosen in a recent survey of my blog readers.  The peaks of the ride are a blast, but the valleys totally suck.  There is, however, a way to tame this 5 ticket ride and carve a path to steady, reliable and predictable revenue.

Here’s the thing – every sales person knows about the rollercoaster.  Strangely, they seem to readily allow themselves to climb on board.  They know if they get so busy closing business [or implementing new deals] and stop prospecting for net new customers their sales funnel will run dry, yet they repeatedly make this fundamental mistake.  How come?

I think it’s the dopamine effect.  Dopamine is the chemical in your body behind the feel good rush [pleasure] you get doing whatever your favorite thing is.  For sales people, the mere thought of closing business feels good. Closing sales feels even better – hello dopamine! 

Contrast this with the grunt work behind finding brand new clients.  Cold calling [lots of rejection], endless web research [boring!] and completing CRM fields [mind numbing] is super low on the dopamine producing scale.  It’s no wonder many sellers gravitate away from Prospecting.

To keep the dopamine flowing and get off the roller coaster, try some of these road tested and proven methods to minimize the valleys of the ride...

Hire someone else to do the heavy lifting prospecting work for you:  This one is road tested by me personally.  There is a market of highly qualified virtual assistants today that did not exist even 5 years ago.  Select one and pay them to do the part[s] of the prospecting process you don’t enjoy, are too busy to do or are just no good at.  Have this work done while you are busy closing your current sales opportunities.  When you are done with them, there will be fresh opportunities to close.  This investment will put money in their pocket, hours back into your day, and new prospects into your sales funnel.  It’s a win – win!

Set and keep a 45-minute appointment with yourself every day:  For most sellers 45 minutes a day focused on acquiring net new sales opportunities, will more than meet their sales productivity needs.  Imagine, 240 [or so] focused prospecting sessions a year!  The secret[s]?  First, find the 45 minutes.  Even if you are quite time efficient my bet is you can tighten up here and there and create this golden chunk of time.  Second, be focused [no personal phoning, texting, Facebook, inbound email alerts, etc] when prospecting.  Third, use CRM to record your work religiously.  This will allow you to get productive the first few minutes of your session and not burn time getting organized. 

Set and measure your prospecting productivity goals:  Something like “Each week I will generate a total of ‘X’ number of net new prospects” will do.  Next, tell someone else about your goal.  Sharing goals has a way of cementing them in our minds, and firming our resolve to meet them. 

Refine your prospecting methods:  Cold calling is dead.  If you are still performing this soul sucking task you need to stop... Now!  Search your favorite book store and select a book that will teach you how to get your prospecting into this millennium.  There are many more effective, efficient and enjoyable ways to find your next big client than cold calling.  Hint...it’s called social media.

With just a little discipline and stick-to-it ‘ness you can get off the sales rollercoaster.  If you adopt any of the above strategies my prediction is you will flatten the peaks and valleys, make more money, and have a great time doing so.  Have fun!


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