Hope is NOT a Strategy

Planning for your team’s sales success means knowing — down to the account level —where the revenue to hit your sales targets will come from. Few sales organizations do this well. Buck the trend and be one of them.

Simply stated, there are two sources of new revenue: new revenue from existing customers, and “New Logo” business (net new customers who represent a “new logo” on your customer list). Forecasting how much of your required growth will come from each gets your team focused on the right areas straight out of the gate.

New revenue from existing customers is the easiest place to start. The cost of acquiring this business is low, as you are connected to key decision makers already. These customers know you and love you. There are two approaches to developing new business within your existing customer base.

The first is to have each of your people consider their top existing customers and ask, “What products or services do these customers not buy from us that are a natural extension of what they do buy from us?” For example, if you are in the office products business, maybe your top account buys their consumables from your company, but has never spoken to your decor design division.

Next ask, “Who within the account can I speak to and what questions should I ask to learn if they have needs that these extension products will fulfill?” Determine whether you are appropriately connected to begin the selling process. Does the person who makes the consumables decision make the furniture decision? If not, how might you get connected to that person?

Nailing down this detail will create a quick strategic sales plan that can be acted on immediately.

The second way to generate new revenue within existing customers is solution innovation.

It may be that you are meeting your top account’s stated needs already. Leverage this relationship and engage them in a “round table” idea-generating exercise to explore potentially unmet needs and consider ways to meet them.

For instance, maybe your top customer is facing cost challenges associated with rogue purchases made outside of their discounted contract with you. Perhaps a managed inventory solution — a service you don’t offer today — would be a perfect fix for this problem.

Take this idea to Engineering, Marketing, and R&D. You just might build something that other customers can use too.

New Logo business is the next revenue channel to explore. This is often higher-margin business that, although it is small today, can grow meaningfully. Broadening your account base by securing New Logo revenue makes your business healthy and stabilizes revenue flow.

Acquiring New Logo business can be slow and frustrating. These accounts are seemingly impenetrable fortresses with skilled gatekeepers and guarded decision makers. Cold calling them is ineffective and useless. To meet this challenge, play the “Six Degrees of Separation” game.

First, have each person on your team identify their top ten New Logo target accounts.

Then bring the team together with their contact databases. Determine if any connections exist within those databases to the New Logo targets. Generating warm referrals into these targets will get you out of the cold calling trap and into productive sales meetings.

Sound account planning is not difficult to do. The strategies you create will take your team from hoping they hit their sales goals to planning to hit them. After all, hope is not a strategy.

How to Predictably Hit Your Revenue Goals

It’s the Sales Leader’s job to predict the company’s revenue future. Accurate predictions make it easier it to run the business and plan for its future.  The leader must know how much the team will sell, who they will sell it to, and when will they sell it.  To more accurately predict your sales results master the science of generating sales.

Achieving such mastery is a team effort.  All must commit to study what generates a sale at your company, in your industry, and in your market. Only by first auditing this process can work then begin to make it turn more effectively and efficiently.

Significant Sales Activities

The sales production process is composed of many Significant Sales Activities [SSA’s].  These are the things done by your sales team that cause a sale to happen.  To most accurately predict sales production, start measuring your SSA’s.  A few SSA’s to measure weekly are…

Contacts with sales leads:  This activity fills the top of your sales funnel.   Watch this indicator closely.  It is the first one to drop when things get busy.  A decrease in activity here leads to fewer sales to close later.

Sales meetings with buyers [in person or via telephone]:  These interactions move your qualified leads through the funnel towards closure.  A subtle drop in sales meetings this week leads to a measurable decrease in revenue produced the next month.  Keep the pace here.

Sales Closed:  On the surface this appears to be a lagging indicator of sales effectiveness.  When measured with greater frequency however [daily or weekly vs. monthly], it clearly predicts trends and becomes a leading indicator of revenue goal attainment. 

Speak to your sales team and identify which SSA’s contribute most significantly to causing a sale to happen.  Rank them in priority from most important to least.  Next, ask your sales team to record how many of them they do each week.  After four to six  weeks you will have a good baseline measure of how much of each SSA is required to maintain your current rate of revenue production. 

With your SSA baseline established you can now begin to shift the levels of each activity either up or down in an attempt to produce more revenue.  This sales process optimization will be ongoing as your business landscape will shift and change over time.

Measurement Challenges

A common challenge in initiating SSA data reporting – especially when it has traditionally not been done before – is salesperson resistance.  Resistance is defined as any deliberate action, or inaction, that runs counter to achieving a stated goal. 

Resistance might sound like “I don’t want you measuring my weekly activities.  That’s micro management!” Or, “I have enough reports to complete as it is.”  Or late submission of reports, incomplete data, or both.

The root cause of salesperson resistance is often fear of the unknown.  Understandably, questions arise in their minds like “We’ve never done this before.  Why do you really want this data?  Is it going to be used against me some how?” 

Managing Resistance

A few simple steps to effectively deal with resistance are:

Anticipate It:  Understand that change is hard for people.  Ask yourself, “knowing my sales team as I do what underlying concerns might they have?”  Prepare questions to uncover those concerns.  Prepare how you will respond to each anticipated concern.

Be Transparent:  People don’t do well with ‘grey’.  Be open and honest around the how,   what, and why’s of the SSA measurement initiative.

Involve Them Deeply:  This gives them insight into the process and a clear understanding of the importance of optimizing the sales process.

Communicate the Value:  Sales people who sell using an optimized sales process make more money.  Their job is easier.  It becomes more fun and fulfilling.  Engage your team in discussions about these positive outcomes

The path to predictably hitting your revenue goals is always challenging, but can be made more predictable with this straightforward approach to sales process optimization.

To Close More Deals Follow the Roadmap

Navigating big deals through to closure is complex. Multiple decision makers, influencers, and big dollars can make these anxious waters. It’s easy to get lost. To help you find your way follow the Sales Roadmap.

The Sales Roadmap is an inventory of sales actions and corresponding buyer commitments that move a sale forward step-by-step to closure. This roadmap isn’t something you buy at a store, it’s something you build.

Building your Sales Roadmap provides instant clarity into where your sales process is healthy, and where it’s weak. It gives you insight into why you’ve achieved the level of sales success you have, and precisely where to focus to improve those results.

How do you start to build your Sales Roadmap? First you need to be aware that generally there are four classic phases which any sale passes through on its way to being secured:

Suspect: You suspect this company has a need for your products or services.

Prospect: You have met with this company, confirmed they have needs you can satisfy, and confirmed that they would actually spend money to resolve those needs.

Target: The company has your pricing in hand, and at least 75% of the issues that stand between you and closure have been successfully dealt with.

Closed: Pricing is agreed to and implementation dates are set.

With this groundwork laid, you are now set to begin building your Sales Roadmap

Step One: Capture Your Baseline Sales Roadmap

Gather your sales people together. Ask them to plot and document the sales activities and corresponding buyer commitments that must occur to move a typical large deal through each phase, from ‘Suspect’ through to ‘Closed’.

For instance, to move a deal through the Suspect phase, sales must first reach the right buying contact and request a meeting [sales activity], and the buyer must say ‘yes’ to that meeting [buyer commitment]. Follow this thought process through for each of the four phases. Capture all sales activities and buyer commitments within each. When this task is complete, you will have your Sales Roadmap in hand.

Step Two: Optimize Your Sales Roadmap

Optimizing your Sales Roadmap brings you great value. Not only does it increase top line revenue and eliminate waste in the sales process, it also improves sales velocity, simplifies the closing of complex deals, and makes the company healthy for the long term.

To optimize your Sales Roadmap look at the sales activities in each phase and ask:

  1. Is this the right activity to be doing at this time in the sale to get it closed?
  2. Have the right things been done previous to this sales activity to set the stage for its success?

If your answer to either of these questions is ‘No’, look at your Sales Roadmap and begin optimizing it. Here’s how:

  • Move your sales activities to their optimal place in the Roadmap. An insurance provider found they were issuing price quotes too early in their sale, before all the buyer’s needs had been identified. This explained their poor ratio of closes to quotes issued. By doing a more vigorous needs assessment up front and quoting later, they were able to close more deals.
  • Insert sales activities early in the Roadmap that will make closing the deal later a little smoother. A transportation company discovered large closes were being stalled by last minute objections from the buyer’s warehouse staff. By engaging those buying influences earlier in the sales process they eliminated late stage glitches.
  • Delete Roadmap activities that bog down your sales process. A biotech company identified having Sales hand off system demonstrations to the Field Service Technicians team was slowing down sales velocity. With some training the sales team was able to perform demonstrations on their own, and Field Service was able to focus on their customer care duties.

Documenting and optimizing your Sales Roadmap is a straightforward way to improve your team’s effectiveness and efficiency in closing large deals.

When Sales Leadership Abdicates Their Duties

As an executive level sales manager you can find your focus being pulled away from important ‘on’ the business issues to burning and urgent ‘in’ the business issues. Marketing wants feedback now, R&D wants input tomorrow, and Finance wants help with A/R issues yesterday. By the way, there is that big deal that needs closing. Succumbing to the allure of burning issues and neglecting leadership duties is called the absentee leader trap. Here is why you don’t want to be stuck there, and how you can prevent it from happening.

How to know if you are being drawn off course? Statements like “That one on one session with my rep – I’ll have to cancel that. That conference call with my Eastern team – that will have to wait until after this fire is out” are the first signs you are falling prey to the absentee leader trap. Allowing this to happen is a mistake that can have serious consequences for your sales team.

When you stop leading many things happen, none of them good. Here are a few…

  • Sales professionals with an absentee leader are forced to make decisions in isolation and are more likely to entertain buyer discounts and other concessions to close deals. Both of these are profit killers.
  • As the customer’s conduit to the company, your salespeople are often the first to field ‘out of the box’ requests. When faced with such requests and an absentee leader, a salesperson may take the “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” approach to deal making. Customer expectations are set and everyone is left scrambling to make it happen. Worse yet, the customer may have to be told after the fact it can’t happen.
  • Productivity drops. New hires and junior staff need guidance and direction from their leader to become productive. The faster they become productive, the faster the return on the investment in hiring them, and the better they feel about their decision to join your team.
  • In an absentee leader environment good manager-employee relationships wane and weak ones worsen. Morale slides and your best people start looking for work elsewhere.

Here are three ways to avoid the absentee leader trap…

  1. Establish Regular ‘Stand Up’ Meetings – These are simple and effective in keeping you connected to your team no matter where you or they are. Hold them in person or via web conference. Have a regular start time, a defined duration [think 10 -15 minutes max], and a concise agenda. Focus on relaying information that will help them to do their jobs effectively. Provide praise and recognition to those who earned it. Show the team you appreciate their hard work. Fill their bucket. Note: attendance must be mandatory. An environment of “it’s OK to miss this meeting” will render it ineffective in achieving team cohesion.
  2. Give 24-hour Response To Messages From Your People – This goes without saying, right? Many leaders don’t do this. They are too busy with ‘higher’ things and apologize for not getting back. Nothing alienates a salesperson more than being ignored by their boss. There is plenty of delayed response and rejection inherent in the sales role. Facing it internally builds resentment, big time.
  3. Be A Conduit To The Big Picture At Corporate – An engaged employee knows how their day to day achievements contribute to the big picture at work. Keep your sales team current on how their contribution is affecting the enterprise as a whole. An engaged sales team is a productive sales team.

Channel Your Team’s Inner Wisdom

Want your sales organization to up its game? Ask your best players to mentor a teammate. Why ask your top performers take on a mentoring role? Because mentoring makes everyone better.

Through the act of mentoring, the mentor improves. Want to get better at something? Get prepared to teach it to someone else. Knowledge gaps get filled and processes are distilled to their essence. Seemingly unconnected acts performed innately are unified through explaining what is, what was, and what shall be.

Those being mentored improve too of course. Their knowledge base broadens and deepens. The magic of translating knowledge into skill is learned. Causal links between ‘I do this and that happens’ are identified and learning occurs. Results improve measurably.

The company wins too. They get an empowered team of employees who have been sent the very clear message that the organization cares about them. That their contribution to the big picture matters. That they are being given every chance to succeed in their role. When this happens, employee engagement rises. Top performers tend to stick around.

Here is how to integrate mentoring into your culture…

Teach your mentors how to mentor. This obvious first step is often neglected. The presumption that skill competence or mastery translates into the ability to teach is incorrect. Make ‘The Elements of Mentoring’ by W. Brad Johnson and Charles R Ridley required reading. Additionally, send them to a basic coaching skills course [as the core skills to mentor effectively are similar to those used in coaching]

  • Clarify the mentors’ role. Mentoring is closely aligned to coaching, but is different. Mentoring is “I have been down the road on which you are travelling. Let me teach you how to best navigate it”. Coaching is “I [may] have not been down the road you travel, but let’s figure out how to navigate it”. A mentor provides task specific advice, guidance, direction, and teaching.
  • Explain ‘why mentoring – why now’ to the team. Explain the rationale behind the investment in time and money being made. Show the positive correlation between mentoring and results improvement for individuals and teams.
  • Create a roadmap for the mentoring relationships. Outline suggested frequency and duration of sessions.
  • Strive for transparency. Discuss disclosure and confidentiality openly. Be crystal clear about what will be disclosed to managers etc [business issues], and what will not [personal views or anything deemed confidential by the mentor and protégé].
  • Thoughtfully match mentors to protégés. Assess the needs of the protégés and match a mentor to them that best meets those needs.
  • Set goals for mentoring outcomes. Mentoring without a specific end in mind may feel good but will not produce a sufficient ROI. Define what should be taught, and the desired learning outcomes sought from mentoring engagements.
  • Measure results. Check in frequently to ensure that the mentoring is helping both parties grow. If improvement is not happening, lift the hood on that mentoring relationship and look to fix it, or reassign the parties.
  • Create a feedback loop between mentors, protégés, and managers. A quick ‘Recap of our session today’ email from the mentor to the protégé cc’ing the manager works well. The primary issues covered that day [save any deemed confidential] keeps everyone tracking forward.

In skill development group and on-line learning have their place, but mentoring is uniquely powerful. It improves the performance of all involved while forging special relationships that often become cherished. Channel the inner wisdom that exists within your team by making mentoring part of your culture.