Sales

Understanding the Sales Ecosystem, and Why That Matters

by Karen Jackson | on Feb 16, 2016 | 6 Comments

We live within ecosystems, macro and micro, in our private lives and at work. The health of these ecosystems directly correlates to the quality of our experience and opportunity for impact. That’s true at both a personal level (think: relationships, family, community) and at a corporate level (think: people, process & systems.)

When we’re experiencing dysfunction, there’s a tendency to isolate the problem to a single source of culpability. The trouble with that approach is we’re more likely to address a symptom without ever discovering the root cause. While we may alleviate the symptom in the short term, it’s frequently a temporary fix. Instead, if we look at the entire ecosystem wherein the problem exists, we can better identify the multiple adjustments required to return us to high function, and keep us there.

Which brings me to the “sales ecosystem.” It’s comprised of the people, process & systems responsible for revenue generation. When it’s not functioning well – translate: “We have a sales problem” – there’s a strong tendency to blame the sales people and to question their competency and commitment. More often its breakdowns in the sales ecosystem that are causing the sales people to struggle. When that ecosystem is not well understood, we attempt to fix the problem through micro-management, discipline and churning personnel. New team members get hired, but the results don’t change. The only way to a lasting solution is to analyze the ecosystem they work in. It’s there you will find the root causes of dysfunction.

I’m a visual person and prefer to categorize the elements into key “buckets”:

• Target Market Strategy (Customer set, problems they face, how we solve, why they should buy)
• Sales Force Effectiveness (Sales process, playbooks, coaching, messaging, account management, performance management)
• Sales Operations (CRM systems, analytics, tech enablement)
• Talent Management (Comp plans, on-boarding, training, professional development)
• Marketing (Product & pricing, collateral, content marketing, campaigns, lead gen, social media)

Each of these elements is necessary for a sales person’s success, irrespective of the size of the company. The level of sophistication may differ, but the need does not. Once we take this holistic view, we can better interrogate where the breakdowns are occurring. For example, the problem might lay in the lack of sales process, or archaic CRM systems. It could be misaligned marketing, poorly articulated value proposition, lack of training, or comp plans at odds with corporate goals. Most often it’s a combination of issues. Rather than simply hanging poor results on our sales people, we must look at all the elements of the sales ecosystem that are broken and impeding success. If we repair those, we can now fairly assess the competency of individual team members. It’s possible some can’t cut it; they must go. But in my experience, fully 78% of existing sales teams are perfectly capable of achieving quota were the sales ecosystem healthy.

But wait, our micro-ecosystems exist in the context of macro-ecosystems. In other words, there may well be other forces at work causing the “sales problem.” If you’ve dispassionately examined the sales ecosystem and consensus exists that it’s sound, these are the usual culprits:

• Dysfunctional corporate culture
• Lack of vision & values
• Wrong person managing sales
• Sales people performing non-sales related activity
• Breakdowns in hand-offs between sales & operations

If you’re experiencing a sales problem, look to the ecosystem. Start with the premise that it’s not the fault of the team members but the context they are operating within. Shine a bright light on these buckets. It will greatly improve your ability to find solutions to what ails the top line.

Does this ring true in your experience? Weigh in and keep the conversation going.

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Driving (or Losing) Revenue Through Customer Experience

by Karen Jackson | on Oct 29, 2015 | No Comments

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz famously said the company’s success was not about its coffee, but rather, “It’s about the experience.” These simple words are profound. People (whether in the form of an individual consumer or a business) buy from companies that create a delightful experience. Schultz knew that in any given town or city there was little demand for another coffee shop. But he understood there was a demand for creating a community experience that involved coffee.

The recipe for Starbucks phenomenal growth was in large part due to its focus on the ingredients needed for delight: well-trained and personable staff, wi-fi, music, comfy chairs, attractive display cabinets with fresh food, consistent quality and seasonal menu offerings. Customers came, returned, and increased their spend across product lines – and bought gift cards for friends and family, increasing the number of delighted customers in the most organic way possible.

This experience-centric approach is not exclusive to the B2C world; B2B companies such as Salesforce.com, American Express and Constant Contact leverage customer experience for competitive advantage. They understand that robots aren’t making purchasing decisions in B2B, people are. The context of the company doesn’t eliminate the fact that emotion is a key buying factor.

But too few companies understand the importance of customer experience and its correlation to revenue generation. Companies focus on their sales team’s impact, but not on the myriad of other touch points their firms have with the customer, both pre- and post-sale. And often, when sales people bring back experience issues to operations, they’re met with deaf ears. Ignorance is not bliss, for when the customer experience is ho-hum, difficult, or blatantly negative, there is no incentive for their loyalty, much less to rave to their colleagues or friends about their experience. The door is open to a competitor who offers delight. As Gary Vaynerchuk drives home in his book The Thank You Economy, business leaders better “care – about your customers, about your employees, about your brand – with everything you’ve got.”

A few of my own recent vendor interactions illustrate what goes wrong when leadership forgets (or doesn’t care about) the customer experience:

  • Landscape company’s voice mail greeting: “Your call is very important to us but we’re not in the office right now, so please call back tomorrow.”
  • Empty restaurant at lunch time where the host seated me and my guest at a small table next to the wait staff’s station.
  • Doctor’s office A/R voice mail greeting: “Sorry, the person who takes payment information is out this afternoon; please call back tomorrow.” That was after the invoice instructed me to, “Call the office to pay by credit card” instead of providing an easy mail in form or web payment option.
  • Letter from my credit card company’s fraud department asked me to call but provided the wrong department’s phone number. For good measure, the person I reached gave me the correct number but couldn’t transfer me and said I must re-dial.
  • Countless supplier websites where it’s difficult to find the information I seek.

These experiences send a variety of subliminal messages, among them:

  • “You’re just not that important to us.”
  • “We’re super sloppy about our work.”
  • “Our financials are shaky and we had to cut back on staff.”
  • “We run our business based on our needs not yours.”

A customer who experiences this lack of caring may stay on, but with few recurring transactions and no referrals. At worst, and more often, they run screaming to another provider who understands the power of customer experience.

CEO’s should be up at night with the fear that their customers and prospects are having these experiences. Excluded are companies with rock bottom pricing as their value proposition; the customer consented to give up service in exchange for price performance. But few businesses operate on that model and probably not yours. More likely, you couldn’t afford to sell your product at a price low enough for the customer to forgo the experience. The damage shows up as an inability to convert prospects, low customer retention, inability to upsell and negative reviews. It’s not too hard to find a new landscape company, doctor, restaurant or credit card provider. Or, accountant, cloud services provider, architect, IT consultant, etc. There’s always another game in town.

How do you solve? Begin with an audit of your organization, all departments included, not just those that are customer facing. After all, incorrect invoices reduce the quality of the customer experience. Scrutinize processes and systems to understand their impact on the customer. Review practices and scripts for all customer facing positions. Identify the customer experience you provide before the buyer has even converted from prospect to customer. Ask these questions:

  • In what ways are we hard to do business with?
  • How complicated is it to engage with our people, processes and materials (website, shopping carts, marketing collaterals, forms, etc.)?
  • How closely do we fulfill on our promises? Are we saying we’re one thing but being another?
  • Have we created a culture of caring and are we hiring people with the DNA to act accordingly?
  • Is the customer experience integrated into our values statement?
  • Does everyone in the organization understand their impact on the customer?
  • Have we established and trained everyone in standards of performance?
  • Does everyone that touches the customer have the training and the authority to solve a problem?

Get your entire workforce involved in this inquiry. Empower (and reward) teams to find the issues and solutions. Ask your customers for their perspectives. Make Schultz’s mantra, “It’s about the experience” a core element of your business strategy. You can close the gap between customer fail and customer delight. Revenue growth depends on it.

 

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Dragging Your Feet on Process Stymies Sales Success

by Karen Jackson | on Nov 12, 2014 | No Comments

I’ve wondered why so many CEO’s of small and lower middle market B2B companies insist on buttoned-down processes throughout their businesses, but not in the sales department. They’d never dream of running finance or operations without process. How would they know if their P&L is accurate, receivables contained, billing error-free, service delivery optimized, or cost of goods under control? But when it comes to sales process, there’s a tendency to abdicate control and allow sales personnel to approach their jobs in an ad hoc way. “Go forth and sell” is the strategy.

So, I decided to ask. Three rationales CEO’s repeatedly shared with me were:

  • “I pay these people lots of money; they should know how to do their job.”
  • “We’re struggling right now so how would we know what process to use?”
  •  “Each sales person has a personal style; I don’t want them to read scripts.”

Let’s debunk these arguments and get clarity around the opportunities presented when sales process is implemented and subscribed to.

Truths

At its most basic level, sales process is a methodology for sales people to organize themselves, manage their prospect & customer pipelines, and follow best practices that take a prospect through the sales cycle to deal close.  The old adage “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed” also applies. Even the most senior sales person benefits – process streamlines their work, provides a set of best practices to leverage, and ensures they don’t forget any steps known to secure deals. Equally important, it prevents folks from spending their time on the wrong things. The idea that a successful, highly paid sales person can do without process is as erroneous as the idea that a CFO can govern finance on the fly. What’s true is that successful sales people rigorously follow their own process, but it’s a usually a well-kept secret and not capitalized on by the entire organization.

Second, when organizations are struggling to drive revenue, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know the ingredients for sales success; more often it means there is a highly ad hoc approach to execution. I’ve yet to work with a company where the best practices of how to successfully move through the sales cycle, the “playbook” if you will, don’t already exist. It’s just that they’ve not been identified, articulated, and institutionalized.

The most fruitful approach is to build your sales process internally, with all sales personnel (including sales support & leadership) participating in its development. If you have a marketing department, include them as well. You’ll harness everyone’s knowledge and perspective, gain buy in for execution, and identify what tools are missing for successful implementation. An experienced sales consultant can facilitate, bringing form and efficiency to the process along with insights from how other companies attack the problem. Just beware the consultant who wants to bolt on a process they’ve invented externally. It likely won’t fit your business model and you’ll never get buy in from the team to execute. Wisdom exists on the front line.  It’s just too infrequently tapped.

As for the argument about personal style, process in no way inhibits individuals from showing up as their most authentic selves. Think instead of sales process as a toolkit. It provides a proven methodology for moving through the sales cycle along with the supporting tools needed to make it happen: email templates, case studies, prospect scoring matrices, deal evaluation criteria, etc. Scripts should be included for training purposes, though not to follow word for word when talking with a customer.

Your process shouldn’t be rigid or pedantic, but rather a set of guidelines flexible enough to stray from when a situation warrants. Instead of fumbling around and searching for the way forward with each new prospect, your reps are free to express their personalities, develop relationships, collaborate with customers, and earn trust.

Big Pay-offs

It takes energy and discipline to build, implement and adhere to process. But the pay-offs are many and big. Here are my top 5:

  • Accelerated on-boarding, training and ramping of new sales people
  • Best practices employed by everyone, not just your “A” reps
  • Spotlight shines on where in the sales cycle your reps struggle, making diagnosis and solution possible
  • Individual training needs are identified
  • Improved alignment between sales, support, management and marketing

The sum of these benefits is what every CEO covets: scaled revenue growth.

Top-performing sales organizations utilize well-structured and repeatable sales processes. Not to stifle individualism nor to baby-sit, though it’s true process helps each of us stay focused, disciplined and accountable. Rather, it’s because process identifies, codifies and institutionalizes best practices for sales success, elevating the performance of not just one sales person but the entire sales organization.

What rationales are you falling back on? Take a hard look; they’re standing in the way of scaled revenue growth.

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What Successful Sales Leaders Know To Be True

by Karen Jackson | on Aug 04, 2014 | No Comments

Anyone who’s ever held a sales position can share a horror story, likely 2 or 3, about working for a terrible sales manager.  The bad ones are easy to spot: ego driven, never wrong, hung up on process, excellent at alienating customers.  The successful managers are less obvious, and that’s because the focus is on their team, a team that’s humming, making its numbers and creating life-long customers. And somewhere in between are the mediocre, not necessarily disasters, but certainly not positioning the company for growth. continue reading »

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The Market Will Tell You, So Why Aren’t You Asking?

by Karen Jackson | on May 16, 2014 | 2 Comments

The success of a B2B company’s revenue engine, its ability to reliably drive the top line, is determined by a host of factors, including target market strategy, sales personnel/process/operations, marketing, pricing, compensation plans, channel and strategic partners, etc. When sales begin to slump, CEO’s rightly go looking in these areas to uncover what’s not working.

There’s another place we should be looking but too often don’t: the market. You see, we get enamored with our businesses, our products and services, our perception of our value. Our passion for our business, our certainty that we are “the best,” can obscure the fact that the market isn’t as passionate about our offerings as we. Quietly, the market’s needs and demands are shifting and we’re missing the cues. But the evidence is there in the form of depressed sales.

Why are we missing the cues? Quite often, certain aspects of the buyers’ shift are under our very noses. The sales teams are coming back from the field and providing input like, “We’re too expensive.” Or, “Our competitors have a better solution.” Or, “The customer says our service is unreliable.” In our frustration with the poor performance, we begin to blame the sales team, doubting their skills and work ethic. But this response lacks objectivity and does nothing to solve the problem. In fact, it creates a chasm between the sales force and management.

It’s easy to find out what’s changing, because the market will tell us. But we have to go out and ask. This inquiry will uncover opportunities not to be found by looking inward, such as what:

  • problems need solving
  • voids they see from their current vendor set
  • value proposition they’ll respond to
  • buying processes have shifted
  • services they don’t value

Who’s “the market?” Prospects, current and former customers, lost prospects, strategic and channel partners, even competitors. Their feedback will likely surprise you and provide fresh and important perspectives on changes necessary to improve product and service offerings, impacting revenue growth. Listen carefully for feedback that challenges internal assumptions and beliefs. The market will help you get a handle on such things as:

  • where innovation is required
  • whether products need bundling
  • what add on services enhance value
  • if pricing needs restructuring
  • whether service levels need to be raised, or perhaps lowered to bring pricing down

This market research can be done internally, though it’s best not performed by your sales team, primarily because customers and prospects may find honest feedback difficult with an “invested” party. Instead have a senior officer of the company make the calls, better still, a 3rd party. You’ll be amazed at how willing folks are to participate in these conversations. Stepping back it’s easy to see why: customers are rarely asked what problems they need solved and instead are “sold” to. If only someone would care enough to ask.

Steve Jobs famously said (though I paraphrase) he didn’t believe in asking the customer what they want because the customer doesn’t know the answer. Well, most of us aren’t Steve Jobs and most of our companies aren’t Apple. In reality, our clients may not know the solution they’re looking for, but they certainly know what problems they need to solve. If revenues are in a slump, it may well mean we’re no longer solving customer problems in a way that makes our company a necessary component of their success.

Go ask the market – it will tell you! Your top line will be better for it.

 

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6 Keys to Retaining Top Salespeople

by Karen Jackson | on Mar 31, 2014 | 2 Comments

Last week, I met a salesperson who told me she’d just turned down a new employment offer that would have increased her total comp by 35% – guaranteed. Wow. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table and I needed to know how she came to the decision to stay put. If it’s not just about the money, what else really matters? What other factors might cause a salesperson to say, “Thanks, but no thanks” to highly enticing offers? It’s important for CEO’s and sales leaders to know, because replacing a salesperson is expensive, time consuming, and creates vulnerability to competition in that territory.

Here’s what her current company provides that she values more deeply than the huge monetary increase, and against which she didn’t trust the new company to measure up.

Clear Strategy. The company knows and well-articulates for its employees:

  • Business goals
  • Market strategy
  • Ideal customers
  • Value proposition to those customers

There is no confusion, no mixed messages, no “stabbing in the dark.” The same clarity is found in their marketing messages to the customer.

Support Systems. She has a sales manager who coaches her to success and sales support personnel that allow her more time for selling and less time for administrative & operational chores. There is also a proven sales process in place plus a CRM that’s easy to use and kept her organized.

Highly Functioning Culture. The CEO truly cares about communication, integrity, teamwork and trust. Gossip and back-whispering are not tolerated. Poor performers, in any department, are removed instead of being allowed to stick around and bring down the team. They celebrate success and when there is failure, they learn and solve vs. blame.

Autonomy. Her bar is set high and she knows exactly what’s expected of her. It frees her to manage her accounts and make decisions without constantly having to ask permission. She meets regularly with her manager to strategize and problem-solve, but she never feels like he’s micro-managing.

Excellent Customer Care. She never worries if the company will let her customer down after she made a sale. Their processes are so tight that she has total confidence in service delivery. If there’s a screw up, it will be fixed immediately, sometimes before the customer even knows about it, and she won’t find herself the last to know.

Respect & Recognition. The sales team is regarded highly throughout the organization. The CEO knows that without customers there is no company and recognizes the sales rep position as one of the hardest in the firm. Reps that make outstanding contributions are publicly thanked and often rewarded with a token of appreciation beyond their commission.

Each of these seems so obvious. Yet for too many companies, the opposite conditions are more likely true. It’s worth an honest step back to examine one’s organization through this salesperson’s lens and ask, “If she worked for me, would she have stayed or taken the new job? Could we retain our top performers in the face of a 35% pay increase?”

Yes, my interview is a sample of one. But I’ll bet it’s a darn good one. These are six keys to salesperson retention that aren’t found in the paycheck. And the exciting part is that these six keys make for an overall healthy company.

As always, please post a comment, thought or suggestion so we all can learn.

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The Power of the Handwritten Note

by Karen Jackson | on Feb 05, 2014 | 7 Comments

One of the least expensive, most powerful tools in a sales person’s toolbox is a note card. Add a pen, 10 minutes and a modicum of thoughtfulness; presto – you have a thank you note.

Yet so few bother. And that’s just plain crazy. Because everyone knows it’s much more expensive to find a new customer than to keep an old one.

It’s hard to defend any rationale behind why the majority fail on this most basic of social interactions. Too hectic? Too lazy? Too convinced that an email is good enough? Worse yet, are we really just too self-absorbed?

Whatever the reason, if this shoe fits, wear it. Customers deserve better. It’s not to suggest that they aren’t receiving whatever goods or services they paid for. It IS to suggest that they don’t receive enough appreciation for choosing us, collaborating with us, risking for us, and forgiving us when we screw up.

I’m not talking about a perfunctory, “thank you for your business” note. Those can be churned out by anyone. I’m talking about taking the time to say “thank you for trusting me / collaborating with me / making this project such a success” – whatever ought be said that makes it personal, meaningful and specific. A message that conveys you value them enough to bother – via a notecard, in ink, by your hand. Believe me, it’s powerful. And, when your competition tries to knock you out of the incumbent’s box, your customer will think, “I care too much about my relationship with ____ to make a move.”

Who deserves your thank you note today? Get cracking. Mine are waiting for tomorrow’s mail. Yes, you need a postage stamp.

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