B2B sales

Dragging Your Feet on Process Stymies Sales Success

by Karen Jackson | 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.

| Add a Comment

6 Keys to Retaining Top Salespeople

by Karen Jackson | 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.

| Read/Add Comments

Scoring From The Red Zone (Or, Why Can’t We Close?)

by Karen Jackson | 6 Comments

I’m hearing a persistent lament from B2B CEO’s. Their sales reps aren’t closing deals. They’re not talking about a lack of deals in the pipeline; they’re talking about the deals they’d forecast to close, but then died. Often they lost to the competition; just as often they lost to the status quo, that all-too-common state where the prospect decides to stick with their current situation and not purchase at all. Like an NFL football team that can’t score from the red zone, the rep couldn’t close the deal.

The CEO’s frustration is palpable and rightly so. Naturally the finger-pointing is squarely aimed at the reps. “Do they have the skills to close? Are they working hard enough? Do we have the right people on this team?” The answers are unknowable – equally important, unsolvable –because the root causes of the problem are hidden from view.

Thanks to years of conducting deal post-mortems, I’ve discovered common mistakes that impact a rep’s ability to close deals from the red zone. Yes, sometimes it is lack of effort, skill, or the inability to “wear well” with their prospects. (The latter point is not to be underestimated; many customers say their experience with the sales person was as important to their decision as the product or service.) More often, the deal didn’t close because it was never going to close. Its forecast was wishful thinking; the deal was lost long before the actual purchase decision. Here are the most common reasons why I see get reps blindsided:

  • It was never an opportunity in the first place – it was merely a lead
  • The rep failed to continuously qualify & gain commitment at each step of the sales cycle
  • The prospect didn’t trust the rep’s ability to deliver on the promised outcome
  • Engagement and commitment from the true buyer(s) was never gained
  • The rep didn’t understand the buyer’s perception of risk
  • The prospect’s real needs were never uncovered or resolved

The common denominator for companies that experience these problems regularly?  Lack of sales process. CEO’s would never consider running their operations and financials without process, but astonishingly few establish process for their sales reps. Sales process makes it possible to identify a check list of strategies, tasks and milestones that, when accomplished, significantly reduce these common mistakes. Process creates a series of interim “closes” such that when the client is actually at the final decision point it’s a natural conclusion to say “yes.”

With process in place, there are far fewer:

  • poor leads chased & wrongly forecast to close
  • assumptions left un- validated
  • risks misunderstood and unmitigated
  • ghost stakeholders with unmet needs
  • last minute selection criteria to sabotage the deal

Do a post-mortem on your deals that died in the red zone. Did your team make any of these common mistakes? If so, get serious about implementing sales process. It will allow you to diagnose your deals throughout the cycle, make the necessary adjustments and increase your close ratio. You won’t win them all, but you’ll win a lot more. And with solid data in hand, you can now answer the original questions about the skills and commitment of your reps.

What other mistakes do you see that sabotage the close? Have you implemented sales process? Did your close ratio go up? Please share your experiences for others to learn from.

If you found this post helpful, read my previous blog post “Surprising Reasons Why Sales Process Matters” for other ways that sales process can positively impact your sales results.

| Read/Add Comments

B2B Sales Management Mistakes That Might Prove Fatal

by Karen Jackson | 4 Comments

Small business B2B sales management is a tough, tough task. (It’s not so easy in big business either.  According to consulting firm Sales Benchmark Index, the average tenure of a new sales leader is just 19 months.) In part, it’s tough because small businesses don’t typically have an experienced sales manager. Often that task is left to the CEO, whose expertise lies in their product or service subject matter, not in sales.

Whether you’re the sales manager or the CEO wearing that hat reluctantly, the challenge is surmountable. Get outside help, subscribe to sales management blogs, and don’t make any of these 9 mistakes:

1.    Hire The Wrong Title.  This may seem obvious but it’s a common set-up for failure. Desiring to lure a big producer, you hire someone with the title “VP of Sales” even though it’s a direct sales role. I’ve yet to see a VP of Sales worth their salt go back to carrying a bag – unless they’re getting a big equity position. (Even then, they may no longer have the stomach for it.) They’ll collect their check from you and wait for permission to hire, you guessed it, a sales person. Instead, get clear about your needs, what makes your opportunity compelling, and go find a compatible person for your organization. He or she is out there; you don’t have to settle.

2.    Fail to Define a Go-to-Market Sales Plan.  “Go sell something” is a poor directive but it’s a pretty standard marching order. Writing a clear sales plan is hard, but essential, work. How else will your reps clearly understand their target markets, ideal customer profile, value proposition, positioning? How can they create smart tactics when they don’t clearly understand the goal? How will you decide where their energy is best spent, which opportunities to seize and which to pass on? Without a clearly defined plan, you’re guaranteed inconsistency at best; chaos at worst.

3.    Ignore Sales Process.  Without process companies fail to capitalize on best practices or manage their resources in the most productive way. By understanding the customer’s buying cycles and creating a related sales cycle with stage specific activities and milestones, you’re able to analyze sales activities and outcomes, take actions that influence buyer behavior, and uncover where sales people need additional support and training. Without process, forget about a realistic forecast; you’re left with lots of wishing and hoping.

4.    Neglect Metrics or Accountability Structures.  The adage “what gets measured gets managed” couldn’t be more true in sales. First identify key performance indicators, then create sales metrics that better influence outcomes, motivate individuals, and make forecasting more predictable. Include your team in developing these to gain buy-in. They’ll understand that by managing to those metrics their success is far more likely than without them. It’s not baby-sitting, it’s management. Big difference.

5.    Treat Your Reps The Same.  The sales manager is a coach. Like any team, the players need different levels and type of attention. Does s/he need help with skills, mind-set, time-management?  You won’t know unless you meet them where they are as individuals, and respond accordingly. Applying the same management techniques to everyone will not create equality; it will create frustration and missed opportunities to grow your team members. Keith Rosen’s book Coaching Salepeople Into Sales Champions offers some excellent guidance.

6.    Substitute Your Comp Plan for Management.  Slashing pay for a poor performer doesn’t solve your performance problem. It simply lures you into a false sense that the individual isn’t costing you too much. You’re kidding yourself. They’re costing you dearly through unexploited territory, wasted energy by support staff, and team morale. If you can’t manage a rep to better performance, release them. Quickly.

7.    Saddle Your Reps with Non-Sales Activities.  Every position has a certain amount of administrative work, but it’s mind-boggling how much non-sales activity small business reps get saddled with. If you want reps to sell, give them time to do so. Look at your processes and identify what activities could be off-loaded to a less skilled, lower paid headcount.

8.    Skimp on Tools.  Are your reps on the road but they’ve no access to your servers through their mobile devices? Are they travelling regularly but don’t have a wireless card to access 3G networks when no wi-fi is available? Are Post-Its, lists, and disconnected spreadsheets substituting for a CRM tool? Don’t think of these items as nice-to-haves. They are keys to productivity, sanity and morale, which make them investments, not expenses.

9.    Undervalue Continuous Recruiting.  It’s really hard to hire good sales reps, and it doesn’t get easier when the pressure is on to fill a spot. When territory is open there’s a tendency for management to settle on a sub-optimal candidate. Be disciplined to continually interview and recruit for the role. Put the word out with business partners and maintain an on-going search through LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Target individuals who work in your industry and court them. They may not be ready to move today, but when something changes, they’ll call you first. Equally important, you’ll learn tons about what the competition is doing and what others perceive as risks / opportunities in the market.

B2B sales management is hard, but essential in an organization’s ability to drive revenue. Without customers, there’s no reason for a company to exist. I can’t think of a better motivation to improve sales management skills.

Please share mistakes you’ve made, suffered, or witnessed so we all can learn.

 

| Read/Add Comments

Surprising Reasons Why Sales Process Matters

by Karen Jackson | 8 Comments

Last week I was talking with the CEO of a small software company struggling with driving revenue. Looking for a possible solution, she wanted my thoughts on where in the sales engine she might zero in. When I mentioned lack of defined sales process as a typical culprit for lagging revenue growth, she remarked, “I don’t see that as an issue for us. I’ve hired very experienced sales people; they certainly ought to know what to do.”

Uh-oh.

Many small-biz CEO’s, particularly those without sales backgrounds, perceive sales process as little more than lowest common denominator management. The rationale is, if they hire seasoned sales people (hard in itself but that’s a different conversation) then they shouldn’t need to create a sales process. After all, isn’t the purpose of creating a sales process really just for baby-sitting?

The answer is no.

At its most basic level, creating and following a sales process does ensure that everyone is following a best practices approach to sales. It also creates a method, particularly if a CRM or other reporting tool is utilized, for sales people to organize themselves, and for management to track and measure activity. All well and good and valuable. But, if that’s the only rationale, then this CEO may be right to think she can do without.

When B2B companies ignore sales process, here’s what they’re really choosing to live without: data. Data to inform any number of strategic and tactical decisions, to identify trends, to help us answer questions like:

  • How well do we really understand our clients’ buying process?
  • Where in the sales cycle are we having difficulty closing?
  • Is there something we could do differently to push our prospects into the next stage?
  • Are we jumping stages therefore finding it hard to close?
  • What’s the quality of our pipeline?
  • How predictable are our forecasts?
  • What danger are we in of elongated sales cycles?
  • Where can the cycle be shortened?
  • Are we chasing the wrong leads?
  • How efficiently are we deploying sales and support resources?
  • How can we refine our tactics for better results?
  • What customer stakeholders are we failing to convince / convert?
  • Do we understand the key moment when a prospect will become a customer?
  • Have we become “proposal happy?”
  • What skills training do our reps need right now?
  • How quickly can we bring new hires up to productivity levels?

Top-performing sales engines utilize well-structured and repeatable sales processes that leverage best-practices and identify true milestones in the buyer’s journey. The process isn’t a baby-sitting tool, though it’s true that the process helps each of us stay focused and disciplined. Rather, it’s because the process provides key data that elevates the performance of the sales person and the entire organization. If you can’t answer the questions above, it’s time to start thinking process.

 

| Read/Add Comments

What Top Sales Producers Know (And So Should You)

by Karen Jackson | No Comments

In January I wrote a blog about the Secrets of Successful Sales Leaders. Lots of people liked it, but several asked if I’d follow up and identify the traits of successful sales people. Some wanted to know so they could improve themselves or their teams. Many others said, after failed attempts at hiring quality sales people, they’d like to start getting it right. continue reading »

| Add a Comment

Making December Count

by Karen Jackson | 4 Comments

I used to find December the most frustrating month. As an entrepreneur, I have a built in propensity for action, particularly for working with clients and forwarding deals.  The trouble is, when December rolls around, customers and prospects become harder to meet with as they contend with year-end pressures, use-it-or-lose-it vacations, and sometimes just exhaustion. Short of dealing with the urgent, many would prefer to punt decision-making to January. continue reading »

| Read/Add Comments